On Sept. 16, 1935, pitcher Herman Fink made his Major League debut for the Philadelphia Athletics wearing jersey number 68. How he ended up with this number appears to be lost to the annals of time, but regardless he became the first Major League player ever to don it. This 68th edition of the Ben’s Biz Beat Newsletter is therefore dedicated to Herman Fink, whose numerical milestone should never be forgotten. And with that out of the way: Let’s talk about Minor League Baseball.
ANOTHER MERRY GO-ROUND WITH THE BINGHAMTON RUMBLE PONIES
From 1992-2016, the Double-A Eastern League baseball team in Binghamton, New York, was known simply as the Mets. In 2017, the franchise changed its name to the Rumble Ponies; rumble pony is a slang term for a carousel horse, and the Binghamton area is home to a whopping six carousels. These carousels are the lifelike -- if not living -- legacy of industrialist George F. Johnson, who brought them to the region as an employee benefit of sorts.
I visited the Rumble Ponies on Aug. 2, after checking into Binghamton’s Microtel. (This clean and comfortable establishment is a property of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, sponsor of the Minor League Ballpark Guides.)
This marked my first visit to Binghamton since 2017 and third overall (fourth if you count that time in 2002 when my friend Ted and I stumbled upon a Binghamton Mets game in progress while en route to Cooperstown to see Harry Kalas get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame).
The “Rumbletown” signage in the above photo is located at the right-field entrance, which serves as the primary gateway to the team’s home of Mirabito Stadium. The home-plate entrance has a distinctly different feel, one that is more indicative of the ballpark’s utilitarian aesthetic. Mirabito Stadium opened in 1992 and feels a bit older, having missed the memo regarding the imminent onslaught of 360-degree concourses, expansive group areas, retro-minded architectural motifs and sound systems that could perhaps benefit from being turned down just a tad.
Walking between the right-field and home-plate entrances provides a small snapshot of Binghamton -- a small city, a little rough around the edges, shadows of an industrial past looming throughout. To me, its closest reference point within the Minor League Baseball ecosystem is another small-ish Eastern League locale: Erie, Pa., home of the SeaWolves.
The mounted delivery truck pictured below isn’t quite as majestic as the rooftop U-Haul visible from Tulsa’s ONEOK Field, but it’s a fine addition to the “elevated trucks used as advertising and in close proximity to a Minor League ballpark” micro-genre.
A bit farther down (from the perspective of walking from right field to home plate) is Mad Monk’s Tavern. One of these days I’d like to go to Binghamton as a fan and enjoy pre- and/or postgame drinks at this establishment. One Yelp review describes it as possibly Binghamton’s “most underrated, overlooked dive bar” and while I’m not familiar with the dives of Binghamton (yet), this is a strong recommendation.
The main parking lot is close to the right-field entrance (parking was free on the Wednesday when I was town), allowing fans to enjoy a psychic transformation as they pass beneath the Rumbletown entranceway. Quotidian concerns dissolve into so much mental dust as one enters a charming baseball tableau, replete with batting cage, inflatables and a large concession stand dedicated to the production and sale of spiedies (more on them in a bit).
Verdant hills loom beyond and above it all, providing a distinct sense of place and speaking to the overall beauty of what is known as New York’s Southern Tier region. (Imagine, if you will, the state of New York as the side profile of a man’s face. The Southern Tier region runs east-west along the entirety of the jaw line.
A closed concourse runs behind the seating bowl. It’s a bit dark and cramped, as closed concourses are, not an ideal design but evocative of a ballpark era where this was the norm. I find it nostalgic.
The concourse -- like all areas of Mirabito Stadium -- is under the cleaning and maintenance supervision of stadium operations director Richard Tylicki. I spoke with him about his long career with the team, which was interrupted on five occasions by an Army National Guard deployment.
READ ABOUT RICHARD TYLICKI AND HIS BASEBALL-MILITARY JUGGLING ACT HERE
OK, it was time for the game to begin. The Blue Jays-affiliated New Hampshire Fisher Cats, straight from the wilds of Manchester, were the Rumble Ponies’ designated opponent.
The Designated Eater, meanwhile, was Suzanne Berman. She was seated within the first-base side Southern Tier Brewing Company Party Deck, along with her husband Charles, ready to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.
Suzanne and Charles live on the west side of Binghamton, but she’s originally from the Philadelphia area and told me that John Kruk was her first love that wasn’t a Ninja Turtle. (It was the opposite for me, as Michelangelo was my first love who wasn’t a Philadelphia Phillie.)
Eddie Saunders, the Rumble Ponies director of marketing and promotions, soon emerged with an item as unwieldy as it was memorable: The Stallion.
The Stallion, hard to convey properly in a mere photograph, consists of a pound of local Gramwich sausage patties, five mozzarella sticks, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. All that is stuffed within a couple hefty pieces of flat bread.
Suzanne initially struggled with her approach -- a fork and knife, as well as a flat surface, are imperative -- but ultimately declared it to be “a bizarre contraption, but delicious.”
I then went off to procure the Binghamton specialty that is the spiedie sandwich, a far more simple affair consisting of marinated meat cubes on a roll. On my way back to the party deck I ran into Rowdy and his friend, Ruby (whose name may just be a nod to Southern Tier Brewing Company’s Ruby Red Ale).
Are you ready to rumble, ponies?
I may not have been particularly quick while doing it, but it was nonetheless a spiedie delivery. Suzanne, being a Binghamton resident, was plenty familiar with them.
“It is perfectly a spiedie,” she said. “Very well-marinated. Very juicy.”
The view from the party deck, as well as from the first-base side in general, faces west.
While this particular game did not feature a particularly impressive sunset, I would like to showcase this picture I took in 2017:
The sun soon set on the ballgame itself, with the Fisher Cats earning a 3-1 victory. While this may have caused the home team to cry Southern Tiers of sorrow, some of the Binghamton players nonetheless took the time to sign autographs before leaving the field.
Before checking out of the Microtel the next morning, I drove to Recreation Park to see the carousel featured at the very beginning of this missive, as well as the gazebo pictured below. Both are featured in the Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance,” which drew on creator Rod Serling’s childhood memories (he spent his formative years in Binghamton).
This is Josh Jackson, spoiling the sweet view for all of you out there in newsletter land. I host Ghosts of the Minors on The Show Before the Show podcast, in which I ask you to find a genuine historical Minors team hidden among a pair of made up ones.
Last time, we were busy, bzzzy, bzzzzzy with the Beaver Falls Bees. This week, I ask you which of these teams once kept time in the Minors of yesteryear?
- The Canton Watchmakers
- The New Bern Cuckoo Clocks
- The Cairo Sundials
For the answer, tune into the next Ghosts of the Minors on The Show Before the Show!
Last week, Tyler Maun and I spoke with Allan Wylie, a rising senior at Westlake (Ohio) High School who has been doing color commentary for the Lake County Captains this month. Wylie’s youth isn’t what makes his story stand out, however. He was born blind, but that has not stopped him from pursuing his broadcasting dreams.