Results tagged ‘ Pacific Coast League ’

On the Road: Max Effort, Jacked-Up Results in Reno

To see all posts from my August 8 visit to the Reno Aces, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Soon after arriving at Reno’s Greater Nevada Field, I traveled to one of the ballpark’s onsite restaurants. This restaurant is called Bugsy’s, and it would be the site of that evening’s designated eater experience. There was just one problem, however — the evening before, my designated eater had regretfully backed out of his designated eating commitments because he wasn’t able to get off from work. I told the Aces about my predicament, and they went in-house to find a solution.

This is Max Margulies, a corporate partnerships account executive for both the Aces as well as the Reno 1868 FC soccer club (which will play its inaugural season at Greater Nevada Field in 2017). Max was my new designated eater, tasked with consuming the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_2492Max, 23, hails from San Diego and went to college at the University of Oregon. He’s now working in baseball and soccer, but says that his ultimate goal is to work for an NBA team. His favorite pastimes are body surfing and going kayaking in Lake Tahoe. His biggest fear? Spiders.

As you can see, Max had a formidable array of food laid out in front of him.

img_0276 Okay, let’s do this one at a time. We started with that massive hot dog on the left, which is, in fact, a “Versus Dog.”

img_0280In the above photo, the left-hand side of the dog is the Reno side. Reno is represented via pulled pork and apple cider vinegar slaw. On the right is a portion of the hot dog representing Salt Lake, that evening’s opponent. The Salt Lake side had roasted corn, bell peppers, cilantro crema and queso fresco.

Max went for the Reno side first.

Max called this a “filling bite” and praised the taste of the slaw. However, he did have one criticism.

“It was tough to hold,” he said. “It kind of felt like a wet diaper.”

With this appealing imagery still in mind, Max switched to the Salt Lake side of the Versus Dog.

img_0279“The peppers stand out immediately,” said Max. “I like this. Sweet and spicy.”

Next up was the Bambino Fries, which are topped with pulled pork, chicken, chicken and apple slaw. This was not one of my better food photography efforts.

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“I like the tangy barbecue sauce,” said Max. “I’m a loaded fries kind of guy so these were right up my alley.”

I did not get any photos of Max eating the fries, which is a shame as these photos would have surely been a great benefit to humanity. But I did not make this mistake when it came to the next item: the Caliente Burger.

img_0282The Caliente Burger consists of a half-pound Wagyu beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, fried “bottlecaps” (jalapenos) and a “Firecracker” aioli made of lemon, mayo and Sriacha sauce. It’s a mouthful, as Max soon learned. To get this thing down, he had to do his best impression of a snake eating a goat.

img_2506“The jalapenos give it a nice kick, along with the sauce,” said Max. “And it’s got a nice crunch.”

Finally, there was a Verde Meatball Sub. It is topped with verde chili sauce, queso fresco and cilantro sprigs on a sourdough roll.

img_2508Max was beginning to show signs of fatigue, but he gamely carried on.

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“I’d never had verde sauce on a meatball before,” said Max. “But it works, and sourdough is a good choice.”

We could’ve have stopped there, of course. But no, we were taking it to the Max! Now it was time for dessert.

img_2519This dessert platter included funnel cake, red velvet funnel cake and, there in the back, a deep-fried Snickers. Max started with the Snickers.

img_2521“It’s awesome,” said Max. “But I don’t have much to say.”

Clearly, Max was running out of steam. He’d been through so much already, in such a short amount of time. It was getting increasingly hard for him to go on.

But never fear — Jack Reinheimer is here!

img_2526This was an historic first! Jack is the Aces shortstop, and never before had a first player spent time as one of my designated eaters. Aces marketing manager Audrery Hill had recruited him from the clubhouse, and even though he had reportedly just “crushed” some barbecue, he was happy to travel to the upper level to eat some more. It helped, of course, that Jack wasn’t in the starting line-up on this particular evening. Otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been able to continue his pregame food crushing spree.

“All I do is eat and play baseball,” said Jack, summing up his existence in a mere seven words.

