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 drive from Binghamton, N.Y., to Scranton, Pa., takes not much more than an hour, an I-81 South-centric jaunt that transports a traveler from the realm of the Mets’ Double-A affiliate to the domain of the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate.
I undertook this journey on Aug. 3. In the early afternoon, I enjoyed lunch at Binghamton’s Spiedie and Rib Pit.
In the early evening, I was once again at a Minor League ballpark: PNC Field, home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. As always, I feel obligated to point out that this is the longest team name in all of Minor League Baseball -- 31 characters -- but yet still does not include the town in which the ballpark is located (Moosic). The RailRiders name debuted in 2013, in conjunction with the opening of PNC Field.
PNC Field was preceded by Lackawanna County Stadium, which opened in 1989 and existed in the exact same location. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I went to the first Minor League games of my life at Lackawanna County Stadium. The team was named the Red Barons, they were a Phillies affiliate, and I was pretty much in love.
I guess you just had to be chair.
Speaking of the Red Barons: John Davies, their original P.A. announcer, was in the press box (check out his vintage Red Barons staff shirt).
This game I was in attendance for, against the Red Wings of Rochester, N.Y., was aired on local television. John was on hand to do color commentary alongside the exemplary play-by-play work of RailRiders lead broadcaster Adam Marco.
The view from the press box -- the view from pretty much anywhere in the ballpark -- features rocks, trees, hills and mountains. This is probably the coolest feature of PNC Field, how it incorporates the natural topography into the ballpark experience.
If you’re on the outfield concourse, look in one direction and you’ll see rocks and trees. Look in the other and you might see a catcher doing pop-up drills in the bullpen. (I’m not sure if it’s called a pop-up drill; he was getting fed pitches via a machine and then immediately popping up into throwing position.)
While wandering, you can contemplate the beauty of nature … or you can choose to dwell on more earthly concerns.
I suppose Champ is an earthly concern, though I’ve never known Earth natives to have ears that resemble elbow macaroni.
It was good to see Champ. I hadn’t crossed paths with him since 2014, when he was kind enough to crash my brother’s wedding (true story). That wedding took place at the Lackawanna Station Hotel, long rumored to be haunted.
Champ was on foot when I saw him, though given the spaciousness of PNC Field he’d probably benefit from having a Segway.
Speaking of segues, the game had just begun.
My task at this juncture, as it so often is, was to meet with my Designated Eater. On this evening, that was Alex Pugh, who resides with his wife, Amanda, and baby son, Kai, in the Stroudsburg-adjacent town of Pen Argyl. (In talking to Alex and Amanda, I learned that the locals pronounce it Pen Arr-Jill. Real guttural. Almost piratic.)
Alex, Amanda and Kai are dedicated Minor League ballpark travelers, journeying to various local(ish) facilities throughout the summer.
The Pughs and I did a lap around the PNC Field perimeter, in search of the most noteworthy and/or regionally specific concession items. We began at the Electric City Grill, which references Scranton’s longtime nickname. (Electric lights made their first appearance in the city in 1880, and in 1886 Scranton was home to the country’s first electric-powered streetcars. This, in part, inspired the RailRiders team name. Everything is connected.)
“Watt” did we get at the Electric Grill? It wasn’t exactly “light” fare. This is the Pierogi Burger, which, in addition to the titular Polish dumpling, was topped with Cooper cheese, caramelized onions, green peppers (or were they jalapeños?) and Thousand Island dressing. Alex was a fan, praising it for the way that “all the tastes and flavors mesh well together.”
At the Boxcar Burger stand we got the -- wait for it -- Boxcar Burger. Seemed like the thing to do. It’s topped with pulled pork, pineapple, queso and “Asian-style” coleslaw.
Alex praised the Boxcar Burger as well but said that it ultimately was not as good as the Pierogi Burger because that was made fresh while the Boxcar Burger had been under a heat lamp.
Finally, we hit one of the ballpark’s two Dogout stands and got a Triple Play Dog. This one _is _a light snack, consisting of a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, onion straws and chopped bacon.
The Triple Play Dog was Alex’s favorite, earning an 8.2 on his precise 10-point scale. Amanda gave it a try and gave it a 7.8, saying that it could be improved with the addition of more barbecue sauce.
Bidding adieu to the Pughs, I made the short walk to the concourse-level press box and hopped in the TV booth with Adam Marco.
Speaking of Adam Marco, throughout his career he has always made a point of visiting restaurants and other points of interest within the cities he visits on road trips. For years, going back to his days with the West Virginia Power, he had a blog called “Minor League Kerouac” that documented these pursuits. These days, he shares what he finds mainly via X (the social media platform formerly known as Twitter).
I interviewed Marco about these pursuits prior to the game, and that interview was featured in last week’s episode of “The Show Before the Show” podcast.
LISTEN TO THE RAILRIDERS’ “MINOR LEAGUE KEROUAC” ON THE SHOW BEFORE THE SHOW PODCAST
Adam’s partner in the booth is Emily Messina, usually, but since this game was on TV in addition to radio they were working separately. I spent an inning on the air with Emily as well. She wasn’t necessarily expecting me but adjusted on the fly for a fun and free-wheeling conversation that included ceding play-by-play duties to me for one batter (it was a disaster).
The home team ultimately triumphed, with the RailRiders defeating the Red Wings by a score of 6-5. Before departing the bucolic environment of PNC Field, I returned to the press box to say hello to scorekeeper Dick Devans.
You may remember Dick from this very newsletter, when he shared the touching story of learning to keep score (at home) with his grandfather and how that led to the work he does for the RailRiders today. Read it HERE.
Another ballpark visit was in the books, and I celebrated by buying snacks at a nearby establishment. Goodnight from Moosic, Pa.
READ THE PNC FIELD BALLPARK GUIDE HERE
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.