When one thinks of Lexington, Kentucky, and its surrounding environs, two things that quickly come to mind are bourbon…
and horse stables.
Baseball, perhaps not so much.
But professional baseball in Lexington is very much a thing. Welcome to Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the South Atlantic League’s Lexington Legends (Class A Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals). The ballpark opened in 2001, marking the return of professional baseball to Lexington after a 47-year absence.
In addition to the three murals seen above, one can find this giant ball outside of the ballpark. Reading the messages left me in stitches.
I visited Lexington on July 23, and July 23 was no ordinary evening. It was “Star Wars Night.”
(Note: this woman would not stop fiddling with Darth’s midsection. Finally I just gave up and took the picture.)
“Star Wars Night” has become a bona fide phenomenon in the world of Minor League Baseball promotions, and many teams consider it to be one of the cornerstones of the promotional schedule. The Legends’ iteration was a decidedly low-key affair, however.
“Tonight is the first time we’ve done it in several years,” said Sarah Bosso, Legends director of community relations. “We’re just getting our feet wet, doing it on a Wednesday and testing it out.”
Here, mustachioed mascot Big L displays his rather tepid light saber technique.
Out on the concourse, the atmosphere was decidedly more sedate.
Following standard (but by no means mandatory) Ben’s Biz Blog operating procedure, I took to the field in order to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. While there, I got my picture taken with my good friend Darth Vader.
Soon after this photo was taken, Darth overheard Bosso and myself talking about the Legends’ concession options.
“Did you say ‘Hot Brown Hot Dog?'” asked Darth, intrigued by a local culinary specialty. “Where can I get that? Can you maybe put it through a blender?”
There were three individuals throwing out a first pitch: Judge John Schrader (Fayette Family Court), myself, and Darth Vader. I later mentioned to the judge that it was funny that Schrader and Vader were both throwing out a first pitch. He responded with a blank stare.
Here’s Judge Schrader. Or, as I now call him, the Mirthless Magistrate.
I was in fine form on this particular evening, if I do say so myself.
Finally, we have Darth, flanked by stormtroopers.
Darth didn’t have a very good arm.
Darth Vader first pitch Lexington Legends For the record, mine was faster. https://t.co/y8QUZZ1myV
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 20, 2014
I’ve thrown dozens of first pitches through the years; perhaps I should begin taking note of each team’s first pitch procedure?
The Legends did two things that I had never seen before: the balls used were from the batting cages (and therefore scuffed up and dirty), and the speed of the pitch was displayed and announced to the crowd. For the record, Darth and the Mirthless Magistrate both clocked in at 38 miles an hour. I, meanwhile, threw a blistering 47.
How’s ’bout a buncha random ballpark photographs, provided by a writer with rudimentary photography skills? That writer would be me, and these would be the photos:
The placement of the bullpens provide plenty of opportunity for fan interaction.
Workman and Mortimer: friends for life
The Jim Beam distillery is located just outside of Lexington. Maybe the team could get Jim Beam to be the official sponsor of these massive concourse beams?
A pair of Star Wars aficionados ponder their options.
As you may be aware, the Legends re-branded themselves in a mustache-centric fashion prior to the 2013 season. Therefore, plenty of mustache-centric gear can be obtained at the Legends Locker.
Inside this humble space, things get pretty strange on the t-shirt front.
Tag, this photo
Viewing these images may cause you to feel like you’re in a dream.
But this? This is no dream. This is real: a piece of officially licensed Minor League Baseball apparel that explicitly references the time-honored act of mustache riding.
After this exhilarating foray into the wilds of the team store, I journeyed to the stadium’s second level. This picture, as inelegant as it may be, portrays the area immediately surrounding Whitaker Bank Ballpark. A downtown facility, this isn’t.
While visiting the press box, I was pleased to see my visage beaming back at me from the videoboard. Move over, Darth! I am the evening’s true guest of honor.
This little joystick-like contraption has a special purpose.
Flipping the switch causes flames to shoot out of the Candleberries situated atop the scoreboard. (Now that’s a sentence that I’ve definitely never written before.) This photo is unfortunately flameless.
