Return to the Road 2015: Trip Three, Chapter Two
The previous installment of my “Return to the Road” series of blog posts covered my time in Richmond on June 25 and 26th. On the afternoon of June 26th, I left Richmond and drove straight to Norfolk’s Harbor Park for that evening’s game between the Tides and Toledo Mud Hens. That was a horrible drive. I got stuck in horrific traffic en route to a tunnel whose name I do not care to remember, and by the time I arrived at the ballpark I could barely think coherently.
The next day, my mind had returned to an acceptably functioning state. Before embarking on the 200-mile drive to Lynchburg, I set my coordinates for — you guessed it — a record store. This is The Groove Record Shop, located on the ground floor of a new(ish) apartment building on Granby Street.
I was greeted at The Groove by Paul Levine, the store’s amiable sexagenarian owner. He told me an abbreviated version of that which is explained in this local news article — namely, that the original Groove Record Shop opened in 1949 and was owned by parents, with the store eventually moving to Granby Street. When Levine opened up the “new” Groove in 2014, it marked a triumphant return to Granby Street after a 46-year hiatus.
Why can’t I ever take a good picture when I’m inside a record store?
The Groove’s overall selection was solid but relatively sparse: All vinyl, both new and used. I picked up a used copy of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and a slightly damaged early Bob Seger record (“Smokin’ O.P.’s”, which is unfortunately not a reference to on-base plus slugging percentage).
After leaving The Groove, I briefly admired Granby Street’s faded historical signage.
Shortly thereafter, I pulled in to the Virginia Diner. Because, you know, it’s a Legend in a Nutshell.
In Waverly, Virginia, I found Cowling’s BBQ.
This was North Carolina-style barbecue, with a vinegar-based sauce. I prefer a vinegar-based sauce, especially when it’s atop a pile of succulent pulled pork.
After that, things are kind of a blur for the next couple of days. I attended that evening’s (rained-out) Lynchburg Hillcats game, and was on the road the next morning for a pleasant Sunday drive to Salem. After seeing the Salem Red Sox that afternoon, I visited a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I forget the name of this Mexican restaurant, but after doing a little internet research I’m going to guess that it was El Toreo.
At any rate, this is the most absurd amount of food I’ve ever ended up with after placing a single order.
I live in NYC, which also has terrible traffic, but the difference is that you can live in NYC without a car. I don’t understand how people can live in suburban D.C. and not have the traffic drive them insane. Their tolerance for daily suffering is greater than mine.
On June 30th I finally left the confines of Virginia, crossing the state line into Maryland en route to West Virginia to see the Black Bears. Along the way, somewhere in Maryland, I stopped at a convenience store and bought the local Dutch delicacy that is the beet egg. (I was already aware of beet eggs as a result of buying one at a Hagerstown Suns game I attended in 2011.)
Beet eggs are naturally reddish-purple in color, as a result of being pickled in a beet-based brine, but for some reason the eggs I bought listed “red food coloring” as an ingredient. This just makes them redder, I guess.
After witnessing June 30’s West Virginia Black Bears game, I drove straight to Pittsburgh and arrived late that night. I went to college in Pittsburgh (Pitt, class of 2001) and still have friends there, so this was a good opportunity for a quick visit.
When in Pittsburgh, visiting Jerry’s Records is a must. An absolute must. As I’ve written before (and will write again), it is the world’s greatest record store.
This is the main room of the store, but there are several other rooms and thus plenty more records beyond what can be seen in this picture.
I contemplated buying this album and sending it to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers broadcaster (and noted ’70s TV aficionado) Chris Mehring. Instead, I just took a picture. I mean, why would one buy a Kojak album instead of watching him on the Telly?
And on and on it goes. Jerry’s is a goldmine, and I bought a bunch of stuff. I won’t bore you with the details. There have been too many of those already.
Thank you for, once again, for returning to the road with me. I’ve got two more trips left to write about in this manner, which should then lead to the announcement of my 2016 travel itinerary. Is it ever not the season?
To see all posts from my June 29, 2015 visit to the Potomac Nationals (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my June 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
This is Tony Jaeger.
Tony’s last name does not have an umlaut, but his name is pronounced as if it was the first two syllables of herbal liqueur Jagermeister (which does have an umlaut). He said that bartenders sometimes give him free shots of Jagermeister, which is good, because it’s not a drink that he likes enough to actually pay for.
But Tony wasn’t attending this Potomac Nationals game so he could drink, or at least that wasn’t the primary reason. He was attending it so he could eat. Specifically, he was to serve as my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). He was joined at Pfitzner Stadium by his girlfriend, Katie. They met on eHarmony, and have been dating for six months.
Tony, an El Paso native, lives in Washington D.C. (about a 45-minute drive from “The Pfitz”). He works for a non-profit organization that aids those recovering from addiction, managing the property and also assisting with activities.
“I’ve watched him do bingo,” Katie said.
Katie, meanwhile, had been an elementary school teacher for the last decade. She recently resigned, however, saying that it’s “a longer day than I get paid for.”
