Gearing Up to Get Out

Hi everybody. Ben’s Biz here. I hope that you had a great offseason.

How was mine?

Thanks for asking. I kept busy. I enjoyed some vacation time in San Francisco and Montreal, lost money at the racetrack on a couple of lazy Sunday afternoons, volunteered on a regular basis, determined that Isaan Thai cuisine is the world’s finest, put one of my cats to sleep, thought a lot about the music Mark Sandman would have made had he not died at such a young age, broke up with my girlfriend and finally surpassed the halfway mark in my ongoing effort to watch all 325 episodes of Mary Hartman Mary Hartman. Just life, is all.

Of course, I wrote about Minor League Baseball throughout, covering all of the offseason developments that are fit to print (or post, or tweet, or whatever). But, for everyone in baseball, life takes quite a drastic turn once the season starts. Instead of being merely involved with baseball, one becomes consumed by it. For me, that means traveling the country visiting Minor League ballparks.

Therefore, I’d like to let it be known that my 2015 trip itineraries will be revealed on…drum roll please…April 3. 

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So, yeah. Get excited. Did you hear me? GET EXCITED. At this point I’m not sure if I’m talking more to you, the presumably loyal reader, or myself. But, regardless: This season, like every season, my goal is to provide the best “On the Road” content I possibly can. From the start it’s been a learn-by-doing kind of thing. There’s certainly no established template for it, and your feedback (yes, yours) regarding what works, what doesn’t and what it is that you’d like to see has been crucial. So, please, keep getting in touch.

And, please, keep spreading the word that I’m doing this is in the first place. Readers, tell your like-minded friends. Teams, tell your fans. New Yorker “Talk of the Town” writers, please consider profiling me.

Finally, as I count down the days until the unveiling of my road trip itinerary, I’ve been sharing some of my favorite #BensRoadTrip memories from seasons past:

And so on and so forth. To peruse my entire 2014 “On the Road” output, please click HERE. Meanwhile, every “On the Road” post that has appeared on this blog can be found HERE.

Thanks for your continued support.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Pictures of Ballpark Food, West Michigan Whitecaps Edition

Harbingers of baseball season are everywhere these days. It will soon consume us entirely; we are the Jonah to its whale. One of today’s most prominent harbingers involves that which will be soon be consumed. The West Michigan Whitecaps, perpetual culinary innovators, have unveiled their new 2015 concession items.

Leading the list of additions is the winner of this season’s Food Contest, as voted on by the fans. Among a field of 10 items, the “Hot-to-Tot” nabbed 17% of the votes en route to victory.

Hot-to-Tot, which I assume is a reference to the best movie within the “stock market-savvy talking horse” genre, is described as “Buffalo tater tots with pulled chicken topped with blue cheese.”

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Hot-to-Tot was an exercise in democracy, but the Whitecaps acted unilaterally as well. The following items will also be added to their array of 2015 concession items:

Nutella Poppers: “Nutella-stuffed sweet dough fried to a golden brown and rolled in sugar.”

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Oreo Churros: “Oreo cookie pieces made into a churro served with Oreo frosting.” In my opinion, the team should have named these Choreos.

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Pretzel-Breaded Italian Sausage: (Self-explanatory)

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Beer-A-Misu: “Tiramisu gelato with local stout beer.”

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Chicken and steak quesadillas will also be served at the Whitecaps’ home of Fifth Third Field in 2015, but I do not believe that photos of this item will excite the masses and therefore I will not post it.

Getting back to the “Hot-to-Tot,” the Whitecaps note that “previous winners of the food contest include the Auger Dogger (2014), Baco (2013), Westside Po’ Boy (2012), Chicks with Sticks (2011), the Cudighi Yooper Sandwich and the Declaration of Independence (both 2010). All have now been retired from the menu.”

It was a good run while it lasted, Baco. I got to enjoy one of those when I visited the Whitecaps in 2013.

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The “Fifth Third Burger,” which is 5/3rds of a pound, lives on. Think you can eat one in one sitting?

026Have at it:

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Finally, I would like to commend myself for continuing to celebrate the ballpark food items that I cannot eat due to my 2012 celiac disease diagnosis. Yeah, I suffer for my art. Don’t we all?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

 

New Jerseys and Connecticut

If you read this blog, then of course you also read all of the articles I write for MiLB.com. It goes without saying. But, nonetheless, I feel compelled to share with you my latest (and therefore greatest) “Minoring in Business” feature, which provides an in-depth look at the theme jersey phenomenon that has swept the Minor League landscape.

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The article begins thusly:

Not long ago, Minor League Baseball theme jerseys were almost exclusively based upon a small array of pre-existing options. Pink, patriotic and camo were the three most common offerings, with pop culture references virtually non-existent. But now?

“Now it’s just a free-for-all.”

That’s how Elaine Gastineau of OT Sports describes Minor League Baseball’s current theme jersey landscape. OT Sports, based in Burlington, North Carolina, is a leading theme jersey manufacturer, and Gastineau is their factory sales representative specializing in Minor League Baseball. Over the last decade she’s done her part to facilitate an industry-wide theme jersey phenomenon, with teams attempting to outdo one another in the ever-competitive category of “Who can be the most outlandish?”

If early returns are any indication, then 2015 will be the most outlandish year yet.

Read the rest HERE.

Of course, the big news story in Minor League Baseball this week was the announcement that Hartford’s baseball team will be known as the Yard Goats. The Yard Goats will make their debut in 2016, after relocating from nearby New Britain (where they are known as the Rock Cats).

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I wrote a story about this, of course. A relevant excerpt, which truly illuminates my ability to quote from a press release:

So what is a Yard Goat, and why is it the name of a Minor League Baseball franchise? As the team explained on its HartfordPlaysBall2016 website, Yard Goats “honors Hartford’s rich railroad history.” It is a slang term for “an engine that switches a train to get it ready for another locomotive to take over.”

A press release issued by the Rock Cats on Wednesday afternoon provided further detail.

“A Minor League Baseball player is like that humble Yard Goat,” it reads. “Not a glamorous job but working day in and day out away from the big city lights to assure that the Major League affiliate is kept on track.”

Said story was accompanied by this image, which shows the winner of the “Name the Team” contest attempting to keep a couple of live goats in line.

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Rock Cats/Yard Goats general manager Tim Restall seems to think the situation is under control. He’s on the right, probably checking to see what @bensbiz was writing about the team name on Twitter.

Thanks for playing along, Brandon.

My favorite Twitter reaction to the Yard Goats name came from New Britain mayor Erin Stewart.

There is no love lost between the city of New Britain and the Rock Cats/Yard Goats ownership, as negotiations to relocate the team were done in secret. When the news of the proposed move first broke, it was news to New Britain as well. Suffice to say, I do not think Mayor Stewart will be attending any Yard Goats games in 2016.

Finally, I hit a major professional milestone this week, via the issuance of my 20,000th tweet. Here’s how it went down:

Here’s to 20,000 more. I mean, why not?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Business Lessons from the King

Bill Valentine, legendary Arkansas Travelers executive and former American League umpire, was named”King of Baseball” at the 2014 Winter Meetings in San Diego. The day after his crowning ceremony, I sat down with Valentine, now in his 80s, for a wide-ranging interview. This chat has already resulted in one MiLB.com feature, but , as I noted at the time, there was PLENTY more where that came from.  

During the course of our very long conversation – if you know Bill Valentine, then you know that he likes to tell stories – I asked him if, as King, he had any advice for his “subjects” now working in the industry. His advice, in so many words, could be summarized as “Keep it simple, stupid.” But I’ll let him tell it. The floor is now ceded to the King, so that he may enlighten the next generation of Minor League Baseball executives on a variety of topics. 

Finally, it would be a good idea to listen to this classic Valentine voicemail message before reading the remainder of this post. It really helps to have a sense of his distinct (and often hilarious) manner of speaking.   

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Minor League Baseball president Pat OConner announces Bill Valentine as the 2014 “King of Baseball.”

(Note: This article, in slightly different form,  first appeared in the Minor League Baseball industry newsletter The Dugout.)

