Yesterday’s post detailed my thirst-quenching visit to the Burlington, Vermont headquarters of Citizen Cider. That was just one element of a whirlwind weekend in and around Vermont’s most populous city, a weekend which also included a Vermont Lake Monsters game.
I spent said weekend with my cousin, Ali, and her family, who live in nearby Hinesburg. I arrived on the evening of Friday, July 10, after a downright idyllic ride on Amtrak’s “Vermonter” line. The next morning I participated in my first-ever 5K race, and it was a 5K with a distinctly Vermont flair: The Brain Freezer.
At the halfway point of the Brain Freezer, participants had to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. (Hence, the “Run, Pint, Run” tagline.) Really, though, my primary concern was with “run” part of the equation. In my youth I was a real skinny and naturally in-shape; my 30s, on the other hand, had (until recently) been characterized by a slow descent into a sloth-like state.
The race — proceeds of which benefited the People Helping People Global micro-lending organization — began in Burlington’s Battery Park. The “competitive” runners were lined up in the front. I, meanwhile, was a “Fun Runner” (an oxymoron, if I’ve ever heard one).
I ran the race with Ali and her son, Jason. Always prepared, she had obtained green “Keep Vermont Weird” shirts for all three of us as well as armbands which could hold our ice cream spoons.
I’m in the right hand portion of the below photo, huffing and puffing between Ali and Jason and already desirous of a nap.
My apologies for the brain freeze, but I don’t have any photos of the actual ice cream-eating portion of the race. The pints were handed out on a downtown city street, and I opted for a Cherry Garcia as it was the only gluten-free option. It was pretty much on the honor system, as regards eating the whole thing before continuing. I didn’t, and am sorry for sullying the sanctity of the Brain Freeze’s core premise.
Maybe I should have an asterisk after my name (denoting pint consumption failure), but I did finish the race. Jason overtook me at the end; finishing 221st out of 297. I then came in 222nd with a less-than-inspiring time of 42:45.
Before the show I enjoyed a “Wit’s Up” Citizen Cider.
Ali and I also had time to poke around the excellent Burlington Records. There were a lot of off-the-beaten path weirdo vibe records in the used bin, and I know I bought a few but can’t remember what. Next season, I’m gonna keep a record store log.
This marked the sixth time I’ve seen Weird Al, and never in the same place twice (Red Bank, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Glenside, Pennsylvania; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Oakland, California; Burlington, Vermont). The one constant is that he puts on an awesome show, full of costume changes and multi-media elements and a start-to-finish commitment to each and every song and routine.
The Flynn is an intimate and classy venue, and Ali had scored us some great seats.
One of the most unique elements of Al’s “Mandatory Fun” tour is that, at each stop, he opens the show with a rendition of “Tacky“ that starts with him outside the venue and ends on the stage. Footage from the Burlington show is at the 1:15 mark in the below video, but the whole thing is very much worth watching. It’s one of many examples of Al’s total commitment to each and every detail of the performance.
Anyhow, another massive leg of the “Mandatory Fun” tour begins in June and ends in September. He’s making stops at many Minor League markets, but I’ll be at the tour-concluding show at Radio City Music Hall on September 24. Sorry to come off like such a fanboy here, but I’ve been a Weird Al fan for a very long time.
I went on five ballpark road trips in 2015, including one in New England. But the time that I spent in Burlington, Vermont, was not part of that trip. It was a standalone long weekend that included Minor League Baseball (the Vermont Lake Monsters, natch) as well as a variety of other diverting and educational activities.
One such activity took place on the afternoon of Saturday, July 11. My cousin, Ali, and I visited Burlington’s Citizen Cider.
Our visit was arranged by the Lake Monsters, who count Citizen Cider as one of their sponsors. Their ciders are sold at Centennial Field, within the outfield-area Vermont Frames Pavilion and Bar. Upon arriving, we were greeted by company co-founder Kris Nelson.
Kris, originally from Staten Island, moved to Vermont in 2002 and initially was employed in the field of social work. He later became involved in the wine business, and in this capacity met chemist Bryan Holmes and farmer Justin Heilenbach. They bonded over a mutual interest in hard cider and its untapped potential, and founded Citizen Cider in 2010. Their first location was a decommissioned military base, Fort Ethan Allen; the current Burlington location, comprising a bar, restaurant and 6000 square-foot production facility, opened in 2014.
Kris said that the initial reaction to this business venture was generally along the lines of “Cider? Why cider?” But he and his co-founders persevered, believing that the skepticism was a result of a lack of knowledge.
“We just kept marching forward,” he said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why is cider not happening?’ At the time, it was always marketed to young women. And then came Angry Orchard and why is that? Because men are angry?…Cider wasn’t cool, people weren’t connected. We’re Citizen Cider because we wanted to create ciders for the people.”
Kris set us up with two tasting flights, comprised of 10 ciders total. (Pun apple-ations for said ciders are not just tolerated. They’re encouraged.) The apples are obtained within a 250-mile radius of Burlington, and pressed at the Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury.
I like alcohol, sometimes too much, but cider is especially appealing to me as it is naturally gluten-free. Since getting diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, I have had to give up drinking beer and, thus, cider has stepped into the void. Kris said that the rise of gluten-free diets (whether it’s a medical necessity or otherwise) is “great timing” for Citizen’s Cider. Hey, if somebody’s got to profit off of my disease then it may as well be these guys.
We started with the first five ciders on the list, excepting the beer-infused (and thus not gluten-free) “Citizen Zero.”
Pale translucence was a consistent theme here, but each cider had its own taste. What follows are my not very in-depth notes; click on each cider’s name to see the official description (when possible).
Unified Press: The flagship cider. Drinkable, dry and crisp.
Wit’s Up: Very dry, less acidic. Fermented from Belgian Wit yeast.
Happy Valley Heirloom: Fruity and tart.
B-Cider: Made with honey. Light and sweet.
Olmsted: Made with wild apples. Heavy and dry.
Northern Spy: Made entirely with Northern Spy apples. Acidic.
The Americran: Made with cranberries and apples.
“We buy from Cranberry Bob,” Kris told me. Cranberry Bob appears to work for the Vermont Cranberry Company. I mean, when your name is Cranberry Bob, then I guess you have no choice but to go into the cranberry biz.
Brose: Rose for bros. Made with Vermont blueberries, which I assume were provided by Blueberry Bob.
The Full Nelson: “It tastes like a floral IPA,” said Kris. This one’s designed to appeal to the beer drinkers who may be wary of embracing cider.
Dirty Mayor: “Rick is the Dirty Mayor,” said Kris, though I no longer remember who Rick is. At any rate, Kris described this one as “emotionally challenging” as it’s not a true cider. A nip of ginger is what makes it dirty.
We then headed next door to the production facility. The truck in the below photo was carrying a payload of unpasteurized sweet cider.
Cans? What is this, a French film festival?
Each fermentation tank holds 3000 gallons of cider.
“Cider was a national pastime, but it’s been forgotten,” said Kris. “Absolutely, people were drinking cider and watching baseball at the turn of the century. So we love that our stuff is in the ballpark.
“We hope that cider is back, and back to stay. It’s what we’re betting our lives on.”
To see all posts from my July 11, 2015 visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
As mentioned previously, my visit to Burlington, Vermont to see the Lake Monsters was not part of my end-of-season New England road trip. It was a standalone visit that took place on July 11, which I have since shoehorned into my larger New England narrative.
When in Vermont I stayed in neighboring Hinesburg with my cousin, Ali, her husband Jim, and their two kids Jason and Becca. (I call Ali my cousin, but her Mom and my Dad are cousins so technically I think we’re “first cousins once removed.” And her kids are, what? Second cousins once removed? It gets confusing really quickly.)
Ali, Jason and Becca accompanied me to July 11’s Lake Monsters game at Centennial Field, and I recruited the latter two to serve as my designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.)
Jason and Becca were joined in this endeavor by Jason’s friend, Devon. Jason and Devon are in fifth grade, while Becca is in second grade. Let’s meet them:
Designated eaters check in, Vermont Lake Monsters https://t.co/qPyHZfaPSQ
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 11, 2015
Centennial Field is the oldest stadium in Minor League Baseball (the grandstand was built in 1922, but games have been played there dating back to 1906). Operationally speaking, the Lake Monsters don’t have the capabilities to offer a wide array of outlandish and/or regionally specific items (the bread and butter of most of my food posts).
Furthermore, my designated eaters, being kids, did not have the most sophisticated palettes. They wanted the basics anyway, and the Lake Monsters are adept at providing the basics.
He was far more charitable toward the cheeseburger itself, remarking that “It’s good. The cheese is actually melted and the bun is good, too. A double burger may sound like a lot, but it’s actually the perfect amount.”
As for what food he’d like to see at the ballpark, Jason said that it’d be great if the Lake Monsters sold Moe’s tacos. He then recanted this sentiment, wisely stating that “I take it back. I don’t want chains, I want people to know about local restaurants. So how about Public House? They have good baseball food, I think.”
Our focus then turned toward Becca’s pizza.
Becca, in this case, was a second-grader of few words.
“I think it’s really good,” she said. “The sauce is really good.”
She then added that her ideal ballpark food would be “Strawberry and chocolate donuts, and maybe even some coconuts.”
Becca might be the first kid in the history of kids to like coconuts.
Finally, we have Devon’s foot-long hot dog. Like his buddy Jason, Devon eschews condiments. Perhaps this is why they are friends.
“I like ketchup but only on fries,” said Devon, seeking to clarify that he did not have an across-the-board anti-condiment philosophy. “This is the longest hot dog I’ve ever seen. I wish that on ‘Hot Dog Heaven Day’ [when the Lake Monsters sell hot dogs for a quarter] they would launch these into the stands.”
As for how the hot dog tasted, Devon offered a single word in response: “Good.” He then explained that his ideal ballpark food would be “Pizza and then edible baseballs. Like, a sphere cake, vanilla, with white frosting and red stitches.”
“They could call it ‘Cake Me Out to the Ballgame,'” I said in response. This was followed by an unamused silence.
Edible baseballs were not available as a dessert option. But Chesster’s ice cream cookie sandwiches, a Vermont convenience store staple, were agreed by all to be an acceptable alternative.
“They’re really good with the creamy ice cream in the middle,” added Becca, who, for the record is also capable of making a funny face while eating a Chesster’s ice cream cookie sandwich.
Becca: What was the highest number again? [I told her.] Okay, that.
Alright, then. Any final words before we wrap this up?
Becca: Kids ruin everything. Except me. I’m awesome.
Jason: I would recommend going to Vermont if you’re close by. Except for Essex. Don’t go to Essex.
[Note: Jason and and Devon are on the same hockey team, and Essex is their biggest rival.]
Devon: If you’re near the Vermont Lake Monsters stadium and they’re in town, then you should go.
I couldn’t have said it any better myself, Devon. Centennial Field is a good place to eat, and a better place to see a baseball game.
To see all posts from my July 11, 2015 visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
The previous post in this Vermont Lake Monsters series was dubbed, accurately and originally, as Part One. In the interest of maintaining my high standards of consistency, this post shall henceforth be referred to as Part Two.
Part Two now begins with the game in progress. It was a beautiful Saturday evening, and the Lake Monsters were hosting the West Virginia Black Bears at historic Centennial Field.
Early in the game, I spent an inning or so talking to longtime season ticket-holder Skip Farrell. Skip’s devotion to the Lake Monsters runs deep, to the extent that he even got married at Centennial Field. His wife, Wendy, wasn’t with him at the time, so I promised to stop by later to say hello.
My more immediate concerns were tertiary, however, as I had been tasked with driving a lap around the infield in this glorified Go-Kart.
Specifically, I was tasked with delivering a bottle of water to each of the two umpires. I would then take a lap around around the field, collect the bottles, take another lap around the field and depart from whence I had came. And that’s what happened, more or less.
Driving and Vining. I should probably have gotten a citation for this.
Fast and Furious, Vermont Lake Monsters style! https://t.co/ug9rE3OuVU
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 11, 2015
For the rest of the evening, I stuck to walking. A stroll down the first-base line eventually led me to these fresh mascot tracks.
The tracks led to an outfield area featuring a bar — Citizen Cider on tap! — and, beyond that, a Fun Zone. This is the perfect combination in that kids get to play while parents get to drink.
I enjoyed the view from out this way.
Also enjoying the view was my MLB Advanced Media co-worker Brian Bednarski, his wife, Carrie, and their son, Pete. They, like me, were enjoying some time away from the Big Apple. Pete’s looking over at the Fun Zone like “Oh, yeah — just give me a year or two and I’ll be the king of that place.”
The Bednarskis, birds, Burlington, Ben’s Biz Blog. It truly was a beautiful night for baseball.
What could be better than singing the seventh-inning stretch at Minor League Baseball’s oldest ballpark on a gorgeous summer evening?
Beautiful night for baseball in Burlington. https://t.co/oVSwq6WBHd
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 11, 2015
A Skye Bolt appears amid tranquility:
A slightly more rigid iteration of Champ can be found guarding one of the Centennial Field entranceways. This sculpture was made by a local fan, out of just one piece of wood. A chainsaw was involved.
Speaking of pieces of wood that the team acquired for free, this table used to be a Burlington Telecom cable spool. (This idea was borrowed by the Connecticut Tigers, who have done the same thing at their home of Dodd Stadium.)
I also got a photo of Skip’s season-ticket holder cup, in order to satisfy all of the #cupdate fiends out there. The owners of these cups are entitled to $1 refills, all season long.
As I spoke with Skip and Wendy, the game came to an end. The Black Bears, having scored three runs in the eighth inning and three more in the ninth, won by a score of 7-3. (Skye Bolt, despite having a name worthy of a creator deity, went 0-for-4 for the Lake Monsters.)
While leaving, I mimicked an action that I had taken upon arrival: I took a picture of the house that is located directly across the street from the stadium.
To see all posts from my July 11, 2015 visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.
2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!
Before delving into this post, a bit of clarification is needed: I didn’t visit the Vermont Lake Monsters as part of my end-of-the-season New England road trip. It was a one-off visit that took place July 11, as part of a long weekend in Burlington that was otherwise dedicated to non-Minor League pursuits (including, yes, a Weird Al concert).
But since the Lake Monsters are most certainly a New England-based team, I decided to shoehorn my Centennial Field visit into my ongoing New England ballpark narrative. Therefore, I am writing these Vermont posts as if they were part of the same trip. I mean, they could’ve been.
The Lake Monster play at Centennial Field, one of the oldest professional sports stadiums in the entire country. The ballpark is located across the street from a purple house bearing a tree-obscured message. That message is “Cut consumption, not foreskin.”
Longtime readers of this blog, who may exist, will remember that I’ve written about the above house before. This is because I’ve visited the Vermont Lake Monsters before. The year was 2009, when I was still tentatively dipping my toes into the roiling “exploring America through Minor League Baseball” waters.
Centennial Field is located on the University of Vermont (UVM) campus, behind a soccer field that has also been used for football and lacrosse. UVM teams no longer play on this field, but it is still well maintained.
After traversing the width of the soccer field, one arrives at the baseball portion of Centennial Field. UVM cut its baseball program in 2009, which led to fears that the Lake Monsters would leave town. UVM agreed to a 20-year lease with the Lake Monsters in 2012, however, at the bargain price of $1 a year.
Centennial Field was first christened as such well over a centennial ago, and the grandstand dates back to 1922. No matter how you want to contextualize it, it is the oldest ballpark currently in use by a Minor League Baseball team (others built in the ’20s include Bowman Field in Williamsport and McCormick Field in Asheville). However, Centennial Field didn’t host Minor League Baseball until 1955 and not on a consistent basis until the appearance of the Eastern League’s Vermont Reds in 1984.
Burlington is a good market for short-season Minor League Baseball, and Lake Monsters owner Ray Pecor is committed to the area. Otherwise, it is a near-certainty that the Lake Monsters would have departed for a city possessing (or constructing) a facility with modern amenities. The team has done what they can to upgrade Centennial Field, with Pecor contributing some $2 million for necessities such as field renovation, a new videoboard, new light towers and much more. Even with a $1 a year lease, running a team out of an ancient ballpark can be an expensive proposition.
One improvement that fans might not notice is that the visitor’s clubhouse is now located underneath the scoreboard. Previously, the players had been housed in this small building on the far side of the adjacent soccer field.
On the evening in which I was in attendance, the videoboard was highlighting the imminent battle of old (the Lake Monsters) vs. new (the visiting West Virginia Black Bears, playing their inaugural season after relocating from Jamestown, New York).
One thing that the teams have in common is that they are both New York-Penn League teams who operate outside of New York and Pennsylvania. Discuss.
Another thing that the Lake Monsters have in common with the Black Bears is that they, too, began life in the New York-Penn League after relocating from Jamestown. Vermont played its inaugural season in 1994 as the “Expos,” and kept the Expos name through the 2005 campaign (at which point, they were the last professional franchise to bear the Expos name). The “Lake Monsters” appellation was adopted in 2006, a nod to the Loch Ness-like monster that allegedly resides in nearby Lake Champlain. In 2011, after 17 seasons with the Expos/Nationals, the Lake Monsters became an Oakland affiliate. Burlington is only 3,012 miles away from Oakland.
Despite the myriad improvements made to Centennial Field in recent years, it can’t help but maintain a rustic, throwback feel. This is a good thing, and I defy anyone (not involved with player development) to tell me otherwise.
The team’s food offerings can — nay, should — be enjoyed from the picnic area located down the third-base line (there is also a new group area beyond right field — I’ll highlight that in the next post).
Nice “Hello Kitty” backpack, bullpen dude. Here’s hoping that you were able to withstand such a withering attack on your masculinity.
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!
July 11, 2015: Centennial Field, home of the Vermont Lake Monsters
Opponent: West Virginia Black Bears, 6:05 p.m. game time.
Centennial Field, from the outside:
Centennial Field, from within:
Culinary Creation: Foot-long “Monster Dog”
Ballpark Character: Champ, named after the monster that allegedly resides in Lake Champlain, is a hero in these parts.
Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: In the spirit of this message, emblazoned on a house located directly across from the main entrance to Centennial Field, I cut this recurring feature from today’s blog post.