My night with the Louisville Bats – June 11, 2018

There is something to be said for returning to places you have visited before.  If you haven’t been to that place in a number of years you may get to see how it has changed since your last visit.  Sometimes the more you visit a place the more you notice different characteristics.  That was the case this summer when I returned to Louisville, Ky., to attend a Louisville Bats baseball game.

I had previously attends a Bats game in 2005.  So some things had changed and some things had relatively remained the same since my last visit 13 years ago.  The Bats still play at Louisville Slugger Field just east of downtown Louisville.  However, the team’s color scheme changed dramatically ahead of the 2016 season.  The team switched from a purple and black color scheme to a red and blue color scheme, and overhauled their logos.  However, the exterior of the facility appears the same as it did when I visited several years ago.

A view of the ballpark at the intersection of Main and Preston streets with the former Brinly-Hardy Company warehouse being incorporated into the stadium.

Fans walking from downtown will see the former Brinly-Hardy warehouse first, but the “real” entrance to the ballpark is adorned by one of Louisville’s favorite sons: Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese.

The main entrance to Louisville Slugger Field with a statue of Louisville-native and National Baseball Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese.

Although the statue of Pee Wee Reese serves as the welcome to fans attending a Bats baseball game, but it is really a facade before fans get to enter the seating bowl.  The stadium’s incorporation of the Brinly-Hardy warehouse allowed the stadium to enclose all the entrance ways on Main Street, and create a restaurant at the end of the building that is now occupied by Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse.  The space between the building and seating bowl also allows the team to decorate with pieces of the franchise’s history.

Fans walking into Louisville Slugger Field will find that they enter the stadium concourse and walk down to their seats unless they’re in the more posh luxury suites upstairs.  As my wife Katie and I arrived at the ballpark just a bit before the first pitch, we took a moment to hang out behind home plate so I could capture the official start of the game.

Louisville Bats starting pitcher Homer Bailey delivers a pitch to Columbus Clippers center fielder Todd Hanks.

With the seating bowl below the concourse there are numerous concession stands around the level, which wraps around the entire field.  As is my habit, I walked around the entire concourse to peruse the food and beverage options and get a feel for the stadium.

In addition to the concession stands and portable stands between the first and third base bags, Katie and I saw some food options down the left field line and on the outfield concourse.  However, it was just beyond the gate in left field that struck my attention during our stroll around the concourse.  So I investigated and found something I did not know existed at the stadium.

A statue of Louisville-native and famed football star Paul Hornung stands at the northwest gate to the stadium.

A statue of famed Green Bay Packer and Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Paul Hornung.  I was stunned to see this statue outside the stadium because it featured a football star outside a baseball field, but also because until seeing the statue and doing some research I had no clue that he grew up in Louisville.  In hindsight, it still seems a bit odd to see a statue of a famous football player outside a baseball stadium, but it is also cool to see the city commemorate its star athletes.

After capturing a photograph of the Paul Hornung statue I returned to the ballpark to snap shots of the view from the outfield concourse.  One of the first things I saw was an empty chair reserved in honor for POWs.

“One empty seat” as part of the POW-MIA Chair of Honor program sits in left field.

After capturing the Chair of Honor, I turned my attention back to the stadium and the downtown area.  The stadium’s location on the eastern edge of downtown provides a lot of great views of the downtown Louisville skyline.

As Katie and I continued walking around the concourse, we were dwarfed by the scoreboards.  In fact, the primary scoreboard in right field loomed over us so much that I had to capture of photo standing beneath it.

A closeup of the scoreboard in right field.

The concession stand beneath the scoreboard is aptly named because the scoreboard overlooks everything around it, including the kid play zone nearby.

A glimpse of the carousel and kids play area in right field.

After finishing our walk around the stadium, I started to contemplate my food and beverage choices for the night.  While walking around the stadium, I saw the usual ballpark food items (hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, pizza, etc.), but nothing screamed, “You must eat this food at a Louisville Bats baseball game!”  So while continuing to think about my food choices, I remembered that the Bats had partnered with Against the Grain to create a beer specifically to be served at the ballpark.  After asking a few people working at stands serving alcohol, Katie and I ended up behind home plate at the Diamond Drinks concession stand.

A view of the Diamond Drinks stand behind home plate.

In addition to offering a variety of beers, including some craft beers, Diamond Drinks is notable because the stand serves liquor and wine.  So if you’re not a beer drinker, you can still find a quality drink at the ballpark.  We each ordered our 16-oz. cans of Bats Win! and took our seats.

The beer is a golden ale that checks in with 4.9% ABV.  It is a light, crisp, and clean beer that is great for summer and baseball.  It is among the growing trend of collaborations between Minor League Baseball teams and local craft breweries, which I wrote about in a guest piece for MiLB.com’s Ben Hill (a.k.a. Ben’s Biz).  You can read the piece here if you want to learn more about the trend.

Soon after finishing our beers, Katie and I started discussing food options.  As I try to avoid the “usual suspects” at the ballpark, I remembered that a few years prior the Bats had entered a grilled pork chop sandwich in the annual MiLB Food Fight.  We also happened upon a sign advertising the delectable treat, and decided that was the right choice to fill our bellies.  We located it at the outfield grill in center field.

The sandwich did not come with the advertised lettuce, tomato, or onion, which would have really complimented the deliciously grilled pork.  However, the sandwich was filling and definitely a unique food item that I’ve not seen or read about being served at other ballparks.

With my stomach full and my thirst quenched, I turned my focus to capturing the sights of the ballparks.  I realized that during my walk I had photographed much of the park except for a closeup of the seating bowl and the scoreboards in the outfield.

As I took pictures of the scoreboards, I got to witness one of the between-innings contests put on by the Bats.  As is common practice at baseball games, teams have people race around the bases or sometimes around the warning track.  Often times these races incorporate a local connection to make it more unique.  In Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, the team has people dress as horses and race around the bases.  It was a nice twist to a classic ballgame contest.

Although my focus was not as much on the game at hand, I did get to enjoy watching Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey make a rehabilitation start with the Bats.  Additionally, I got to watch some of the top prospects for the Cleveland Indians like catcher Eric Haase and infielder Yu-Cheng Chang and some of the top prospects for the Cincinnati Reds like infielder Nick Senzel, who is the fourth-rated prospect in all of Minor League Baseball, and reliever Tanner Rainey.

Although ogling over star prospects and rehabilitating Major Leaguers draws some people out to the ballpark, my focus is always on the experience.  I come to the stadium to eat some great food, drink some good craft beer, and enjoy the atmosphere.  Without the doubt, I got to do all of those things at Louisville Slugger Field.  The stadium does not show its age, despite opening in 2000.  Most importantly, the Bats do a great job of keeping fans involved in the game with some local twists on the between-inning contests.

Final Score: Columbus 7, Louisville 4
Box Score

Disclosure: My admission to the Louisville Bats baseball game was provided by Louisville Tourism.  I received a media rate for my two-night stay at the Aloft Louisville Downtown.  Be assured that all words and opinions contained here are 100% my own.

Touring Hank Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile

It’s not every day that a ticket to a baseball game also gets you admission to the childhood home of a baseball Hall of Famer.  However, that is precisely what you will find at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Ala., home of the Mobile BayBears.  In 2008, the city moved the childhood home of Mobile-native Henry Louis (“Hank”) Aaron to the grounds of the stadium that bears his name.

HISTORY OF THE HOME
Herbert Aaron, Hank’s father, built the house in 1942.  It initially consisted of three rooms, but the Aaron family gradually expanded the house.  It now has seven rooms, and it is possible to see where the Aaron family added an extension to the rear of the house.  In 2008, the home was moved from its original location in the Toulminville section of Mobile, restored, and dedicated on April 14, 2010, as the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum.

INSIDE THE HOME
When visitors enter the home they are greeted by Hank Aaron’s voice detailing his childhood in segregated Mobile, and see a sign detailing the transformation of the home into a museum.

A sign displaying the restoration of the historic home.

The first room to the left used to be the bedroom of Hank and his brothers.  It has now been converted into a room that preserves Aaron family pieces, including a dress worn by his mother Estella.

Items from the Aaron family home including a china cabinet.

The only room in the house that resembles its original appearance is the kitchen.

A view of the kitchen.

The remainder of the exhibits chronicle Aaron’s illustrious baseball career starting with playing semi-professional baseball for an independent Negro League team and concluding with his final season in the Major Leagues playing for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Most notable among the exhibits are the items associated with hitting the record-breaking 715th career homerun, which made him the Major League homerun king.

Hank Aaron received numerous accolades after hitting his 715th career homerun to become the all-time homerun leader in Major League Baseball history.

The exhibits focus primarily on the accomplishments of Hank Aaron, but his younger brother Tommie also played and later coached in the Major Leagues.  So  two lockers feature items from Hank and Tommie’s careers in baseball, including photographs of them as teammates on the Atlanta Braves.

Lockers reflecting the career of siblings Hank and Tommie Aaron.

The home centers around what Hank Aaron accomplished on the baseball field, but it was first and foremost a family home.  As visitors exit the home you see a portrait of Hank’s parents, Herbert and Estella Aaron.  It was commissioned by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in honor of the dedication of the home museum on April 14, 2010.