Bill Valentine on ballpark food

People don’t know this, but when Bobby Bragan was the president of the Minor Leagues I started the Freitas Seminar [a Minor League business seminar held during the Winter Meetings]. It wasn’t called that then, I just had a seminar. I brought the general managers in to speak, but we talked about soft drinks, we talked about food, we talked about promotions, we talked about ticket sales, we talked about the souvenir stand.

You know what people want when they come to the ballpark? Peanuts, popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, a cold beer and a soft drink. They can get a brisket sandwich for lunch or anywhere else. But when they come to the ballpark, even if they’re in $40,000 suites, they want ballpark food. I found that out. And it’s true to this day. You can’t make a hamburger better than Five Guys. There ain’t no way you’re going to do those type of things better than the local guys. You can’t do barbeque better than some guy who owns a barbeque place. But hardly anybody in town is doing peanuts, popcorn, nachos and hot dogs.

You got high profit in it. And I tell people, no one ever said “Hey, let’s go to [the Travelers home of] Dickey-Stephens Park tonight. They’ve got great sushi.” Stick with the basics. Put your emphasis on what I just told you. Keep the popcorn hot, make sure you’ve got an all-meat fantastic hot dog, and the beer should be the coldest of anywhere in town. Seriously, [slapping hands for emphasis] that will make you a lot of money.

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Dickey-Stephens Park: not a place for sushi

On team merchandise

My idea of souvenirs was to have my logo in the community. I wanted everyone to have Traveler ballcaps. I wanted the kids to have Traveler wristbands. I wanted them in a Travelers t-shirt…..So, a $10 t-shirt. They don’t blink. But a $22 t-shirt? Jeez.

The team cap, one size fits all? Maybe $10, $11. The one that’s a real team hat? In the $20s, maybe. Then have a lot of things, like a logo baseballs. You get the damn things for a dollar and a half. Sell it for four. Sell all that stuff, get a nice little margin but try to push it out the by the barrelful.

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Valentine’s desk, purchased in 1976 and used for 31 years

On customer service

I really think that, every game, there should be someone at the entrances with a club hat on welcoming people. And at the end of the game, same people, saying “Hope you come back.” And I think people enjoy that, they say, “You know, they were really nice.” I think that can go a long way. Just saying thank you.

Every night I would send out ‘mystery people’ to the concession stands. One had a $20 bill, and the other had a $10 bill. And they would go to the stands and buy something, and if the person selling said “Thank you” then the mystery person would give them the money. It really turned them around. Our employees were saying “thank you.” It’s just a nice courtesy. I had everyone around the ballpark saying “thank you.” I did it by passing out some money.

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Thank you for being here, Travs fans

On the primary importance of the women’s restroom

I had never seen a line at the men’s restroom. So when we built [Dickey-Stephens] ballpark I said “We’re going to take half the men’s restrooms and add them to the ladies’ room.” They told me I couldn’t do it, because of federal things. I said, “I get to build this ballpark. The mayor gave it to me and it’s my ballpark.” So I made the ladies restroom twice as big as the men’s room. The ladies restrooms probably had 30 commodes in them. I mean, really.

Opening night, a guy came over from the television station and said “Okay, Mr. Promoter. What’s the one thing tonight you think people are going to notice?” I said “I’m going to tell you something. The first time a woman goes to the women’s restroom, if I’m nearby they’re going to come out and hug my neck and say to me that it is the most fantastic thing they’ve ever seen.”

Well, when Opening Night came and the gates opened [the TV reporter] put me at the exit of the ladies restroom. The first lady came out, ran over, hugged my neck and said “That was the most fantastic bathroom I have ever seen in my life.” And [the reporter], he just threw his hands up and said “You SOB.”

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Minor League Teams to Do All Sorts of Ridiculous Things

Oh, man. Today has been one of those days. Minor League promotions are being announced at a fast and furious clip, and I can barely keep up with it all. Let’s start with the Frisco RoughRiders (recently rebranded and under new ownership) who have announced a “Full House” theme night on June 12:

A bit more info, from the RoughRiders:

“Full House” themed videos, skits and games will entertain fans throughout the night.  Additionally, the Riders will hold a contest where one lucky fan will win a free trip to San Francisco.  A spectacular fireworks show will follow the game, accompanied by classic music from the ’90s. 

