Ills of the Road

Being on the road for several days, or weeks, accidents or illness or both are bound to happen to even the most careful of travelers. And our baseball trips have been no different. In fact, you might even say that baseball travel certainly has its own dangers. Baseball parks, depending on where a fan sits, aren’t the safest places to be. If you’re brave enough to sit outside of the netting, you open yourself up to foul balls and the occasional flying bat (and we don’t mean the blood-sucking, hair-tangling type). Even sitting behind the net doesn’t always keep you safe.

In our years of attending baseball games, we have seen our fair share of injuries in the crowd by flying debris from the field. We’ve even been the victims once or twice. The most memorable was during a Cincinnati game (one of the very few major league games we’ve attended as a married couple). This was in 1994; Marge Schott was the owner and Deion Sanders, Barry Larkin, Reggie Sanders were all players and the team was coached by Davey Johnson. Dan’s brother, an attorney in Cincinnati, had given us tickets to the game for which we were very grateful. We have both been Reds’ fans since childhood, as Cincinnati is our hometown. On top of that, the seats were in the fourth row behind the dugout on the first base side—a mere three rows from Marge Schott herself.

We were in heaven! Until the fifth inning, when Deion Sanders hit a foul ball straight above us. It came careening down out of the sky. Ginny ducked under her scorecard, as if that would effectively protect her, and of course, Dan stretched out his arms as far as he could reach above his head, intending to catch the ball. The friendly couple sitting next to us who we had been chatting with, reacted in the same manner. She ducked down next to Ginny, while Ginny tried to cover her as well with the skimpy scorebook and he jumped up, reaching for the stars, as well. And he was actually the lucky one. The ball hurtled down right to Dan—right onto his middle finger and bounced to the seats behind us. In the process, the ball had hit Dan’s finger so badly that it swelled to the size of one of the famous Kahn’s brats sold at the concession stands. Afterwards, we discovered that on the back of the ticket was a disclaimer by the Reds organization that they were not responsible for any injuries incurred during a game. So Dan attempted to get Marge Schott to sign the back of his ticket just as a reinforcement of that rule. He thought it would be funny. In the end, all that Dan got was a trip to the emergency room—but AFTER the game. He certainly wouldn’t go during. The park emergency staff did get him a bag of ice to take down the swelling, but it was little comfort, considering that he didn’t even get to keep the offending ball.

Another danger to watch for on the road is food poisoning. We don’t like to think of such things spoiling our vacations, but these things happen, so be prepared. This has actually happened to Ginny. Actually, we suspect that it wasn’t poisoning per se; it may have been something she was allergic to. Either way, it was certainly unpleasant. But like a trouper, she didn’t let it interfere with her baseball. We were actually in San Juan Capistrano where we visited the mission then went to a very nice restaurant for lunch, so nice that it cost us $75 for two salads, an iced tea and a Coke. Given, Ginny’s salad had salmon and Dan’s had steak, but still…$75?!

Ginny didn’t quite finish hers and Dan had the remaining salmon. We then made a stop at an antiques shop before heading out to Lake Elsinore for the ball game. While in the shop, Ginny began to feel not quite right and on the trip to Lake Elsinore, things just got steadily worse. After getting to our hotel (which was the PITS in every sense of the word), Dan wanted to let her stay in bed and cancel going to the game. Actually, we should say Dan OFFERED to not go to the game. There’s no way he would WANT to not go. And, of course, the same goes for Ginny. She was determined to get there. She wasn’t coming all the way to California just to miss a ball game. She made it through the first three innings before having to run to the bathroom. And there she decided that we needed one more criterion by which to judge a ball park—barfability. How clean is a bathroom? Would you be willing to barf there? Luckily, the women’s bathroom at the Lake Elsinore Storms stadium was exceptionally clean and well prepared for such an emergency. After her epiphany, she returned to her seat and having relinquished the scorekeeping duties to Dan, she managed to use mind over matter to allow herself to stay until the end of the game. Talk about a trouper. A lesser woman, or even man, would have taken the car and gone back to the hotel where she could’ve suffered in a not-so-comfy bed. Not Ginny. She toughed it out for nine innings. Then, of course, she was sick all night at the hotel. However, by morning, she was much better; in fact, the following night we were at the High Desert Mavericks stadium and she was again eating park food (sometimes a dangerous adventure by itself). Because she slept through the two-hour ride, we missed seeing the Roy Rogers museum, which is no longer. She lives with the regret to this day.

