Results tagged ‘ Virginias 2015 ’

Return to the Road: Peanut Country, Pulled Pork and Pittsburgh

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.

IMG_1504I 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?

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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.

IMG_1507I also noticed that the Granby Theater would be hosting my next special event. Thanks, guys.

IMG_1506It was then time to hit the open road. Within an hour, the landscape had changed greatly. Wakefield, Virginia, is peanut country.

IMG_1508I stopped in at the Peanut Co. and got some brittle.

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Shortly thereafter, I pulled in to the Virginia Diner. Because, you know, it’s a Legend in a Nutshell.

IMG_1510It was too crowded in the diner, however, filled as it was with glassy-eyed peanut devotees. I abandoned my plan to get a meal there, trusting that the road would provide, and it did.

In Waverly, Virginia, I found Cowling’s BBQ.

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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.

IMG_1511After 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.

IMG_1531From there, the blur continued. Salem gave way to Potomac, and while I enjoyed visiting the Potomac Nationals I did not enjoy driving around the greater D.C. area.

At all.

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.)

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Contains: EGGS

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.

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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.

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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?

IMG_1569 Speaking of ’70s TV…

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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?

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Return to the Road: Wanderin’ ‘Round in Richmond

It’s time for another installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I document the non-ballpark wanderings that occurred during my 2015 road trips. I’ve already chronicled my experiences in Florida and the Midwest; now it’s time to move on to my late June trip to Virginia (and the state west of Virginia. I forget what it’s called).

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I arrived in Richmond on the evening of June 24, having driven there from good ol’ NYC (where the cost of living is totally reasonable and never causes me angst). Before heading to The Diamond for the June 25 Flying Squirrels game, I had a little time to poke around. And when I poke around, I inevitably end up at a record store.

First up was Deep Groove.

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Deep Groove was a small, all-vinyl spot. If I recall correctly, I bought the recent reissue of Guided By Voices’ classic Bee Thousand album. I also recall that on the counter, under glass, was a great assemblage of Richmond-area concert ticket stubs spanning the last three-plus decades. One of the stubs was for a D’Angelo show that had taken place the previous week; this prompted me to tell the clerk that I had seen D’Angelo play in Queens just three days prior.

“That’s tight,” replied the clerk, who was completely disinterested and also young enough to use “tight” as a synonym for “cool.” I left the shop feeling like a pathetic old dude, but then I started thinking about this D’Angelo song and the pep came back into my step.

I then pep-stepped, feeling not at all dyspeptic, to bustling West Carey Street. I believe that the locals call this neighborhood “Carytown.”

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

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

IMG_1432Usually, when on a road trip, I bring along three CDs I haven’t listed to and listen to them three times each. I should probably be diagnosed with something. But on this trip I had forgotten to bring any CDs, so I went ahead and bought a few at Plan 9 so I could listen to them in the car for the rest of the trip. My new acquisitions were Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard “Django and Jimmy,” AC/DC “Rock or Bust” and Shamir “Ratchet.” I also picked up a used copy of Don Cherry’s “Eternal Rhythm” on vinyl.

All right, enough with the record stores.

Please note that, at this moment in time, the Byrd Theater was showing Insurgent and Get Hard. I don’t know anything about either of those movies, but they seem unbefitting to a theater of such age and (assumed) grandeur.

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I also enjoyed wandering through Chop Suey Books, which had multiple levels and many rooms. This photo was taken on the second floor, where I found (and bought) a used paperback of Damon Runyon short stories.

IMG_1435WonTon was indeed resting in his natural habitat.

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

IMG_1476I wasn’t dining alone, for the Daily Kitchen is not the type of place in which I would eat alone (it was crowded and chic, so my self-consciousness levels would’ve been through the roof). My companions were Richmond Flying Squirrels broadcaster Jay Burnham and his Trenton counterpart, Adam Giordino. Jay used to work in Trenton, and Adam was the one who replaced him.

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Richmond Gourmands

It was cool spending a couple of hours with those guys, which included a brief automotive tour of Richmond courtesy of master chauffeur Jay Burnham. But all good things must come to an end, and thus I was soon on the road to Norfolk with only a new CD to keep me company.

