Monday, July 23, 2012

Day 9, Durham Bulls (Durham, NC): Rain Ruins Everything 2: This Time, its Personal!

We awoke, still aglow in the effervescent radiance of the Braves’s startling comeback against the Nationals and we celebrated with the Final, Ultimate Mini-Golf Challenge of the Trip.  This would determine the real champion of the trip!  This would bring those promised prizes of money, kidneys, and first born sons to the winner!  This would also end in a tie!  Not a necktie, or a bowtie, or a tie-dye, but a complete, 2 course, I-won-one-he-won-the-other draw, stalemate, deadlock, and split. 

Then we drove, had Arby’s, and made it to Durham.  Big thanks to Becca and Jake for putting us up for the night so we could take in the Durham Bulls game.  Unfortunately for us, we just happened into Durham during its worst thunderstorm in a decade.  The evening started off nice enough with pizza and a maze of 1-way streets to get to the ballpark.  The game was about 15 minutes from starting when they announced there would be a slight delay for some rain in the area.  We had great seats to watch the clouds swirl and slowly encroach our entire skyline.  

The stadium, sans death clouds.

Rain eventually happened around 7:40 and the masses huddled on the concourse.  We enjoyed some snacks and waited patiently.  Eventually the rain lightened up and they removed the tarp to thunderous applause.  The lightening and the thundering of the previous sentence must have reminded the storm that it was not over yet, however, and we soon got to see the tarp put back out.  They finally called the game at 9:30. But let it never be said that the Scrappy Journeymen left a ballpark before the game was officially called.  We did our good deed by giving away our rain checks.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Day 8, Salem Red Sox (Salem, VA): In Which Our Heroes See a Giant Hole in the Ground, 36 Smaller Holes in the Ground, and a GOSH DARN FLIPPIN' MONKEY RODEO!

After a handful of hours of shuteye following the Dark Knight Rises premiere that put us back at our hotel around 3:15am, we scuttled out shortly before checkout (and shortly after some fortuitously located Chick-Fil-A Chicken Biscuits a few blocks away).

We set out looking for the Putt Putt Fun Center that supposedly exists in Hickory. It's only listed as “4th St SW” on both Google Maps and the Putt Putt street number. We called and got a garbled voicemail that Ben couldn't even use to make out the hours, much less the location. We drove up and down 4th and couldn't find it. So, we assume it was phantom mini-gold that got sucked into some sort of inter-dimensional vortex that garbles voicemail messages. Furthermore we decided this was not an inter-dimensional vortex we desired to be a part of and instead hit I-40 east heading for I-77 north and Salem, VA by way of Mt. Airy, NC.

This is important because we ended spending a surprising amount of time in Mt. Airy. Our first stop – actually planned – was the World's Biggest Open-Faced Outdoor Granite Rock Quarry. It's...well, it's a damn big hole in the ground with lots of rocks. Signs to the observation deck warned of possible dynamite blasts, but tragically we missed any explosions. Though it did look as though the blue device in the pictures below was drilling holes for just such activity.

I'm too lazy to figure out how to make these into a panorama, but you can use the blue driller in the corner of these pictures as a reference point. It was a...really big hole in the ground.

Unsurprisingly there was a thriving monument industry in Mt. Airy and nearby Granite City. There were more roadside headstones on display than people in that city, I'm pretty sure. I suppose it's always good to plan ahead.

Spoiler alert! We also played mini-golf. Which also incorporated a granite monument. About the granite quarry. META.

After the quarry we doubled back toward the highway for an impromptu stop at ACCtion Mini-Golf, so named because the theme of their two courses was the Almost Competitive Conference (ACC).

Awww, it's adorable, they think they're real teams. Redneck Conference (SEC) for life, baby!

This course was attached to a driving range and par 3 practice hole, so it was actually reasonably well-designed. They were big fans of hills you had to hit over and obstacles you had to hit through, but what made the course really unique was the preponderance of the holes on the back sides of hills. This necessitates you banking the ball off the back wall for a shot at an ace, since it's nearly impossible to send the ball with exactly enough force to crest the hell but not skip over the hole if you're on a line with it. Fun challenge! I wish there were more courses like that.

Re-opening the season series, I was back in non-Myrt. Beach form the first round, beating Ben by a solid margin. Tragically I blew a lead down the stretch on the second course, leading to a tie and a 4-4-1 season series to date. We're finishing this fight tomorrow in Roanoke. Stay tuned.

