Tagged: Plunger Rejection

On the Road: He Would Not Accept the Plunger in West Michigan

And we’re back!

Part one of this riveting West Michigan saga was largely a pre-game tour of the WhiteCaps’ Fifth Third Ballpark, serving as the proverbial aperitif to the degustatory delight that is this post’s main course.

Are you ready to take the plunge? Let’s go!


My evening began just outside the pressbox, as broadcaster Ben Chiswick interviewed me as part of his pre-game show on 107.3 FM. Seven photos were taken during this interview, and in all of them I look similarly slouched over and sloth-like. None of these pictures will become a new online dating profile pic. I’m losing my edge.


Convinced that my slovenly appearance was caused by an ill-fitting shirt (as opposed to lack of exercise and poor diet, which would of course be impossible), I headed out in search of a new addition to my wardrobe.

And, voila! It was “70s Night,” and in conjunction with this time-tested theme promo the Whitecaps had set up a DIY tie-dye (or tie-DIY, if you prefer) t-shirt stand out in the right field area.


The process is simple: don a pair of rubber gloves, put rubber bands all over the t-shirt, and then spray with your choice of colors.

Uh, dude? You might want to be more careful with where you’re pointing that yellow bottle.


I actually had too many rubber bands wrapped around the shirt, which severely limited the areas which actually got colored. But on the whole I liked my shirt and its minimalist psychedelic motif. If this shirt was a band it’d be Silver Apples.


As it turns out the shirts had to be hung out to dry, so I was condemned to an evening of looking like the schlub that I undoubtedly am. C’est la vie, it was a beautiful night and we live in a beautiful world and such self-obsession is unseemly if inevitable.


At this juncture duty called me back to the field, as I was slated to be among a small army of ceremonial first pitch throwers. While down there, I met these guys:


There’s something I like about this picture. Dim the lighting a bit and it would look like a still from a David Lynch fever dream.


074First pitch throwers galore, not to be confused with the James Bond villain or exemplary 80s scuzz rock. 


Here I am en route to the mound, as the PA announcer (one Michael Newell, we’ll meet him later) went on a flattering spiel that credited me with making the Fifth Third Burger internationally famous. Hyperbole? Sure. But I did my part. 


No documentation exists, fortunately, but I bounced the pitch ( a stark contrast to the perfect strike in Great Lakes).

Here I am walking back from the mound in shame, as my fellow first pitchers (seen on the videoboard) laugh derisively:


But who cares? No one was there to see me. The real stars of this first pitch cavalcade were coaches and players from the Grand Rapids Griffins, who had just won the Calder Cup (the AHL’s equivalent to the Stanley Cup).

Sad Champion, not to be confused with the world’s best-named meteorologist:


Back on the concourse I witnessed the best National Anthem I’ve seen in 2013. John Pylman, a WWII veteran who was on the crew of a B17 bomber (as was my grandfather), absolutely nailed a no-frills rendition. He knew what he was capable of and did it marvelously.


For this dude, the National Anthem just meant a 90 second reprieve from trying to single-handedly consume a 5/3rd pound $22 hamburger.


It’s a whole lot of burger.

The Fifth Third Burger was just part of a humongous ballpark spread that the Whitecaps had laid out for me at the table adjacent.


It’s a bit jumbled, but this represents my best attempt to decipher the above image:

Back row: shrimp po’ boy, deep fried cheese cake, the Fifth Third Burger

Third row: sausage kabobs, Steyhauser steak sandwich, three Bacos

Second row: three orders of deep fried mac and cheese bites

First row: foot long corn dog, gluten-free hot dog, standard issue all-beef hot dog, and two turkey legs

Of course, my gluten-free diet prohibits the consumption of most of the above items. As you’ll recall from my previous post my designated eaters for the evening were local radio DJs Flounder and Marty, but this duo were nowhere to be found.

So, it was time for improvisation! The Baco — lettuce and tomato on a “taco” shell made out of approximately eight strips of bacon — is gluten-free so I started right in on that.


