As you surely recall, my last post had a cliffhanger ending. I was at the Tennessee Smokies game, the National Anthem had concluded, and the game was about to start.
So what happened then? In this, part two of my Smokies blogging saga, all will be revealed.
In a shocking twist, the ballgame began very shortly after the anthem’s conclusion. At this juncture, I found myself in the right field berm area and my vantage point was as follows:
Thus began a lap around the stadium’s (almost) 360 degree concourse, heading plateward.
Well, it almost struck, at least. A member of the visiting Barons, I’m not sure who, flailed at a pitch, lost his grip, and sent his bat hurtling into the stands. This photo shows the immediate aftermath, as ushers and director of entertainment Ryan Cox (white cap, uber-stylish shirt) survey the scene as concerned Barons look on from the visiting dugout. The bat was retrieved by the long-haried gentleman at the back of the shot, some 12 rows deep.
All’s well that ends well, as no one was hurt. In the photo below GM Brian Cox (not be confused with Ryan Cox, sitting right next to him) is in the process of retrieving the bat from the fan. Following standard protocol, the fan was eventually given a different bat in return.
A choice quote:
[The bat] was clamped on my leg, so I swiped it off with my glove and it ended up on the ground opening and closing its mouth at me. I could see the fangs. It was super-creepy, worse than a spider or a rat, just nasty.
What an awesome tangent that was! I call this the “best Minor League Baseball blog of all time” because it is, and if someone could give me a “Best Blog” award along with, like, $750,000 in cash I’d really appreciate it.
But to return to the narrative at hand, all I can tell you was that the rest of my lap around the stadium perimeter wasn’t very eventful.
Although, I did witness an earnest conversation between Cox and the Statue of Liberty. He was gently trying to tell her that “Salute to Huddled Masses” night wasn’t a very good idea for a promotion, especially since Huddle House wasn’t interested in sponsoring.
I might have heard that conversation wrong, but my hearing was about to get a whole lot worse. For it was I who had been recruited to suit up as “Clucky Jacobsen” in the Smokies’ nightly Chicken Race, a costume that comes complete with a stiflingly hot, senses-obscuring rubber mask.
The Chicken Race, in which a group of kids chase Clucky across the outfield, is a long-standing Smokies tradition. The rules:
I wrote an MiLB.com article about my Chicken Run experience, and it turned out to be one of my favorite things I’ve ever written in a professional context. Click the link to read it — please — and then return here to the blog for the following supplementary pictures:
Mingling with the masses
Upon changing back into my civilian attire, I convened with my designated eater (for those new to this blog: I have recruited a “designated eater” at each ballpark I visit, to consume ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet does not allow).
Frederick Love, ladies and gentleman!
Love, who grew up in Seattle, is no stranger to the world of stiflingly hot ballpark costumes. After graduating from college, he went on to suit up as Louie for the Bowie Baysox and Hornsby for the Tulsa Drillers. His current mascot gig is as “Chilly” for the Knoxville Ice Bears of the SPHL, and his sister, Baylor, works for the Smokies as a group sales representative.
In the above photo, Love is sitting outside the Double Play Cafe with a Buddy Bailey Burger (named after the Smokies’ alliterative manager) and an order of BBQ Pork Nachos.
The Buddy Bailey Burger — 1/2 pound beef patty, cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato — was the main event, and Love dug right in.
“It has a sweet smell, very appetizing, and I wanted to get the first bite in right away,” said Love of the Buddy Bailey Burger. “I threw a little ketchup and mayo on there, and it all mixes together well. The burger is well cooked, very juicy with a lot of flavor.”
As for the nachos, Love had had those before.
“They’re one of the best things they have here,” he said. “They’ve got a perfect smoky taste.”
As he spoke, various food products raced by on the field.
We had, at this juncture, entered into the latter third of the ballgame.