You Oughta Know, however, that the RoughRiders are not the only team to be hosting “Uncle Joey” at the ballpark this season. The Richmond Flying Squirrels are doing the same on April 14. There was originally another person included in the below image, but I cut it out:

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It is also worth noting that the Flying Squirrels have a “Many Faces of Robin Williams” theme jersey on their promo schedule, but no images of that have yet been released. Stay tuned.

Another notable promo that needs accompanying pics — pronto! — is the Charleston RiverDogs “Bobble Boobs” giveaway during August 22’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Night.” This item, which really perks up the team’s schedule, was announced this morning. I immediately got excited:

No one seemed to find this joke funny, either, but per usual I am undeterred:

The RiverDogs also announced a “Bill Murray Tune Squad” jersey giveaway on April 25. Murray, of course, is the team’s co-owner and “Director of Fun.”

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In case you need a “Tune Squad” reference point (full disclosure: I did):

Meanwhile, the Lowell Spinners unveiled this. Maybe the evening will also include a free Buffet, featuring “Cheeseburgers in Paradise” and “Insufferable Drunk Baby Boomers”:

And, not to be missed, the Spinners have also announced that a “Balking Dead” zombie bobblehead will be part of the promo calendar as well:

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Finally, ICYMI (I don’t have time to type “In Case You Missed It”), the Jackson General unveiled these a-Baum-inable Wizard of Oz theme jerseys on Friday:

Ben’s Biz Blog: Still the original, still the best, still inexorably encroaching upon middle age while writing about some of the most ridiculous stuff imaginable.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Asheville Tourists

It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Michael James, who lived in Asheville in the summer of 2012 and quickly became enamored with the Tourists and their home of McCormick Park. James is now based in Baltimore; his travel blog can be found HERE

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And if YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” guest post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com

(all photos courtesy of Michael James)

Asheville's art deco City Hall

A long view of Asheville’s art deco City Hall

Why I Love the Asheville Tourists, by Michael James

I first experienced one of the coziest stadiums in all of professional baseball during the summer of 2012, when I arrived in town as a curatorial intern at the Asheville Art Museum. Soon, I found myself making the quick drive to McCormick Field on a daily basis, seeing the likes of Trevor Story, Taylor Featherston, Sam Mende, and Will Swanner bludgeon the baseball night after night while getting just enough pitching — led by Tyler Anderson — to produce an overall 88-52 record. This memorable regular season campaign was punctuated by a South Atlantic League championship over the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Managed by the fiery, infamous Joe Mikulik, that team set numerous offensive records, batting .278 and ripping 127 home runs and 335 doubles over their 140-game regular season.

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McCormick Field at sunset. Hard to beat this sky

The Tourists’ offensive numbers were inflated by the extremely hitter-friendly dimensions of McCormick Field – just 297 feet to right and 373 feet to center. Lazy fly balls hit to right would either clear the 36-foot high wall, which is cut into a hillside that serves as the parking lot for players and fans alike, or bounce high off the fence for a double. Hard-hit shots that would be doubles in almost every other park would become singles due to the short throw back to second base for right fielders, who routinely played near the warning track. In the Colorado Rockies’ farm system, numerous players have put up huge numbers during their stints in Asheville. A truer test of those players’ abilities has usually come the next season, while playing for Modesto in the Class A Advanced California League.

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Behind the visitors dugout on the third base line.

I went back to Asheville for a weekend last July and took in two more games at McCormick Field, bringing my total to 28 games there over the two and a half months I’ve spent in that city in total. The 2014 team would again go on to win the South Atlantic League title, posting a superior 89-49 record, including a 43-26 mark at home. I was in attendance for Games Three and Four of their championship series in Hagerstown against the Suns, though, to my extreme annoyance, I was not able to make it to the decisive Game Five. That team featured some of the system’s top prospects, including Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Correlle Prime, and Antonio Senzatela. I loved seeing the Tourists so much that now, as I currently live in Baltimore, I went to watch them on the road in Lakewood, New Jersey, as well as Hagerstown and Salisbury (home of the Delmarva Shorebirds), both in Maryland. I’ve now visited six of the 14 South Atlantic League stadiums, all in my support of the Tourists.

