CHARLESTON, SC —
Within 60 minutes of landing in Charleston, ordering a John Daly at 10am on a Wednesday seemed like a reasonable thing to do.
After dropping our bags at the hotel and trudging a mile or so through the thick southern air, Mrs. FSB and myself arrived at our first destination. With my head still full of airplane weirdness, I crossed the threshold of the Rutledge Avenue sidewalk, into The Hominy Grill, a bedrock breakfast joint in Charleston specializing in low country classics. It was our first stop on a four day tour as we ate and drank our way through The Holy City.
After ordering the obligatory, first hour of vacation libations, we took our seats inside and embarked on a gastronomical journey that lived up to all the hype. As I sipped on my boozy riff of the classic Arnold Palmer, I placed my well rehearsed shrimp & grits order with our waitress and awaited the much anticipated Charleston classic.
This would end up being the first of three shrimp & grits meals for me on my stay, and was the champion of the week (with Poogan’s Porch coming in a close 2nd). I’m no food writer, so I couldn’t begin to tell you why Hominy Grill’s take on the dish was the best. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
So, where exactly am I going with this post? I shoehorned a John Daly reference into the lede, but a golf post this is not. Charleston is a town with an old world facade, wrapped around a Park Avenue interior. Civil War cannonballs inhabit the roofs of Greek Revival mansions, with a Gucci store just steps away. It’s rich in history and breathtaking architecture. It’s also the home of the Charleston River Dogs, the Single-A affiliate for the Yankees.
They were in town, I twisted the arm of Mrs. FSB and off we went to see some minor league baseball.
Opening Day in baseball is a day full of pageantry and revelry. It’s also a day full of drunken stupors and Miller Lite induced vomiting. Saint Patrick’s Day? New Years Eve? I’ll put MLB Opening Day in their league for amateurs per capita. For every true fan, coming out to root, root, root for the home team, there’s some east coast bro with plastic neon sunglasses and a Phi Tappa Keg tank top on stumbling through the 300 level of your home town ball park looking to keep his buzz in tact.
It was with this preconception on the top of my mind that I passed up on River Dogs opening night and went with a couple of seats in the bleachers for game two. Minor league ball is obviously different from the Big Leagues and I had a passing thought that perhaps I was being too hard on Opening Day, especially in a single-A setting. But what did it matter? What could I possibly miss? Maybe some fireworks and an appearance by the Vice President of the Charleston Junior League?
Nope. Not even close. My ill will towards Opening Day’s across the globe cost me a front row (well 18th row) seat for Bill freakin’ Murray.
A short walk from our hotel sits Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park. The namesake of the park was a 16th century pirate who raped, pillaged, plundered and murdered his way through the streets of Charleston only pausing for a swig of rum or peg legged stroll down King Street to Miss Kitty’s “Parlour”.
Just kidding, he’s actually the mayor.
As we made our way into the park, I was pleasantly surprised. The place is clean, easy to get around and has a lot of character. The concourse behind the 3rd base side has the feel of a scaled down version of Eutaw Street at Camden Yards, minus the gigantic warehouse of course.
Got 6 bucks? That’ll get you a 25 oz can of beer. We weren’t in DC anymore.
As we reached the front of the beer line I noticed we were several minutes past the scheduled 7:05pm start time and the place was unusually quiet. No PA announcer. No commotion from the field. A quick peek at the field before we made our way through the concourse and to our seats revealed groundskeepers, not baseball players, occupying the field.
Something was amiss.
We got to our seats as the clock approached 7:30pm. The field was decidedly absent of any sort of competitive baseball game. I leaned back to ask the nice elderly woman behind us what gives?
“Well, you see, The Citadel actually shares the field with the River Dogs and their game ran long, so the start of this game got delayed. Would you like a boiled peanut?”
You know you’re at a minor league baseball game, when the scheduled first pitch is subject to change in the event that the local college team drags their game out into the early evening. I did however, finally score some boiled peanuts I’d heard so much about.
The next piece of news that my new found legume supplier delivered had me crestfallen.
“Bill Murray was here last night” she casually lobbed my way, as she shelled her next morsel of boiled goodness before quickly devouring.
“What do you mean Bill Murray was here last night?” I deadpanned. Like, here? In the state of South Carolina? Perhaps a video clip of Caddyshack was played on the score board? I needed clarification. Fast.
“He was here, at the stadium. He’s always here for opening day, he’s a part owner of the team”, she calmly explained to me as the error of my ticket buying ways crashed over me like a head high ocean wave I didn’t see coming.
Part owner? Always here for opening day? Surely she was mistaken. Opening Day is amateur drunks and extra large American flags and 2 inning long waits in concession lines. In Charleston, it’s Bill Murray–one of my all time favorite actors–evidently.
Bill Murray is indeed a home owner in Charleston, as well as a part owner of the River Dogs and serves as their Director of Fun. Seriously.
Bill Murray shows up wherever he damn pleases these days; like here and here. That 2nd link actually features Ashley Donald, a former high school classmate of mine. Hey Ashley, if you’re reading this, I think I left a 12 pack of Natty Light and some Steel Pulse CDs at a party at your house after a Cape Henry basketball game back in ’97. Can you check your lost and found?
Murray is also known to show up at River Dogs games whenever he damn pleases and is typically a big part of the opening day festivities.
I learned this while sitting in the stands at game two of the River Dogs season.
The only Bill Murray sighting I would have was the t-shirts in the team store along the 3rd base concourse.
As for the game itself, it had everything you’d want out of a minor league game. Lots of first pitch swings, superfluous mascots ( I think counted 18), cheesy in game contests for the kids and a few drunk college guys heckling the opposing team.
The River Dogs actually had an in game promotion where they designated a player on the Lexington Legends (Charleston’s opponent on this night) as the strike out nominee of the game. The contest was simple; if this player struck out during the game, everybody got free…something. Chicken wings I think?
Not only was this announced before the game, but every time this guy came to bat the PA announcer would basically heckle him during the at bat! You gotta love minor league baseball.
The poor guy struck out on his 2nd at bat. I still have no idea what I won.
The delayed start pushed the first pitch back to nearly 8pm, so after two hours and 5 innings of Bull Durham-esque play, it was time to leave the palm tree lined banks of the Ashley River and hit the road.
As we left, I did take note that the River Dogs short stop (remember, Yankees affiliate) wears #2. No pressure kid!
We wandered off into the Charleston night, full of light beer and boiled peanuts. The glow of “The Joe” was behind us as our noble steed (a Charleston Uber; nicest drivers I’ve ever encountered) picked us up.
The following day would be our departure from good ol’ Chuck Town. My Poogan’s Porch shrimp & grits tided me over as we headed to the airport for a one way flight home.
On every TV, the 3rd round of The Masters captivated the entire (surprisingly spartan) airport. As we waited for our flight I carved out some room at the bar as 21 year old Jordan Spieth began to distance himself from the star studded field to place my order.
“John Daly, please.”