Tagged: West Virginia Black Bears

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?

IMG_1505

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.

IMG_1509

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.

IMG_1512

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.)

IMG_1547

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.

IMG_1548

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.

IMG_1571

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…

IMG_1570

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?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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.

040

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.

044

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.

wvroll

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:

046

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.

064

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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.

065

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.

073

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.

074

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.

077

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.

078

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.

IMG_1549

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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:
053

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.

009

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:

013

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.)

018

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.

026

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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: West Virginia Black Bears, June 30, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

June 30, 2015: Monongalia County Ballpark, home of the West Virginia Black Bears (Class A Short-Season Affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates) 

Opponent: Hudson Valley Renegades, 8:25 p.m. start time (game delayed 80 minutes due to rain)

Monongalia County Ballpark, from the outside: 

002

Monongalia County Ballpark, from within:

023Culinary Creation: Loaded Pepperoni Roll

041At Random: If you really wanted to, you could watch the ballgame from here.

026

Ballpark Characters: Pepperoni Roll racers Hot Pepper Hank, Double-Stuffed Dave and Pepperoni and Cheese Patty

077

Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: My apologies

And that’ll do it for this trip. Next up is a one-off visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters on July 11th. And then, this:

July 28: New Orleans Zephyrs

July 29, 30: Biloxi Shuckers

July 31: Mobile BayBears

August 1: Montgomery Biscuits

August 2: Mississippi Braves 

August 3: Jackson Generals

August 4: Off (drive to Nashville, recuperate physically, emotionally and spirtually)

August 5: Nashville Sounds

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz