Yesterday, I kicked off the 2016 season with a requisite bouillabaisse blog post. The “bouillabaisse” in such posts is metaphorical, but today all food references are literal. Let’s take a look at some new ballpark eats.
We’ll start with my old pals the Charleston RiverDogs. Longtime food and beverage boss John Schumaker has left the team in order to open his own restaurant, Harold’s Cabin, which is backed by team co-owners Mike Veeck and Bill “Yes, that Bill Murray” Murray. Nonetheless, the RiverDogs, led by food and beverage director Josh Shea, keep on keeping on with innovative ballpark cuisine.
This, for example, is no ordinary corn dog. It’s a “Shrimp-N-Grit Corn Dog.”
The Palmetto Biscotti Shake coming to The Joe! pic.twitter.com/tMv09LMe0v
— Charleston RiverDogs (@ChasRiverDogs) March 25, 2016
From left to right we have:
The Squealer: Half-pound foot-long hot dog stuffed with pulled pork and cheddar cheese, then wrapped in bacon and deep-fried, and drizzled with barbeque sauce.
The European Vacation: Foot-long bratwurst on a pierogi bun, topped with fiery feta cheese spread and roasted red peppers.
Meet Your Maker Quesadilla: Triple-decker quesadilla with three jam-packed layers-layer one has hot dogs, Texas jack chili, and cheddar cheese; layer two has hamburger and American cheese, and layer three has chicken tenders, poutine gravy, and cheddar cheese.
The Squealer, ready for its close-up:
— Mary Kay Quinn (@ExchangeMaryKay) April 7, 2016
In Jacksonville, my old pals the Suns are now under the same ownership as the RubberDucks. Hence, the team’s “FUNdamentally Different” concession approach.
Buffalo Chicken Bites in a Waffle Cone, Chicken and Waffles, Chicken “Limp” Biscuit (as good as a Korn dog?), Pork and Slaw Dog, Philly Dog. The last item, bottom left, appears to be a plain ol’ hot dog.
Also of note: The Suns have renamed two of their concession stands in honor of local sports icons: Singh for Your Supper (golfer Vijay Singh) and Sweet Tea-bow.
My old pals the Lakewood BlueClaws have long held a “Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese” mascot race, and this season they’re honoring all three complementary food components in bobblehed form. Nonetheless, my old pals the Trenton Thunder have perhaps taken in the lead when it comes to the prominent category of “New Jersey baseball team most dedicated to the celebration of pork roll.”
This season, the Thunder have a “Pork Roll Paradise” food stand at the ballpark.
Oink, Cluck and Moo — a classic pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich. Served, as all Ween fans know, on a kaiser bun.
Thunder Dog — A hot dog with pork roll slices and American cheese on a torpedo roll.
Pig Pen — Chopped pork roll, pulled pork and bacon bits atop mashed potatoes.
Hog Steak — Chopped pork roll with Cheez Whiz on a torpedo roll.
Perhaps inspired by the Thunder, the BlueClaws recently unveiled their own pork roll-inspired creation:
— Lakewood BlueClaws (@BlueClaws) April 7, 2016
My old pals the West Michigan Whitecaps are no strangers to attention-getting food items. This year’s Fan Food Vote winner hasn’t garnered the viral acclaim of the Baco or Fifth Third Burger, but nonetheless it exists. Existence is the most important thing.
This is the “Dutch Love” — turkey pot roast, cheese curds and fries in a pita wrap.
And here’s a weird one out of Fresno, where my old pals the Grizzlies are offering “Hot Cheetos Dusted Fries”.
What better place to end than with a weird one? I’ll follow up with an accompanying drinks post in the near future, so if you’ve got something to share on that front then please get in touch. Also, my 2016 road trip itineraries are coming soon. Promise.
Way back in the Fall of 2013, I ran a guest post by Brad Lawrence of Fox Virtual Tours. In that post, Brad, a “Google trusted photographer,” explained how he had created a virtual 360-degree ballpark tour for the Kane County Cougars.
A few months ago Brad got in touch again to let me know that he has since designed a virtual tour for the West Michigan Whitecaps home of Fifth Third Ballpark. Thanks to Ben’s Biz Backlog, I am just getting to this topic now.
In their press release announcing the Google Virtual Tour, the Whitecaps communicated the following:
Google Street View technology allows users to see 360-degree panoramas of the entire ballpark, including many seating sections to provide accurate vantage points, all of the group outing areas, the Super Suite, and the CapSized Shop. The tour also includes interesting locations that Whitecaps fans may never have directly seen before, such as the view from the playing field….The photos are produced using a rotating digital camera mounted on a tripod. Once the photos were taken, Lawrence uses “stitching” software that links each of the photos together to create a seamless tour.
I’m really pleased with how [the Whitecaps] tour turned out– in particular with the spectacular views around the ballpark and the creative stuff we did with the mascots and the scoreboard “Easter egg” view. I really tried to build on what I did for the Cougars and make this one more fun for the fans. From a practical standpoint, the Whitecaps are already actively using the tour on their website and in their sales process. So I think it’s both a fun story and also one of interest on the business side of baseball.
I can truthfully state that every club who has gotten my virtual tour has gone on to win the next championship. Granted, it’s a small sample size (the Cougars and the Whitecaps), but 2-for-2 ain’t bad!
The above scoreboard “Easter Egg” view reminds me of my 2013 visit to the Whitecaps.
