The most common question I get from September through March is something along the lines of “what do you do down there all day during the off-season?” It is a valid question. On one hand… Days in September are spent on Netflix, Hulu, etc, catching up on some shows or movies that I missed for one reason or another. On the other hand… Work does (eventually) start getting done. We have off-season events at the park like a charity baseball game or our annual Trick-or-Treat night… More to come on that. Of course, we also start selling and planning for next year too.
The biggest news this off-season, outside of the Power re-upping with the Pittsburgh Pirates for four more years is, no doubt, our new field. This is a lengthy process that started long before the season ended, but the renovations began in early October. I’ve taken a few pictures each day to show the progress, and those will soon see the light of day. I can show you some of these pics I’ve taken with my iPhone to forward on to friends and Power manager Michael Ryan.
The company that did the resurfacing has also done several other minor league parks as well as both major outdoor stadiums in Washington, DC. The process began by removing the old playing field at Appalachian Power Park, essentially five feet at a time. The old sod was the original turf that was installed when the park was built in 2005. Major League clubs have the ability and financial means to resurface a field every two or three years. Minor League clubs tend to replace their playing fields every eight to ten seasons.
Consider this math: An average of 67 Power games plus an average of 35 collegiate games plus nine high school state tournament games each season. That is an average of 111 games per year and put this surface at well over 1,000 since 2005. The new sod is then laid out just like the old stuff was removed: five feet at a time.
A major part of the off-season is planning for the new year. On several separate occasions, our staff met to discuss what went right and what went wrong in 2014. This conversation is held, in some form, in every Minor League Baseball front office across the country. Our first meeting was held in the Legends Club at the ballpark before a staff lunch and bowling. The second meeting was held at Adventures on the Gorge with zip-lining right after.
2014 was our tenth anniversary season and we put together a pretty stout promotional campaign. Coming off of that, I think we have some great things in the works for 2015. I don’t want to reveal the entire schedule, but I will fill you in on some of the Top Ten promotional nights that you should see during the 2015 campaign.
The upcoming year marks the 25th anniversary of the Charleston Wheelers South Atlantic League Championship. It looks like we will do a celebration our franchise’s only league title in late April, full with an appearance or giveaway and replica Wheelers jerseys.
Popular staples like Redneck Night, Chuck’s Birthday and Back-to-School Night will return. After the success of Wrestling Night last year with Mrs. Foley’s little boy, I think it is safe to say that is coming back as well. I had a brilliant idea, and yes I’m biased, but I think there is a theme night coming based on one of my favorite movies. I won’t give it away, but I’ll throw this out there.
On October 30, we held our ninth annual Trick-or-Beat event. We partner with 98.7 The Beat, a local radio station, and invite kids out to the ballpark to trick-or-treat in a safe and well-lit environment. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone as Captain America or David Beckham. This year… a hockey player. Or as the kids called me “hockey man.”
Yes… that is just make-up and I did not fall while on the roller blades. I’ll never have another bad day.
Once the season ends, life regains some normalcy for an employee of a Minor League Baseball team. The Power were eliminated from playoff contention late in the second half, so that allows staff members to start planning their early off-season schedule. Looking back on the season for a year-end review was certainly interesting. Feel free to read the official recap here:
On September 16 and 17, I had my first opportunity of the year to go to PNC Park and watch the Pirates play. Every season, the Minor League players in the Pirates system participate in the club’s Community Committment Program, which is a fancy title for community service. On those two days in September, the big league club brings all the affiliates’ award winners (most community service time… usually) to Pittsburgh and honor those players. The Pirates require all of their Minor League players to perform at least ten hours per season. Our 2014 award winner was Kawika Emsley-Pai, who led all Power players with over 27 hours of service. Each farm team also can send a front office representative. I had the good fortune of representing the Power for the festivities.
Tuesday was just a simple trip to the ballpark to watch the Buccos knock of the Boston Red Sox 4-0. On Wednesday, however, the day was packed. It started with a school visit for all of Pittsburgh’s Major League roster, coaches, several front office staff members, Minor League award winners and affiliate liaisons.
The Pirates donated over $40,000 in school supplies to Banksville Elementary. It was a very cool event to see and help with.
After the visit and after lunch (on my own at Atria’s along Federal Street), we got a stadium tour and the chance to watch batting practice on the field. The best part of the tour was seeing the Pirates indoor batting cage. I know that sounds strange, but here is the kicker. The turf in the batting cage is actual turf from Three Rivers Stadium. Apparently there is still some out there that is not for sale on eBay.
I took my parents with me to the game that night and took my mother onto the field with me. She was blown away by the experience and was ready to brag that she shook Clint Hurdle’s hand when they met in the dugout. The Pirates went on to shell the Sox 9-1.
My off-season has also included a trip to Florida for a wedding. We went down to Destin early so we could have one day to relax. I golfed and my wife went to the spa. I played a second round on Friday as well. Nice courses, fast greens and unforgiving rough.
One other perk of the off-season: MLB playoff games. In 2012, we took a staff field trip to Cincinnati for game five of the National League Division Series. Last year, six of us went to PNC for the Wild Card game. A fellow staff member and I drove to PNC for the Wild Card game this season. Unfortunately the Buccos lost, but lessons will be learned I think (WIN THE DIVISION!).
Coming soon to a Minor League Kerouac blog near you… Planning for 2015 and what you can expect in year 11 of the West Virginia Power franchise.
I’ll never have another bad day.
Alright… It is not quite the “End of the Road” just yet, but it might as well be. The West Virginia Power season has exactly 13 games left as I write this offering. Our first road trip this month was to Asheville, which is a phenomenal foodie city on the rise. I opted to send my summer intern on the trip. There are a few great options within a short walk of the hotel in Asheville: Hickory Tavern, Neo Burrito and Brixx Pizza to name a few. If I sent him to Lexington, the only option is a house made out of butter and grease and waffles. So he got Asheville… and wasted it on cheap pizza and roast beef sandwiches.
Lexington is just a short trek from Charleston, so I borrowed my wife’s Subaru (37 mpg as opposed to my Toyota’s robust 22-ish) and took off for the “Horse Capital of the World.” Along the way, I stopped for lunch near the Barboursville Mall.
I’m still going low-carb, so no burrito for me. I went for a salad with carnitas and verde salsa. This should almost make up for the time, about a decade ago, when a friend and I drove 90 minutes to get Chipotle, each had a burrito there and then spent $80 on more burritos to take home. That is no joke… We really did that.
From there, it was on to UK-land. The Power and Legends played a four-game series at Whitaker Bank Ballpark and split. The Legends took game one, limiting the Power to just two hits. West Virginia saved the offense for games two and three, pounding out 15 and 18 hits and scoring a collective 22 runs between Friday and Saturday’s wins. Lexington won the finale 8-1.
Willie’s Locally Known has been one of my favorite spots to eat all season, but with one more three game trip here later this month, I did not visit this time through. Instead, I found a Greek place on Friday for lunch called the Athenian Grill. This is a top ten restaurant according to TripAdvisor.
I opted for the meatballs in marinara with a Greek Salad. Keone De Renne, our hitting coach, went along for the ride. He said he might not eat since he had Waffle House two hours earlier. I almost didn’t notice that he finished his gyro long before I was done eating. This is a hole-in-the-wall-if-you-blink-you’ll-drive-right-past-it kind of place, but well worth finding. Finding the Athenian Grill online is easier than finding the actual restaurant.
On Saturday, with all of my work taken care of after lunch Friday, I had time to tour and relax. I toured the Alltech Lexington Brewing Company. Alltech sounds like the kind of place that makes beer and spirits, right? The chemical company works primarily with yeast and animal feed, animal supplements and animal health products. It was the yeast that lead to brewing. They would showcase their yeast by using it to make beer at conventions and trade shows. And so Lexington Brewing Company was born.
The brewery is only 14 years old, but offers six craft brews that have drawn a cult following. Three of their beers are aged in old bourbon barrels. The barrels are stored in a large freezer and the wood shrinks, thus releasing bourbon that seeped into the oak. LBC makes a bourbon ale, a coffee stout, and, seasonally, a pumpkin barrel ale (plus three other non-barreled brews). Find out more about Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and LBC.
For $7, you could take an hour long tour and sample four of their ten products. In addition to the beer, they have a distillery in the plant that creates four spirits: a whiskey, a bourbon, a rye whiskey and a coffee/ bourbon liquor. I sampled two beers and three spirits (a fellow guest was getting a little too Harry Caray along the tour).
After the brewery tour, I headed over to Red State BBQ. This is the top restaurant on TripAdvisor. It was very good, but Willie’s has still not been beaten. The short story behind the name is that when the proprietor was watching election returns, he quipped to a friend that all the best barbecue comes from “red” states.
Five different sauces were available, I indeed sampled small amount of each with my low-carb lunch: brisket, pulled pork and green beans (ordered cole slaw but didn’t want to waste room actually eating it). I swear I did not inhale the BBQ at RedState.
On Sunday before the last game of the series, I made sure to stop by one of my Lexington favorites.
What I really wanted was to go back to the brewery and get another one of their Bluegrass Sundowns. The coffee liquor is mixed with hot water and heavy cream to make an Irish Coffee… minus real brewed coffee in the drink itself. But with a game that Sunday afternoon, I didn’t want to sound like this guy:
I’ll never have another bad day.
Baseball season is a tough time for a broadcaster to stay healthy (or get healthy). I learned during my first couple seasons in the industry that a person can gain 10 to 15 pounds very easily by not watching what they eat and not exercising. Very easily…
Once Lebron James said he went carb-free and the pictures surfaced on Twitter, I vowed that I would go carb-free. And then I looked at what that cut from my diet. I changed my diet vow to low-carb and I’m now shooting for 50 g per day. My plan was to try one day… and then try the next. I’m on day six as I type this and still going!
Most people, I think, would say I don’t need to lose weight. I’m not really trying this to lose weight, though I wouldn’t complain if I shed 7-10 pounds of baby fat. By baby fat, I mean all the delicacies of the 2014 Minor League Baseball season.
Warning: This post is about to turn into a flashback episode of my summer in food… All the food that didn’t make it into a Minor League Kerouac post at any point.
This blog started in 2013 to chronicle my travels. Most guys (broadcasters) spend very little of their per diem on food and pocket the rest. Players and coaches are different (as covered in this post earlier this season). I chose to spend the money allotted to me to be well fed. We travel to 13 cities that are very unique with a variety of culinary experiences.
Here are some of the dishes that didn’t make the cut… but I ate anyways!
One of my favorites and I wrote about it last summer. I actually skip the free press box food and eat this twice per trip.
While in Greensboro, a Power staff member was in town shadowing the Hoppers staff for a day. He had a car and asked where I wanted to go. I picked Sarah’s Kabob Shop… TripAdvisor’s number one restaurant in the area. Sarah’s Kebob Shop’s website
I tried a few places while in Delmarva. It was during the World Cup, so priorities were good food and multiple televisions. The brisket actually shut my jaw down for a few hours (I suffer from TMJ). After a chat with ESPN.com’s Keith Law, he suggested I go another route at EVO. A recipe of their custom ground beef, house-cured duck confit, and gruyere cheese with onion jam and a rosemary garlic aioli… and sweet potato fries.
He was absolutely right. It was like Top-Chef-meets-the-best-burger-I-may-ever-eat. More on EVO Public House
Rome had a few entries. I’ve already extolled the virtues of Harvest Moon Cafe and Jamwich. At the ballpark though, they have two notable “delights”.
They also have a food truck outside with Philly cheese steak or chicken flatbreads.
While in Rome, their broadcaster was kind enough to help me continue my best BBQ pursuit and took me to Troy’s (the best barbecue in the city I hear).
My plate consists of pulled pork BBQ, green beans, fried okra and a cornbread muffin. It was very good, but still doesn’t knock off Willie’s Almost famous in Lexington. With only Lexington left on the road this season, Willie’s has claimed the crown.
I closed the meal at Troy’s with some pecan pie. Pecawn? Pecaaan? Doesn’t matter. It’s gawn… gone.
Even when I’m home, I still over-indulge. Time to get back on the wagon… or off it. I’m registered for a half-marathon in February… and maybe a few 5K’s along the way. Time to get in shape.
Maybe one last treat though? From a great deli in Lakewood perhaps?
I’ll never have another bad day.
Amore is the Italian translation of the word “love.” Or love is the English word for amore… Something like that.
(Author’s note- the names of the innocent have been changed, but not by much.)
While in Rome (Georgia… the South Atlantic League does not actually travel across any oceans despite sounding more worldly), I did my best to have some fun and play matchmaker. Mostly just to have some fun and entertain myself. The broadcast booths at State Mutual Stadium are the baseball equivalent of a pet shop. Small spaces enclosed in glass with a window to look out. To my left beyond a sliding glass door is another broadcaster looking for a big league team to take him home. To his left is the suite level, and this is where our story begins.
For the purposes of our story, the Rome broadcaster’s name will be changed to “Ken” and the lady-friend on the other side of this story will be called “Ken’s new girlfriend.”
A gaggle of attractive young women sat in the suite next to his broadcast booth, so I thought I would have some fun. Since I am spoken for (I love my wife), I chose to use a half-inning break to help “Ken” find his soul mate and wrote this down on my game notes.
“Ken’s new girlfriend” shook her head at first and then acquiesced. The next page of my notes already had the number written down, so I turned the page and she put the number in her phone. They began texting… mostly because she needed to borrow a cell phone charger. Now… this group of women also had some men with them. And each gender provided “Ken” with some gifts. The girls gave him flowers stolen from their suite while the guys wanted to make sure “Ken” knew his place… and tried to put him there with these “friendship Cokes.”
We don’t have an end to this story, but once I am a best man at a wedding in Rome, GA, I will be sure to fill you in on the remainder of this incredible romance started by yours truly.
While in town, I sampled a few great local restaurants. While the Power were in Hickory the series prior, I went to Chipotle twice. Not gourmet, mind you, but always awesome nonetheless. In Rome, I first went to Harvest Moon Cafe. They greet you with a clear mandate:
One of their specialties is the shrimp and grits and who am I to refuse that.
It was a very good dish and the inclusion of bacon was an excellent choice for flavor. The grits were slightly more soupy that I prefer, but it was still very well worth the selection. Find out more on this cool cafe with a top notch craft brew selection on the internet: Harvest Moon Cafe
On Monday, I went to Jamwich; a creative sandwich shop with an eclectic menu that puts jam (shocker) on their fare. I took the manager’s advice and tried the sandwich that put them on the map. The Orange Turkey has peppercorn turkey, thick-cut pork bacon, smoked gouda, bib lettuce and cranberry-orange jam.
I will now be putting jam on everything. And I’ll never have another bad day.
Some days, Minor League Baseball really does feel like this classic 1980’s commercial…
The day-to-day life can be a grind (you know… like life everywhere else!). There are some days though, like July 19, that can be exhilarating. It was Wrestling Night and our rescheduled Organ Donation Night. It always seems to rain when we do an Organ Donation Night (or Faith and Family Night for that matter). Plenty of credit needs to go to CAMC for consistently sponsoring Organ Donation Night, even though it ALWAYS rains when we try to do it. Saturday’s start was no different than any other attempt.
Wrestling Night, on the other hand, is an occasional promotion we do in West Virginia. Jerry “The King” Lawler made an appearance a few years back to decent results, so we planned to bring Wrestling Night back. When working on appearances, you go through handlers or talent agents. That is the typical course of action. Getting WWE Hall-of-Famer Mick Foley was not handled in the typical fashion. I talked with a promoter for an hour in December and got nowhere. The promoter pushed a few fan favorites, but it wasn’t the right one to move the needle. We wanted Mick. While on the phone with the promoter, I was texting with Gabe Sinicropi in Williamsport. The Crosscutters had a Foley appearance a few years back and Gabe gave me Mick’s number. Not the agent… not a handler. His actual cell number. After a few texts and a contracted agreement with Mrs. Foley’s little boy’s comedy representative, we were all set.
And Mick crushed it. Fans were lined up around the corner to get in like it was WVU v. Oklahoma on the football field. The 49-year-old doesn’t move as well as he used to, but was game for everything. A ceremonial first pitch. A karaoke battle against Ben Hill from Ben’s Biz Blog (Read Ben’s work here). Leading the seventh inning stretch. And signing every single autograph that people wanted signed… even the guy who works at Kroger who likes like a mirrored image of Cactus Jack himself.
It turned out to be a great night with an announced crowd of 4,455. Apparently, the Toastman also had a good night. No burns from this incident:
I’m a realist. I know there are hundreds of top blogs available to peruse regarding Minor League Baseball and the prospects that fill the industry. This blog is not that. Minor League Kerouac was established to give readers and fans a behind-the scenes look at what I see on a daily (weekly) basis. In the archives of Minor League Kerouac over at Blogspot.com, you will find posts about ballparks, promotions and most definitely… food. Occasionally I will post about baseball and our players. That is, however, rare.
And yes… I just misquoted “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea. That is the jam of the summer.
On to the real business at hand… The first Minor League Kerouac post on its new home.
During a recent trip to Greensboro, I had the chance to head over to Chapel Hill and tour the University of North Carolina. Growing up, my collegiate affiliations varied. First… I loved Notre Dame. Then I hated it (silver-spoon-we-deserve-everything-because-we-are-Notre-Dame-and-you-aren’t mentality). My oldest sister went to Penn State, so I cheered for the Nittany Lions. North Carolina and Duke, however, have always held a place in my heart for some reason. Michael Jordan led me to follow UNC, while Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Coach K drew me in to Duke. For a short while over a decade ago, I lived in North Carolina and was forced to choose between the two during my days as a sports talk show host. I picked Duke, but still… UNC was there. This tour was a great behind-the-scenes look at the athletic facilities, which are most definitely top notch. It was a history lesson while almost being treated as a prospective athlete for one of their top programs. For example, when touring the soccer facility, you are overwhelmed by the caliber of players they have had over the years. Most notably the women’s team stars like Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly. They are overwhelmed with titles and trophies, to the point where their case is full and they have ACC and National Championship trophies displayed… on the floor. No slight to any other sport, but when you go to Chapel Hill, you want to see the basketball stuff. And we did…
We also had a tour of the football facility, led by former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Corey Holiday. I resisted the temptation to talk to him about countless numbers of drops while in the Black and Gold. My friends from PA couldn’t believe either part of that statement.
It was a great tour and a chance I would not have gotten otherwise. Almost makes me want to use some of my remaining eligibility and apply to play something at UNC. Does the soccer team need a 35-year-old goalkeeper? How about Roy Williams… need a 5’7 version of Ed Cota minus any basketball ability whatsoever?
I’ll never have another bad day.
For old posts, please check out the original Minor League Kerouac blog:
Coming soon… My first new post to my old blog at its new site.
Got all that?