Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Hops in Heaven: Goat Island Brewing in Cullman, Ala.

When people survey the map of craft breweries in Alabama, one stands out as being convenient but maybe not as convenient as visitors may expect.  Goat Island Brewing in Cullman appears to be conveniently located off Interstate 65 north of Birmingham, which is true.  However, Cullman (respectfully) is not a city many people throughout the South much less in Alabama set out to visit because it offers other cultural or historical sights.

So if you have the goal of visiting each craft brewery in Alabama (like I do), you have to specifically set a goal of stopping in Cullman just to have a drink at Goat Island.  So recently my now-wife and I decided to visit the brewery because of a traffic backup on I-65 as we were heading to Nashville.  It was certainly an impromptu visit, but one that we both thoroughly enjoyed.

Main entrance to the brewery.

The brewery has a large seating space, as the brewery is in a large former industrial building.  There are numerous tables with four to six chairs at them to the left and a long bar to the right when you enter the building.

The draft wall.

Along the draft wall there is a display of Goat Island Brewing paraphernalia customers can purchase ranging from stickers to t-shirts and more.

A display of Goat Island Brewing gear available at the brewery.

The space at the brewery is nicely setup, but we stopped (and others stop) because of the beer.  The brewery had seven beers on tap (with an eighth - a hefeweizen - set to be tapped the following week).  The brewery has a wide distribution throughout central Alabama, so I had drank four of the beers before visiting the brewery itself.  So I ordered the Palomino Pale Ale and Big Bridge IPA.

Both sides of the five-ounce glasses.

The pale ale and IPA were both true to style.  Neither were overly hoppy, so if you avoid craft beers because you dislike the bitter taste both of these brews are quite acceptable for new craft beer drinkers.

I also decided to try the Son of a Bridge Jumper Double IPA, which had a bit more bite to it.  However, at only 7.8% ABV it is not as potent as some other double IPAs available on the market.

Additionally, from past experience I can endorse the Thrill Hill Vanilla Porter and the Richter's Pilsner as two of my favorite beers by Goat Island.  Thrill Hill blends vanilla notes in nicely while not overpowering the beer.  Richter's Pilsner is an excellent German-style pilsner, which means it is more malty than hoppy.  According to one of the brewery's owners the recipe came from an old photo of Cullman (read the story here).

Additionally, the brewery celebrates its first history by framing a used bag of grain from its first brew.

Used bag of grain celebrating the brewery's first brew, which took place in March 2016.

Incorporating Cullman's German heritage into the brewery there are a pair of quotes regarding beer from famous Germans.

Wise words about the consumption of beer.

One critically important thing to consider about visiting the brewery is that you cannot stop by for a beer on Sunday because the county does not permit alcohol sales on that day of the week.  Additionally, there is no food available for sale at the brewery.  However, local vendors often serve food for purchase outside of the brewery or you can order food to be delivered.  Red Mountain Crawfish was serving up crawfish and shrimp along with the fixings when we stopped by the brewery.

Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed my impromptu stop at Goat Island Brewing.  It took a bit to arrive at the brewery off Interstate 65, but the beer was taproom setup was welcoming to all people.  The food available from a local vendor was tasty.  Most importantly the beer itself was excellent and offers a variety of options for the craft beer drinker's palate.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Baseball Stadiums: Huntington Avenue Grounds

Normally my baseball stadium visits are to current ballparks, but over the years I have ventured to see historic sites of former ballparks.  I made one such visit while in Boston earlier this year.

Just down the street from my hotel was the site of the Huntington Avenue American League Baseball Grounds.  The facility was better known as the Huntington Avenue Grounds, which was the first home of the MLB franchise now known as the Boston Red Sox (known as the Boston Americans from 1901 to 1908).  The Red Sox played at Huntington Avenue Grounds from 1901 to 1911, and moved into Fenway Park in 1912.

The ballpark was torn down after the Red Sox moved to their new ballpark.  The site is now home to Northeastern University's Cabot Center, which is home to the university's women's basketball and volleyball teams.  A plaque on the building is the first sign that a Major League Baseball stadium used to be at this site.

A plaque on the Cabot Center commemorating the former site of the Huntington Avenue Grounds,

The plaque details what really makes Huntington Avenue Grounds important within American baseball history as site of the first World Series game, which pitted the National League's Pittsburg Pirates against the American League's Boston Americans.

Around the corner from the Cabot Center you will see a sign for World Series Way, which directs people to the most important aspects of this site.

Sign for World Series Way with the Cabot Center in the background.