Sun burns, laryngitis, colds, allergic reactions, sprained ankles—all these ailments have plagued us on trips, but we don’t stop. Well, we actually do stop: at CVS, Walgreen’s, K-Mart, Walmart, Sams, the local grocery store and, very occasionally, the urgent care facility. One year, we had to travel with Dan’s leg in a removable big black boot (used instead of a cast) because he had broken his leg just above the ankle. The mishap happened before we left on our baseball trip, but it was no less traumatic. And it was during one of the hottest years on record in Texas and Oklahoma. But he survived. And didn’t ever think of NOT going to baseball. The same thing happened to Ginny two years later, but not in the same way. She broke her foot missing the last step on the stairs and ended up in a boot as well. This time, though, we went to the west coast of Florida. It was quite warm, but not nearly as bad as Texas. The problem here was the rain, which would not stop. So she lived in fear of slipping on the wet ground. But, again, we never thought of NOT going!

So the moral of the story, as the cliché goes, hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. You never know what disasters await you. But think of the wonderful time you’ll have before and after. Baseball makes all things better.


Hats for James

As you could tell by the last two editions of our Minor Road Trip blog, we like to talk not only about minor league baseball, travel and historical sites, we also like to talk about food, baseball park food and what is sometimes referred to as “road food.” Road food is served in those little family-owned restaurants, diners and drive-ins that we run across on our baseball travels—those small town coffee shops and places a person would never haunt unless they were a local or someone traveling the back roads of America going from one minor league baseball park to another. We have one here in our hometown that is on the top of our got-to-eat-there list.

We have a good number of friends who enjoy baseball, but only a few who enjoy it as much as we do. As has been mentioned before, we really don’t have a favorite team. Yes, we both grew up in the Cincinnati area so we always keep an eye on the Reds, but for the most part we have given up on major league baseball—too much money and too many prima donnas. We love the intimacy of the minor leagues. Most of our friends enjoy minor league ball because it is near by and accessible, but they all have a love for one particular major league team. Dan has a friend who has even gone to the point of having the Boston Red Sox logo tattooed on his arm. We both have a close friend who loves baseball as much as we do, but he’s one of those who loves his major league team and enjoys minor league baseball because it is available. His name is James Brown. The issue that we have with him is that his major league team is the New York Yankees. James lives and breaths the Yankees. We, on the other hand, always have to explain to James that the Yankees are the epitome of what we dislike about major league baseball. And we always add that our favorite MLB team is the one that has most recently beaten the Yankees.

James owns and operates a diner in our hometown of Rochester, New York, called simply enough “James Brown’s Place.” It is an absolutely delightful little store front American diner that he has been running since 1998. Dan started going there for lunch sometime in early 2000 when he was the interim rector of the Episcopal Church about two blocks away – he would go there with the lay leadership of the church for meetings. He took Ginny there for lunch shortly afterwards and we have been going back ever since. To put it mildly, it is our favorite restaurant in all of Rochester. The diner is a breakfast and lunch place with a Friday night fish fry. As a matter of fact, we were there this past Friday for the fish fry – well, Ginny had the fish fry. Dan had James’ BBQ ribs. (He does an outstanding job of smoking his own meats.) It’s certainly not a fancy place by any means. Instead, it’s one of those places when you walk in for the first time, you may think to yourself, “what have I gotten myself into.” However, the staff is extremely friendly and the food is wonderful. We are not the only ones in town who think this. James does a good business, but on Saturdays and Sundays the place is generally packed. There may be a wait at the door, but it’s worth it.

James himself is just one of those guys you have to like. He’s a big bear of a man with an absolute heart of gold (as cliché as that sounds) with an ability to keep people coming back. He makes them feel at home (in a restaurant) with his winks or hugs, his self-deprecating sense of humor (the motto of the restaurant is “James Brown’s Place: A legend in his own mind”) and his welcomes to all new and not so new patrons. One wall of the diner is filled with pictures of James and friends, but the most important section is his shrine to the Yankees (a picture of each of the Yankees’ World Series winning teams plus other Yankee fan memorabilia). It should be noted that Dan prefers not facing the “shrine” when he eats. He would prefer to look at a picture of the backside of a naked man grocery shopping (they say it is a picture of James) than have to gaze at the Yankee shrine. (James and Dan have a continual discussion about whether or not the Yankees, according to James, are “God’s Team.” Dan always quips that if they were God’s Team they wouldn’t have to have a $ 230 million payroll and not be doing so poorly—they would play just for the love of the game and be winning.)

One characteristic about James is that he always wears a baseball cap with the logo of some baseball team. He doesn’t get to wear them for long because he cooks in them, so he goes through them fairly quickly. One of our great joys, especially for Dan, is picking up at least one ball cap a trip from one of the teams we visit in a year for James. He loves getting the hats and Dan likes giving them to him. It’s something Dan’s grandmother taught him: if there is something simple you can do to bring joy into someone’s life, do it. So Dan’s goal in life is to find hats for James every trip.

James Brown with his Mets Affiliate hat.

Although James is always grateful for his hats, he does have a couple of rules—no Boston Red Sox or New York Mets affiliates. Occasionally, we do plot evil things and our we-are-not-Yankee-fans side comes out. Then our goal (especially Dan) is to get James into a Red Sox or Mets affiliate cap, and we did it with this last trip to Savannah. We picked up a Sandgnats fitted (7 & 5/8ths) home team hat for James, got him to put it on, took a picture and then informed him that they were a Mets affiliate. He liked the hat so much, he changed his rules a little: as long as it wasn’t Boston, well, even Boston is okay this week.

So if you are hitting the Rochester RedWings (AAA—Minnesota Twins) in between seeing the Auburn Doubledays (Short Season A—Washington Nationals) and the Batavia Muckdogs (Short Season A—Miami Marlins), stop in and see James Brown’s Place ( It is the ideal baseball road food place—and you got to meet James. A legend in his own mind!


Savannah: Bring Your Elastic Pants

In our last blog, “Opening Day 2013,” we expounded on the assets of the Savannah Sand Gnats ball park, historic Grayson Park. One outstanding aspect was some of the food items offered. Turns out that “food” happens to be a grand theme of the overall city of Savannah itself. During our recent visit there, we seemed to eat our way across the city, consuming more food than we had in a year! And, oh, how good it was!

First on the list: since Savannah is situated on a river next to an ocean, of course, seafood is ubiquitous. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a seafood restaurant. Moreover, the offerings are both similar and unique at the same time. For instance, the Shrimp Factory, a restaurant on the riverfront, serves scallops and crab, as many of the other restaurants do, but here the crab is deviled and served in a small tin about the size of a one cup measure. It looked small–being the appetizer portion–when the server set it on the table. But it was just the right amount once Ginny had eaten her salad. In fact, the server told us that the dinner entree portion was normally too much for most people. The scallops were wrapped in bacon and coated with sesame seeds. Dan had them gone before Ginny even took a bite of her deviled crab. Apparently, they were delicious. Down the road from the Shrimp Factory is Huey’s, one of the only places to get breakfast (and lunch and dinner). On their menu they had a seafood omelet, and a Creole omelet with shrimp. They also have beignets with an optional praline sauce. Those of you not from the South, or who have never traveled to the South, particularly around Louisiana, you have been deprived of this treat. Beignets are like a flat yeast donut with powdered sugar. At Huey’s they’ve added a side of praline sauce that will knock you down. We’ve had beignets at the most famous beignet place in the U.S.–Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans–and we have to say that Huey’s were better. Who doesn’t love a great sugary sauce over deep fried dough?

Second on the list: since Savannah is situated in the South, of course, there is Southern cooking. Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, biscuits…we can’t even finish the list without salivating. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to partake in two Southern cooking buffets during the time we were there. The first is quite famous and you MUST make a reservation if you want to get into the restaurant. The Lady and Sons restaurant on West Congress Street is owned by the queen of Southern cooking, Paula Dean. Thus, the wait to get a table. We actually called the day before to get a reservation for lunch and the earliest they could get us in was 3 p.m. So, ok, we had a later breakfast (at Huey’s), then walked all over town for several hours working up a healthy appetite and had our late lunch/early dinner. Thank goodness we walked! And we needed to walk more afterwards! The buffet at this restaurant had all things Southern, including fried chicken, ribs, mac and cheese, collard greens, biscuits, and desserts brought to your table. For those health conscious patrons, the buffet included baked chicken. There was also what Ginny described as the best lima beans dish she’s ever eaten. (Dan wouldn’t know because lima beans wouldn’t touch his lips for a million dollars.) The macaroni and cheese is of special note here. It came out from the kitchen with at least a quarter inch of extra melted cheese on the top. The two kinds of cheese made gooey strings on the spoon when it was dipped from the pan. (We didn’t see a defibrillator anywhere, although it should’ve been near by.) The desserts included Paula’s famous chocolate gooey butter cakes. By the time we got to that course, Dan couldn’t even look at the dessert. Ginny had a tiny space left in her stomach and just had to try the cake. Quite tasty. After that, we waddled our way around town, trying to digest our huge meal.

The next day, Sunday, friends took us to the Desoto Hotel where they served a champagne brunch. Despite the fact that the day before we had sworn off food forever, we were actually hungry again. Here, Ginny discovered that champagne’s not so bad with orange poured into it. The brunch buffet included the typical breakfast offerings, eggs, sausage, bacon, and grits (remember, we’re in the South) and biscuits. The buffet also included dinner items: baked fish, shrimp, fried and baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, salad. While the mac and cheese wasn’t quite as good as what we’d had the day before, the baked fish was superb. Ginny normally always asks for tartar sauce when eating fish (yes, she’s something of a Philistine), but she said that this fish was too delicious to ruin with anything like tartar sauce. The servers also kept filling our champagne (or Mimosa) glasses until the brunch was officially closed. Even then, as we lingered over desserts, they continued to fill water glasses or fill requests that we might have. We actually were the last people out of the restaurant that afternoon. The atmosphere was truly laid-back Southern hospitality.

