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On Thursday, Sept. 7, I hopped in my rented Toyota Corolla and made the drive from Nashville, Tenn., to Bowling Green, Ky. This locale, Kentucky’s third-most populous city, is home to the Hot Rods. As you can see from the above picture, the Hot Rods play at Bowling Green Ballpark and have been affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays since their 2009 inception. They played that season in the South Atlantic League, went to the Midwest League from 2010-20, and then returned to the SAL in ’21.
The Hot Rods came into existence after the franchise relocated from Columbus, Ga., where it had been most recently known as the Catfish. The Hot Rods moniker is a reference to Bowling Green’s automotive history, specifically the fact that since 1981 it has been home to a General Motors assembly plant where Corvettes are manufactured. Hot Rods was chosen in a name the team contest, beating out the likes of Sparkplugs, Mammoths and, most memorably, Cave Shrimp. (The surrounding area is home to the largest cave system in the continent, which includes Mammoth Cave).
In 2009, the Hot Rods staged the first of several Cave Shrimp “What Could’ve Been” Nights, paying tribute to the translucent, sightless crustaceans that live in the caves. This went on to win 2009’s MiLB.com Promotion of the Year.
The Hot Rods did not play as the Cave Shrimp on this particular Thursday, but they did assume an alternate identity. I wish I could tell you that that identity was the Sinkholes -- which references that time a sinkhole opened up within the Corvette Museum and swallowed a bunch of classic cars -- but alas I cannot.
On this Thursday, like every Thursday this season, the Hot Rods played as the Bootleggers. This, 2016’s MiLB.com Promo of the Year, is a nod to the region’s history of illicit whiskey production. (Whiskey is available for consumption at the ballpark, but only of the licit variety.)
Roscoe the Grease Monkey, a primate with a propensity for automobile repair, was looking sharp in his Bootleggers jersey.
In addition to a monkey, Bowling Green Ballpark is home to a canine. Turbo, 28 years old in dog years, has bat dog aspirations but for now is simply everyone’s best friend at the ballpark. I met Turbo on the concourse, where, like any good politician, he was shaking hands and kissing babies.
Turbo T-shirts are available at the Hot Rods’ team store, which is called The Body Shop. If you’re looking for a Hawaiian shirt that features the face of general manager Kyle Wolz all over it, then you’re out of luck. That shirt was made in an edition of one, and it currently belongs to the general manager himself.
Bowling Green Ballpark, located downtown, is a sleek and fairly straightforward facility. It seats about 4,500 and has two berm areas, a kids’ zone, a carousel and a wide 360-degree concourse. On this Thirsty Thursday a good portion of the crowd was comprised of students from Western Kentucky University. (WKU is a huge presence in Bowling Green, and its main campus is less than a half-mile away.)
Bowling Green Ballpark offers appealing sightlines.
The clubhouses are located in the outfield, because that area is less sinkhole susceptible. So, if you’re looking for autographs pregame, head that way. Perhaps, as in this instance, a visiting Greensboro Grasshopper will oblige.
This shot, taken during the national anthem, includes a variety of bullpen Bootleggers -- check out those brown pants with orange pinstripes -- and also illustrates the ballpark’s quirky outfield dimensions. The placement of the bullpen results in some crazy bounces off of the left field wall; on the right field side, meanwhile, the wall curves inwards to accommodate the contours of the street that runs just beyond it.
As I wandered the concourse a Minor League Baseball game began. This almost always happens when I’m at a Minor League ballpark. I’m used to it.
As Bowling Green and Greensboro settled into what would be a very long day at the yard, I met with my Designated Eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
On this evening that individual was Chris Fickes, who even had his own media credential (it says “Designated Eater” in lieu of his name).
This was an encore performance, as Chris served as my Designated Eater in Harrisburg in 2018. He has baseball credentials: Chris runs his own business -- CKF Consulting -- and in that capacity he crews ballparks with instant replay technicians. He also has food credentials: Since 1989, Chris has been the senior judge at the Great Chocolate Cake and Cookie Contest at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
The concourse of Bowling Green Ballpark is ringed with concession stands, but none of the items sold there are particularly unusual. We went up to the second-level Performance FoodService Stadium Club instead, as it has a full-service restaurant with homestand-specific specials.
First up was the Copa Nachos, created in honor of the Hot Rods’ “Bólidos de Bowling Green” identity. They were topped with chicken, cheese, jalapeños, sour cream, corn, black beans and lettuce.
“As they say in baseball, that’s a hit,” said Chris. “Well thought-out, well designed, well consumed.”
Next was the Big South Chicken Sandwich, fried chicken topped with lettuce, pimento cheese, fried green tomato and comeback sauce (because it makes you want to come back for more).
Chris said that the sandwich was “nice and moist” and therefore “very good,” even if it was “not the world’s greatest pimento cheese.”
The Bacon Jam Burger, topped with bourbon bacon jam, (yet more) comeback sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, was Chris’s third and final item.
“Oh yeah,” said Chris, while pumping his fist. “Nice and bacon-y. The way you want it. The way that brings you back for more.
“A good spread in Bowling Green tonight left me revving my engines for more,” he concluded. “As usual, I’m a bigger man for it.”
Thanks, Chris. And -- hey! -- who let a grease monkey into the stadium club?
Meanwhile, on the playing field, the longest game I have seen in the pitch-timer era was going on. After 211 minutes, Greensboro defeated Bowling Green by the unwieldy score of 19-10. Late in the game, most of the remaining fans seemed to be friends or family of Greensboro’s Luke Brown, a Bowling Green native. They had a lot to cheer for, as the center fielder went 4-for-6 with two home runs and eight (!) RBIs.
READ THE BOWLING GREEN BALLPARK GUIDE HERE
After the ballgame concluded I interviewed Hot Rods assistant general manager Ashlee Wilson about her unique path to Minor League Baseball, theme nights, costumes, Turbo and more. Hey, that was featured on the podcast!
LISTEN TO ASHLEE WILSON ON “THE SHOW BEFORE THE SHOW” PODCAST HERE
While you’re at it check out last week’s podcast as well. It features an interview with Palm Beach Cardinals GM Andrew Seymour, talking about his team’s playoff matchup against the Jupiter Hammerheads. It was a unique postseason series, as both teams play out of the same ballpark.
That’ll be it for me because, like a hot rod in desperate need of a filling station, I’m all out of gas.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.