I was out of town for the last five days or so, and during my time away the fifth anniversary of the first post in Ben’s Biz Blog history came and went. My original plan had been to commemorate this milestone in some way, but instead it just kind of slipped by whilst on its quick path to complete and total obsolescence.
So, yeah, this blog is now five years old. Celebrate at will. As for me, I’ll just do what I do best: relive the recent past! As you may recall, my last post in the apparently never-ending “Return to the Road” series covered the beautiful scenery to be found betwixt Salem, OR and Yakima, WA. Today, then, picks up in Yakima (home of the since-relocated Bears) and travels northwest to Tacoma (home of the not-going-anywhere Rainiers).
The day started with me following a reader tip: get lunch at Miner’s, an iconic Yakima fast food joint.
I was smitten with this establishment as soon as I arrived, if not a bit confused. Somehow, I managed to bypass the entire drive-thru lane. (And is that a strange location for a house or what? Not sure if I’d want my front lawn obscured by huge fast food menus).
Instead, I ended up in a lot immediately adjacent to a spacious outdoor eating area.
Also spacious: the inside.
I placed my order, was given a number, and then walked approximately a third of a mile away to a back room seating area.
And here, inevitably, is where I end up disappointing you. As much as I’d have liked to, the celiac disease prevented me from ordering a Big Miner Burger. Or any kind of burger. In fact, the bun-heavy and oft-breaded menu made the whole experience a bit fraught for gluten-averse individuals such as myself. So while I’d like to present you with a photo of this 64-year-old establishment’s signature item, instead here are some fries posing amidst an array of dipping sauces and a vanilla milkshake. I do my best.
After that it was time to hit the open road. And I do mean open, and I also mean road.
I would have been content to drive amid such vast expanses for a good 10 hours or so, while listening to the first 33 seconds of this Dr. John song a million times over. The drive was far less than my wished-for 600 minutes, unfortunately, but before re-entering more populated areas I did have the pleasure of stopping at this well-advertised establishment.
And — look! — within this vast expanse of commercial real estate they even cater to afflicted souls such as myself.
I bought an array of groceries. The bottle of Moxie cola was later confiscated at the Vancouver airport, and I have no idea what became of the mustard. None at all. It just vanished on me.
The next destination was the Hotel Murano, located in downtown Tacoma. Of the dozens of Minor League team hotels I’ve stayed in over the last several years this was the most expensive. And also, by far, the nicest. (In fact, I’m still kind of in awe that this was a team hotel.)
The Hotel Murano had an uber-hip intercontinental vibe, complete with Teutonic dance music music pumping in the lobby, but it wasn’t not so exclusive that they won’t enter into an enthusiastic partnership with a Pacific Coast League franchise. (Hotel Murano ads could be seen throughout the Rainiers’ Cheney Stadium).
The nighttime exterior:
with a view.
I’m still kicking myself for not having the Bhagavad Gita sent up to my room.
Some of the other in-room signage was less spiritually minded, however.
“Goodnight Tacoma!” said the moron in the Murano.
That moron was me.
In the grand tradition of serialized adventures everywhere, today’s post picks up exactly where yesterday’s left off: in Yakima, standing at attention behind a patriotic costumed bear.
But Boomer, like boomers everywhere, will soon have his glory days behind him. In 2013 the Bears will move to Hillsboro, WA so NOW is the time to enjoy baseball in Yakima. That is what I was there to do.
So c’mon dudes! Play ball!
As play began, I scurried to document a cornucopia of vantage points.
In retrospect, “cornucopia” was probably overstating it. I documented a “smattering” of vantage points, and then proceeded to the first base side of the ballpark in order to participate in one of the team’s signature between-inning events.
Another night, another meat costume.
This turned out to be a rather elaborate race. In addition to Boomer the bear, the Central Washington University mascot — a Wildcat — was in attendance. Upon the start of the race, Boomer and the Wildcat emerged and blocked Hamburger and Golden Fries from advancing. This allowed me to take a commanding lead, so I turned around and taunted them while running backwards.
