When I first posted the itinerary for this particular ballpark road trip, July 19 was listed as “TBA.” This was because I did not have a clear idea which ballpark I should visit, as most of the options were places that had already been graced with my ineffable presence. Several teams, or at least the fans of several teams, ended up making pitches as to why I should visit (Mahoning Valley, Toledo and Lake County among them). But the organization that won out was the West Virginia Power, Class A affiliate of your (or at least someone’s) Pittsburgh Pirates. After all, the Power are West Virginia’s only full-season Minor League Baseball team! Further investigation was needed.
The Power play in Charleston, but since there is another South Atlantic League team bearing the Charleston name (the RiverDogs of South Carolina) the Power went ahead and claimed the whole state. (Informally, Charleston, West Virginia, is referred to as “Charlie West.”) The Power compete at Appalachian Power Park, which is located in a rather desolate-feeling stretch of downtown amid modestly-sized high rise office buildings, labor union headquarters and dilapidated factory buildings. My hotel was within walking distance of the stadium, and what follows are a few pictures I took during the walk.
In the biz, we call this “setting the scene.”
This overpass leads to interstates 64, 77 and 79, which combine to form mega-interstate 220. (This is what I choose to believe, at least.) Walking underneath the overpass, one finds the stadium.
Ah, yes, here we are:
Upon entering Appalachian Power Park, I took 10 minutes or so and did my requisite lap around the concourse.
Again, more scene setting.
Lap completed, I was escorted onto the field in order to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Joining me was the evening’s special guest, a man even more special than me: wrestling superstar Mick Foley (aka Mankind aka Dudelove aka Cactus Jack).
Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mick. (I’m the guy on the left.)
I took the mound and fired something resembling a strike.
The guy who delivered the second first pitch threw a scorching fastball right over the plate, and Mick Foley then hammed it up by recruiting that guy to throw out his first pitch for him. Which, for those keeping score at homes, means that the guy who threw out the second first pitch threw out the third first pitch as well. My first pitch was first.
Update: Commenter Mark Henderson adds the following info:
The guy who threw out the second and third pitches is Scott Robinson, a former batboy for the Charleston Wheelers. Scott has became somewhat of an inspirational local hero, due to his battle with a heart disease that resulted in him receiving a donor heart, going through the transplant just a year ago.
I am now realizing that I talked to Scott later in the evening. He is the guy that took the awesome Toastman pic that appears later in the post.
Mick then joined the managers and umpires for a pre-game conference, presumably regarding whether metal folding chairs would be permitted in any on-field brawls that may occur.
I don’t have any video of Mick Foley from this evening, but he now has a severe limp and moves like a man 30 years his senior (he is 49). It’s painful to watch, but that’s what happens when you sacrifice your body for your passion. I’ve never been much of a wrestling fan, but I have a genuine respect for Mick Foley as he is a smart, engaging individual who forged a unique career path.
While these pre-game shenanigans were taking place, fans were already queuing up for a chance to meet Mick.
There was a significantly shorter line for the pepperoni rolls, a coal miner favorite and staple of West Virginia cuisine. You’ll also note that a 25-ounce beer could be had for just $3. Power assistant general manager Jeremy Taylor told me that the team sold out of the 25-ounce beers on Redneck Night, a stereotype-reveling theme night that has become a highlight of the team’s promotional schedule.
With the game underway, I turned my attention to Rod Blackstone a.k.a. the Toastman. He is one of the most passionate, divisive and memorable fans one could ever hope to meet at a Minor League Baseball game, and I wrote a feature article about him HERE. Please read it, as I don’t want to repeat myself repeat myself.
Okay, I’ll repeat myself just just a little. From my MiLB.com story::
Rod Blackstone is the “Toastman,” a West Virginia Power ballpark icon who can be found sitting in a front-row aisle seat in section 107 during each and every game. From this homeplate vantage point, he leads the section in cheers, displays homemade signs made in honor of each position player and, most memorably, throws pieces of toast to the crowd after every visiting batter strikes out.