The baseball itself is one thing. It’s a major thing. More than that, though, it’s the overall experience that keeps me coming back. It is a difficult thing to convey in words, even for someone who prides himself on his writing, the feeling that one gets when taking in a game on a warm summer’s night. Is there anything better than spending three hours in the fresh air enjoying cheap nachos and even cheaper beer amongst like-minded fans, who are all there to enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie of the ballpark?

It’s the people.

It’s the entertainment and smiles produced by the PA announcer, Rick Rice. Asheville has one of the best in the business in Rice, whose humor and wit makes every between-inning promotion and on-field game a sight to behold. It’s the way the Tourists’ Spirit Squad gets the crowd on its feet to perform “YMCA” during the seventh-inning stretch. It’s the way the Tourists’ mascot, Mr. Moon, constantly engages the youngest fans and makes them jump up and down and run through the aisles to give him a hug.

It’s the way every usher at McCormick Field would work feverishly to towel off the bleachers after one of Asheville’s notorious summer rain showers, and the way every ticket-taker treated fans with kindness and genuinely asked each one of them how they were doing, wishing them a good time at the game.

It’s the way I sat behind the Tourists’ entire front office at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown last September, after they made the 453-mile trek up I-81 from Asheville. Right next to the visitors’ dugout on the third base line, players and staff interacted with each other so warmly. It’s the way Correlle Prime signed every autograph, flashing his huge smile and laughing with opposing fans.

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2014 South Atlantic League championship series introductions in Hagerstown

That, to me, is the beauty of baseball. No other sport allows you this daily interaction, this sense of community and togetherness that is fostered night in and night out from April to September. Has it helped that the Asheville Tourists have been great during the two seasons I’ve been able to watch them? Of course. Everyone loves a winning team. But McCormick Field is so beautiful, and Asheville is such a great town, that it would be a privilege to spend three hours every summer night there to watch the 2003 Detroit Tigers.

I urge everyone to visit McCormick Field at some point. It made a cameo appearance in Bull Durham. It has hosted the “Sultan of Swat.” Its venerable history more than makes up for whatever it may lack in modern and cutting-edge amenities. Go on a Thursday night – it is the original home of “Thirsty Thursdays,” a promotion many teams have emulated over the years. Your experience there will be one you remember; I can assure you that.

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If you get lucky, you might see a Lamborghini in downtown Asheville…

Thanks to Michael  for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here is my 2013 blog account of my visit to McCormick Field (one of my Top 10 favorite ballparks): Part One/Part Two

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

2015 Promo Schedule Highlights: Early Returns

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently looking at Minor League Baseball promotional schedules, as it is imperative that I know what’s going on once the season is underway. And if there’s one that I can say about Minor League Baseball promotional schedules, it’s this: They are not created equal. This post is dedicated to sharing the highlights off of some of the best 2015 promotional schedules I have perused thus far.

Fresno’s Pacific Coast League club, entering the first season of its “Growlifornia” marketing campaign, is calling this “the most comprehensive and diverse promotional schedule in the history of the club.” The Grizzly details:

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Highlights include the Fresno Philharmonic Brass Quintet playing Star Wars music on Star Wars Night, the social experiment that is “Pay What You Want Night” and, most crucially, a Biz Markie “Sing-A-Long” during which the eccentric hip hop icon will lead the crowd in a stadium-wide rendition of “Just A Friend.” (Here’s hoping there will also be time for the Biz to do his version of “Bennie and the Jets.” Because I need to prove how cool I am, I’d like to note that I have a Biz Markie “Bennie and the Jets” flexi-disc 7″ that was included within the second issue of the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal magazine.)