Tony and Katie are both baseball fans. He has a share of a Washington Nationals season-ticket plan, regularly rides his bike to games and follows the team’s affiliates online. Katie, who lives in Annapolis, Maryland, is a Baltimore Orioles supporter. She also supported Tony’s designated eating endeavors.
“I’m excited; he likes to eat,” she said. “And I like this stadium. It’s what baseball is really about. I’m glad we’re here.”
The three of us were standing in the Cafe Area, a concession and picnic area located just past the main entrance. The Cafe Area had a fairly wide-ranging menu, including, yes, a bacon boat.
The Cafe Area also had a tremendous line, one so long that I have to show it over the course of two photographs.
We were in search of “The Codfather,” a fried fish sandwich obtainable at the tent on the left. There was no line to speak of at this tent, thank goodness. The mighty Ben’s Biz does not deign to wait in lines.
And here’s a short video:
Designated Eater checks in, Potomac Nationals https://t.co/ws9f5OhD6a
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 29, 2015
“Thank God for the cole slaw, otherwise it’s just fried seafood in a hot dog bun,” said Tony, of the Codfather. “It’s good, tasty, if someone was looking for something substantial. I would add cocktail sauce.”
Okay, what’s next?
“Let’s look for the enigmatic,” it says in my notebook. I’m not sure who said that, but it captures our collective spirit at that moment. Specifically, we were looking for the enigmatic “National Burger,” which had been suggested earlier in the evening by P-Nats general manager Josh Olerud. But where could this burger be obtained? It wasn’t in the Cafe Area and it wasn’t in the same tent location in which we had located the Codfather.
As we bravely plunged into the crowded concourse area, our fates uncertain, I heard a voice call my name. It was P-Nats food and beverage manager Aaron Johnson, and in his hand was the mysterious National Burger. The enigmatic had been located, and all was right with the world.
Johnson explained that the National Burger consisted of a pub burger topped with two slices of American cheese (one white and one yellow) and a Nathan’s hot dog. Beneath the burger, serving as the base, was a layer of french fries.
“Since our team name is the Nationals, we figured we’d do something all-American,” Johnson said.
Tony wasted no time getting down to business.
“Oh, that’s good,” he said. “I couldn’t taste the potatoes, but cheese, burger and hot dogs captures the taste buds. And it’s not falling apart. If there was [an eating] challenge with this, I’d do it. And I’d get it again, if I could find it.”
And with that, Tony had completed his designated eating duties. He and Katie were free to return to their seats, which were located right behind home plate (courtesy of the P-Nats).
“They’re excellent seats,” Tony said. “I was telling [Katie], ‘Baby, this is the closest you’re ever gonna see home plate.'”
To see all posts from my June 29, 2015 visit to the Potomac Nationals (this is part two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my June 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
I’m running out of ways to introduce the second part of a blog post series. It almost always begins at the start of the ballgame, and this post is no exception: A baseball game had just begun; specifically a Carolina League contest between the Potomac Nationals and visiting Carolina Mudcats at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium.
As mentioned in the previous post, this is a stadium that faces west to a degree that is less-than-ideal.
It was a Monday, but it wasn’t just any Monday. It was Dollar Monday — $1 general admission tickets and $1 hot dogs. This led to a much larger crowd than I was expecting, which was later announced at 5,137. The concourse can barely accommodate such a robust group of buck wiener seekers.
Among the fans in attendance was Todd Headington, who asked for a photo and later tweeted the following. This is the first time I’ve ever been called a “MiLB Hero” and, yeah, I’m bragging about it.
— Todd Headington (@AskShazam) June 30, 2015
But the real heroes are the guys on the field. I’m talking, of course, about that evening’s roster of Intern Olympians. There was some structure to all of this, with one team competing against another throughout the night, but who needs context to enjoy absurdity? I guess the blue guy won. The denizens of the non-descending dugout were unenthused by the proceedings. Uncle Slam, looking for a handout. The sun was oppressive at the beginning of the game, but as the evening wore on it turned into an incredibly pleasant night. Yes, not just pleasant, but incredibly pleasant. It’s easy to make jokes about the Pfitz being a glorified rec league field, but tell me you wouldn’t want to be sitting in the stands on an evening like this. I dare you. I mean, really. And speaking of rec league fields, there’s one located just across the way. I took this photo through a chain link fence located on the third base side of the stadium. While there were plenty of open seats behind home plate, the bleachers were booming with $1 patrons. That was the view to my right. To my left was a front-office observation area of sorts. And straight ahead was Ken’s Place, a gathering place for a group of dedicated P-Nats fans. Would you believe that I wrote an MiLB.com story about the denizens of Ken’s Place? I’m sure you would. I don’t know why I phrased it that way. HERE is a link to the story, and here is an excerpt:
Ken’s Place [is] a standing-room-only gathering spot identified by a banner hanging on a chain-link fence that runs down the first base line. It has the atmosphere of a local watering hole, a largely male enclave where everybody seems to know everybody else. Within this convivial locale, the trash talk, in-jokes and beer flow freely. Ken’s Place is a longstanding tribute to die-hard P-Nats fan Ken Rostkowski, a mainstay at “The Pfitz” who passed away suddenly in 2007 at the age of 46.
“We’ve all been here a long time, at least 15 years,” explained Ken’s Place regular John Foot, whose name, he said, is spelled “just like a leg.” “Kenny passed away almost 10 years ago. We had all got to be pretty good friends with him. We all met through baseball.”
During my visit to Ken’s Place, something hilarious happened. For some reason, or perhaps no reason, Cookie Monster tackled Uncle Slam during a between-inning race. Uncle was Slammed to the ground, and his head popped off. I understand that headless mascots are one of Minor League Baseball’s biggest taboos, but as a conscientious journalist I have no choice but to share.
The P-Nats went on to secure a 7-2 victory over the Mudcats of Zebulon, North Carolina. But even more importantly, some interns won the Intern Olympics and some interns lost the Intern Olympics and therefore some of the winning interns hit some of the losing interns in the face with a pie of some sort.
Post-game pies in the face, Potomac Nationals Intern Olympics. https://t.co/KptjGWo9lx
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 30, 2015
There’s not much that can be done after that, except maybe toss a few tennis balls in the direction of various on-field targets. Well, actually, there was still one more thing to do. These jokes don’t write themselves.
Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day, Potomac Nationals https://t.co/MxUSUVcpfw
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 30, 2015
Good night from the Pfitz.
To see all posts from my June 29, 2015 visit to the Potomac Nationals (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my June 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
The Potomac Nationals were the penultimate stop on this, my pen-penultimate road trip of the season. The P-Nats, as they are known colloquially, play in G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium. This facility is known colloquially as “The Pfitz.”
The Pfitz is located in Woodbridge, Virginia, part of the greater Washington D.C. area. Driving in this heavily congested area gives me Pfitz, but I allotted myself plenty of time to make the trip from Salem and made it to Woodbridge uneventfully. After arriving at the listed alliterative address of 7 County Complex Court, I parked my car in a lot largely occupied by Prince William County government vehicles. After changing my shirt (yep, yet another instance of stadium parking lot toplessness), I looked around and was at first confused as to where the stadium actually was.
The Pfitz opened in 1984, and has not aged all that Orwell. P-Nats owner Art Silber has been working for years to finance a new stadium, an effort I covered in some detail during the offseason, and its days appear to be numbered. But despite the long-articulated deficiencies of this no-frills Carolina League facility, I was immediately charmed by it.
Uncle Slam wants you to, per industry operating principles, enjoy an evening of affordable family-friendly fun.
In the adjacent ticket office, I became acquainted with a triumvirate of recent P-Nats giveaway items: Wilson “The Buffalo” Ramos, Michael Taylor Flattop figurine and the Jayson Werth Beard-A-Rine. All of them make perfect sense and do not need to be explained.
We now transition from big names to a small concourse.
Pollowitz doesn’t dress like this every game, or at least I don’t think he does. The P-Nats were staging the “Intern Olympics” on this Monday evening, an event of great pomp and pageantry that required costumes such as the above. Weiners could be seen everywhere.
Finally, mercifully, I made it out onto the field of play. The Pfitz is a minimalist amalgam of seats and bleachers.
This, allegedly, is the best seat in the house.
There is little relief from the sun, however, a situation that is exacerbated by the Pfitz’s less-than-ideal orientation. It’s not at Bakersfield (or even Batavia) facing-the-sun levels, but still pretty bad.
The start of the game was still more than half an hour away. Thus, it was an ideal time to conduct an interview. This, here, is Thomas J. Rhoads, a Towson University professor and author of the recently-published The Call Up to the Majors: A Proximity-Based Approach to the Economics of Minor League Baseball.
I’ll write an article based on my interview with Thomas, as soon as I get the chance (as you may have noticed, I’m having a real hard time keeping up with my travel schedule this season). But I’d recommend checking out his book if you’re interested in the business of Minor League Baseball (although, fair warning, it is priced at an academic rather than mass audience level). From the back cover:
This book explores the unique relationships between professional baseball teams and the unique ways professional baseball teams are organized in North America with a primary focus on how proximity can and does impact consumer demand.
After taking the photo of Thomas seen above, I turned to my right and found myself in proximity to this quintessentially Minor League Baseball tableau.
Toilets, stanchions, plastic chairs and beer ads: Welcome to Minor League Baseball pic.twitter.com/pebR1zApdg
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 29, 2015
Okay, enough stall-ing, it was time for the game to begin. The starters hustled out onto the field for the National Anthem.
As for me, I’ll take my sweet old time finishing up this Potomac Nationals blog series. It’s not like I’m leaving on my next trip in a couple of days or anything. Stay tuned…
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!
June 28, 2015: G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, home of the Potomac Nationals
Opponent: Carolina Mudcats, 7:05 p.m. game time.
G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, from the outside:
6/30: West Virginia Black Bears