Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Presidential Pathways: #23, Benjamin Harrison

Born: Aug. 20, 1833, in North Bend, Ohio
Died: March 13, 1901, in Indianapolis, Ind.
Burial Place: Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Ind. (Visited: May 2011)

Birthplace

Benjamin Harrison was born on a family farm in the "Big House," which burned down in 1858.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Baseball Stadiums: Joe W. Davis Stadium

When you used to work in sports, it's not always easy to attend games because you're usually working them.  That is the case with the Huntsville Stars for me.  I interned with the team during the summer of 2003.  I visited for a game that fall during the Southern League playoffs, but like many stadiums that was before I started blogging about my ballpark treks.

When the sale and move of the Stars was announced early this year, I decided that I must watch a home game before the team moved to Biloxi.  I wasn't the only one thinking about returning to Huntsville, as a former coworker organized a reunion via Facebook.  So not only did I get to see a game, but I got to see a bunch of former coworkers who I haven't seen in nearly 10 years.

The exterior of the stadium was just as I remembered it, but that didn't stop me from taking pictures of the road leading to the ballpark named after former team owner, president, general manager, and Huntsville-native Don Mincher.

A road dedicated to former Stars owner Don Mincher with Joe W. Davis Stadium in the background.
The facade of the stadium looks just the same as it did when I last attended a game, except for one change. Until the team changed its logo a few years ago there had been a pair of logos bracketing the text that read "Joe W. Davis Municipal Stadium."  The aluminum where the logos stood is considerably lighter in color than the rest of the facade.

Main entrance.

Once I picked up my ticket from will call, I walked around the stadium a bit.  The biggest change is that the gift shop is no longer a hole in the wall, but an actual shop with an entrance.  After loading up on gifts and some gear for myself, I documented some of the standard ballpark features like the night's starting lineups.

The starting lineups for Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014.

View of gift shop with a sign thanking the fans. The team's mascot can be seen in the store.

As I hadn't found where my former coworkers were sitting, I ended up watching the national anthem from the third base line.  The team celebrated AUSA Military Appreciation Night and had an honor guard present the colors.

Players remain at attention as the honor guard leaves the field.

I could go into detail about the stadium's history, but MiLB.com's Ben Hill has a detailed rundown of the team and the ballpark included in his visit to Huntsville earlier this season (read about it here).

I did want to capture a picture of signage commemorating the Stars' championship seasons.

The left field wall with stars to celebrate the team's three Southern League championships: 1985, 1994, and 2001.

With the national anthem concluded, I headed towards home plate because I wanted to get a photo of the first pitch.  The view from home plate during the first pitch is an image I think conveys the essence of a ballpark.  For many fans, the backdrop is a crucial element to their enjoyment of the game and the view from the grandstand is regularly discussed in books reviewing baseball stadiums.

First pitch between the Huntsville Stars and Jacksonville Suns.

After capturing the first pitch, I checked out the concession stands to determine what I would eat for dinner.  While I hadn't been to a Stars game in over 10 years, very little has changed about the food choices.  The standard ballpark fare is available at each stand (one open on the first and third base lines), so fans looking for a signature food item won't find one in Huntsville.

Former concession stand with a nearby bar.

Concession stand on third base line.

Condiment stand and concourse along first base line.

I wasn't surprised to see the basic food choices, so I opted for one of my favorite items from my internship days: a Philly cheesesteak.  It's not a food item that is part of the Southern food palate, but I would regularly get them at Billy Ray's Grill when I interned with the Stars in 2003.

After getting my cheesesteak and getting a beer, I eventually found my former coworkers who were sitting in a section along the first base line.

My Philly cheesesteak.

Along with the Philly cheesesteak, I got a Speckled Trout Wheat from Old Black Bear Brewing Company, which is a local craft brewery.  There were other beers on tap from OBB, but they were the only local or regional craft beers available.  Living and working in Alabama, I know the state has a growing craft beer industry, so I was disappointed that only one of the state's craft beers was available.

While talking with my friends, I lucked out and got my photo with the team mascot taken.  With a team named Stars, people might expect an alien for a mascot, but that's not the case in Huntsville.  The legend goes that a family of skunks ran across the outfield just before the team's first game in 1985, which ultimately gave birth to Homer the Polecat.

Me with Homer the Polecat, who is sporting an old-style team jersey.

While talking with friends, I did watch some of the game.

Jacksonville starting pitcher Robert Morey.

I also got pictures of the stadium, which should help people unfamiliar with the dimensions of the ballpark understand why ownership in Huntsville sought a new stadium for many years.  The stadium reflects the era in which it was built: the 1980s.  It's a concrete structure designed to host baseball and football.  It hosted high school area football until 2002, so there are extra seats down the third base line that are regularly unoccupied.

View of the grandstand with press box and sky boxes.

The stadium has sky boxes, but they are simply down the third base line and do not open to the elements. While I have never experienced a game from a sky box, I was in them often as an intern and the inability to open the windows leaves fans isolated from the rest of the crowd.

The scoreboard is another piece that reflects its age.  It was upgraded since I last attended a game in 2003, but the video system does not work and the main part of the scoreboard predates my time as an intern.

View of the scoreboard, and sign thanking the fans.

Despite the upkeep issues, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful.  The food was hot and fresh, in spite of the limited selection.  The beer was cold and refreshing, although I would've enjoyed a bigger variety.  Most importantly, it was great to attend Just One Game and see a bunch of former coworkers who I haven't seen in many years.

