Tagged: Omaha Storm Chasers 2015

Return to the Road: Record Stores and Rest Stops in the Midwest

The previous post in this “Return to the Road” blog saga covered the first half of my May 2015 trip through the Midwest. This post finishes the job, detailing my non-ballpark wanderings as I moved from Peoria to Cedar Rapids to Des Moines to Omaha.

midwest_final_61t5gp7uI arrived in Peoria on the night of May 25 and thus had some free time in the early afternoon before attending May 26’s Chiefs game. When I have a small window of free time in a city that I’ve never been to, I find a record store to visit. It’s just what I do, as I’m a creature of habit.

This is Ribbon Records, a hybrid record and vintage clothing shop which, according to this blog post, is in a building formerly occupied by Murray’s Department Store.

IMG_1292The hours of this place are kind of spotty, but luck was on my side. May 26 was a Wednesday.

ribbonRibbon Records had a lot of used records, as well as books, DVDs and random cultural ephemera.

IMG_1291At Ribbon Records, the stacks were alive. I ended up buying a small pile of albums, four of which I can recall immediately at this moment.

Richard Pryor: “Wanted” (he is a Peoria native, after all)

Hank Williams: “Sings ‘Kaw-liga’ and Other Humorous Songs”

Motley Crue: “Too Fast for Love”

Nancy Sinatra: “Movin’ with Nancy”

That Nancy Sinatra LP is produced by Lee Hazlewood, and if you ever see Nancy and Lee’s names together on the same album then do not think. Just buy!

The only other things I can tell you about my time in Peoria, outside of the ballpark, was that I ate lunch at Lorena’s….

IMG_1293…and, afterwards, got unreasonably excited when Eminem came on the radio.

IMG_1294On Thursday, May 27, I drove from Peoria, Illinois, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Along the way, I picked up the necessary provisions.

It is obscene how much I enjoy pork cracklins.

IMG_1295I also bought “Warheads Sour Dippin’ Pucker Packs,” simply because I am always on the lookout for Fun Dip derivatives.

IMG_1290I’m not sure where the following photo was taken, but clearly it was a beautiful day in which to loiter at a rest stop.

IMG_1296A rest stop is one thing, the “World’s Largest Truckstop” is another. How could I not visit?

IMG_1299I can’t verify the “world’s largest” claim, but there is no doubt that this truck stop was gigantic. This picture doesn’t do it justice, as this place was too big to be encompassed by a single photo.

IMG_1301I strongly considered buying a T-shirt as a means to show off my vague awareness of nature and Native American culture.

IMG_1303Instead, I bought this four-CD set:

IMG_1304The cover art is inexcusably awful, but this is a well-curated and thoroughly enjoyable set of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s truck-drivin’ country songs. “Giddyup Go, Daddy.”

I spent the evening of May 27 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, leaving the city early the next morning. Cedar Rapids, I hardly knew ye.

IMG_1323

IMG_1324May 28 was devoted to an Iowa Cubs matinee in Des Moines and then an Omaha Storm Chasers game in the evening. The next morning, before flying out of Omaha, I stopped at Almost Music. I somehow failed to take a photograph of this establishment, so here’s one from the Yelp page.

oAlmost Music, while small, was well-organized and featured a lot of off-the-beaten path kind of stuff for the heads and weirdos in your life. I picked up an R. Stevie Moore record (“Delicate Tension”) as well as a CD from local emcee Macey Yates (I had asked the guy at the counter to recommend an Omaha artist completely removed from the Saddle Creek universe).

And then? Then I went home. There are a lot of things I like about living in New York City, but you don’t get to see nearly enough bird’s nests. Thanks, Midwest, for the memories.

IMG_1325

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Wrapped, Stacked, Smothered and Deep-Fried in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Shortly after May 28th’s Omaha Storm Chasers game began, I rendezvoused with a fan by the name of Paul Biler.

But Paul was not just any fan. Paul was that evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). I picked the right man for the job.

