Tagged: Richmond Flying Squirrels 2015

Return to the Road: Wanderin’ ‘Round in Richmond

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).

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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.

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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.”

IMG_1431Would you believe that I ended up at another record store?

IMG_1433Plan 9 was much larger than Deep Groove, and far more ramshackle. There was a little bit of everything. It was tight.

IMG_1432Usually, 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.

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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.

IMG_1435WonTon was indeed resting in his natural habitat.

IMG_1436Early the next afternoon, before leaving Richmond for good, I returned to Carytown and got lunch at the Daily Kitchen. Three side dishes make a meal!

IMG_1476I 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.

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Richmond Gourmands

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.

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On the Road: Mounds of Pork and Stacks of Cheese in Richmond

To see all of posts from my June 25, 2015 visit to the Richmond Flying Squirrels (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

There are few things more American than a father and son enjoying a baseball game together, especially if said father and son supplement their ballpark experience by eating a bunch of food together in a windowless room while a traveling niche blogger takes pictures of them. This was the situation at Richmond’s The Diamond on June 25th, when my designated eaters (you know, the individuals who consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) were the father-son tandem of Stuart (on the right) and Turner Jordan.

045A windowless office within the bowels of The Diamond is probably not the most ideal place to have a ballpark meal, but under the circumstances, it was a pretty good option. It was raining outside, the game was in a delay and The Diamond concourse was packed with people who easily could’ve impeded on our operation.

Stuart, somewhere north of 30, and Turner, 15, live in the Richmond suburbs of Henrico County. Dad is a software analyst for Advanced Auto Parts. Son is a rising junior who is on the cross country and track-and-field teams. The Jordans are baseball fans, attending several Flying Squirrels games a year. Sometimes it’s a whole family affair, but Stuart said that his wife and daughter usually opt not to attend and the outing thus becomes “a man thing.”

“I hope they get a new stadium, because right now they’re putting band-aids on it,” said Stuart of The Diamond. “It’s such a cool thing, to bring your kid and watch some ball.”

As for why he wanted to be the Designated Eater, Stuart said “I saw your blog pop up and thought ‘Ah, that’s pretty cool.'” He is a regular visitor to MiLB.com, becoming more invested in the Minors after his nephew, Daniel Bowman, was drafted by the D-backs and spent some time in their system. (Daniel is now an assistant coach at East Tennessee State).

We began our sedentary food tour, graciously overseen by Flying Squirrels food and beverage manager Michael Caddell, with the Boss Hog.

047The Boss Hog features a rare south of the Mason-Dixon line appearance by pork roll, which is most closely associated with the great state of New Jersey. The pork roll is topped with pepperoni, American cheese and a fried egg and served on a pretzel bun. A closer look:

043Meanwhile, Turner was ready to try the Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger, which is fairly self-explanatory. All told, there are six or seven pieces of cheese residing within this thing. It’s cheese on cheese on cheese.

046The Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger, ready for its close-up:

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Have at it, Jordans.

“I’m not a big fried egg fan, but this is pretty good,” said Stuart of the Boss Hog. “I like cheese and pepperoni, and the roll’s good. It’s nice and soft. It’s a good roll.”

“This is awesome, really good,” said Turner of the Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger. “I love the meat. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s just really good.”

Next up was the BBQ Pork Fries, in which the team’s Cajun-seasoned Squirrely  Fries are loaded up with a North Carolina-style vinegar-based barbecue sauce, pulled pork and jalapeno nacho cheese sauce. (Not pictured: a side of cole slaw.) Sporks are usually required.

049 Father, son, food:

050The only quote I have from Stuart regarding this item is that “I like the crunch of the fries, and the texture change with the pulled pork.” But this is maybe because he was too busy eating. He was an immediate convert to the BBQ Pork Fries, love at first bite. He just wished it had had some bacon, is all. (Stuart Jordan wanted it to be known that, for the record, he loves bacon.)

Turner, however, was not much of a fan.

“That’s spicy. It burns my mouth so easily,” he said. “I just cannot handle it.”

What Turner can, and did handle, was this Deep-Fried PB&J.

048This is, quite simply, a Smuckers Uncrustable dipped in funnel cake batter.

051“It’s good,” said Turner, a rising junior of few words.

“It’s really good, and you could stick some bacon in the middle of that,” said Stuart, who now had bacon firmly on the brain.

In addition to bacon, Stuart is also a proponent of beer. This, at least according to Turner.

“That’s what you do every day,” said Turner to his dad. “Come home from work, play with the dog, and drink beer.”

“See, never bring a son with you,” replied Stuart. “He’ll rat you out.”

Nothing wrong with having a beer after work, and nothing wrong with having a beer at the ballpark. It was time for us to depart this office lair, so that Stuart could enjoy the Flying Squirrels’ signature “Chin Music” amber lager, brewed by Center of the Universe (a local brewery co-owned by former Major League hurler Chris Ray).

IMG_1442Note, in the above photo, how the tap handles are made from Louisville Sluggers. Note, also, that Stuart was happy to be drinking a beer.

“If it’s cold and in the house, I’ll drink it,” said Stuart of his overriding beer philosophy. “I am not a connoisseur.”

He gave high marks to the Chin Music, remarking that “There’s a little bitterness. It’s hoppy, but it’s drinkable.”

And thus, we say goodbye to the Jordans. The weather had cleared by this point, and it was time for them to watch some baseball.

“I thought it was cool to try something different,” said Stuart of the designated eating experience. “Usually I stick to the basics. Like, eh, I’ll get a cheeseburger.”

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On the Road: The Diamond on a Rough Night in Richmond

To see all of posts from my June 25, 2015 visit to the Richmond Flying Squirrels (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

June 25th’s Richmond Flying Squirrels game, at which I was in attendance, did not begin on time. Just prior to the scheduled 6:35 p.m. start, the tarp was put on the field. It wasn’t raining at the time that the tarp was administered, but the forecast was grim and preparation is key.

026 With the tarp on the field, I had (even) more time to wander the concourse. Or concourses, in the case of the multi-level The Diamond.

(Note: The name of the the ballpark is The Diamond. It is awkward to write about a facility with “The” in the name, but I will persevere.)

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Scenes like this give me flashbacks to my Philadelphia-area youth, when I attended many a game at Veterans Stadium. This is my original conception of what a concourse was, and could only be: a dim concrete bunker.

032 And, actually, no, it was my first time visiting this particular men’s room. You must have confused me with someone else.

035The view from the top.

040While traversing these elevated environs, I made the acquaintance of usher Tom Taylor.

039Taylor, as befits an usher and as the above photo illustrates, is a gregarious fellow. He brings bags of leftover promo souvenirs to every game — koozies and t-shirts and whatnot — so that he can distribute them to the fans in the section. He dances during the seventh-inning stretch and, yes, even uses his megaphone during a rain delay.

After parting ways with Taylor, it was time for a rendezvous with my designated eater, Stuart Jordan, who was joined by his son, Turner. We’ll get to know them in the next post.

045By the time I parted ways with the Jordans, the tarp was off the field and the game had begun. Having had enough of the concourse, I returned to field level and ran smack dab into this guy.

IMG_1444That’s the Wacky Hot Dog Vendor, riding Flingo the Flamingo. This, of course, is a blatant rip-off of homage to Reading’s Crazy Hot Dog Vendor (who rides an ostrich).

As mentioned in the previous post, this evening’s promo was “The Many Faces of Robin Williams” and the team was wearing Jumanji theme jerseys. Here’s mine, safe and sound in the hotel room later that night:

IMG_1475Unfortunately, I missed (or failed at documenting) most of the between-inning promos dedicated to the Robin Williams/Jumanji theme. According to a game script that I obtained, this included a “Three Magic Wishes” contest (Aladdin), Flubber dunk, Jumanji dice roll, and a Lost Boys vs. Hook race.

Here’s on-field emcee Murph, getting ready to announce the Lost Boys vs. Hook race (the Lost Boys were the young contestants, Hook was played by the team’s pirate mascot Captain Ahrr-VA).

IMG_1458While I didn’t get any decent photos of the race itself, I did get some photos of other people watching the race. This, right here, is classic Minor League Baseball: a gaggle of spectators (family members of the race participants) standing right next to the visiting bullpen. It’s like these two classes of ballpark denizens are in two separate worlds, despite the overwhelmingly close proximity.

IMG_1457To the right of the spectators is the bullpen itself.

IMG_1460I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention a recurring aspect of the Flying Squirrels’ gameday entertainment, which is the mid-5th inning appearance of Parker the Rally Pig.

It’s pretty simple, really. Parker is wheeled out onto the field in a custom-made chariot, by a lucky intern wearing a pig nose. Running behind him are two or three fans, also wearing pig noses. The appearance of Parker on the field is, as his name would imply, meant to spark a Flying Squirrels rally.

This is surely the only sponsored Rally Pig chariot in Minor League Baseball. Whoever negotiated this deal with Call Federal should get a raise.

IMG_1451It had been a long day, and I was off my documentation game. Instead of positioning myself on the third base side of the stadium, at the end of Parker’s route, I instead ran behind his entourage. Blurriness ensued (plus, I nearly got beaned by a wayward pitch while running behind the mound).

IMG_1454Anyhow, it was all fairly uneventful. Not at all like this:

It was now the sixth inning. Their had already been a rain delay to start the ballgame, and now the weather forecast was calling for this:

IMG_1450It was clear that the rains were gonna come monsooner or later, so I sought safety in the press box.

IMG_1462Within minutes, this was the scene.

IMG_1463Looking for something to do, I paid a visit to Flying Squirrels lead broadcaster Jon Laaser. Laaser is in his waning days with the Squirrels, as he recently accepted a job with Virginia Tech as the “Voice of the Hokies.”

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Laaser actually played a key role in my first-ever “On the Road” excursion, when I visited the Altoona Curve in 2007 for “Awful Night.” From my article:

Vic Buttler’s RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning lifts the Curve to a 3-2 victory, a decidedly non-awful conclusion to the evening’s contest. However, the Curve have some post-game entertainment planned — A “Laaser Show,” to be exact. The vast majority of the 4,007 fans in attendance remain in their seats, eager to witness a Minor League first. Most of them will soon regret this decision.

The lights go dim, and the dramatic strains of “The Final Countdown” fill the stadium. With the tension mounting, front-office employee Jon Laaser appears on the field. Glow sticks are attached to his body. Laaser then entrances the crowd with his slinky, seductive dance moves, until the music is mercifully cut off, and the lights go back on. Awful Night V has finally concluded.

It’s safe to say that Laaser’s “Light Show” days are behind him, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to reference it one last time. (I am having trouble locating the video — which does exist — but that’s probably best for all involved.)

Meanwhile, the rain kept on coming.

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Laaser’s first headline draft was “Squirrels Lose as World Ends,” 3-0.

IMG_1465Seeking a more visceral experience, I headed back down to the main concourse. The below Vine was no mere hyperbole — this really was the hardest I’d ever seen it rain at a ballpark in my life. One long-time Ben’s Biz reader, on Twitter, was moved to call this storm a “Frog Strangler.”

While waiting out the deluge, I recorded by Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day (patent pending).

After the game was called, I spent an hour or so at “Parney’s Pub,” a makeshift front office gathering space created by (and presided over) by team VP Todd “Parney” Parnell. Cheap domestics are the order of the day — but the more discerning consumers made sure that the team’s own “Chin Music” beer was available as well. (As for me, my gluten-free needs were accommodated by a local cider; it was sharp and crisp and not too sweet but, alas, the name escapes me).

IMG_1473It was a fun, inclusive scene at “Parney’s Pub.” When I left, Parney could be found outside of the clubhouse playing just-promoted reliever Josh Osich in one last game of Golden Tee. But I had (approximately 15) miles to go before I slept, and headed out to the rental car.

Good night, The Diamond. And fare thee well.

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On the Road: Passing Through the Squirrely Gates in Richmond

To see all of posts from my June 25, 2015 visit to the Richmond Flying Squirrels (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

I don’t really want to get into it, “it” being the seemingly eternal stadium debate that surrounds Richmond’s The Diamond. The facility, a massive concrete slab conveniently located just off Interstate 95, opened in 1985 and hosted the Triple-A Richmond Braves from that season through 2008.

The Braves departure was largely due to their dissatisfaction with The Diamond’s increasingly dilapidated condition. The Flying Squirrels came to town two years later (having relocated from Norwich, Connecticut),  wanting to take advantage of the robust Richmond market but also making it clear that the construction of a new ballpark was a prerequisite of the relocation.

But here we are, in the year of our Lord 2015, and The Diamond is still going strong. Or, at the very least, it’s still going. This is one resilient slab of concrete. (As for the new stadium, it’ll happen eventually. The ups and downs and twists and turns of that saga could fill a book and one day might. The Flying Squirrels’ habit of leading the league in attendance has, paradoxically, hurt the cause. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” say proponents of the status quo.)

When I visited The Diamond, it was not with the intent of adding to (or detracting from) the ballpark debate. I simply wanted to see it for myself. And as regards that unambitious goal: Mission Accomplished!

002As you can see, The Diamond resembles a gigantic spaceship. But most spaceships don’t have oversized inflatable Flying Squirrels — that’s Nutzy to you — displayed in close proximity to them. Furthermore, spaceships are almost always devoid of whimsical entrance signage such as the “Squirrely Gates” seen in the above photo.

Whimsical signage abounds, in fact.

001Perhaps Brickman Complete Tree Care has something to do with the stadium’s well-manicured exterior.

008The impeccable landscaping efforts continue down this walkway…

003 …where one finds a succinct visual rundown of the costumed characters that can be found within.

004The above stable of characters — three of whom I would go on to meet later in the evening — are overseen by this character:

009That’s Todd “Parney” Parnell, Flying Squirrels vice-president and well-known industry raconteur. He’s one of those Bill Veeck kind of characters — always upbeat and boisterous, apt to be the first one at the ballpark even if he was the last one at the bar the night before. The “office” seen above is really a re-purposed storage room (or something of that nature), located directly across from the home clubhouse. If you know Parney, then you will not be surprised whatsoever that a makeshift bar is part of the set-up.

Thanks to Parney’s largess, the home clubhouse has a Golden Tee arcade game sitting just outside its doors.
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This subterranean locale also doubles as a parking lot, for the players as well as for various team-owned vehicles. That’s one sweet Kubota, is it not?

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Oh, and a pig lives down here. Parker the Rally Pig, specifically.

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Parker has an outdoor home as well. We’ll see more of him elsewhere within this blogging saga.

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Remember, like, five photos ago? When I posted an image of Parney? In that photo he is wearing that night’s “Jumanji” theme jersey, the centerpiece of a “Many Faces of Robin Williams” promotion.

You know who else was wearing one? Me, as in Ben’s Biz, as in that niche blogger extraordinaire.

jumanjiAs the time that photo was taken, the gates had not yet opened. The Diamond, like a nihilistic interpretation of existence, was a vast sea of emptiness. (The sponsored banners laid across the uppermost sections have reduced seating capacity, which still stands at a spacious 9500.)

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Out on the concourse, it should be noted that carnival games are named in honor of the team’s top brass (Chucky, in this case, is chief executive manager Chuck Domino). More teams should follow the Flying Squirrels lead in this regard, because kids love Minor League executives and always pester their parents for money whenever they see any kind of entertainment option that features Minor League executives.

015The team store used to be a restaurant. Noted.

016The main concourse of The Diamond is located on the stadium’s second level (field level consists of storage areas, the clubhouses, batting cages, Parker’s pigpen, Parney’s pigpen, front offices, etc.) There is also a third-level upper concourse, accessible via staircases such as the above.

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The press box is accessible via the upper level concourse. Most of its denizens had already enjoyed a pregame meal courtesy of Bojangles fried chicken and biscuits.

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Jay Burnham, Flying Squirrels media relations director and soon-to-be lead broadcaster (current lead Jon Laaser recently accepted a job as voice of the Hokies) was feverishly preparing for what would surely be another stellar broadcast.

020Not wishing to disturb a broadcasting professional, I tiptoed back down to field level.

021This time around, the field was less deserted. First of all, I made the acquaintance of on-field emcee Mike Murphy, better known simply as “Murph”. Murph, decked out in his finest Jumanji regalia, had a microphone in his pocket and seemed happy to see me.

023And, hey, look, it’s Nutzy, just back from the gym. No theme night attire needed for this guy.

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For Nutzy, it was time to fly off to parts unknown. For me, it was time to descend into the dugout and conduct an interview with Flying Squirrels reliever Phil McCormick.

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I usually don’t interview players for normal reasons, and this was no exception.

Earlier, when I was in the press box, Burnham had tipped me off to the existence of a recently created Flying Squirrels music video entitled “Biagini in a Bottle.” The song, a parody of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle,” is a tribute to pitcher Joe Biagini sung by McCormick as writhes around in a purple onesie.

After speaking with McCormick I interviewed Biagini, the man himself. I then emerged onto the field just in time to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. I had been on a ceremonial first pitch hot streak this season, firing perfect strike after perfect strike, but all good things must come to an end.

My first pitch was so bad, in fact, that the weather turned awful as soon as I threw it. God sees all, and He was displeased.

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And so, to start the evening, a rain delay it would be. Would this be the end of my Richmond Flying Squirrels experience? Or will I somehow milk two more posts out of it? Only time will tell.

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About Last Night: Richmond Flying Squirrels, June 25, 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. 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 25, 2015: The Diamond, home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants)

Opponent: Trenton Thunder, 6:35 p.m. scheduled game time. Start delayed by rain for one hour and 19 minutes.

The Diamond, from the outside: 

002The Diamond, from within: 

014Culinary Creation: Boss Hog (pork roll, fried egg, pepperoni and American cheese on a pretzel bun)

043At Random: It was “The Many Faces of Robin Williams Night,” complete with Jumanji jersey

Ballpark Character: On-field emcee Murph, in full Peter Pan regalia

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: This, clearly, was a rain-shortened game

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