After the game we'd be re-miss in not giving a shoutout to the folks at Rancho Viejas Mexican restaurant in Daleville, VA, who dealt with us about 45 minutes before closing. We were surprised they were open, frankly. Also shout-out to the busboy/waiter (not sure which) we met there from “Buford Highway” (his words, not mine!) and Cross Keys High School, a fellow Atlanta and Dekalb County School System native. Small world. Hope you can make it back to the ATL one day, man.

Oh, also: GO BRAVES! The restaurant staff wasn't quite sure what was happening as we watched the best comeback in 25 years (down 9-0, win 11-10) on my phone, but Ben and I were leaping out of our seats. I promise to never, ever doubt this 2012 Braves team again after this and the 15-13 Philly game.

Anyway, to the Salem Red Sox game!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Day 7, Hickory Crawdads (Hickory, NC): Caped Crusaders, Phriendly Phillies, and Alliterative Adjectives.

We awoke in the other Howard Johnson Express in Florence, SC.  Did you know there were two?  And there is a 20 dollar difference between them when you use coupons? 

We had known todays plan pretty much since we decided 3 months ago to make this trip.  The Crawdads in Hickory, NC were having Dark Knight Night and the midnight release of Christopher Nolan’s opus was showing at the one movie theater there.  So, knowing that we had a long night ahead of us, we decided to avoid any of our normal strenuous activities like Putt Putt and looking at things.  We still had to find some way to kill time between Florence and Hickory, so we pulled our most radical stunt yet.  Over the course of the 3 hour drive, neither one of us surpassed the speed limit.  That’s right, it didn’t matter if we were the only car on a country road; if the sign said 35 MPH, we went 35 MPH. 

Clearly, the Darkest of Knight Nights

So, yeah.  We didn’t do too much before the game.  Sorry.  And after the game we went to see Dark Knight Rises.  It’s good. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Day 6, Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Myrt. Beach, SC): In Which Ben Excels in Strokes, Our Heroes Nearly Die of Another Stroke, and the Supervillains Unveil Their World Domination Plot at a Minor League Ballgame

We began our day as we everyday, Pinkie: by waking up. Not sure why I keep repeating that. Unless we are dead. In which case, OOOOOOOO we'll haunt you good.

We sped forth eastward, seeking what we thought was our ultimate destination of Myrtle Beach, SC and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans' Supervillain Night on Dark Knight Release Eve. Our secondary objective: mini-golf, and lots of it!

Myrtle Beach is world famous for its golf, but what many people may not know is it also excels at its smaller-scale stepchild. Real golfers and our wallets didn't want us anywhere near a real course, so Putt Putt it was.

Our first course of the day was Hawaiian Rumble, which you all might recall as the site of the Mini Golf Masters every year. It's a standard but challenging 18-hole course, and the winner averaged a 31 over 12 rounds. That would be an average of 5 holes-in-one and par 2 on every other hole. Needless to say, we were nowhere near that.

Well-designed and challenging course. The holes had Hawaiian names reflecting their design, and the volcano went off ever 30 minutes. Also, Hawaiian luau music the whole way!

Your $9 admission included the cheapest lei in Myrt. Beach.

Did I mention challenging? Hole 17. Hit it too soft? F*ck you. Hit it too hard? F*ck you again.

Ben shot a 43 and I shot a 44, setting the tone for the rest of the day where Ben roughed me up on 4 of 5 courses to take the season series 4 games to 3. The only course I won: our second stop at Molten Mountain, which was coincidentally indoors and air conditioned. I guess I just don't have the conditioning to play outdoors in the South Carolina afternoon heat.

This is the only course I won on the day. Consequently, it's he greatest in Myrt. Beach.

We elected to avoid any of the other stores or restaurants (i.e. tourist traps) on Myrt. Beach, although we were tempted by Ben's Original Seafood Buffet. It was probably more expensive than the dollar hot dogs at the night's game, anyway.