057

Paul is “from Toledo by way of Utica,” but has lived in Omaha since 1997. His family made the move to Nebraska after his wife got a job as a private investigator for a health insurance company. Paul now works for Mutual of Omaha, but he also has an extensive background as a radio deejay. His most recent work in that regard was for Omaha oldies station KGOR, but for the majority of our time together his mouth would be used for the consumption of food. That, in a nutshell, is why Paul volunteered to be designated eater in the first place.

“I can eat,” he said.

Our journey began with the “Cor-dog-o”, a new addition to the Werner Park concession menu. It is named in honor of general manager Martie Cordaro, who became enamored with it after it was originally served as a Nashville-inspired “Eat Your Opponent” specialty item. I’ll defer to the press release:

OMAHA, Neb. – This season the Omaha Storm Chasers are bestowing their President and General Manager Martie Cordaro with the highest honor a Minor League Baseball team can give: naming a hot dog after him. The “Cor-Dog-O” is one of many new food items fans can try this season from Ovations Concessions at Werner Park.

A concession item that was long overdue, only the “Cor-Dog-O” can truly reflect the “interesting” personality and style of Martie Cordaro. The specialty item consists of two hot dogs, pulled pork and coleslaw wrapped in a tortilla shell, one of the only hot dogs at Werner Park that is not served in the traditional hot dog bun.

058

A closer look:

062Martie sets the scene:

“Oh, that is good,” said Paul after his first bite. “I only got the dog side of it, but I can definitely taste barbecue sauce.”

He then took another bite, leading him to declare that “the pulled pork is wonderful.”

When informed by Storm Chasers executive chef John Schow that the barbecue sauce used was local favorite Cookies (a molasses-based sauce), Paul was enthused.

“If you’re having  a party, put a pound of Vienna sausages in the slow cooker and then throw some Cookies on it,” he said. “Cook it for four hours, and then it’s perfect.”

Next up was an item that can be procured at “Poldberg’s Philly Grill,” named after Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg.

063That item is the “Ruben Philly” — chopped corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, rye and 1000 island dressing on a hoagie bun. It’s served with a Schwartz-brand pickle and chips (made in-house).

064

Oh, man. Let’s take a closer look.

066Take it away, Paul.

“The corned beef is nice and lean, and there’s a good zing from the dressing,” said Paul. “Definitely, a heart attack in a bun.”

We then moved on to the Champ Burger, created by Schow in 2013 after the Storm Chasers won the PCL Championship. It consists of three 1/3 pound patties, bacon, ham and onion rings.

068Paul was ready for it.

070“The beef is good, cooked all the way through,” he said. “And the onion rings are really good, too. But I’ve never been too much of a burger eater.”

Schow was enamored with Paul’s eating efforts, and eventually told me “I want a photo with that guy.” So, here you go:

073Schow, like a lot of food and beverage guys I’ve met in this industry, absolutely loves working at the ballpark. It’s a casual environment that allows plenty of room for fun and experimentation.

“It’s a sweet gig,” he told me. “I mean, killer.”

And, clearly, he’s doing killer things with it. Hopefully not in the literal sense, but items like this will certainly accelerate one’s path to the boneyard:
069This is the Midwest delicacy known as the “Frenchee” — American cheese on white bread, deep-fried.

IMG_1334“Is the bread Rotellas?” asked Paul, referring to a beloved Omaha bakery.

“Of course it’s Rotellas,” replied Schow.

These two were definitely on the same wavelength.

“Say a prayer for me,” added Paul, overwhelmed by the amount of food he was now dealing with.

“Sir, I have a couple times already,” replied Schow.

075

If you want a Frenchee outside of the ballpark, Paul mentioned that local restaurant Don and Millie’s is known for them.

“It’s hot, definitely something you want to break open and let cool for a while,” said Paul. “It could use more cheese. Mostly I’m tasting bread.”

But that was a rare criticism of what was clearly a fantastic culinary experience.

“The food here is great,” said Paul. “I’ve been to a lot of ballparks where the food is pedestrian, but here there’s a lot of stuff that’s unique to the Omaha area.”

