One more time, with feeling!
In other words, it’s time for November’s third and final “Return to the Road” installment, in which I highlight that which was experienced above and beyond the ballpark during my road trip travels. The first post covered May 8 and 9th in Bowling Green and Nashville, and part two involved the events of May 10th and 11th in Nashville, the Smoky Mountains, and Asheville. Which brings us to, yes, May 12th.
I woke up early in Asheville on this fine Sunday morning, after attending a Tourists game the night before that was eventually covered HERE, HERE, and HERE. (Thirsty Thursday origin story!) I woke up so early, in fact, that I forgot to do the obligatory road trip hotel room review and thus had to improvise.
Road trip hotel review, Sleep Inn, Asheville. https://t.co/iMZJSkdqFK
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 12, 2013
The inability to “Sleep Inn” was because my next destination, Savannah, GA, was over four hours away and I was scheduled to attend a Sand Gnats Mother’s Day matinee at Grayson Stadium that began at 2 o’clock. The only documentation that I possess of this journey is this rather underwhelming photo of Talmadge Memorial Bridge.
Underwhelming photo, perhaps, but the bridge is anything but. Named after Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge, it connects downtown Savannah with Hutchinson Island and spans a distance of two miles. The Talmadge is imposing and picturesque, and it makes one’s entryway into Savannah proper a truly memorable experience. It astounds me, however, that what is surely the most iconic structure in a city with a majority black population is named after a politician who viciously and unapologetically espoused racial hatred and exploited racial tensions.
There’s really no way to smoothly segue from the above sentence, so I’m not even going to try. I crossed the bridge, attended the Sand Gnats game (read all about it HERE! And HERE!), and after the game found myself in a bit of a quandary in that was early evening on Mother’s Day — not exactly the best time for a traveling gluten-free Minor League Baseball writer to do a bit of exploring and socializing. Savannah’s waterfront downtown area was packed, and I simply drove along the cobblestone streets at about one mile an hour with absolutely no idea regarding what it was that I was looking to accomplish. I snaped a few underwhelming photos out of the driver’s side window and then got out of Dodge as quickly as I could.
My lack of a plan and general feelings of alienation from the scene around me put me in a grumpy frame of mind.
So I did what I always do in these situations: went to a diner, ordered steak and eggs, and then brought a stash of pork cracklins and Mello Yello back to my hotel room to serve as writing fuel. It was a beautiful night.
But frustration continued to follow me the next day, eventually catching up with me somewhere between Savannah and my next destination of Augusta. My problem was that it was lunch time and in the breaded and fried deep South it can be difficult to stay true to the gluten-free diet that a battery of medical professionals have insisted that I follow.
I was hungry and not seeing many viable options along whatever lonely stretch of road that I was on, so when I spotted a sign advertising one “Bay South” restaurant I figured I may as well roll the dice and give it a try. At the very least I’d be supporting a humble local business as opposed to a monolithic chain entity doing its part to further exacerbate America’s descent into corporatized homogeneity, and that’s half the battle right there.
The restaurant didn’t have a menu, just a small board listing the day’s specials. I was hungry, and as a stranger in a strange land I was feeling a little self-conscious and didn’t really want to give the waitress a spiel regarding my dietary needs. I simply ordered the pork chop special with field peas and stewed tomatoes and hoped for the best. This is the platter that soon arrived:
Don’t get me wrong — that’s a good looking plate of food, and in my pre-gluten free days I would have devoured it without a second thought. But that pork chop was heavily breaded, the peas were in a thick sauce that likely used flour as a thickener, and bread crumbs were mixed in with the tomatoes. The piece de resistance in this fete de gluten was the cornbread, which is to the South what pickles are to a Jewish deli.
“I made my bed, now I’ve got to lie in it,” was the thought that went through my head, so I went ahead and ate the whole plate of food. And, no surprise, it was delicious. I experienced no side effects from this major diet deviation, as I am an asymptomatic (or “silent”) celiac. It’s weird — in a way I almost wish I had symptoms, because the debilitating short-term side effects of eating gluten would serve as a safeguard against the long-term bodily damage that occurs as a result of “cheating” episodes along the lines of that detailed above (which I really don’t do very often at all).