The Midwest League is now the undisputed champion when it comes to Google Virtual Tour usage. If you work for a team: Is this something that you think your club would consider doing? Would it result in new fans and potentially attract new company outings? If you’re a fan: Do you enjoy these tours? Would it make you more likely to purchase tickets?
At any rate, I think that Google Virtual Tours are an interesting endeavor and something that other teams should at least consider.
Harbingers of baseball season are everywhere these days. It will soon consume us entirely; we are the Jonah to its whale. One of today’s most prominent harbingers involves that which will be soon be consumed. The West Michigan Whitecaps, perpetual culinary innovators, have unveiled their new 2015 concession items.
Leading the list of additions is the winner of this season’s Food Contest, as voted on by the fans. Among a field of 10 items, the “Hot-to-Tot” nabbed 17% of the votes en route to victory.
Hot-to-Tot, which I assume is a reference to the best movie within the “stock market-savvy talking horse” genre, is described as “Buffalo tater tots with pulled chicken topped with blue cheese.”
Hot-to-Tot was an exercise in democracy, but the Whitecaps acted unilaterally as well. The following items will also be added to their array of 2015 concession items:
Nutella Poppers: “Nutella-stuffed sweet dough fried to a golden brown and rolled in sugar.”
Oreo Churros: “Oreo cookie pieces made into a churro served with Oreo frosting.” In my opinion, the team should have named these Choreos.
Pretzel-Breaded Italian Sausage: (Self-explanatory)
Beer-A-Misu: “Tiramisu gelato with local stout beer.”
Chicken and steak quesadillas will also be served at the Whitecaps’ home of Fifth Third Field in 2015, but I do not believe that photos of this item will excite the masses and therefore I will not post it.
Getting back to the “Hot-to-Tot,” the Whitecaps note that “previous winners of the food contest include the Auger Dogger (2014), Baco (2013), Westside Po’ Boy (2012), Chicks with Sticks (2011), the Cudighi Yooper Sandwich and the Declaration of Independence (both 2010). All have now been retired from the menu.”
It was a good run while it lasted, Baco. I got to enjoy one of those when I visited the Whitecaps in 2013.
The “Fifth Third Burger,” which is 5/3rds of a pound, lives on. Think you can eat one in one sitting?
Finally, I would like to commend myself for continuing to celebrate the ballpark food items that I cannot eat due to my 2012 celiac disease diagnosis. Yeah, I suffer for my art. Don’t we all?
It’s that time of year again, that time of year when I fulfill my journalistic talent to its full potential by posting pictures of new Minor League ballpark concession offerings.
Following standard operating procedure, we’ll begin with the West Michigan Whitecaps’ annual Fan Food Voting contest.
— Whitecaps (@wmwhitecaps) March 2, 2015
Through March 6, the masses can vote for one of the following 10 items. The winner will be served at the team’s home of Fifth Third Field in 2015, joining perennial favorites such as the Baco and, of course, the Fifth Third Burger.
First Row: Beer-a-Misu (scoop of tiramisu gelato added to craft beer), Cheesy Does It (hamburger with a cheese bun), Cotton Candy Curveball (cotton-candy wrapped Twinkie), Crispy Pig Chips (pork rinds with all the standard nacho fixings)
Second Row: French Fry Pizza Pie (self explanatory), Hot-to-Tot (tater tots with buffalo chicken and bleu cheese), Kat Dog (Kit-Kat bar inside of a hot dog), Picnic on a Stick (fried chicken, tater tots and pickles on a stick, fried in cornbread batter)
Third Row: The Legend of Pickle Hollowed (a hot dog inside of a hollowed out pickle, deep fried), Weenie Panini (hot dog stuffed panini)
For the record, here’s a picture of the Baco (taken during my 2013 visit to West Michigan)
Keeping within the Midwest League, we now move on the Appleton-based Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. On Thursday afternoon, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers sent the following tweet:
— Timber Rattlers (@TimberRattlers) February 26, 2015
“This,” in this case, was this:
Grilled Cheese Bacon Cheeseburger. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 2015 pic.twitter.com/MxqnWFkIAB
— TimothyMichaelHansen (@ChefTimHansen) February 26, 2015
Then, on Friday, the T-Rats executive chef unveiled this. It’s a bacon cheeseburger enveloped within a funnel cake.
— TimothyMichaelHansen (@ChefTimHansen) February 27, 2015
No matter what your opinions are regarding hyper-fattening, internet-baiting Minor League cuisine, there is no doubt that chef Hansen knows exactly what he’s doing. I learned this first-hand in 2013, during a visit to the T-Rats’ home of Fox Cities Stadium. Hansen does high and low cuisine with equal aplomb; in his world sesame tuna on endive with pineapple salsa coexists peacefully alongside jerk chicken wings and a Philly cheesesteak.
Heading east, we find that the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have recently unveiled some new creations as well.
Pork Parfait: “Layers of mashed potatoes, pulled pork and cheese sauce topped with green onions.”
24-inch Frankfurter, “topped with chili, beer cheese, bacon, onion straws.” It is cut into four pieces; sharing is encouraged.
Finally, the Oklahoma City Dodgers will have more than a new name in 2015. The entity formerly known as the RedHawks will also offer these new concession items.
New concession items to whet your appetite before lunch: bacon & bleu nachos, pepper gravy fries, and Oreo churros! pic.twitter.com/enx8UY3sXr
— OKC Dodgers (@okc_dodgers) February 20, 2015
Actually, disregard the “finally” in the above item. As this blog post was being written, the Asheville Tourists unveiled this:
Topped with your choice of Syrup or Nacho Cheese. pic.twitter.com/yK5QNzVtOy
— Asheville Tourists (@GoTourists) March 2, 2015
That looks great and all, but can it compete with a deep-fried Moon Pie?
I’ve recently dedicated a post to showcasing new mascots that can be seen around the Minors; today’s post will focus on that other integral aspect of the Minor League Baseball experience: the food.
Let’s start with the El Paso Chihuahuas, who play their first-ever ballgame at brand-new Southwest University Park on April 28. Concessions at the new facility will be provided by Ovations, who unveiled the ballpark menu last month. Fairly thorough coverage of some of the more unique items can be found HERE and HERE among other places, including an awesome looking beef brisket “Salpicon Salad” that very well may be gluten-free (fingers crossed, I’ll be there on April 29 and 30 and will find out for sure). I contacted the team in the wake of their concessions unveiling, and Ovations’ Jeff Hanauer responded with the following pictures. And that is what you’re all here for, what you’re always here for: the pictures. Let’s proceed.
The Pico de Gallo will be included with many of the Chihuahuas’ Mexican-themed offerings. It looks outstanding, and this picture is suitable for framing.
Alligator bites with jalapeno cornbread (an El Paso specialty?)
The Chihua Dog, with bacon, beans, and jalapenos:
The Dudley Dog, a foot long and a half a pound, topped with chile con queso and pico de gallo:
A few of the many “Juarez Dogs” that will be available:
This sandwich is called, “From Philly, with Love”.
The Flamethrower, a half pound burger with ghost peppers, jack cheese, deep fried jalapenos, and chipotle ranch sauce:
Of course, no discussion of ballpark food is complete without the requisite White Michigan Whitecaps mention. Following in the footsteps of the Fifth Third Burger and the (gluten-free!) Baco, this year’s premier addition is the Auger Dogger. It is a deep-fried hot dog on a stick, surrounded by potato chips. Here’s hoping that this, too is gluten-free:
More notable concession additions, per the Whitecaps:
Pretzilla Bacon Cheeseburger (a pretzel bun with a one-third pound hamburger patty, bacon and cheese).
Coaches’ Sandwich – In honor of the three Whitecaps coaches, who hail from Australia (Andrew Graham), Texas (Mike Henneman) and Cuba (Nelson Santovenia), this sandwich includes two slices of ham, Hormel barbeque pulled pork, pickle shreddies, Swiss cheese and shrimp served on a sub bun.
Tony Gates Venison Burger – Named after the 97 WLAV local radio personality who is passionate about the outdoors and is an avid hunter, this venison burger on a bun and will be served at the Steak Cart behind home plate.
Over in Kannapolis, the Intimidators have unveiled some notable new additions. This one is self-explanatory, but I’ll explain: a 64 ounce serving of loaded nachos, served in a batting helmet.
Also of note is the Dale’s Mater sandwich, a favorite of Dale Earnhardt (for whom the Intimidators are named). It is, quite simply, a tomato sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise.
The Trenton Thunder have unveiled a new signature item, one with a distinctly New Jersey flair. The Thunder Dog is “a jumbo sized Black Bear Franks hot dog wrapped in American cheese and famous Trenton pork roll and served on a torpedo roll.”
Also new in Trenton is the “Mega Nachos” stand, which can (and should!) be gluten-free. Sez the team:
Another new addition on the first base side is Mega Nachos, where fans can build-their-own nachos from a variety of toppings including: cheese, queso, chili, steak, chicken, pulled pork, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and olives.
The Thunder have long had a Chickie and Pete’s stand at the ballpark, but these Philly-area purveyors of sandwiches and (gluten-free!) crab fries are now in Wilmington as well:
— Brian Radle (@BrianRadle7) April 8, 2014
And, hey, for those of you who consider gluttony to be a virtue: the Frederick Keys have recently announced a rather considerable eating challenge. Think you can do it? If so, what’s wrong with you?
Think you have what it takes to receive the Key to the City!? Check out our new eating challenge here at the Grove! pic.twitter.com/GL9xJPX2Re
— Frederick Keys (@FrederickKeys) April 16, 2014
Finally, in Fresno, the Grizzlies are now serving a “Grizzly Egg.” Per the Fresno Bee, it’s a “cream cheese-filled deviled egg, wrapped in bacon, baked and drizzled in buffalo sauce.” This thing better be gluten-free, because it looks awesome!
And that’s all of the food news I have to share with you, at least for the next couple of days. In the meantime, please know that I am writing up a storm over at MiLB.com:
— New Promo Preview leads with the Louisville Bats Corky Miller #FeartheStache t-shirt.
— New Farm’s Almanac takes a look at team-branded beer throughout the Minors.
And, as always, much more to come! There’s a reason that I say that I am the greatest of all time: because it’s true.
Thus far, this ongoing “Return to the Road” series has highlighted outside-of-the-ballpark trip highlights from Appleton, WI to Beloit, WI (but barely) to Midland, MI. Midland is where we are going to remain, as we begin today’s fourth and final post in the series.
I awoke in Midland on Wednesday, June 26, and had a little bit of time to explore after checking out of the hotel. After all, that evening’s destination of Lansing (home of the Lugnuts) was just a short drive away. My partner in these explorations was writer Matt LaWell, who shadowed me during this trip as part of a book he is writing on Minor League Baseball. We began in downtown Midland, which included the periodic table-influenced “H Hotel” and its attendant eateries “Table restaurant” and the “Zinc Cafe.”
