My first Minor League Baseball road trip of the season kicks off on Monday in Albuquerque, the home of the Isotopes. I'll then visit the El Paso Chihuahuas during their first-ever homestand before winding my way east through the Lone Star state, concluding with a stop in Round Rock to see the Express.
This nine-day endeavor is the first of four trips I'll be embarking upon this season; information and itineraries regarding all of them can be found here.
With imminent ballpark travel on the brain, now is the optimal time for a "clip show" edition of Farm's Almanac. What follows is a year-by-year rundown of my last four seasons of "On the Road" content -- thanks to all who have supported me on these journeys thus far, and welcome to those taking the trip for the first time.
Teams visited: Mobile BayBears, Birmingham Barons, Chattanooga Lookouts, Huntsville Stars, Gwinnett Braves, Greenville Drive, Reading Phillies, Williamsport Crosscutters, State College Spikes, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Harrisburg Senators, Omaha Royals, Iowa Cubs, Burlington Bees, Quad Cities River Bandits, Kane County Cougars.
Highlights: The season started on a star-studded note in Mobile, as the BayBears welcomed five Hall-of-Famers to town for the gala grand opening of Hank Aaron's childhood home and museum. … One month later I returned to Alabama for the Birmingham Barons' annual Rickwood Classic, in which the team goea back to its former home of Rickwood Field for a nostalgia-drenched afternoon of baseball. … At the end of the season, I headed to Omaha to see the Royals play their final game at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Embarrassing Moments: I caught termites in my pants at a Gwinnett Braves game, served as the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor's apprentice in Reading and, dressed as a hot dog, finished last in a race against Chef and Taquito in Iowa.
Culinary Delights: The "Neikro" sandwich (Gwinnett Braves), deep-fried peanut butter and jelly (State College Spikes), Tenderloin sandwiches (Burlington Bees).
Teams Visited: Tucson Padres, Lancaster JetHawks, High Desert Mavericks, Inland Empire 66ers, Lake Elsinore Storm, Toledo Mud Hens, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Lake County Captains, Akron Aeros, Charleston RiverDogs, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Kinston Indians, Durham Bulls, Burlington Royals, Danville Braves, Winston-Salem Dash, Aberdeen IronBirds, Williamsport Crosscutters, Hagerstown Suns, Bowie Baysox, Delmarva Shorebirds
Highlights: In Inland Empire, the 66ers attempted to bust out of a team-wide slump by burning their "cursed" equipment in a metal trash can. ... It's as American as apple pie: prior to a Toledo Mud Hens game, the team held an on-field naturalization ceremony. ... The Kinston Indians played their final season at historic Grainger Stadium, relocating to Zebulon, N.C., in 2012.
Embarrassing Moments: I forgot my dance moves while guesting as a "Bad Apple Dancer" in Fort Wayne, came in last in a postgame home run derby in Lake County, and attempted to rev up Delmarva Shorebirds fans while dressed as a "rally banana."
Culinary Delights: Sweet Po-tater Tots (Lancaster JetHawks), Three Dog Night burger (Akron Aeros), beet eggs (Hagerstown Suns).
Teams Visited: Clearwater Threshers, Fort Myers Miracle, Charlotte Stone Crabs, Lakeland Flying Tigers, Daytona Cubs, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Oklahoma City RedHawks, Tulsa Drillers, Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Springfield Cardinals, Memphis Redbirds, Jackson Generals, Arkansas Travelers, Trenton Thunder, Lowell Spinners, Brooklyn Cyclones, Staten Island Yankees, Eugene Emeralds, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Yakima Bears, Tacoma Rainiers, Everett AquaSox, Vancouver Canadians
Highlights: The Daytona Cubs have the best fans in the Florida State League, if not all of Minor League Baseball. … Minor League Baseball returned to Pensacola in the form of the Blue Wahoos. … My travels finally go international, via a visit to Vancouver's beautiful Nat Bailey Stadium.
Embarrassing Moments: I failed miserably as a play-by-play man in Fort Myers, made myself nauseous during a "human bobblehead" contest in Tulsa, and dressed up as a giant doughnut with boxing gloves in Lowell.
Culinary Delights: Stoney Dog (Charlotte Stone Crabs), BBQ Nachos (Northwest Arkansas Naturals), even more BBQ Nachos (Memphis Redbirds).
Special culinary note: I was diagnosed with celiac disease during the 2012 season, forcing me to adopt a gluten-free diet. As a result, I began recruiting "designated eaters" at each ballpark stop, so that they could eat the gluten-laden food that I cannot.
Teams visited: Bowling Green Hot Rods, Nashville Sounds, Tennessee Smokies, Asheville Tourists, Savannah Sand Gnats, Augusta GreenJackets, Birmingham Barons, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Beloit Snappers, Great Lakes Loons, Lansing Lugnuts, West Michigan Whitecaps, South Bend Silver Hawks, Bakersfield Blaze, Visalia Rawhide, Fresno Grizzlies, Modesto Nuts, Stockton Ports, Reno Aces, Hillsboro Hops
Highlights: In Asheville, the Tourists have the ceremonial first pitches delivered via zipline. ... The elusive bullpen character that is the "Whitewall Ninja" gave his first (and last) interview in Beloit. … Baseball returns to the Portland area in the form of the Hillsboro Hops.
Embarrassing Moments: I dressed up as a chicken during a Tennessee Smokies game, threw out a toilet paper first pitch prior for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game and, in West Michigan, my offer of a free plunger was angrily rebuffed.
Culinary Delights: S'mores Panini (Savannah Sand Gnats), Bacon on a Stick (Modesto Nuts), Triple Play sandwich (Reno Aces).
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.