You’d think someone who loves “crushing” food wouldn’t even bother with utensils, but Jack took a polite — some would say dainty — approach to the dessert plate.

img_2528Jack said that the deep-fried Snickers was “amazing” and that the red velvet funnel cake was “even better.” He then moved on to Max’s leftovers because, let’s face it, Max had a lot of leftovers.

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img_2535Jack was a man of few words, preferring to let his food crushing actions speak for themselves. He described the various items he tasted as “good”, “pretty good” and “amazing.”

“I’ll eat anything,” he said.

At one point, Jack got distracted by the view from the upper level.

“It looks pretty easy to get hits from up here,” he said.

Jack got plenty of hits in 2016. He had 144, tied with teammate Kyle Jensen for fifth-most in the Pacific Coast League.

img_2524Thus concluded the designated eating adventures of Jack and Max.

img_2537“I’ll definitely have to try more ballpark food,” said Max.

Jack agreed, and then turned his thoughts to the Aces’ next road trip.

“If there’s ever a Chipotle in the airport, it’s getting hit up,” he said. “The guys’ll just crush it.”

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Whale Rides and Ball Views in Reno

To see all posts from my August 8 visit to the Reno Aces, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

August 8 (Part Two) — Once the ballgame was underway in Reno, I began my nightly bout of wandering. At Greater Nevada Field, the city is situated behind the ballpark and, therefore, visible from the outfield.

img_0296This is the view from beyond right field. The Truckee River keeps right on rolling.

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Joining the Truckee River and city skyline in Greater Nevada Field’s pantheon of ballpark views are these railroad tracks. Freight trains pass by throughout the ballgame, headed to parts known by some but not by me.

My circular journey brought me back to the area behind home plate. Archie was there. I really enjoy seeing Archie.

img_0302When I visited the Aces in 2013, Archie could talk. Archie no longer talks. It’s just one of those things.

This home plate concourse location was a designated meeting place, as I had been recruited to compete in the Schofferhofer “Race to the Beach” contest. You know the drill — you put on an orange t-shirt representing the presenting sponsor, and then you ride an inflatable killer whale toward articles of beach-themed clothing that placed along the grass on the third base side of the field. Upon reaching these articles of clothing, you must put them on before once again mounting the whale and heading to the finish line. You do this against an enthusiastic, friendly and somewhat profane native of North London named Tom, who now works in Tahoe as a ski and paddleboard instructor. Tom immediately becomes your best friend, despite the fact that you must compete against him.

img_2563Tom and I and the Aces personnel assigned to tending to us made our way to the front row, so that we’d be ready to leap into action as soon as the inning ended. Archie, owner of the most scuffed-up pair of size 24 Chuck Taylors that the world has ever seen, was waiting for us.

img_2565Finally, our moment arrived.

Clearly, I was no match for Tom. But even after this heated competition, we remained the best of friends.

img_2582My next stop was the outfield concourse, as I had been invited to spend some time inside the giant inflatable baseball that sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” every night from its perch beyond the outfield wall.

I guess this is the sort of thing that needs to be placed in a larger contect. Here’s a video example:

And a picture:

ballyboyboyIn the top of the seventh, myself and an Aces employee whose name I cannot recall at the moment (the back of his jersey said “Button”) entered the yet-to-be inflated baseball. While standing on a platform in the middle, it took shape around us.

In the midst of all this, I took a selfie.

img_2592When it came time to “sing” during the seventh inning stretch, the platform was raised (via a switch located outside of the ball itself) and the ball became visible over the outfield wall. As the sounds of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” came through over a walkie-talkie (it was too loud in the ball to hear the PA system), the ball’s “lips” were moved via these metal handles so that it would look like the ball was singing the song.

img_2595Here’s a video of what the “singing” looks like from the inside.

And that, my friends, is how that particular piece of sausage is made.

Thus concluded the “programmed” portion of my evening, which otherwise consisted of — you guessed it — wandering.

Neon ball…

img_0307…meet neon batter.

img_0309Between the ball and the batter lies the Freight House District, a year-round entertainment complex attached to the ballpark.

img_0308It was here where I wrote and disseminated my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day. Most of the feedback I got on this one was along the lines of “Huh?” and then, “Okay, got it now. Took me a minute.”

As the Aces came to bat in the bottom of the 8th, trailing 4-2, the “Rally Llama” appeared on the videoboard. I tried to get a photo of the llama, but all I ended up with was Archie.

img_0313Archie is alright, though. Archie is, in fact, great.

The Rally Llama, or whatever it was, failed in its mission. The Aces lost, defeated by Bees. It was still a very enjoyable evening at Greater Nevada Field. The greatest, even.

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***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: The Biggest Little Ballpark in Reno

To see all posts from my August 8 visit to the Reno Aces, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

I visited 10 teams on my 2016 “Out West” road trip, four of which I had visited before. The Reno Aces fell into this category, but with an asterisk: When I stopped by Reno in 2013, the game was rained out. This meteorological misfortune led to one of the weirdest posts in the history of this blog, which presented an alternate (and startlingly convincing) account of my allegedly rained out night in Reno.

This time around, here in the year of our Lord 2016, I wanted normalcy. I wanted nine innings of baseball, played on a Monday, because everybody knows that Minor League teams are at their best on Mondays. That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got.

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The Aces’ ballpark, originally known as Aces Ballpark, is now known as Greater Nevada Field. (There is no “Great Nevada Field,” in the state, but if there ever is, Greater Nevada Field will clearly have a leg up on it.) The Freight House District, seen on the left in the above photo, is an amalgam of bars and restaurants. It’s accessible to fans during the game but also open year-round as an all-purpose entertainment complex.

Immediately upon setting foot in the facility, I was greeted by Aces communications manager Cheyne Reiter. He ushered me onto the field.

img_0273Once on the field, I was introduced to pitcher Matt Capps. We had an interview scheduled.

Capps turned out to be a great interview, speaking with honesty and humor about his current, improbable comeback attempt (he hasn’t pitched in the Major Leagues since 2012). You can read my story about him HERE.

Shortly after speaking with Capps, I pivoted to an interview of a different sort.

img_2541That’s Princess,  a 10-year-old rescue pit bull who was adopted by Aces executive VP Andrew Daugherty prior to the season. She is now a ballpark celebrity, helping to dispel the stereotypes associated with her breed simply by existing. I wrote a story on Princess, and what she means to the team and community, HERE.

Princess is an absolute sweetheart.

img_2551An absolute sweetheart, I tell you.

After (reluctantly) taking my leave of Princess, myself and Aces director of marketing Audrey Hill walked around the ballpark for a bit. Taking a page out of the El Paso Chihuahuas playbook, the upper level hallways and suite interiors are decorated with the work of local artists. All of these pieces of art are for sale. Support local artists.
img_0287Artwork also enlivens the walls outside of the main entrance. The mural below, by Erik Burke, depicts Theodore Judah. Judah was the mastermind behind the Trans-Continental Railroad, which led to the creation of the city of Reno in 1868 after a railroad station was established there.

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The spray paint used for Judah’s eyes reflects through the windows, causing them to change color. Check the reflection:
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Judah’s steely, subtly shifting and not-at-all crazy gaze is fixated on a mural located directly across from him. This one is by Bryce “ABC Art Attack” Chisolm. I believe that’s Princess, there in the bottom left corner. Princess is absolute sweetheart.

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And speaking of art, this is one of the most fantastic pieces of restroom signage I saw all season.

img_2558Meanwhille, the sun was setting…

img_2560…and the ballgame was underway. The Aces were hosting the Salt Lake Bees, one of two teams in the Pacific Coast League I have yet to visit. (The other being the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.)

img_0292But, for now, I can only focus on the visits that have occurred. There’ll be much more from Reno in my next post (and the one after that).

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Fill-In Filled-Up in Vegas

To see all posts from my August 6 visit to the Las Vegas 51s, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Shortly after unveiling my 2016 road trip schedule, I received an enthusiastic email from a reader requesting to be the designated eater during my August 6 visit to Las Vegas’s Cashman Field. That request was granted. Unfortunately, just before the day in question rolled around, said reader had to renege on this commitment due to a family emergency.

