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.
This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Tampa Yankees (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
When it comes to Florida State League attendance figures, the Tampa Yankees perennially rank in the top five. But when you play in a stadium like Steinbrenner Field, even a good crowd is bound to look anemic. My first impression of this facility — which also serves as the Yankees’ Spring Training home — was that it’s enormous.
And, yes, that is a giant statue of “The Boss” greeting all comers. Rumor has it that Steinbrenner made sure this statue didn’t weigh 2000 pounds, because he didn’t it to be associated with Boss ton.
In all seriousness, the statue seen above wasn’t installed until 2011, less than a year after Steinbrenner died. The stadium was known as Legends Field from 1996 through 2008, when it was renamed in honor of Steinbrenner.
The Boss’s statuesque gaze his fixed to his right; to the opposite direction one can see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ home of Raymond James Stadium.
Please note, however, that the view of this professional football facility is more striking from inside the ballpark.
Seeing the Bucs’ home in such a capacity got me thinking how there are a surprising (to me, at least) number of NFL stadiums visible from from Minor League ballparks. Let’s see, there’s Tampa, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Charlotte — am I missing any others? It’s maybe also worth noting that both State College and Eugene play in the shadow of hulking college football stadiums. Is this a metaphor for the sports zeitgeist — our national pastime overshadowed by football?
But zeitgeist contemplation can wait. I’m moving on to more pressing concerns, such as how Steinbrenner Field has its very own Monument Park. It’s all in keeping with the ballpark’s “mini (old) Yankee Stadium) theme. The House That Grapefruit Built?
An even more sober-minded and contemplative New York tribute comes in the form of this 9/11 monument. The “9-11-01 NYFD 345” sign at the base was made from an actual piece of World Trade tower steel, donated by a Palm Harbor chapter of the Retired Firefighters of New York City.
After absorbing Steinbrenner Field’s exterior landscape, there’s nothing left to do but enter the stadium. When you do, you’ll be greeted by Dallas McClain:
If you want to meet the Tampa Yankees’ biggest fan while attending a game at the team’s home of George Steinbrenner Field, then it won’t take very long. Chances are that he’s the guy who scanned your ticket.
That would be Dallas McClain, a 19-year-old special needs student, ROTC member, baseball player and passionate supporter of the Yankees’ Florida State League affiliate. His first exposure to the team came via his family, which is made up of long-time season-ticket holders and booster-club members. Over the years, he became such a ballpark fixture that he eventually was offered employment as a greeter. In this capacity, he brings a concentrated burst of enthusiasm to a cavernous ballpark within which such a thing can often be lacking (George Steinbrenner Field, also the Spring Training home of the Yankees, can hold more than 11,000 people).
Wondering what, uh, wonders await once you’re inside the ballpark? We’ll cover that in the next post.
This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Tampa Yankees (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees, is modeled after Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. On the day I attended a game in Tampa, a model ballpark could be found within this model ballpark.
Get a Lego this!
I already wrote a little bit about this over on MiLB.com:
A Lego replica of the 19-year-old facility, created by Mark Staffa of the Greater Florida Lego Users Group, [was] displayed on the concourse during Tampa’s first four home games of the season. Though Staffa wasn’t in attendance at [April 12’s] game, a handy fact sheet provided by the team included the following information:
• The Steinbrenner Field replica took approximately 10 months to design, using approximately 40,000 pieces.
• More than 800 mini-figures are included within the replica. Players, concession workers and fans (including a number of Star Wars Stormtroopers) are interspersed throughout.
• All of the outfield signage and scoreboard references Lego-related items. Among these are Octan (a fictional gas station brand featured in Lego sets), Brick Journal Magazine (a resource for Lego enthusiasts) and the Greater Florida Lego Users Group (GFLUG) of which Staffa is a part.
Yes, note the Stormtroopers:
A peek over the roof:
As for the real thing? It’s cavernous.
Steinbrenner Field seats over 11,000 people, making it one of the most capacitous ballparks in all of Minor League Baseball. (Yes, I know, “capacitous” is not actually a word.) Sellouts are a regular Spring Training occurrence, but near impossible to come by within a Florida State League context. Tampa Yankees general manager Vance Smith told me that July 4th generally brings the biggest crowd of the year (in the five or six thousand range), and that the only time that the Tampa Yankees sold the place out was May 18, 2007. Roger Clemens was on the mound that night, as he worked his way back to the Majors for the final time.
There were no rehabbing superstars on the afternoon in which I was in attendance. Just a bunch of young guys, all of whom seemed to take their stretching pretty seriously.
In my longstanding role as self-righteous jerk, I delight in pointing out spelling errors on stadium signage.
As for the Tampa Yankees’ mascot, his name would be pretty hard to misspell. Meet Blue, whose Tampa Yankees jersey only partially covers his distended red baseball belly. He’s the one on the right.
Blue mascot + blue skies = a bluetiful day for a ballgame in Tampa.
With the game underway, Smith and I walked down to the (Bright House Networks) Dugout Club. This group area has — surprise! — a Yankee Stadium kind of ambiance.
The Dugout Club, located directly behind home plate, is, not surprisingly, a very popular place to be in Spring Training. It is available to rent year-round.
But this is the real dugout club right here. Professional players, spending time in their preferred environment.
I would soon join the Dugout Club in a different form, by competing in a frozen t-shirt contest held atop it. My opponent was one Brian Cochrane, who, earlier in the day, had ably served as my Steinbrenner Field designated eater. You’ll see a lot more of him in the next post in this series.
