It’s time for another installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I document the non-ballpark wanderings that occurred during my 2015 road trips. I’ve already chronicled my experiences in Florida and the Midwest; now it’s time to move on to my late June trip to Virginia (and the state west of Virginia. I forget what it’s called).
I arrived in Richmond on the evening of June 24, having driven there from good ol’ NYC (where the cost of living is totally reasonable and never causes me angst). Before heading to The Diamond for the June 25 Flying Squirrels game, I had a little time to poke around. And when I poke around, I inevitably end up at a record store.
First up was Deep Groove.
Deep Groove was a small, all-vinyl spot. If I recall correctly, I bought the recent reissue of Guided By Voices’ classic Bee Thousand album. I also recall that on the counter, under glass, was a great assemblage of Richmond-area concert ticket stubs spanning the last three-plus decades. One of the stubs was for a D’Angelo show that had taken place the previous week; this prompted me to tell the clerk that I had seen D’Angelo play in Queens just three days prior.
“That’s tight,” replied the clerk, who was completely disinterested and also young enough to use “tight” as a synonym for “cool.” I left the shop feeling like a pathetic old dude, but then I started thinking about this D’Angelo song and the pep came back into my step.
I then pep-stepped, feeling not at all dyspeptic, to bustling West Carey Street. I believe that the locals call this neighborhood “Carytown.”
Usually, when on a road trip, I bring along three CDs I haven’t listed to and listen to them three times each. I should probably be diagnosed with something. But on this trip I had forgotten to bring any CDs, so I went ahead and bought a few at Plan 9 so I could listen to them in the car for the rest of the trip. My new acquisitions were Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard “Django and Jimmy,” AC/DC “Rock or Bust” and Shamir “Ratchet.” I also picked up a used copy of Don Cherry’s “Eternal Rhythm” on vinyl.
All right, enough with the record stores.
Please note that, at this moment in time, the Byrd Theater was showing Insurgent and Get Hard. I don’t know anything about either of those movies, but they seem unbefitting to a theater of such age and (assumed) grandeur.
I also enjoyed wandering through Chop Suey Books, which had multiple levels and many rooms. This photo was taken on the second floor, where I found (and bought) a used paperback of Damon Runyon short stories.
I wasn’t dining alone, for the Daily Kitchen is not the type of place in which I would eat alone (it was crowded and chic, so my self-consciousness levels would’ve been through the roof). My companions were Richmond Flying Squirrels broadcaster Jay Burnham and his Trenton counterpart, Adam Giordino. Jay used to work in Trenton, and Adam was the one who replaced him.
It was cool spending a couple of hours with those guys, which included a brief automotive tour of Richmond courtesy of master chauffeur Jay Burnham. But all good things must come to an end, and thus I was soon on the road to Norfolk with only a new CD to keep me company.
In Norfolk, the next post shall begin.
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.
I 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.
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….
It is obscene how much I enjoy pork cracklins.
The 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.
May 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.
Almost 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.
Earlier this month, I wrote a series of “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark experiences during April’s trip to Florida. Today, I’ll move on to similar material, this time centering around late May’s quick jaunt through the Midwest.
May 23 was a whirlwind — an early flight from NYC to Chicago, an extremely long wait for a rental car, a quick hotel check-in and then a jam-packed evening with the Kane County Cougars. It was all a blur, and that feeling persisted into the next morning.
I had no idea which car in the hotel parking lot was mine! I took both of them, just to be sure.
From there it was on to a (rained out) afternoon with the Quad Cities River Bandits, followed by an early evening drive to Clinton, Iowa. At some point during this drive, I took a picture of some amusing rest stop bathroom graffiti. I wish that I could share it with you in full, but this is a family blog (you’re probably reading this with your family right now, as Ben’s Biz is one of the few things that unites the average American family in this fractured media age).
Clinton, a factory town, came through on the Mexican front. This restaurant, as you can see, was in close proximity to a smoking lamppost.
Despite an 80 percent ingredient overlap from dish to dish, El Tapatio had a menu whose length was roughly equivalent to that of the Old Testament.
I don’t remember what I ordered, exactly, but it was, essentially, steak and eggs and rice and beans. Fundamental. (In the below photo, note that I was still reading an Athlon baseball preview magazine in late May. Those things take me forever to get through, as I am one of those obsessive types who reads every word of every page.)
The next morning, May 25, I drove to Clinton’s Eagle Point Park and took a stroll.
While I had less than an hour in which to wander around the premises, I’m glad that I visited Eagle Park. If you should ever be in Clinton, to see the LumberKings or otherwise, then I suggest that you do so as well. The park overlooks the Mississippi River, which, as it runs past Clinton, is at one of its widest points.
