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Hot Rods an anchor in revitalized area05/10/2013 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
Baseball is a game of adjustments.
This well-worn cliché is most commonly used by players, who must constantly tweak their individual approaches as part of the eternal cat and mouse game that is batter vs. pitcher. But it can be applied to anyone who is making their way within the game of baseball, and if you really wanted to make the sentiment as all-inclusive as possible, you could just go ahead and say it's a six-word metaphor for existence. For what is life if not a game of adjustments?
All of this is to say, "baseball is a game of adjustments" is a phrase that was kicking around in my mind as I began my slate of 2013 Minor League travels at Bowling Green Ballpark on Wednesday evening. This edition of Farm's Almanac, written from a hotel room in Bowling Green, Ky., before moving on to Nashville, attempts to illuminate just a few of the reasons why.
For better or worse, the designated hitter is now an accepted American League institution. This season, I'm putting my own spin on the concept by introducing the "designated eater," in which I recruit fans at each ballpark I visit to eat the foods that my gluten-free diet will not allow (last summer I was diagnosed with celiac disease). It's been an adjustment, as anything breaded or on a bun -- approximately 90 percent of ballpark food! -- is off-limits to me. But, if Wednesday night is any indication, the "designated eater" concept will work just fine as it allows me to document primo ballpark eats while meeting lots of people along the way.
The Hot Rods held a contest on their Facebook page to find Wednesday's designated eater and selected season-ticket holders Randy and Donna Brown. The Browns have been married for 34 years -- he's a maintenance worker at a local factory and she an office manager at Christian Family Radio -- and their relationship dates back to their late teenage years. At that time, Donna worked at Wendy's and Randy at a steak restaurant.
"It was the best of both worlds, and we haven't slowed down since!" said Donna of their employment situations at the time.
Clearly, these were the right people for the job. Sitting in the Stadium Club bar and lounge area, located on the second level behind home plate, Randy and Donna were soon presented with BBQ Pork Nachos and, more significantly, the Grand Slam Burger.
That picture is worth 1,000 words (and even more calories), but for posterity's sake, the Grand Slam Burger consists of "two grilled hamburgers served with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and spicy BBQ sauce between two glazed doughnuts."
The Week That Was
"It's delicious -- a combination of flavors that is really unique," said Donna. "It's a sweet burger, if that makes sense, and strikes a really good balance. I would recommend it!"
As Donna and Randy recovered from their respective food comas, I wandered over to a different section of the Stadium Club to have a conversation with Hot Rods president Brad Taylor. This season is the Hot Rods' fifth, and at this point they are a widely recognized community fixture. But his decision to move to Bowling Green in the fall of 2008, after nearly a decade with the Trenton Thunder, was an extreme career adjustment.
"At first we were set up in an old chamber of commerce building, using paint buckets for chairs," recalled Taylor, the team's first employee. "The first real work day was after Labor Day in September of 2008, and by October there was a little problem with the economy that everyone was dealing with. It was tough, asking people to buy things from a team that didn't exist yet, that didn't even have a name."
But Taylor and the front-office crew he was helping to assemble were able to persevere with a large assist from the publicly-funded downtown facility that was being built as they were working the phones while sitting on paint buckets.
"I hate to say it, because it's such a cliché, but 'If you build it, they will come,'" said Taylor. "Fans walking into the ballpark for the first time were always impressed, because it so surpassed their vision of what a Minor League stadium was going to be."
The fans could be forgiven for their initial pessimism. Before the arrival of the Hot Rods, Bowling Green had been without professional baseball since the Class D Barons played their final season in 1942. The city simply hadn't experienced anything remotely resembling a 21st-century Minor League atmosphere.
"Looking around now, there is so much springing up around us -- retail, restaurants and apartment buildings," said Taylor, referring to the new life arising amidst what had been industrial-era decay. "We have a skyline now, and it's so cool to be a part of that."
The Hot Rods' Stadium Club is a wonderful place from which to take in a ballgame, but its location on the second level behind home plate comes at the expense of those who usually occupy such a prime position: the broadcasters. The individuals calling the game action in Bowling Green must do so from a press box located along the third base line, and this requires -- all together now -- an adjustment.
Hank Fuerst started as an intern with the Hot Rods in 2009, and after a stint in Trenton, is now back with the club as its lead broadcaster. He said that at this point he has become acclimated to a perspective that makes it very difficult (if not impossible) to determine a pitch's precise location.
"It's a unique view, much to the chagrin of the visiting broadcasters. It's tough to judge the ball off of the bat, and where the pitch is coming in."
But like with almost all adjustments, what at first seemed deeply anomalous soon becomes the new normal.
"It takes a while to get used to, but at this point, I go on the road and it's weird," said Fuerst. "Oh my gosh, I'm sitting behind home plate!"