Beyond these two restaurant experiences, there were other places that we thoroughly enjoyed, and places that we just didn’t have time to get to, or were so crowded with tourists that we chose to go elsewhere. One of those places was Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House, famous for its fried chicken, and famous for being in the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. When the taxi approached the restaurant, we saw that the line was out the door and down the street. No thanks to that. So we had the taxi drop us just three blocks away at Clary’s Cafe on Abercorn. It, too, was featured in the movie, but for some reason didn’t attract the attention as Mrs. Wilke’s, which is quite unfortunate. We found the food here to also be scrumptious. Ginny had Crab Cakes Benedict and Dan had the corn beef hash and eggs. They both came with a choice of grits or buttermilk biscuits. When in the South, do as Southerners do–we had the grits. This restaurant also has kosher food, which we’re sure is equally delicious.

We’re now back home in Rochester, NY, missing the warm weather and the flowers, but now on a necessary strict diet. We don’t want to have to wear those stretchy pants for too long!


Opening Day 2013

Happy opening day to all baseball fans! And this year we got to celebrate opening day at the Historical Grayson ball park in Savannah, Georgia. We were in town for business–a conference–and were able to attend the Sand Gnats vs. Rome Braves game. The game did not disappoint (unlike the weather) with back-and-forth scoring by both teams, with Rome finally winning the game–sorry, Savannah.

The food, likewise, did not disappoint. The ball park is old and small, and doesn’t have too much selection of eats, but it has one of the best sandwiches we’ve ever had in all the 143 parks we’ve been to so far. “The Godfather” consists of an Italian sausage on a hoagie roll with your choice of either Philly Steak or Chicken Philly meats. Then you can add mushrooms, grilled onions, peppers, or American cheese. They also used some kind of sauce while cooking the meats, that we didn’t identify. We ordered one each of the different kinds of meat sandwiches. After all, we needed to see how both tasted. They were fantastic! Yet, be prepared to get messy, especially with the Chicken Philly meat. The sauce tends to make the bun a bit soggy and the meat falls through the bottom. But that’s ok–what are fingers for anyway?

One other unique food item they offered was a hit with Dan, but not with Ginny. The “S’more Panini” is a dessert made with white bread stuffed with a concoction that needs to be seen to be believed: Nutella, marshmallow and broken pieces of graham cracker. All this is pressed in a panini press, slapped onto a paper plate, covered with powdered sugar and Hershey chocolate. When Dan brought that back to our seats, Ginny just stared at him like he was crazy. “What–is–that?” she stuttered. “A S’more Panini’,” Dan said triumphantly, then tried to eat it. The panini was cut into halves, but the crust on the top was still hanging together, so when he attempted to pick up one half, the other came along with it, trailing powdered sugar and chocolate precariously close to spilling down Dan’s black jacket. Finally, Dan managed to detach the two pieces and made a swift end to one of them, mumbling between bites, “This is good, you have to try it.” Ginny eyed it suspiciously. “You know I hate marshmallow,” she said. “But it really doesn’t taste like marshmallow. Here, try it.” Dan pushed the remaining half toward her. Finally, during the break in one inning to the next, Ginny tentatively took the plate and gingerly picked up the dessert. She took a bite, then a second and handed the plate back to Dan. Through a mouth full of panini, she asked, “What is that crunchy stuff in the middle? Were the marshmallows roasted?” Dan smiled strangely: “That’s the graham cracker. But first they spread Nutella on the bread.” Ginny grimaced: “Ugh! I just ate three things I hate! Nutella, marshmallow and Hershey’s chocolate! Ugh!” Dan, finishing the dessert, just shook his head, muttering that he couldn’t believe anyone would turn down marshmallow and Hershey’s.

The staff at the park also did not disappoint. They were incredibly friendly and helpful. We want to thank “Miss” Sarah and Hank, who pointed us in the direction of what unique food was at the park and all the others we spoke to about the team, the park and Savannah itself. The only disappointment was the weather. We had expected, being the South, that for opening day it would be warmer than Rochester, NY. How wrong we were. A wet, cold snap had come through the area, leaving things damp and chilling. In fact, Ginny had to use Dan’s extra fleece jacket to wrap her legs. The jeans just didn’t cut it keeping the cold out. At home, we’d have dressed in several layers, but in Savannah, we foolishly believed we’d be warm. We should have known better, considering that in 2007, we had to wear several layers during one of the coldest springs ever in Alabama and Mississippi.

On the other hand, Savannah–and the Sand Gnats ball park–is definitely worth the visit. Historic, quaint and curious, it’s welcoming and warm–at least the people are warm and when the sun’s out, so is the weather