This brief pit stop was motivated by then-Richmond Flying Squirrels (and now Virginia Tech) broadcaster Jon Laaser, who consistently paid tribute to pitcher Jack Snodgrass via creative use of the “word” Snodgrass.
One of many examples.
After witnessing a Memorial Day doubleheader in Clinton, I drove back to Quad Cities and caught the second game of the River Bandits’ doubleheader against the Chiefs. From there, it was time for a nighttime drive to Peoria so that I would be well-positioned to see those very same Chiefs the following evening.
The second — and final — entry of this Midwest-based “Return to the Road” saga will begin in Peoria. We’ll see how it plays.
Part One of this Florida-based “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Part Two focused on my visit to Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg. This, Part Three, covers the final section of April’s trip through the Sunshine State.
We begin on April 15, when I visited — you guessed it — a record store. This one is located in the greater Palm Beach area, but here’s the thing: I no longer remember where, exactly, I was or what this record store was called. I’m sure a helpful reader — most likely Ed Pelegrino — will soon fill me in.
This particular record store was quite expansive. I got a copy of Sparks “A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing” for, like $7 bucks. Great deal, and if you’re a fan of Sparks then you’re a friend of mine. I also bought “Use Your Illusion II” on CD, as part of my ongoing effort to own all Guns N’ Roses albums in all formats.
Fascinating stuff, right? The next several days, as I made my way through Vero Beach, St. Lucie and Brevard County, are similarly bereft of non-ballpark related materials. At one point I went to a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Lucie and was dismayed to find that their pork chops were off the bone and of a weirdly pinkish hue.
I do remember that, after attending April 18’s Brevard County Manatees game, I was craving Buffalo Wild Wings. The closest one was, like, 20 miles away, so I called in my order and then made the drive there on Route 95. When I got there, my order wasn’t ready and, in fact, they hadn’t even started it yet.
But all’s well that end’s well. On these road trips I’m overwhelmed with details and often lost within my own manic mind, and sometimes a meal like this in a hotel room represents the pinnacle of relaxation and luxury.
After eating my dinner, I found this Man of Steel Blu-Ray underneath a chair. I did not take it, because I do not know what a Blu-Ray is, and superhero movies are uniformly terrible (there are no exceptions to this rule).
Nonetheless, I was inspired to go out into the lobby and create a superhero of my own. I am Feline Man, who travels with his trusty sidekick, Cobra Guy, fighting bad guys up and down the dangerous back roads of Brevard County.
The following day, April 19, was one of the busiest and multi-faceted days that I enjoyed while on the road this season. I got up bright and early and got on good ol’ 95, barreling toward Jacksonville. As I did when en route to Pensacola in 2012, I stopped at one of the infinitely appealing roadside tourist traps.
Florida citrus — believe the hype! It is remarkable how much more flavor it has, when consumed at peak freshness. And there is a variety beyond what one can find at grocery stores in other parts of the country.
Why was I here? Because there is a reason for everything.
The night before, while emailing Suns staff about logistics related to my imminent visit, Suns box office manager (and seamstress!) Theresa Viets said I should stop by the brewery’s parking lot food truck fest if I had the time.
Early afternoon on a hot summer’s day is definitely not an ideal time for a band like Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, whose incredibly adept bluegrass blazers are best suited to late whisky nights. But, regardless, I was amazed at how good these guys are; incredible finger-picking skills, clever and often darkly humorous lyrics and an innate chemistry that can only be honed by playing live on a regular basis.
Here’s the title track off of their latest album, which I bought right after they finished playing (to a disinterested, sun-baked audience). I mean, my goodness. This band deserves a much wider profile.
I still had about two hours before my scheduled arrival at the ballpark, so I drove from the brewery to Jacksonville’s Five Points neighborhood.
I parked on a nearby residential street, who knows where, and walked past “Troops of Time” en route to bustling Park Street. I really should have gone inside. Despite being a longtime Martika fan, I’ve never visited a toy soldier store.
5 Points, just north and west of downtown and The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, has Deep Search Records, a bar called Rain Dogs, a weird beer/misc. store called Cask, another bar called Starlight, I think? And a dope movie theater (Sun-Ray), a one screen joint with beer, pizza, indie movies, live shows, and Hollywood movies, too.
It also has Wall Street, which is my favorite dive in Jax.
And, well, that’ll do it for my “Return to the Road” recap of April’s trip to the Sunshine State. Stay tuned for similar material throughout the remainder of the offseason. You’ll be glad you did. Or at least I think you’ll be glad. Who really does know? I sure don’t.