A painting of Herbert and Estella Aaron commissioned by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

If you want to visit the home of this National Baseball Hall of Famer and cannot attend a baseball game, it is also open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission is $5.

A new home brings about a new name

If you know me beyond my web presence, you already know that a LOT has changed in my life over the past three months.  However, if you only (or primarily) know me as a travel writer/blogger then you probably are unaware of the dramatic change that has taken place.

I have moved to Tokyo, Japan!

Yep, this Southern-raised, Northern-born college geography professor has left the academic life (at least as a full-time academic) and relocated to Japan.  There is a LOT behind this move, but it boils down to my wife Katie securing a job teaching at a Department of Defense school in Tokyo and us deciding this was the move we wanted to make.

So we packed up our apartment and moved to Tokyo (technically the western side of metropolitan Tokyo).  She will start work later in August, as a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI), but I have not yet secured a full-time job.  So with her support, I am using this opportunity to focus on travel writing full-time.  With the shift to full-time travel writing, I have also made the decision to rename my blog from “My Geography Lessons” to “Steven on the Move.”

The content of the blog will not change much, as I will continue writing about sports (especially now that I get to experience baseball in Japan), beer, culture, and history with a dash of food.  However, I felt that now was an opportune time to rename the blog to highlight my content as travel writing and NOT academic writing about the discipline of geography (if you want to read my academic thoughts go here).

If you don’t already follow me on the usual social media platforms, I hope that you will “like” my page on Facebook, “follow” me on Twitter and Instagram, and if you want to see what beers I’m drinking send me a friend request on Untappd.

So as we say in Japan when toasting, “Kampai!”

A pint at Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Opening a brewery takes a lot of time, effort, and patience.  However, Jim and Julie Shamburger navigated the process relatively quickly to open Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores, Ala.  Jim started homebrewing after his daughter bought him a Mr Beer kit, but he quickly advanced and in July 2015 petitioned the city to open a brewery.  Construction of the building was completed and the brewery opened its doors in October 2016.

The brewery sits on the corner of East 2nd Street and East 24th Avenue in the Waterway Village District, so it is easily accessible to locals or people coming for a beach vacation.  During a recent visit I talked with brewmaster Rod Murray about the beers he brews at Big Beach while my wife Katie and I checked out the taproom and sampled some of their beers.

An overview of the brewery from the street.

The exterior of the brewery is very welcoming, but the trees can make it difficult to locate the parking lot behind the building.  So visitors instead see…

A view of the entrance.

Moments after walking in the door, Katie and I were greeted by Rod and we went straight to the production side of the facility to talk about beer.

Currently the brewery operates a 10-barrel brewhouse with six fermenters and two brite tanks.  Visitors are unable to see the production side of the brewery from the taproom, but there is limited seating behind a window that allows people to drink beer while watching Rod brews.

Like any brewery, Big Beach has a varied selection of merchandise available for purchase.  The selection of T-shirts and other items adorn a wall facing the production side of the brewery.

A collection of merchandise available for purchase.

The seating area is very spacious with a beautiful bar top and ample seating at various heights.  There are high-top tables and regular tables along with a couple of sofas that allow people to choose their experience at the taproom.

So onto the beer…

When we visited there were eight beers on draft, so Katie and I got a flight with each half of the menu.  The left side of the menu included Catman Kölsch, Czech It Out (a Czech pilsner), Ale of Two Cities Scottish 70 (a wee heavy/Scottish ale), and Amy (a wheat ale with honey and basil).  The right side of the menu had Rod’s Reel Cream Ale, Small Town Brown Ale, Dixie’s Heart Red Ale (an Irish red ale), Hundred Daze IPA (a hazy India pale ale).  The brewery’s introductory beer is Rod’s Reel Cream Ale, which is a light, crisp beer that is perfect for the beach.  It along with Amy, which is a wheat ale with basil and honey, were my favorites on draft.  A beer like Amy can be an acquired taste because it is strong on basil with a hint of honey on the finish, but if you like those flavors it is a deliciously well-executed brew.

Rod prides himself on brewing beers to style, which means adhering to the standards set forth by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).  He follows these guidelines because of his award-winning experience as a homebrewer and commercial brewer when he worked in Missouri.  So the beers at Big Beach Brewing Co. may be different than beers at other breweries that are the same style.  The difference means that the beers people find at Big Beach are closer to the historical style of that beer.

The interesting part of Rod’s story is that he found Jim and Julie searching for a brewmaster as he was seeking to “retire” and find a place near the beach.  Clearly Rod hasn’t retired and is still brewing some delicious ales for a town that uses “Small Town, Big Beaches” as part of its marketing campaign.

Visitors to Alabama’s southernmost brewery will find a fresh, new building with an appropriately beach-influenced taproom, delicious brews, and a wonderful small-town feeling.