The toast isn’t pre-made, either. Blackstone brings several loaves of bread to the game and toasts them on-site using a toaster set up on a small metal patio table. The electrical outlet he uses was installed by the team, specifically to accommodate his nightly toast-making needs.
After spending an inning with the Toastman, I spent an inning in the broadcast booth with Power broadcaster Adam Marco. It was a pleasure talking to one of the finest blogging broadcasters in Minor League Baseball.
From the dim press box environs, I soon transitioned…
My plan was to post the Power’s videoboard footage of this “battle,” but apparently there were technical difficulties. This is really too bad, as this was one of the most embarrassing/memorable moments of the season for me.
Before the game it had been decided that I would sing “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” a choice I was fine with because I assumed that I’d only be singing the chorus. However, when it was played over the PA system to begin the contest, the song began during the first verse. After an awkward pause followed by some herky-jerky gesticulating, I began improvising lines such as “Please play the chorus, this is the verse. I only know the chorus, what are the words?”
My efforts resulted in a round of boos, as the crowd clearly had no love for the most underrated entity in all of sports media. Mick Foley then got on the mic and crooned Hulk Hogan’s theme song “Real American.”
So, yeah, I got to play the heel in a karaoke battle against Mick Foley. That’s definitely going on the resume.
But there was no time to wallow in misery. I save that for the hotel room. Next up on the docket was meeting the evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
Hello, Mr. Mike Taylor.
Mike, a former Power bat boy, works in the produce department of a Charleston-area grocery store. He said that, despite his slight frame, he had no problem eating large amounts of food. Well, okay then. Here’s a pepperoni roll. It’s basically pepperoni baked inside of a roll. That’s why they call it a pepperoni roll. I expect to soon see it on a menu in at a nouveau American Brooklyn bistro at a cost of $16, featuring nigella seed Ethiopian sourdough and artisan soppressata imported from an old world butcher operating in San Francisco’s North Bay neighborhood.
“Pepperoni rolls are what West Virginia is known for,” he told me. “You can’t go into a convenience store without seeing them. Once we got them out here they sold like hot cakes.” (Note: hot cakes are not sold at the ballpark.)
Last season the pepperoni rolls were provided by local restaurateur Rocco Muriale. This year, they are being provided by a local pizzeria. Either way, Mike Taylor was psyched to be eating one.
“I’ve never had a pepperoni roll here before, but already I can tell that this will be the best pepperoni roll I’ve ever eaten,” he said. “The bread is buttery and real soft. I could probably eat two of these.”
That wouldn’t be a good idea, as Mike also had to contend with the Gunner Nachos, named after the Power’s nacho-loving on-field emcee. They are served in a full-size helmet, and topped with chicken tinga, pulled pork, beef brisket, cheese, salsa, jalapenos and sour cream.
Thus far, no fatalities have been recorded as a result of eating this item. Have at it, Mike.
So, to recap:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 20, 2014
“These were two of the best things I’ve ever eaten here, and I’ve been coming here a long time,” said Mike. “I’m a skinny guy, but I can eat a lot.”
Hey, what do you know? While all of this was happening, there was a game going on.
During the next inning break, I had the honor of running across the field while waving the team flag. Mascot Chuck (as in, short for Charles, as in Charleston) was with me, with a gaggle of children close behind.
Throughout all of this, fans were patiently waiting in line so that they could meet Mick Foley.
See that guy in the above photo, on the far right? That guy was an absolute dead ringer for Mick. This photo, stolen from Adam Marco’s aforementioned must-read blog, shows just how much of a dead ringer he was.
The Rowdy Alley are a loose-knit group. Some nights there are only four or five people sitting here, while on some nights (like Thirsty Thursday) there are a couple dozen. I plan on writing about the Rowdies in an upcoming MiLB.com feature. They love their beer, have a pet monkey, and all their ducks are in a row.
This guy was wearing a towel, fashioned into a cape. He seemed vaguely annoyed by my presence, like “Can’t a guy just wear a cape and keep score and occasionally blow into an old trumpet (not pictured) in peace?”
This guy, meanwhile, was ready to face the elements.
Immediately after I took this photo, the members of the Rowdy Alley broke into song. I wish I had it on video. Wishing I had things on video seems to have been a theme of the evening.
I also spoke with legendary souvenir salesman Wheeler Bob. He, too, will be included in the upcoming MiLB.com feature that I previously alluded to.
Meanwhile, the smell of smoke had begun to permeate the ballpark.
Culprit: the Toastman.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Just another night at the ballpark in West Virginia.
I did get some video of the Toastman in action.
The game ended shortly after the Toastman’s bread-based pyrotechnic display. But more pyrotechnics were soon to come, as it was a Friday Fireworks night. This season, the Power have taken the novel step of filming their fireworks with a remote controlled drone.
This, showing the drones in action, is one of my favorite Vines of the year. Also, it conveys the extreme intensity of the Power’s fireworks display. I was a big fan.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 20, 2014
When the fireworks were over, a squadron of vacuum-toting interns appeared on the field in order to clean up the pyrotechnic debris. Their appearance was a sure sign that the evening had come to an end. Good night from Charleston, West Virginia.
Meanwhile, my next trip begins in just over a week. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location).
August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs
August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*
August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*
August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*
August 26 — Buffalo Bisons
August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs
August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*
August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats
August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*
August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
Hello from the main lobby of a La Quinta hotel in downtown Indianapolis. I am in the midst of my latest and therefore greatest road trip, and have somehow already visited four ballparks (with three to go). Each trip takes its own tone, and this one has been particularly manic.
The tone was set on Friday, when I drove from New York City to Akron in order to see the RubberDucks game that evening. Most of the drive was on interstate 80, and this road is kind of a mess to drive on — congested, narrow and, during some stretches, there are more trucks than cars. I got pulled over for speeding almost immediately, but the New Jersey state trooper who did so let me off with a warning and I was most appreciative. I wasn’t so fortunate later in the trip, when, somewhere in the Pennsylvania Wilds, traffic came to a total standstill for over an hour.
I ended up talking to a trucker for a while as we sat on the guardrail, and he said that there was a motorcycle fatality at mile marker 139 (we were at 144). He seemed like a nice guy, but I guess when you’re on the road for a living gallows humor becomes the norm.
“The only reason they’d close both lanes is because somebody got squished,” he said. “The coroner’s gonna do what he needs to do and then they’ll let us go.”
So, yeah, getting to a Minor League Baseball game on time suddenly didn’t seem so important. The seven-hour drive ended up taking 10, and I arrived in Akron as the game was starting. Late arrival or not, I still got a sneak preview of the “Return of the King” burger (read about it HERE) and then suited up as the Goose in a Duck Duck Goose world record attempt.
The next day I had very little time to explore Akron, but I did what I always try to do: I visited a record store.
Square Records was a quality establishment, good mix between new and used offerings and plenty of under-the-radar stuff to peruse. I ended up getting the Heavy Blanket/Earthless live record as well as Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid/M.A.A.d. City” on vinyl. I had only had that on iTunes previously, but it is a stone-cold classic and very respectful of the album format. Therefore, I wanted to have it as an album, something to put on late at night in the living room.
As you can see from the above photo, Square Records is next to a movie theater. And not only were they showing “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” but a real-life sports drama as well. “Welcome Home, LeBron,” in other words.
This was a cool neighborhood, wherever I was. Surely, this dive bar would be a great place to catch a show.
From there, I filled up the satanic gas tank and moved on to Charleston, West Virginia.
Downtown Charleston was largely deserted on Sunday, but I enjoyed the atmosphere.
On Capitol Street, I visited Taylor Books. This establishment had a coffee shop on the premises and a great selection of books and magazines. Long may it live.
Following standard operating road trip procedure, I picked up a couple of zines while at Taylor. One was a public transit diary, the other a history of Iran-Contra. If you’re lucky enough to have a book or record store that sells zines in the area where you live, then please buy them.
West Virginia complete, it was then back to the Buckeye State.
I wish I had something to share from my time in Columbus, as regards the city itself, but I was under the weather on Sunday and well into the next day. It was really touch and go there for a while. But I’ll persevere, all the way up until the time when I don’t. Gotta keep moving.
I’m in Indy now, as mentioned, and will soon be in Louisville (Tuesday, as in TONIGHT) — Lexington (Wednesday) and Dayton (Thursday) will follow. Oh, and over the last two nights I cobbled a new edition of Promo Preview together, you can read that HERE. (And then tell your friends to do the same.)
I’ll update this post with more if and when time allows. In the meantime, please know that Mick Foley is now a close and personal friend of mine. This photo was taken at Saturday’s West Virginia Power game, which was a great day for Mankind.
Three such items indeed went unremarked upon (by me) when they were first announced, but today’s post will set everything right with the world. Here, then, is a round-up of that which I neglected.
Generally Speaking — Last month, it was revealed that the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx would henceforth be known as the Jackson Generals.
The new team is a nod to the region’s rich baseball history. Let us journey now to the press release:
According to Kevin McCann, author of “Jackson Diamonds – Professional Baseball in Jackson, “The name Jackson Generals has a rich history of unusual plays and colorful players. Some of the players who’ve spent time on the diamond in Jackson include Shoeless Joe Jackson, Edd Rousch, John McGraw, Ellis Kinder, Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek, and many others.”
The team announced the name change immediately following the conclusion of the regular season, an announcement punctuated with some thoughtful nods to the past:
Throwing out the last pitch of the regular season as the Diamond Jaxx was Ms. Jane Des Ormeaux, the 93-year-old fan who doesn’t miss a game. She also is the fan who came up with the name West Tenn Diamond Jaxx. The first pitch as the Jackson Generals was thrown by local businessman Walt Mestan. Mestan, a Chicago native, was one of the leading pitchers for the 1950 and 1951 Jackson Generals.
Miraculous Changes — While not quite as dramatic as a name change, the Fort Myers Miracle will be wearing new uniforms in 2011.
Sez the team: The new uniforms will feature hats that are a lighter shade of navy blue than is currently being worn. The uniforms will also be without pinstripes for the first time since 1993 and feature the current Minnesota Twins logo on the left sleeve.
Addition By Subtraction— On August 31, the West Virginia Power unveiled their new mascot. His name is Chuck, and he replaces the five (!) costumed characters the team had previously employed. No pictures of Chuck seem to exist on the club’s website or Facebook page, but this local newspaper article picks up the slack.
So what else have I missed out on over the last six weeks? Let me know, because my powers of oversight are boundless.
Instead, I will focus on that which I neglected while I was suffering from Indianapolis overload. So (metaphorically) buckle your (metaphorical) seat belts, because it’s going to be a slightly bumpy ride.
New Logo! — I wrote a story about this on MiLB.com last week, but the new Florida State League franchise in Bradenton announced its name and logo.
Behold, the Bradenton Marauders!
As soon as you are done beholding, feel free to move on the next item of interest…
Holiday Photos! — Teams all over the country have been engaging in seasonal activities as of late. Teams such as the Lexington Legends, who sent out the following ragtag crew to spread some yuletide cheer:
Moving on from holiday photos to holiday video, check out the West Virginia Power’s latest offering. It stars velvety-voiced Andy “Bull” Barch, who recently announced that he will not be returning to the club in 2010. This will leave a void not only in the broadcast booth, but also in the crucial area of holiday-themed parody videos.
And since we’re on the topic of “West Virginia Power” and “videos”, now is as good a time as any to share the following. I mean, why not, right?
Finally, I am going to indulge a common reader request and share a series of photos that, in their entirety, depict a mascot somersault. The mascot in question is Splash of the Stockton Ports.
My recent headfirst dive into the treacherous waters of social networking has yielded a virtual treasure trove of blog-worthy material. Specifically, I am now privy to a seemingly endless cavalcade of team-produced videos.
What follows are two videos that I would like to share with loyal readers of this sputtering, but never completely stalled, blog. Like the Fresno Grizzlies’ “I Hate the Offseason” and the Omaha Royals’ “My Offseason Life is Average”, these videos portray the pervasive sense of boredom and unease that accompanies the cessation of on-field play.
First up: The West Virginia Power front office does their best to re-create the game-day experience, with less-than-optimal results.
Also suffering from a mild-to-moderate case of mental illness is Grover, on-field MC for the Lake County Captains:
The above two videos make it abundantly clear that times are tough right now for those who make their livings in baseball. Thankfully, I have just come across an image that is sure to provide at least a momentary uplift to the mentally downtrodden. Boomer! Arrested for some reason!
Obviously, this picture results in more questions than it does answers. I’ll go check the Williamsport police blotter in order to see what Boomer’s offense was, and report back in the near future with my findings.
In the meantime, if you have stories pertaining to offseason existentalist angst and/or mascot run-ins with the law, then please get in touch immediately:
One of the more amusing stories to emerge in the past 24 hours involves the West Virgina Power and their difficulties in obtaining a shipment of bobbleheads.
The bobblehead in question features President Barack Obama in his high school basketball uniform, and 1000 of these fine collectibles were slated to be distributed prior to Saturday’s game. Yesterday, however, the Power issued a press release that explained that U.S. Customs had detained the bobblehead shipment for an “extended search.”
Just what U.S. Customs was searching for remains unclear. Perhaps they were just puzzled by the incongruity of a West Virginia-based baseball team distributing bobbleheads of the President wearing a Hawaiian basketball uniform. At any rate, the story had “legs”, as evidenced by the fact that it was picked up by the Associated Press.
As an aside, I remain baffled by the Associated Press and other national media outlets. When it comes to which Minor League stories get picked up and which ones don’t, your guess is as good as mine. I think the term “arbitrary crapshoot” (also the name of my high school band) would apply. My suggestion to all members of the national media is to read this blog religiously, because I’ve got all the scoops. Just make sure you link back to my work, because doing so helps to justify and legitimize my fleeting existence on this Earth.
A press release issued just a few hours prior explains that the bobbleheads have finally been sent on their way to West Virginia. They won’t make it in time for the game, however, so fans will instead recieve a “Golden Ticket” that can be exhanged for the bobblehead at a later date.
In the meantime, I hope that the national press continues to monitor this story. Why not send out live news copters to film the journey of the bobbleheads as they make their way to West Virginia? I don’t know about you, but I would watch that all night long.
While I don’t have enough new logo information to put together a full-blown “Round-Up”, let me strike while the iron’s hot and provide some info regarding recent changes in the fascinating world of Minor League apparel.
First up is the Buffalo Bisons, who recently unveiled their 2009 jerseys. Here, in lieu of what would surely be a tedious 1000 words, is a photo:
York Mets, while each design features a level of uniqueness that is
unmatched in minor league baseball.” The white jersey will be worn at home, the gray on the road, and the black is an alternate home top that will be sported on Sunday and Thursday afternoons.
Let us now move on to the ever-elusive West Virginia Power, who have “revised” their logo. According to the omniscient press release, this new and improved version “is a mixture of the original BP logo and the Power text logo.” Let’s check it out:
Perhaps even more exciting is that the Power will soon unveil a new “mystery” logo. There are literally infinite possibilities when it comes to what this “mystery” might be, but I’m hoping it will somehow incorporate a magnifying glass, a smudged fingerprint, and a silhouette of the Hardy Boys.
If anyone is aware of any logo changes I have not yet covered, then send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org