During my high school years, I was obsessed with music and didn’t have the internet. I often bought CDs, sound unheard, simply because a magazine review compared them to an artist I liked. This was the case with the band Delta 72, as I purchased one of their albums because a critic compared them to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Delta 72 didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but I hope this, the 72nd edition of the Ben’s Biz Beat Newsletter, lives up to yours. Let’s talk about Minor League Baseball.
HELLO DOLLY: AN EVENING WITH THE NASHVILLE SOUNDS
I am writing these words on Monday morning, having recently arrived home following a 6 a.m. flight from Columbus, Ohio. My road trip season is now over, but I still have plenty of material to share. Columbus was the final stop in a five-city tour that began in Nashville, Tenn., the home of the Sounds. Let’s go there now.
The Sounds play at First Horizon Park, which opened in 2015 in Nashville’s Germantown neighborhood. I visited the ballpark during that inaugural season, and a lot has changed since then. Sounds VP of operations Doug Scopel explained it like this: “We built the ballpark and a neighborhood has popped up around it.” For an indication of this, one needn’t look farther than left field.
Another indication of the neighborhood’s growth is the triumvirate of businesses located along First Horizon Park’s third-base side. TailGate Brewery is next to the bar and restaurant Third and Home, which is next to the music venue Brooklyn Bowl.
Once inside the ballpark, you’ll immediately see its most iconic asset: a guitar-shaped scoreboard, paying homage to the “Nashville sound” that gives the team its name. On this evening, however, the Sounds were playing as their “Vihuelas de Nashville” Copa de la Diversión identity. The opposing Memphis Redbirds suited up as the “Musica de Memphis,” resulting in a most melodious matchup.
A similar, albeit far smaller and simpler, guitar scoreboard was a hallmark of the Sounds’ previous home of Greer Stadium. I got the chance to visit Greer -- a scruffy, no-frills facility with plenty of ramshackle charm -- on a couple of occasions. Here’s my guitar scoreboard file photo:
Greer Stadium was operational from 1978-2014. It was preceded in Nashville ballpark history by Sulphur Dell, which was located at the exact same space where First Horizon Park is today. (In the years between Sulphur Dell and First Horizon, the site was used as a parking lot for state employees.)
Sulphur Dell had unusual dimensions, conforming to the shape of the city block in which it was located. It was 421 feet to dead center, but the right-field fence was just 262 feet away. First Horizon Park’s right-field concourse is home to the fittingly named Band Box, a boisterous social area filled with all manner of non-baseball attractions.
The yellow-clad youngsters in the above photo are members of the Nolensville, Tenn., Little League team, a powerhouse squad that made it to the West Region Championship (one of their star players is Stella Weaver, one of the best female players in Little League history).
I’m not sure if the Nolensville squad made it to the mini-golf course, which is on the other side of the concourse in right field. All of the holes were designed by local artists, and it has a correspondingly freewheeling and eccentric vibe.
The Band Box is also home to some of the Sounds’ most unusual concession items, and it was there that I met my Designated Eater (you know, the individual tasked with eating the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet often prohibits).
In Nashville this individual was Caroline Spence, a singer-songwriter originally from Charlottesville, Va., who has released four albums. Her most recent effort is “True North,” on Rounder Records, which Pitchfork gave a 7.4 (if you’re into that sort of thing). At the record store -- originally and always the best place to acquire music -- look for her albums in the Folk or Americana section.
Caroline was set to perform at a Brooklyn Bowl reproductive rights benefit show later that evening, and as we all know ballpark food makes for a perfect pre-gig meal.
Caroline was in attendance with her husband, Tyler, who was my Designated Eater when I visited Nashville in 2015. His throwback Sounds attire was, from a fashion standpoint, unimpeachable.
Both of the above photos feature Totchos (tater tots topped with smoked chicken, jalapeño queso, sweet corn, pico de gallo and cilantro crema). I somehow cannot locate my up close and personal totcho photos -- they have dissipated into the iPhone beyond -- but you can watch Caroline try it HERE. Below is a photo I snagged from the Sounds.
Caroline said the totchos were “definitely a full meal,” going on to praise the queso and crema specifically. Tyler added that, in addition to being married, he and Caroline are “United in totchos.”
“Crema was in the vows,” responded Caroline.
Crema was also served with the locally sourced Empanadas con Carne. Again, I don’t know what happened to my photos, but here’s a screenshot of the video.
“They taste fried,” said Caroline. “Very fried. The dipping sauce is a nice touch. I’m into it.”
As it turned out, the above two items were the opening acts for what turned out to be a powerhouse headliner: Salted Caramel Popcorn Ice Cream.
This item is a labor of love for Sounds food and beverage GM Buddy Richardson, who had something like it at a restaurant years ago and then dedicated himself to creating his own version.
Tyler and Caroline, united in popcorn as well as totchos, were both in love with the ice cream.
“It’s awesome,” said Caroline. “Just the littlest bit salty and so nice. I’m so glad to know about this.”
“I think the snacks are what makes the games fun,” she added, summarizing the Designated Eater experience. “And if you put any snack in a funny little hat, I’m gonna eat it.”
After saying goodbye to Caroline and Tyler, I soon ran into another recording artist.
Yes, that’s who you think it is. Dolly Parton appears at First Horizon Park nightly as part of the Country Music Legends Race, competing against George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Reba McEntire. I caught up with her on the concourse after the race, which I can only assume she won.
I also caught up with Booster on the concourse; he’s one hot chicken. In the below photo he’s joined by Patti Zimmerman, a Nashville Sounds season ticket holder from the Greer Stadium days (story forthcoming).
While all this munching and crunching and meeting and greeting was going on, a beautiful day had metamorphosized into a gorgeous evening.
It was a beautiful night for the local nine as well, as Nashville defeated Memphis, 4-1.
After the game I strolled past Brooklyn Bowl and Designated Eater Caroline Spence was on the stage. I can only assume she was singing about totchos, crema and the transcendent combination thereof.
This is Josh Jackson, trying to hook you before you fly away. I host Ghosts of the Minors on The Show Before the Show podcast, in which I ask you to pick out the historical Minor League team or player from a couple of frauds.
Last time, we made ourselves at home with Eddie Householder. This week, I ask you which of these teams was loud and clear in the Minors of yesteryear?
- The Jersey City Announcers
- The Bandon Big Mouths
- The Bridgeport Orators
For the answer, tune into the next Ghosts of the Minors on The Show Before the Show!
WAIT, WAIT ... DON’T LEAVE ME
For I have one more thing to share. When I was on the road last week, my MiLB.com story on original Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons public address announcer John Davies was published. When I visited the SWB RailRiders last month, I spoke with John about the Red Barons era, Lackawanna County Municipal Multi-Purpose Stadium and painful championship series memories.
Please check out the story, I know you Lacka-wanna:
READ ABOUT SWB RED BARONS PUBLIC ADDRESS ANNOUNCER JOHN DAVIES HERE