I’m writing this post some three weeks after visiting Omaha, but for all I know Paul is still at the ballpark making his way through what was a most prodigious dinner. He sure had his work cut out for him.

074

Oh, and for the record: I would like to commend the Storm Chasers for offering gluten-free hot dogs at the ballpark. I enjoyed one later in the ballgame.

116

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Walking Off a Memorable Day in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Okay, so where was I?

Oh, that’s right. I was at a Minor League Baseball game. A Pacific Coast League Baseball game, to be exact, though I was nowhere near the Pacific Coast. Welcome back to Werner Park, home of the Omaha Storm Chasers.

054I spent the first several innings of the ballgame with one Paul Biler, the evening’s designated eater. We’ll get to him in the next post.

057 After parting ways with Paul, I played a few holes of miniature golf on the concourse. The course, new this year, costs $3 to play.

077

Doofus alert

080After sinking a birdie (or was it a bogey?), I snapped a photo of a couple making out on the berm. I wasn’t intending to.

081I was accompanied by general manager Martie Cordaro throughout these wanderings. He pointed out that the scoreboard shoots flames after each home run as well as after each Storm Chasers victory. See those propane tanks hooked up in the back there?

085I made it a goal for the evening — to take a photo of the flaming scoreboard. I’d already missed an opportunity in the third inning, when I was otherwise engaged with Mr. Biler, when Francisco Pena hit a solo shot.

Beyond the scoreboard is an impressive array of flags.

083

The blue flag on the far left celebrates the American League champion status of the Kansas City Royals, but it should not be overlooked that the Storm Chasers have won back-to-back Pacific Coast League championships. Here’s Martie modeling his 2014 PCL championship ring on one finger, and a giveaway replica ring on the other. Can you tell which is which?

119One of the many benefits of inhabiting a large acreage stadium is that Wiffle Ball fields can be installed on the premises.

090I was gonna be all snarky about the sponsorship, like “Yeah, of course, because nothing says “backyard games of Wiffle ball” like a jewelry retailer. But I’m slow on the uptake — this is a diamond company sponsoring a diamond. Genius! (Yes, genius. This is the internet, where hyperbole reigns and words have lost their meaning.)

The field is real grass; the Storm Chasers have already replaced the sod twice. The blue metal poles in the sign seen above were taken from the team’s previous home of Rosenblatt Stadium.

087Continuing the lap around the concourse, one finds the “Downdraught Bar.” The regulars do their part to “Stir up the Storm.”

Picnic area, coming soon!

092Here in the left field corner, we find the loneliest seat in the ballpark. A row of one. (Cue up Nilsson, not Three Dog Night.)

095The Mike Jirschele Dugout Suite, named after longtime Omaha manager-turned-Kansas City-third base coach, is located down the third base line.

099I kept running into this bottle cap dude. This was the last game of the homestand; shouldn’t he only appear during the opener?

097We then made a press box pit stop, where Martie did an inning on the radio. Sure, fine, leave the big-time visiting celebrity on the outside looking in.

103I passed the time perusing the old yearbooks hanging on the walls.

105The view from the Cambria first base party deck.

107These women were having a great time up there.

106

With the ballgame winding down, I paid a visit to section 118. Jerry Strawn, a well-known figure at the ballpark and in the Omaha community, passed away suddenly during the offseason and his fellow fans paid tribute with a seat bearing his catch-all catch phrase. Read all about it on MiLB.com.

Jerry Strawn, in his signature Cubs/Storm Chasers jersey.

IMG_9840 (2)

In honor of Jerry Strawn. Hey Buddy!

113

The Storm Chasers scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to knot the game at 5-5. Time for extra innings on this, the last day of what had been an exhausting road trip. At this point no fewer than four Storm Chasers had hit home runs, and I had yet to capture an image of the flaming scoreboard.

115

Not flaming

The Storm Chasers won it in the bottom of the 10th. Orlando Calixte doubled to lead off the inning, advanced to third on a sac bunt and scored on a Lane Adams single. This marked the second PCL walkoff victory I’d seen that day, the Iowa Cubs in the afternoon and the Storm Chasers at night. Let’s review:

And, hey! Flaming scoreboard. My night was a success.

IMG_1336My jokes are usually not a success. But I ‘m gonna keep making them.

And that’ll be all from Omaha. I had a great time, and I’m not lion.

118

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Yesterday Hits Today in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The last time I was in Omaha was September of 2010, attending the final game at Rosenblatt Stadium. The city’s Pacific Coast League team, then known as the Royals, was slated to move to a new stadium in the nearby town of Papillion the following season. As part of this 2010 visit, I swung by the stadium construction site and got a sense of what this new facility would look like.

sarpy_behindhomeplate-thumb-450x337-23907813

sarpy_suitesandseating-thumb-450x337-23908813I think my favorite image, though, was this: piles of warning track dirt, looking like sand dunes on another planet.

sarpy_warningtrackdirt-thumb-450x337-23909213Cut to May 28th, 2015, when I ended my Midwest road trip with a visit to this same location. Much had changed.

The stadium, now known as Werner Park, is home to the Omaha Storm Chasers. If nothing else, the parking is ample.

030

031A statue out front pays tribute to noted Nebraskan Bob Gibson.

033The Storm Chasers have a large cadre of mascots, but I’m not sure if this one is part of the official roster. Regardless, he (she? it?) was there to greet me when I arrived.

034Hello, Werner Park.

035During my exploratory lap around the ballpark, I noticed a group of well-dressed men standing in the outfield. I have no further information to offer.

036 037The area surrounding the ballpark still possesses a rural feel. However, Storm Chasers general manager Martie Cordaro reports that 150 houses are under construction in the immediate area, as well as additional commercial and recreational development.

039The home and visiting clubhouses are located in left field, with a ramp leading across the concourse and down onto the playing field. The Storm Chasers clubhouse is on the right, as in toward center field.

041If this random grouping of individuals doesn’t scream “Minor League Baseball” then, really, I don’t know what does.

040I then made my way onto the field, so that I could observe the pregame ceremonies at close range.

043Kids love to mess with Casey’s tail.

044While Vortex likes to mess with people (I incorrectly identified Vortex as “Stormy” in this Vine video. I hope that the Omaha mascot community can find it in their hearts to forgive me.)

This is Stormy. He’s anemometer-ically correct.

048Now here’s an idea that other teams might want to steal. Before every Storm Chasers game, a young fan accompanies manager Brian Poldberg to home plate for the exchanging of the line-up cards.

051During the singing of our National Anthem, the Storm Chasers players were accompanied by a veritable gaggle of local youth athletes.

053And then it was time to, yes, Play Ball.

056It was a gray Thursday night, decent but far from ideal conditions for baseball. Martie told me that, the day before, the team had experienced what he deemed to be the best weather in Werner Park history. And, on top of that, the team had staged a star-studded “Salute to the Kansas City Royals” promo in honor of their long-time parent club.

“You should have been here yesterday,” said Martie, echoing a sentiment that has been expressed to me by Minor League general managers across the land.

But it wasn’t yesterday. It was today. In the next post of this Storm Chasers saga, I’ll cover the today that was in further detail.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Thursday Night: Omaha Storm Chasers, May 28, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

May 28, 2015: Werner Park, home of the Omaha Storm Chasers (Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals)

Opponent: Tacoma Rainiers, 6:35 p.m. game time

Werner Park, from the outside:

031

Werner Park, from the inside: 

081

Culinary Creation: The “Reuben Philly” (chopped corn beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, 1000 island dressing, rye hoagie bun)

064

At Random: Minor League Baseball, summarized

040

Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

It’s All Over: Thanks to a cameo appearance at Principal Park in Des Moines en route to Omaha, I saw two Pacific Coast League victories in the same day.

Next Up: 

5/29: Travel Day, return home to cat yelling at me

5/30: Seeing the Who in Forest Hills, Queens

5/31: Sleep for 37 hours consecutively

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz