It’s that time of year again, that time of year when I fulfill my journalistic talent to its full potential by posting pictures of new Minor League ballpark concession offerings.
Following standard operating procedure, we’ll begin with the West Michigan Whitecaps’ annual Fan Food Voting contest.
— Whitecaps (@wmwhitecaps) March 2, 2015
Through March 6, the masses can vote for one of the following 10 items. The winner will be served at the team’s home of Fifth Third Field in 2015, joining perennial favorites such as the Baco and, of course, the Fifth Third Burger.
First Row: Beer-a-Misu (scoop of tiramisu gelato added to craft beer), Cheesy Does It (hamburger with a cheese bun), Cotton Candy Curveball (cotton-candy wrapped Twinkie), Crispy Pig Chips (pork rinds with all the standard nacho fixings)
Second Row: French Fry Pizza Pie (self explanatory), Hot-to-Tot (tater tots with buffalo chicken and bleu cheese), Kat Dog (Kit-Kat bar inside of a hot dog), Picnic on a Stick (fried chicken, tater tots and pickles on a stick, fried in cornbread batter)
Third Row: The Legend of Pickle Hollowed (a hot dog inside of a hollowed out pickle, deep fried), Weenie Panini (hot dog stuffed panini)
For the record, here’s a picture of the Baco (taken during my 2013 visit to West Michigan)
Keeping within the Midwest League, we now move on the Appleton-based Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. On Thursday afternoon, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers sent the following tweet:
— Timber Rattlers (@TimberRattlers) February 26, 2015
“This,” in this case, was this:
Grilled Cheese Bacon Cheeseburger. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 2015 pic.twitter.com/MxqnWFkIAB
— TimothyMichaelHansen (@ChefTimHansen) February 26, 2015
Then, on Friday, the T-Rats executive chef unveiled this. It’s a bacon cheeseburger enveloped within a funnel cake.
— TimothyMichaelHansen (@ChefTimHansen) February 27, 2015
No matter what your opinions are regarding hyper-fattening, internet-baiting Minor League cuisine, there is no doubt that chef Hansen knows exactly what he’s doing. I learned this first-hand in 2013, during a visit to the T-Rats’ home of Fox Cities Stadium. Hansen does high and low cuisine with equal aplomb; in his world sesame tuna on endive with pineapple salsa coexists peacefully alongside jerk chicken wings and a Philly cheesesteak.
Heading east, we find that the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have recently unveiled some new creations as well.
Pork Parfait: “Layers of mashed potatoes, pulled pork and cheese sauce topped with green onions.”
24-inch Frankfurter, “topped with chili, beer cheese, bacon, onion straws.” It is cut into four pieces; sharing is encouraged.
Finally, the Oklahoma City Dodgers will have more than a new name in 2015. The entity formerly known as the RedHawks will also offer these new concession items.
New concession items to whet your appetite before lunch: bacon & bleu nachos, pepper gravy fries, and Oreo churros! pic.twitter.com/enx8UY3sXr
— OKC Dodgers (@okc_dodgers) February 20, 2015
Actually, disregard the “finally” in the above item. As this blog post was being written, the Asheville Tourists unveiled this:
Topped with your choice of Syrup or Nacho Cheese. pic.twitter.com/yK5QNzVtOy
— Asheville Tourists (@GoTourists) March 2, 2015
That looks great and all, but can it compete with a deep-fried Moon Pie?
Hey! Remember last month when I went on a road trip and visited Minor League stadiums in Oklahoma City, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee?
No? That’s okay. No hard feelings or anything.
But the trip did happen, and one only needs to scroll through the recent archives of this blog for proof. And, and is always the case, when I went on this trip I accumulated content above and beyond what occurred at the stadiums in question. So, starting today, I’ll “Return to the Road” with a series of blog posts highlighting some of my non-baseball “adventures” while on this trip.
It all started in Oklahoma City, home of the Pacific Coast League’s RedHawks. But before traveling to the “Bricktown” entertainment district where both my hotel and the ballpark were located, I stopped here:
I didn’t spend any time at the Stockyards proper, but the area surrounding them couldn’t have been any more evocative of the cattleman’s lifestyle. Some shots of the neighborhood:
It’s a sign!
But Flipper-referencing storefront tomfoolery was not the reason I visited the stockyards. It was lunchtime, and I was there to get a meal at the iconic Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. Somehow I failed to get a shot of this establishment’s exterior, but here’s the view from the inside.
