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Road trip: All roads lead Ben to Rome

Friends, Romans, Penguins -- an evening with the Emperors
June 28, 2024

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. The following ballpark road trip recap is presented by Wyndham, proud sponsor of Minor League

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE.

The following ballpark road trip recap is presented by Wyndham, proud sponsor of Minor League Ballpark Guides. Plan your road trip today, and check out the Rome Emperors Ballpark Guide HERE.

Rome, Ga., got its name because, like its Italian counterpart, the city was built within seven hills and the rivers that run between them. Rome’s Minor League Baseball team capitalizes on these parallels, for they are the Emperors.

The Emperors identity was unveiled this past offseason, following two decades when the team was known as the Braves (who remain Rome’s Major League parent club). The South Atlantic League team, established in 2003 following a relocation from Macon, Ga., plays at AdventHealth Stadium.

My latest and greatest Minor League ballpark road trip kicked off at this very ballpark on June 18, with the Emperors hosting the Greenville Drive. I hadn’t been to Rome since 2014, when I served as a witness at a pregame mass wedding ceremony and later rode around the field in the team’s Redneck Rummage Sale trailer.

This particular Tuesday evening lacked both on-field nuptials and parking lot-based sales of used goods, but there were plenty of new people to meet and new things to experience. Foremost among them was Julius, the team’s emperor penguin mascot. His debut this season almost immediately inspired the team’s players to start doing a celebratory dance called “The Waddle.”

Julius benevolently rules over a ballpark that opened in 2003, in conjunction with the team’s arrival from Rome. It’s a pleasant and spacious, albeit unspectacular, facility. Most fans will enter AdventHealth Stadium via the home plate entrance, the focal point of a stately brick-columned exterior.

The entrance leads to a concourse that runs behind the seating bowl, which extends from third base into shallow right field. The seating bowl is divided into two sections; club and dugout level seats are located closest to the playing field, while box level seats provide a more elevated view of the action. The Coosa River runs just beyond the ballpark, and the Appalachian Mountains can be seen in the distance past the third-base side.

Prior to the game beginning, I received a text from Emperors marketing and media relations coordinator Justin Franklin: “First pitch is open. Want it?” My initial reaction was to decline, as in 2021 I decided to “retire” from throwing out ceremonial first pitches. However, I was joined at this game by MLB content creator Kathryn Skeean and therefore said yes because, well, content needed to be created.

It goes without saying that I threw a perfect strike, although I’d have to charge Julius (my catcher) with a passed ball. Kathryn got some video; here’s a photo.

Another pregame highlight was speaking with Emperors PA announcer Larry Gardner, who is in his first season with the team. Atlanta Braves fans may know Larry on Twitter (now X), where his handle is @lg4RealTho. In 2021 he auditioned to be Atlanta’s PA announcer and actually won a fan vote, but the team went in a different direction. The Emperors, impressed by Gardner’s big league audition, offered him their announcing job -- his first for a professional team. His warm, booming voice is now a big part of the ballpark experience; here’s hoping he gets a Major League job one day.

Fans, filtering into the ballpark, received the following Taylor Swift-inspired “T-Shirt Tuesday” giveaway. The back featured the Emperors’ 2024 road schedule, with each series listed as if it was a tour date. In a way, it is.

I spoke to several fans throughout the course of the evening, including Ernie “K-Man” and Nancy “K-Lady” Studdard. They’ve been supporters of the team since day one, diligently hanging up “K” signs every time a member of the opposing team struck out. Ernie had dealt with health issues in recent years and no longer brings the signs, but they still get out to as many games as they can. It was great to meet them.

Later in the ballgame I spoke with usher Steve Green, a former 20th-round Draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers who opted to pitch collegiately instead. Injuries derailed his career, but he stayed in the game coaching youth baseball and joined the Emperors gameday staff as a way to be around the ballpark during his retirement years.

“It ain’t about the money,” Steve told me. “It’s about enjoying the sport you grew up loving.”

Steve introduced me to two of his favorite fans, John and Katie Binesh. They attend nearly every game, proudly telling me that they had obtained special permission to bring umbrellas into the ballpark for scorching Sunday day games. Katie calls Steve her “ballpark dad;” John told me that Rome’s ballpark is “one of those gatherings that turns strangers into family.”

OK, time to eat.
The fan I spent the most time with on this beautiful Tuesday evening in Northwest Georgia was Patrick Larson, my Designated Eater. Patrick, a director of economic development who lives in Oakwood, Ga., is one of the biggest Minor League fans out there. I’ve known him for years via the platform formerly known as Twitter; his MiLB History Hat Series features team-specific installments from his massive (1,000+) Minor League Baseball hat collection.

The Emperors set us up in Suite 314, but no pie was involved. Tammy, the team’s food and beverage general manager for whom I am lacking a surname, instead delivered the following quartet of delectable items: Extreme Nachos, catfish basket, the Brutus Burger and a good old-fashioned ballpark dog.

The nachos were “extreme” as regards their size (served in a full-size helmet), but the toppings were a generous array of standard offerings. Patrick had praise for everything, ranking the catfish and Brutus Burger as his two favorites.

A closer look:

The Brutus Burger has two patties, topped with bacon and served with a special sauce. Its double patty properties led to us making a bunch of “Et two, Brute” jokes. None of them were good, but we felt that we had to take a stab at it.

“It’s a real substantial burger, and who doesn’t love bacon?” concluded Patrick.

Of course, there was a game going on throughout all of this. The Emperors went into the contest with the opportunity to clinch the first-half title in the South Atlantic League's South Division, needing a win as well as a Bowling Green Hot Rods loss. The Emperors did their part, defeating the Drive, 1-0, after Adam Zebrowksi hit a home run on the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth inning (time of game: 2:07). The Hot Rods also won, however, and the Emperors had to wait until the following day to clinch.

Long may they reign.

And, as always, thank you for reading. Get in touch anytime. My upcoming road trip itineraries can be found HERE.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.