The plaque on the Cabot Center was erected in 1956, but it wasn't until 1993 that a marker commemorated the location home plate.  In addition to home plate, a statue of Boston starting pitcher Cy Young on the pitcher's mound was also dedicated.  Those are found in a courtyard just to the left of the World Series Way sign.

Current sight line from home plate to the pitcher's mound at Huntington Avenue Grounds.

Robert Shure's statue of Boston Americans starting pitcher Cy Young,
who was the first person to throw a pitch in a World Series games.

Closeup of text etched into the statue near Cy Young's foot.

Unfortunately there is nothing left from Huntington Avenue Grounds because like many ballparks of its era it was built with wood.  However, there is a marker providing some detail about the history of the site near the Cy Young statue.

Marker detailing the importance of Huntington Avenue Grounds within the history of American baseball.

If you are interested in seeing more photographs of Huntington Avenue Grounds as it appeared in October 1903 during the first World Series and other images during its history, you can check out an online display from the Boston Public Library (see it here).

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Baseball Stadiums: Northeast Delta Dental Stadium

A day after leading a field trip of six geographers to Portland, Maine, as part of the 2017 AAG Annual Meeting in Boston (read about it here), I made a solo trek to New Hampshire for a baseball game.  Although I asked colleagues and friends to join me on the trip to Manchester to see the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, nobody was able to join me.  I never object to company when driving or attending a sporting event, but it was nice to be back in my comfort zone chasing down another ballpark.

Like my visit to Portland the night before, I had previously attended a Fisher Cats game during the summer of 2007.  As part of my week-long stay with a friend from graduate school, we attended a Fisher Cats game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (née Merchantsauto.com Stadium).  I was most excited because of the recent renovations made to the ballpark in advance of hosting the 2017 Eastern League All-Star Game (read the story here).

As excited as I was about seeing the new renovations, the first thing I noticed upon arriving at the stadium was snow.  I knew it had snowed heavily the weekend prior to my trip, but was surprised by how much snow was piled up in the parking lot right in front of the stadium and especially struck by the small pile in front of the main gate (see it on my Instagram account).  I got a bit closer to take my standard ballpark entrance photo for the blog, so you don't see any snow in this picture.

Ticket office and main entrance to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

The gates are adorned with banners of famous former players, so I had to take a photo of one of the team's most famous alums...

Right-handed pitcher Marcus Stroman came up through the Toronto Blue Jays organization,
and was a pivotal piece of the U.S. team winning the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

After climbing the stairs, I immediately saw some of the ballpark's newest renovations.  I saw the Sam Adams Bar & Grill, which overlooks left field.  However, the waterfall is the much more interesting feature.

A majestic waterfall greets fans following their ascent up the main staircase like fan ascended to heaven.

Behind the waterfall and facing toward the Sam Adams Bar & Grill is a tiki bar with a live music stage.  According to the Fisher Cats, bands will perform on the stage on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

A band performing on the live music stage by the tiki bar.

The band played some classic rock and '80s music, so I was in heaven.  Although I was the only person telling "Roll Tide Roll" at the correct spots when the band played "Sweet Home Alabama."

After enjoying some music, I decided to check out the concession stands so I could make an informed decision about my dining options.  I saw one stand that surprised me (Wrapery), but the other selections were the usual ballpark suspects.

I was surprised to see a stand serving wraps, but they certainly had a line on this chilly day.

I also found pizza and the usual lineup of hamburgers and hot dogs.

A bit later in the game I got picture of another set of concession stands featuring hot dogs, hamburgers, and BBQ.

While exploring the concourse studying my food and beverage choices, I stumbled upon the lineups and Eastern League standings.  I also learned something about the game, which I did not know when I hit the road.

Starting lineups for April 8, 2017.

Checking out the standings led me to discover that Binghamton and New Hampshire did not play their scheduled games on Thursday OR Friday.  So, as the lineups showed, there would be two games instead of one tonight.

Eastern League standings entering play on April 8, 2017.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I discovered while exploring the concourse is that the Fisher Cats cover just about everything conceivable with a team photo.  That includes Fungo on a vendor door, which may be excessive but is really cool because that's what a Minor League Baseball stadium should be like.  It should be a place promoting and celebrating that local team.

Photos of Fisher Cats mascots Slider and Fungo adorn doors in the ballpark.

Eventually after I felt like I had done enough exploring (and taking pictures), I decided to take my seat behind home plate and watch the start of the game (and season for these teams).