I didn’t have to look far for a replacement, however. My friend Jon Fischer, a fellow alumnus of Wissahickon High School in Ambler, Pennsylvania, had joined me for the San Jose-Visalia-Vegas portion of my trip. He volunteered to fill the designated eating void, and was thereby tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

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Collared shirt plus mesh shorts equals fashion statement

Jon is a native of southern California, but he grew up on the East Coast. We became friends in seventh grade, when he and his family moved from Massachusetts to suburban Philadelphia. His long, curly and occasionally greasy hair was a subject of fascination and ridicule within the middle school ecosystem in which we first met, but he fought fire with fire and never back down from his detractors. We later comprised two thirds of the band Spice, which was named after a cable channel we were fascinated with at the time. Then the Spice Girls came out and we changed our name to the Muckrakers.

These days Jon teaches at the California Maritime Academy, which he described as the “smallest, most specialized campus of the California State University system, which is the largest university system in the world.” Jon is also an artist.

We were on our own during this anomalous evening at the ballpark, operating on nothing but gut instinct. I’m always on the lookout for unique and/or regionally specific food items, and the main concession stands on both the first and third base side of Cashman Field were of the hot dogs, burgers, popcorn, peanuts, chips and soda variety. Though the Las Vegas 51s are named after Area 51 and feature an alien on their logo, we found very little that would qualify as “out of this world.”

All was not lost, however. At a small stand on the first base side of the ballpark, we located an alcohol-focused concession stand offering an “Atomic Dog.” We got an Atomic Dog. This is what an Atomic Dog looks like.

img_2447The Atomic Dog is a hot dog topped with bacon, nacho cheese and jalapenos, served on a pretzel bun.

Jon gave it a whirl.

“I think I should’ve gotten a napkin,” said Jon. “The hot dog was substantial. The jalapenos could be a little spicier, but they add a little kick. Some grilled onions would be good on this. The pretzel bun is good. It didn’t hold together, though.”

img_0264Nothing washes down an Atomic Dog quite like hard liquor. In a nod to the 51s’ alien identity, we found a concourse kiosk whose drink selections featured “Outer Space Vodka.”

img_0261Two minutes and $12 later, Jon had himself an “Double Outer Space Vodka Tonic.”

img_0265“It’s par for the course, not bottom of the shelf, fairly smooth,” said Jon. “I’d get it again if there was nothing else to drink.”

Of course, there are other things to drink. And come of them come in a collector’s cup. This, of course, is for all you #cupdate fiends out there.

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Our search for something — anything! — else to highlight eventually brought us to Cashman Field’s nothing-if-not-aptly-named “Club Level Restaurant.”

img_0258It was the sixth inning by this point, and there were few signs of life on the food-serving front.

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The view was nice, though.

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Upon reemerging on the concourse, we came across a Hawaiian Shave Ice stand. This, then, would be dessert.

img_0268“There’s more snow and less ice, which is the way it should be,” said Jon. “I got banana and strawberry, and both are pretty good. The banana is sufficiently artificial tasting. Banana’s the best shaved ice flavor, by the way. And this is a pretty good container for all of this. It will find a home in a landfill soon.”

img_0269“Overall, the food was pretty mediocre,” said Jon, when asked to sum things up. “But it was fun to be the designated eater and I was glad I could fill in at the last minute.”

“Go see more Minor League Baseball games,” he added. “I’ve enjoyed myself.”

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***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Alien Nation in Las Vegas

To see all posts from my August 6 visit to the Las Vegas 51s, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

On Saturday, August 6, I woke up in Visalia, California. My next destination was Las Vegas, Nevada, home of the 51s. The distance between Visalia and Vegas, “as the crow flies” is approximately 230 miles. But that theoretical crow would be flying directly across both Sequoia and Death Valley National Parks, which is an impossible feat via automobile. My route was considerably less direct.

vegas I enjoyed the drive, however. It was scenic.

It’s a disorienting sensation, driving to Vegas, one that has been commented upon many times before. After hours and hours encompassing hundreds and hundreds of miles of wide-open rural desert expanse, the calming nothingness slowly gives way to the gaudy excess of Sin City. The tumbleweeds begin to be complemented, and then overtaken, by billboards advertising the likes of Rich Little and Englebert Humperdinck.

