The Off-Season- Part One: Time to relax… right?

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:

http://www.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20140911&content_id=94184934&fext=.jsp&vkey=news_t525&sid=t525

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.

PNC Park from the club level.

PNC Park from the club level.

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.

Former Power outfielder Starling Marte during Q&A with the students.

Former Power outfielder Starling Marte during Q&A with the students (2009 alum).

The Pirates donated over $40,000 in school supplies to Banksville Elementary.  It was a very cool event to see and help with.

Big time now... Former Power outfielder Gregory Polanco (2012).

Big time now… Former Power outfielder Gregory Polanco (2012).

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.

Pretty sure Bubby Brister was sacked a few times in this general vicinity.

Pretty sure Bubby Brister was sacked a few times in this general vicinity.

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.

Our 2014 award winner between Josh Bell and Jon Schwind (all three played for the Power in 2013).

Our 2014 award winner between Josh Bell and Jon Schwind (all three played for the Power in 2013).

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.

FORE!  Because there was a slim chance it was a four on the scorecard.

FORE! Because there was a slim chance it was a four on the scorecard.

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!).

Walking over the Clemente Bridge towards PNC Park prior to the 2014 NL Wild Card game.

Walking over the Clemente Bridge towards PNC Park prior to the 2014 NL Wild Card game.

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.

If you like relaxing and that sort of thing...

If you like relaxing and that sort of thing…

I’ll never have another bad day.

Cue the Boys II Men…

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.

Can't resist this place.

Can’t resist this place.

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.  

Eat there... if you can find it.

Eat there… if you can find it.

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.

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How beer is made...

How beer is made…

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.

Craft brews selections from Lexington Brewing and Distillery.

Craft brews selections from Lexington Brewing and Distillery.

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).

Wheel. Of. Bourbon.

Wheel. Of. Bourbon.

How spirits are made...

How spirits are made…

Each of their four brands of spirits go through the distilling process.

Each of their four brands of spirits go through the distilling process.

Pretty fancy digs for a booze factory.

Pretty fancy digs for shine making…  Wait.  This kind is legal.

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.

I vote delicious.

I vote delicious.

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.  

We meet again.

The Windy Corner Market is just five miles from the hotel… out in horse country.

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:

The ZOOperStars Harry Canary at Appalachian Power Park.  And yes... he "sings."

The ZOOperStars Harry Canary at Appalachian Power Park. And yes… he “sings.”

I’ll never have another bad day.

Back on the wagon… Or is it off the wagon?

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…

Pecan pie from Troy's in Rome, GA... more to come.

Pecan pie from Troy’s in Rome, GA… more to come.

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!

Mahi bowl at Lakewood's Surf Taco Stand

Mahi bowl at Lakewood’s Surf Taco Stand

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.

Gyro plate from Sarah's Kabob Shop.

Gyro plate from Sarah’s Kabob Shop.

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

Root Beer sauced brisket at EVO Public House

Root Beer sauced brisket at EVO Public House

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.

Duck confit-topped burger at WVO

Duck confit-topped burger at WVO

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”. 

Rome's famous BBQ sundae.

Rome’s famous BBQ sundae.

They also have a food truck outside with Philly cheese steak or chicken flatbreads. 

Available with homemade chips and gooey cheese.

Available with homemade chips and gooey cheese.  Yes please.

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).

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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.

Shrimp and Grits from First Watch in our home city.

Shrimp and Grits from First Watch in our home city.

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?

That there is a cheesecake canoli.

That there is a cheesecake canoli.

I’ll never have another bad day.

Amore in Rome…

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.

Smooth.

Smooth.

“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.”

Where are the romance Cokes? Why is that restricted to heart-shaped chalk candy?

Where are the romance Cokes? Why is that restricted to heart-shaped chalk candy?

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:

Message received... except I was alone and had 3G.

Message received… except I was alone and had 3G.

Inside the Moon.

Inside the Moon.

One of their specialties is the shrimp and grits and who am I to refuse that.

With a side of sweet potato souffle.

With a side of sweet potato souffle.

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

Jamwich would be perfect on Charleston's Est End.

Jamwich would be perfect on Charleston’s Est End.

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.

Who knew jam and lunch meat played so well together?  Jamwich did.

Who knew jam and lunch meat played so well together? Jamwich did.

Get Jamwiched!

I will now be putting jam on everything.  And I’ll never have another bad day.

 

Time to make the donuts…

Some days, Minor League Baseball really does feel like this classic 1980’s commercial…

Life in Minor League Baseball- 1983 Dunkin’ Donuts version

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.

IMG_3977

How Saturday started? Calls began at 10 am about the status of a game we hoped to play at 7.

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.

photo 1 (1)

Honorary Power manager Mick Foley- Have a nice day!

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.

IMG_7403

Which one is the bigger fan of Dude Love?

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:

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Burn motor, scooter. Burn! (Friends of the Toast know that that line makes sense).

I’ll never have another bad day. photo 2 (1)

First things first…

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.

UNC Bell Tower

UNC Bell Tower

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…

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UNC hoops creedo

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Center court at the Smith Center (Dean Dome to the rest of us)

photo 5 (3)

MJ’s team

photo 1 (3)

1982 championship ring

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Yeah… That guy.

Coach K's letter to MJ after Jordan picked the rival

Coach K’s letter to MJ after Jordan picked the rival

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.

photo 5

#justtwodudesoneofwhomisaformerSteeleranditisnottheoneontheright

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?

In this version of the story... nothing but net.

In this version of the story… nothing but net.

I’ll never have another bad day.

On the move…

For old posts, please check out the original Minor League Kerouac blog:

MinorLeagueKerouac.Blogspot.com

Coming soon… My first new post to my old blog at its new site.

Got all that?

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