Just so we’re all clear on the chronology here: this trip occurred after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, but before I went public with it in a professional context. My decision on this trip was to keep it under wraps and eat whatever I wanted to. It was, in effect, my final week of enjoying an unrestricted diet. So why not go all out?
I ordered the euphemistically-named “Lamb Fries,” but let’s identify them for what they really are: fried lamb testicles.
I ordered these out of curiosity, and you know what? They were good! The lemon and cocktail sauce gave the whole platter a seafood sort of feel, and the taste was relatively mild. I can understand why people might be repulsed by such a dish, but my take on it is that if you’re going to slaughter an animal for food then you really should make use of as much of it as possible.
Still, in giving the final word on the dish I have to defer to this far more eloquent write-up that I came across on roadfood.com:
They are earthy-tasting inside their golden crust, the exquisite organ meat quivery and moist, with nut-sweet savor.
I didn’t want to over-do it on this, my first meal of the trip, so I paired the lamb fries with a simple bowl of steak soup. Gluten-free? Probably not, as wheat flour was likely used as a thickener for the broth.
So long, steak soup, it was nice knowing you:
After lunch I made my way to the Brickyard, and that experience is already chronicled (and linked to above). But the next day, before heading onward to Tulsa, I made a stop at a location that was imminently worthwhile and exceedingly well-done: the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial to the 168 victims of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
This was one of the most thoughtful, tasteful and deeply moving public spaces that I have ever been to, and an absolute must for anyone visiting Oklahoma City. The outdoor memorial is adjacent to a museum that offered a thorough multi-floor interactive tour, and I would have loved to visit that as well if time had allowed.
But, as it was, I still had plenty to take in. The outdoor memorial is framed by the “gates of time,” which are described in the memorial brochure thusly: “These monumental twin gates frame the moment of destruction — 9:02 a.m. — and mark the formal entrances to the memorial. The East Gate represents 9:01 a.m. on April 19 and the innocence of the city before the attack. The West Gate represents 9:03 a.m., the moment we were changed forever, and the hope that came from the horror in the moments and days following the bombing.”
In between is the reflecting pool — the brochure explains that a “shallow depth of gently flowing water helps soothe wounds, with calming sounds providing a peaceful setting for quiet thoughts.”
Over 60,000 personal tokens have been left on this fence through the years, in remembrance of the victims. It’s just heartbreaking.
Graffiti left by a rescue worker in the immediate aftermath of the bombing.
A park ranger speaks to a tour group about the “Survivor Tree,” a 90-year-old American Elm whose message to visitors reads “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”
Again, I want to say that this memorial was phenomenal. I was deeply affected by it, and will not forget my visit. I hope to one day return and devote a full afternoon to it and the museum.
I apologize for the abrupt tonal shifts in this post, but what is life if not a series of abrupt tonal shifts? After visiting the memorial, my final task in Oklahoma City was to get some lunch. The night before, RedHawks corporate marketing manager Gary Olsen had recommend I check out a BBQ joint named “Leo’s.” I decided to follow this recommendation.
At first I ended up at a defunct location:
But if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again!
For future reference — Leo’s is located right across the street from Happy Foods.
Leo’s was, in a word, great. And, in another word, unassuming.
I got a small sampler platter, but in this case “small” was a relative term. Buried in here are brisket, ribs, sausage and fried bologna, with fried okra and cole slaw as sides. (And, yes, the plate is atop the Mad magazine that I was reading at the time. Old habits die hard.)
The ribs and the brisket were the standouts here, and coming in a distant last was the fried bologna (the version served at the Jackson Generals game turned out to be far superior). And as for my new $1,000,000 question — no, this meal was not gluten-free. But in the future I think I could still have meals here — no white bread or fried okra, obviously, but hopefully most of the meats would still be good to go. I’ll figure it out eventually.
Definitely not gluten-free, but definitely awesome, is the free cake that comes with each and every meal.
And with free cake I shall end this post. Perhaps I can make that some sort of new Ben’s Biz Blog tradition?
The Oklahoma City Courtyard Marriot is a fine place of lodging — clean, sleek and far more amenity-laden than the average team hotel. The pillows were, like, super-soft. And there were a lot of them.