Amid the seemingly infinite entertainment options that Vegas offers, it could easy to forget that the city has long been home to a Pacific Coast League baseball team. The Las Vegas 51s, Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, play in Cashman Field.

This is the only Minor League Stadium I have ever visited that featured a disassembled Arby’s in the parking lot.
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It was well before game time, but a formidable line had already congregated outside of the facility. The people in this line wanted to make sure they received that evening’s pint glass giveaway.

img_0245I’m no architectural expert, but Cashman Field almost feels as if its from the Brutalist school of design. It is drab, the color of desert sand, and monolithic.

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Cashman Field opened in 1983 and has hosted a PCL team for the entirety of its existence. This team was originally known as the Stars, but changed its name to the 51s in 2001 as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the extraterrestrial activity rumored to have taken place at (relatively) nearby Area 51.

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The free pint glasses, emblazoned with the team logo, were clearly a draw.

img_2434But it was also Superhero Night. Just look at all of these superheroes, all in one place. Even Yankees Man was there.

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The Thing needs his own handler, apparently.

img_2428To my mind, the best thing about Cashman Field is the view — a mountainous backdrop visible from a colorful, mildly dilapidated seating bowl.

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The view in the other direction is not recommended (at least not until the sun goes down.)

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The reception I get from teams varies from ballpark to ballpark, but the 51s win the award for “least interested.” I was alone and adrift the entire evening, a very strange sensation and a complete anomaly when compared to the other 26 teams I visited in 2016.

Speaking of alien sensations…

img_0251The above piece of apparel was one of many such items for sale in the team store. What I loved the most, however, were these shelves of ’80s-era trading cards and other pop culture ephemera. These shelves reminded me of my childhood, as these were the sort of things I would reliably spend my allowance money on.

img_0253I refrained from making an impulse purchase, returning to the concourse in time to witness an ear-shattering National Anthem. This was a preview of what was to come, in that the PA at Cashman Field was blasting at high decibels throughout the ballgame. (This, combined with malfunctioning microphones, did not lend itself to high-quality between-innings entertainment.)

Shortly after the game began, I did something I rarely do at a ballpark: Sit in my seat.

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At least two fans were sporting Wally Backman jerseys, in honor of the New York Mets icon-turned 51s manager (he and the Mets organization parted ways after the season).

img_2439In case you forgot, it was Superhero Night. Eric Campbell seemed on the cusp of making a Web Gem.

img_0259Pretty soon, the wandering urge took over again.

Apparently, it was also Supervillain Night.

img_2444Throughout the evening, the booming voice of Bruce the Beer Man reverberated throughout the stadium. Later in the ballgame, I tracked him down and got an up close and personal sampling of his auditory power.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote and disseminated my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

The Pacific Coast League is known for long, offense-laden games, and this one was no exception. The 51s and Fresno Grizzlies combined for 26 hits, and when all was said and done the home team won by a score of 10-8. Josh Smoker pitched the ninth for the 51s and struck out the side, with Andrew Alpin being his final victim.

The evening concluded with a minimalist version of Launch-A-Ball, clearly a commentary on the mindless excess to be found elsewhere in the Sin City. A single Hula Hop was placed in the outfield, and that was it.

img_2463Good night from Las Vegas.

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***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Ribs and Donut Burgers in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Heading into my West Coast road trip, I was shocked and borderline appalled that no one had volunteered to be my designated eater in Sacramento. I expect that in smaller markets — your Princeton, West Virginia’s and what have you — but California’s capital city? Perhaps my reach, which I assumed to be vaster than a 1001 galaxies, is less than I thought.

Nonetheless, I still had a designated eater in Sacramento. Two, in fact. They were recruited by the River Cats.

Kyle Moses is on the left, Mike Hager is on the right.