New Hampshire Fisher Cats starting pitcher Sean Reid-Foley delivering the first pitch
to Binghamton Rumble Ponies center fielder Champ Stuart.

I usually take some action photos of the game to show off the uniforms, but today's games presented a different opportunity.  The Toronto Blue Jays assigned five of their top eight prospects to the Fisher Cats to start the season (read the story here), so I wanted to be sure to get some photos of these players.

So I was happily surprised when I realized during the game that I had taken a closeup of the Jays' number two prospect Sean Reid-Foley, who was the first game's starting pitcher.

Closeup of Toronto Blue Jays' No. 2 prospect and Fisher Cats starting pitcher Sean Reid-Foley
with third baseman Emilio Guerrero in the background.

It wasn't until warm-ups for the second game that I started to take photos of the other top prospects. So I'll come back to those photos at the appropriate time because after getting a few shots of Reid-Foley on the mound I wandered around the ballpark to take some pictures of the stadium during game action.

People who closely follow Minor League Baseball know that the Hilton Garden Inn beyond the left field wall is the most memorable view from Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.  Unfortunately, I did not get to stay overnight at the hotel, but naturally had to take a photo of it from the ballpark.

The famous Hilton Garden Inn just beyond left field, as seen from the first base line bleachers.

The post wouldn't be complete without the Hilton Garden Inn, but the rest of the stadium has some great views, too.  Like the Sam Adams Bar & Grill...

The Sam Adams Bar & Grill was a key part of the stadium's renovations before the 2017 season.

Although people rarely come to the ballgame to see a beautiful grandstand, I think it's an important part of the stadium and gives people perspective on the seating bowl.

A view of the grandstand, press box, and luxury suites.

While taking some of the photos, the Fisher Cats celebrated a young fan's birthday on the field.  That meant he got to meet the team's mascot, Fungo.

A young fan celebrating his birthday on the field with Fungo and the team's on-field emcee Zwick.

With Fungo on the field, I quickly took advantage of him departing the field to have my picture taken with him.

Me with Fungo.

Finally after watching a few innings of play and exploring, I decided it was time to get a bite to eat and a beer to drink.  I settled on the Great North Tie Dye Ale, which is widely available at the concession stands, and the Live Free burger, which I got at Burgertopia.

The Live Free burger featured bacon, mushrooms, maple syrup sauce, and Swiss cheese.

The Live Free burger was truly a mess, but definitely enjoyable.  I expected the maple syrup sauce to be like pancake/waffle syrup, but instead it was much thicker and creamier.  It is a pleasant surprise, but also dripped all over my fingers while eating it.

The Tie Dye Ale was good, but did not live up to the description of a "summer ale" as described by the concession stand employee.  According to the brewery's website, it is a dry-hopped pale ale.  So it was quite a bit hoppier than I expected, although it was very true to the style.  It is a beer that hop heads would enjoy.

Ironically just after I finished eating my burger the crazy flamingo-riding hot dog vendor made an appearance and tossed hot dogs into the crowd.

The flamingo-riding hot dog vendor tossing franks into the crowd.

After a bit, I checked out the team store and talked with the store manager Jake Moore because I had hoped to find a New Hampshire Primaries hat with both the donkey and elephant on the cap.  I learned that the team only sells those items during presidential election years, so I was a year late.  So perhaps I'll return in three years to get a cap with the elephant and donkey on it.

I eventually got to see the end of the first game, so I snapped a few more pictures of the game action and the videoboard.

Binghamton right-handed relief pitcher Cory Burns on the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning of the first game.

A view of the videoboard in right field.

Following the conclusion of game one, the teams had a 30-minute respite before beginning the back end of the doubleheader.  I hadn't planned on taking more pictures, but decided I wanted to capture a few more pictures.  I wanted to get some shots of the Blue Jays' top prospects, and lucked out getting one of the New York Mets' top prospects (No. 22-rated P.J. Conlon; see the full list here).

Binghamton Rumble Ponies starting pitcher P.J. Conlon in the bullpen before the start of game two.

So back to my primary goal: capturing pictures of some of the Blue Jays' top-rated prospects.  Specifically, I was looking to get photos of No.3-rated prospect outfielder Anthony Alford, No. 4-rated prospect shortstop Richard Ureña, and No. 6-rated prospect right-handed pitcher Conner Greene.  I was pretty successful, too.

During warm-ups, I got a pair of the prospects in the same picture.

Richard Ureña (#4) and Anthony Alford (to the right) are both top-five ranked prospects in the Blue Jays' system.