Both man and beast remained vigilant as the game entered its tense final inning. (WATCH on Vine)
Despite a late rally, the Smokies went down in defeat. This was their sixth loss in a row, part of an agonizing streak that had earlier included three straight shutouts followed by a 12-11 defeat. But win, lose, or draw, it doesn’t matter. It was Friday, and that meant fireworks were a comin’.
The pyrotechnics display was enjoyed by Soppets and non-Soppets alike.
It was past 10:30 at this point, but it’s Friday night and who cares about bedtime? The kids, they then ran the bases.
Being too old for such shenanigans, I instead went on a search for impromptu works of art. (WATCH)
All that was left to do now was take a walk back to my hotel room. The Hampton Inn and Suites, it beckoned me. (WATCH).
Good night from Sevierville!
Like their Southern League cohorts the Mississippi Braves, the Tennessee Smokies are that rare Minor League entity that identify themselves by state as opposed to city or region. But, unlike the Mississippi Braves, the “Smokies” team name actually denotes the region of the state in which they play. If teams throughout the Minors took this approach, it would result in entities such as the Pennsylvania Lehighs, the Arkansas Northwests, and the Florida Palm Beaches.
This is all a convoluted way of saying that the Smokies play in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain region (located in the far eastern portion of the state, Sevierville to be precise), and that their team name is unorthodox. So, yes, with that out of the way:
Welcome to Smokies Park, home of the Smokies, and, also, home of a Smoky Mountain visitor center!
I arrived at Smokies Park a bit later than I was aiming for, due to a GPS/common sense snafu in which I drove to a “Stadium Drive” in Knoxville instead of the one in Sevierville. It wasn’t until I made a turn onto “Peyton Manning Pass” that it occurred to me that I may have driven to the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium instead.
They don’t pay me the big bucks for nothing.
Within half an hour I was in the correct location, and totally psyched because the team hotel (WATCH) was located within walking distance from the stadium (the second-most important hotel amenity, behind a good internet connection). As I jauntily strolled through the parking lot in the fashion of R. Crumb’s “Keep On Truckin’” character, the first fans I passed were these guys.
“Hey, that’s the blogger,” said the cornholer in red to his cornholing companion. The cornholer in red turned out to be Frederick Love, who had volunteered to be the evening’s designated eater (the designated eater is an individual I recruit at every ballpark, to eat the concession foods that my gluten-free diet does not allow). Psyched to be recognized so quickly in the evening, my walk became even jauntier. Even what appeared to be copyright infringement couldn’t slow me down.
Expect a call from Fresno, Grainger band.
A nice crowd had gathered out front for this fireworks Friday, a gathering comprised of humans and bizarrely-colored bear alike.
I made a quick stop in the press box upon arrival.
To the right of these gentleman, taking up nearly an entire wall, is this cartoon tribute to late Smokies beat writer Nick Gates.
Gates covered the franchise from their 1972 inception as the Knoxville White Sox (Knox Sox!) all the way through the 2010 season, when health issues forced him to retire. He died in 2012 at the age of 62.
For a variety of reasons — the ailing state of the newspaper industry chief among them, as well as the team’s ability to easily disseminate information themselves — Minor League beat writers are an increasingly rare species these days. It was a great gesture by the Smokies to pay tribute to Gates and the nearly lost era of journalism that he represents.
Another touching tribute can be found behind home plate, as the team has installed a permanent seat in honor of POW/MIA American servicemen.
The POW/MIA seat came about as part of the club’s annual “Tribute to Heroes” promotion (the 2013 iteration of which took place Saturday, the day after I was in town). It pre-dates similar efforts not just in Minor League Baseball (Lowell, Mobile), but also the more heralded efforts of the New England Patriots as well.
All of this is to say: the Smokies were at the forefront of the POW/MIA empty ballpark seat trend, which is slowly gaining traction around the world of professional sports as a simple and eloquent way to honor those who are not with us.
A seat-based tribute of a different sort can be found in the right field section of the berm seating area.
