On the Road: We Are Family in Altoona, Part Two
Part one of this blogging odyssey, detailing Saturday’s packed-to-the-gills Altoona Curve vs. Pittsburgh Pirates exhibition game, was comprised of 1645 words and 39 photos. And, yet, by the time it ended I STILL hadn’t made it to the game’s first pitch.
It was just that kind of afternoon — so much was going on that it was hard to keep track of it all. A franchise record 10, 166 fans were in attendance, and the Curve used the occasion to announce a four-year extension of their affiliation with the Pirates and also let it drop that they would be hosting the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game. (I got tired just writing that sentence.)
But as for the action on the field, a casual “Go Everybody! (Just don’t get hurt!”) vibe prevailed. This sign on the concourse sums it up perfectly:
As for those fans that were welcomed back — there sure were a lot of them. As the game got underway, I took a lap around the grounds of People’s Natural Gas Field in order to get a sense of what the largest crowd in franchise history looked like. 10,166 Altoona Curve fans can’t be wrong.
I saw much during my wanderings, but perhaps my favorite example of creative sponsorship was this: signs such as the one below could be found at many staircases, reminding fans that they could burn (as many as 25) calories simply by walking up and down them.
Interesting signage abounds. The team has branded the ballpark as its own standalone town, Curve PA, which is represented in a consistently cartoonish fashion courtesy of resident artist/director of mascot and brand development Bill Bettwy.
First, for context’s sake, Curve PA’s immediate surroundings:
The GM recommends:
There is also the “Curverogie” — Ham, Pierogies, Onions, Cheese, and, crucially, more Ham.
The Curve are also well-known for their Curve Burgers, with several people telling me via Twitter last week that I needed to procure one. But here’s the thing, guys: I was diagnosed with celiac disease last year, and have been following a gluten-free diet for the last 10 months. This has severely limited my ballpark food options, a limitation I hope to overcome my recruiting a “designated eater” at each ballpark I visit.
But this trip to Altoona was Spring Training for me as well, and I wasn’t as prepared on the concessions front as I should have been. A designated eater had not been found, so no Curve Burgers were had. Instead, I ordered some BBQ Pork Nachos. (Which, in retrospect, were almost certainly not gluten-free. I really was off of my game.)
These nachos were great, as nachos by definition are great. (A quick aside: Standalone “Nacho Bar” concession areas are something I would love to see more teams do, as with a little thought they can accommodate gluten-free and vegetarian diets without seeming like some sort of sad consolation prize for those with restrictions.)
So, anyway, yeah — I did not get a Curve Burger, nor do I have any pictures of the Curve Burger. Someone please send me some pictures, and I will gladly post them along with your commentary regarding how good Curve Burgers are.
All of this culinary hand-wringing led me to seek refuge in the press box for a bit, as I cleared my head and plotted my next move.
And the next move was obvious: “Quit feeling sorry for yourself and get back out there!”
Earlier in the day I had been informed that an on-field “Mascot Mayhem” race would be taking place on the field after the fourth inning, involving characters from both the Curve and Pirates’ costumed character universe. I descended into the bowels of the stadium in order to find the mascots who would be participating, and knew I was on the right trail once I came across this “Only in Minor League Baseball” tableau.
It is not often that one sees Pierogies in their natural habitat!
I briefly caught a glimpse of the Pittsburgh Parrot as well…
Perhaps inevitably, I was soon recruited to be a “Mascot Mayhem” direct participant. I might not be able to eat hot dogs in this gluten-free reality (at least not with the bun), but I can damn sure dress up as them. It was really hard to document anything once I was in the costume, but I did manage this hot dog selfie:
A Hot Dog eye view of the game action:
As for the “Mayhem” itself, I have no idea what happened. I just tried to avoid Steamer, Tenacious, the Pirate Parrot and everyone else in the cavalcade of pierogies, sumo wrestlers, and jousters streaming past me. I was winded afterwards, and keenly aware of my need to get in shape for the oncoming mascot race season. Anyone have a workout plan to recommend?
Still panting, and with the hot dog costume removed (physically, if not psychically), I made it back to the concourse just in time to see Curve GM Rob Egan, Eastern League president Joe McEacharn and Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner take the field to make a VERY SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT.
Down in front!
What this esteemed troika of Minor League personnel was on the field to announce was this: The Curve will host the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game.
Perhaps the Eastern League All-Star Game is out for vengeance? The last time the Curve hosted the event, in 2006, they set a franchise record by drawing 9,308 fans and this record was broken during Saturday’s exhibition game. Will the 2014 version of the contest set the record anew?
“To announce [the All-Star Game] on a very special day like this reinforces the commitment this franchise has made to the community,” said McEacharn, and his sentiments summed up the spirit of the afternoon. Between the All-Star Game announcement and the announcement made earlier in the day that the Curve and Pirates affiliation had been extended until 2018, Saturday was all about celebrating and re-affirming what the Curve have accomplished throughout their 15 seasons of existence.
I’d write more on all of this, but, man, it just smells so good around here. It’s the nuts!
Seriously, these things are just fantastic. Seeing them there in the roasting pan, glistening in their own juices, almost brought a tear to my (metaphorically) jaundiced eye.
Less successful was the edible sand being sold down by the kid’s Fun Zone, but I have faith that, over time, the fans will come to see the brilliance of this innovative product. Why go against the grain?
Or maybe at this point there was simply too much dessert going around. Here’s Steamer throwing Kit Kats into the crowd at the conclusion of the seventh inning.
The Curve put the finishing touches on their 8-6 victory over Pittsburgh just a few innings later, providing incredulous joke fodder for days to come. “The Pirates can’t even beat their own Minor League team?”
But, on this afternoon, it didn’t matter to anyone who won or lost. All that mattered is that they played the game.