But enough gnashing of teeth, as tautologically speaking celiac disease simply is what it is. I’m just trying to articulate the tortured mental gymnastics that accompany most restaurant meals these days, as these minor setbacks within a life of immense privilege really take a lot out of a guy!
And speaking of immense privilege, the next stop on my itinerary was none other than this esteemed locale.
I arrived at this legendary expanse of greenery with one Chad Walters, an Augusta resident and founder of Lean Blitz Consulting (who served as Designated Eater at that night’s GreenJackets game). Chad kindly spotted me a set of clubs, and I strode toward the entrance gate all like “Oh, no big deal, I’m here every day.”
I’ve actually never played golf in my life, and in one of the most predictable outcomes of all time I was turned away by a guard who denied Chad’s requests to take a picture. Whatever lurked beyond this road way was going to remain a mystery.
Desultory contemplation complete, this Augusta excursion ended with a walk down the surprisingly pedestrian (but not pedestrian friendly) pathway that separates Augusta from the strip mall homogeneity that surrounds it.
Fortunately, Chad had one more Augusta landmark to show me and this one was far more accessible. We drove into downtown proper and, after taking advantage of the ample parking opportunities, made our way to this location.
Yes, that James Brown. The Godfather of Soul! Presiding over all that he sees!
Brown was not an Augusta native, but he did spend his formative years here. Per the plaque that resides at the base of the structure, Brown “has called Augusta ‘home’ since moving here when he was five. It was in Augusta’s Lenox Theatre that he first received recognition for his talent by winning an amateur contest.”
Perhaps the James Brown’s of tomorrow are honing their chops at downtown Savannah’s I-3000 Club, although the focus there seemed to be more on adult entertainment.
After that it was goodbye downtown Augusta and hello GreenJackets. (I wrote about that ballgame HERE and HERE, as I am wont to do.) The next day it was on to Birmingham, where I closed out this trip by attending two games at the Barons’ new home of Regions Field. (Check it out, if you are wont to do such a thing.) My time in Birmingham yielded two blog posts and two MiLB.com features, virtually exhausting all of my Dream City content, so all that I have left to share is this: before leaving for the airport, I stopped for a meal at the Birmingham BBQ institution that is Dreamland BBQ.
I patronized the 14th Avenue South location, which is located in a rather residential area.
The majority of the patrons on this Tuesday afternoon were sitting in the booths…
but given my lonely traveler status I opted for a seat at the bar and promptly ordered a half slab of ribs. They were delectable (and gluten-free).
During the meal I made small talk with the bartender, who turned out to be the younger brother of outfielder Josh Phelps (now retired). This minor but nonetheless interesting baseball-related happenstance marked the conclusion of this particular road trip, as from Dreamland I went straight to the airport. I am happy to report that the boiled peanuts made it home safely.
The previous missive in this low-stakes blogging odyssey ended in Asheville on a Saturday night, and my next order of business was to be in Savannah on a Sunday afternoon. As you can see from this road trip map (made by MiLB.com’s ace editorial team), I had a lot of driving to do in a very short amount of time.
I felt so rushed on Sunday morning that I almost forgot to do a road trip hotel room review on Vine (a new tradition), but after a coffee and cracklins-fueled journey I did indeed make it to Savannah’s Grayson Stadium in time for this Mother’s Day matinee. And let me tell you, when you’re in Savannah you definitely know you’re in Savannah. The landscape, it’s just different, and a lot of that has to do with the flora and fauna.
The Sand Gnats are a Mets affiliate. Or, should I say a Pal-Met-to affiliate?
These are the idyllic grounds of Savannah’s Daffin Park, of which Grayson Stadium is a part. The stadium is located across the street from this upbeat amateur facility.
I’d say that Grayson, despite being 87-years-old, has a fairly youthful and optimistic outlook as well. (For much more on my Grayson stadium experiences, please read my MiLB.com piece! My MiLB.com pieces are the hand-rolled cigars that perfectly complement the glasses of single-malt Scotch that are the blog posts).
As I walked to the stadium, I could hear Andrew W.K.’s “I Love New York City” playing from inside. This created a welcoming atmosphere for a Big Apple-dweller such as myself, even though the price of admission was far less than anything that would be found in NYC and the surrounding tri-state area.
Prior to my arrival, the Sand Gnats held a contest on Facebook to find my designated eater (you know, the fan who samples the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). It was a pretty cool looking contest:
Unfortunately the winner (one Joey Chiarello) wasn’t able to make it for whatever reason, so the team recruited an intern in his stead. Hank Garcia was his name, food and beverage was his game, and almost as soon as I walked through the gates he suggested that some eating should commence.
Who am I to argue? Our first stop was this unassuming concourse stand.
But the item that Mr. Garcia walked away with was anything but unassuming. The Godfather (list price $10) consists of Italian sausage, cheesesteak, pepper, onions and jalapenos. It is a huge mass of sandwich.
Garcia and the Godfather:
A closer look:
Garcia praised the Godfather, noting that the savory sausage was a perfect complement to the saltiness and spice of the cheesesteak and vegetables.
“It results in a plethora — wow, I just said plethora — of flavors,” he said. “Sorry, I just watched The Three Amigos.”
You’d think that Garcia would have been done after the Godfather, but no. Dessert was on the agenda as well!
“It’s Italian Panini bread with Nutella, marshmallow fluff, crushed up graham crackers and powdered sugar,” explained Garcia. “Then, after it’s warmed up in a Panini press, chocolate syrup is added on top.”
This six seconds of video, via Vine, is all you need.
If you thought this food and beverage tour was over, then think again! Like most old stadiums there is limited room for concessions at Grayson, but the team still found some room for the hard stuff.
Garcia ordered and off-menu specialty, and I’d suggest that if you’re of age and at a Sand Gnats game then you do the same. This drink consisted of Horchata (a sweet, rice-based Mexican drink) and Red Hot cinnamon whisky.
“It’s like a liquid Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” explained Garcia.
While I could not immediately ascertain whether or not this concoction was gluten-free, I went ahead and gave it a try (read: gulped it down). My verdict is, word-for-word, the same as Garcia’s on the S’mores Panini: Delicious! (You watched the Vine video, right?)
I chased down the “Liquid Cinnamon Toast Crunch” with a certifiably gluten-free offering: Michelob Ultra cider. That, too, was tasty (despite what my perpetually angst-ridden expression might lead you to believe).
A couple drinks to start my work day had me seeing things.
That fluorescent amphibian soon disappeared beneath a patch of foliage, leading me to believe that it was a hallucination with the power to later manifest itself within the realm of digital photography. I blinked, and it was gone.
This wall, located on the stadium’s third base side, has an interesting history. Read about it on MiLB.com! Less interesting but more scenic is this, the most beautiful front office in all of Minor League Baseball!
Inside, it’s perhaps not quite as beautiful. The master bedroom of this enshrouded shack has been transformed into the main office.
The bathroom (note the shower stall on the right) is now a storage area. No one ever said that working in Minor League Baseball is glamorous!
The front office is located behind a courtyard and picnic area, which provides views of the action from down the third base side.
It was while in this area that I spotted a real-life Sand Gnat.
That would be Gnate, who like a real G moves in silence like lasagna. A cartoonish and altogether more intimidating version of Gnate can be seen on Grayson’s brick facade.
And, yes, the team is named “Sand Gnats” for a reason. These six-legged nuisances are known to swarm over the stadium at night, although they made themselves scarce on the afternoon I was in attendance. THEY KNEW BETTER THAN TO OFFEND A BLOGGER.
But anyway, there was a game going on amidst all of this wandering. Really!
A rather sparse Mother’s Day crowd was taking in the action (Savannah is a church-going town, I was told, so Sunday has always been a difficult draw. The social demands of the holiday only seemed to exacerbate the problem).
I spent much of the afternoon with Sand Gnats director of sales Jonathan Mercier, seen here at the base of “Land Shark Landing” while radioing his co-workers that “the blogger is under control.”
Land Shark Landing, which opened on July 4, 2010, is certainly one of Grayson’s more modern-seeming elements.
Meanwhile, many of the fans chose to sit beneath one.
But no matter where you were sitting, or what you were doing, there was no doubt that it was a beautiful day in Savannah.
Up close and personal:
As you can discern somewhat in the above pic, Grayson boasts an interesting press box. While I’m no stranger to roof top press boxes (Hagerstown and Vancouver spring immediately to mind), this was more of a roof bottom press box.
I was intrigued, so Mercier and I headed up there. I took pictures at various stages of this arduous journey.
The path to the professionals:
I was pretending that these guys were the pilot and co-pilot of a flying stadium spaceship. Set coordinates for family-friendly entertainment!
This picture doesn’t do it justice, but the press box walls were recently re-painted in a rather striking light green hue (about the same color as the lizard featured at the beginning of this post).
Sand Gnats graphic designer Vince Caffiero was the man responsible for this interesting choice, and when I asked him about it he shook his head slowly from side to side.
“I’m getting a lot of flak,” he said in a deadpan tone. “So much flak. It’s not fair.”
As it turned out, the path from the press box was almost an exact approximation of what I have dreamed that the path to the afterlife will look like. (The fans, in my vision, are the people I’d have to leave behind within this earthly realm.)
It turned out, however, that there was to be another stage to our journey.
The roof! The roof! The roof is 100% free of any sign of fire!
I didn’t want to get too close to the edge, so I laid flat on my stomach, extended my arms out in front of me, and took the following shot.
Finally ready to retreat to the stands, I snapped a picture of this fan-friendly view.
Back at sea level, my ballpark tour continued. Mercier and I looped past the verdant batting cages and visitor’s bullpen en route to a truly exclusive view.
This is the rear end of a pig!
As aviator pig, if you want to be specific about it.
“From the stands it looks professional, but seen from below it’s definitely amateur hour,” said Mercier of his and his co-worker’s pig-mounting abilities.
View from the pig:
To the left of the pig one can find the manually-operated scoreboard.
For when things really get out of hand.
The view of what’s in front of the scoreboard is a little bit better than the view of what’s behind it.
With the game winding down, I headed to the seats — nay, benches — located behind home plate in order to watch the game like a normal person. While there I was photographed with a prop.
This bat — named “The Phoenix” — is the source of much mayhem and mirth within the Sand Gnats front office. To make a long story short — an argument erupted between Caffiero and ticketing manager Joe Shepard over the offseason, regarding just who it was that the bat belonged to. In response to this bickering the bat was hidden from both of them, and now both parties are being subjected to taunting photos such as the one seen above.
And so it goes.
And so it went. As I was posing with heavy lumber the game ended, with the visiting Rome Braves earning the win.
And even though it was Mother’s Day, the moms assumed picture-taking duties as their kids ran the bases.
But as for me? I’m a man done. A man done blogging. Over and out from Savannah.
This is me, in Inland Empire, dressed as a Molar Racer.
The reason I’m showing this picture is because it features my Sony Webbie camera, which has accompanied me on all road trips that I’ve ever undertaken while under the employ of MiLB.com.
We’ve been through a lot, Webbie and I, but I’m now ready to end our relationship. I have become increasingly disheartened with the quality of the photos, especially if movement and/or low lighting is involved. It’s time for an upgrade, but to what?
Does anyone out there have any recommendations? I need something lightweight, easy-to-use, durable, (relatively) cheap, and capable of taking photos worthy of appearing on the number one Minor League Baseball promotions/game operations/travel blog on the internet (I mean, if it’d be good enough for them then it would be good enough for Ben’s Biz Blog.)
I know that many of my readers are far more tech-savvy than I, so let’s hear it! What should be the next Ben’s Biz Blog camera of choice?
Technologically-minded endeavors certainly have their place, but it’s the simple pleasures that what make life worth living. And pleasures don’t get much simpler than that which was covered in Monday’s post: armadillo racing.
Upon seeing said post, one of my embedded contacts within the Tulsa Drillers front office sent the following photos. Apparently, Sparky Sparks and his team of racing armadillos are regular ballpark visitors.
Armadillo racing is undoubtedly thrilling, but not quite as thrilling as stuntman Ted Batchelor. The last time that Batchelor appeared at a Minor League ballpark was 2009, when he ran the bases while on fire following a Savannah Sand Gnats game.
Batchelor, who recently set a Guinness World Record for longest “on fire run” (492 feet), wrote me to report that he has one team booked in 2012 (I’ll let that team make the announcement) but that he “needs many more!” (This is, after all, a man with a stated goal of getting lit on fire in all 50 states.) Check out his website for more info.
But while lighting a man on fire is still a relatively rare occurrence in the Minor Leagues, fireworks are about as common as it gets. And what better way to promote an increased fireworks slate than with a parody of the song “Fireworks”? Take it away, Akron Aeros!
Perry-dy is more like it!
What a momentous week — yesterday was Pi Day, today is the Ides of March, Wednesday is National Artichoke Hearts Day and Thursday is St. Patrick’s Day.
Minor League Baseball’s involvement with the first three of these annual milestones is minimal at best, but for St. Patrick’s Day teams are going green in a way that has nothing to do with waterless urinals, concourse recycling bins, and LEED certification.
The Savannah Sand Gnats are offering this St. Patty’s day tee, which makes it clear that insects can be Irish too:
Indianapolis is putting its own spin on the theme, as this green cap celebrates the “Luck O the Indians.”
And speaking of the Aces, the team is currently offering what I believe is the best season-ticket package in all of Minor League Baseball. Full-time students can purchase a general admission pass for $72 — that’s $1 a game!
But even cheaper than $1 a game is free, and in Fort Wayne the TinCaps are currently offering fans a unique way to score complimentary Opening Day ducats.
[T]he TinCaps are looking for eagle-eyed deputies to enforce a new staff dress code. Any fan who catches a full-time TinCaps staffer without a TinCaps logo visible on their person wins two tickets to Opening Day…Staff members must wear a visible TinCaps logo at all times for the entire month leading up to Opening Day, whether or not they are on the job. Anything from a TinCaps fake tattoo sleeve to a lapel pin is sufficient.
For truly committed fans, this shouldn’t be a problem. Just pick a staff member and engage in round-the-clock surveillance. They’re sure to slip up sooner or later.
Believe it or not, I’ve gotten a little bit (heart)burned out on Minor League food news. But the latest and greatest innovation to come down the pike is interesting not just for its colossal caloric content.
The Savannah Sand Gnats will be serving two brand-new menu items at Grayson Stadium this season, the end result of an interesting case study in fan interactivity and the power of social media. Here’s how it went down.
This past Saturday, CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell asked his huge cadre of Twitter followers to come up with “The next great ballpark food.” Impressed by the response, he then decided to compile the suggestions and put them to a vote on his blog. Savannah Sand Gnats director of communications Toby Hyde quickly reached out to Rovell, saying that his team would put the winning items (main course and dessert) on the concession menu at Grayson Stadium.
The former was submitted by an attorney in San Francisco, with the stipulation that waffles would be used as buns. The latter, meanwhile, is “Nutella, Fluff, crushed graham crackers on Italian bread, grilled on a panini press.” Not coincidentally, it was submitted by the owner of a panini business.
From start to finish, this whole endeavor lasted less than 72 hours. But in that span of time, the Sand Gnats received national publicity as well as a great new marketing angle — exciting concession items!
Rovell and the Sand Gnats have provided an easily adaptable template, and I find myself crushed by the sheer inevitability of similar promotions happening in the future.
— At this juncture in the blog post, it’s time to stop writing and let some videos do the talking. Yesterday, the Pawtucket Red Sox released episode two of their Scavenger Hunt extravaganza. I am posting this because of the absolutely hilarious performance turned in by the Tae Kwon Do instructor:
Meanwhile, this video from Hudson Valley shows that old-school arcade classics can (and in fact should) be adapted into on-field post-game live-action contests. Bonus points for the onfield host, who flat-out tells a contestant that “dude, you’re terrible.”
To that end, today’s post features my 10 favorite photographs from the recently deceased campaign. All of these pictures appeared on this blog at some point during the season, and are presented in the order in which they originally appeared.
Remember — it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Let’s all take a look at once was:
Snowpening Day — Freezing precipitation prevented the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers from playing their first scheduled home game, causing the players to release their start-of-the-season aggression upon hapless snowmen (note the Rattlers’ scoreboard message, a nice example of thinking ahead).
Catatonic Cauliflower — Jerry “The King” Lawler visited Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium, leaving no doubt as to his feelings regarding rampaging vegetables.