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.
When the New York Mets played at Shea Stadium, a sign reading “No Pepper Games” was featured prominently behind home plate. I’m thinking Syracuse’s Minor League Baseball team should install similar signage, not just because they are a New York affiliate named the Mets, but because Syracuse is the Salt City. Who needs pepper?
On Aug. 1, I seized the day and drove to the Salt City -- carpe sodium, as it were -- from my home base in Brooklyn, New York. My destination was, of course, NBT Bank Stadium. “Orange you glad to see me?” I asked Scooch the mascot when I arrived. He did not answer.
I am not aware of Scooch’s phylum, let alone his class, order, genus or species. But his orange hue makes him fit right in, and not just because of the ballpark’s proximity to Syracuse University and its legions of Orange men and women.
The Syracuse Mets are affiliated with (and owned by) the Mets, an arrangement that began in earnest in 2019 following many decades in which the team was community-owned and known as the Chiefs. Following that 2019 season, the ballpark underwent a major renovation, and this included innumerable gallons of blue and orange paint. On the concourse, in the stands, in the suites -- wherever you look, a bold iteration of the Mets’ color scheme will meet your wandering gaze.
Improvements to NBT Bank Stadium include a new field, new sound system and new seats, as well as the removal of some seats in order to install grass berms. Murals of Mets legends have been added to the second level, with Tom Seaver on the right-field side and Mike Piazza in left.
On the first level, the outfield corner areas have been greatly improved. Left field is home to the Bullpen Bar, from which this is the view:
The below shot, which was also taken from the Bullpen Bar (or somewhere close to it), showcases a new videoboard, a new bullpen and … very old light fixtures. These were originally used at MacArthur Stadium, which served as the home of the Syracuse Chiefs from 1934-96 (NBT Bank Stadium opened the following season, in a similar but not identical location).
Right field is now home to the Metropolitan Club, a year-round hospitality room. The Syracuse Baseball Hall of Fame sits below the Metropolitan Club. This was my favorite of NBT Bank’s many additions, given that professional baseball in Syracuse dates back to the 1870s and there is a lot of history to explore.
What was there to eat? I’m glad (I just pretended that) you asked. My Designated Eater on this evening -- you know, the individual tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits -- was a Syracuse University engineering student by the name of Eric Silfies. He was joined by his friend Nate, whose surname I neglected to record, but who is also in the engineering program.
New York-Penn League diehards will appreciate Eric’s New Jersey Cardinals throwback jersey (obtained at Skylands Park via the team that plays there now, the independent Sussex County Miners). Barbecue diehards, meanwhile, will appreciate Nate’s recommendation of Ray Brothers BBQ. It’s located in Bouckville, about 36 miles southeast of Syracuse, and Nate said that it is “leagues above” Syracuse’s well-known Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
It was “Taco Tuesday” the night I was in town, and in the above photo Eric and Nate are enjoying -- you guessed it -- tacos. But tacos weren’t the star of the show. Pierogi were. Note that I wrote “pierogi,” singular. This is something that Syracuse GM Jason Smorol is adamant about, to the extent that he is willing to denigrate the grammatically incorrect signage in his own ballpark.
The pierogi come courtesy of The Pierogie Guy, a Rochester-based company that pluralizes with reckless abandon while using an alternate spelling of pierogi to boot.
The pierogi at The Pierogie Guy cart are of the traditional variety, but elsewhere in the ballpark you can get ‘em deep-fried. The below photo features just that: deep-fried buffalo chicken pierogi accompanied by fries and a pint of Utica Club (an upstate New York favorite and the first beer to be legally sold following the repeal of prohibition in 1933).
Eric praised the deep-fried pierogi’s “wonton-like crunch,” saying he preferred it to the standard version. Jason Smorol, meanwhile, transitioned from pierogi pluralization rants to declarations of Syracuse hot dog supremacy. He says that Hofmann, based in Syracuse, makes them the best. Specifically, he says that Hofmann’s are better than the preferred brands in International League rival cities such as Rochester (Zweigel’s) and Buffalo (Sahlen). Let me know if you, the reader, have any opinions on this important matter.
The Hofmann specimen in the below photo on the right is a Snappy Griller a.k.a. Coney, which in Syracuse is pronounced “Coony.” Per the Hofmann website, it is a “hybrid sausage-frank” that is “modeled after traditional white German sausages.”
Eric and Nate, college students and therefore veterans of dollar beer and hot dog nights at the ballpark, were both familiar with, and big fans of, Hofmann hot dogs.
“They are my go-to,” said Nate. “Anytime I’m here, go for the ‘Coonys.’”
I didn’t have the right size in my depleted stash of Designated Eater shirts, but congrats to Eric (and Nate). You are now in the club.
Would you believe there was a baseball game going on all this time? It was a good one, too. The visiting Worcester Red Sox featured two rehabbing Bostonians: starting pitcher Chris Sale and shortstop Trevor Story (whose Mom, Teddie, started following me on Twitter when Trevor was in the Minors, often sharing photos of her own Minor League ballpark travels).
Story homered in the eighth inning to put the WooSox up, 3-2, but the Mets scored in the ninth to tie it back up. Then, after the Woo Sox plated one in the 10th, the Mets scored two in the bottom of the frame to win 5-4.
Luke Ritter’s RBI single was the game-winning hit. This picture was taken moments before he hit it.
The people in the below picture missed Ritter’s game-winning hit, as they were already waiting for postgame autographs from soon-to-be-departing Worcester players.
After walking past the autograph seekers to see if anyone wanted mine (no takers), I placed an online order for some chicken wings. Thirty minutes later I found myself hopelessly lost in a gigantic and deserted mall, having failed to realize that said wing establishment was located within a Dave and Buster’s. Another night on the road, in other words. Another night on the road.
As always, email me at [email protected] if you'd like to tell me about your own Minor League nights on the road, or to share your thoughts on anything at all.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the persistent wheedling of a nearby malcontent is preventing me from ending this newsletter.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.