Fisher Cats shortstop Richard Ureña is the Blue Jays' fourth-ranked prospect.

Fisher Cats starting pitcher Conner Greene is the Blue Jays sixth-ranked prospect.

I was not able to get a picture of right-handed pitcher Jon Harris because he did not pitch in either game, but it was pretty cool getting photos of four of the five top-rated prospects assigned to the Fisher Cats.

Considering that the Fisher Cats lost the two games, top-rated prospects are maybe not the best close to my stadium visit.  Although I enjoyed my visit immensely, ate some great food, and drank a good beer, the game was really marked by the cold temperatures and a constant struggle to stay warm on the Opening Night of the season.

The pitchers in the Fisher Cats bullpen do their best to stay bundled up and their heads warm by wearing tossle caps.

I was also a bit cold from watching the majority of two games, so I opted to skip the fireworks and headed for my car for the hour-drive back to Boston and my conference.  Despite being a bit tired, I was quite happy about my visit back to Manchester.  The stadium renovations definitely added to what was already an excellent ballpark.

Final Score: Binghamton Rumble Ponies 2, New Hampshire Fisher Cats 0 - Game 1;
Binghamton Rumble Ponies 8, New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2 - Game 2
Box Score - Game 1
Box Score - Game 2

Friday, May 26, 2017

Baseball Stadiums: Hadlock Field

The springtime cliché is that April showers bring May flowers, and I'm sure that is the case for many people and places.  For me, April brings the AAG Annual Meeting and usually early-season baseball games.  As covered in a post previewing my trip (read it here), early April meant leading a field trip of fellow geographers to attend a Portland Sea Dogs game and meeting up with baseball author Josh Pahigian (Twitter: @JoshPahigian).

I had hoped to have about 20 people sign-up for the field trip, but alas only seven people besides myself registered for the trip.  So instead of riding in a bus, I ended up renting a minivan and driving to the venerable Hadlock Field with six passengers.  So after parking in a nearby lot, I was eager to have my photo taken with the statue outside the stadium.

Me with the Slugger the Sea Dog statue outside the stadium.

Although the rest of the field trippers had never been to Hadlock Field, it was my second visit as I attended a Sea Dogs game in June 2007 during a road trip with a friend from graduate school.  However, this was my first opportunity to blog about a visit to the ballpark, so I did my best to treat it like a brand new experience.

But before entering the park, I needed to get a photo of the main entrance.

Main entrance to the stadium.

After entering the stadium you quickly see the Eastern League standings above a concession stand.

Eastern League standings entering play on Friday, April 7.

Not far from the league standings was the Opening Night rosters for the Sea Dogs and visiting Reading Fightin Phils.  Minor League Baseball's Opening Night was Thursday, but heavy rain across New England led to the cancellation of Thursday's game.

Lineups for the Reading Fightin Phils and Portland Sea Dogs for Friday, April 7.

We arrived at the stadium about 30 minutes before first pitch, so instead of exploring in search of food I opted to take a seat and watch the end of Opening Night ceremonies.  Following the conclusion of the national anthem I headed over to a spot behind home plate so I could capture the game's first pitch.

Portland Sea Dogs starting pitcher Teddy Stankiewicz delivering the first pitch
to Reading Fightin Phils second baseman Scott Kingery.

I watched a bit of the game from our seats near home plate before exploring the stadium in detail.  So I captured some pictures of the grandstand and a few action photos before going in search of food and beverage.

Banners celebrating the Sea Dogs division and league titles adorn the suite boxes; the colors denote whether they were a Florida Marlins (1994-2002) or Boston Red Sox (2003-present) affiliate. The Sea Dogs also honor Portland city manager Robert Ganley, who was instrumental in the construction of Hadlock Field, with a retired number.

A collection of players who appeared in a MLB game appear in another area of the suite boxes.

While enjoying the game, I took a few pictures of the outfield, which is notable for a handful of reasons.  The primary reason the outfield at Hadlock Field is well-known is because of the "Maine Monster" in left field, which is a 37-foot replica of the famed Fenway Park Green Monster.  The Sea Dogs built the wall after becoming a Red Sox affiliate before the 2003 season.

The Maine Monster includes a Coca-Cola bottle like the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston.

In right field, the stadium features something that is unique to Maine: a L.L. Bean rain boot.  The outdoor recreation company is headquartered in Freeport, Maine, which is a 20-mile drive from Hadlock Field.

A view of right field, which includes the home team's bullpen, and a L.L. Bean rain boot.