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Kyle and Mike are the best of pals. They’re both from Tracy, California (about an hour south of Sacramento) and have been fans of the River Cats ever since the team arrived on the scene in the year 2000. Kyle and Mike grew up together, played with and against one another in various sports and now work together (at Rise Medical Staffing). Oh, and they’re roommates. There’s a picture in their living room of the two of them in their travel team baseball uniforms, hanging out in a Raley Park suite.

And now, they’re designated eaters together, tasked with the job of consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. But speaking of gluten-free, the River Cats food and beverage team (led, in this case, by sous chef Ryan) whipped up a few dishes for me.

There was shrimp and broccoli over rice, enlivened with pepper flakes.

img_0005There were also lettuce wraps, with citrus brine turkey, apple cider vinegar mustard and tomatoes.

img_0006I enjoyed both of these items, but the lettuce wrap was particularly excellent, a great mix of texture and flavors. Everything was a blur at this point. The food was being placed before us and taken away at a rate that was making my head spin.

So let’s get back to Kyle and Mike, as they’re the stars of the show here. Or perhaps the real star of the show is this plate of barbecue ribs.

img_0007Have at it, guys:

Kyle immediately praised the sauce, which chef Ryan said was Sweet Baby Ray’s.

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“The meat falls right off the bone,” said Mike. “Barbecue is where I can be most critical, but this is prime.”

Mike can be critical of barbecue because Mike is a true barbecue aficionado. He bases road trips around visiting restaurants and does it himself in the backyard. This is a passion he inherited from his father, a regular in barbecue competitions and former manager of a Kinders restaurant (a California-based barbecue chain).

Next up was a turkey cheddar panini (with bacon), served with house made chips and a French onion dipping sauce. Kyle and Ryan can be seen brandishing their paninis in the photo at the top of this post.

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“I like the way it’s pressed, it has a nice texture,” said Kyle. “Some places do a mediocre job with that.”

“I didn’t have a problem with it,” said Mike. “Everything was good.”

We then moved on to the piece de resistance, a donut bacon cheeseburger.

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Another view:

img_2210Specifically, this consists of a third-pound never-frozen burger topped with two bacon rounds and tomatoes. The donuts are from a local bakery.

While Mike said he liked the “sweet and saltiness,” Kyle said that if he ordered it again then he’d abstain from the tomato.

“If I’m gonna go with something that’s 800 calories, then I don’t need a tomato,” he said. “The meat, bacon and donut is fantastic. I don’t think it gets better than that.”

img_0013And that was it for Kyle and Mike, best friends until the end.

“I’d get everything again,” said Mike. “I’ve never not been satisfied here with what I’ve gotten. I’ve never left Raley Field hungry.”

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: A Heads-Up Approach in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Welcome to the second of three posts concerning the Sacramento River Cats, who play at Raley Field.

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I visited the River Cats on a Monday night. Teams hate when I visit on Mondays, as they want a man of my vast influence and prestige to witness them at their best (read: fullest). Some of my Monday evening victims accept their fate. Others, like River Cats marketing manager Emily Williams, resort to blatant acts of censorship when I attempt to document the surroundings.

img_0030To be fair, the River Cats have been at or near the top of Minor League attendance rankings ever since their 2000 inception. In 2015, the first year of their affiliation with the Giants, they drew 672,354 to lead all of Minor League Baseball.

And, regardless, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful ballpark. The game time temperature was 84 degrees, the skies were clear and there was a slight breeze in the air. Fans seeking additional shade had the option of sitting beneath what I believe are the biggest berm trees in Minor League Baseball.

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Beyond the berm, there lurks a city skyline view. That’s the Tower Bridge on the left, whose two golden towers combine to form an “au” pair.

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My wanderings, at this stage in the evening, didn’t last very long. The River Cats have a nightly “Heads of State” race featuring a triumvirate of California governors: Gray Davis, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Davis may not be as memorable as the other two, but you may be able to recall him).

I was invited to participate in the race, and chose to run as Ronald Reagan.

As the above tweet describes (albeit with a typo), I won. Here’s the proof (you can also see how close I came to losing my head).

The race itself was tiring, given how top-heavy the costume is and the fact that I’m maybe not in the best shape. But what was really difficult was the race’s aftermath. We entered the stands at the home plate side of the ballpark, trodding up the stairs and then on to the concourse. Thus began a long, slow walk back to our outfield changing area (aka “the groundskeeper’s shed”) during which we were accosted by fans for high-fives and photos. At first I enjoyed this, the way I always enjoy being in a mascot suit of any kind. It’s a surreal feeling, knowing that the “you” that people are interacting with is different than the “you” that is in the suit. It’s a liberating, and exhilarating, sensation, this transformation into a larger-than-life figure who people want to see, know and touch.

But I don’t have the stamina for it. As our walk progressed, a deep, dizzy fatigue set in and along with it an increasing desperation to no longer be Ronald Reagan. If the stands had been a little more crowded, or the weather a little hotter, I think I would have passed out. And, believe me, no one wants to see an unconscious Ronald Reagan sprawled on the concourse of a Minor League Baseball stadium.

Finally, after what seemed like hours but was only minutes, we were able to leave the public eye. I no longer had to be Ronnie. The only thing trickling down was the sweat on my brow.

img_221310 minutes later, I returned to wandering ballpark blogger mode. It was as if nothing had ever happened.

I soon met with River Cats president Jeff Savage, whose late father, Art, bought the Pacific Coast League’s Vancouver franchise and relocated it to Sacramento. The Savage name is synonymous with River Cats baseball. Susan Savage, Jeff’s mom, is the team’s CEO and majority owner. Brent, his brother, works for the team as well. Brent is confined to a wheelchair, and Jeff said that one of the reasons his dad wanted a team in Sacramento was so that Brent “always had a place he wanted to be.”

Raley Field, a privately-owned facility, was built in just nine months and opened in May of 2000. Jeff said that, prior to the stadium’s opening, its West Sacramento location was a desolate industrial area.

“No one in their right mind would come to West Sacramento,” he said. “You just didn’t do it.”

In this ceiling mural, Art Savage can be seen in the top left, wearing a green shirt.

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This mural, titled “Here and Now”, has an interesting concept. Sacramento baseball greats are seen mingling with their younger selves.

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Prior to the River Cats, Sacramento had hosted a team in the form of the PCL’s “Solons.” Solon is an archaic term for a politician, coined in honor of the Greek lawmaker who went by that name. The Solons’ farewell occurred in 1976.

Since the 2000 opening of Raley Field, the ownership group has made improvements whenever they’ve had the means to do so. A fairly recent upgrade is the Legacy Club, a premium group area which opened in 2015.

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In the Legacy Club, you can turn your back to the game to watch the game.

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There’s always room for more improvement, such as this undeveloped area deep behind the outfield. Currently, it is a picnic table graveyard which, truth be told, I found very appealing.

img_0043I mentioned this billboard in my previous post but, man, it’s a huge billboard (and sunshade).

img_0046The River Cats introduced “Sac Town” merchandise prior to the season (designed in house), which has proven to be popular in the area.

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img_0048I concluded my evening in the press box, as the River Cats wrapped up a 7-0 victory over Salt Lake.

img_2217With the game over, there was only one thing left to do: Write and disseminate a Subversive and Groundbreaking Ballpark Joke.

They can’t all be winners.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Surveying the Scene in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

My third and final road trip of the Minor League season was a long, sprawling and often counter-intuitive journey, one that started in Sacramento and ended in Spokane. So let’s start at the beginning; Sacramento, California’s capital city and the home of the River Cats. The River Cats, Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, have played at Raley Field since the stadium opened in 2000.

img_0002Immediately upon arriving, I met with media relations coordinator Robert Barsanti. He ushered me down a pathway situated betwixt outfield wall and ribbon board, with the net overhead protecting us from batting practice dingers and other skyborne hazards.

img_0004The dusty road led us to the clubhouses, which led me to a scheduled interview with River Cats manager Jose Alguacil. This scheduled interview led to a feature story, which I invite you to read by clicking HERE. Jose, whom everyone calls “Auggie,” is an interesting and likable guy and if he’s not managing or coaching in in the big leagues within three years I’ll eat my hat.