These seats, rickety as a Pittsburgh rock n’ roll house party, are from the team’s former home of Bill Meyer Stadium in Knoxville. The Smokies played there from their 1972 inception as the Knoxville White Sox (Knox Sox!) through 1999, but the stadium itself opened in 1955. I hadn’t been familiar with Mr. Meyer, but he enjoyed a long career in baseball, most of it based in the Minors. He played one game as a member of the 1913 Cubs and, 39 years later, skippered the worst Pittsburgh Pirates team in franchise history.
Speaking of notable managerial campaigns…
As you may recall, Ryne Sandberg managed the Smokies in 2009, the second stop in a Cubs organization managerial journey that began in Peoria and later continued on to Triple-A Iowa. Having a Hall of Famer manage the club is a big deal, obviously, and “Sandberg Alley” is where the fans would line up for pre-game autographs.
As Smokies Director of Entertainment Ryan Cox explained to me, “This wasn’t [Sandberg's] first rodeo. He’d sign there in front of the dugout for 10-15 minutes before every game, and then it’d be ‘Okay, I’ve got to go.’”
“When the umps walked to home plate for the manager’s meeting, that was his cue to exit,” added team president Doug Kirchhofer. “If he didn’t do it that way, he’d be there all night. There’d be no end in sight. He would do it on the road, too, and throughout the season I heard from a lot of teams that they were very appreciative of that.”
You may recall my post on the Smokies’ Sandberg Alley, which included this picture of the ribbon-cutting ceremony:
The following season the Iowa Cubs adapted the “Sandberg Alley” idea. I was there. I took these pictures. I am omniscient.
One blog post, so many digressions! To return to the narrative at hand, I was a honored to be one of the guests on assistant general manager Jeff Shoaf’s pre-game show.
This interview was broadcast live over the stadium PA, and as usual I struggled a bit with hearing my words booming back at me. I guess you get used to it, but I do not like the sound of my voice unless it is rapping the Humpty Dance at a Koreatown karaoke joint.
You could say that hearing my voice is hard to “bear,” but you’d only say that in order to facilitate a lazy segue to a picture I don’t remember taking.
I do remember the National Anthem, however, as performed by the
Fresno Grainger Grizzlies band. The bombs bursting in air were punctuated by actual bomb-like air bursts.
Folks, my loquaciousness has gotten the best of me. This post is gonna have to be a two-parter.
I visited Nashville’s Greer Stadium on Thursday, May 9th. The Sounds were expecting me:
Two days later I was asked by another writer, via Twitter, my thoughts on the ballpark and my 140-character summation was as follows:
“It’s a bit of a dump and inadequate for the needs of such a large market…BUT…it’s got a ramshackle charm that I really enjoy.”
I stand by that sentiment, which isn’t surprising since said sentiment is, as I type this in a Savannah hotel room, less than 24 hours old. Greer Stadium — 35 years old and showing its age — is no one’s idea of an ideal facility (especially in a major market that boasts the NFL, NHL and a plethora of top-flight cultural attractions). But until that far away and as of now theoretical day when a new downtown stadium gets built, this out of the way anomaly will have to do. And I, for one, think it does just fine. If you like ramshackle charm — yes, three paragraphs in and I’m already quoting myself — then I think you’ll like it too.
The area surrounding the stadium is rather hilly (Fort Negley, built by occupying Union forces during the Civil War, sits adjacent), and while walking in and around Greer one often has the feeling of not being totally on the level. Upon entering the stadium the concrete slopes downward quite sharply, which, on this particular occasion, led fans directly to a box of underwear.
The briefs were being given away by Gildan, a Triple-A baseball sponsor, who were asking fans to take Instagram pictures during the game tagged #gildanfavorites. What a life this gentleman in the middle of the picture has had — from serving in Korea and Vietnam to being given free underwear at a Minor League Baseball game as part of a social media initiative. I bet he was Instagramming all night long.
From the concourse to the press box, where I took the first of many photos that includes Greer’s iconic guitar scoreboard. No strings attached!