From my spot behind home plate I got some excellent action photos that capture the dichotomy of Minor League Baseball: a hot, young prospect (Rafael Devers) and a former Major Leaguer trying to resurrect a stalled career (Mike Olt).  Devers is rated the Red Sox's No. 1 prospect and No. 14 in all MiLB according to MLB Pipeline while Olt last played in the Majors two years ago.

Sea Dogs designated hitter Mike Olt was a first-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 2010.

Sea Dogs third baseman Rafael Devers signed as a teenager with the Red Sox.

Eventually I went in search of a local craft beer and food, but I found some franchise history along the way.  The first stop was the Portland Sea Dogs Hall of Fame.

Outfielder Brandon Moss and manager Todd Claus, inducted into the Sea Dogs Hall of Fame in 2016,
helped lead the Sea Dogs to the 2006 Eastern League championship.

The second stop was the Road to the Show, which lists all 268 former Sea Dogs who have played in a Major League Baseball game.

The Road to the Show lists the 368 former players who have made it to MLB.

The third stop was the team photo wall, which is along the concourse behind third base.

Every team photo from the Sea Dogs's history.

After checking out the concession stands on the concourse, I heeded the advice of Portland-resident Josh Pahigian and opted for food at the Shipyard Grill.  The grill is off the concourse down the third base line near the visitors' bullpen and serves a selection of local craft beers (notably the sponsor, Shipyard Brewing) and some grilled meats.

The Shipyard Grill along the third base line.

I hoped to find a lobster roll or something else particularly unique to Maine and New England, but unfortunately it was not quite in season.  So I opted for my default and picked the most unique encased meat option available: an Italian sausage.

The Italian Sausage, which sits on top of a bed of grilled peppers and onions.

For my beer, I chose the Shipyard Export Ale.  Shipyard describes it as "a classic brew which leads the way as a drinkable, well-balanced, flavorful ale."  As I noted on my check-in on Untappd (User: geoSteven), it paired very well with the Italian sausage.  It balanced the spices of the Italian sausage quite well, but was neither too light nor too heavy of a beer.

I closed off my stomach with a sweet treat: a Shain's of Maine SeaDog Biscuit.  It may sound fancy, but it's a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich.  There are two variety, the classic or one that is half-dipped into chocolate.  Per the suggestion of the venerable Josh Pahigian, I went with the half-and-half variety.  It was a chilly night, but the SeaDog Biscuit did not disappoint.

A Shain's of Maine half-and-half SeaDog Biscuit.

After filling my belly, I continued to explore the ballpark and took a few photos from the third-base side of the stadium.  One provides a larger perspective about the stadium's location within downtown Portland while the other illustrates the weather on a Friday night in Portland.

A view of the grandstand from third base with the Portland Exposition Building abutting the stadium on the first base line.

The Portland Exposition Building, which opened in 1915, is the second oldest arena in continuous operation in the United States.  It is also home to the NBA D-League's Maine Red Claws.

Early season baseball games in the Northeast lead to players bundling up in heavy coats,
as the Reading Fightin Phils sip coffee while wearing heavy parkas.

Back in my seat I got to talk all things baseball with Josh and the geographers who came to the game with me.  It was great getting to chat with some extremely knowledgeable baseball folks, but I got giddy as a schoolkid when the SeaDogs mascot Slugger came by.  Naturally, I had to get my picture with him.

Me with Slugger the Sea Dog.

Back to the action, the game was an exciting pitcher's duel with the teams trading runs and entered the seventh inning tied 2-2.  Thankfully Sea Dogs right fielder Aneury Tavárez belted a two-run homer to right and gave the home team a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish.  The homer also meant the fans would be treated to an appearance of the lighthouse in center field, which celebrates every Sea Dogs's home run.  I was too slow with the camera to capture the shot, but as Portland held on for the win I got to see the lighthouse again to celebrate the Opening Night victory.

The center field lighthouse that appears to celebrate Portland home runs and victories.

With an appearance by the lighthouse completing the gameday experience at Hadlock Field, myself and a group of road-grizzled geographers prepared for our drive back to Boston.  I owe a big thank you to Josh Pahigian for joining us at the game, as I know myself and others enjoyed talking baseball with him throughout the game.  Although I hoped to take a larger group on the field trip, I have to say six was an excellent number because it allowed us all to explore and talk while getting to soak in a great experience at one of my favorite ballparks in Minor League Baseball.

Final Score: Reading 2, Portland 4
Box Score