Tagged: Visalia Rawhide

On the Road: Nachos, Corn and Pickles in Visalia

To see all posts from my August 5 visit to the Visalia Rawhide, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

If you live in the Visalia area, then you might know Chad Stafford and Mike Pesto. They’re local celebrities.

img_0230Specfically, Chad and Mike are local radio celebrities. Chad is a longtime DJ with KJUG 106.7, a Rawhide media partner, and currently does traffic reports for KJUG as well as three other local stations in the same ownership group. Mike recently switched to one of those stations, My 97.5, which plays Hot Adult Contemporary.

“We’ll play Usher, Maroon 5, Nickelback, then switch to some old ’80s songs like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper,” he explained.

Mike grew up outside of Chicago, and his resume reads like a Minor League Baseball player’s transaction roster. He started in Salinas, then went to Las Vegas and then back to Salinas and then back to Las Vegas and then back to Salinas and then Peoria and then back to Salinas and then, finally, Visalia.

Chad is a homebody by contrast, having spent 32 years in the Visalia area.

So why are Chad and Mike being featured on this blog? You guessed it — they had been recruited to serve as my designated eaters, eating the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

Chad is that rarest of creatures: a repeat designated eater. He performed the task back in 2013, when I first visited Visalia. In 2013, Chad had no hair.


Chad Stafford, circa 2013

When Chad served as designated eater in 2013, it was a quiet night at the ballpark and the team put together a formidable spread for him. This time around, things were different. It was a fireworks night and the place was filled with fans and assistance from the team in assembling a culinary sampling was minimal. That, combined with the exceedingly speedy pace of the ballgame (it finished in two hours and four minutes), led to a comparatively rushed and improvisational designated eating experience.

But, hey, we’re all professionals. We can adjust. We were in the Rawhide’s Hall of Fame Club, and we procured two orders of nachos. But not just any nachos. Nachos that were served in a full-size helmet and topped with pulled pork, nacho cheese, barbecue sauce, “regular” cheese, peppers, onions and jalapenos.

img_0229A closer look.


Alright, guys. Do your thing.

“I love these. It’s a perfect thing to share with friends,” said Chad.

“Or not. You can just say you’re gonna share them,” replied Mike. “I love that there’s pulled pork, that they switch it up from beef.”

“You can wash the helmet and wear it out the next day,” said Chad. “I’ve got one at home. It fits perfectly.”

Okay, so what to do next? I’m always looking to highlight that which is “unique,” and as far as I could tell the most unique thing we could obtain was “Spicy Corn Nuggets.” They were available at this stand located behind home plate. It was practically deserted down there, a stark contrast to the bustling environment of the Hall of Fame Club.

img_0239These were the Spicy Corn Nuggets which, like most fried food, look rather unremarkable from the outside.

img_0234But within lurked a world of corn-centric color and flavor.

Also pictured: fingernails

Also pictured: fingernails

The Spicy Corn Nuggets came with a triumvirate of dipping sauces: barbecue, mustard and ranch. Mike and Chad were psyched to try them.

img_0236Mike: “They ain’t so hot.”

Chad: “But there’s an afterkick. I like it with the ranch.”

Mike: “I do it with the barbecue. It’s sweet, and counteracts the spicy. It’s perfect.”

Chad: “I’ll try the mustard. [Tries mustard] It’s pretty good, but I like the ranch better. It’s basically like jalapeno poppers, but with a fancier kick.”

And that was not at all. This particular food stand also had Fried Pickles.

img_0233 Mike then demonstrated the proper way to eat one.

img_2402“I miss the juiciness. I need juiciness from a pickle,” said Chad. “I don’t know, there’s just something about a hot pickle.”

“I don’t think I’ve had a pickle in any way, shape or form,” said Mike. “But I had to go to Walgreens at three in the morning to get pickles for my wife when she was pregnant, so now I’m having flashbacks.”

After careful consideration, Chad said that the best sauce to accompany the pickles was, once again, ranch. Mike agreed.

On this note of agreement, Chad and Mike then said goodbye. They’re professionals.

Thanks, Chad. Thanks, Mike.





On the Road: Time Flies in Visalia

To see all posts from my August 5 visit to the Visalia Rawhide, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

On August 5, the evening in which I paid a visit to Visalia’s Recreation Ballpark, the Rawhide defeated the Inland Empire 66ers in a ballgame that took just two hours and four minutes to play. The game’s brevity impacted my experience, in that I didn’t have the time to fully document the ins and outs of the Rawhide experience. The evening zoomed right by, leaving me with a dazed feeling and questioning whether or not I was ever there at all.

Oh, but I was! I have proof.

img_0213Recreation Ballpark is 70 years old and has a capacity of 2468 (who do we appreciate?). It is, therefore, one of the oldest and smallest ballparks in Minor League Baseball. In its original form it was just a modest grandstand built around a mound of gunite,  but a variety of expansions and renovations have slowly transformed it into a far more dynamic environment. This is a topic I covered the first time I visited Visalia, in 2013.

Upon entering the ballpark, this was my view to the right.

img_0216And this my view to the left.

img_0215I headed leftward, to the Visalia Rawhide clubhouse, my meeting point for a pair of interviews that would soon transmogrify into MiLB.com stories. On the lighter side of things, I spoke with Rawhide third baseman Marty Herum about how he was doing. (Spoiler alert: Marty’s doing pretty good.)

img_2391I then spoke with Rawhide pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru and his wife, Alysa, about marriage and family within the context of a professional baseball career. I’ll have to check the stats, but I think that was my most-read “On the Road” story of the 2016 season. You can read it HERE.

Alysa and Jeff and their kids, Leila and Joe

Alysa and Jeff and their kids, Leila and Joe

On the way back from the field I received a gunite mound-based crash course in Visalia division title and championship history.

The Rawhide haven’t won a championship since 1978, the second-longest drought in all of Minor League Baseball. The reason they haven’t won since then is because the ghost of Joe Charboneau’s pet alligator put a curse on the franchise. True story. I’ve written about it already.


This tree represents the present moment (or at least that’s my interpretation).


Many exemplary players have passed through Visalia over the course of the last seven decades.


And this is the field they played on.

img_0217Yep, this field. This field right here.

img_2395In the Rawhide Hall of Fame Club, I said hello to Rawhide general manager Jennifer Pendergraft and her newborn son, Maverick. Maverick was just two and a half weeks old at the time, and this was his first time mingling among the fans.

img_2399Maverick was one of four babies born into the larger Rawhide family this season — and all of them wore born during the month of July. This led to a “Red White and Due” promotion.

babiesI wasn’t there, but I assume that this was the highlight of the promo.

As I mentioned at the top of the post, this was an evening that just flew by. After spending time with my designated eaters — that, of course, will be documented in the next post — it was already the sixth inning. My next stop was the press box, to visit with Rawhide broadcaster Danny Angel.

Danny was preceded in the broadcast booth by the great (some would say immortal) Donny Baarns, who is now with the Omaha Storm Chasers. I believe that this would be an appropriate way to honor Donny’s legacy in Visalia:

The view from the broadcast booth:

img_2405My friend Jon Fischer was once again with me at the ballpark. He took the following picture, of a comfortable young fan.

dsc00126I spent the seventh and eighth inning on the air with Danny. Then, shockingly, it was the ninth.

After the Rawhide wrapped up their lightning quick victory, fireworks filled the night sky as classic rock blared in the background.

After that, there was nothing left to do but write and disseminate a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

Good night, Visalia. I hardly knew ye.





About Last Night: Visalia Rawhide, August 5, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write a quick blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, when I return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and perhaps even love. On Friday night I visited Visalia, California, the fifth stop on my sprawling 10-team California-Nevada-Idaho-Washington road trip.

August 4: Visalia Rawhide (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks)

Opponent: Inland Empire 66ers, 7:00 p.m.

Recreation Park, from the outside: 

IMG_0214Recreation Park, from within: 

IMG_2405Culinary Creation: Spicy Corn Nugget, an inside look.


Ballpark Characters: Rawhide general manager Jennifer Pendergraft with her two and half week-old son, Maverick.

IMG_2399At Random: Team history painted on a slab of gunite that forms the base of the grandstand.

IMG_2394Your Grounbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

August 6: Las Vegas 51s (vs. Fresno, 7:05 p.m.)

August 8: Reno Aces (vs. Salt Lake, 7:05 p.m.)

August 10: Boise Hawks (vs. Hillsboro, 7:15 p.m.)

August 11: Tri-City Dust Devils (vs. Spokane, 7:15 p.m.)

August 12: Spokane Indians (vs. Eugene, 6:30 p.m.)





Biz Blog Bouillabaisse: The Ambiguity of Anniversaries

According to my records, which I store in a meticulously organized and heavily guarded 52-inch filing cabinet, I have not authored a bouillabaisse blog post since January 6th. Three weeks have since passed and, thus, it is time for another one. But this will not just be any bouillabaisse, mind you. This is an anniversary logo bouillabaisse. My bouillabaisses have subcategories now. I have evolved.

‘Tis the season for anniversary logos, after all, a subset of the logo world in which there is always a strong undercurrent of ambiguity. Some teams commemorate their anniversary beginning with the year in which they began, while others start counting once a year has passed (in the way that us, mere mortals, celebrate our birthdays).

To wit: A team that began play in 1997 could, theoretically, celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2016 as 2016 marks the 20th season. A team that began play in 1996 could do the same, as 2016 marks the 20th year of existence. Do you follow me? (If not, I’m on Twitter @bensbiz)

The Lake Elsinore are taking the latter approach with their California-Carolina League All-Star logo, which scelebrates the 75th anniversary of the Cal League (1941). Those in the know know that 2016 also marks the 20th anniversary of the game itself (1996).

All-StarLogo2016 v3eThe California-Carolina League All-Star Game gets to have its cake and eat it too on the 20th anniversary front. Not only has it been 20 years since the game was first played, but this will also be its 20th iteration (for reasons lost to the mists of time, it was not played in 1997). Furthermore! The diamond in the logo not only represents the Cal League’s “Diamond” anniversary, but it also references the fact that the game will be played at Lake Elsinore’s The Diamond.

The Rochester Red Wings’ home of Frontier Field first hosted the team in 1997, making 2016 their 20th season in the facility. Thus, the release of this logo. If I was to offer a criticism of this logo, which I suppose I am: It’s a little busy. Maybe “20 seasons at Frontier Field” doesn’t need to be in the basepaths? Isn’t that implied?

20 Seasons Frontier Field

While Frontier Field first hosted the Red Wings in 1997, the facility opened in the summer of 1996 with — you guessed it — a Beach Boys concert.

Way back in December, when it was still 2015, the Reading Fightin Phils unveiled a logo celebrating their upcoming 50th season as a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate (the longest affiliation in Minor League Baseball).


The above logo was designed by Brandiose and R-Fightin Phils executive director of graphic arts and game entertainment Matt Jackson. Jackon’s job title is already too long, but if it was to truly encompass his range of skills it would be “executive director of graphic arts and game entertainment and Crazy Hot Dog Vendor” Matt Jackson.

The Visalia Rawhide are entering their 71st season as a franchise. But it is their 70th anniversary as a Visalia entity. Thus, this pastoral logo.

Visalia Baseball 70th Anniversary LogoIn conjunction with this 70th anniversary, the Rawhide are “asking people to share their favorite memories from the last seven decades of Visalia professional baseball.” Those who do so will be entered to win a trip to the California-Carolina League All-Star Game. As you may remember, that game — the 20th to be played in the past 21 seasons — is being hosted by the Lake Elsinore Storm.

And thus, we have come full circle. My work here is done.




Return to the Road: Visalia, Modesto, and Fresno In-Between

Welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I re-trace my steps during my third and final road trip of the 2013 campaign in order to bring you all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print. The previous post in the series began in amid the vast expanse of Bakersfield and ended at Visalia’s Lamp Liter Inn, surely one of the quaintest team-affiliated hotels in all of Minor League baseball.

The Lamp Liter still issues honest-to-God keys, and the room signage was a definite blast from the past.




The on-site diner was similarly retro:


Before leaving Visalia I headed downtown and took a stroll. Most of the Central Valley California towns I visited on this trip were rough-around-the-edges and possessed an air of general economic despair, but the core of Visalia I found to be surprisingly vibrant. A brief photo tour, starting with a record store that was, unfortunately, closed on Mondays (marking the second day in a row my attempts to visit a local record store were thwarted).







I was very taken with Visalia, but my momentary illusion that it was some sort of small town utopia quickly received a reality check.

016 Finally, a bit of history, delivered via the time honored method of plaque-on-boulder.


I didn’t get any lunch in Visalia. My next stop was Fresno, and in that city my first order of business was to go on a brief tour of notable area taco trucks. This tour, arranged by members of the Fresno Grizzlies front office, was covered extensively on MiLB.com. In brief, I had a really good time!


My time at that evening’s Fresno Grizzlies game has also been extensively documented. Among many highlights of my time at the ballpark was my encounter with this particularly committed “designated eater” (ie, the individual recruited at each ballpark to consume the gluten-free cuisine that my celiac disease prohibits).


The next day I made a pit stop at E. Olive Street in Fresno.

003The motivation for this pit stop was the same as so many other pit stops that I make while on these road trips: I had been tipped to the existence of an independent record store.


This particular record store was called Spinners. Welcome!



I picked up a few moderately-priced used classic rock LPs (Michael Nesmith, Humble Pie, Black Oak Arkansas), bantered with the friendly clerks for a bit, and then was on my way out of Fresno.

Next stop: Modesto, home of the Nuts. As is my standard operating procedure on these trips, I entered the ballpark while waving to my fans while riding atop a ’59 Corvette.


You can read all about my evening with the Nuts HERE. Part three of this series will pick up with my wanderings the next day in Modesto. A visit to a record store may have been involved.



Return to the Road: In-N-Out of Bakersfield and on to Visalia

The 2014 season is almost upon us, and my recent realization of its imminence quickly led to another, related, realization: I had better finish writing about my 2013 road trips!

As you probably know, I went on three road trips during the 2013 campaign: A Southern Swing, some Midwest League Meandering, and, finally, a little bit of West Coast Wandering. Every last ounce of material from those first two trips has been wrung dry, but, today, it’s time to “Return to the Road” for the third and final time this season. I have odds and ends from the West Coast to share!

This particular trip took place in August, beginning in Bakersfield, Calif. and concluding in Hillsboro, Ore. I arrived in Bakersfield at about 3:30 on Saturday morning, after driving in from LAX, and following a good night’s sleep I pulled back the hotel room curtain to reveal this landscape.


Just across this vast expanse of asphalt was a water park, an appropriate entertainment destination for those residing within this arid atmosphere.


After sleeping late and doing a little bit of writing, there wasn’t much time to explore Bakersfield before heading to that evening’s Blaze game. So, rather unambitiously, I set my GPS coordinates toward a local In-N-Out Burger.



While I find the slavish devotion of its chief adherents to be a bit comical, there is no doubt that In-N-Out Burger is an above-average fast food establishment. I’ve made a point to eat there whenever I’m on the west coast, but this time around my patronage was strategic as well. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, and since then good gluten-free fast food options have been hard to come by. In-N-Out Burger, with its minimal, fresh menu, provides an easy option: protein style, in which lettuce is used as a bun (yes, I promise that there is a burger somewhere in there). The fries are “animal style,” with a thousand island-esque dipping sauce.

2916I spent that evening at Sam Lynn Stadium, home of the Blaze, which resulted in some of my best writing of the season (if I do say so myself, which I just did). The next morning I checked out of the Marriott — watch the Vine! — and spent an hour or so exploring downtown Bakersfield. Here’s “Lyles College of Beauty,” which I drove past while en route to World Records.


World Records was closed.

002It was late on a Sunday morning, and downtown was so silent as to be a little eerie. What few sounds there were (a car passing by, the cough of a pedestrian) seemed magnified, momentarily overtaking my entire aural landscape. The scene, as I recorded it.




The Prospect Lounge — where Bakersfield’s Minor League elite go to eat?




Amid this desultory wandering I located another record store and this, too, was closed.


Did anybody go to this show? If so, I’d be happy to publish your review on this blog.

Since there didn’t seem to be too many lunch options in downtown Bakersfield proper, I instead went, once again, to In-N-Out Burger. Different location, but the meal remained the same. (Perhaps also worth noting is that, according to my notes, Bakersfield’s 89.7 is a “great radio station.” Further investigation reveals that to be KSVG “Savage Radio,” a community-owned non-profit.)


The evening before, while attending the Blaze game, assistant general manager Philip Guiry told me about a vintage store called “Hidden Treasures” that he was a fan of. It sounded like an offbeat place, the kind of spot you go to if you’re trying to make a doll head necklace, so I decided to try and check it out.

My “Hidden Treasures” internet research brought me to, well, I don’t know where I was. All I know is that I couldn’t find a place called “Hidden Treasures.”




Since I wasn’t in the market for a 420 evaluation, I reluctantly left the Bakersfield area for good. Visalia, home of the Rawhide, was next up on the agenda, and my first impression of Visalia was distinctly positive. Welcome to the Lamp Liter Inn, one of the quaintest team hotels one can find in the world of Minor League Baseball.



That Sunday evening I attended the Visalia Rawhide game, writing about alligator hexes and giant pretzels and whatnot. The next morning began at the Lamp Liter Inn, and that’s where tomorrow’s post shall begin as well. Until then, I remain,



Don’t Have a Cow, Man

“It wasn’t something that I was planning on, it just sort of happened.”

Those words can be applied to many life situations, from the momentous to the exceedingly trivial, and those words certainly applied to how I spent last Friday afternoon. Taking place firmly within the realm of the exceedingly trivial, I found myself embroiled in a Twitter beef — a literal beef, as it were — with Visalia Rawhide mascot Tipper T. Bull. It all started innocently, with this tweet from the Rawhide:

Because I have a distinct propensity for indulging in bad jokes whenever possible, I replied with the following:

Tipper was less than impressed with this remark, and expressed his disdain thusly:


At this point I kind of wanted to end it, as Tipper’s tweet was written so definitively. But then I thought, to myself: “You’re 35 years old, an ostensible professional and nominally an adult, and you’re going to let a Class A Advanced bovine mascot have the last word in a Twitter battle? That’s not the kind of man you were raised to be.”

And that’s where it ended. While me vs. Tipper might not have been Aces vs. RiverCats in the MiLB Twitter fight pantheon, it did provide a pleasant diversion throughout the course of an offseason afternoon. And as for Tipper, I’m just going to assume that we’re friends again. The beef has already been squashed.



On the Road: On Top of the Action in Visalia

Part one of this current mini-saga was good for what Visalia, as it detailed the charming quirks, historical markers and reptilian wrath appeasement efforts to be found throughout Rawhide Ballpark. We now pick up where we left off, with the game having just begun.

A modest Sunday evening crowd had filtered in, many of them settling atop the gunite slab of a grandstand (Rawhide Ballpark has just fewer than 2000 fixed seats, the smallest total in affiliated professional baseball).


The ballpark features minuscule amounts of foul territory, meaning that concourse vantage points are very close to the action. And the dugout view is particularly unique, in that you can look straight down on the players below.


As for looking down into the dugouts, this Vine video should illustrate my point. (Also, I like that it captures an audio snippet of someone saying “Colt 45.” I have no idea what this was a reference to as neither guns nor malt liquor are sold at the ballpark.)

The up close and personal nature of the ballpark also means that you can hear just about everything that is said. While I was standing here Rancho Cucamonga hitting coach Johnny Washington, who was coaching first base at the time, ambled over to the dugout and said something to the effect of “Did you check the [expletive deleted] outfield? That’s a [expletive deleted] horse [expletive deleted] lead. That’s [expletive deleted] terrible! C’mon!”

Kids, take it from me: if you want to take your profanity game to the next level,  then hang out near the dugout at Rawhide Ballpark when the Quakes are in town.

But let’s take things back in to the realm of the family-friendly. Here’s Tipper, the Rawhide mascot (I’m kicking myself now, for neglecting to include him in one of my boVine videos).


A local cheerleading squad was on hand, performing before the game as well as several times during it. Between routines they practiced on the Pasture, which increased the evening’s “charming Americana” factor by 1.5.


A photo collage along the front entrance gates features this absolutely classic moment, from the Rawhide’s absolutely classic “Belle of the Ballpark” promo. (I wrote about the 2011 iteration HERE).