In Norfolk, the next post shall begin.

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On the Road: Rolling, Dogging and Clawing in West Virginia

To see all posts from my June 30, 2015 visit to the West Virginia Black Bears (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.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

My late June jaunt voyaging through the Virginias was bookended by an all-too-common occurrence: A delayed start to the ballgame due to inclement weather. It happened in Richmond on June 25, and it happened again in Morgantown (or, technically, Granville) on June 30:

In Richmond, I used this extra pre-game time to meet with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). And at Monongalia County Ballpark, home of the fledgling Black Bears franchise, I did the same.

West Virginia Black Bears concessions: Small on signage, big on taste

West Virginia Black Bears concessions: Small on signage, big on taste

My designated eater, one Mike Rensland, was an old friend of mine from the University of Pittsburgh. And, like most Pittsburghers, he travels as part of a pack.

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Mike’s on the far right, standing next to his wife, Julia (I almost referred to Julia as his “long-suffering” wife, just because she’s married to Mike). Next to them is Mike’s brother, Tim. On the far left, wearing a vintage Acid Mothers Temple “Iao Chant from the Cosmic Inferno” t-shirt, is Gary Boeh. Gary was the metal director during the time I was a DJ at 92.1 WPTS, the University of Pittsburgh radio station. (Where I was known, depending on the time slot, as Futon, Professor Murder, and Sanctimonious Jerkface).

In order to get us out of the rain, Black Bears assistant general manager John Pogorzelski bestowed the above group of misfits (and Julia) with their own media passes so that we could proceed to the upper level and occupy a suite. Mike felt right at home, despite the fact that a metal pole had somehow lodged itself into his cranium.

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In Mike’s left hand is that most vaunted of West Virginia delicacies, the Pepperoni Roll. Specifically, this is the “Loaded Pepperoni Roll.”

041 The Pepperoni Roll, long a coal miner’s lunchtime staple, is simply pepperoni baked into a roll. The Black Bears’ “Loaded” version is topped with chili and cheese. It’s a “Julia’s Pepperoni Roll,” made locally by Chico’s bakery.

For comparison’s sake, this is the pepperoni roll served by West Virginia’s other Minor League Baseball entity, the West Virginia Power.

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Have at it, Mike, but, please, introduce yourself first.

“The word that comes to mind is ‘Mmmmm,'” said Mike, making a noise that clearly contained six m’s. “The best bites are when you get everything at once. All alone, it’s normal. Together, it’s a flavor masterpiece. I would definitely get it again. I might get it again when we go back outside. It’s fresh.”

Then, turning to his brother, Mike said that “This is up there with the sausage rolls that Mum makes.”

Here’s what the roll looked like after Mike had taken a few bites out of it:

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Mike wore a cutoff t-shirt bearing an indiscernible black metal band logo to his own wedding reception, but don’t let his appearance deceive you. He’s the math department chair at Urban Pathways, a charter high school located in downtown Pittsburgh. He’s been with the school since 2001, when he and I both worked there as AmeriCorps members in Pittsburgh’s KEYS (Knowledge Empowering Youth to Success) program. Some 14 years later he’s the math chair there, while I’m a niche Minor League Baseball writer based out of New York City. It’s exactly how we planned it.

‘They gave me the job two years ago, and I’m still waiting for my chair,” said Mike.

 

Anyhow, things did not stop with the Pepperoni Roll.

049Mike had apparently forgotten about the hot dog he had put in that steam tray 10 minutes prior. Specifically, it was the West Virginia Dog, a Farmdale frank topped with chili, coleslaw and Dijon mustard.

042Julia had had a West Virginia Dog soon after arriving at the stadium, and she declared it “disappointing” because the “chili had no flavor to it.” Now it was Mike’s turn to give it a try.

050“It’s not bad,” said Mike.

“See, I told you you’d be disappointed,” replied Julia, choosing to interpret Mike’s ambivalence as disappointment.

But Mike pressed on.

“It’s a fairly standard hot dog. I think I’ve been spoiled by Dee’s,” he said, referencing a stellar establishment in Pittsburgh’s Edgewood neighborhood. “It wouldn’t be good without the coleslaw. It gives it a creamy punch.”

Mike then made a punching motion.

An order of nachos had made their way up to the suite as well, which were standard-issue ballpark nachos. It was frustrating, however, that the cheese supply was diminished when there were so many chips left. This is a common lament of the nacho enthusiast, and I believe that teams across Minor League Baseball need to take steps to rectify this problem.

Actually, they need to take just one step: Provide more cheese.

052Our brief suite-based food tour ended on a high note, however. Bear Claws. stuffed with a sugar, butter and almond extract filling, had been obtained from a concourse-level kiosk. Each Bear Claw comes with a bowl of ice cream.

“But what do they do with the rest of the bear?” pondered Mike.

053The Bear Claws were met with a chorus of approbation, loved by all four individuals who tried them.

“The ice cream wets you up, and the bear claw dries you back up,” stated Mike.

 

The only downside was Mike’s cutlery snafu, as a plastic spoon is clearly no match for a bear claw.

060And that’ll do it for Mike and company’s designated eating adventure. If you, for some reason, just can’t get enough of Mike, then check out his band Night Vapor.

“It’s music for the mentally ill,” he said.

The “media” members seen above soon ended their charade, turning their badges in to guest services and returning to their seats just in time for the start of the game.

071Normalcy had returned.

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On the Road: Pepperoni Rolls and the PRT in West Virginia

To see all posts from my June 30, 2015 visit to the West Virginia Black Bears (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.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

When the previous installment of this West Virginia Black Bears narrative concluded — in a post that ran back on July 28, covering a game that took place on June 30 — the rains had come and that evening’s scheduled contest against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers was in a delay.

This installment, then, begins when the rain had passed. After a 79-minute delay, it was now time for some New York-Penn League Baseball.

064I had been told that West Virginians were a hardy breed, so I was therefore a bit surprised that so many ticket-holding fans either left during the delay or never showed up at all. This was just the sixth game in franchise history, why not wait it out? Weren’t you just excited to be there? At the very least there was plenty of time to wander around the concourse and get a nice sense of a brand-new ballpark.

Anyhow, those fans that did remain were treated to an excellent rendition of our National Anthem.

And, then, a ballgame began. It is the way of things.

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Playing ball is one thing, but retrieving them from the too-steep-for-fan-habitation berm area is not allowed. Throughout the ballgame, one can spot tantalizing yet unobtainable Easter eggs nestled within the grass.

067The berm area also provides on-field access for those taking part in between-inning contests.

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On this evening, those taking part in the between-inning festivities included Mike and Tim Rensland. The Renslands are old friends of mine, dating back to our University of Pittsburgh days. We kept our Pitt connections secret, given that we were in the heart of WVU territory, and this reminds me: the name of the on-field emcee was Caroline, which is a dangerous name to have when you’re in the heart of WVU territory. You will never hear “Sweet Caroline” play at a Black Bears game, that’s for sure. For more specifics on all of this, do a Google search. I do not traffic in profanity.

Another old pal of mine, former WPTS metal director Gary Boeh, declined to participate in the dance-off shown above. However! He did consent to being filmed performing his approximation of Chris Elliot’s Alley Cat dance while wearing his finest Acid Mothers Temple t-shirt.

Characters abounded on this evening. For reasons that made sense at the time, I made my acquaintance with an amiable turtle.

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And previously that evening I’d had the opportunity to meet Cooper, the Black Bears mascot. He’s a barrel of laughs. (Also, it’s now official: I am fatter than a bear.)

I later rendezvoused with Cooper in this right field corner location.

076Like all rendezvous, this one happened for a good reason. We were there to watch the Pepperoni Roll Race, in which Hot Pepper Hank, Double-Stuffed Dave and Pepperoni and Cheese Patty race across the outfield. (If you don’t know what a Pepperoni Roll is, then just wait until the next blog post).

It was a very uninspired race, as this triumvirate of pepperoni rolls was clearly suffering from a case of post-rain delay lethargy. Nonetheless, they were gracious enough to pose for a picture.