Part One of this “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. This post, which I will cleverly refer to as Part Two, picks up right where I left off in, still in St. Petersburg. After a quick stroll through the city’s downtown, I hopped back into the rental vehicle and drove to an unassuming office park. This is the site of Minor League Baseball headquarters.
I’ve been to MiLB headquarters before, in 2012. The above photo was taken during that visit, which yielded a blog post as well as a MiLB.com article. As in 2012, I spent a nice chunk of time exploring the building’s treasure trove of historical Minor League artifacts. Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball’s director of communications, served as my tour guide.
This narrow cinder-block room, fireproof and lined with filing cabinets, gives on an indication as to how player data was stored in the pre-digital age.
Some of the cards contain a detailed record of the player’s transaction history. I must have taken a photo of this one simply because it was located in the first drawer. John Ackley played seven seasons in the Red Sox system, from 1979-85.
More reading material can be found in the library, which totally makes sense. Shelves such as this might not look particularly interesting, but looks can be deceiving.
If time was not of the essence, I would have spent the remainder of the day in the Minor League Baseball library. But time was of the essence, and there was still one more room I absolutely had to visit.
The legendary hat wall, a point of obsession for a certain subset of baseball fans, features the primary hat of all 160 affiliated Minor League teams. The hats are listed alphabetically, and I imagine that since this photo was taken the Hartford Yard Goats and Columbia Fireflies have been added (and the New Britain Rock Cats and Savannah Sand Gnats removed).
With the help of Jeff Lantz, I then produced the following Vine video.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) January 15, 2016
And that just about did it for my time at Minor League Baseball Headquarters, as I was due to catch that evening’s Dunedin Blue Jays game. All I remember about the drive from St. Petersburg to Dunedin was that the weather was bad and the traffic awful.
Regular readers of this blog might recall that, in years past, I supplemented my “On the Road” ballpark material with “Return to the Road” posts detailing that which I was able to experience outside of the ballpark. I always enjoyed doing this, but as my operation has expanded (in scope, if not in scale) I have found it increasingly difficult to incorporate “non-ballpark” activity into my schedule.
That said, I do my best, and figured that these early months of 2016 represented a good opportunity to go back and revisit my 2015 trips. Yes, let’s Return to the Road! This post will focus on my trip to Florida, which took place from April 11 to the 19th.
Despite the relatively short drives from ballpark to ballpark on this trip, I didn’t have the time to explore many of the towns themselves. I didn’t even set foot on a beach, outside of the night I sleepwalked onto one while wearing an ankle-length gown and nightcap. But what I’ve got is something, and something is always better than nothing.
It all started in the town of Pinellas Park, Florida, where I set up shop prior to visiting the nearby Bradenton Marauders. As you can see, this is an American town like no other, one in which Mr. Pool uses supplementary signage to clarify that he does, indeed, sell pools.
Being gluten-free on the road is tough. Since my celiac disease diagnosis, I always pack an extra bag of road snacks to insure that I’ll have an option. But best of all is finding something that meets my needs and tastes great. Often, that something is Vietnamese. When I saw this sign, I was like “Pho Quyen, awesome!”
The objective on this day was to get to Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees, in time for a pregame local food fest on the concourse. Time was of the essence, but nonetheless I was able to make a pit stop at a record store.
This is Mojo Books and Records in Tampa. It opened in 2007, during a period when most stores of this nature were shutting down or in their death throes. Mojo is packed to the gills with new and used books, LPs and CDs, and a coffee shop is located on the premises as well. My lone photo does not do it justice.
Unfortunately I cannot locate the pocket notebook in which I wrote down what I purchased, but I know it included the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Freedom Tower — No Wave Dance Party” as well as a day-by-day diary “written” by Pete Rose as he chronicled his record-breaking 1985 season.
That evening, as I was driving from somewhere to somewhere, I discovered that Wawa (cultishly beloved in eastern Pennsylvania) exists in Florida as well. They even stocked Herr’s and Tastykake.
I spent the evening with the Dunedin Blue Jays, but prior to that I spent a nice chunk of the afternoon in St. Petersburg. I was impressed with the downtown area, Central Avenue, to be specific, which was vibrant and tree-lined. The State Theatre is located on the left hand side of the below photo, a venue that hosts a diverse array of concerts (although, looking at the current listings, none that I would pay to go see. Except maybe Bubba Sparxxx).
Daddy Kool Records is located next door to Local 299. I went inside, and took my standard issue poor-quality photo.
I enjoyed wandering through Daddy Kool’s but nothing was really jumping out of the stacks at me. I debated buying a record by Midnight, a Cleveland metal band, but it was, like, $30 bucks. I have a hard time understanding why records are that expensive. In lieu of that, I picked up Mudhoney’s “Live at Third Man Records” LP (marking the second day in a row I bought a new record by a band I’ve been a fan of for two decades. Old habits die hard).
I did not visit the Stoner Organization, as I am in no need of a health benefits specialist.
My main objective in St. Petersburg, however, was to visit Minor League Baseball headquarters. I’ll write about that in the next post.
(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all! More articles are being added by the day.)
Part one in this series detailed my non-ballpark explorations (or lack thereof) in Batavia, Rochester and Jamestown. Part two covered Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York. while part three began on August 27th in Syracuse and ended on the 29th as I left Syracuse for Troy (one of the three cities referenced in the Tri-City ValleyCats name).
And now, we’ve arrived at the (perhaps not-so) grand finale of this series of “New York State of Mind” blog posts: Part four.
You know the drill: Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!
August 30 — Troy, New York (home of the Tri-City ValleyCats)
I attended August 29’s game between the ValleyCats and visiting Brooklyn Cyclones, and the following afternoon I had a little time to poke around the city of Troy, New York, before heading on to Hudson Valley.
I had never been to Troy before, and was fortunate to have a Troy native for a tour guide: my girlfriend, Rebekah. Rebekah attended the previous night’s ValleyCats game, along with her parents, whom I had never met. I made their acquaintance shortly after running in the team’s nightly Mayor Race (which pits the mayors of Troy, Albany, and Schenectady against one another).
Rebekah was adopted from Korea, and in this photo she’s posing in front of the courthouse where she was naturalized on St. Patrick’s Day 1983.
We didn’t have a specific agenda while wandering around Troy, we just parked the car and started walking. One of the first things of interest that we came across was this, the original Bruegger’s Bagels. Apparently Bruegger’s is such a known commodity in Troy that having a tree block their front window signage is no problem at all.
Trees > Signs.
Down the street from the Original Brueggers (the “OB,” for those in the know) is noted dive bar “The Ruck.” This place’s website is www.getrucked.com, which may or may not be regularly visited by people interested in learning more about General Electric’s fleet of delivery and maintenance vehicles.
Before taking this picture, I channeled the spirit of someone who had perhaps had a few too many beverages at the Ruck. Otherwise, including a poorly framed and blurry photo on this blog would be unthinkable.
Fun fact: The Ruck used to be known as “Sutter’s,” where Jeff Vervlied, the first designated eater in Biz Blog history, used to work as a bouncer. How long will this blog be able to continue before it collapses upon itself?
Rebekah is a fan of many things, posing among them. Here, she poses in front of a statue of Emma Hart Willard, educator and founder of the school that now bears her name. This statue is located on the bucolic commons of Russel Sage College.
The plaque beneath the statue reads “In honor of EMMA HART WILLARD who on this spot established AD 1821 the first permanent seminary in America for the advanced education of women….Her most enduring monument the gratitude of educated women.”
And here’s the entryway to Russell Sage College, a women’s college instituted by Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage and named after her husband.
Great outdoor show in front of River Street Beat Shop in Troy, NY. Post-rock heavy psych kind of vibes. https://t.co/632d4ti4Wd
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 30, 2014
The band playing was Yoma, who were celebrating a split cassette release with We Are Oceans. I was digging it, and would have been happy to spend the entire afternoon at River Street Beat Shop. The proprietor, from whom I bought a copy of this, raved to me about a band that had played earlier in the afternoon. They were called Twin Speak, and he said that “he’d never heard anything like it.” I’m listening to Twin Speak now, and the first band that comes to mind for me, as a reference point, is SubArachnoid Space.
River Street leads right into Monument Square. This Soldiers and Sailors memorial pays tribute to area veterans who served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Uncle Sam’s origin story is kind of murky, similar to the origins of baseball, in which fiction becomes fact simply as a result of it having been repeated so many times (incidentally, that’s how Ben’s Biz came to be known as the “greatest Minor League Baseball blog of all time”).
Here’s the standard Uncle Sam explanation, per “The Straight Dope” website:
A widely held belief, reported as fact in supposedly reliable reference books, is that the original Uncle Sam was one Sam Wilson, a meat packer in Troy, New York, who supplied rations to the U.S. military during the War of 1812. Wilson was a subcontractor to one Elbert Anderson, and the letters “E.A. — U.S.” were stamped on all the pair’s army-bound grub. On being asked what the letters stood for (the abbreviation U.S. supposedly was unfamiliar at the time), one of Sam’s workers joshed that it stood for “Elbert Anderson and Uncle Sam,” meaning the jovial Wilson himself.
The joke was quickly picked up by Wilson’s other employees. Many of these men later served in the army during the war, and the story spread from there. This tale appears to have first found its way into print in 1842.
The above statue is part of Troy’s “Uncle Sam Project,” in which 30 fiberglass Uncle Sam statues were installed around the town. But Uncle Sam imagery and references are everywhere in Troy. This, for instance, is the Uncle Sam Parking Garage. They want YOU to temporarily place your automobile within the confines of their establishment.
Rebekah sez “Troy is visitor friendly!” (direct quote)
Next up was The Grocery, which offers a well-curated selection of meats, cheese, beer and other such comestibles. Such a business would not be out of place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, though a proprietor in Park Slope would probably incorporate the unbearably pretentious word “provisions” somewhere on the signage.
The Grocery is owned by the husband and wife team of Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine. Both used to work for the ValleyCats, and I used to be in frequent contact with Vic back when he was the team’s assistant general manager. Here’s a picture of Vic during his baseball days:
I would have loved to hang out here for a bit and catch up with Vic, but my arrival was unannounced and he wasn’t around and time was at a premium. So, next time.
In the meantime, just look at this meat.
Adjacent to The Grocery (and connected via a patio) is another business owned by Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine: The Lucas Confectionery. It was not yet open, early on this Saturday afternoon, but here’s the exterior. Folks on Yelp seem to love this place.
Next up on this pedestrian (in both senses of the word?) journey was the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
This mural, on the side of the venue, hints at the splendor that can be found therein.
The venue’s 2014-15 concert season is definitely geared toward the Baby Boomer crowd. Anyone want to go see Bruce Hornsby on November 1? Just keep in mind that, like Derek Jeter during the back half of his career, he lacks The Range he used to have.
This is a frat house, inhabited by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) students. I was disappointed that they didn’t invite us in for tea and civilized discourse.
I am very well aware that, as with all of my city visits of this nature, I have barely scratched the surface. I mean, this post was about Troy but it didn’t even have any tiny hot dogs in it!
But time was up. I had to hit the road and move on toward Hudson Valley, the penultimate stop on 2014’s ultimate ballpark tour.
I attended August 30’s Renegades game at Dutchess Stadium, immediately driving to Scranton upon its conclusion. I spent that night in a Scranton Econo-Lodge — not the team hotel — whose hallways smelled like a pungent combination of excrement and marijuana. On the afternoon of August 31 I witnessed a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders game and that, as they say, was that. On the night of August 31 I arrived back in NYC, where a couple of lazy jerks were waiting for me. I had missed these lazy jerks.
And with that, this series of “New York State of Mind” posts have concluded. Next up on the blog: a full-to-bursting post dedicated to each of the 10 teams I visited on this trip: Batavia Muckdogs, Rochester Red Wings, Jamestown Jammers, Erie SeaWolves, Buffalo Bisons, Syracuse Chiefs, Auburn Doubledays, Tri-City ValleyCats, Hudson Valley Renegades and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.
The content never ends, nor does my discontent regarding how much more I still have to write. Thanks for reading thus far, and stay tuned for much, much more.
(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all! More articles are being added by the day.)
Part one in this series detailed my non-ballpark explorations (or lack thereof) in Batavia, Rochester and Jamestown. Part two covered Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York. Part three, which you are reading now, begins on August 27th in Syracuse and ends on the 29th as I leave Syracuse for Troy (one of the “Tri-Cities” referenced in the Tri-City ValleyCats name).
But enough of this introductory babble: Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!
August 27 — Syracuse, New York (home of the Chiefs)
After leaving Buffalo (where the last post left off), I arrived in Syracuse in the late afternoon and drove straight to the Chiefs’ home of NBT Ballpark. Here’s a sneak preview of what that looked like:
I attended that evening’s game — some has been written regarding that experience, but much more remains to be written — and then checked into the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Syracuse. This was a fairly classy establishment, above average as Minor League team hotels go, but the most notable thing about it was the elevators. To use them, one would type in the desired floor on a console located in the lobby, and the console screen would then direct the user to one of three elevators. Inside the elevators there were no buttons (outside of those used for emergencies), since the elevator already “knew” where you wanted to go.
This might be superior to the traditional system, but I found it impossible to shake the habit of pushing a button once inside the elevator. Every time, there was that instinctual lunge toward where the buttons would be, followed by the realization of “Oh, right, it already knows what floor I want to go to.” Everyone I rode with seemed to have the same reaction, with the result that the elevators were always a topic of conversation when riding the elevators. In this regard, the unorthodox system served as a vehicle for increased social interaction within an environment usually permeated by stilted going-through-the-motions niceties and subsequent awkward silence.
August 28: A full day in Syracuse, but not much to report.
After a bout of late morning writing, I set out to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for lunch. Dinosaur has become a mini BBQ empire here in the Northeast, but it all started at this location in downtown Syracuse.
I got a brisket and ribs combination platter, and while no photographic evidence of this meal is available I can assure you that it was delicious. And BBQ is generally pretty easy to navigate on the gluten-free front — stay away from sandwiches (and in some cases, certain sauces) and you’re pretty much good to go. Here’s a picture of the brisket, unabashedly stolen from the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que home page:
(As an aside, I recently went to Mighty Quinn’s BBQ in New York City. I was a bit wary of the place because it received a lot of hype and places in NYC often don’t live up to said hype, but this place served some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had. Not just in the northeast, but anywhere. The brisket and wings were particularly amazing. If you’re visiting NYC, make sure to get a meal there. Maybe I’ll join you.)
Anyhow, all I did after going to Dinosaur BBQ was go back to the hotel room, do some more writing, and then drive to Auburn to see that evening’s Doubledays game. Some has been written about that experience, and much more remains to be written. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend any time whatsoever in Auburn proper, which is regrettable. Auburn bills itself as “History’s Hometown,” and attractions include the Harriet Tubman Home and Fort Hill Cemetery (built on a site once used by Native Americans as a fortress). It was also the childhood home of apocryphal baseball inventor Abner Doubleday — hence the name of the local sporting nine.
August 28 — Syracuse, New York and Troy, New York (home of the ValleyCats).
After checking out of the Crowne Plaza and saying goodbye to the unorthodox elevators, I jumped (literally jumped!) into the car and headed to New Century Vietnamese Restaurant for lunch. Located on a block that was otherwise residential, this unassuming establishment really delivered the goods.
And by “the goods,” I mean this. God bless Vietnamese food. It is consistently wonderful.
Time was at a premium, as it always is, but before leaving Syracuse I decided to look up the address of a local record store, punch it into the GPS, and head over. This effort brought me to this area.
The Soundgarden is the sort of store that used to be quite common in college towns, a something-for-everybody clearinghouse of cds, vinyl, posters, t-shirts, books, magazines, collectible toys and even incense. I like these kind of places.
My big find here was the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion “She’s On It/Jack the Ripper” 12″ that was released for Record Store Day. (The NYC stores had sold out of it quickly, and I never got a copy. My high school self would have been very disappointed at my lackadaisical efforts in obtaining this record, as back then a record featuring the Blues Explosion covering Beastie Boys would have made my head explode. (Oh, and fun fact: the first concert I ever saw was Beastie Boys at the Philadelphia Civic Center in May of 1995. Blues Explosion and the Roots opening.))
Anyhow, I also picked up three used cds: Neil Young “Road Rock,” Acid Mothers Family “Do Whatever You Want Don’t Do Whatever You Don’t Want” and “Weird Al” Yankovic “Poodle Hat.” (I coulda sworn I had this already, but a recent perusal of the stacks indicated otherwise. It is imperative to own all “Weird Al” recordings).
And that was it for Syracuse. I realize I didn’t have much but I stretched it out for all that it was worth and got a little more self-indulgent than usual in the process. I hope you don’t mind.
From Syracuse it was on to Troy, where I attended that evening’s Tri-City ValleyCats game. So far nothing has been written about that, but the blog post from that evening promises to be fairly epic. The next day I had some time to poke around the city of Troy, but I think I’m going to save that material for a fourth (and definitely final) “New York State of Mind” post.
Until then, I remain,
(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ’em all!)
Part one in this series detailed my non-ballpark explorations (or lack thereof) in Batavia, Rochester and Jamestown. Part two, which you are reading now, begins on August 25th and covers Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York.
Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!
August 25th — Erie, Pennsylvania (home of the SeaWolves)
I grew up outside of Philadelphia, my grandparents had a house in the Poconos, and I went to college in Pittsburgh. Therefore, I consider myself to be quite familiar with the state of Pennsylvania. But it wasn’t until this trip that I ventured deep into the northwest quadrant of the state, and I’m glad that I finally had the opportunity to do so. Erie, heretofore unbeknownst to me, is quite beautiful.
I arrived in Erie on the evening of August 24th, having driven there after attending that afternoon’s Jamestown Jammers game. After a night of rest at the Clarion Inn, I did some writing, got lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, and then headed over to Presque Isle State Park. (I’ve been pronouncing it “Press Kyle State Park.” I hope that’s correct.)
Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie. As Pennsylvania’s only “seashore,” Presque Isle offers its visitors a beautiful coastline and many recreational activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling and in-line skating.
I only had about an hour to poke around, but my pokings soon brought me to this pristine stretch of beach. It was a beautiful day, and the water was a perfect temperature. I would have happily spent the entire day there, if Minor League Baseball obligations hadn’t intervened (as they always do, and must).
I didn’t do much except wander along the coastline with my pantlegs pulled up to my knees, but what else was there to do? Presque Isle is now firmly entrenched in my mind as a place to visit on a non-baseball-related road trip (should such a thing ever exist in my life). And while that’s all the time that I had to explore Erie, there is, obviously, much more to do than go to the beach. In an email prior to my visit, SeaWolves president Greg Coleman provided the following information:
- Near the entrance to Presque Isle (locally know as The Peninsula), you’ll find two local institutions – an amusement park called Waldameer and a ’50’s style hot dog stand/eatery called Sara’s. Both are considered Erie institutions. The Ravine Flyer at Waldameer has one of the most stunning rollercoaster views I’ve ever seen as it looks out over the peninsula and Lake Erie.
- Bicentennial Tower is probably the most recognizable landmark in Erie. It is located on the bay front at the northernmost tip of State Street (Erie’s equivalent of “Main Street”) and was built in 1996 to commemorate Erie’s 200th anniversary.
- The Erie Maritime Museum is a short walk from Bicentennial Tower. The museum hosts the U.S. Brig Niagara, the official flagship of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, when it is docked in Erie.
- Erie boasts a number of number of attractions rarely seen in a community of its size (Erie County’s population is 280,000) including the Erie Zoo, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, four colleges/universities within 15 miles, an indoor water park (Splash Lagoon), an NBDL basketball team, an OHL hockey team and Minor League Baseball.
- Pop culture notes: Alice from the Brady Bunch (the recently deceased Ann B. Davis) and Train lead singer Pat Monahan both grew up Erie, PA. Erie was also home to fictional band, the Wonders, from Tom Hanks’ movie That Thing You Do (limited filming was done at Mercyhurst University in Erie).
The next day, it was onward to the Queen City.
August 26: Buffalo, New York (home of the Bisons)
In Buffalo, I had a man on the inside in the form of Seamus Gallivan. Seamus and I first became acquainted during his days working for the Corpus Christi Hooks and Round Rock Express, but after the 2009 season he left Minor League Baseball and returned to his native Buffalo. His professional career is now dedicated to spreading “Buffalove” via his Good Neighborhood Foundation, working for the Larkin Square public event space and booking shows all around the city. Buffalo, after years of industrial decline and a resultant inferiority complex, is now re-inventing itself in myriad ways and Seamus is a passionate proponent of all that it has to offer.
I met Seamus at Larkin Square, which opened in 2012.
From the Larkin Square website:
Larkin Square lies at the heart of Larkinville, the site of the former Larkin Soap Company warehouse buildings. This open public space provides a backdrop of colorful furniture amongst whimsical architecture….food, music and fun abound.
When I first got to Larkin Square, a few early-arriving food trucks were staking out the best spots for that evening’s Food Truck Tuesday event. 20 trucks set up shop on the premises, a live band plays, and (presumably) a good time is had by all.
But Seamus and I weren’t going to be visiting any of these vehicular food purveyors. Following Buffalo protocol, we were going to get some chicken wings. In advance of my visit Seamus had initiated a Facebook discussion regarding the best wings in Buffalo, which elicited a remarkable 138 comments. Here’s a sampling of the conversation:
Stevie Matthews Duffs Amherst (get hot to make them sweat) for traditional wings. Or, I am also partial to Dwyer’s in NT if you want to travel a bit out of Buffalo and get experimental with a ton of flavors.
Nathan Montague Duke’s if they want smoked BBQ wings. Gabriel’s Gate is good. Consider taking them to Anchor so they can say they’ve been there.
Christopher Taylor 911 tavern if you have to stay in the city. If not Bar Bill in EA all day long.
Lauren Leadbetter Bar Bill – east aurora (honey butter BBQ). OR Potters pub – south buffalo (honey mustard BBQ)
Duke Duquin Our smoked bbq are the best bbq by far…not even close & offer a healthy alternative as fat is rendered off during smoking process. These tasty treats are grilled not fried. #nextlevelwings
My latest (and therefore greatest) road trip took place from August 22 through August 31st, consisting largely of teams based in the great state of New York. MiLB.com articles from this trip have been appearing on MiLB.com over the past 12 days, and will continue to appear this week and the week thereafter. To check out those stories, and many others, please bookmark this handy landing page for all of my 2014 road trip writings. I’ll be glad you did.
Once my MiLB.com articles are complete, I’ll write a corresponding blog post for each of the 10 ballparks I visited. The season may be over, but so much material is still to come! Some of that material shall be delivered to you now via this post, the first in a series covering all of my non-ballpark explorations during this most recent road trip. My 10 stadiums in 10 days itinerary didn’t allow much time for such explorations, but I will share everything that I can.
August 22: Batavia, New York (home of the Muckdogs)
I left New York City on the morning of August 22, immediately setting out for the western New York town of Batavia (population 15,645). Now that the Jamestown Jammers are no longer (moving to Morgantown, West Virginia in 2015), Batavia is the only remaining charter member of the New York-Penn League. This plaque, located at the Muckdogs’ home of Dwyer Stadium, explains Batavia’s role in NYPL history:
I arrived in Batavia a little after four p.m., and had an hour or so to poke around before heading to Dwyer Stadium. I briefly considered heading to the nearby town of Elba, which, per Muckdogs general manager Travis Sick, is the epicenter of the region’s much-beloved muck:
Muck is a very dark brown soil, appearing black when moist. It is a fine, loose, fibrous form of peat that feels like sawdust when dry. Onions are the main “muck” crop because they are hardy and thrive in loose soil. Elba, a small town to 5 miles to the North of Batavia, claims to be the “Onion Capital of the World” due to the amount of onions that are grown in the muck lands.
Given my time constraints, and a desire to not make muck ado about nothing, I opted to spend my pre-game time in Batavia proper. There is a lot of history and charm in this old downtown, although the charm quotient is greatly reduced due to Main Street’s heavy traffic and pedestrian-unfriendly street crossings. Via some on-the-spot Google research, I was able to determine that the Hotel Richmond, where the New York-Penn League was conceived in a fit of National Pastime passion, once stood at the intersection of Main and Court Streets.
This is what the intersection of Main and Court Street looks like now. I wonder if the owner of this black SUV, while waiting at the stoplight, paused to consider just how close he or she was to Minor League Baseball history. My guess would be no.
While the four lanes of traffic cutting a wide swath through the center of Main Street diminishes Batavia’s charm, charm is nonetheless still in abundance. Fire hydrants, traditionally slaves to pragmatism, have style and pizzazz.
Update! This is not the courthouse. Per reader Doug Schneider:
What you have identified as the courthouse is the former sheriff’s office, now headquarters to an alternatives-to-incarceration program called Genesee Justice. The court house is at the big intersection (5 and 63) just east of there.
Capt. Charles F. Rand was “a native Batavian….officially recognized by the Congress of the United States as the first person to answer President Lincoln’s appeal for volunteers in the Civil War.” More info on him can be found HERE.
The War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden.
August 23: Rochester, New York (home of the Red Wings)
Upon the conclusion of August 22’s Muckdogs game, I drove 36 miles northeast to Rochester and checked in at the Hyatt-Regency. It was one of the nicer hotels I stayed at this season — I generally stay in each city’s team hotel, where the visiting players stay –, and I was able to get a drink at the bar just before it closed (being on the road is all about small victories). I also noticed something which became a pattern on this trip: people in western New York pronounce the word “complimentary” as “complimen-tary. Can anyone back me up on this?
The jerks in the room next to mine at the Hyatt were extremely loud and kept me up later than I would have liked, but such is life. Looking for something to do in the absence of sleep, I took this photo out of the hotel room window at 2:30 a.m. A friend of mine told me that this photo reminded him of Man Ray and I hope that is true. Everybody loves Ray, Man.
As for Rochester explorations, I regret to report that they were exceedingly minimal. I slept late the next morning, wrote for a nice chunk of the afternoon, and headed to the ballpark a little before three o’clock (the Red Wings were playing a doubleheader that evening, hence the early arrival). I did take a few photos on the way to the ballpark, however.
25 East Main Street is an “historic site in journalism,” and deservedly so.
Post Post House, I came upon the stadium and enjoyed a double dose of Rochester Red Wings baseball. After the game, I made it back to the Hyatt in time to get a drink at the bar just before closing. “You always come at this time,” said the bartender, which struck me as kind of comical since I had only checked in 24 hours before. As he got my drink, some tipsy ladies returning to the hotel from a bachelorette party sat at the bar and gave me a glow stick wristband. I said “Thank you,” took my wristband and drink up to my room, and did some writing in the Man Ray moonlight.
August 23: Jamestown, New York (home of the Jammers)
On August 23 I drove from Rochester straight to the Jamestown Jammers’ home of Russell Diethrick Stadium. After the game, I drove straight to Erie, Pennsylvania. I wish I had had the opportunity to explore Jamestown proper, but I did not. (If anyone wants to write a guest post on “Things to see and do in Jamestown” then you know where to get a hold of me.) There is very little I can tell you about Jamestown, but one thing I can tell you is that Jamestown is the birthplace of Lucille Ball and the town is now home to the “Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center.”
I can also tell you that I have plenty more material to share, and share it I will. But share it in this post, I won’t. Stay tuned for much more from the road.