The above photo is across the way from, yes, the best gunite-coated dirt slab to be found in all of Minor League Baseball. Here’s yet another look at it:

080But back to the concourse, because I’m not quite sure how I got away from there in the first place. Looking across the way toward the home dugout, I was intrigued by what looked like a painted white cross on the wall. While trying to land a picture of the cross, I instead got this image of crotch-grabbing in action.


And, yes, that is a large white cross painted on the dugout wall. I forgot to get the background story on why it’s there, but it seems out of place within the ostensibly secular confines of the ballpark. (This picture also gives a good indication of the extent to which the concourse is literally atop the dugouts.)


Perhaps the most famous denizen to be found within the home dugout is batboy Les Kissick. He’s held the job for 14 years, and when I first posted the following Vine video it was met with a stream of responses from Visalia diehards along the lines of “Les!!! He’s the best!!!”

Meanwhile, one could find guest emcee Chad Stafford, a DJ on Visalia country station KJUG, patrolling the concourse.


Chad had another duty to perform on this particular evening, as the Rawhide had recruited him to serve as the designated eater. (You know, the individual who consumes and critiques the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits.) He and I soon adjourned to the Hall of Fame Club, where food and beverage director Chris Lukasiewicz was waiting with an array of items.

Welcome Chad and, yes,  welcome giant pretzel.



That’s the Texas Twist, a 24 ounce monster whose holes are filled with warm cups of nacho cheese. Chad gave it a try and reported that “it might be a little too salty, but it’s soft on the inside. For one person it’s a bit excessive, but it’s great for a lot of people to share.”

There’s no doubt that this would be way too much pretzel for one person, but nonetheless the Rawhide have devised a “Texas Twist Challenge” that is open to all fans. Lukasiewicz carved out six seconds of his life in order to offer the following explanation:

Meanwhile, I was presented with this off-menu offering, which Lukasiewicz often prepares for the gluten-free girlfriend of a Rawhide front office staffer.


That’s a “Fajita Dog” bratwurst with garlic aioli sauce atop a bed of peppers, onions, melted Montery Jack cheese and fries which have themselves been tossed in fresh minced garlic.

I approve!

Chad, meanwhile, approved of the burger that had just been presented to him.


That’s the “Cowboy Burger,” to be exact, topped with Kinder’s BBQ sauce, cheese, three slices of Applewood bacon and two onion rings.


Chad, a BBQ aficionado, said that he liked the Cowboy Burger because “the onion rings are great and whatever cheese they use is perfect for it.”

But as for what cheese that is, I neglected to find out. It shall always remain a mystery.

Less of a mystery is this, the final item to be highlighted:


Those nachos are of the “loaded asada” variety: nacho cheese, shredded cheese, salsa, dried onion, jalapenos and your choice of meat.

“The salsa, that’s the kicker,” said Chad, who’s been a presence on the Visalia airwaves over the last eight years. “And it’s all covered, which is just how I like it.”

Also all covered is the food portion of the evening. Thanks to Lukasiewicz and thanks, of course, to Chad.

Out on the concourse I struck up a conversation with Rawhide community relations manager/Hispanic marketing manager/on-field emcee Jesus Romero (he of the gluten-free girlfriend). As you can see, Jesus is loyal to his employer.


With the game in its final third, I slowed my pace and did a final lap around the ballpark.


I then settled into a seat in Row M, the highest vantage point available at Rawhide Ballpark (save for the skyboxes).



Or, if awkwardly conceived panoramas are more your thing:


The ballgame was tied entering the bottom of the ninth inning, meaning that it time for a visit from Jesus Romero and the Rally Squad.

The Rally Squad are great at their jobs, as in the bottom of the ninth inning this place was rocking! Visalia fans know how to support the hometown team.

And with the place a rocking the Rawhide offense came a knockin,’ as Tom Belza singled to lead off the inning and, two batters later, scored on a Sean Jamieson single. It was a good day to be a Rawhide fan and, thus, a good day for me to have visited.

As the crowd filed out I paid one last visit to team broadcaster/historian/reptile hex articulator Donny Baarns, whose computer screen displayed a list of dozens of ways to say “here’s the pitch.” Perhaps he should get a copy of The Baseball Thesaurus?

100As Donny took his listeners through the ups and downs of the ballgame, I watched the last “run the bases” straggler finally reach home plate.


And that was all that she wrote (she being me, of course).

Gunite from Visalia!



On the Road: Gunite for Greatness Amid Reptile Dysfunction in Visalia

“Structurally unique, I guess you’d call it.”

That’s how Visalia Rawhide broadcaster Donny Baarns summed up Rawhide Ballpark, his place of employment since 2008. And with Donny, I would agree. This place is structurally unique.

020At its core, the ballpark (known as “Recreation Park” for the majority of its existence) is as no-frills as they come. The current grandstand, built in 1963, is little more than a huge mound of dirt repurposed from Route 198 construction efforts poured over with concrete and gunite. I don’t know much about gunite (Baarns told me it was “all the rage in the ’60s, apparently”), but it appears to be a construction method in which concrete is shot out of a hose. Who Pneu?

The grand gunnite structure seen above faces outward toward this idyllic (at least at that moment) intersection.

021On the inside, there’s a whole lot more than just an outsized gunnite slab. A series of renovations over the years 2003-2011 has given the ballpark a second life and then some, with a 360 degree cavalcade of new wild west and/or dairy-themed additions.

Here we are in “The Pasture,” a grass seating area wrapping around the right field foul line.

022Behind that is the Toyota Terrace, Kids Corral, and Alliteration Alcove.


024Within this area, one can secure a unique visitor’s bullpen vantage point. Or, as I like to call it, a VBVP.

025A vast expanse of grass, as seen through the chain link.

027Looking homeward, sans-link:

028There is a small parking lot behind the terrace, and a quite verdant lot at that, but vehicular occupation of this area will soon cease to be as the Rawhide are partnering with the local Rotary Club and turning it into a “Splash Pad” that will be open to the public on non-game days as well.

029This sign shows the distance from Visalia to other Diamondbacks affiliates as well as the distance to the parent club. Of course, the “Yakima” sign is no longer valid as that franchise has since moved to Hillsboro (the concluding  stop on this very road trip). Also, I find it interesting that there is a “Visalia 0” sign. I mean, isn’t that implied? That when you are in a certain location then you are zero distance away from it? Right now, I am 0 miles away from writing this blog post although I was I wish I was .25 miles away playing pinball in my local laundromat.

Anyhow, signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs.

031The above sign shows the formidable distance to Cooperstown, but the Rawhide’s “Hall of Fame Club” is a much less daunting journey. It’s just a hop, skip, and and 100 foot jump away.

033That Kirby Puckett quote is in such a prominent position because Kirby is the lone Visalia player to have been enshrined in Cooperstown. He played the entire 1983 season as a member of the Visalia Oaks (his lone full Minor League campaign), and hit .314-9-97 and stole 48 bases over 138 games. A more recent assortment of notable Visalia alumni can be seen in this photo collage located to the right of the bar.

034Further historical perspective can be gleaned while watching the ballgame through the Hall of Fame Club windows, as the tabletops are adorned with a chronological array of press clippings.

038Or, if gunnite slab views are more your thing, you could take a seat here.


Fans of chronology, gunnite, and the intersection of the two will really and truly love this ballpark. (I’m hoping that this appears as a pull quote in future Rawhide promotional materials)


As will fans of history in general. Baarns (who, given his name, should really be working in Double-A), has worked hard to research and publicize the rich history of Visalia baseball. He gave a speech about just this at the 2011 Baseball Winter Meetings, which soon led to this impeccably written MiLB.com article.

For one final bit of history, we go to the Visalia Hall of Fame located along the concourse on the first base side.

060The Hall of Fame, established in 2009, features plaques created by a skilled local craftsman.


The final plaque features not a player, but a team.


Would you believe that even though the Cal League only has 10 teams, and that, currently, six of those teams make the playoffs every season, 1978 marks the last time that Visalia has won a championship? After some diligent research, the team was able to ascertain that this prolonged title drought (and a long string of bad luck in general) can be attributed to the vengeful ghost of Joe Charboneau’s pet alligator. His name was Chopper.

This curse is totally legit, as I discovered, and for far more please read my MiLB.com piece that is dedicated to this subject and this subject only. Those who are truly serious about appeasing this spiritually unsettled deceased reptile can buy these shirts in the team store.


