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 28, 2015 visit to the Salem Red Sox (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.
We have now reached the third and final post in this Salem series and, if you’ve been following along so far this season, then you know that the third and final post is, invariably, dedicated to food. So what kind of concession items can you get at the Salem Red Sox’s home of Lewis-Gale Field? We’ll get to that in a moment.
I want to start, however, by highlighting something that you can sometimes get (but not on the Sunday afternoon in which I was in attendance): Baum’s BBQ truck, a vehicular food purveyor with an exalted reputation, sets up shop every Friday and Saturday night.
Salem Red Sox general manager Ryan Shelton is a native of Owensboro, Kentucky, a locale oft-referred to as “the barbecue capital of the world.” He told me that, with all due respect to Owensboro, Baum’s serves the best barbecue he’s ever had. I wish I had a picture of me eating it, to post right here. Use your imagination:
But, Baum’s or no Baum’s, the Salem Red Sox food show must go on. The first order of business, as always, was to meet with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits). At Lewis-Gale Field, that would be one Jennifer Frye.
Jennifer and her family have recently moved to nearby Roanoke, with Jennifer taking a job as an environmental supervisor for the US Army Corps of Engineers. (Come to think of it, I should have asked her for information regarding “environmentally protected wastelands,” a term I was still confused about after hearing it applied to the portion of the Elizabeth River that runs behind the Norfolk Tides’ home of Harbor Park.)
Jennifer said that she volunteered to be the designated eater because she’ll “do anything for Minor League Baseball. It’s good to me, and I’m good to it.” Her two sons — ages 13 and 9 — did not materialize at any point during her time with me at the concession stands, with Jennifer remarking that they were “worried that Mom’s gonna embarrass them.”
Fair enough, kids. But I guarantee that, when all is said and done, your childhood will have been greatly enhanced by having a Mom with a fun, adventurous and humorous spirit. This spirit was shared by the entirely non-embarrassed adults in Jennifer’s party — husband Jim, sister Justine, and her sister’s husband Jonathan (Justine and Jonathan live outside of Frederick, Maryland, reminding me that I have yet to make it to a Keys game).
To see all posts from my June 28, 2015 visit to the Salem Red Sox (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.
As part one of this blog series concluded, a ballgame was ready to begin on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Salem, Virginia. Now, as we begin part two, the ballgame has just begun. These narrative stakes, they just keep escalating.
The first batter of the ballgame was Lynchburg’s Luigi Rodriguez, who was greeted with the Super Mario Bros theme music. Rodriguez must have just ingested mushrooms, however, as he powered up and launched the first pitch of the game over the fence. And just like that, the Hillcats had the lead.
Rodriguez’s dinger just about fulfilled my baseball-watching quota for the day, so I commenced upon more ballpark wanderings. First up was a meeting with my designated eater. Following standard operating protocol, that will be documented in the following post. Stay tuned.
I then returned to the concourse, where I was able to immediately confirm that it was still a beautiful day for baseball in Salem. Both at Lewis-Gale Field…
…and at the adjacent Mini-Fenway Wiffle ball field.
It was also a beautiful day for collecting autographs from a canine mascot duo. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing. That’s Misty on the left, and Mugsy on the right.
I was glad that I hadn’t missed Misty, but I had missed the previous evening’s “Mullet For Men’s Health Night” promotion. I appreciate the team’s effort to make me feel included on this front (don’t touch the back).
To see all posts from my June 28, 2015 visit to the Salem Red Sox (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.
I had a bit of a hard time finding Lewis Gale Field, the home of the Salem Red Sox (Class A Advanced affiliate of, believe it or not, the Boston Red Sox). Actually, no, let me contradict that first sentence, which is always the best way to start a blog post: The stadium itself was easy enough to find. But what I couldn’t find was an entrance, as the main parking lot had recently been pressed into service as the host site of the upcoming Salem Fair.