There are no surprises with the Baco — it has very few ingredients and is, in essence, a bunless BLT. It tastes great and I’d recommend it, but at the same time it’s not the orgasmic explosion of flavor that some in the so-called blogosphere would make it out to be. What is with this current obsession with bacon in our culture? Yes, it tastes great, but the internet needs to calm down with all of this snarky and ultimately demeaning “bacon is like unicorns dancing in my mouth” style rhetoric. We are adults. Barely. But adults nonetheless.

Okay, I don’t know where that came from. Let’s move on.

Whitecaps promotions manager Brian Oropallo soon jumped into the fray, picking up a shrimp po’ boy with grace and aplomb.


“The seasoning is where the flavor is,” said Oropollo, who is perhaps more physically fit than I am. “It’s got a little kick to it, maybe there’s some cayenne pepper in there.”

And back to me, this time with a gluten-free hot dog (the bun is made of rice flour).


I know this looks fundamentally unexciting, but for me it was great to have a solid ballpark hot dog again. The bun held together nicely and tasted fine, and I’d implore all teams to add similar gluten-free options to their concession offerings. I’ve noticed that some teams equate “gluten-free” with health conscious as in “we offer fruit cups and carrot sticks,” but really all I’m looking for is to a return to normalcy. Unhealthy is fine, I’m at a ballpark!

Matt LaWell, in town to chronicle the adventures of yours truly for his upcoming book on Minor League Baseball, entered the fray as well. He appears to be eating a steak sandwich with a fork in this picture, although the only food quote of his I have written down involves the deep fried mac and cheese. (“Really creamy,” he observed.)


Also enjoying the deep fried mac and cheese was Kevin Huisman, a longtime Ben’s Biz reader and Grand Rapids resident who stopped by the stadium to say hello. I was like, “We’re sans-Flounder and Marty, so dive right in to some designated eating!”

He obliged, calling the deep-fried mac and cheese “stellar” and then diving into the Baco. Of the latter, he said that “It’s really crumbly, so it’s a good thing it’s served in a boat. The bacon’s great, but the veggies are really fresh and that’s what makes it.”

Smoke 'em if you got 'em

Smoke ’em if you got ’em



After the before:


And back to me with the sausage kabob, as media relations manager and noted kabob fan Mickey Graham stands in the background. This looked gluten-free so I pretended it was. God forgive me. It was great.


My attention was momentarily diverted by an on-field appliance race.



I don’t really know what transpired, but what I do know is that Marty soon arrived on the scene. He was sans-Flounder, but one half of a morning radio DJ team is better than no morning radio DJ team at all.

Welcome, Marty! Here, he and I pose with the mighty Fifth Third Burger.


Introduce yourself, Marty.

Marty, making up for lost time:

Fifth Third Burger!


Steak sandwich!


Deep fried cheese cake! (“It needs dipping sauce,” he reported.)


At this point, the impromptu quartet of designated eaters had morphed into a ruthless consumption machine. Oropallo, ever creative, even began to eat his own arm.

Hey Ladies!

Hey Ladies!

But I had a job to do, and this job was to serve as guest MC for a between-inning contest. I was to announce the “Meijer’s M-Perks Price Drop” while throwing water-soaked blue balls into the crowd. My script, such as it was, as I jotted it down in my notebook with one out until showtime:

“Fans, make some noise! The Ferris [sic?] coffee crew and the mascots are tossing out Meijer M-Perks price drop balls into the crowd and if YOU catch a ball take it to customer service and claim your prize.” [Actually, this whole paragraph is sic.]

All things considered I think I actually did pretty well, and I have no complaints whatsoever with my co-worker.



With that nerve-wracking 90 seconds of my life complete, I returned to the designated eating station. Marty had been abandoned — first by Flounder, and now by his impromptu crew. But still, Marty persevered.


I hope that we’re all Marty fans by now. But, still, I abandoned him in favor of my next enterprise. Graham and I headed to the manual scoreboard, so that I could once again attempt to work it (as you’ll recall from my first West Michigan post, my initial attempt to do this was lackluster at best).