Tampa Yankees Frozen T-Shirt Contest, A Drama in Five Parts
At least Blue was there to console me afterwards, via this understated dance to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
Your dancing mascot Vine of the day. https://t.co/F6cTcqAavF
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) April 12, 2015
I also spent a couple of innings talking to Dee and Mark Salmon, devoted season ticket holders and Tampa Yankee booster parents. They were very friendly, as booster parents inevitably are.
In the course of conversation I learned that their son-in-law, Matias, is a magician in New York City. I’m going to try to get to a show one of these days.
In the waning innings of the ballgame, the sky turned ominous. A thunderstorm, so common in Florida, seemed imminent.
But, no, we were spared. After the Lakeland Tigers put the finishing touches on a 4-2 win, a handful of kids ran the bases as Dick’s Sporting Goods coupons were distributed at the exits. The Boss, through it all, remained stoic amid the palms.
In the exciting conclusion of this Tampa Yankees, designated eater Brian Cochrane goes wild at the T-Yanks’ pre-game “Taste of South Tampa” food fest. Stay tuned.
This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Tampa Yankees (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
Before visiting the Tampa Yankees, the advanced intelligence I received regarding their concessions was that they didn’t go too far beyond the basics. And, okay, that’s fine. As the late Bill Valentine would have told you, the basics are what most people want. The basics have the highest profit margins, the basics are what teams should focus on.
But from my perspective, that’s kind of boring. When I recruit a designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits — I want, whenever possible, to focus on the regional specialties. Be it spiedies in Binghamton or BBQ in Birmingham, I want to highlight the food in a way that illuminates what’s popular in the surrounding community.
And, as it turned out, that’s just what I got in Tampa. April 12’s ballgame was originally scheduled as an early afternoon tilt, but pushed back three hours so that the team could host the annual “Taste of South Tampa.” 2015 marked the 10th time that this event had been held, but the first time in which it was staged at the Tampa Yankee’s home of Steinbrenner Field.
Taste of South Tampa, held on the concourse, ran from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets to the event also included admission to that evening’s 5 p.m. Tampa Yankees game. Dozens of food and beverage vendors were on hand, distributing their signature items to all comers. Also on hand was Brian Cochrane, my designated eater for the day.
Brian hails from Patchouge, New York, a town on the south shore of Long Island. He moved to Tampa two years ago, and now works at Hillsborough Community College (which is more or less located next door to Steinbrenner Field). He’s a “clinical supervisor for the diatetic technician program,” which, translated, means that he “works with students who do internships, coordinates who goes where, and offers academic guidance.” In his down time he’s become a huge fan of the Florida State League in general and the Tampa Yankees specifically.
Brian said that he wanted to be the designated eater because “if it’s free, it’s for me.” Also, it meant that he got to “have fun, and showcased on a blog and website I enjoy looking at. It’s great to be involved with something you only usually read about.”
“But, Brian,” I asked him. “Won’t gorging yourself on food run counter to the creed of the dietetic technician?”
“Let’s just say that this is my cheat day,” he replied. “Balance and moderation, but not today.”
Brian was ready to donuts, in other words.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) April 12, 2015
Things started off relatively healthily, actually, with the literal and figurative mouthful that was “Scottish smoked salmon with lemon dill sauce on quinoa salad and a fresh Louisiana kale salad” courtesy of the Rollin’ Oats market and cafe.
(Also, this was gluten-free! So that meant I could — and did — indulge as well.)
“The salmon, you can tell that it’s fresh,” said Brian. “Great nutrition.”
Next up was “Cheesy Crab Nachos” from Pincher’s seafood shack.
“I think that there should be more crab,” said Brian. “These are very clam chowdery.”
From then it was on to crab cakes, lollipop chicken and beef wellington from The Fox “cool” jazz club.
“The chicken was good,” said Brian. “The others tasted like microwavable frozen food.”
By the time I glanced up from my notebook, Brian was lost in the crowd.
After momentarily mistaking him for a guy advertising his preference for nearby females…
…I found him chowing down on a pulled pork sandwich from the Doubletree Hilton Player’s Club.
Brian, who was turning out to be a tough-but-fair food critic, said that the “pork-to-bun ratio” was lacking and that it was also “kind of dry.”
Things turned around after visiting the Carmel Kitchen and Wine Bar, which offered a veggie crisp (gluten-free!) dipped in chickpea hummus and served with gazpacho.
“This is homemade, crisp and the soup is pleasing,” said Brian. I concurred — while my options were obviosuly more limited than his, this was the best thing I tasted at the event.
“The pita bread is a little rough, a little chewy,” said Brian. “But this has good flavor and texture.”
From Louis Pappas, it was a proverbial hop, skip and a jump to the Cuban sandwiches offered by The Press Box. This had ham, pork, salami, mayo, mustard, pickle and Swiss cheese.
“They used good ingredients, and the meat is cooked well,” said Brian.
In the first photo of Brian I used in this post, you’ll note that he was carrying donuts. These, for the record, were from Perks Donut Bar and Brian gave them a muscular endorsement. He then moved on to the items seen briefly in the above Vine video — a pulled pork hamburger from American Eats and some chili and chips (the origin of which I cannot ascertain). The whole thing was a whirlwind, really. We had been at the event for an hour at this point and, as it was nearing 4 p.m., it was beginning to wind down.
When Brian stopped by Beef O’Brady’s to get some wings, the servers there ended up giving him 15 or so. Everything must go!
And that was it for the Taste of South Tampa.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) April 12, 2015
Thanks to Brian for being such a good sport, and to the Tampa Yankees for granting us both full access to the event. Now that Brian’s finally done eating, the next series of posts on the blog will focus on Dunedin. That, my friends, is a joke that never gets old.