But this hotel gets a primo first paragraph mention because it featured the greatest amenity of all: walking distance to the ballpark. I was in town to see the Oklahoma City RedHawks, whose Chikasaw Bricktown Ballpark was a proverbial hop, skip, and a jump away. The view of the stadium, from room 429:
That larger-than-life Thunder mural on the building to the left is par for the course in these parts. Both Chikasaw Bricktown Ballpark and the Thunder’s Chesapeake Energy Arena are located in the Bricktown Entertainment District, a former warehouse area that has been repurposed into a sprawling leisure area. There’s a third sports venue in the form of the Cox Arena, as well as a movie theater, office buildings, park areas, outdoor concert stages and myriad bars and restaurants (including Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar And Grill”).
And while the Thunder are a constant presence in these parts, it was particularly pronounced during my visit as the team had just advanced to the NBA Finals the night before. Thunder signage was everywhere.
The whole “industrial past recontextualized for a post-industrial present” set-up reminded me of quite a few other Minor League markets. Durham, most notably, but also Toledo, Lowell, and Greenville (to name just a few). To get a better sense of the Bricktown aesthetic, here’s another hotel room shot:
So let’s go to Bricktown!
It’s all in the shadow of downtown.
And the streets are named in honor of famous Oklahomans. (More on that later, in the meantime watch THIS!)
Funny that there’s a “Whiskey Chicks” bar — I can’t help but think they’re capitalizing on Toby Keith’s “Whiskey Girl.” (Also, I want to come right out and say that I love every song on Shock’n Y’all).
All in all, the stroll to the stadium was a very scenic one. It’s easy to recommend Oklahoma City when it can offer vantage points such as this.
Chikasaw Bricktown Ballpark is lined with statues that celebrate Oklahoma’s baseball greats. Depending on your point of entry, you’ll pass by Johnny Bench, Mickey Mantle, or Warren Spahn.
The Mick is also one of the individuals honored with his own street. And would you believe that Mickey Mantle Drive intersects with none other than Flaming Lips Alley?
Flaming Lips Alley, named in honor of the long-running Oklahoma space/psych/pop rock outfit, is a modest stretch of land right behind the ballpark.
Its many attractions include the ramshackle back entrance of a bar, as well as the opportunity to watch Pacific Coast League action through a fence.
And speaking of Pacific Coast League Baseball, that’s what I was there to see. So, some 15 photos and 500 words later, let’s finally move to the interior of this fine facility. I began the day with a couple of player interviews in the home dugout: Mike Hessman and Brian Bass. Those shall be linked to when they become available, but I must say that it was an honor to interview Hessman. He’s one of the ultimate veterans of the Minor Leagues, and has hit over 350 home runs as a professional (including stints with three Major League teams as well as one in Japan).
The interview room:
And then the tables were turned, as I did a pre-game interview with RedHawks broadcaster Alex Freedman (and, somehow, neglected to get a photo of his multi-tiered broadcast suite). Thanks to Freedman for the opportunity and, also, for being an early and often supporter of my monthly “Crooked Numbers” column over at MiLB.com.
Chikasaw Bricktown Ballpark is spacious, to say the least. Omaha’s old Rosenblatt Stadium is the only other Minor League facility that I can recall that had whole swaths of seating covered with sponsored tarps.
The evening’s ballgame was between the RedHawks and visiting New Orleans Zepyhrs. Just prior to the first at-bat of the ballgame, I experimented with my new camera’s fisheye lens effect. Don’t worry, I’ll use it sparingly.
The crowd was small at the start of the game, but filled in nicely as the evening progressed. It was Thirsty Thursday, after all, so many fans were more concerned with dollar beer than witnessing the game’s first pitch.
As play began, I took part in one of my time-honored ballpark visiting traditions: a slow (some would say glacial) lap around the perimeter of the facility.
As you can see in the above photo, there is plenty of room to move on the grass berm. But I was more enamored with the series of sporadically placed benches located beneath the scoreboard.
Kids will be kids.
As with the Bricktown area overall, the ballpark does a good job throughout with clear and colorful signage that pay tribute to local history. Banners such as this abound — I’m including this shot of Sandberg just because it seems bizarre to me that Oklahoma City spent some time in the late ’70s and early ’80s as a Phillies affiliate. (And, more than 30 years later, Sandberg is now managing the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in Lehigh Valley).
Mike Hessman at the plate!
What can I say? If you need someone to root for in the Minors, then make it Hessman. He’s the type of guy, who, if he can make a living playing the game of baseball, he will. For as long as he possibly can.
Between-inning entertainment was standard, but well-executed. Mascot races, the YMCA, t-shirt launch, etc. Here’s mascot Cooper playing the bongos during “Wipeout.”
And the chaotic aftermath of a “Senor Frog” leapfrog race.
The RedHawks concessions are handled by Professional Sports Catering, who offered a fairly wide array of comestibles.
I was surprised to see a Leinenkugel’s stand, as that’s a Midwestern brew that I hadn’t even heard of until visiting Kane County (Illinois) two years ago.
I opted for an order of “Philly Nachos” at the “Steakadelphia” stand. Do not order these if you don’t want cheese stains on your pants.
A nice regional twist was that, after the singing of the “Seventh Inning Stretch,” there was a singalong to the official state song of Oklahoma. These guys were debating over the spelling of “Ayipioeeay!”
Later, while loitering on the second level staircase, a foul ball flew out of the stadium above my head and laded in front of the Sonic corporate headquarters across the street. I alerted a woman who was walking by to its presence, and she went over to pick it up.
Not 15 seconds later, another foul ball went to nearly exactly the same spot. The woman was walking in the other direction, and this time couldn’t be bothered to go back and pick it up. Her body language seemed to be saying “Dude, I’m not the kind of person who cares about baseball, or foul balls, and, unlike you, I would never regale my friends and family with the riveting story of that one time when I was walking down the street while talking on my cell phone and two foul balls came flying out of the nearby baseball stadium. Get over it.”
So the foul ball was left to its lonesome. I was hoping to grab it after the game, but by then it was gone.
I know that these sort of anecdotes are just fascinating, and that most people could go on reading indefinitely. But once the ballgame has concluded then so do the posts. And this one ended in favor of the RedHawks (their 14th win in a row at home, a new team record. More on that in my MiLB.com piece).
And, with that, there was nothing left to do but exit the ballpark and celebrate with whomever happened to be wandering around Flaming Lips Alley.
Johnny Bench says “Goodnight from Oklahoma City!”
And I say, “Thanks, Oklahoma City, for reminding me that “O’KC’ can stand for things other than OK Cupid.”
The Bowling Green Hot Rods’ “What Could’ve Been Night” was voted the top promotion in all of Minor League Baseball last season, an honor that thoroughly validated the once-fringe promotional concept of alternate reality celebration.
The Hot Rods’ success has inspired at least four teams to follow suit in 2010: The Quad Cities River Bandits, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Portland Beavers, and State College Spikes. I eagerly await each and every one of these promotions, but for now we shall focus on the goings-on in State College.
For the Spikes’ just released the details of August 27’s “What If Night”, details that I will now share with you.
Ever wish you could go back in time five years? The State College Spikes
are inviting fans to do just that by turning back the clock to the
franchise’s 2005 “Name the Team Contest” – the one that ultimately led
to “Spikes” being picked as team nickname – and selecting one of the
runner-up choices to have its moment of glory.
To play up the theme of the day, the team will take the field for that
night’s game against the Batavia Muckdogs as either the Anglers, Coalys,
Furnace or Haymakers, and Spikes fans will again have the power to
decide….The winning nickname will be honored with a logo and specially-designed
jerseys, which will be worn by the players during the August 27 game and
then auctioned off to fans in attendance that night.
This contest really brings me back, as a young Benjamin Hill wrote a news article in November of 2005 detailing the selection of “Spikes” as the team’s name. This was in MiLB.com’s first year of operation, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. In that regard, little has changed.
— But speaking of alternate existences — how bizarre would it be if the universe’s most celebrated Wookie was in actuality a seven-foot tall British thespian prone to making appearances at Minor League ballparks?
That’s the mind-bending reality experienced by Oklahoma City baseball fans last week, as Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew pressed the flesh and smiled for the flash at Bricktown Ballpark.
Here he is with a young Jedi:
And here he is in the dugout with RedHawks manager Bobby Jones:
No word yet on what Chewbacca would select as his on-bat music, but while we wait for this crucial information please peruse THIS LIST of personalized player intro tunes provided by the Pacific Coast League’s Reno Aces.
In an alternate reality, I am a member of the Reno Aces hoping to make it back to the bigs. Each time I come to the plate, the crowd is regaled with THIS.