Per the team: The guitar-shaped scoreboard is a fan favorite for all who come to Greer Stadium. Its total width is nearly 116 feet — 60′ (guitar body), 36′ (scoreboard/neck), 19.6′ (turning key section). The height is 53′ and depth is 24″.
The vast expanse of seats, just waiting for the throngs of “Throwback Thursday” fans ($5 admission w/coupon and $2 beer, soda and concession items, all while the team wears its throwback blue jerseys).
Some of these seats are in better shape than others. These, down the third base line, are a tad sunbleached.
I briefly ascended to the top of the stadium to check out the view from Slugger’s (a bar and restaurant open to all fans).
These elevated meanderings were cut short however, as I had urgent business to attend to on the ground level. My media pass was contingent upon being a contestant in the nightly Tire Race.
As the game began, I, media relations director Alex Wassel, and my fellow tire race qualifiers were crouched in the aisle while waiting for our big racing moment. I took a few pictures from this vantage point.
The National Anthem, as sung by a burly trio known as The Kentucky Lineman (far left, their arms around one another).
With the game underway, it’s time to play a game within a game called “Can you name that Fresno Grizzlie head”? There are nine heads in this picture, please list who they belong to (left to right) and leave your answer in the comments section. There is no prize, and I don’t know the answer, but, please, just do it, just because.
Throwback Thursday, underway!
The fans, from the get-go, were rooting for Fresno to go down in de-feet.
With that burst of photographic artfulness out of the way, I handed my camera to Wassel so that he could document the tire race exploits.
What, me Ozzie?
How it went down:
Yes, that dude totally wiped out at second base and still won.
I checked my phone after the race and saw that I had an urgent text from one Heather Beshore: “I’m hungry!”
Heather was to be the evening’s designated eater, and if you’re new to the blog (the most underrated enterprise in all of sports media) then let me explain: I have recruited a “designated eater” at each ballpark that I visit, and this individual is tasked with eating the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet does not allow (I was diagnosed with celiac disease last season. Waaaah).
I was put in touch with Heather after recieving an email from her boyfriend, Chris, who is also eating gluten-free these days. She’s a Florida native who came to Nashville for grad school and then decided to stay, and her job currently has something to do with 401K plans (she didn’t provide many details, in favor of eating a hamburger).
“Chris is from Wisconsin and he loves the Brewers [the Sounds' parent club], so when he comes here he’s really into the baseball,” said Heather. “Me, I just come for the food!”
True to form, then, Chris opted to stay downstairs and watch baseball while Heather and I went up to Slugger’s.
That’s Heather with an “Ozzie Burger” and a Blue Moon, which we had procured at the concourse-level Bullpen Burgers. (Her favorite Greer Stadium food option, The Dog Pound, was unfortunately closed for the evening).
So, yes, the burger it was. It was falling apart from the get-go.
As for the Ozzie Burger, Heather was non-plussed.
“I’d give it a 5 or a 6,” she said. “It’s juicy, and a little messy, but it lacks the spice and charm of a home-made burger. It’s a little too generic.”
She also helpfully explained that, even though the burger is named after Ozzie the mascot, “it does not taste like cat.”
BUT! She then raved about a prior experience with Slugger’s BBQ Pork Nachos, so I grabbed an order of those as well.
Heather, as you can see, was hesitant to be documented in mid-bite. That’s fine! This whole “designated eater” thing is an experiment, and for now I don’t really have any rules with it. I’m just glad people are willing to do it, and it’s been a fun way to meet a new person at every ballpark. Heather was relaxed and engaging and had a great sense of humor about the whole thing.
She also had a lot of nachos (okay, I may have had some as well, trying to avoid the gluten-ous processed cheese).
“I’m still very happy even though I’m full,” said Heather. “I’m happy I had food, and I’m happy I ate it.”
Okay, back to the game action.
The usual shenanigans:
Scooter vs. the Scoreboard (long-time readers and/or Appletonians might get that reference).
I may have totally misheard, but I’m pretty sure these bullpen denizens were debating the merits of various Norman Lear-produced sitcoms.
