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Ben's Biz: 10 highlights from 2023 season

Ben reflects back on his favorite things from the year that was
December 22, 2023

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. Subscribe HERE.

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. Subscribe HERE.

The end of the year is always an occasion to look back, assess and, hopefully, celebrate. After reflecting on the 2023 Minor League season -- the topics I covered, the people I met and the places I visited -- I assembled a list featuring 10 of my favorite things.

Visiting the oldest ballpark in America
My second road trip of the season, in June, began in Birmingham, Ala. Before making my way to Regions Field, current home of the Barons, I paid a visit to their former home: Rickwood Field, which opened in 1910. I had been to Rickwood Field on two other occasions – most notably the 2010 Rickwood Classic, a regular season Southern League ballgame – but the timing of this visit was auspicious.

Major League Baseball was on the cusp of announcing Rickwood Field as the site of a 2024 game between the Giants and the Cardinals, dedicated to Willie Mays (a 1948 Birmingham Baron) and the Negro Leagues in general. As I sat in the subterranean dugout, the view from which is depicted above, I thought about all the changes that would soon come to the ballpark as it is readied for its MLB debut. Some of these changes may understandably ruffle the feathers of baseball purists, but MLB’s involvement ensures that Rickwood will stay in great shape for many years to come. That’s worth celebrating.

Seeing old friends
One of the greatest perks of going on Minor League road trips is that they often provide the opportunity to reconnect with friends (and make new ones). Many of these friends are people who I initially met through this job, generally as a result of them having engaged with my writing, having worked for a team, or both. Case in point: A Monday off day during my Pacific Northwest trip allowed me to meet up with Erik “The Peanut Guy” Mertens, longtime onfield emcee for the Tri-City Dust Devils (and de facto face of the franchise).

Erik drove from Washington’s Tri-Cities region (encompassing Pasco, Richland and Kennewick) and rendezvoused with me in Tacoma. We then drove to Seattle to see a Mariners game, and the experience was greatly enhanced by his local knowledge and enthusiasm. Prior to the game, we obtained cream cheese-slathered Seattle Dogs from a vendor outside of the ballpark (they even had gluten-free buns). Recommended!

Minor League Ballpark Guides
You know them (maybe). You love them (hopefully). Minor League Ballpark Guides, one of the biggest projects I’ve ever been a part of, debuted in April. There’s a guide for every Minor League ballpark, designed to help you plan a road trip and maximize the ballpark experience.

Weird for the Sake of Weird
You may have heard me lament recently that Minor League Baseball promos are not as consistently weird as they once were, but this gives me greater appreciation for the ones that truly embrace the absurdity. Case in point: The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp’s “Salute to Duct Tape” culminated in promotions director David Ratz getting duct taped to a concourse pole. Things didn’t go as planned from there, to put it mildly.

Harry’s first Minor League game
My son, Harry, turns 3 in February. While it remains to be seen whether he will become a baseball fan, I’m doing my best to make that a reality (mostly by buying him T-shirts at the ballparks I visit. His wardrobe is incredible). This past June my fiancée Jill and I advanced the cause by taking Harry to his first Minor League game, featuring our hometown Brooklyn Cyclones. French fries and ice cream were far more appealing to him than the game of baseball, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Crucial assistance from my MVC (Most Valuable Co-Worker)
You may know Josh Jackson from his weekly “Ghosts of the Minors” segment on the “Show Before the Show” podcast, or at least from the portion of this newsletter where he interrupts in order to plug said segment. But Josh is more than a surly chronicler of archaic Minor League ball clubs -- he does much behind the scenes to make the entirety of (and MLB Pipeline) function. One of his many tasks is producing this newsletter, diligently parsing through (too many) words and (too many) photos so that it arrives in your inbox safe and sound. I am grateful for all the work he does. Oh, and subscribe to his newsletter.

The Show Before the Show podcast: “My Favorite Call” episode
Recording’s “The Show Before the Show” podcast on a weekly basis with Tyler Maun and Sam Dykstra has been a highlight of every season, going back to the show’s 2015 inception. Perhaps my favorite episode of this season was #411, released on June 16th. 10 broadcasters from around the Minors shared their favorite calls from their careers, along with the context regarding why, precisely, it meant so much to them. Give it a listen if you haven’t already and remember, now and always, to support your local Minor League Baseball broadcaster.

Double Decker Records (Allentown, PA)
I don’t visit as many record stores on my ballpark road trips as I used to, as space is limited within my luggage and, more crucially, within my apartment. Grimey’s in Nashville gets an honorable mention, but the best vinyl procurance location I visited this season was Double Decker Records in Allentown, PA. (located minutes from the Coca-Cola Park, home of the IronPigs).

Double Decker is situated within an unassuming box of a building within a bit rough-around-the-edges part of town, but do not be fooled by its unassuming exterior. Within is a great mix of both used and new records, from innumerable genres. I found a few albums I was looking for (new releases from Swans and Sparks) but the real joy came from the stuff I stumbled upon. This ranged from Robert Johnson to Biz Markie to the Beastie Boys (*Paul’s Boutique *demos) to a collaboration between former Can singer Damo Suzuki and psych/space rockers Mugstar. I could go on. I want to go on.

The MiLB Awards
The inaugural MiLB Awards aired on the MLB Network on Oct. 2. The show was at its most transcendent in the segments featuring yours truly. In one I introduced the “Best Alternate Identity” nominees. In the other, I shared the details on some of my favorite Minor League foodstuffs. WATCH HERE.

Thank you for subscribing to this newsletter and, more importantly, reading it. I regularly receive emails from newsletter readers, sometimes in response to questions posed within but, often, totally unprompted. The enthusiasm expressed for my writing, as well as Minor League Baseball in general, is a huge inspiration. I now view the regular readers of this newsletter as part of a community. Wouldn’t it be great to all get together for a ballgame one day?

Your Turn: What were your highlights of the 2023 Minor League season? I’ll include the responses in the next newsletter, which will appear on January 4th, 2024. [email protected]

Happy Holidays!

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