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Later, a young fan hit some balls into the stands.

080And, later still, fans were treated to a race inspired by WVU’s transportation system.

With the game winding down, I stopped into the “Bear’s Den” team store. A woman named Penny was working the register, and here’s the thing about Penny: she’s the mother of current San Diego Padre Jedd Gyorko. The Gyorko family is from this area, and Jedd went on to become one of the best players in WVU history. Monongalia County Ballpark is even located on “Gyorko Drive,” an homage to Jedd’s sporting success and a re-christening so fresh that it probably isn’t yet showing up in your GPS device of choice. I thought that an interview with Penny, regarding her life in and around baseball, could result in an interesting MiLB.com story. She (very politely) declined, however, marking only the second time this season I’ve been rejected. I’ve still got a pretty good batting average on this front, all things considered.

Meanwhile, the evening’s game between the Black Bears and visiting Hudson Valley Renegades was winding down. The one thing I remember about this contest, as regards the action on the field, is that the players were starting their slides very early and still overshooting the base. That artificial turf is slicker than it looks.

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Final score: West Virginia 6, Hudson Valley 4

And that was all she wrote from Monongalia County Ballpark, a Black Bears victory finished in front of a crowd announced at just 1,718. By the time the game ended the night was cold, the grounds were wet and the energy was low. But it’s important to remember that the day, way back when, had started out beautifully.

And that this is a beautiful place.

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On the Road: Taking a Peek at the Valleys in West Virginia

To see all posts from my June 30, 2015 visit to the West Virginia Black Bears (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.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

The reason that I dubbed this road trip “Virginias 2015” —  as opposed to “Virginia 2015 — was because it did indeed contain multiple Virginias. But the singular did not become multiple until the very last day of the trip, when I crossed the state line from Virginia into Maryland and then into the other Virginia.

West Virginia.

This was a scenic journey, full of steep hills and Maryland woodland and convenience stores that sell beet eggs (marking the first time I’d had a beet egg since visiting the Hagerstown Suns back in 2011). IMG_1548But I’m not here to write about beet eggs. I’m done with that, it’s ovum. I’m here to write about the West Virginia Black Bears, the newest entrant into the increasingly inaccurately named New York-Penn League. Actually, I already have written about the Black Bears, over on MiLB.com, and I’m going to borrow from that article a few times in this blog post. Starting now:

Over the last two decades, the New York-Penn League has expanded far beyond the two states in its name. The Class A Short Season circuit currently has franchises in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont and, as of last month, West Virginia.

The NYPL’s first Mountain State entrant, which relocated from Jamestown, New York, has dubbed itself the West Virginia Black Bears. Specifically, the Black Bears represent the north-central metropolis of Morgantown and the surrounding community. Monongalia County Stadium, the team’s brand-new facility, is shared with West Virginia University’s Big 12 baseball program. The Black Bears, a Pirates affiliate, played their first game there on June 19.

The stadium is located on “Gyorko Drive,” named after local-baseball-hero-turned-San Diego Padre-Jedd Gyorko. “Gyorko Drive” isn’t on any maps yet and will probably not appear in your GPS device of choice. Your best bet is to set your coordinates for the Wal-Mart on University Town Centre Drive (in Granville, not Morgantown) and then just keep on driving right past the Wal-Mart (as it is always best to do). Eventually, you’ll make it to Monongalia County Stadium.

This was my first view of the stadium. Many superior views were to follow, but you never forget your first.

002Meanwhile, in the other direction, there was this vast expanse:

001Again, from my MiLB.com story:

Monongalia County Ballpark is located not in Morgantown but to the northwest in the comparatively miniscule town of Granville (pop. 2,508). The area in which the ballpark is located used to be coal mining country. It is currently surrounded by, well, not much.

Change is imminent. Granville’s University Town Centre — a sprawling assemblage of chain stores, restaurants and hotels — is located en route to the ballpark, and similar development is planned in the area surrounding the park. Black Bears assistant general manager John Pogorzelski said that there will soon be a new Route 79 off-ramp close to the stadium to accommodate the traffic generated by the new hotels, stores and, of course, baseball fans.

Pogorzelski and Black Bears general manager Matt Drayer both relocated with the franchise from Jamestown, New York, where they held the same positions with the Jammers. To say that West Virginia and Jamestown are two entirely different baseball atmospheres would be an understatement. It would also be correct. Here’s a picture of the Jammers’ home of Russell E. Diethrick Park, from when I visited late last August:
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Pogorzelski — whom I will henceforth call “John” — gave me a tour of the facility. We began by entering the external structure located beyond right field (to the left of Gate C). The smell of paint permeated the area, resulting in a visceral reminder that this ballpark is still very, very new. Here’s the home clubhouse, which is pretty small for a new stadium. Nonetheless, when we walked by, there was some ping pong-table acquisition chatter going on inside. There’s always room for ping-pong.

006The vast majority of the ballpark’s Black Bear population was out on the field, vigorously exercising thigh muscle.
007As you may have inferred from the above photo (but probably didn’t) the entire field (save for the clay pitcher’s mound) is artificial turf.

008The berm area is real grass, but the berm area (on both sides of the ballpark) is not yet open to fans because the hills are so steep. This is a very Hill-y ballpark, even on days in which I am not there.

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The Black Bears might compete on artificial turf, but they nonetheless have (and need) a groundskeeper. His name is Craig McIntosh.

011I wrote a short MiLB.com article about Craig and how he does his job, which can be found HERE. It is the first story that I have ever written that includes the term “mound fetish.” Craig also talked about how a big part of his job his job involves picking debris off of the artificial turf. Hence, rules:

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Monongalia County Ballpark has only 2500 fixed seats. There are no arm rests, at least for now, with John explaining that the initial choice was between arm rests and cup holders.

“We figured that people would need a place to hold their beer,” he said.

014We then walked up the stairs to the press box and suite level, which provides the best example of what is this ballpark’s best feature: The View.

IMG_1549Once again, I’m going to dip my blogging ladle into the supple pre-existing MiLB.com article well.

The unique topography of Monongalia County Ballpark makes for a somewhat awkward layout, but any minor inconveniences are made up for — and then some — by what is one of the best views in Minor League Baseball.

The ballpark faces to the southeast. That’s downtown Morgantown beyond left field (in both foul and fair territory), which gives way to the smaller town of Westover and, most prominently, the natural beauty which lays beyond the winding Monongahela River (not visible from the ballpark). There’s a reason that WVU’s sports teams are called “Mountaineers,” and, of course, within those mountains one can find black bears.  

There’s a lot of room in the press box — especially by New York-Penn League standards — and this is because the ballpark needs to accommodate the oft-larger WVU Big 12 baseball media contingent. (There are three radio booths — home, visitor and student — though the student booth isn’t used during Black Bears games.)

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021There are three suites, one of them being this 50-person group area.

022Behind the ballpark, on the first base side, is a WVU-affiliated medical facility. I guess, if you really wanted to, you could watch the game from here for free. You could also take a terrifying tumble into the abyss, if you’re not careful.

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At the time that I visited, the Black Bears front office had not yet moved into what will be their office. Like the player locker rooms, I was surprised at the relative smallness of the offices. Generally, new ballparks are more expansive.

033Nice view from this executive suite, however:

032As we got closer to the start of the game, fans started gathering outside the main gate.

037Most stadium main entrances are not located in the left field corner, as this one is. Take it away, MiLB.com story:

The home plate side of Monogalia County Ballpark is built up against a hill, and as such there is no home plate entry into the ballpark. This leads to a unique feature in that the main entrance, Gate A, is located in left-center field. Fans entering through the gate then embark on (what should be) a leisurely walk down the third base concourse to the seating area behind home plate.

038The evening’s ballgame, featuring the Black Bears taking on the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, was not destined to start on time. The skies were threatening. Look closely and you can see that the tarp was on the field. (It’s better to have a mound fetish than the mound wettish.)

IMG_1552Another ballpark, another rain delay. Thus is life on the road.

Speaking of “life on the road,” I am writing this post from an undisclosed location in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Yep – a new road trip has already begun, and here I am still writing about the last one. Stay tuned for more from West Virginia, as well as what is sure to be a whole heck of a lot from this late July/early August jaunt through the Deep South.

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On the Road: Surf and Turf in Potomac

To see all posts from my June 29, 2015 visit to the Potomac Nationals (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.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

This is Tony Jaeger.

047Tony’s last name does not have an umlaut, but his name is pronounced as if it was the first two syllables of herbal liqueur Jagermeister (which does have an umlaut). He said that bartenders sometimes give him free shots of Jagermeister, which is good, because it’s not a drink that he likes enough to actually pay for.

But Tony wasn’t attending this Potomac Nationals game so he could drink, or at least that wasn’t the primary reason. He was attending it so he could eat. Specifically, he was to serve as my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). He was joined at Pfitzner Stadium by his girlfriend, Katie. They met on eHarmony, and have been dating for six months.

052Tony, an El Paso native, lives in Washington D.C. (about a 45-minute drive from “The Pfitz”). He works for a non-profit organization that aids those recovering from addiction, managing the property and also assisting with activities.

“I’ve watched him do bingo,” Katie said.

Katie, meanwhile, had been an elementary school teacher for the last decade. She recently resigned, however, saying that it’s “a longer day than I get paid for.”

Tony and Katie are both baseball fans. He has a share of a Washington Nationals season-ticket plan, regularly rides his bike to games and follows the team’s affiliates online. Katie, who lives in Annapolis, Maryland, is a Baltimore Orioles supporter. She also supported Tony’s designated eating endeavors.

“I’m excited; he likes to eat,” she said. “And I like this stadium. It’s what baseball is really about. I’m glad we’re here.”

The three of us were standing in the Cafe Area, a concession and picnic area located just past the main entrance. The Cafe Area had a fairly wide-ranging menu, including, yes, a bacon boat.

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The Cafe Area also had a tremendous line, one so long that I have to show it over the course of two photographs.

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044We were in search of “The Codfather,” a fried fish sandwich obtainable at the tent on the left. There was no line to speak of at this tent, thank goodness. The mighty Ben’s Biz does not deign to wait in lines.

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This turned out to be a slightly trumped-up “Codfather,” as it included both cod and shrimp. It was topped with cole slaw. 046Here’s a shot of Jaeger:

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And here’s a short video:

“Thank God for the cole slaw, otherwise it’s just fried seafood in a hot dog bun,” said Tony, of the Codfather. “It’s good, tasty, if someone was looking for something substantial. I would add cocktail sauce.”

Okay, what’s next?

“Let’s look for the enigmatic,” it says in my notebook. I’m not sure who said that, but it captures our collective spirit at that moment. Specifically, we were looking for the enigmatic “National Burger,” which had been suggested earlier in the evening by P-Nats general manager Josh Olerud. But where could this burger be obtained? It wasn’t in the Cafe Area and it wasn’t in the same tent location in which we had located the Codfather.

As we bravely plunged into the crowded concourse area, our fates uncertain, I heard a voice call my name. It was P-Nats food and beverage manager Aaron Johnson, and in his hand was the mysterious National Burger. The enigmatic had been located, and all was right with the world.

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Johnson explained that the National Burger consisted of a pub burger topped with two slices of American cheese (one white and one yellow) and a Nathan’s hot dog. Beneath the burger, serving as the base, was a layer of french fries.

“Since our team name is the Nationals, we figured we’d do something all-American,” Johnson said.

Tony wasted no time getting down to business.

051 “Oh, that’s good,” he said. “I couldn’t taste the potatoes, but cheese, burger and hot dogs captures the taste buds. And it’s not falling apart. If there was [an eating] challenge with this, I’d do it. And I’d get it again, if I could find it.”

And with that, Tony had completed his designated eating duties. He and Katie were free to return to their seats, which were located right behind home plate (courtesy of the P-Nats).

“They’re excellent seats,” Tony said. “I was telling [Katie], ‘Baby, this is the closest you’re ever gonna see home plate.'”