Following Ozzie’s pawprints, I took a walk through the concourse. Although I missed the chance to take a picture of them, I soon was greeted by two goofy white kids about 12 years of age.
“Hello, sir, I am Chief Keef,” said one.
“I am Waka Flaka,” said the other. “Please buy my album.”
But anyway. Pictures of the ramshackle charm in full effect.
Let it be known that, on this particular evening, the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Southern Division was as close as it could possibly be. Almost.
Those teams, like these people, are back-to-back-back-to-back.
My wanderings led me to the other side of the ballpark, shockingly enough, and, even more shockingly, a game was still going on.
The Greer Garden has seen better days, it appears.
Despite being a decent crowd overall, it was totally deserted in this beyond-the-outfield area. I made a Vine video expressing my profound feeling of isolation, and hope that you may devote six seconds to it. (Follow me on Twitter — @bensbiz — to see all Vine videos as soon as they are posted).
Back in civilization! I love the enthusiasm of these women, who were playing a “Choose the Box” game that netted Becky (in the Pirates jersey) Sounds tickets and a Burger King gift card. So much emotion!
(Later in the evening I saw a member of Rat Patrol in the restroom, so I lingered by the sink so that I could ask a few questions about the organization. But, of course, the dude opted not to wash his hands and, looking back, it was very naive of me to have assumed otherwise.)
On a similarly rock n roll note: the day before, Jack White had been in attendance along with employees of his Nashville-based Third Man record label. (Also, a record-pressing plant is located across the street from the stadium!) This picture later surfaced on Third Man’s Instagram page, although it was free from any underwear-related taggings:
I spent the last two innings with Adam Hayes, a video intern for the Milwaukee Brewers who, using a thing called technology, extensively documents every Sounds home game.
For more on Hayes and how he operates, read my MiLB.com story! That is not a request, but a demand.
The game concluded with an 11-7 Sounds victory, and as the stadium was emptying out I ran into Dave Clark and Doug Cornfield, from the Dave Clark Foundation. You may remember them from my Fort Myers visit from last season, and/or my story on the “Special Needs Baseball Camp” for disabled youth. They were in town to run a disability camp at Greer Stadium over the weekend –a worthwhile cause, and more will be held at Minor League parks throughout the season. Always worth supporting!
So, anyway, to sum it up: If ramshackle charm is your thing then get thee to Greer!
While 2009 included a couple of incidental dilly-dallies, these “On the Road” blog installments began in earnest in 2010. 2013, then, marks the fourth season of this on-going adventure, in which I visit Minor League stadiums nationwide and deliver the results of said explorations to you, a reader both discerning and loyal and very attractive.
All of this is to say: “Yes, I am on the road again” (quotes utilized because I said this out loud while typing). And this year’s travels began in Bowling Green.
(NOTE: For more crucial Bowling Green “On the Hot Road” content, please read this MiLB.com story. As I have said time and time again, largely to no avail: I am not just a blogger!)
Bowling Green is the home of the Hot Rods, and the Hot Rods play in Bowling Green Ballpark.
Like many Minor League stadiums that have come before, Bowling Green Ballpark is being utilized as the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization project. It opened in 2009 — marking the first time that Bowling Green had had professional baseball since 1942 — and four years later new retail, restaurant and residential buildings are springing up around it.
The resultant landscape is very much a work in progress — the new mixed with the old, 21st century innovation blended with industrial-era decay. A few views from the second level:
A short walk down the street seen below leads to Bowling Green’s downtown square, a truly picturesque and tranquil old-fashioned retail hub that I visited the next day.
I’ll have more on Bowling Green’s downtown area in a future “Return to the Road” post, but here’s a glimpse of its beauty:
But back to the ballpark — more vantage points!
And is that what I think it is? The answer to this question, due to the fact that I know what I’m thinking, is a resounding yes: train tracks! And trains!
