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!


1.) We've seen differential beer pricing before, but it's usually just a domestic/premium dichotomy. Here they took it a step further, with Natty Light and PBR comprising a low-low tier, then the domestics, then more premium microbrews and Sam Adams-type stuff. I would expect the Red Sox to know their boozeahol.

2.) Along those lines, the beer stands actually listed, with prices, all the beers they had. We've never seen that before. A beer list at a ballgame...I bet that speeds things up for non-regulars.

3.) We saw a beer cart with tabasco sauce, tomato juice, and worcestershire arrayed on top. Silly me, I thought maybe they served Bloody Marys, though it would be highly irregular to see liquor at a beer stand, especially in the Minors. Turns out they were put in the beer to make what's called a Mountain Mary, a delicacy of sorts in NC/VA/WV, the vendor told us. I was skeptical and immediately had flashbacks to the Great Chelada Incident of 2008 (basically a canned version of the Mountain Mary sold by Budweiser, but also with clam juice). Neither of us had the chutzpah or idiocy to order one.

4.) The Salem/Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame! We haven't seen a HoF at a park since I think River City last year, so it's a notable achievement.

5.) A Li'l Fenway in one corner of the park where kids were playing wiffle ball. It's no celebrity wiffle ball game like we saw in Kansas City but still pretty neat.

6.) I know this is a “Promotion” but it's unique enough that it belongs up here. It was a “Guaranteed Win Night,” Courtesy of Bank of America. If the Sox lost that night (and they did; they often do as they're last place in the division) everyone at the park got a free ticket to a future home game. As Ben said: Think they might have trouble drawing?

7.) Along those lines, the stadium was fairly empty for a Friday night (though it's also very spacious, so maybe it just felt emptier). The family behind said everyone around Roanoke was just a football or NASCAR fan, but we don't buy it. A market that size...Salem/Roanoke, you can do better.

8.) The park had a really nice echo for the PA from the stadium itself and even the mountains behind it.

9.) Speaking of the mountains, fantastic background view. It's not the bridges and rivers Ben and I usually ooh and aah over, but it's excellent nonetheless.

You got a real purdy ridgeline, hyuh hyuh.

10.) Normally I wouldn't do this for anyone but Hendrix, but a major shout-out to the kid (maybe 11 or so) doing the National Anthem. Serious set of pipes.

11.) While we're on shout-outs: ticket guy who asked us if we wanted to be behind the net or not. Of course not! How else are we gonna finally get a foul ball?

12.) As noted above the park was huge, and it was all seats, no bleachers.

I'm sure it's because they were another team before, but I love that all the seats are blue at a Red Sox game.

13.) The Moderately Jumbo Tron displayed both today's stats for players (e.g. 1-3) and even the batting order. That's some Major League stuff right there we rarely see at Minor League parks. Many have season stats, but not in-game updates. Nice job, stat guys and video board operators.

14.) They had lots of on-field and on-dugout promotions, but the park was big enough that a lack of cameras made it hard to locate them sometimes. Good thing we were a couple rows behind the 3rd base dugout where they did most of them.

15.) Tonight was also Family Night, and they celebrated by playing the video “I'm Elmo and I Know It” (parody of “I'm Sexy and I Know It”) on the Tron. We were...mildly disturbed.

16.) This was the first time on our roadtrip we'd seen both teams and the umpiring crew before at other stops. I think we might be saturating the Carolina League a bit.

17.) I know we make fun of crappy defense a lot on this blog, but we actually want to give a shout-out to Luis Piterson, SS of the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Several phenomenal grabs, great throwing arm and accuracy. Watch out for this guy, folks.

18.) MONKEY RODEO (a.k.a. The entire reason we came to Salem)! It did not disappoint. We wanted little monkeys riding dogs and by God that's what we got. They mostly herded sheep around the outfield, and after the game the dogs (to use a generous word – aided – by the human leader) led the sheep into a pen and then onto the back of a semi. 

Yup. Monkeys ridin' dogs herdin' sheep. The players were the dictionary definition of nonplussed. Look it up.

THEY TRAVEL IN A TRUCK. I don't know why this was such a surprise to me, but it's awesome.