The view along the way:


Hi, everybody!


New online Dayton profile pic

Billy was out there working the scoreboard, and under his able and patient tutelage I was able to do so as well.


Easy does it:


The velveteen touch of a dandy fop:


Success! Thanks, Billy!


Meanwhile, Marty had switched to beer and had made new friends. God bless Marty.


At the table adjacent, a hardy burger-eater was in the process of celebrating his burger eating accomplishments.


All I could do, meanwhile, was eat and run (and, yes, I realize the extent to which I overuse the word “meanwhile.” If I overused “meantime” then at least I’d have an excuse to link to one of the top five songs of all time.)

I was on the run because I had yet another job to do. Or, more accurately, I had Michael Newell’s job to do.


Newell, a school counselor, is in his 17th season as the Whitecaps PA announcer.

“It’s an absolutely great summer job,” he told me. “You can’t get me out of here.”

I could, however, do his job for a half inning. Newell’s tip was to “just yell,” though I had to restrain, or curb, my enthusiasm due to the fact that the visiting Dayton Dragons were at the plate. From my notes, these were the players that came to the plate: “Zach Vince-y, Seth Ma-hee-us Breen, Jeff Jello-Litch, Junior Air-e-us.”

Welcome to the Terrordome:


In action:

Yes, in the above video I am saying the unremarkable name of “Jesse Winker.” But, for what it’s worth, Newell told me his favorite all-time name to say is Pedro Santana because “you really get to stretch the vowels out.”

Back outside the press box, I realized that Marty was capable of near supernatural levels of omniscience.

But I didn’t have time to ponder such things. My presence was wanted on the concourse, so that I could award a plunger to one lucky (and randomly selected) fan.


Hey ladies!

The randomly selected fan was pointed out to me, and all I had to do was approach him and say “Congratulations, you’ve been randomly selected to win a Penning plunger!”

Except, this happened. Without hyperbole, I’ll say that this is my favorite six seconds of my professional career. And, also, this is certainly my favorite Vine video.

I am not one to call my own material classic, but this is classic.

“I deal with those things all day long! Are you freaking kidding me? You’re going to offer that to a guy in building maintenance? You’ve got some nerve.”

Other quotes I have written down from this exchange:

“This is like giving motor oil to a mechanic.”

“If this ends up in our newsletter I’ll never hear the end of it.”

But here’s the thing. This awesome guy’s awesome friends wanted the plunger, so long as I signed it with “Go Whitecaps!”



And soon enough, we were all friends. These guys are the best.


I celebrated this triumph of human interaction with a gluten-free Redbridge beer.


And this was followed by a full-throated rendition of the seventh-inning stretch, followed by a totally confused attempt to dance to (what I think was) Cotton Eyed Joe.



From left to right: Beautiful, Beautiful, Handsome, Schlub


Back on the concourse, it was time to fulfill obligations.



Stadium panorama, with now-obligatory Matt LaWell sighting.


Finally, I descended to the dugout. It was time for the fat lady to sing.


Except, no, the Whitecaps lost the game. The Fat Lady never got “her” chance to sing, and the ballgame ended with me sitting in the dugout dejectedly.


When I was down there in the dugout, five members of the promo staff asked to take a picture with me. I swear it wasn’t the other way around, but nonetheless this photo will warm my soul for the remainder of my days on this Earth.


I’m not sure if he took the above photo, but Whitecaps video intern Paul Salley took many great photos throughout the night and is great guy in general. So thanks to you, Paul. (Paul is currently writing a book on Wings guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, and I will gladly share more info on that as it materializes.)


Meanwhile (there’s that word again), up in the press box, Whitecaps official scorer Mike Dean ended his work day by cranking out some Handel on the harmonica. He is known for doing this.

But STILL the night was not over. Out on the post-game part deck, River City Stew was cranking out some tunes.


But this too shall pass. The last note, like that of Mike Dean, was on the harmonica.

And THAT was all that she wrote from West Michigan. Disseminate this post widely.