And as if all of the above wasn’t enough — and isn’t it? — on Monday the Grizzlies unveiled their March Madness-style “Fresno Famous” bobblehead tourney. This is a great initiative, and clearly a lot of work was involved in order to make this a “thing.”

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After careful perusal of the bracket, I have decided to endorse the “Waving Lady on 41″ as my choice for the Fresno Famous bobblehead. Read all about her.

Remember last season when Myrtle Beach Pelicans general manager Andy Milovich sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while undergoing a prostate exam?

Milovich’s stunt garnered national attention and kickstarted an “Ice Bucket Challenge”-style in-game prostate exam trend within the industry. And now, on June 21st, the Pelicans are giving away this Father’s Day “Bobblefinger.” Note the sponsor:

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Perhaps the Lehigh Valley IronPigs should be credited with an assist on this one, as the club has already established a tradition of giving away foam fingers on “Prostate Exam Awareness Night.”

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Another highlight of the Pelicans’ promo schedule is July 26’s “Christmas Vacation in July.” The first 1000 fans receive a “Cousin Eddie-style alpine hat,” and the team will be wearing these Griswold-inspired jerseys.

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Hey, Pelicans, you play in a tourism-centric town. As part of this promo, you should offer special discounts to fans visiting from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Meanwhile, in Altoona, the always-innovative Curve have unleashed an array of superbly creative bobbleheads modeled after some of their most distinguished recent alumni.

Tony “Elementary” Watson:

Tony Watson SherlockStarling Marte brings the “Partay”:

Marte PartayAnd while no photos are available, this is worth noting as well:

Yeah, yeah. I know:

While individual visuals are not available, I would also like to nod in the general direction of the Potomac Nationals. Their promo schedule is spectacular:

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The P-Nats’ exceedingly verbose press release includes this passage on bobbleheads:

[Giveaways include] a Steven Souza Jr. “The Catch” figurine commemorating his no-hitter clinching web gem behind Washington Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann on the final day of the 2014 regular season (Saturday, June 13th), a Michael Taylor “Flattop” Major League Debut bobblehead with faux hair (Saturday, June 20th), a Wilson Ramos hybrid half-man, half-buffalo “Buff-A-rine” (Sunday, July 5th), The Goonies 30th Anniversary “One-Eyed Willie” bobblehead (Saturday, August 1st).

That Goonies promo is sure to be one of the most ballyhooed theme nights of the year. As you can see in the top left corner of the above graphic, Corey Feldman (who has probably aged a bit since that photo was taken) will be in attendance. There will also be the aforementioned “One-Eyed Willie” bobblehead, as well as theme jerseys and a post-game screening of the film.

And, not to be lost in the (truffle) shuffle, there’s this:

The P-Nats will also be hosting tentative “body improvement” nights including Hair Removal Night, Tattoo Appreciation Night, and Skin Tag Removal Night.

I’ll end this post with a Trigger warning: On June 18, the Round Rock Express are giving away this awesome bobblehead featuring Willie Nelson and his guitar:

WillieNelsonBobbleheadbenjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Time for a Do-Over?

Over on MiLB.com you can read my round-up of the 2014-15 Minor League re-branding season, featuring 11 new team names and/or logos. In conjunction with this, my latest journalistic masterwork, I decided to take a look around the Minor League landscape in order to subjectively determine the team from each league that is most in need of a makeover.

We’ll start at the top of the Minor League ladder and work our way down. Perhaps, come this time next year, some of these clubs will have opted to update their iconography. Whether you agree, disagree or couldn’t care less, feel free to tell me so in the comments or on Twitter (@bensbiz).

International League: Louisville Bats (current logo in use since 2002)

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This logo is a little too reminiscent of Batman, so maybe it’s time that Louisville Gotham selves another one.

Pacific Coast League: Fresno Grizzlies (current logo in use since 2008)

frezThe Grizzlies are actively embracing their post-San Francisco identity, but the orange and black color scheme still screams “Giants affiliation!”

Eastern League: Portland Sea Dogs (current logo in use since 2003)

portlandThe “Sea Dog” in question looks like a Puritan-era rulebreaker, locked in the stockades so that all may ridicule him for his misdeeds.