A man named Ty Cobb gave me the opportunity to flick the switch that shoots off the flames. This is Ty Cobb.
Ty Cobb serves as the Legends creative marketing director and PA announcer, and I wrote a story about him that can be found HERE. During my time in the press box with Mr. Cobb, he reminded the crowd that if the Legends get 10 hits then they can redeem their ticket stubs for a free order of fried pickles at Hooters.
This dude, I bet that he likes fried pickles at Hooters.
But Mr. Ball Head (not sure if that’s his real name) wasn’t the only interesting character wandering around on the concourse. I also ran into this guy.
The above individual is Ryan Ferry, who had agreed to be my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Ryan, a Lexington native who says that he can see the Whitaker Bank Ballpark scoreboard from his backyard, was nine years old when the Legends played their first season. He used to be a batboy, and now occasionally mans the speed pitch booth as a game day employee. Among other claims to fame, he was waiting in line for kettle corn when Bryce Harper hit his first professional home run.
“I consider myself a fixture here,” said Ryan, a sports management major at Eastern Kentucky University.
He also collects hats and shoes. Check out these size 15 specimens.
And now, on to the food.
What you see above is the Hot Brown Dog, which Darth Vader wished to be pulverized so that it could be poured through the holes in his mask. The Hot Brown Dog is a ballpark variation of a Hot Brown sandwich, a Kentucky specialty described by Wikipedia thusly:
The Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown.
Of course, the Hot Brown Dog substitutes a hot dog for the turkey. As a Pennsylvania native, it reminded me of a hot dog version of cream chipped beef on toast.
Hot Brown, goin’ down.
“The saltiness is what sticks out, and the bacon also sticks out because it’s the king of all meats,” said Ryan. “It definitely lives up to the hot name, at least in temperature. The sauce is like gravy, and a little sweeter than I expected it to be. I hope that nobody from Kentucky comments on this, calling me out for not eating Hot Browns all that much.”
Next, Ferry suggested that he sample a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly donut called the “PBJD.” When we ordered it, the woman manning the concession counter gave us an annoyed stare, sighed, and said “Are you kidding me?”
Apparently, PBJDs are not ordered very often.
“It’s totally slept on,” said Ferry. “They really need to market it more.”
Indeed, the only mention of the PBJD that I could find was on this concession sign. Just four little letters; no picture, no explanation.
Here it is, in all of its obscure glory.
Ryan savors the moment:
“They take the donut, cut it, and put on the PB&J,” said Ryan. “It’s doughy, but has a little bit of a crisp to it.”
And with that, Ryan’s work was done. We now return to the ball field. Notice the “stables” group area in the background.
I would like to point out that this guy had a June bug on the back of his neck. I was told that they were all over the place this time of year. June, July, same difference.
Next on my agenda was to compete against children in a between-inning game of “musical donkeys.” These three children, specifically:
No video documentation exists of this effort, a sadly recurring theme of this trip. Here, I lurk around like a neanderthal while waiting for the music to stop.
I made it through the first round, but was eliminated in the second. Ben’s Biz out.
Another night, another career highlight, and veteran on-field emcee Mykraphone Mike was there to narrate it all. Yes, it’s spelled “mykraphone.”
Things were beginning to wind down on this sleepy Star Wars night.
Ty Cobb, on the PA, was adhering to the night’s theme by telling Star Wars jokes to the crowd.
“What do you call a potato that has gone to the dark side?” Cobb asked the crowd.
The crowd did not seem eager for an answer, but Cobb persisted.
Ty Cobb, stand-up comic
The Legends ended up losing the game to the Charleston RiverDogs, by a score of 6-4. But that’s okay. It’s a long season, full of ups and downs; you’ve just got to keep on grinding.
In other words: keep a stiff upper lip.
Meanwhile, I’m on the road again! Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.
August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs
August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*
August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*
August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*
August 26 — Buffalo Bisons
August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs
August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*
August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats
August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*
August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders