Ben's Biz: An evening with the Single-A Giants

May 10th, 2024

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.

The following ballpark road trip recap is presented by Wyndham, proud sponsor of Minor League Ballpark Guides. Plan your road trip today, and check out the San Jose Giants Ballpark Guide HERE.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In the San Francisco Giants’ system, players start their professional journeys in San Jose. This season, so did I. My first ballpark road trip of 2024 began with a stop at San Jose’s Excite Ballpark, and it was great to be back. If you like any combination of baseball history, quirky traditions and eccentric aesthetics, then Excite Ballpark is an absolute must-visit. The top-notch barbecue is a bonus.

Excite Ballpark, known as Municipal Stadium throughout most of its existence, was built in 1942. It’s the sixth-oldest ballpark in Minor League Baseball and the oldest west of the Mississippi River. The California League’s San Jose Giants have called it home since 1988.

Within the current Minor League landscape, Excite Ballpark finds its closest comparison in FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Penn. (home of the Fightin Phils). They both host teams who have long-running affiliations with a nearby parent club. Colorful artwork lends a lively feel while contextualizing the history. A carnivalesque atmosphere prevails within an intimate throwback environment.

If you’re interested in quickly learning more about Excite Ballpark and San Jose Giants baseball, the above sign provides a handy primer. Here’s some more detail on some -- not all! -- of the listed items, which handily contextualizes many of the things I saw and experienced during my visit.

Turkey Mike’s BBQ: Iconic concession area located on the third-base side of the ballpark, named after turn-of-the-century outfielder “Turkey” Mike Donlin.

HOF George Brett: In 1972, at the age of 19, George Brett played for the San Jose Bees (then a Royals affiliate, obviously).

From Owls to Giants: The first team to call Excite Ballpark home was the San Jose Owls in 1942. They played in the California League, which had been established the previous season.

Lenn Sakata: A Major League utilityman who later became the winningest manager in California League history, including three stints in San Jose. His No. 14 was retired by the team.

And, wouldn’t you know it, he happened to be at the ballpark in his current capacity as a roving instructor (story forthcoming).

Gigante: San Jose’s mascot is Gigante the mischievous gorilla. In the above photo, Gigante is on the left.

Krazy George: Legendary professional cheerleader, credited with inventing the wave. Was once a regular presence at the ballpark.

Beer Batter: A familiar Minor League tradition, practiced most fervently at San Jose and now one of the Giants’ alternate identities. You probably know how it works: A player from the opposing team is designated the beer batter. If he strikes out, beer is half price for the next 15 minutes.

Smash for Cash: A sadly discontinued between-inning promo. A bread truck was driven onto the field and players would be given the opportunity to throw a baseball at its headlights. If they smashed a headlight, a cash prize would be split with a fan. (In 2016, I had a go at it).

Bad News Bees: The 1986 San Jose Bees, an independent team, were an eclectic, hard-living bunch. Read all about it.

With this team, in this ballpark, it seems like everything is iconic. That had been the case in the PA booth, as Russ Call was on the mic for nearly three decades before retiring following the 2023 season. San Jose native Cody Pasby, the new PA announcer, just may be an icon in the making. That just seems to be how things work around here.

Pasby’s press box perch features the view seen below. Just beyond the ballpark lies the Tech CU Arena, which opened in 2022 and serves as the home of the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League (the Barracuda are an affiliate of the San Jose Sharks). While it’s cool to have two Minor League franchises operating right next to each other, the arena unfortunately obscures Excite Ballpark’s Santa Cruz Mountains backdrop.

On this evening, the Giants hosted the Lake Elsinore Storm. If you’re a fan of watching players mill about prior to a ballgame, then this is the photo for you.

Also prior to the ballgame, I spoke with Ben Hemmen. He’s the Giants’ number one Beer Batter fan, meaning he leads the crowd in cheering for the guy to strike out. (Here’s a six-second example of his work).

The evening’s Beer Batter -- Lake Elsinore’s Romeo Sanabria -- struck out three times that evening, with two of those K’s occurring when the promo was in effect. I missed the fan reaction and subsequent rush to the beer line, as my wanderings brought me elsewhere.

Shortly after May 2’s ballgame began, I met with my Designated Eater, Matt Burns, seen here in front of a formidable array of ballpark specialties.

Ballpark road trip heads -- you are probably one yourself -- might be familiar with Matt. For the last several seasons he has embarked upon sprawling ballpark road trips with his dad, documenting them on his “Mapping the Path” website and corresponding Twitter (sorry, X) account. This year’s trip features 23 ballparks in 23 days throughout the “Eastern Midwest.”

Matt’s love for the Minor Leagues began right here at Excite Ballpark, when he attended his first game in 2019. On this evening he was “paying it forward,” having brought a group of 15 co-workers to the ballpark so that they, too, could maybe fall in love.

Outside of the garlic fries, which are available at a garlic fries-specific concession stand, the below spread was obtained at the aforementioned Turkey Mike’s. It includes the Big Filthy (two cheeseburgers topped with pulled pork), Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese and, finally, The Heater (hot link, pulled pork, jalapenos).

For dessert at Excite Ballpark, the choice is obvious: Churros, courtesy of legendary vendor Paul “Super Churros Man” Cerda.

Cerda, the inspiration behind San Jose’s Copa de la Diversión identity, has his own stand on the third-base side of the ballpark. (I wrote a feature about him in 2016, and he later appeared in the Ben’s Biz insert set that was part of 2017 Topps Pro Debut.)

How do you wash down a churro? How about with a Churro Beer? Or with a different team-specific beer? Why not both?

Stay tuned for more San Jose food coverage, but for now I must move on. Specifically, I must move on to an area beyond the outfield fence.

The Giants have a long-running “horse race” between-innings promo, in which horse heads on sticks are carried by the groundskeepers. Of course, the fans can only see the horse heads. I’m working on obtaining video of this, so once again please stay tuned.

I wandered about during the game’s later innings, soaking in the unique ambience.

This is a place where even the bathrooms have character.

If your dream is to attend a Minor League game at a historic ballpark that exudes its own idiosyncratic charm, then, yes: San Jose is where dreams come true.

One more time: Stay tuned for much more from San Jose, and much more from my California road trip. Special thanks to Justine Willard, an MLB “Live Content Creator” who accompanied me at the ballpark and took several of the photos seen above. And, of course, thank you for reading. Get in touch anytime.