So after all that mini-golf we headed down to the Myrtle Beach Krusty's KOA Kampground to try to find a primitive tent site for the night. We found one, but it was $47 + tax. This is approximately double any other KOA in the entire region. The employee's explanation? Peak tourist season. OK, but I have to believe you're not at the optimal price point here on the S/D curve. Who comes to Myrtle Beach looking to tent camp? And how many of them would pay $50 for the privilege? You still could've jacked it up to ~$35/night and Ben and I would have paid it. Instead, we drove 1.5 hours after the game to Florence, SC for a Howard Johnson for less. With 4 walls, a roof, 2 soft beds, free breakfast, and gorram air conditioning!

Anyway, rant over. Game time!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 5, Augusta Greenjackets (Augusta, GA): Big Things that Should Be Small, Small Things that Should Be Big, and Two Two Hour Two Run Games.

We grew suspicious of the Best Western in High Point, NC as soon as its scale told Zach that he had actually lost weight during this trip.  Has it not been reading this blog?  We have a category specifically designed to fatten us up!

So we left.  In a similar manner to Day 4’s Burlington trip, we decided to stop briefly in Charlotte to take in the stadium for the Knights, even though we won’t get the chance to see a game there.  So we headed straight for Fort Mill, South Carolina (you know, that state that Charlotte is totally in, too) and found the winner of our Stadium Most Likely to be Invaded by Saxons award.  It looked pretty cool with a carousel inside and what looked like different colored seats.  We weren’t able to get in and poke around, but it was a neat drive around.

Think "Executives of the Round Table"

Even more grand, however, was the baseball water tower opposite the parking lot.  It just looked like something a 5-year-old Paul Bunyan would love.

And even he would do more damage to the tee than the ball.

We ate at a nearby Bojangles (pronounced Bo-yan-glaze we think) which was actually pretty tasty.  Augusta was beckoning, but we needed one more stop in Ridgeway, SC to see the world’s smallest police station.  It was in use from 1940-1990 and is about the size of a handicap restroom stall. The new station is next door and about twice as big.  It even had a working pay phone to the side in case someone in need found the station unoccupied.  We also saw a very elderly local woman driving an Escalade.  Priorities.

You can see about as much of the  station as we could.

Zach at his most Brobdingnagian

Not actually much bigger or any less useful than Ben's actual phone.

At long last we made it back into our home state of Georgia and the home of the Augusta Masters.  Not being interested in golf that doesn’t hand out orange balls for holes in one, we headed to the baseball park.  Apparantly, Monday’s game got rained out, so they played a double header for us, starting the first one 2 hours early at 5.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 4, Danville Braves (Danville, VA): In Which Our Heroes Encounter an Ace, a King, and Nine Competent Players

We awoke from a significantly better night's rest (courtesy of our first hotel of the trip) to begin our fourth day, and the first one in which we didn't have any significant driving to do. Danville is but an hour from Greensboro, so we had the whole day to putter around. And putter around we did.

We began at the Putt Putt Family Fun Center in Burligton, NC for our first mini golf experience of the trip. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Putt Putt is a series of well-designed challenging miniature golf courses with a distinctive orange and green color scheme my dad and I used to play all the time when I was a kid. Sadly the ones in Atlanta have since fallen by the wayside, but they're apparently alive and well in North Carolina (and Kentucky, where we went last year). There were two in driving distance from the hotel.

This Putt Putt had two courses, and we indulged in both of them for the low low price of $5 (woohoo Monday specials). Strangely, we were the only people there between the ages of 8 and 80. It's almost as if real adults had something better to do at 11 o'clock on a Monday. Weirdos.

That is, everyone except for Rapezo the Clown, who apparently lives in the shack next door.

Anyway, at Putt Putt they have a meta-game beyond the golf. There's this series of lights above the course, and if the light of your color ball is on when you hit a hole-in-one, you get a prize. Ben and I both hit aces for prizes on both courses, though we only claimed the second one. After your first ace, you get a special orange or red-colored Hole-in-One ball and a scratch-and-win coupon (for things like discounted game tokens and golf games). If you ace the 18th with that ball you get another prize (a free round of golf!). While I actually did accomplish this while on the first course (aced 17 and 18), I hadn't actually claimed my prize due to laziness. Oh well. When would I be back through Burlington, anyway? What? Next week, you say? Crud.

I'd be remiss in not stating I whupped Ben on both courses. Also, this is proof of our aces.

Between games we jaunted across the street for something I'd never experienced before: a drive-through convenience store. We got Cokes. They were awesomely cold. I wish I could do all my shopping this way.

