Eats, M's, Minor Leagues, Oddity

Yard Goats vs. Thunder

I came to Hartford solely because of the novelty of their team’s name – the Yard Goats. Like other unusual minor league team names, it was the result of a contest. It is a slang term for a rail yard worker, but that has no connection to this team or its ballpark.

So I was a bit surprised when a good game broke out. The game was scoreless until the ninth – a real pitchers duel, including one inning when the Thunder loaded the bases with no outs and didn’t score. And there were some terrific defensive plays by both teams.

Hartford is affiliated with the Rockies and Trenton (the Thunder) with the Yankees. They play in the AA Eastern League and the quality of play was on par with AAA or MLB ball. The Thunder finally scored two in the top of the ninth, but the Goats came back with a solo homer and then a single, but it ended there, 2-1 for the Thunder.

Dunkin’ Donuts paid for the naming rights to the ballpark, which was supposed to open in 2016, but construction delays forced the Goats to play their entire ’16 season on the road. It opened last year and apparently draws good crowds. When I stopped in the early afternoon to buy my ticket, the first answer was the game was sold out. The clerk then corrected himself and did find me a ticket, but the crowd for the game was robust.

Game time temperature was 81 degrees, so for the whole tour, only one game (Winston-Salem) started below 80.

No name oddities this time, but I did note that the Thunder carry the son of former Mariner disaster reliever, Jose Mesa, otherwise known as “Joe Table” (the literal translation of the name, and he regularly set the table for opposing batters). Junior is also a pitcher.

I tried to get a good picture of the team name on a uniform and what I ended up with was this one of a batter who twirled his bat after each pitch.

I could not face another ballpark hotdog or BBQ sandwich so I looked (in vain) for a salad or something with a lower salt quotient. Nothing. The only vegetables were the pickles and kraut on the condiment table. So I tried a bag of peanuts – wouldn’t you know – it was “peanut-free” night! There was a “donut dog” on offer, but that just seemed way too wrong.

The only real oddity (and you’d have to go to a lot of ballgames to consider it such) was the singing of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. That practice ended several years ago. Then one of the announcers sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while the crowd sat. Quite different.

Oh yes, and the goats. In a pen on the outfield concourse. Precious.

So this year’s tour is over except for the Hall of Fame, and that will happen on Sunday. Stay tuned.

Advertisements
Standard
Eats, Minor Leagues

Keys vs. Nationals

Well, it happened again – rainout in the bottom of the fifth! And rain is forecast for tomorrow night in New York and Friday night in Hartford. I may have to rename this the Heat/Humidity/Rain Tour.

This was another Advanced A Carolina League game between the Frederick (Md.) Keys, named after Frederick County native Francis Scott Key, affiliated with the Orioles, and the Potomac Nationals of Woodbridge, Va., affiliated with, guess who?

The Keys play their home games at Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium. Harry Grove was a baseball pioneer in the area and Nymeo is a local credit union. The stadium is modest by comparison with the Winston-Salem palace. Perhaps the credit union isn’t as flush as BB & T bank.

The most distinctive feature of the stadium is the fence. The distances are conventional (325 at the corners and 400 in center), but the fence is 25 feet high. Or so I thought, until the Keys hit back-to-back dingers in the third inning. Then, upon asking some questions and looking closer, I saw that the lower fence was about 4-5 feet in front of the upper one. A local told me that on occasion, one of the hitters will even clear the high fence.

Although the fence has lots of ads, I was unable to spot one that was odd or inappropriate.

Despite the rain later, the evening started well with a game time temperature of 87 degrees. It didn’t cool off much when the rain came, but no doubt will before it is done.

It was another “names” game too. The Nats have a pitcher named Joan Baez. He is either Brazilian or a ground-breaking woman starting her second career at age 77. Their manager’s name is Tripp Keister – there has to be a punchline there, but I just can’t find it. The Keys have a Christian Turnipseed (could there be a Muslim or Jewish counterpart?). They also have Rafael Palmiero’s son, Preston, who hit one of the homers in the third. I trust he will not follow his father’s drug regimen.

Finally to the eats. The prices were decidedly big league, but, this being Maryland, I fell for the crab cake sandwich and it wasn’t bad. Lots of meat, though no garnish, save for the thick and spicy potato chips, which were quite good. Once again, I got started before remembering to take the snap.

The Keys were ahead 7-2 in the bottom of the fifth, so if the rain doesn’t stop, it will be an official game. I’m not waiting around.

Standard
Eats, M's, Minor Leagues, Oddity

Dash vs. Mudcats

Game time temp – 77 degrees. Holy moly – at this rate, I’ll need my parka for Hartford!

These two teams play in the Advanced A Carolina League. The Winston-Salem Dash have long been affiliated with the White Sox and the Carolina Mudcats (Zebulon, N.C.) are now with the Brewers. It was a good game, but the skill level was not up to AA standards.

For me, the coolest aspect of the evening was that the Dash is (are?) managed by former Mariner and All Star shortstop, Omar Vizquel. And there he is, coaching third base when the Dash bat.

BB & T Ballpark (named by and for BB & T, a Winston-Salem based bank – it stands for “Branch Banking and Trust Company” – no wonder they shortened it!) opened in 2010 is very snappy. It has luxury suites, an upper deck, a wide concourse and a seating capacity of 5,500. It seems very ritzy for a Single A league, but I guess the bank can afford it.

The game entered the fifth inning tied at one and there were a few raindrops before the top half ended. Most of the fans took cover for the bottom half, when the Dash quickly scored two runs to take the lead. That was it, because the heavens opened and before long, the field was a lake.

After the tarp was rolled out

The most unusual aspect to the evening was the entry, before the game started, from the left field gate onward to the first base side of 45 kids wearing purple shirts and (many of them) yarmulkes. Huh? In North Carolina? So I had to go talk with them. Turns out, they are from “Camp4Ever,” a New York area program for Jewish kids who have a parent with cancer or who died from cancer. It is a two week road trip for the kids, at no expense to them, to give them a break from the stress of their family situation. And they were enthusiastic!

After the rain started, they gathered on the concourse and sang, did cheers and chants and generally had a good time. Better yet, they cheered up everyone else who was hoping, vainly, for more baseball. I was impressed.

I must confess that I skipped the ballpark food. I was hungry when I got to town and so scouted out the best local barbeque, since North Carolina claims some bragging rights in that arena. The place is, appropriately, called Mr. Barbeque. It wasn’t far from the ballpark, and I enjoyed a platter of ribs (the meat literally fell off the bones) and what they call the chop (fairly finely chopped pork). Good thing, too, because the food at the park was ho hum, but the prices were big league.

Standard
Eats, History, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Biscuits vs. Generals

There was no sign of the previous night’s storm when we left New Orleans, headed east and north to Montgomery. Despite the fact that we skirted the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline, we rarely saw the ocean. Instead, it was mostly miles of kudzu.

When we arrived in Montgomery, we went first to the state Capitol, the focal point of so much of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.

Next came the Legacy Museum, which opened in April. It was conceived and built by Bryan Stevenson, a truly remarkable man I had the pleasure of meeting and the honor of sharing a podium with several years ago at an ABA conference when I was working on a death penalty case. Bryan has made a career of such work through the organization he founded here in Montgomery, Equal Justice Initiative. If you want a real flavor of his genius, read his book, Just Mercy. I highly recommend it. The museum is almost overwhelming it is so powerful a portrait of slavery and its legacy. If you get anywhere near this part of the country, be sure to stop. We will go to the Memorial tomorrow. You can see pictures of it on the website.

Finally, the ball game. Well, almost. On the way to the ballpark, we first smelled, then saw Dreamland Barbeque. We only had 30 minutes, so we asked if we could get some food to take to the game. They told us we wouldn’t be allowed to take their food into the park, but after telling us the ridiculous prices for not-very-good ballpark food, they guaranteed us they could feed us and get us out their door in time for the first pitch. They did, and it was really, really good. Pulled pork and sausage and an unusual BBQ sauce that was not sweet, but had a nice piquancy that really enhanced the meat. Add mac and cheese and slaw and we were happy, to say the least.

The game featured the home town Montgomery Biscuits hosting the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals. The Biscuits are affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Generals with the Diamondbacks in the AA Southern League. The Biscuits ballpark is called Riverwalk Stadium (though there is not a single indication of the name anywhere on the premises) and it is next to the Alabama River, though the river can’t be seen from the park (only railroad tracks). That’s fitting, since the stadium is a refurbished train station. It is quite lovely, and one of the locals told us it is consistently voted one of the top minor league stadiums in the country.

Game time temperature: 91 degrees. And, to my chagrin, they have the cursed Chick-fil-A foul poles, though the lettering on these was black, so one of my complaints vanished. (The violation of baseball propriety still stands!)

Though we didn’t partake, some of the culinary offerings were regional and eponymous.

We did indulge in one offering – a brownie sundae – made with chocolate ice cream. I gave away the cherry (and maybe took a bite of the brownie) before I remembered to take the picture, but it was good, especially on a hot night.

Montgomery was just one game out of first in their division coming into the game, with the Generals trailing them by a game. This game was tight and well played, with the Generals eking out a 3-2 victory. The Biscuits, in their game program, featured Nate Lowe, who was recently promoted from Single A Port Charlotte, where I saw him play (with his brother Josh) in May during my Florida tour.

Nate Lowe

The Biscuits mascot was a puzzle. Their team gear features a smiling biscuit, but the mascot is called “Big Mo” for no apparent reason. It looks to some like a rusty brown elephant, to others like an anteater or maybe an aardvark. One fan said it was a “biscuit eating beast.”

Standard
Eats, Minor Leagues, Oddity

Baby Cakes vs. Rainiers

There was no particular reason to come to New Orleans, but given the general route of the trip, it seemed necessary to stop in to see the most ridiculously named team in all of baseball. That name came about because some of the high sheriffs of the AAA affiliate of the Marlins decided to hold a public contest to rename the team that for years had been known as the Zephyrs (a pretty cool name, if you ask me). The winner of that contest last year was “Baby Cakes” and now they have to live with it. It was not without controversy. See https://protect-us.mimecast.com/s/DnIwCERPWJf6mEJ3TNfxmD?domain=theadvocate.com

The ballpark is now apparently known as the “Shrine on Airline,” but you couldn’t tell that by looking around. Like the team, it used to be called Zephyr Park. The name is nowhere to be found. For AAA ball, it isn’t a particularly impressive and the crowd was surprisingly small, perhaps because game-time temperature was 93 degrees and perhaps the ‘Cakes (as they’re called) are last in their division.

Here’s the only baseball-related name to be found in the stadium.

Speaking of names, some of the ‘Cakes swag bears the letters NOLA (for New Orleans, La. – get it?) and their catcher bears the name Austin Nola. Wonder if that’s how he got on the team?

Nola

The theme for the game was Harry Potter Night, and it came replete with owl and several silly contests, mostly for kids. It ended on what seemed to me to be an appropriate note, though I know nothing about Harry Potter. More on that later.

Apparently Chick-fil-A has invaded the South because the foul poles here, just as in Arlington and Houston, bore their ads. Ugh!

The ‘Cakes put on an offensive show in the third. With two out, a man on they hit, consecutively, a triple, double and home run to score five. As some light rain started, Tacoma (the RAINiers!) rallied in the seventh to score three, just before the game was called on account of some very dramatic lightning, thunder and torrential rain that continued for well over an hour. We didn’t wait for the obvious (the game ended in the 7th at 5-3) but left to find flooded streets and slow going back to our hotel. See what I mean about Harry Potter?

We were looking forward to some authentic N. O. food at the ballpark and were encouraged to see po’ boys and jambalaya on the menu. We chose the latter (along with the not-so-local Leinenkugel’s summer shandy). It had some chicken, very little sausage, forgettable seasoning and a somewhat dry texture. I was disappointed enough that I had to finish it off with a dog.

Standard
Eats, M's, Minor Leagues, Travel

Reno Aces vs. Tacoma Rainiers

Reno

After a smoky drive from Klamath Falls (much of it at and above 5,000 feet), I arrived in Reno with plenty of time to fully prepare for the evening’s game. Unfortunately, remember what I said about car trouble? Well it happened in the form of a minor fender bender – no injuries, but some mechanical issues that I’m praying will be resolved tomorrow morning with no interruption in the schedule. The folks who diagnosed the problem were incredible – got right on it, spent a good deal of time and effort, referred me to a specialist and absolutely refused to take any payment. Don’t forget that there are good people all around.

But no real baseball fan can let a little thing like a car accident get in the way of a game. So naturally, I showed up at Greater Nevada Field to see the Aces take on the Rainiers. This is the AAA Pacific Coast League, once considered a rival to the big leagues (when it was actually limited to the Pacific Coast). The Aces are affiliated with the Diamondbacks and the Rainiers with the Mariners. Some of the Rainiers starters have actually seen time with the M’s this year.

But this was names night. I first saw the best-named player in professional baseball a couple of years ago when he was up with the D’Backs in Phoenix – Socrates Brito. Here he is in right field and at the plate. (He hit a dinger just for me!)

Then there were these two Aces standing together during the national anthem. You can’t make this stuff up.

The ballpark is simply beautiful – carefully groomed and well appointed and relatively new (built in 2009), with a capacity of 9,100. Fortunately, virtually all of the third base side is in the shade, which is important when game time temperature is 98 degrees. Did I mention Heat/Humidity Tour?

And then there were eats. A variety of sausages and dogs, pot stickers and spring rolls, cheesesteak, a number of vegetarian items, including, of all things, a caprese sandwich. And one specialty I’ve never seen in a ballpark before – caramel apples! But once again, a dog bit me. I was leaning toward a “Krautdog,” but when I learned I could put kraut on my choice, it was game over. Here it is, a bacon-wrapped foot-long hot dog! (The kraut was added after the picture – and please notice that it was so big I couldn’t even get it all in the picture.) This one vaulted to number one on the all-time hot dog list.

Standard
Eats, History, Minor Leagues, Travel

Klamath Falls vs. San Francisco

After a couple of boring hours on I-5 to Eugene, I thankfully turned east on Hwy 58 toward Oakridge. The drive from there up and over Willamette Pass (5100 feet), past Lake Odell and Diamond Peak, with glimpses of scenic and sparkling Salt Creek is quite simply beautiful. Then it is a straight shot south, past the massive Upper Klamath Lake, into Klamath Falls, the first stop on this year’s tour.

My welcome there was not what I had expected. Because of forest fires in the area, most motels were fully occupied by firefighters and those that had space were asking (and apparently getting) double their normal rates. I did find one with a friendly manager who took pity on an old baseball fan and gave me a break on the rate. Turned out I was just a short walk from the ballpark.

This game wasn’t even professional baseball. It was between the Klamath Falls Gems and the San Francisco Seals of the Great West League, a summer collegiate wood bat league. The players are all in college and this league (and others like it) is designed to provide a program for them to improve their skills during the summer. By the way, that Seals name is a venerable one – harking back to one of the original teams of the Pacific Coast League at its founding in 1903.

The game was played at Kiger Stadium, one of just two remaining all wood stadiums in the country. It is tired. One might even say dilapidated. Parts of the outfield grass were brown. The rafters were decorated with pigeon droppings, deposited by birds clearly not intimidated by the several wooden owls hanging from the under side of the roof. That feature may be what kept the crowd small – I counted about 60 at game time. There were so few people that I found a foul ball in the parking lot when I left.

In keeping with the amateur nature of the event, the players groomed the field, laid out the foul lines, hosed down that part of the infield not covered by the in-ground sprinklers, a feature I’ve not seen in any other ballpark anywhere. In the same vein, apparently the team does not have a laundry service because some players sported already dirty uniforms before any baseball was played. They also shagged foul balls (no bat boy).

The first inning was scruffy, with some errors and all around amateur play, but then calmed down. The teams traded home runs (perhaps made a bit easier by the 4100 foot elevation and the short fence – 325 feet at the corners and 385 in center) and the score was tied at 3 and again at 6. The Gems got a run in the top of the 8th to go ahead, but couldn’t hold it, losing 8-7 after giving up two runs in the top of the 9th.

Some have proposed that I must eat a hot dog every night on this tour because it is “integral to baseball,” and that I should rate them to determine the best of the tour. I fear salt poisoning. However, I did start with a dog, and I can say confidently that it will not make the list. It took forever to cook (I suspect it came out of the freezer when I ordered it) and the condiments were in packets. Need I say more?

Oh yes, and game time temperature was 90 degrees. So the tour is aptly named.

Standard