Bowling Green may be an automotive town (the Hot Rods are named, in part, due to the presence of a Corvette factory), but the train survives:
Speaking of vantage points, the Hot Rods broadcast booth offers a unique one. The “Stadium Club” bar and restaurant area for season ticket holders is located on the second level behind home plate, meaning that those calling the action have been shunted off to the side. Here’s that view:
Broadcaster Hank Fuerst seemed at peace with this set-up, utilizing everyone’s favorite tautology: “It is what it is.”
Are there other stadiums which position the broadcasters in such a fashion, in favor of giving season ticket holders the best views? The only one I can think of off-hand is Harrisburg, post-renovation. Here’s a look at that, from my trip in 2010:
The Stadium Club and its view:
We’ll return to the Stadium Club in a bit, but for now let’s descend to sea level. The pre-game sights were similar to that which you’ll find at MiLB parks all over the country.
I get lost in your eyes…
Larry Parrish, big league slugger turned manager of the visiting West Michigan Whitecaps, signing a few autographs.
Bowling Green, as you may know, is located fairly close to the natural wonder that is Mammoth Caves. Such topography extends to the city as well, which is a Karst landscape (I learned this term from Fuerst). What this means, in essence, is that stadium construction couldn’t extend far into the ground because of the instability of the earth below. This is why clubhouses and batting cages and storage areas and such are located beyond the outfield.
(This is a very poor explanation, and as my Dad is a geologist I am now expecting him to chime in via the comments section.)
I had been tapped to throw a first pitch, and while waiting for this honor to occur I wandered around the perimeter of the playing field.
Hank Fuerst, looking sad in this non-representative still, doing the pre-game show on the rather impressive videoboard.
Notice that the pre-game show is called “The Tune-Up.” Other team name tie-ins to be found around the stadium include the “Turbo Times” game program and “Body Shop” team store.
Finally — the first pitch, as overseen by promotions manager Jennifer Johnson. I have delivered quite a few first pitches over the years, but this marked the first occasion in which I was asked to introduce myself (usually, the intros are done over the PA in hyperbolic fashion). While I now wish I had taken the opportunity to tell the crowd that Sparks is the most underrated band of all time, I simply said “Ben Hill, from MinorLeagueBaseball.com” in a tone most stentorian.
And, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t one of my better offerings.
But mascot love is unconditional, and despite my mechanical failures Axle and Roscoe were their to buoy my spirits.
Nonetheless, I thought it would be best to lay low for a bit so I proceeded to the right field corner for the national anthem.
Oh say can you see?
And, well, alright! The game was finally underway, and it took me less than 900 words to get to this point in the narrative. Still out in right field, I recorded a Vine video in order to provide a little game day ambiance.
I am new to Vine, and Vine is new to the world, so there are kinks to be worked out on all sides. However — it is a fun and easy to use app that I plan on incorporating into my content from now on, and I hope that MLBlogs will soon allow its users to embed these looping six second videos on the blog. In the meantime I will link to them when applicable, and if you follow me on Twitter – @BensBiz – then you’ll have immediate real-time access.
It was a Wednesday night ballgame, the first of the homestand, and the crowd was about par for the course for a mid-week ballgame played during the school year. To use a car analogy, since car talk so prevalent here in Bowling Green: the team’s return home represents turning the ignition, and then each game of the homestand represents shifting into a higher gear, and, therefore, this game was first gear and…okay, that’s terrible. Just look at some pictures. That’s all anyone cares about, right?
So here you go. Look at these pictures, while I attempt to rally from yet another bout of writerly self-pity.
From the bold marketing minds that brought you “College Football Playoffs.”
The ice cream immediately melted in Axle’s presence:
I must have passed this dude five or six times on the concourse. He was always carrying the compact disc player, always engrossed in the music. I wonder what he was listening to.
Off of the concourse and on to the field, here’s Hot Rods manager Jared Sandberg coaching third base:
Sandberg, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray and nephew of Ryne, is, so far as I know, the only manager to ever tweet about one of my ballpark visits.
Why is that tweet not embedding? Why is it a good idea for me to waste 30 minutes on trying to correct this? Point is, Sandberg’s tweet expressed mock frustration because he “missed out on free food and tix” that the Hot Rods were offering to my designated eater that evening.