Southern League: Mississippi Braves (current logo in use since 2005)

mbravesI guess there’s not much that can be done when you share the name of the parent club. Atlanta affiliates are a pretty strait-laced bunch.

Texas League: Midland RockHounds (current logo in use since 1999)

midlandThis ‘Hound looks like he would have been pals with Canseco and McGwire during their “Bash Brothers” days.

California League: High Desert Mavericks (current logo in use since 1991)

hdYou may not be able to set your watch to this logo, but at least you can hang your hat on it.

Carolina League: Carolina Mudcats (current logo in use since 1991)

mudcatsThis reminds me of the Sea Dogs’ logo. What did these poor creatures do to deserve permanent entrapment within a letter of the alphabet?

Florida State League: Tampa Yankees (current logo in use since 1994)

tampaThis is the Minor League logo equivalent of having a no-facial hair policy.

Midwest League: Lansing Lugnuts (current logo in use since 1996)

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As was pointed out to me when I visited Lansing: That’s not a lugnut. It’s a bolt.

South Atlantic League: Kannapolis Intimidators (current logo in use since 2001)

kannapWhen it comes to this logo, my mind says “No” but my heart says “Yes.” I (not-so) secretly love it, despite, or perhaps because, it is inherently insane.

New York-Penn League: Brooklyn Cyclones (current logo in use since 2001)

cyclones

The Cyclones seem to do everything right, so I may as well give them a hard time for not updating the logo they came into existence with.

Northwest League: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (current logo in use since 1997)

skvFor my thoughts on this, see: Intimidators, Kannapolis

Appalachian League: Johnson City Cardinals (current logo in use since 1995)

jccNot sure where this one falls in the bird-logo pecking order.

Pioneer League: Helena Brewers (current logo in use since 2011)

hbAs someone with celiac disease, I find this logo offensive.

In closing, I’d like to offer a tip of the cap to Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net. It’s a great source of info.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Mobile BayBears

It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what it is they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Brittany Callahan, who has spent countless hours at the Mobile BayBears’ home of Hank Aaron Stadium. Her father, Mike, spent 13 seasons as the team’s assistant general manager.  

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And if YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” guest post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com

(All photos from the Ben’s Biz collection, unless otherwise noted)

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Why I Love the Mobile BayBears, by Brittany Callahan

What is your first thought when I mention the city of Mobile, Alabama? The home of Mardi Gras? Maybe. White sand beaches? Possibly. College football dominance? Probably. Baseball, most likely, is absent from your list. But what is surprising to many, however, is that Mobile has played a huge role in baseball history. Outside of New York and Los Angeles, Mobile claims more Hall of Famers (five) than any other city in America. Those Hall of Famers — Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams — play a large role in making Mobile one of the most storied cities for baseball in the country.

A concourse sign honoring Ozzie Smith, one of five Mobile-born Hall of Famers

A concourse sign honoring Ozzie Smith, one of five Mobile-born Hall of Famers

Mobile’s rich baseball history can be seen before you even enter Hank Aaron Stadium, which the Baybears — Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks — have called home for eighteen years. In the shadows of the stadium sits Hank Aaron’s Childhood Home and Museum. Yes, you read that correctly. Partnering with the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and Major League Baseball, a few select BayBears staffers relocated the home that Mr. Aaron and his siblings grew up in, from its original location just a few miles away to the stadium grounds. Upon relocating, it was transformed into a museum which houses artifacts from the Aaron family as well as mementos from Hank’s journey from childhood to Home Run King. For those who want to see this remarkable piece of Mobile baseball history, tours are available before and during games as well as in the offseason.

The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum

The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum

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Bob Feller, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, Reggie Jackson, Hank Aaron and Rickey Henderson, attending the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum

The BayBears continue Mobile’s tradition of excellence by being perennial playoff contenders, with many of their alumni making an impact in the Major Leagues. The BayBears were originally the Double-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres and, during that time, they won two Southern League championships. They also sent players such as Jake Peavy (who calls Mobile home), Josh Barfield, Jason Bay and Adam Eaton to “The Show.”  In 2007, the BayBears switched their affiliation to the Arizona Diamondbacks, going on to to win back-to-back Southern League championships in 2011 and 2012. They advanced to the championship series again in 2013, attempting to earn a three-peat (something that had only been done once before in the league) but ultimately lost in the decisive fifth game. Some recognizable BayBears to have debuted in the Majors since 2007 include Max Scherzer, Justin Upton, Carlos Gonzalez, Gerrardo Parra, Mark Reynolds and Paul Goldschmidt.

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Paul Goldschmidt, smiling BayBear. MiLB.com photo

With the recent addition of baseball legends such as Tony LaRussa, Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson to the Arizona Diamondbacks staff, it is not uncommon to see these famous faces walking the concourse of Hank Aaron Stadium to scout their players and coaches. Mr. Hank Aaron has even sat within his namesake stadium to take in a few ballgames while visiting his hometown.

Mobile has been a hotbed for baseball, and notable baseball players, for decades. Now, the BayBears have taken the reigns in leading the sport into the 21st century. I would be hard pressed to think of another Minor League stadium in the country where you can catch future Major League standouts in the hunt for another championship while bumping into Hall of Famers and (in my opinion) a man who can still claim to be the all-time Home Run King. Go BayBears!

Thanks to Brittany for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2010 article on the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Pictures of New Ballpark Food Items

It’s that time of year again, that time of year when I fulfill my journalistic talent to its full potential by posting pictures of new Minor League ballpark concession offerings.

Following standard operating procedure, we’ll begin with the West Michigan Whitecaps’ annual Fan Food Voting contest.

Through March 6, the masses can vote for one of the following 10 items. The winner will be served at the team’s home of Fifth Third Field in 2015, joining perennial favorites such as the Baco and, of course, the Fifth Third Burger.

west michigan food

First Row: Beer-a-Misu (scoop of tiramisu gelato added to craft beer), Cheesy Does It (hamburger with a cheese bun), Cotton Candy Curveball (cotton-candy wrapped Twinkie), Crispy Pig Chips (pork rinds with all the standard nacho fixings)

Second Row: French Fry Pizza Pie (self explanatory), Hot-to-Tot (tater tots with buffalo chicken and bleu cheese), Kat Dog (Kit-Kat bar inside of a hot dog), Picnic on a Stick (fried chicken, tater tots and pickles on a stick, fried in cornbread batter)

Third Row: The Legend of Pickle Hollowed (a hot dog inside of a hollowed out pickle, deep fried), Weenie Panini (hot dog stuffed panini)

For the record, here’s a picture of the Baco (taken during my 2013 visit to West Michigan)

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Keeping within the Midwest League, we now move on the Appleton-based Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. On Thursday afternoon, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers sent the following tweet:

“This,” in this case, was this:

Then, on Friday, the T-Rats executive chef unveiled this. It’s a bacon cheeseburger enveloped within a funnel cake.

No matter what your opinions are regarding hyper-fattening, internet-baiting Minor League cuisine, there is no doubt that chef Hansen knows exactly what he’s doing. I learned this first-hand in 2013, during a visit to the T-Rats’ home of Fox Cities Stadium. Hansen does high and low cuisine with equal aplomb; in his world sesame tuna on endive with pineapple salsa coexists peacefully alongside jerk chicken wings and a Philly cheesesteak.

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Heading east, we find that the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have recently unveiled some new creations as well.

Pork Parfait: “Layers of mashed potatoes, pulled pork and cheese sauce topped with green onions.”

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24-inch Frankfurter, “topped with chili, beer cheese, bacon, onion straws.” It is cut into four pieces; sharing is encouraged.

frankBut this, this is my favorite:

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Finally, the Oklahoma City Dodgers will have more than a new name in 2015. The entity formerly known as the RedHawks will also offer these new concession items.

Actually, disregard the “finally” in the above item. As this blog post was being written, the Asheville Tourists unveiled this:

That looks great and all, but can it compete with a deep-fried Moon Pie?

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(Ben’s Biz file photo)

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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