19.) The dogs peed and pooped...pretty much everywhere on the field. That was probably the funniest park of the whole show: watching a dog squat down on the field base side to squeeze one out with a monkey on its back. Oh, and watching the groundscrew hastily clean up after wards.

Poop Delay! They didn't have any plastic grocery bags?

20.) Still sticking with the Monkey Rodeo, the leader had a canned schlocky speech 'bout 'Murika that would've made P.T. Barnum and George W. both blush like schoolgirls. His origin story: “Ever since I was born I had a dream...a dream I could own a monkey.” Brother, ain't we all been there.

21.) They sold ice cream in mini-helmets. That's good! The mini-helmets included the Phillies and Mets. That's bad! The mini-helmets did not include the Braves. That's even worse, and we assume the Frogurt was also cursed.

Carefully Re-calibrated and Peer-Reviewed (CRAP) Metrics:

Beer: Price-wise nothing to get real excited about ($7/24 oz of most beers), but the intensely differential pricing for crappy domestic, domestic, and non-crappy beers earns them some points. Those are in the bonus section. For now, $7/24 oz beer with a little bonus for good selection, too → 6/10 pts.

Most Caloric Concession Item: Sadly, once again nothing really leapt out at us here. Some of the combos with fries and a drink could get up there, and we count those as one item, so we'll give it to 'em. 4/10 pts.

Crowd: As noted above, kind of a small crowd for a Friday in this size market, but to be fair they were quite spirited. They cheered loudly with every hit (though Salem racked up just 3 all night, so maybe it was pent up energy). No real remarkable personalities/hecklers to speak of. 5/10 pts.

Funniest Name: This gets tricky because we've seen both teams before. We're just going to use this section to issue an errata for calling Cheslor Cuthbert the whitest player name we'd ever heard last year. We realized this year Cheslor is in fact from Nicaragua. The Scrappy Journeymen apologize for this error and award by default the average number of points scored in this category to the Sox. 6/10 pts.

Men's Room: 7 urinals, though they did have a distinct high school gym locker room feel. 3/10 pts.

Mascots: The Gorilla. He name. He story. He is simply THE GORILLA. Mysterious. And pretty tough in a fight. You ever taken on a ticked off gorilla?

Unfortunately we do have to dock some points because you could see parts of the guy through the suit. It was your basic monkey suit, not a full-on padded mascot outfit, though the tuxedo shirt helped. Anyway, we'll have to see how he stacks up against the Durham Bull tomorrow. In the end, I can't help it: I love a man in a monkey suit. 7/10 pts.

Would not want to see him in a dark alley. An actual gorilla or a man dressed in the gorilla suit.

Promotions: Family Night, boooooo. MONKEY RODEO, WOOOOOOOO! “Guaranteed Win Night,” BAHAHAHAHA. 9/10 pts.

Random Bonus Points:
+2 for differential beer pricing and lists, -1 for the Mountain Mary and associated PTSD, +2 for baseball HoF, +1 for Li'l Fenway, +1 for the nice echo, +3 for the mountainous background view, +1 for great anthem, +2 for “Net or no net, sir?”, +3 for stat updates on Tron, -1 for lack of cameras, +1 for a full personnel repeat, +2 for great SS play, -1 for division rival mini-helmets

Total: 55 points.

Overall: Another solid performance. Though Salem did benefit heavily from the Monkey Rodeo, they have some strong pieces to build around for a great fan experience. If I lived there, I'd go there with frequency (though never to cheer for the Red Sox). It's a shame their attendance isn't better. 6.5/10.


  1. The only thing worse than the Best Burger in Baseball? The Best Burger in Videogames: "Have you ever had a Monte Cristo? It's an entire ham, turkey, and swiss sandwich dipped in French Toast batter and deep fried. It's actually semi-extinct in most parts of the world, because few could handle its epicness. Well, my favorite sandwich is a double bacon cheeseburger with two Monte Cristo Sandwiches as the bun. And a Diet Coke, obviously." -Fictional Sony PS3 Executive

  2. Also, I'm questioning your've never heard of a Mountain Mary? For Shame...This time I'm calling you out.