I spent 25 years getting out of the car like a sucker.

After Putt Putt we still weren't hungry for lunch, so we decided to drive 5 minutes to check out the Rookie-level Burlington Royals stadium, which we unfortunately won't have time to hit on this trip. But we're glad we did. The stadium looked awesomely old: nice state fair grandstand sort of feel, with a wide open concourse but tight seating area.

Ben said it reminded him of Medlock in Atlanta, where he used to play Little League. I was too fat to play Little League.

Mmmmm, bleachers.

We're really glad we stopped because the stadium crew was kind enough to let us poke around, even heading out onto the field itself briefly. The Royals GM, Ben, even took about 20 minutes out of his day to chat with us about the stadium and franchise.

The stadium itself was actually originally in Danville, VA (our destination that evening), but years ago (the 1970s, I think?) Burlington bought it, broke it down, put it on a train and re-built it there. Danville has since gotten a new stadium.

As for the team, Ben gave us a lot of neat background on the business side of MiLB. Most Minor League teams have what are called Player Development Contracts with their affiliated Major League clubs, which basically means the MiLB teams are independently owned and operated franchises but the Major League teams have total control over baseball moves. In those Contracts is also a clause that says the city is guaranteed a team unless the local owners decide to move it. So if the Pirates wanted out of High-A Lynchburg, say, they'd have to find another team to take their place (the Braves did).

The Rookie-level Appalachian League, though, is different in that their teams are actually owned by the Major League clubs. They can move the teams wherever they want at any time. Fortunately, though, Ben said the Appalachian League is actually a desirable place for teams to have a rookie club because of a.) weather and b.) the teams' geographical proximity (this is the tightest league in the country, cutting travel and lodging costs).So even when the Mariners pulled out of Burlington 6 years go, the Royals were there to step in.

Anyway, major props to Ben for talking us through all that fascinating stuff. However, we have to admit we did feel pretty unaccomplished when we realized he couldn't be meaningfully older than us. He's the GM of an affiliated MiLB team, and we're but humble internationally-recognized Minor League bloggers (seriously, who the hell is reading us in Finland? And why?). Ah well, we've wasted our lives. May as well continue in that vein, then!

That was probably more than you ever wanted to know about MiLB, but that's what this blog is about. Now, to...more MiLB and tonight's game in Danville, VA, the Braves Rookie-level affiliate.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Day 3, Greensboro Grasshoppers (Greensboro, NC): Insect Fights, Apathy, and Professional Heckling have Consequences.

After a Waffle House breakfast and a figurative and literal Sunday drive 5 hours up through rural North Carolina, we arrived in Greensboro.  An odd start time of 4 PM allowed us to catch the first 3 innings of Ben Sheets's Atlanta Braves debut, as well as check in to a real life, four-walled, one-ceilinged hotel room.  Working wi-fi and soft beds!

We parked for free on the street in downtown Greensboro and walked a couple of blocks to the ballpark.  Before we even realized we were at the stadium, we knew the outcome of our next mascot showdown.  To be fair, we do not yet know what mascot we will see in Danville, but can you imagine it beating this thing?

Not by much, but I'd still take Ben in this fight.

Its name is Guilford the Grasshopper, after the county in which Greensboro is situated.  As long as the Danville mascot has a shoe, it will squish this green, fuzzy, Martian-shaped insect thing.  It doesn’t even have a number on the back of its jersey; two wings are drawn on the back, flatter than a sheet of paper.

The game happened, too.  The unusual start time must have had everyone out of sync.  The game ended 14-5, with 2 official errors on each side and a few calls that could have gone either way.  The entertainment staff had the energy and enthusiasm of a sloth reading stock prices. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Day 2, Charleston Riverdogs (Charleston, SC): In Which Our Heroes Drive Another 7.5 Hours, Grab a Piece of History, and Mistake the Meaning of the Phrase “Pickle Dog”

We begin our day at more or less the crack of dawn, when Ben and I both roused ourselves, without much difficulty, from the rocky terrain on which we'd eventually succumbed to something a man more scrupulous than your average Senator wouldn't be able to refer to with a straight face as a reasonable facsimile of “sleep.” No matter. A 7.5 hour drive ahead of us to Charleston, SC. Plenty of time for sleep then.

So, we hit the road (briefly) before stopping for breakfast at our old friend the Pink Cadillac diner. We hit this up last year, and it was a reasonable enough source of foodstuffs that we decided to stop in and pay another visit to my cousin, King.

The King stay the King.

After that we hit I-81 south to I-77 and finally I-26. On the way, though, there was more fun with numbers. Eventually the fuel light came on, nagging us to put gas in the car. So we stopped. But the prices sucked, so I only put in 2 gallons. Then this happened.

Nice omen.

Later we stopped for more gas, but there was also Chick-Fil-A involved. Woo!

Finally we made it to Charleston. After striking out with two hotels (one didn't take the coupon we found, the other was too sketchy even for us) we relented and booked another campsite for the night. We rushed over, pitched the tent and it was off to the Charleston Riverdogs for a 7:05 start!

We rushed over to get there at 5:30 because the whole reason we drove 7.5 hours was for their promotion. The first 1,000 fans got this snazzy Negro League jersey! There were also several former Negro League players there selling gear from such teams as the Black Yankees and Atlanta Black Crackers. Ah, memories.

Caption: As a white guy, I feel a little strange wearing this out of the context of the ballpark. But why only do what you're comfortable with in life?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Day 1: Lynchburg Hillcats Redux (Lynchburg, VA): Congressional Debates, 2 Types of Pitchers, and a Temporal Disproportion

Edit: Pictures up!

Pictures forthcoming after we get out of the Charleston KOA's version of wireless Internet. 

To start our current pilgrimage, we raced from home base in Atlanta to the point furthest from.  Lynchburg, Virginia, where our trip began in earnest last year.  Zach had not had lava flavored chicken wings the night before, so he was in a better humor than the last time we sojourned to southwest Virginia.
We gained insight into the local politics of one Chatham, Virginia by noting the campaign flyers for some congressional candidates alongside the road.  In addition to the usual name and office on a background of red, white, and blue, these posters functioned as a complete debate over one of the pressing issues of the day. The posters read as follows:




The trip was otherwise unremarkable aside from its length.  We left Atlanta at 11:30 AM shooting for the 7:05 game in Lynchburg.  Google Maps approximated the trip at 7 hours and 30 minutes, so we didn’t have a moment to spare.  Despite minor rainstorms and a flaming tractor trailer on the opposite side of 85 in Charlotte, we landed in the Lynchburg parking hill at precisely 7:05 and so after getting tickets and beer, we only missed the first couple of pitches… What’s that?  We missed the whole first inning?  There’s no way the game could be moving that qui… top of the 3rd?  

Yes, readers, this was a lighting fast game.  Surprising, seeing as the Hillcats were playing the Red Sox and the Red Sox are notorious for the length of their games.  In fact, the 9th inning began, with Lynchburg up 1-0 and only 6 hits for the two teams combined, at 8:50.  Excited at the prospect of seeing our first sub-2 hour game, we journeymen cheered with every strike call, cringed at a one out double, and rejoiced as the final out was recorded at exactly 9:05!  Our joy at this largely inconsequential athletic feat was palpable, only to be shattered as the loudspeaker announced that the official time of game was 2 hours… and 3 minutes.  As tempting as we find it to embellish the story and stretch the truth a bit, we are dedicated to truthiness and must report that we have NOT yet seen a game come in under 2 hours yet.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Scrappy Journeymen Ride Again!

By popular demand (100% of last year’s participants voted for it) Ben and Zach will once again be scouring the country for Minor League baseball, promotions, calories, free tickets, funny names, and probably pigs, too, if last year was any indication.
Schedule is a bit fluid at the moment, but we’ll begin by reprising our pilgrimage to Lynchburg on either the 13th or 14th of July. Also on the docket are monkeys, superheroes, Rookie League ball and probably a surprise or two.

Yes, it's worth a 7 hour drive just to get this pitcher refilled.

If you know of fun stuff we should check out in Southern Virginia, Tennessee, Carolinas, or North Georgia, let us know and we’ll see if we can fit it in.  Offers of couches and beds are likewise acceptable offerings.

It will be bigger and better!*  More comprehensive evaluation of all ballparks!**  Full frontal nudity!***

*Actually about 11 days shorter and more modest in geographical scope.
**   Probably pretty much the same thing we did last year.
***  You’ll just have to wait and see if we’re kidding about this one.