Meanwhile, this Chopper replica can sometimes be seen lurking about the Pasture.


Rawhide GM Jennifer Pendergraft told me that she always wanted a pet alligator and, thus, wanted to get one for the ballpark. 

“But it turns out that they’re highly illegal in California,” she said. “And I didn’t want to have PETA coming after us.”

Those seeking refuge from alligators, or the ghosts of alligators, or whatever it is that’s going on right now, would do well to visit the Fan Dugout. Here, there is no afterlife turmoil to be found.


The Rawhide have what just may be the least amount of foul territory in all of Minor League Baseball, and as such these seats might be closer to the action than anywhere else. (I know that the Asheville Tourists, among other clubs, would beg to differ). At any rate, these dugout seats are available for groups of 20-25 and Baarns noted that they are “great for softball or Little League teams.”

The view, obscured:

042 Unobscured:


Moving back to the concourse, one can visit the Watering Hole in order to satiate any lingering food and beverage needs.


One of those food options is tacos, which, pictorially, look delicious.


From there, our tour moves across the way to the Snakebite Saloon — because nothing says refreshment like dying a slow and agonizingly painful death as poisonous venom courses through your system! (The establishment’s slogan, if my notes are to be believed.)


The prices at the Snakebite Saloon seemed reasonable enough to me, but either way they’ve got you over a barrel.


 Take these broken wings and learn to fly because in the nearby Cold Zone they have misters, Mister.


At this juncture of the evening the gates were open and it was nearing game time.


Baarns and I headed up toward his press box abode, but not before one final tour stop. To once again paraphrase my favorite insufferable protest chant: this is what a Class A Advanced Skybox looks like:


The view toward the field:


And the views from behind:



On the cusp of game time, I retreated to the Rawhide commissary and furtively ate some Buffalo Wild Wings (gluten-free!) like a scared chipmunk.


And with that moment of dignity, I’ll conclude Part One of this Visalia blogging saga. Hopefully Part Two will be Gator than the sum of its parts.



Ben’s Biz Backlogged Blog Bonanza

When I’m on the road I always have so much to write about, both here on the blog and over at MiLB.com. This content overload is a good thing, but one negative aspect of it is that I can’t devote enough of my attention to that which is taking place outside of the places I visit.

C’est la vie, as the French say (when they’re giving examples of the cliched French terms that Americans actually know).

But right now? Right now I’m not on the road, nor do I have any more “On the Road” content. Therefore, today will be the first in a short series of bouillabaisse posts, in which I jump haphazardly from item to item with startling rapidity. Commence organized chaos and — warning! — some of this material is rather dated. I’m working my way through this backlog in chronological fashion.

Apropos of nothing — is R.A. Coon the best front office name in Minor League Baseball, or does Lexington’s Ty Cobb retain that honor?

(Regardless, THIS is the best blog post written by a Minor League broadcaster about someone named R.A.)

You may have seen my recent MiLB.com article about the Jacksonville Suns’ Casey Challenge, in which team president Peter “Pedro” Bragan challenges area school students to memorize the poem.

Well, speaking of the Bragans, did you know that the Suns gave away a “talking bobblehead” of Pete Bragan, Sr., the iconic team owner who passed away last season?

It really talks. Listen!

(And speaking, as I was, of “Casey at the Bat” — my favorite rendition, by far, is Tug McGraw narrating the poem while backed by Peter Nero and Philadelphia Pops Orchestra. I have it on record, and if anyone would like to assist with the LP-to-computer uploading process then let me know because I need to share it with the world at large.)

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have long had an almost maniacal propensity for pig-related puns (the Pork Illustrated game program, for example, or a conference room for “Boar”d Meetings). These days, said puns are practically avant-garde.

The team has named its frozen yogurt bar the “Soo’eyte Spot.” You figure it out.

I have no idea how or why this happened (and it seems to have happened on multiple occasions), but the Erie SeaWolves are most likely the only team to have a Dr. Batboy.

I would like for there to be a band named “Dr. Batboy.”

Meanwhile, via Visalia broadcaster Donny Baarns, this photo of multi-generational intolerance:

And, that’s it for now. Much more where this came from, as soon as time allows.