The heart of downtown Midland, and certainly its most recognizable landmark, is “The Tridge,”
The Tridge, built in 1981, is what its name implies: a three-way bridge (built at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa Rivers). A Farmer’s Market is located nearby (it wasn’t open on the day I visited), and a variety of cultural events are held in and around this area as well. It’s all very scenic and well-maintained, and we were fortunate enough to have visited on a beautiful day.
This statue, simply title “Couple,” features its titular individuals gazing upon the Tridge in perpetuity.
After a little bit of wandering, we came upon the similarly-titled “Family.”
Unfortunately, a certain subset of Midland’s public statue-viewing public can’t keep their hands to themselves.
A little bit of local history, courtesy of a rock.
These idyllic early afternoon wandering were much enjoyed, but soon enough it was time to depart not just the Tridge but Midland itself. Farewell county courthouse, I hardly knew ye!
From here on out, my outside-of-the-ballpark content from this week-long Midwest League excursion is exceedingly minimal. As previously mentioned, I attended that night’s Lansing Lugnuts game (and wrote about it HERE and HERE and HERE). Unfortunately, there was no time to explore Lansing proper, as I had to get up bright and early the next morning in order to appear on Grand Rapids radio. That was the first act in what turned out to be a full-to-bursting West Michigan Whitecaps experience, which was chronicled HERE and HERE and, yes, even HERE. My time with the Whitecaps turned out to be so full-to-bursting that I didn’t get any real chance to explore Grand Rapids, either, although on the way out of the city Matt LaWell and I stopped at an eatery recommended by then-Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Slavko Bekovic.
This eatery was called “The Winchester.” As a Brooklyn resident, I am quite familiar with this sort of establishment: a locally-sourced nouveau American bistro with self-consciously hip sensibilities.
Here’s a picture of Matt LaWell at the bar. I only wish his well-manicured mustache was visible, as well-manicured mustaches are just the sort of thing one would expect to see at such an establishment.
If you’ve got $40 to spend on a hamburger, then you’re everything that is wrong with America. But if this is wrong, maybe you don’t want to be right….
All in all the Winchester had a very impressive menu, and “GF” designations are always much appreciated by celiac disease-afflicted individuals such as myself.
An order of chicken wings and polenta fries turned out to be way more food that I bargained for.
Sorry for the anti-climax, but this is all I’ve got and my Midwest League 2013 content well is now officially dry. (From Grand Rapids it was on to South Bend and my time visiting the Silver Hawks was chronicled HERE and HERE. Unfortunately, time constraints were such that no explorations of South Bend proper were able to take place.)
Therefore, this particular “Return to the Road” series is going to end with a picture of chicken wings and polenta fries. Isn’t that always the case?
In any case — I’ll “Return to the Road” again before the offseason is through, in order to cover August’s trip to the West Coast. Gotta milk the material for all it’s worth!
When I arrived at MiLB.com headquarters late Friday morning, I was expecting it to be a rather slow news day. The weekend was imminent, after all, and the world of Minor League Baseball seemed to still be suffering from a post-holidays hangover. But, a little after 11 a.m., the tone of the day changed drastically as news broke via Twitter that West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark was on fire.
As the above photo immediately makes clear, this fire caused major damage. A space heater located in one of the first base-side suites started the blaze; it had been left there by a work crew. The work crew apparently had been present when the fire first started, extinguishing it and then leaving the premises under the erroneous assumption that it had been completely put out.
But when I first heard about the fire, I (and I am sure many others), weren’t thinking about what the cause might have been. The photos and video provided by local Grand Rapids media were frightening, and information was scarce. Was everyone okay?
Fortunately, I was able to reach Whitecaps director of media Mickey Graham on his cell phone just before noon. While he understandably didn’t have much information to share at the time, he did say that he and his co-workers had evacuated the stadium safely and that, to his knowledge, no one remained inside. This was an extremely significant silver lining, but as for the stadium itself the news was dire. Firefighters had to battle the blaze in frigid weather and with access to just two fire hydrants, and by the time they got it under control the first base side of the stands (representing approximately 40% of the total structure) was decimated.
— WZZM 13 On Your Side (@wzzm13) January 3, 2014
With the worry of human injury or death vanquished, speculation then turned to the comparatively unimportant matter of the Whitecaps’ ability to operate in 2014. Opening Day is only three months away, and on top of that the team is hosting the 2014 Midwest League All-Star Game! How would this be possible, given the state of the stadium? I began to envision a “season on the road,” ala the 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, as the team underwent an extensive re-building process. But the Whitecaps took the first opportunity to refute these assumptions, with co-owner Denny Baxter emphatically stating during a mid-afternoon press conference that his team would be ready for Opening Day (perhaps at a temporarily reduced capacity, but still).
“We’re going to be playing baseball again come April 8 — that I can absolutely promise everyone,” said Baxter. “We’ll be seeing baseball in April.”
This message was energetically and persistently stated throughout the remainder of the afternoon and over the weekend, perhaps most poignantly via this Facebook photo. Clearly, Crash made it through the fire with nary a singe!
As far as I know — and I could be wrong here — this was the most liked/shared Facebook update in Minor League Baseball history. (As of this Monday afternoon writing it had received 3,432 likes and 894 shares.) While social media popularity may not directly correlate to on-the-ground fan support, I believe that this massive response serves as an indication of the esteem in which the community holds the Whitecaps. Fifth Third Ballpark was a labor of love from the start, privately funded in an age of public subsidies, and year in and year out the Whitecaps are at or near the forefront when it comes to promotional, technological, and, of course, culinary innovation. I had a great time when I visited there last season, and if you have the opportunity to do so in 2014 then I’d highly recommend making the trip.
Friday will go down as one of the most harrowing and horrible days in franchise history, a nightmare come to life.. But all things considered it could have been much, much worse, and soon enough it will be back to business as usual. In that spirit, please allow ME to return to business as usual. As fate would have it, I actually began my work day on Friday by emailing Whitecaps promotions manager Keith Roelfsema (little did I know that, at the time I hit send, he and his co-workers were outside in the freezing cold having just evacuated a burning building). Roelfsema had contacted me the day before, in regard to the fact that footage of the Whitecaps had made its way into a little-publicized indie comedy with the name of Anchorman 2.
MLive was the outlet that first broke this internationally important story, so I’ll defer to them for a moment.
To put it in context: the movie stars Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy, a TV-news anchor. His buddy Champ Kind, played by David Koechner, is the sports reporter (his catchphrase is “WHAMMY!”, used to punctuate home runs). In the midst of a tense ratings battle, and in a quest to make their program more exciting, Champ decides to show only home runs in his highlight reel. Cut to several Whitecaps players, pounding balls out of the park.
Click HERE to find out how this all came to be, and click HERE for an amusing local news story on the Whitecaps’ Hollywood cameo. Clearly, the team has bigger things to deal with at the moment, but some sort of Anchorman-related promo seems inevitable…
As the offseason progresses I’ll make sure to check back with the Whitecaps on how the re-building efforts are progressing. It goes without saying that it’s going to be a very interesting — and challenging — 92 days, but I have full faith that the team will persevere and come back stronger than ever. In the meantime, I leave you with this math problem: If 40% of Fifth Third Ballpark was destroyed, and 5/3 = 167%, then how much of the stadium does the team have to re-build?
And we’re back!
Part one of this riveting West Michigan saga was largely a pre-game tour of the WhiteCaps’ Fifth Third Ballpark, serving as the proverbial aperitif to the degustatory delight that is this post’s main course.
Are you ready to take the plunge? Let’s go!
My evening began just outside the pressbox, as broadcaster Ben Chiswick interviewed me as part of his pre-game show on 107.3 FM. Seven photos were taken during this interview, and in all of them I look similarly slouched over and sloth-like. None of these pictures will become a new online dating profile pic. I’m losing my edge.
Convinced that my slovenly appearance was caused by an ill-fitting shirt (as opposed to lack of exercise and poor diet, which would of course be impossible), I headed out in search of a new addition to my wardrobe.
And, voila! It was “70s Night,” and in conjunction with this time-tested theme promo the Whitecaps had set up a DIY tie-dye (or tie-DIY, if you prefer) t-shirt stand out in the right field area.
The process is simple: don a pair of rubber gloves, put rubber bands all over the t-shirt, and then spray with your choice of colors.
Uh, dude? You might want to be more careful with where you’re pointing that yellow bottle.
I actually had too many rubber bands wrapped around the shirt, which severely limited the areas which actually got colored. But on the whole I liked my shirt and its minimalist psychedelic motif. If this shirt was a band it’d be Silver Apples.
As it turns out the shirts had to be hung out to dry, so I was condemned to an evening of looking like the schlub that I undoubtedly am. C’est la vie, it was a beautiful night and we live in a beautiful world and such self-obsession is unseemly if inevitable.
At this juncture duty called me back to the field, as I was slated to be among a small army of ceremonial first pitch throwers. While down there, I met these guys:
There’s something I like about this picture. Dim the lighting a bit and it would look like a still from a David Lynch fever dream.
Here I am en route to the mound, as the PA announcer (one Michael Newell, we’ll meet him later) went on a flattering spiel that credited me with making the Fifth Third Burger internationally famous. Hyperbole? Sure. But I did my part.
No documentation exists, fortunately, but I bounced the pitch ( a stark contrast to the perfect strike in Great Lakes).
Here I am walking back from the mound in shame, as my fellow first pitchers (seen on the videoboard) laugh derisively:
But who cares? No one was there to see me. The real stars of this first pitch cavalcade were coaches and players from the Grand Rapids Griffins, who had just won the Calder Cup (the AHL’s equivalent to the Stanley Cup).
Sad Champion, not to be confused with the world’s best-named meteorologist:
Back on the concourse I witnessed the best National Anthem I’ve seen in 2013. John Pylman, a WWII veteran who was on the crew of a B17 bomber (as was my grandfather), absolutely nailed a no-frills rendition. He knew what he was capable of and did it marvelously.
For this dude, the National Anthem just meant a 90 second reprieve from trying to single-handedly consume a 5/3rd pound $22 hamburger.
It’s a whole lot of burger.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2013
The Fifth Third Burger was just part of a humongous ballpark spread that the Whitecaps had laid out for me at the table adjacent.
It’s a bit jumbled, but this represents my best attempt to decipher the above image:
Back row: shrimp po’ boy, deep fried cheese cake, the Fifth Third Burger
Third row: sausage kabobs, Steyhauser steak sandwich, three Bacos
Second row: three orders of deep fried mac and cheese bites
First row: foot long corn dog, gluten-free hot dog, standard issue all-beef hot dog, and two turkey legs
Of course, my gluten-free diet prohibits the consumption of most of the above items. As you’ll recall from my previous post my designated eaters for the evening were local radio DJs Flounder and Marty, but this duo were nowhere to be found.
So, it was time for improvisation! The Baco — lettuce and tomato on a “taco” shell made out of approximately eight strips of bacon — is gluten-free so I started right in on that.
There are no surprises with the Baco — it has very few ingredients and is, in essence, a bunless BLT. It tastes great and I’d recommend it, but at the same time it’s not the orgasmic explosion of flavor that some in the so-called blogosphere would make it out to be. What is with this current obsession with bacon in our culture? Yes, it tastes great, but the internet needs to calm down with all of this snarky and ultimately demeaning “bacon is like unicorns dancing in my mouth” style rhetoric. We are adults. Barely. But adults nonetheless.
Okay, I don’t know where that came from. Let’s move on.
Whitecaps promotions manager Brian Oropallo soon jumped into the fray, picking up a shrimp po’ boy with grace and aplomb.
“The seasoning is where the flavor is,” said Oropollo, who is perhaps more physically fit than I am. “It’s got a little kick to it, maybe there’s some cayenne pepper in there.”
And back to me, this time with a gluten-free hot dog (the bun is made of rice flour).
I know this looks fundamentally unexciting, but for me it was great to have a solid ballpark hot dog again. The bun held together nicely and tasted fine, and I’d implore all teams to add similar gluten-free options to their concession offerings. I’ve noticed that some teams equate “gluten-free” with health conscious as in “we offer fruit cups and carrot sticks,” but really all I’m looking for is to a return to normalcy. Unhealthy is fine, I’m at a ballpark!
Matt LaWell, in town to chronicle the adventures of yours truly for his upcoming book on Minor League Baseball, entered the fray as well. He appears to be eating a steak sandwich with a fork in this picture, although the only food quote of his I have written down involves the deep fried mac and cheese. (“Really creamy,” he observed.)
Also enjoying the deep fried mac and cheese was Kevin Huisman, a longtime Ben’s Biz reader and Grand Rapids resident who stopped by the stadium to say hello. I was like, “We’re sans-Flounder and Marty, so dive right in to some designated eating!”
He obliged, calling the deep-fried mac and cheese “stellar” and then diving into the Baco. Of the latter, he said that “It’s really crumbly, so it’s a good thing it’s served in a boat. The bacon’s great, but the veggies are really fresh and that’s what makes it.”
After the before:
And back to me with the sausage kabob, as media relations manager and noted kabob fan Mickey Graham stands in the background. This looked gluten-free so I pretended it was. God forgive me. It was great.
My attention was momentarily diverted by an on-field appliance race.
I don’t really know what transpired, but what I do know is that Marty soon arrived on the scene. He was sans-Flounder, but one half of a morning radio DJ team is better than no morning radio DJ team at all.
Welcome, Marty! Here, he and I pose with the mighty Fifth Third Burger.
Introduce yourself, Marty.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2013
Marty, making up for lost time:
Fifth Third Burger!
Deep fried cheese cake! (“It needs dipping sauce,” he reported.)
At this point, the impromptu quartet of designated eaters had morphed into a ruthless consumption machine. Oropallo, ever creative, even began to eat his own arm.
But I had a job to do, and this job was to serve as guest MC for a between-inning contest. I was to announce the “Meijer’s M-Perks Price Drop” while throwing water-soaked blue balls into the crowd. My script, such as it was, as I jotted it down in my notebook with one out until showtime:
“Fans, make some noise! The Ferris [sic?] coffee crew and the mascots are tossing out Meijer M-Perks price drop balls into the crowd and if YOU catch a ball take it to customer service and claim your prize.” [Actually, this whole paragraph is sic.]
All things considered I think I actually did pretty well, and I have no complaints whatsoever with my co-worker.
With that nerve-wracking 90 seconds of my life complete, I returned to the designated eating station. Marty had been abandoned — first by Flounder, and now by his impromptu crew. But still, Marty persevered.
I hope that we’re all Marty fans by now. But, still, I abandoned him in favor of my next enterprise. Graham and I headed to the manual scoreboard, so that I could once again attempt to work it (as you’ll recall from my first West Michigan post, my initial attempt to do this was lackluster at best).
The view along the way:
Billy was out there working the scoreboard, and under his able and patient tutelage I was able to do so as well.
Easy does it:
Success! Thanks, Billy!
Meanwhile, Marty had switched to beer and had made new friends. God bless Marty.
At the table adjacent, a hardy burger-eater was in the process of celebrating his burger eating accomplishments.
All I could do, meanwhile, was eat and run (and, yes, I realize the extent to which I overuse the word “meanwhile.” If I overused “meantime” then at least I’d have an excuse to link to one of the top five songs of all time.)
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2013
I was on the run because I had yet another job to do. Or, more accurately, I had Michael Newell’s job to do.
Newell, a school counselor, is in his 17th season as the Whitecaps PA announcer.
“It’s an absolutely great summer job,” he told me. “You can’t get me out of here.”
I could, however, do his job for a half inning. Newell’s tip was to “just yell,” though I had to restrain, or curb, my enthusiasm due to the fact that the visiting Dayton Dragons were at the plate. From my notes, these were the players that came to the plate: “Zach Vince-y, Seth Ma-hee-us Breen, Jeff Jello-Litch, Junior Air-e-us.”