My interview with Auggie led to a pregame meeting with my designated eaters, which will be documented shortly. When the designated eating was complete, I was able to partake in the activity that most truly speaks to the core of my inner being: aimless wandering.

This was the scene from the outfield berm as the Monday evening crowd trickled in. That Roseville Automall billboard, which doubles as a sunshade, may just be the largest sign to have ever been situated in a Minor League Baseball stadium.

img_0018In the visitor’s bullpen, Salt Lake Bees starter Zach Nuding was getting warmed up for a game he would (spoiler alert) lose.

img_0019I think what I was trying to convey with the below picture is that the River Cats have various gardens on the stadium premises, a fine microcosm of the region’s robust agriculture industry.

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After admiring the foliage, I followed this ponytailed man down the concourse walkway. When in doubt, always follow a ponytailed man.

img_0021As you can see in the above picture, steel beams on the concourse are enlivened with the vibrant work of young local artists.

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This one’s my favorite:

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Also enlivening the concourse is this family of River Cats fans living above the team store. I stared at this guy for hours and not once did he put down his binoculars. I bet that, when he looks in the mirror, he sees a human raccoon.

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When I returned to this very spot, more than three hours later, the kid’s ice cream hadn’t melted nor had the gentleman taken even one sip of his beer.
img_0023This picture bellow is — let’s face it — kind of lousy. But I include it to point out that California only recently legalized 50-50 raffles and, thus, 2016 marked the first season that the River Cats were able to stage them.

img_0024Speaking of 50-50, last season the River Cats gave away “Barry Zito dual replica jerseys.”

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The Oakland/San Francisco split also describes the River Cats themselves, who were affiliated with the former for the first 15 years of their existence (2000-2014).

This third base-side beer garden, in the tradition of great beer gardens everywhere, serves beer and paninis. There may be plans in the works to expand the menu.

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I could go on…and I will! But not in this post. I’ll go on in the next one. Stay tuned for much more from Sacramento.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Reno Aces, August 8, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write a quick blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, when I return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and perhaps even love. On Monday night I visited Reno, Nevada, the seventh stop on my sprawling 10-team California-Nevada-Idaho-Washington road trip.

August 8: Reno Aces (Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks)

Opponent: Salt Lake Bees, 7:05 p.m.

Greater Nevada Field, from the outside: 

IMG_0272Greater Nevada Field, from within: 

IMG_0292Culinary Creation: Funnel cake, red velvet funnel cake and a deep-fried Snickers bar lurking in the back.

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Ballpark Character: Princess, a 10-year-old pit bull rescue dog, has become a ballpark celebrity. She shares an office with her owner, Aces executive vice president Andrew Daugherty.

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At Random: Aces shortstop Jack Reinheimer made a cameo as designated eater, becoming the first-ever active player to act in this capacity. A truly historic moment.

IMG_2526Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

August 10: Boise Hawks (vs. Hillsboro, 7:15 p.m.)

August 11: Tri-City Dust Devils (vs. Spokane, 7:15 p.m.)

August 12: Spokane Indians (vs. Eugene, 6:30 p.m.)

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Las Vegas 51s, August 6, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write a quick blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, when I return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and perhaps even love. On Saturday night I visited Las Vegas, the sixth stop on my sprawling 10-team California-Nevada-Idaho-Washington road trip.

August 6: Las Vegas 51s (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets)

Opponent: Fresno Grizzlies, 7:05 p.m.

Cashman Field, from the outside: 

IMG_0246Cashman Field, from within: 

IMG_2431Culinary Creation: Atomic Dog (hot dog, bacon, nacho cheese, jalapenos on a pretzel bun)

IMG_2447Ballpark Character: Bruce the Beer Man is very, very, very loud.

At Random: I finally got around to doing a #cupdate, for all the #cupdate fiends out there.

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

August 8: Reno Aces (vs. Salt Lake, 7:05 p.m.)

August 10: Boise Hawks (vs. Hillsboro, 7:15 p.m.)

August 11: Tri-City Dust Devils (vs. Spokane, 7:15 p.m.)

August 12: Spokane Indians (vs. Eugene, 6:30 p.m.)

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz