Tagged: Peoria Chiefs 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: Chips, Burgers and Beer in Peoria

To see all of my posts from my May 26, 2015 visit to the Peoria Chiefs (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.

The Peoria Chiefs, who played their first season in 1983, were named in honor of the Peoria Indian tribe. But, in these more culturally aware times, the team has shifted its iconography and marketing to more firefighter-oriented themes. You know, like “Fire Chiefs.”

Peoria_ChiefsThe Dozer Park concession areas follow this incendiary theme, with stands like these:

004

007My designated eater on this evening — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits — had no interest in visiting either of the above two locales. This individual, one Thomas Doran, was in fact saddened at the suggestion that we do so.

031Only one thing could turn Thomas’s frown upside down . He was a big fan of Mexican cuisine, and therefore wanted to stop at a concession stand with the alliterative name of Cantina Caliente.

So that’s what we did. Pulled Pork Nachos put Thomas in much better spirits.

034Before we learn about Thomas’s food opinions, let’s learn about Thomas. He’s a 22-year-old Peoria native, and a huge fan of both the Chiefs and their parent St. Louis Cardinals. He graduated from nearby Ridgewood High School, where he managed the baseball team, and then went on to Bradley University. Thomas graduated from Bradley with a bachelor’s degree in history — “Because I’m a baseball history buff” — and he is now looking for employment at either a museum or a library. While at Bradley, Thomas remained involved with baseball as the school’s play-by-play transcriber.

In my notes it says that Thomas is a “fountain of local baseball knowledge.” Several weeks after meeting him, this is what I most remember. Throughout our various conversations his eyes would light up and his speech would quicken, in his excitement to convey various baseball facts and figures. He has a true passion for what he loves.

Thomas gave high marks to the nachos overall, due to the fact that they “pack in a lot of stuff.”

029

“The chips could be stronger,” he added. “So they don’t fall apart when you scoop them.”

Thomas also enjoyed some tacos.

030

He said that these were “spicy and dripping” and that he would get them again. And if you happen to be in Peoria and have a craving for Mexican food, take note: Thomas reports that the best such restaurant in town is Blue Margaritas.

036Thomas and I were soon joined by the first “designated drinker” in Ben’s Biz history, the appropriately-named Eric Cupp.
035

Eric, an active-duty guard who lives in Paragould, Arkansas, is a big fan of the Cardinals and all Cardinals affiliates (particularly the Memphis Redbirds). He and his wife were in town celebrating their 15th anniversary, as part of a baseball-centric vacation that also included a Cardinals game in St. Louis as well as what would be his first game at Wrigley Field.

Eric was tasked with drinking the Chiefs’ new “Squeeze Play Ale,” created especially for the team by the Peoria Brewing Company. Strictly from a logo-perspective, this is the best team beer in Minor League Baseball.

sp

Eric gets to work.

“It’s smooth, but has a little bit of a bite,” said Eric. “It’s refreshing, and smooth going down. A very good beer. There’s just the right amount of flavor, to let you know that you’re still drinking a beer. It’s a shame you can’t try it, but I’m glad that you can’t.”

I can’t eat burgers either. Next, and last, up for Thomas was a “Beer Cheese Burger” from the Chiefs’ Burgertopia kiosk. I don’t think this picture really does it justice, but here you go.

038

Thomas was a man of few words: “The bun’s a little soft.”

Nonetheless, he only had good things to say about his designated eating experience.

“I did it because I wanted to be on the blog,” he said. “It’s great. I get free food, that’s the best part.”

Thanks to Thomas (and Eric) for acing their “designated” responsibilities. I enjoyed getting to know them.

033

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: A Norm-Al Night in Peoria

To see all of my posts from my May 26, 2015 visit to the Peoria Chiefs (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.

On May 25th in Clinton, I watched as Chris Mariscal’s RBI single gave the LumberKings a walk-off win over Burlington. The next day I was in Peoria, and so were the LumberKings. In the top of the 1st inning, Mariscal’s two-run homer gave them an early lead over the Chiefs.

019

Home run trot

But actually watching the baseball game wasn’t my top priority. It never is. It never can be. When Ben’s Biz is at the ballpark (as opposed to his alter-ego, mild-mannered fan Ben Hill), then wandering is the order of the day.

First things first, I hid my ceremonial first pitch baseball so that someone else might find it.

Okay, maybe this wasn’t the best-phrased tweet. I ended up getting a lot of responses like this. Everybody’s a comedian.

As mentioned in the previous post, Caterpillar HQ is located in Peoria. In fact, it’s visible from the ballpark, which is called “Dozer Park,” because Caterpillar makes Dozers.  023Here, on the concourse, is a relatively new Dozer specimen.  020And here, on the other side of the concourse, is a old Dozer specimen. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.  054In between the Dozers is, yes, the best translucent playground view in all of Minor League Baseball. I did my research, and feel confident in making this assertion.

The non-translucent views are pretty good as well.

022Especially when they are in the service of welcoming a bonafide celebrity to the ballpark. Thanks, Chiefs, for the evening-long hospitality!

028Homer was most hospitable as well. At one point, he tracked me down and handed me an autographed baseball card. What a doll.

039

A doll-mation, that is

After several pleasant innings spent with the evening’s “designated eater” — this will be documented in a separate post — I joined general manager Brendan Kelly for a pleasant stroll within the inside and upper levels of Dozer Park (which, by the way, is one of the few privately owned stadiums in Minor League Baseball).

Here is a conference suite, converted from what had been a largely unused section of the press box. The team rents it out on non-gamedays as well, to companies looking to conduct their business in a more-memorable-than-usual atmosphere.

042Across the hallway, one can enjoy the best translucent aerial team store view in Minor League Baseball. (Once again, I feel comfortable in making this assertion.)

043Down the hallway one can find the “Pete’s Perch” suite, named in honor of late, legendary Chiefs owner Pete Vonachen. Vonachen purchased the team in 1983, and was a Peoria Minor League Baseball fixture until his death in 2013 at the age of 87. His son, Rocky, now serves as team president.

050“Pete’s Perch” offers a great view of the game, of course.

052But perhaps even better is the memorabilia which can be found therein.

044Vonachen and Harry Caray were good friends, to the extent that Vonachen eulogized Caray at his funeral. Clearly, they had some good times and got in some trouble — to the extent that apologies and promises sometimes had to be made.

IMG_1281

A perhaps more heartfelt piece of Vonachen correspondence is this, from current Cubs skipper Joe Maddon. (But, c’mon Mr. Madden, you spelled Vonachen’s name wrong in the penultimate paragraph.)

046Vonachen is further immortalized on the Dozer Park concourse, via this statue depicting him in the act of benevolent ball bestowment.

067

018
068My next stop was this outfield location, so that I could meet a pair of notable ballpark occupants….

055 …Norm and Al, a couple of ears of corn who dance on the warning track in the wake of each and every Chiefs run.

056It’s kind of a funny story, how Norm and Al came to be. When the independent Frontier League Normal CornBelters team began play in 2009, they represented a direct excursion into the Peoria baseball market. The Chiefs’ response was, essentially, “Why go to Normal to see professional baseball? We’ve got “Norm” and “Al” corn right here!”

Norm and Al (no one really seemed to know which was which) also dance during the seventh-inning stretch. I was asked if I’d like to don the ear and do some dancing, and my answer to this query was “Yup!”

058

But the best dance moves at Dozer Park do not belong to Norm and Al. Not by a long shot. No one can compete with usher “Crazy Steve”, mild-mannered truck driver by day and shimmying ballpark savant by night.

066

Even more alarming than all these sweet dance moves is the fact the Chiefs have their very own ballpark fire truck, a decommissioned city vehicle that the team purchased via auction. It is still functional, and the Chiefs use it for parades, community events and the like.

070

Fire “Chiefs”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs had just trucked their way to a victory over the Clinton LumberKings. An early deficit, the result of Chris Mariscal’s first-inning home run for Clinton, had been overcome.

073Many of the fans stuck around after the game, clustering by the home dugout.

074Their mission was to procure an autograph from rehabbing St. Louis Cardinal outfielder John Jay.

075Jay, to his credit, stuck around until each and every fan had been accommodated. But a Major Leaguer’s work is never done, as outside the ballpark a small group of fans was sticking around for more.

IMG_1288Nor is a beleaguered Minor League blogger’s work ever done. It wasn’t until after the game that I realized that I had neglected to a “Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.” This is the best I could do.

I hope that’s enough, because that’s all I’ve got.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: How It Plays in Peoria

To see all of my posts from my May 26, 2015 visit to the Peoria Chiefs (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.

Last year I visited the Rome Braves, which afforded me the opportunity to use the obvious but irresistible “When in Rome” headline. And now, one year later, I have the pleasure of utilizing another no-brainer blog headline.

On May 26 I attended a Chiefs game at Dozer Park. Yep! That meant that it was now time to see how it plays in Peoria. (The little things in life. They bring me such pleasure.) Just like in Clinton the day before, the sky was huge and blue when I arrived at the stadium.

001

002Dozer Park opened in 2002 with the name of “O’Brien Field.” The “Dozer” name is the result of a naming rights deal with Caterpillar, the Peoria-based machinery and construction corporation that makes “Dozer” bulldozers.

Dozer Park is pretty on the inside.

003

And, once you look past the construction barriers, the outside views of downtown are pretty nice as well.

009

In the early days of my “On the Road” coverage, players interviews were done quite frequently. In recent years, however, they have been more or less an afterthought. Don’t take it personally, players, it’s just that I already have way too much to keep track of on these increasingly action-packed stadium visits.

But in Peoria, I made an exception. Prior to the ballgame, I spoke with “athlete-scholar” Nick Thompson and soon wrote a feature on him for MiLB.com. (Specifically, this feature was written in an Omaha-area hotel room two nights later with Littleman playing on mute.)

Dennis Sievers/Peoria Chiefs

Dennis Sievers/Peoria Chiefs

Thompson wasn’t in the starting line-up on this evening, at least in part because rehabbing St. Louis Cardinal John Jay was. As I walked around the stadium prior to the ballgame, I noticed that Cardinals fans were everywhere.

006And many of them were desirous of an autograph from Mr. Jay.

015These Chiefs, lacking autographs to sign, instead engaged in an elaborate game of charades.

010The view from out there:

011But out there I could not remain, for I was scheduled to be a guest on the Chiefs’ on-field pregame show, hosted by Midwest League broadcasting legend Nathan Baliva. Along the way I stopped to use the restroom, which I am mentioning because of this:

IMG_1272The Chiefs have flat-screen video ads above each urinal. The future has arrived in Pee-oria! They’re #1!

After a thorough hand-washing (I am nothing if not hygenic), I arrived on the field.

Cue the Monkees: “And then I saw his face. He’s Nathan Baliva.”
012After interviewing shortstop Oscar Mercado, Baliva turned his attention to me.

Homer enjoyed the interview. Really, that’s all that mattered to me.

013I then threw out a ceremonial first pitch, my second in as many days. It was, of course, a perfect strike. (If anyone has evidence to the contrary, then please get in touch.)

Oh say can you see?

016And then, of course, it was time to “Play Ball!” This young fan receives high marks in her “Play Ball” declaration efforts, largely for her committed effort to run away from the mic as quickly as she possibly can.

The scene, consider it set. The next post in this Peoria series will Chief-ly be concerned with what took place during the game itself. We’re going to keep on playing in Peoria.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Tuesday Night: Peoria Chiefs, May 26, 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. 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 26, 2015: Dozer Park, home of the Peoria Chiefs (Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals)

Opponent: Clinton LumberKings, 7 p.m. game time

Dozer Park, from the outside:

002

Dozer Park, from the inside: 

IMG_1273

Culinary Creation: Super Nachos with pork from the Caliente Cantina

029

At Random: A rehabbing Jon Jay signs autographs before the ballgame

015

Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

It’s All Over: Autograph hunters staking out the ballpark after the game, waiting for Jay to emerge

076

Next Up: 

5/27: Cedar Rapids Kernels

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers

5/29: HOME

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz