Thursday, July 31, 2014

Presidential Pathways: #17, Andrew Johnson

Born: Dec. 29, 1808, in Raleigh, N.C.
Died: July 31, 1875, in Elizabethton, Tenn.
Burial Place: Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in Greeneville, Tenn. (Visited: May 2005)

Burial Place

In 1852, Johnson purchased the land surrounding Signal Hill because he enjoyed the view.

Andrew and Eliza Johnson's graves are at the center of the family plot.

In 1878, the family erected an obelisk over the graves of Andrew and his wife Eliza.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Baseball Stadiums: Coolray Field

The cliché goes that people don't see the sights in their hometown because the sights are right there.  While that isn't totally true about me visiting the Gwinnett Braves, there is a kernel of truth in the statement.

I grew up in Cobb County about 40 miles and roughly an hour drive from where Coolray Field stands now.  Growing up in suburban Atlanta during the '80s and '90s there was only ONE team in the area: the Atlanta Braves.  Going to a minor league game at that time meant a trip to a number of towns two hours away like Augusta, Columbus, or Macon.  Since 2009, minor league baseball fans haven't had to venture far to catch a game because the Atlanta Braves relocated their AAA farm team to suburban Atlanta.  However, I haven't made many trips to Lawrenceville because it's not particularly geographically convenient to me.

I made one visit in 2011, but did not blog about that experience.  I decided to visit this summer with a friend from grad school who lives in Cumming (approximately 20 miles and 30 minutes away from the stadium) so I could write about my fan experience.

Main entrance.

Ticket office next to the main gate.

Even the casual baseball fan can deduce that the Gwinnett Braves are owned by the Atlanta Braves, so it's not a surprise to see signage at Coolray Field connecting the G-Braves to the big league club.  However, I was quite surprised to see banners with Chipper Jones, Bobby Cox, and Hank Aaron welcoming fans.  None of the three ever played or coached the Gwinnett club.  Jones did play for the franchise when it was in Richmond, Va., but he didn't even do a rehab stint with the team.

As a minor league baseball and Atlanta Braves fan, I'd rather see banners boast players who spent time with the G-Braves like Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, or Jason Heyward, who are highlighted on the Gwinnett team's website.

My friend and I arrived at the stadium about 40 minutes before the start of the game, so we were too late to get one of the Ron Gant bobbleheads.  There was an extremely long line of people waiting for him to autograph items, so it made exploring the food options a bit difficult because it wrapped around so much of the concourse that it was tough getting to some of the concession stands.  Despite the lines at some of the stands, the wait wasn't very long because there was a plethora of stands plus a few specialty places like a McAlister's Deli stand, a Chick-fil-A kiosk, and Niekro's, which is a full-service restaurant with a bar.

Best-named concession stand.

They do serve McAlister's Famous Sweet Tea.

Home of the ballpark's signature food item: The Knucksie.

Food options along the third-base concourse.

I chose not to eat right away after checking out my choices, so I opted not to get dinner and instead waited for the first pitch.  However, before the first pitch you need to know the lineup.

The starting lineups featuring Evan Gattis on a rehabilitation assignment.

To the best of my memory, I have never been to a minor league game when a major league player was doing a rehab assignment.  So seeing Evan Gattis in the lineup was a first for me.

First pitch between the Durham Bulls and Gwinnett Braves.

After the first pitch, I returned to Niekro's and ordered a Knucksie.  My friend got a chicken sandwich from the Chick-fil-A kiosk.  As has become custom, I had to take a photo of my food during the game.

The Knucksie: house-smoked pulled BBQ pork piled high with pickle chips, caramelized onions, two kinds of BBQ sauce, and coleslaw served on a toasted corn muffin.

The sandwich was delicious and very filling.  I didn't detect two BBQ sauces, but the sweet, mayo-based cole slaw mixed well with the BBQ sauce and created a very tasty mix along with the corn muffin.  I opted for it because it is genuinely the signature item at the ballpark, and because none of the other items at the concession stands stood out as truly unique.

The beer selection was limited, too.  Georgia has a growing craft brewery industry, but the only local brew I could find was SweetWater 420 on draft at Niekro's.  None of the concession stands had it on tap nor did I see it offered in bottles or cans anywhere in the stadium.  In this day of neolocalism and ballparks trying to offer signature food items and drinks, it's disappointing that there were no special beers or drinks at the stadium.

Due to the larger than average crowd, I did not walk around the stadium as much as I did when I first visited in 2011.  So I stayed in my seat along the third base line to take most of my photographs, especially of the game action.

Scoreboard in right field.

Durham starting pitcher Alex Colome with Gwinnett shortstop Ozzie Martinez taking a lead off first.

Gwinnett Braves catcher Evan Gattis (a.k.a El Oso Blanco) at the plate.

While watching the game from the third base line, I captured a few shots that showed off the stadium like the right field fence that featured the club's two retired numbers: Tommie Aaron and Jackie Robinson.  I shouldn't have to explain to baseball fans why Robinson has his number retired, but Aaron has his number retired when the franchise played in Richmond and it was re-retired during the club's 2012 season.

The G-Braves' two retired numbers honors by the visitors bullpen.

Even if you're not a vexillologist, everybody likes to have fun with flags.  One my interests as a kid was flags, so I always try to capture a photo when flags are flying.  Of the three flags, I only could identify two of them: the flag of the United States of America and the flag of the State of Georgia.

The best flag photo I captured on a night that wasn't very windy.

Although the food and beverage choices did not provide a unique touch to the gameday experience, the stadium seats did.  The seat at the end of each aisle is emblazoned with the Coolray Field logo, which isn't a big part about going out to the ballpark, but it is adds a unique touch to the stadium.

A great detail on the stadium seats.

Speaking of seats, I always enjoy a view of the grandstand because it shows how multiple layers are blended into one.  In this case, it shows off the suite boxes on the second level along with the press box.

View of the grandstand with the press box behind home plate and the suites down the first base line.

After walking around a little bit, fog started to set in so my friend and I sat down along the first base line to watch the end of the game.  That didn't stop me from taking photos, as I snagged the following shots.

Awesome alliteration as the Bullpen Buffet overlooks the home team's bullpen.

As a longtime baseball fan, one of the most enjoyable things about watching minor league games is being able to see players make the Majors.  If you've watched enough baseball, sometimes you get to see a player who made it to the Majors playing in Triple-A trying to make a big-league roster.  I got to see that with Durham's Wilson Betemit, who came up in the Atlanta Braves system and made the big-league roster in 2004.  Ten years later he's played on six MLB team's and is with his seventh organization (Tampa Bay Rays).

Former Atlanta Braves farmhand Wilson Betemit playing first base.

Another reason I wanted to walk around the stadium was to find the team's mascot, Chopper.  As my friend said, there are two things people will almost always see when I post photographs of my visit to a Minor League Baseball stadium: a food photo and a photo with the team mascot.

After securing my food photo early in the game, I needed to find the groundhog to get my mascot photo.  I found him along the first base line, as my friend and I walked around to check things out.

Me with Chopper.

Overall the gameday experience was good.  The between-innings contests were good, and you can read more about them from MiLB.com's Ben Hill's visits in 2010 and 2014.  The stadium is easily accessible to the surrounding Gwinnett County community, and the view of the outfield doesn't lead fans to see the state highway in the distance.

As a fan of baseball and, especially Minor League Baseball, I wish the team incorporated more local elements into the food and drink choices and pushed the envelope.  The team does a great job with traditional promotions like bobbleheads that obviously brought out a large crowd on a Saturday night.  The club has jumped on board with the zombie craze and is taking advantage of the fact that The Walking Dead is filmed in the Atlanta area by hosting "The Day of the Dead" promotion on Aug. 3.  So the marketing crew has the potential to think outside the box and exploit local elements, but the food and drink choices haven't received the same treatment from their corresponding department.

Presidential Pathways: #8, Martin Van Buren

Born: Dec. 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, N.Y. (Visited: August 2008)
Died: July 24, 1862, in Kinderhook, N.Y.
Burial Place: Kinderhook Cemetery in Kinderhook, N.Y. (Visited: August 2008)

Birthplace

A state historical marker designates the location of the Van Buren house.

Burial Place


Two markers show the way to Van Buren's grave.

An obelisk marks Van Buren's grave, who is buried by his wife Hannah and their son Martin Jr.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Presidential Pathways: #18, Ulysses S. Grant

Born: April 27, 1822, in Point Pleasant, Ohio (Visited: June 2011)
Died: July 23, 1885, in Wilton, N.Y.
Burial Place: General Grant National Memorial in New York, N.Y.. (Visited: August 2008)

Birthplace

The Grant family moved from this house less than a year after his birth.

The U.S. Grant Birthplace Historic Site includes four other properties besides the president's birthplace.

Burial Place

Grant is buried at General Grant National Memorial in Riverside Park in New York City.

Commonly called Grant's Tomb, the monument was completed in 1897 - 12 years after the president's death.

Ulysses and Julia Grant are buried in identical red granite sarcophagi.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Presidential Pathways: #12, Zachary Taylor

Born: Nov. 24, 1784, in Barboursville, Va.
Died: July 9, 1850, in Washington, D.C.
Burial Place: Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Ky. (Visited: June 2005)

Burial Place

In 1883, the Kentucky government erected the granite column to honor Taylor.

In 1926, the U.S. government built a limestone neoclassical mausoleum for Taylor's remains.

The mausoleum contains the remains of Taylor and his wife Margaret.

Taylor was originally interred in his family's crypt, which still stands.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Baseball Stadiums: Herschel Greer Stadium

The first baseball game I attended at Herschel Greer Stadium was in March 2002, when the Georgia State Panthers visited the Belmont Bruins in a three-game Atlantic Sun Conference series.  The first minor league game I attended was in July 2006 between the Round Rock Express and the Sounds, when I was attending the CoSIDA Convention in Nashville.  Both events were long before I started blogging about my visits to MLB and MiLB stadiums, so when the Nashville Sounds announced that 2014 would be the last season at Greer Stadium I wanted to be sure to visit for "the last cheer at Greer."

Unlike MiLB.com's Ben Hill, nobody had my name marked on a calendar.  Although I had been to the stadium before, it had been several years and, as always, I read up on food suggestions and the gameday experience from Hill's piece when he visited during the 2013 season.

The main entrance to the stadium is one of my favorites in Minor League Baseball.  The stone wall and wrought-iron fence are distinctive, and the baseball diamond on the ground lets any observer know he is entering a baseball stadium.

Exterior of the main concourse with sky boxes in the background.
It may not be clear in the photos, but there are banners of former Nashville players who have reached the Major Leagues with a picture of them as a Sounds player and with their current club.  For example, a banner shows Prince Fielder with the team in 2005, and in his current uniform with the Texas Rangers.

Ticket office and main gate.

Although I walked around the concourse once I entered the stadium, I wasn't particularly hungry and I could not find a beer to drink.  So after checking out the gift shop, I decided to take my seat and just watch baseball.  So I took in a lot action during the first inning.

First pitch between the Reno Aces and Nashville Sounds.

In addition to the first pitch of the game, I got photographs of both starting pitchers.

Sounds starting pitcher Ariel Pena.

Aces starting pitcher Zeke Spruill.
I also got a photograph of the Sounds third batter, which isn't significant unto itself.  However, I wanted to capture a shot that showed the Milwaukee Brewers patch on the shoulder of the uniform.

Sounds second baseman Elian Herrera.

I also took a photo of the seating bowl, although Ben Hill's piece details the age of the facility much better than my one shot.  Knowing that he took a ton of pictures highlighting the age of the seats, I opted to take a simple overview of the seating bowl with the press box and sky boxes.

A view of the press box and sky boxes from the third base side.

I may need to seek professional help, but getting my picture taken with MiLB mascots has become a bit of an obsession for me.  So instead of exploring more of the stadium, I waited for an inning or two along the third base line so I could get my picture with Ozzie.  I'm wondering if there's a "Mascot Addicts Anonymous" or something I could join.

Anyway, while I waited I had a Ruby Red from Fat Bottom Brewery.  For beer connoisseurs, the color was a deep red and it was a very tasty amber ale.  While waiting I started talking with a professional photographer who was shooting for a local web site.  He agreed to take my picture with Ozzie whenever the big cat came by.

Me with Ozzie in a blurry photo taken by a professional photographer.

When I entered the stadium, I noticed the paw prints on the concourse as documented in Ben Hill's piece.  At the risk of being overly critical, I really don't understand why the paw prints exist.  The team isn't called the "Cougars," and it seems like something a high school would do.  In fact, I've seen stuff like that at a high school stadium where team was called the "Wildcats."  Granted, maybe the young kids like following the prints to the funnel cake stand, so who am I to judge.

Ozzie prints leading you to the food.

Like many ballparks built in the late-'70s and early-'80s, Greer Stadium has the concourse and concession stands sitting beneath the seating bowl.  So fans are cutoff from the action, and the stands themselves are rather commonplace.  Surprisingly, the team never added TVs to keep fans connected to the game.

A standard concession stand beneath the seating bowl.

Due to my lack of hunger, I checked out all the concession stands trying to find a signature item and never found one that appealed to me.  Most employees said there wasn't a particularly unique item, but that I could visit Slugger's Restaurant on the 4th Floor.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I decided to check it out.

The food menu was nondescript.  It had the usual ballpark food like burgers, hot dogs, and chicken tenders.  Nothing particularly appealed to me, so I opted to get a beer and watch some of the game from upstairs.

Viewing the action from Slugger's Restaurant.

For my beer choice, I opted for the locally brewed Southern Wit from Tennessee Brew Works.  It was a nice alternative to the nationally-available Shocktop Belgian White that was also on draft.  After an inning or so upstairs, I headed downstairs to find something to eat.

Eventually I settled on getting BBQ Nachos from the Whitt's Barbecue stand along the first base line.  The nachos looked good covered in nacho cheese with a good serving of pulled pork, but I was surprised that it wasn't topped with any sauce.  Instead, I had to add sauce from the condiment stand.  It got weirder when the sauce at the condiment stand was Sweet Baby Ray's.  I really like Sweet Baby Ray's sauce, but it's odd that a sponsored concession stand wouldn't have BBQ sauce from its provider.

Regardless, the Sounds re-tweeted the picture I posted on Twitter of the nachos.



Late in the game after finishing my nachos, I opted to watch the remainder of the game from my seat behind home plate.  In the bottom of the 9th, Jeremy Hermida singled to center field to bring home Elian Herrera and give the Sounds a 2-1 win.

The legendary guitar-shaped scoreboard with the final score: Sounds 2, Aces 1.

Many people have written about the guitar-shaped scoreboard, which is truly one of most unique sights in Minor League Baseball, so there's not much I can add to that conversation.  However, fans should enjoy a "Last Cheer at Greer" with the old guitar scoreboard before the Sounds move onto their new digs.