Group picture of former Stars employees.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Baseball Stadiums: AT&T Field

Like a lot of stadiums around the Southeast, AT&T Field is one that I visited many years before I started blogging about my stadium visits.  I first visited what was called BellSouth Park in 2002, but my history of visiting stadiums in Chattanooga dates to 1993 when I saw the Lookouts play at Engel Stadium.

Chattanooga is about 90 minutes from where I grew up in metro Atlanta, which is why one of my first visits to a Minor League Baseball stadium was a Lookouts game.  I made this trip because I wanted to write about a nearby stadium, and I'm slowly, but surely working to attending a game at all the active stadiums in Minor League Baseball.  I am not Ben Hill nor am I trying to replicate his outstanding work, but I can write about the gameday experience from a fan's perspective (read Ben Hill's non-gameday visit here and about his excursion to Engel Stadium here).

One of the great things about the ballpark is its location, not exactly in downtown Chattanooga but adjacent to all the sights.  The stadium sits atop a hill on the western side of downtown.

Due to its location atop a hill AT&T Field has an escalator.

Walking up to the main entrance of the stadium, fans pass signage for the AT&T Field Hall of Fame.  The hall has two members: Cal Ermer and Tommy Lasorda.

Plaques honoring Cal Ermer and Tommy Lasorda.

Growing up the Lookouts had been a Cincinnati Reds affiliate, so it was a bit weird to see "Welcome to Dodgertown, Tennessee" above the main gates.

The signage says it all.

The team has been a Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate since 2009, and the team has done a lot to incorporate that connection into the team's identity.  The Lookouts toned down the use of red as a team color, and ramped up the use of blue, which is visible in the team's uniforms and caps.  AT&T uses blue in its logo, so I can't say all the blue used by the Lookouts is because of the Dodgers affiliation, but the shades of blue are different and the hue on the uniforms clearly appears to be Dodger blue.

As usual, I walked around the stadium before the game and captured a picture of the starting lineups.  I don't pay much attention to lineups unless there is a prospect I'm particularly interested in watching and know about him before going to the game.

The night's starting lineups.

The concourse as AT&T Field is below the seating bowl, so fans cannot see the game action while waiting in line at the concession stands.  However, the concourse is extremely wide, has plenty of stands, and monitors showing a closed-circuit feed of the game.

A concession stand below a banner showing former Lookout and current Dodger reliever Kenley Jansen.

A view of the concourse with a beer stand in the foreground.

Deciding on a food item was difficult, so I watched some of the game before .  I also decided on getting a beer from the Big River Grille & Brewing Works Beer Garden.  After getting a Chattanooga Steamer amber ale, I took my seat and captured the first pitch from Chattanooga starting pitcher Nick Struck.

First pitch between the Birmingham Barons and Chattanooga Lookouts.

Following the first pitch, I walked around a bit and found a wood-carved statue of the team's mascot, Looie.  I asked one of the workers at the promotions table to take my picture in exchange for me signing up to participate in a between-innings contest of musical chairs.

It's a bit blurry, but you get the idea.

At the middle of the third, I met up with staff member Alex (notable for giving Ben Hill a tour of the stadium earlier this summer), the two other contestants and headed toward the third base line near the batting cages and the home team's bullpen.

While talking with Alex, I was able to get my requisite picture with the team's mascot.

Me with Looie.

Traveling by myself, I don't have any of my own pictures of the musical chairs contest, but I was able to get two that Alex took to include here.

Round 1: Dancing to House of Pain's "Jump Around"

Round 2: Still dancing to "Jump Around"

My prize for winning: a Powerball ticket courtesy of the Tennessee Lottery.  Unfortunately, I did not win the lottery.

After collecting my prize, I decided to get a jumbo hot dog with yellow mustard and got another beer from the beer garden.  I opted for the jumbo dog because it is the "classic" ballpark item, and the Lookouts featured it as their submission for MiLB.com's 2014 Food Fight contest.

Jumbo dog.

View of the Big River Beer Garden with U.S. Highway 27 running alongside the ballpark.

After eating, I watched more of the game and took some photos of the stadium.

Game action with the Mayfield Dairy Ice Cream stand in the background.

View of the scoreboard.

View of right field seats.

The Tennessee Aquarium in the background with Lasorda's Landing in the foreground.

View of the grandstand with signage for AT&T Field members Cal Ermer and Tommy Lasorda.

While taking pictures showing off different vantage points of the stadium, I got photos of the other between-inning contests.  The Lookouts did a dizzy-bat race, but my favorite was the Hardee's Hamburger Roll.

Between-inning contest where contestants must roll hamburgers to Looie.

As I attended a game on a Friday evening, I got to enjoy post-game fireworks.  Post-game fireworks are a staple of the minors, and Chattanooga is no exception.



As I expected, I had a great time at the Lookouts game.  The on-field entertainment was unique, but not overdone.  The beer choices were good, but I would've enjoyed see more local selections at the concession stands.  The only Tennessee-brewed beers I found were at the beer garden.  Granted, the choices from Big River were very good beers.

The food selection was the typical ballpark fare, and while the traditionalist in me appreciates the simple choices I was disappointed that there wasn't at least ONE signature item.  With that in mind, the food was good and the service was quick.

One thing that is clear about the gameday experience at AT&T Field is that the Lookouts place an emphasis on the fans having a good time.  The stadium is well-staffed and everybody I interacted with during my visit was friendly and helpful.  I just lucked out by winning an on-field contest and getting to close the night with a very good fireworks show.

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.