I deposited my rental car vehicle in the parking lot seen below, which soon became yet another parking lot in which I could be briefly be seen without a shirt on. (I’m still waiting for someone to snap a photo of me changing shirts in a stadium parking lot. You could sell it to TMZ or something.)
And, finally, here we are. Like Calvin Falwell Field at Lynchburg City Stadium, where I had been the night before, this, too, is a ballpark with a real mouthful of a name: Lewis-Gale Field at Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium. This facility opened in 1995, and has hosted Salem’s Carolina League franchise for the duration of that time. (The team was known as the “Avalanche” from 1995-2008, switching to the current Boston affiliation and Red Sox name the following season.)
I’m often confused.
There is no hyphen in the “Lewis Gale” signage seen above, but on the Salem Red Sox website the facility is referred to as “LewisGale Field”. (Somebody ask Rob Neyer — can a ballpark gain admittance within the ranks of the embarrassing?) So take your pick: Lewis Gale Field, Lewis-Gale Field (as it is listed on Wikipedia, among other places) or LewisGale Field. There are no wrong choices, it’s simply about what you feel most comfortable with.
I don’t want my discursive and invariably self-indulgent dissection of moniker minutiae to distract from the main point here, which is, or should be, this: It was a gorgeous day, and this is an absolutely gorgeous ballpark. My expectations, whatever they were coming in, were immediately exceeded.
A quick shift of position in a rightward direction results in an even better view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I had a feeling that my first Salem Red Sox game was gonna be a good one, despite my dismay that longtime broadcaster Evan Lepler is no longer with the team. (To my disc-may, Lepler has since moved on to become an ultimate announcer. Ultimate as in frisbee. On the Salem Red Sox broadcaster timeline, he currently holds the status of penultimate announcer.)
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2015
Fortunately, the Salem Red Sox radio booth remains in good hands. On the left is lead broadcaster Kevin Burke, who returned to Salem after working there during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. On the right is number two broadcaster Brian Gardner. Photos of them in their radio booth location are invariably backlit.
Kevin and Brian are joined in the booth by Scout the Koala and Joey the Kangaroo, gifts from the mother of Australia-born Salem starting pitcher Daniel McGrath. It serves as a reminder of sorts, to both McGrath and the broadcasters, that a contingent of Australian fans are actively following along.
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: LewisGale Field, home of the Salem Red Sox (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)
Opponent: Lynchburg Hillcats, 4:05 p.m. game time.
LewisGale Field, from the outside:
Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day, Salem Red Sox. https://t.co/cqJkCZYhj8
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2015
6/29: Potomac Nationals
6/30: West Virginia Black Bears
The use of Native American imagery within the world of sports is a controversial topic, as teams like the Cleveland Indians and (especially) the Washington Redskins are under increasing pressure to abandon names and/or logos seen as culturally insensitive. But the Spokane Indians have found a way around this problem, collaborating with the local Spokane tribe to adopt a look that celebrates, rather than denigrates, the people it purports to represent.
This season, the club will wear a jersey in which “Spokane” is written in Salish script.
The collaboration between the Spokane Indians and the Salish tribe is nothing new, but the above jersey represents a significant development. In fact, this partnership will be the topic of my next Minoring in Business article, running on MiLB.com tomorrow. Stay tuned!
Speaking of teams sporting a name inspired by their region’s Native American population, the Syracuse Chiefs recently unveiled this:
100 Years of baseball in Syracuse is remembered in our patch/logo designed by Anthony Cianchetta. What do you think? pic.twitter.com/SbbrA1CJG0
— Syracuse Chiefs (@SyracuseChiefs) March 18, 2014
But that’s not the only interesting historical sporting overview that I’ve recently found via Twitter. Behold:
— Clark Ruhland (@Hokie20) February 19, 2014
But as much as some things change, others remain constant. On 3/14 the Bowling Green Hot Rods held a “Pi Day” promo, in which tickets were sold for $3.14 for three hours and 14 minutes, beginning at 3:14 p.m. (And, as an added bonus, fans who bought the tickets in person were offered free slices of pizza “pi”.)
— BG Hot Rods (@BGHotRods) March 14, 2014
I was curious as to how this promotion was received, and Hot Rods assistant general manager Ben Hemmen satiated my curiosity thusly.
National “Pi” Day was a BIG hit in Bowling Green. In just three hours and fourteen minutes (3.14), we sold over 600 tickets at the box office or over the phone to games for this upcoming summer. The Power of “Pi” will definitely be something that we look at using next season to tie in a promotional opportunity for our fans.
Among the many items on team to-do lists at this time of year is adding new situationally appropriate song selections to the music database. For help with this endeavor, one enterprising rookie-level P.A. announcer took to Reddit. The resulting discussion is well worth reading.
This blog is also well worth reading, in my less-than-humble opinion, and I thank you for having Reddit.
This past September I traveled to Louisville in order to attend the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar, an annual “idea-sharing” event. And of the many ideas that were shared, one particularly notable one came courtesy of the Lowell Spinners. I wrote about on this very blog:
The Lowell Spinners talked about their military trading card set giveaway, which honors local servicemen and women both past and present. This is an idea that other teams will almost certainly steal for their own promotional schedules.
Indeed, my prediction (which was more a statement of the obvious than any sort of bold prognostication), is now coming to pass. We are in promo schedule release season, and teams staging their own military trading card set giveaway in 2014 include the Salem Red Sox, Bowie Baysox, Frederick Keys, Nashville Sounds, and Myrtle Beach Pelicans. When it comes to putting this set together, the precise method varies by team. Here’s how the Salem Red Sox are going about it.
With Opening Day fast approaching, the Salem Red Sox are proud to announce an unprecedented promotion that will offer well-deserved recognition to some of the bravest men and women of the Roanoke Valley. In addition to creating a baseball card set of the Carolina League Champions in 2014, the team will also generate a pack of cards featuring many of the region’s dedicated servicemen and women for a “Military Appreciation Baseball Card Giveaway,” scheduled for Saturday, August 9 at LewisGale Field.
Starting immediately, fans can log onto the Salem Red Sox Facebook page and submit nominations of family members and/or friends who are worthy of inclusion in this one-of-kind creation. Each submission should include the following information:
- Name with rank
- Military Branch
- Weight (if wanted)
- Years of service
- DOB (if wanted)
- A bio about his or her history in the military (preferably 75-100 words)
- A photo (headshot or full body in dress uniform)
Fans are asked to submit their candidates by March 31. After receiving nominees, all photos will be placed in an album where the “likes” will be tallied, and the 30 photos with the most “likes” will be chosen for this special card set. In the event of a tie, the earlier photo submitted will have the honor of being included as part of this collection. Voting via “likes” will continue through the first half of the season.
The final product will be a collector’s item of 30 cards, with 1,000 decks to be distributed to the first 1,000 fans through the gate on “Military Appreciation Night.”
In the case of the San Jose Giants, the team simply accepted nominations through yesterday (March 12). The team will then select the winners, independent of any voting process, and announce them during March 31’s FanFest event. One winner, however, has already been chosen. Per the team:
San Jose, CA- The San Jose Giants are excited to announce that 95 year-old, World War II veteran Joe Bell has been named the first trading card in their Salute to the Military Trading Card Set, presented byOperation: Care and Comfort. Bell has become an instant star over the past few days after video was taken of him in military uniform spontaneously shaking runners’ hands in front of his house Sunday morning as part of a run to benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation. The video of Bell and the runners has since been viewed and shared on the Internet over one million times.
And here’s that video:
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ efforts are particularly noteworthy, in that they have teamed up with a local hospice and put together a season-long initiative with a particular focus on WWII veterans.
Over 11 game dates during the season, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans will feature stories of WWII veterans as a part of a new program called Embrace Veterans, culminating in Military Appreciation Night, presented by Embrace Hospice, which falls on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The program is working with several different veteran-related non-profit organizations in the Grand Strand to honor veterans who served during WWII.
In addition to their involvement in Military Appreciation Night, Embrace Hospice will be a partner for an additional ten game dates throughout the 2014 season. On each of these nights, the Pelicans will highlight veterans during the game….This will include a video tribute of select veterans…. A representative from Embrace Hospice will throw out the first pitch alongside a local Grand Strand veteran as well.
On Military Appreciation Night, the Pelicans will give away a Veteran Card Set, presented by Embrace Hospice, featuring a variety of veterans from the Grand Strand….The Pelicans are currently accepting nominations of veterans to be featured on the video board and/or in the card set. To be highlighted on a particular game night with video board feature, the veteran must be a currently living veteran of WWII. Veterans of all U.S. conflicts, whether deceased or living, are eligible for the card set. The Pelicans will make selections for both the video tributes and the card set from the nominees; all decisions on these matters are final.
I grew up outside of Philadelphia and now live in New York City. If any teams in that general region do a military card set then I’d nominate my grandfather, Jarvis Cooper, for inclusion.
My grandfather, who died in 1996, was a navigator on the B-17 bomber “Judy.” On December 30, 1943 the plane was shot down over northern France, crashing in the woods on the outskirts of the town of Ully St. Georges. Four of the 10 crew members died, and those that didn’t were cared for and housed in secret by the French Resistance. Eventually, my grandfather and the Judy’s pilot, Glenn Camp, were captured by the Germans while attempting to take a train into Spain. They then spent more than a year in a POW camp, remaining there until the war ended.
Fast forward to September 2011, when the town of Ully St. Georges unveiled a town square memorial honoring the crew of the “Judy.” I was fortunate enough to be in attendance, and the hospitality of the French people who organized the event and hosted me throughout is something that I will always remember.
In my capacity as floundering elder blogger-statesman of the Minor League scene, I’ve written about more than my share of patently unhealthy and/or ridiculously oversized and/or ridiculously conceived concession items.
Y’know, like this “Ramen Dawg” that the Salem Red Sox served during last month’s “College Night” promotion.
But there’s a yin to every yang, a Jekyll to every Hyde, a Shobam to every Yobam, which is to say that for the remainder of today’s post I will feature some downright healthy ballpark undertakings.
Let’s start with the Akron Aeros, who, perhaps in atonement for the “Inside Out Burger,” recently staged a promotion with the undeniably awesome name of “Vegan Iron Chef.” Director of promotions Christina Shisler explains:
For Vegan Iron Chef we have partnered with the “Who’s Your Mama? Earth Day Festival” to bring in Vegan Iron Chef contestants and a Vegetable Carving Championship Competition to Canal Park on April 22 (Earth Day)! There will be eight chefs making vegan dishes for a table of judges. Fans will get to watch, as the competition begins when gates open, and then sample vegan food throughout the game.
Two of the competitors in action.
And, yes, there was also a Vegetable Carving Championship.
Team-logo Cantaloupe. (Cantalogo?)
Winner, winner, meat-free dinner!
For another excellent bit of healthy ballpark living we go to the Quad Cities, as the River Bandits staged a “Race the Game” promotion as a follow-up of sorts to their inaugural 5K race. Director of promotions and marketing Shane Huff explains:
[We] invited one of the top overall finishers [in the 5K race] to come back to today’s game and literally race the game. This contestant, Marvin McMeekan, will try to comlete a 9-mile run on a treadmill – placed on the outfield berm for everyone to see – before the game becomes official. If Marvin can beat the game, EVERYONE in attendance wins a prize. We’re going to interview Marvin before the game and do live look-ins throughout the game to help build suspense.
Marvin in action.
I, for one, never had any doubt that Marvin would complete the task. And he did, ably. Writes Huff:
It went very well. The live look-ins between innings really helped get the crowd get into it. And Marvin crushed it! He completed the 9 miles with just under an inning to spare!
It went so well that we’re already discussing plans on doing it again later this summer on a night with a bigger crowd and better prizes.
Race the Game is a great, easily adaptable idea and if it doesn’t catch on then I will be deeply disappointed in the entire industry. (Crushed, even, in the non I-just-outraced-a-ballgame-sense-of-the-word.)
And if you want add a real sense of drama to the whole thing, then invite me to be the runner. I’d probably fail, and failing is what I do best (especially in front of crowds).
On that note I shall conclude. Tomcat says “Have a Great Weekend!”
More on that guy in an upcoming post.
There’s a well-known saying that goes “The way to a man’s heart is to put heart-shaped food into his stomach.”
The West Michigan Whitecaps have taken that to heart, as the team is now offering the world-famous Fifth-Third burger in the shape of a heart. This, truly, is a heart-stopping Valentine’s Day gift.
[T]his Valentine’s day beauty is no ordinary Fifth Third Burger…it has been customized for this one special occasion with a giant heart-shaped bun to please your sweetie.
Nutritionally, you can’t go wrong with this culinary piece of art. Weighing in at four pounds, the Valentine’s Day Fifth Third Burger has 4,889 calories and 299.5 grams of fat. Pound for pound, that’s just a little more than half of the fat and calories in four pounds of Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, which contains 9,000 calories and 557 grams of
fat. What a nutritional bargain!…The Fifth Third Burger heart-shaped bomb is available for just $30, but if you want a truly special unforgettable moment, opt for the $100 package and Crash the River Rascal will deliver this winner right to your special someone. He (or she) might even share this delicious dinner with you by candlelight.
I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the below photo is to scale:
As mentioned previously, I’m planning on doing a “Valentine’s Day in the Minors” post next week. But this bit of news I couldn’t resist, as it put my heart in my stomach.
Meanwhile, and stop me if you’ve heard it already, but the Brooklyn Cyclones have offered Christina Aguilera a National Anthem do-over.
Each year, it seems like someone makes a mistake and because it happens in the Super Bowl, the whole world is buzzing about it the next day. This year’s victim is four-time Grammy Award Winner and Staten Island, NY native Christina Aguilera whose slip-up during the Star-Spangled Banner has everyone talking.
With that in mind, the Brooklyn Cyclones have offered Christina Aguilera the opportunity to perform the National Anthem at MCU Park this summer. The team will even provide her a copy of the lyrics to prevent another
mishap from occurring.
I like the phrasing there, that the team will “even” provide Christina Aguilera a copy of the lyrics. Talk about a unique and irresistible bargaining chip!
Thank you for bearing with me yet again as we trudge in lockstep toward opening day. As the Salem Red Sox so eloquently tweeted yesterday:
If Phileas Fogg began his journey today, he’d be 20 days late for the Salem Red Sox season opener. #OnlySixtyDaysAway
And now that number has been reduced to 59. You better get moving, Phileas.
Like a letter without a stamp, this blog has suffered from insufficient postage this week. The reason for this is because I’ve been in Mobile, AL, in order to cover the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum. Check out my reports, complete with Flipcam video, HERE.
But Minor League Baseball news never rests, not for a moment. So blog I must.
And I must start in Virginia, as a most unfortunate occurrence has befallen the Salem Red Sox: on Sunday morning, an out-of-control driver slammed through the box office. The timing could not have been much worse, as the club’s home opener is on Friday.
Here’s a look at the damage, courtesy of media relations director Dave Cawley:
The Sox have joked on their Facebook page that this is the “First Ever Drive Thru Ticket Office.” Cawley reports that most of the ticket computers and printers were destroyed, and that the team might have to sell cash-only General Admission tickets on Opening Day. But, on the bright side, no one was injured. The only side effect is some terrible b.o.
And regardless what tragedy may befall us, life goes on. And, sometimes, life can throw some pretty awesome things our way. Like this:
The Lexington Legends new t-shirt Gatling Gun, seen here in front of the team’s brand-new left and main field videoboards, can shoot 24 t-shirts in 10 seconds. Never forget that we are living in amazing times. Truly amazing times.