But then a couple of other mascots arrived on the scene, and I’m still not really sure who they were or what they were about. As Yakima is known for apple production (among other things), I’m going to assume that they were apples. A red male apple with a pair of garden shears and a yellow female apple with garden shears, to be more precise.
So, anyway, I successfully eluded the red apple and his garden shears. I think he was trying to stop me, but I’m not sure why — do apples just not like hot dogs? Is this a thing?
So, yeah, anyway: I, Ben Hill, age 33, won a hot dog race. Now please excuse me while I hit re-fresh on OKCupid.
After the race, this concatenation of costumed colluders posed for a picture. What a bunch of weirdos:
I left that crew to their own nefarious devices, in order to shed my hot dog costume. Next on the agenda: eating a hot dog! (Such an act, my psychiatrist tells me, is a subconscious manifestation of self-hatred. I told him that it was just because I was hungry.)
That’s a kielbasa, actually, and ordered sans-bun in order to meet my gluten-free specifications. Next to it is an order of garlic fries. A great meal all-around, and the kielbasa — firm, smoky and topped with a sweet and deeply caramelized peppers and onions admixture — certainly appeared superior to the “Killer Kielbasa” that had been on offer in Salem-Keizer the evening before.
The above items could be obtained at the simply-named “Bar-B-Q” stand.
Simply-named, yes. Also: inaccurate. Bears GM KL Wombacher wryly noted that it was “Yakima BBQ,” meaning “not really BBQ at all” because, essentially, there is no BBQ in Yakima. It was basically burgers and dogs and fries and what-have-you. But it was good, and that’s the important thing.
That simple Wild West aesthetic is evident throughout the concession areas, such as here: the stadium’s one and only beer stand. Let it be known that the beer served here is cold:
Dinner completed, I returned to the seating area to find a robust Yakima sunset in full bloom.
As day gave way to night, I ascended the stairs to the press box and joined Bears announcer John Hadden for an inning on the radio.
And, no, I didn’t mess up the chronology here — the above picture really was taken after the two that preceded it. Guess the sunset hues hadn’t quite yet subsumed the sky beyond center field.
Upon completing my on-air obligations (which I always enjoy, thanks to Hadden for the invite), this riveting episode of Upstairs Downstairs continued. After my descent, I poked my head into what had to be the most barren (or “bear”en, as it were) team store that I’d ever seen.
Everything must go! Seriously!
I passed on the opportunity to pick up any priced-to-move souvenirs, and instead watched an inning from the field level Legends Club. Beer might be out for me, in this celiac disease reality, but a crisp chardonnay is A-OK!
Upon returning to the press box, I tried to find the perfect auditory balance between Hadden and Boise Hawks broadcaster Mike Safford. Northwest League Baseball, in surround sound!
I then did a half-inning on the air with Safford (thanks, Mike!) and upon re-entry to the press box corridor discovered that Hadden had acquired a new broadcast partner.
That young color man was right to be wearing the rally cap. After falling behind by five runs, the Bears tied the game thanks to a three-run double by Loftus in the seventh and a two-run homer by Michael Lang in the eighth. (I had interviewed both of those individuals prior to the game, and I’d like to think that my encouraging presence inspired their eventual offensive heroics).
As we entered the bottom of the ninth, John Belushi’s famous “Nothing’s over until we say it is” speech from Animal House was played on the videoboard.
I disagree with playing that clip in a tie ballgame (it’s more of a rallying cry than an exhortation to get over the hump), but this digression gives me an opportunity to note that the audio selections throughout the game were phenomenal. Those came courtesy of multi-tasking PA announcer Todd Lyons, a DJ on KATS 94.5 (“The Rock Station,” glad to hear that there are at least a few of those left). Lyons had tunes at the ready for all sorts of game events, especially when it came to situations in which the opposing team could be mocked. When Boise Hawks manager Mark Johnson was ejected, his path off the playing field was to the strains of both “Na Na Na” and “Hit the Road, Jack.” But better was the playing of Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” during a meeting on the mound (“You want me to act like we’ve never kissed/You want me to forget, pretend we’ve never met”).
In the bottom of the ninth, a double and a walk put runners on first and second with two outs. I was invested in the game, but also experimenting with different lighting and shutter speed settings on my camera.
Loftus, en route to drawing a walk.
The winning run on second:
And then — bam! — one of the more unlikely walk-off victories I’ve ever seen. Bizarrely, what I remember is not at all what is recorded in game log, but what I saw was Steven Rodriguez rocket a ball down the first base line. Hawks first baseman Dan Vogelbach took a stab at it and the ball caromed off of him, allowing Kevin Medrano to score the game’s winning run.
How often does one score from second on a ball that doesn’t leave the infield? And why does the game log say that Rodriguez hit a single to left field? Am I going insane?
Regardless, it was victory for the hometown team and pandemonium ensued.
And that was as good a note as any to end my brief stint in Yakima. Soon enough the euphoria subsided, and only the groundskeeper remained.
I ignored friendly sign-based invitations to light up a cigarette…
and trudged down this winding metal ramp and out of the ballpark.
In the absence of Minor League Baseball, I’ll probably never have a reason to visit Yakima County Ballpark again. But I’m glad that I got the opportunity, with bear-ly anytime to spare.
Stop three of my latest (and therefore greatest) road trip brought me to Yakima, by far the easternmost location on this otherwise close-to-the-coast Oregon-Washington-British Columbia excursion. But as out of the way as it was, I considered a visit to Yakima to be an absolute must. This is, after all, the last season for the hometown Bears. In 2013 the team will set-up shop in Hillsboro (a suburb of Portland), thereby bringing to an end a 23-season run in Yakima.
It’s hard to argue with the rationale behind the move — the Bears rank last in the league in attendance and play in an outmoded facility, while Hillsboro taps into a fertile market that has gone without Minor League Baseball since the Portland Beavers moved to Tucson following the 2010 campaign. But no matter what the reasons, it is always a bittersweet (if not outright sad) occasion when a team leaves town. My visit to Yakima was motivated by the desire to get a sense of the Bears game experience, so that I could document it for those who may have never had the opportunity or inclination to see it for themselves.
It sure took me a while to get there! The (beautiful!) drive from Salem took a good four hours, and will be documented in a future post. And then, once I finally got to Yakima proper, I realized that the address I had was not for the stadium but for the Bears administrative office. Next door to this Bears business hub was a building with office space for rent and, in these offices, inappropriate relationships between employees won’t just be tolerated — they’ll be encouraged!
I was momentarily flabbergasted by this signage, but recovered in time to ask a coveralls-wearing local how to get to the stadium. He told me that it was on his way home, so I might as well follow him. Five minutes later, he had guided me to the proper destination: Yakima County Stadium. (Chalk up another point in the “kindness of strangers” category. I find that while on the road and here in NYC, people are much more inclined to be thoughtful and decent than any behaviors to the contrary.)
Located beyond the stadium are what I, being from the Northeast, would call “mountains.” But to those in the Northwest, they are simply “hills.”
The first order of business was to conduct a few player interviews with the trusty FlipCam, and this time around the victims were pitcher Blake Perry and outfielders Joe Loftus and Michael Lang.
Lang’s interview apparently suffered from poor audio quality, to the extent that it was not posted on MiLB.com. But he’s got a great story — played collegiate ball at Rutgers, went undrafted, joined a local semi-pro team, contacted every independent team in search of a job and then, finally, landed a spot on the roster of the Sioux City Explorers after all of their outfielders got married in the offseason and decided not to return. He hit over .400 in Sioux City, and was eventually signed by the Diamondbacks organization and sent to Yakima to begin his professional career. You gotta root for the guy:
Loftus had a great story as well, and that one did get some play on MiLB.com. Read all about it, and then check out all of the additional road trip content in the sidebar! But if you’re not inclined to do so, here’s the jist of it: after a poor start to the season, Loftus finally hit his first professional home run in Salem-Keizer on July 14th. The ball was retrieved by a traveling couple from Illinois who, after doing some research, discovered that it was Loftus’ first home run. They then sent him the ball, along with a photo and a nice note (all of which Loftus keeps in his locker).
After the barrage of interviews I embarked on a short stadium tour with general manager K.L. Wombacher. K.L.’s time with the club dates back to a 2001 internship, and from there he worked his way up to the top spot (and, along the way, met his wife, Lauren, now the team’s director of merchandise). He and his family will be making the move to Hillsboro to launch the franchise there; these waning days of the 2012 season are truly the end of an era for him as well.
But anyway, I seem to be especially verbose in this post and for that I apologize. “Nice pics!” is the number one comment that this blog receives, and I’ve gotta dance with who brung me. So here ya go – pictures! About 45 minutes before the first pitch, this was the scene in the picnic areas.
While, out on the field, the scene was much more sedate.
The press box? In addition to being sedate, it offered a prime
mountain hill view.
We soon returned to ground level, where signs of life were observed both in the dugout and on the field.
Also observed: dimensional quirks! At Yakima County Stadium, it is only 293 feet down the left and right field lines. Over in right field, a member of the visiting Boise Hawks was looking at the fence and making gesture which I interpreted as “293 feet? Are you kidding me, bro?”
In left field, the same deal.
Wombacher explained that the short porches were simply the result of having to shoehorn the stadium into a tight location. A horse racing track used to be located beyond the outfield fence, and the short porch isn’t the only reminder of those days. A water tower peeks up over the right-center field fence, and when races were going on a track employee would climb up the ladder in order to signal to the umpire to call time until the horses came around the bend (out of concern that a home run ball would injure one of them).
While it would seem that 293-foot fences would automatically qualify a stadium as a hitter’s park, this isn’t really the case. The fences jut out to more established professional distances with utmost rapidity, so save for the odd cheap shot down the line Yakima County Stadium doesn’t offer any real advantages to those swinging the lumber.
“It gets out to 340 [feet] in a hurry, and the power alleys are 360-plus,” said Wombacher. “This is a pitcher’s park, no question about it. The [Yakima single-season] home run record is 16.”
At this point the fans were filing in and the players were in the dugouts, more or less ready to go.
What could drag these creatures of habit out of the dugout but this, the National Anthem?
Boomer: a proud American bear.
And now what was left to do but play another nine innings (or more!) of our proud American game? The next post will cover the events that ensued over the following three hours and 16 minutes in front of a crowd of 1,681, the ninth-to-last regular-season home game in Yakima Bears history.
I just wrote a big two paragraph introduction that, upon further reflection, was little more than anxiety-ridden self-indulgence. Who needs that noise? Forget all that, and let’s get to the good stuff. We now join this blog post, already in progress.
So many things have happened! Are happening! Will happen! All the time! I don’t know where to begin, but I do know when.
Last month, I gave ample virtual ink to the Stockton Ports’ “Presidential Seat Cushion” giveaway.
As I wrote at the time:
One side of the cushion features presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, while the other is of Democratic incumbent Barack Obama. And the fans are being asked to sit on the face of the candidate that they do not support.
The promotion got a robust media response, and when the gates opened the fans were ready for some face sitting action. This elderly woman was handed her seat cushion by a banana:
On the other side of the age spectrum was this young fella, now traumatized for life due to prolonged exposure to presidential seat cushion caricature.
Meanwhile, this crew was all over the political spectrum.
Another notable June promotion, and one that I also featured prominently in Promo Preview, was the Frederick Keys’ “Six Months to the End of the World Night.” As the name would imply, it was an evening of apocalyptic proportions.
To the images!
Zombies abounded at the ballpark — as promotions manager Brandon Apter noted “We’re going to keep the emphasis on family fun, but that’s not very easy when there’s blood all over your face.”
“Take Me Out to the Ballbrain”
And how’s this for a deliciously morbid between-inning promotion? A “last meal” eating contest.
Apocalyptic imagery has been everywhere in recent weeks. If you haven’t seen this terrifying/hilarious video of a Tennessee Smokies tarp pull gone awry, then it’s well worth the short time it will take to rectify that.
122,000 views and counting for “Tarp-Nami” — and no one got hurt!
And then there was the storm that swept through Yakima on July 8, which wreaked havoc throughout the stadium. Boise Hawks broadcaster Mike Safford was a witness to the carnage, and sent along the following email:
Here is a look at Yakima’s BP cage after it took a wild ride down the street in last night’s thunderstorm…
It was found on Pacific Avenue in Yakima after the storm.
I’m not sure that anyone could have curtailed a calamitous event such as the above — not even Spiderman. Last I saw that guy, he was wandering around the visiting dugout during a Charlotte Knights game.
“So many blog topics, so little time” is shaping up to be a pretty good tombstone epitaph for yours truly. But as long as I’m residing in the land of the living, Sisyphean struggles to mitigate the content glut will continue unabated. So here ya go: a random array of Minor League pictures and videos.
Let’s start with the scene in Reading this past Tuesday. Despite a bit of controversy, the R-Phils’ fan base proffered a heartily enthusiastic response to the evening’s “Ryan Howard Garden Gnome” giveaway.
The line outside of FirstEnergy Stadium, before the gates opened.
The gnomes, awaiting distribution:
Moving on from beards to the mustache, the Everett Aquasox pitching staff recently dedicated themselves to the fervent cultivation of upper lip hair. The results, in extreme close-up:
Another recent event of note in the Pacific Northwest was the pitcher’s mound wedding of hurler Corey Davisson. Read all about it HERE. (warning:adorable photos contained therein).
Less adorable, but more hilarious, are Class A baseball players dancing with surprising sincerity to the Clinton era’s pre-eminent boy band. This masterpiece was the highlight of the Peoria Chiefs’ recent “90s Night” promotion:
While this was the lowlight:
A pop culture celebration of more recent vintage recently occurred in Lexington, as the Legends staged a “Jersey Shore Night” promotion. The beat got beat up:
But after the beat-up comes the beatdown. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan visited Hickory recently, where he did all he could to make sure that Conrad didn’t win the mascot race. A truly brilliant snapshot, this is:
But even Hacksaw wouldn’t be able to stop the menagerie of characters that grace the cover of the Toledo Mud Hens upcoming comic book giveaway (scheduled for August 12). This is, truly, a work of art:
Or is there?
As many teams are pointing out via various social networking applications, Opening Day is only 94 days away. In my own world of self-contained, obsessive-compulsive rituals, this means that there are 94 days until my next haircut.
But that is neither here nor there (it is “hair”). What is “here” is that the holidays are over and my benevolent overseers expect me to work on a regular basis. So
hair here goes!
I’m going to start 2010 with — what else — a team-produced video. This, which escaped my attention when it was first released, comes courtesy of the Yakima Bears. Witness the “Superfans” of Yakima, hardy denizens of the Pacific Northwest who have nonetheless mastered the proletariat patois of the Second City:
And speaking of the Second City, the Chicago-area Kane County Cougars have posted what I believe is the best mascot photo to come down the pike in at least three weeks. Behold, Ozzie, a young girl, and a boa constrictor:
You know what I haven’t done for a while? Post videos, that’s what. Time for a rectification of that situation…
Regular readers of this blog may remember this post from last June, in which I linked to the Erie SeaWolves’ “Smith’s Sausage Shack” video.
Well, I happened to visit the SeaWolves homepage earlier this afternoon, and the video is STILL receiving prominent placement on their home page. Now, I am compelled to give it prominent placement as well. Enjoy.