Welcome to the Terrordome:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2013
Yes, in the above video I am saying the unremarkable name of “Jesse Winker.” But, for what it’s worth, Newell told me his favorite all-time name to say is Pedro Santana because “you really get to stretch the vowels out.”
Back outside the press box, I realized that Marty was capable of near supernatural levels of omniscience.
Calder Cup and a kebab! https://t.co/ZxI8EnpJq1
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2013
But I didn’t have time to ponder such things. My presence was wanted on the concourse, so that I could award a plunger to one lucky (and randomly selected) fan.
The randomly selected fan was pointed out to me, and all I had to do was approach him and say “Congratulations, you’ve been randomly selected to win a Penning plunger!”
Except, this happened. Without hyperbole, I’ll say that this is my favorite six seconds of my professional career. And, also, this is certainly my favorite Vine video.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2013
I am not one to call my own material classic, but this is classic.
“I deal with those things all day long! Are you freaking kidding me? You’re going to offer that to a guy in building maintenance? You’ve got some nerve.”
Other quotes I have written down from this exchange:
“This is like giving motor oil to a mechanic.”
“If this ends up in our newsletter I’ll never hear the end of it.”
But here’s the thing. This awesome guy’s awesome friends wanted the plunger, so long as I signed it with “Go Whitecaps!”
And soon enough, we were all friends. These guys are the best.
I celebrated this triumph of human interaction with a gluten-free Redbridge beer.
And this was followed by a full-throated rendition of the seventh-inning stretch, followed by a totally confused attempt to dance to (what I think was) Cotton Eyed Joe.
Back on the concourse, it was time to fulfill obligations.
Stadium panorama, with now-obligatory Matt LaWell sighting.
Finally, I descended to the dugout. It was time for the fat lady to sing.
Except, no, the Whitecaps lost the game. The Fat Lady never got “her” chance to sing, and the ballgame ended with me sitting in the dugout dejectedly.
When I was down there in the dugout, five members of the promo staff asked to take a picture with me. I swear it wasn’t the other way around, but nonetheless this photo will warm my soul for the remainder of my days on this Earth.
I’m not sure if he took the above photo, but Whitecaps video intern Paul Salley took many great photos throughout the night and is great guy in general. So thanks to you, Paul. (Paul is currently writing a book on Wings guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, and I will gladly share more info on that as it materializes.)
Meanwhile (there’s that word again), up in the press box, Whitecaps official scorer Mike Dean ended his work day by cranking out some Handel on the harmonica. He is known for doing this.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2013
But STILL the night was not over. Out on the post-game part deck, River City Stew was cranking out some tunes.
But this too shall pass. The last note, like that of Mike Dean, was on the harmonica.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2013
And THAT was all that she wrote from West Michigan. Disseminate this post widely.
My day with the West Michigan Whitecaps started early and ended late, the way that days on the road are wont to do.
After waking up at an ungodly — at least from my perspective — hour in Lansing, I made the quick drive to Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, MI. There, I met with Whitecaps director of marketing and media relations Mickey Graham and we drove into Grand Rapids proper.
Hello, Grand Rapids proper!
I was in Grand Rapids proper — or “the GRP” as I like to call it — in order to visit a conglomerate of radio stations inconspicuously nestled within a downtown office building.
My destination was, the lower left quadrant of the conglomerate: Thunder 94.5, home of Flounder and Marty in the morning. Flounder, he’s on the right:
Flounder and Marty had been recruited to serve as my “designated eaters” that evening — in other words, the individuals who would sample the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. They interviewed me for about five minutes or so, during which I explained who I am, what I do, why I am the most underrated entity in all of sports media (maybe I just thought this), and just what their designated eating duties might entail.
For each photo in this post in which I am wearing this t-shirt, I am expecting the Tennessee Smokies to pay me $75.
Flounder was a bit apprehensive about this whole “designated eating” thing, remarking that “my personal trainer would punch me in the face.” Marty, whose DJ career has already taken him from Chicago to Rapid City, SD to Wassau, WI to Grand Rapids — was more amenable. Both individuals were nice guys, and amenable to having their picture taken after the interview.
The evening’s ballgame was still some nine hours away, but, back at Fifth Third Ballpark, there was already plenty of activity. Whitecaps coaches and players were hosting a youth clinic, most notably, but front office staffers and groundskeepers were all over the place as well as bespectacled silver-haired gentlemen in collared shirts curious as to why some dude in a Smokies t-shirt was taking a picture of the field.
Before moving any further, please take in the following triumvirate of vantage points.
And, yes, that is a giant plunger left center field, adjacent to the scoreboard. The “Penning Plunger,” to be exact, which moves up and down via the flick of a press box switch.
Also of note is the lighthouse in right field. This joins the one in Bowie, MD as the only outfield lighthouses that I am aware of in Minor League Baseball. [EDIT! The Lake County Captains also have a lighthouse.]
At this juncture Graham gave me a thorough tour of Fifth Third Ballpark, which opened in 1994 and was built entirely with private funds (a true rarity). Graham extolled the bureaucracy-free virtues of this arrangement, saying “The little things make a difference, and we can take care of the little things so much easier. If the railing’s chipped, we can paint it. If the concrete’s cracked, we can fix it.”
The team can also ensure that their men’s room boasts the Midwest League’s shiniest porcelain and most unique men’s room sink layout.
For when Thirsty Thursday goes wrong:
Out on the concourse, one can find plenty of concession options, presented in an eye-catching and appealingly ramshackle fashion.
As you are probably aware, the Whitecaps have become well-known for their concession items in recent years. The Fifth Third Burger, introduced in 2009, was featured in this very blog and that post was picked up by Darren Rovell (then with CNBC) and, before you knew it, the thing was an international sensation.
“That was the craziest two weeks of my life,” said Graham. “I did hundreds of interviews. I even did one in [the country of] Columbia, and I could tell that they were totally making fun of me.”
The Fifth Third Burger is still going strong:
On the day that I visited, 18 people had already been crowned Fifth Third champions in 2013. Off to the left is the one photo that the team keeps visible from season to season, featuring Man vs. Food host Adam Richman.
One of 2013’s new additions is the Squeelin’ Pig, which requires those who purchase it to sign a waiver. This pig is like, “If you’re going to butcher and consume me, then at least I shall have some measure of revenge.”
Then there’s the Baco, which is essentially a BLT without the bun (gluten-free!)
But this is all just a preview, as there will be plenty of food pics and videos in part two of this Whitecaps saga. Take a deep breath and center in on this beautiful ballpark image, which reminds us that there is more to enjoy than giant hamburgers and such.
Graham and I wandered over to the outfield, where I practiced for one of my duties that evening: operating the manual scoreboard.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2013
I was not good at this, as you can see, and the stress caused my cheeks to well up uncontrollably.
At least there were some good views to be had out there, while seated in a vintage logo chair.
Youth clinic in full effect!
That youth clinic looked really fun, as I hope the following two Vine videos will illustrate.
A valiant effort. https://t.co/KoEMd8dnkz
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2013
And those youth, they sure made good use of the dugouts.
Would someone please get this guy a vintage logo chair to sit in? That bucket looks mighty uncomfortable. By comparison, a picnic bench looks like a veritable king size bed. Those in search of true comfort should wander down to the home clubhouse. Adjacent to the clubhouse is the trainer’s room, where I was able to snap the following photo: I’ve said it before, but like Grizzly Man showing on a loop it bears repeating: One of these I plan on doing an article in which the contents of a trainer’s table (or medicine chest) are explained on an item-by-item basis. If you are a trainer who might like to do this, or if you know one who might, then of course please get in touch.
I call this picture “Existence.” Trainer’s tape can be utilized in a variety of ways. From my perspective, however, clubhouses and trainer’s rooms pale in comparison to the beauty that lurks in team promo closets. Hula hoops, deflated eyeballs and waylaid bovines are all par for the course.
And then there was this — bobblehead storage room!
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2013
Many of these bobbleheads featured Tigers legend Lou Whitaker, 1000 of which were slated to be given away the next day. I am not sure how early fans had to arrive in order to insure that they got one, but I do know that six hours in advance was a bit on the excessive side.
That’s brothers Ryan and Raymond Ortega, who pride themselves on their indefatigable Tigers fandom. They did indeed show up six hours early for the Lou Whitaker bobblehead giveaway, and my interview with them is HERE.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There is still lots more to come from West Michigan — LOTS — but for now I’m going to bid you adieu from the Grand River.
I’m flying to Appleton, WI (home of the Timber Rattlers) tomorrow morning, thus beginning another Minor League Baseball road trip. Therefore, this blog will be entirely given over to “On the Road” content for the next several weeks.
But before succumbing to this inevitability, I’d like to inform you of the “Kitty Growl Awesomeness” that is currently overtaking the New Britain Rock Cats.
During scoring plays we typically play our run scoring music of Zombie Nation and have had cat growls over top of it. Recently we’ve spiced it up with this video that accompanies our growls.
We’ve dubbed the character as ‘Tom Cat’ and the video ‘Kitty Growl Awesomeness.’
Let me know what you think about it.
My reply was, in essence, “I think it’s awesome.” This encouraged Milligan to get in touch with more info as well as links to two more Tom Cat appearances. He writes:
The first time we broke this out, the Rock Cats erupted for 10 runs and 16 total for that game. Fans are taking to it well — the sales of the hat Tomcat wears are up and we’ve been getting some fans joining him for the Kitty Growly Awesomeness in the stands.
Junior PA announcers get in on the act:
Milligan, understanding that one should utilize the Rule of Threes whenever possible, got in touch one more time:
I wanted to pass along two more things from the legend that is Kitty Growly Awesomeness.
The first is a picture of Rock Cats IF James Beresford breaking out the Awesomeness to greet a recently scored Rock Cat:
The second is this:
There’s little doubt in my mind that the legend of Kitty Growly Awesomeness will continue to grow. Just remember: you heard it here first!
I’ve got a little more room and a little more time, so how ’bout another bit of randomness? Last month the Binghamton Mets staged “Budget Cut Night,” in which all of the night’s entertainment was done on the cheap. In lieu of the nightly mascot race (featuring local delicacy Spiedie, Chef, and Marinade) the team ran this on the videoboard instead:
You still want more? Jeez, you guys are insatiable! How about this video, which aired as part of the West Michigan Whitecaps recent “Hipster Night” promo:
I am nothing if not a ready hipster (I live in North Brooklyn, where I play pinball and obsess over the intricacies of Bish Bosch), so I hope the Whitecaps are ready for me on June 27. See ya soon, Midwest League!