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On the Road: Hanging with the Regulars, Watching the Irregular in Potomac

To see all posts from my June 29, 2015 visit to the Potomac Nationals (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.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

I’m running out of ways to introduce the second part of a blog post series. It almost always begins at the start of the ballgame, and this post is no exception: A baseball game had just begun; specifically a Carolina League contest between the Potomac Nationals and visiting Carolina Mudcats at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium.

As mentioned in the previous post, this is a stadium that faces west to a degree that is less-than-ideal.

041It was a Monday, but it wasn’t just any Monday. It was Dollar Monday — $1 general admission tickets and $1 hot dogs. This led to a much larger crowd than I was expecting, which was later announced at 5,137. The concourse can barely accommodate such a robust group of buck wiener seekers.

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Among the fans in attendance was Todd Headington, who asked for a photo and later tweeted the following. This is the first time I’ve ever been called a “MiLB Hero” and, yeah, I’m bragging about it.

But the real heroes are the guys on the field. I’m talking, of course, about that evening’s roster of Intern Olympians. There was some structure to all of this, with one team competing against another throughout the night, but who needs context to enjoy absurdity? 037I guess the blue guy won. 038The denizens of the non-descending dugout were unenthused by the proceedings. 040Uncle Slam, looking for a handout. 042The sun was oppressive at the beginning of the game, but as the evening wore on it turned into an incredibly pleasant night. Yes, not just pleasant, but incredibly pleasant. It’s easy to make jokes about the Pfitz being a glorified rec league field, but tell me you wouldn’t want to be sitting in the stands on an evening like this. I dare you. 056 I mean, really. 057And speaking of rec league fields, there’s one located just across the way. I took this photo through a chain link fence located on the third base side of the stadium. 053While there were plenty of open seats behind home plate, the bleachers were booming with $1 patrons. 060That was the view to my right. To my left was a front-office observation area of sorts. 059And straight ahead was Ken’s Place, a gathering place for a group of dedicated P-Nats fans. 062Would you believe that I wrote an MiLB.com story about the denizens of Ken’s Place? I’m sure you would. I don’t know why I phrased it that way. HERE is a link to the story, and here is an excerpt:

Ken’s Place [is] a standing-room-only gathering spot identified by a banner hanging on a chain-link fence that runs down the first base line. It has the atmosphere of a local watering hole, a largely male enclave where everybody seems to know everybody else. Within this convivial locale, the trash talk, in-jokes and beer flow freely. Ken’s Place is a longstanding tribute to die-hard P-Nats fan Ken Rostkowski, a mainstay at “The Pfitz” who passed away suddenly in 2007 at the age of 46.

“We’ve all been here a long time, at least 15 years,” explained Ken’s Place regular John Foot, whose name, he said, is spelled “just like a leg.” “Kenny passed away almost 10 years ago. We had all got to be pretty good friends with him. We all met through baseball.”

During my visit to Ken’s Place, something hilarious happened. For some reason, or perhaps no reason, Cookie Monster tackled Uncle Slam during a between-inning race. Uncle was Slammed to the ground, and his head popped off. I understand that headless mascots are one of Minor League Baseball’s biggest taboos, but as a conscientious journalist I have no choice but to share.

Moving on to a less-controversial topic, it was still a beautiful night! In fact, it just kept on getting more beautiful.  IMG_1539

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The P-Nats went on to secure a 7-2 victory over the Mudcats of Zebulon, North Carolina. But even more importantly, some interns won the Intern Olympics and some interns lost the Intern Olympics and therefore some of the winning interns hit some of the losing interns in the face with a pie of some sort.

064There’s not much that can be done after that, except maybe toss a few tennis balls in the direction of various on-field targets.  065Well, actually, there was still one more thing to do. These jokes don’t write themselves.

Good night from the Pfitz.

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On the Road: Putzing Around the Pfitz in Potomac

To see all posts from my June 29, 2015 visit to the Potomac Nationals (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.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

The Potomac Nationals were the penultimate stop on this, my pen-penultimate road trip of the season. The P-Nats, as they are known colloquially, play in G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium. This facility is known colloquially as “The Pfitz.”

The Pfitz is located in Woodbridge, Virginia, part of the greater Washington D.C. area. Driving in this heavily congested area gives me Pfitz, but I allotted myself plenty of time to make the trip from Salem and made it to Woodbridge uneventfully. After arriving at the listed alliterative address of 7 County Complex Court, I parked my car in a lot largely occupied by Prince William County government vehicles. After changing my shirt (yep, yet another instance of stadium parking lot toplessness), I looked around and was at first confused as to where the stadium actually was.

001 Ah, yes, there it is.

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The Pfitz opened in 1984, and has not aged all that Orwell. P-Nats owner Art Silber has been working for years to finance a new stadium, an effort I covered in some detail during the offseason, and its days appear to be numbered. But despite the long-articulated deficiencies of this no-frills Carolina League facility, I was immediately charmed by it.
003Uncle Slam wants you to, per industry operating principles, enjoy an evening of affordable family-friendly fun.

004The main entrance of the stadium leads directly into the Cafe Area.

008The Cafe Area is locked in an unending staring contest with “The National Mall” team store.

011In the adjacent ticket office, I became acquainted with a triumvirate of recent P-Nats giveaway items: Wilson “The Buffalo” Ramos, Michael Taylor Flattop figurine and the Jayson Werth Beard-A-Rine. All of them make perfect sense and do not need to be explained.

IMG_1533To the right of the team store is a franchise Hall of Fame, which features some pretty big names.

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We now transition from big names to a small concourse.

017But the front office still finds ways to be creative within these confines. I’d never seen a photo booth at a Minor League ballpark before, and think it’s a great idea.

018I soon ran into Andrew Pollowitz,  recent Lynn University graduate and P-Nats intern.

019Pollowitz doesn’t dress like this every game, or at least I don’t think he does. The P-Nats were staging the “Intern Olympics” on this Monday evening, an event of great pomp and pageantry that required costumes such as the above. Weiners could be seen everywhere.

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Finally, mercifully, I made it out onto the field of play. The Pfitz is a minimalist amalgam of seats and bleachers.

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This, allegedly, is the best seat in the house.

024Here, we see a rare living example of the non-descending dugout.

025It was a beautiful day for baseball. That’s all I ever ask for.

027There is little relief from the sun, however, a situation that is exacerbated by the Pfitz’s less-than-ideal orientation. It’s not at Bakersfield (or even Batavia) facing-the-sun levels, but still pretty bad.

028The start of the game was still more than half an hour away. Thus, it was an ideal time to conduct an interview. This, here, is Thomas J. Rhoads, a Towson University professor and author of the recently-published The Call Up to the Majors: A Proximity-Based Approach to the Economics of Minor League Baseball.

029I’ll write an article based on my interview with Thomas, as soon as I get the chance (as you may have noticed, I’m having a real hard time keeping up with my travel schedule this season). But I’d recommend checking out his book if you’re interested in the business of Minor League Baseball (although, fair warning, it is priced at an academic rather than mass audience level). From the back cover:

This book explores the unique relationships between professional baseball teams and the unique ways professional baseball teams are organized in North America with a primary focus on how proximity can and does impact consumer demand. 

After taking the photo of Thomas seen above, I turned to my right and found myself in proximity to this quintessentially Minor League Baseball tableau.

Okay, enough stall-ing, it was time for the game to begin. The starters hustled out onto the field for the National Anthem.

032While the reserves took their sweet old time.

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As for me, I’ll take my sweet old time finishing up this Potomac Nationals blog series. It’s not like I’m leaving on my next trip in a couple of days or anything. Stay tuned…

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On the Road: Dawg Days of Summer in Salem

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.

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Photo from baumsbbq.com

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.

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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).

039We began at Swine Drive Deli Dawgs, which offers a wide array of specialty frankfurters.

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On the Road: Comeback Scenes and Gossip Queens in Salem

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.

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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…

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…and at the adjacent Mini-Fenway Wiffle ball field.

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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.

044I 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).

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Business up front, party in the rear

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