Yes! This was the debut of the designated eater, as from here on in I will be recruiting someone at all of my ballpark stops to eat the gluten-free cuisine that I cannot. As I wrote on MiLB.com:
The Hot Rods held a contest on their Facebook page to find Wednesday’s designated eater and selected season-ticket holders Randy and Donna Brown. The Browns have been married for 34 years — he’s a maintenance worker at a local factory and she an office manager at Christian Family Radio — and their relationship dates back to their late teenage years. At that time, Donna worked at Wendy’s and Randy at a steak restaurant.
“It was the best of both worlds, and we haven’t slowed down since!” said Donna of their employment situations at the time.
Clearly, these were the right people for the job. Sitting in the Stadium Club bar and lounge area, located on the second level behind home plate, Randy and Donna were soon presented with BBQ Pork Nachos and, more significantly, the Grand Slam Burger.
Randy, with nachos.
Donna, more demure, with the Grand Slam Burger:
Clearly, this grand slam burger deserves another look:
More from my MiLB.com piece:
[T]he Grand Slam Burger consists of “two grilled hamburgers served with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and spicy BBQ sauce between two glazed doughnuts.”
“It’s delicious — a combination of flavors that is really unique,” said Donna. “It’s a sweet burger, if that makes sense, and strikes a really good balance. I would recommend it!”
The happy couple, post-meal, photo-bombed by Axle and Roscoe:
My thanks to the Browns, who were both very good-natured and engaging and got this whole ridiculous “designated eater” concept off to a great start.
At this point, the night was upon us.
After a brief stop in the restroom — always wash your hands! — I headed over to the radio booth for an inning with number two broadcaster Chris Kleinhans-Schulz. My puns were quite plentiful, my insight quite lacking.
Hey, look, you’ve all come to see pictures and instead I’ve written over 1500 words, all of them gratuitous. Time to shut it down, similar to how the Hot Rods were shut down by the visiting Whitecaps.
Wednesday night being what it is, I didn’t catch Bowling Green Ballpark in its full splendor. But this is a great front office operating in a great stadium in what seems to be a great town. I certainly enjoyed my time here and, apropos of nothing, on the way out noticed this really awesome looking advertisement.
In my capacity as floundering elder blogger-statesman of the Minor League scene, I’ve written about more than my share of patently unhealthy and/or ridiculously oversized and/or ridiculously conceived concession items.
Y’know, like this “Ramen Dawg” that the Salem Red Sox served during last month’s “College Night” promotion.
But there’s a yin to every yang, a Jekyll to every Hyde, a Shobam to every Yobam, which is to say that for the remainder of today’s post I will feature some downright healthy ballpark undertakings.
Let’s start with the Akron Aeros, who, perhaps in atonement for the “Inside Out Burger,” recently staged a promotion with the undeniably awesome name of “Vegan Iron Chef.” Director of promotions Christina Shisler explains:
For Vegan Iron Chef we have partnered with the “Who’s Your Mama? Earth Day Festival” to bring in Vegan Iron Chef contestants and a Vegetable Carving Championship Competition to Canal Park on April 22 (Earth Day)! There will be eight chefs making vegan dishes for a table of judges. Fans will get to watch, as the competition begins when gates open, and then sample vegan food throughout the game.
Two of the competitors in action.
And, yes, there was also a Vegetable Carving Championship.
Team-logo Cantaloupe. (Cantalogo?)
Winner, winner, meat-free dinner!
For another excellent bit of healthy ballpark living we go to the Quad Cities, as the River Bandits staged a “Race the Game” promotion as a follow-up of sorts to their inaugural 5K race. Director of promotions and marketing Shane Huff explains:
[We] invited one of the top overall finishers [in the 5K race] to come back to today’s game and literally race the game. This contestant, Marvin McMeekan, will try to comlete a 9-mile run on a treadmill - placed on the outfield berm for everyone to see – before the game becomes official. If Marvin can beat the game, EVERYONE in attendance wins a prize. We’re going to interview Marvin before the game and do live look-ins throughout the game to help build suspense.
Marvin in action.
I, for one, never had any doubt that Marvin would complete the task. And he did, ably. Writes Huff:
It went very well. The live look-ins between innings really helped get the crowd get into it. And Marvin crushed it! He completed the 9 miles with just under an inning to spare!
It went so well that we’re already discussing plans on doing it again later this summer on a night with a bigger crowd and better prizes.
Race the Game is a great, easily adaptable idea and if it doesn’t catch on then I will be deeply disappointed in the entire industry. (Crushed, even, in the non I-just-outraced-a-ballgame-sense-of-the-word.)
And if you want add a real sense of drama to the whole thing, then invite me to be the runner. I’d probably fail, and failing is what I do best (especially in front of crowds).
On that note I shall conclude. Tomcat says “Have a Great Weekend!”
More on that guy in an upcoming post.
One of my recent posts included a write-up on the Omaha Storm Chasers inherently ridiculous “Managerial Cell Phone Night.” Today, as a chaser to that shot of absurdity, I have a recap of Omaha’s April 15 Jackie Robinson Day promotion. Jackie’s legacy is celebrated throughout MLB every year, as you well know, but in the Minors it’s a bit more scattershot. It’s great to see teams like the Storm Chasers go above and beyond, setting a template for others to follow.
I’m now going to turn the floor over to Omaha promotions director Ben Hemmen, who provided the words and pictures you’ll soon see below.
The Omaha Storm Chasers, as part of the celebration on April 15th for Jackie Robinson Day, honored the baseball legend who broke the color barrier in 1947 by wearing specialty Omaha “42” jerseys and officially retiring the number 42 at Werner Park.
The Storm Chasers recognized our annual “Chasers-Robinson Scholarship” winners as well as 42 local educators, and invited more than 4,200 school children from North and South Omaha to All About Kids Day presented by the Home Run Foundation of Greater Omaha.
Sharon Robinson pre-recorded a “Welcome” message that was played during the game, thanking the Storm Chasers for wearing the specialty #42 jerseys and describing to the children the legacy that her father left behind for them to follow. Also during the game, educational facts about Jackie Robinson were displayed on the videoboard to focus on his importance to both the game of baseball and society to all of the kids in attendance.
Finally, all of the game worn, player autographed #42 jerseys were put up for both silent and online auction. All proceeds from those auctions ($3,690) were donated to our Home Run Foundation of Greater Omaha. The Home Run Foundation of Greater Omaha runs our Chasers FUNdamentals program which teaches intercity and underprivileged youth the game of baseball.
Meanwhile! It’s Tuesday, meaning that a new Promo Preview column is out on MiLB.com. Included therein was this:
Harrisburg Senators (Eastern League) Mayfly Umbrella, May 4
The Senators play on Harrisburg’s City Island, surrounded on all sides by the Susquehanna River. This aquatic environment is a haven for pesky mayflies, which have long enlivened the ballpark atmosphere by electrocuting themselves en masse in the stadium lights and then raining down onto the fans below. Instances of insect corpse bombardment have greatly decreased since a roof was added to the grandstand of the stadium prior to 2010, but nonetheless the Senators want to make sure that their fans are prepared. The first 1,000 fans attending Saturday’s ballgame receive an umbrella emblazoned with the team’s alternate “Mayfly” logo, because if you’re going to get rained on by dead bugs, then you might as well have a sense of humor about it.
Perhaps it’s a bit anti-climactic, but since this is the first insect corpse deterrent giveaway item I’ve ever heard of I feel obligated to include a picture.
As you may recall, one of my recent Promo Preview columns included the following write-up:
Fresno Grizzlies (Pacific Coast League) Mini-Maker Faire, April 21
Maker Faires, in which creative individuals from a wide variety of disciplines gather to showcase their creative efforts, are described as “part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new.” They are gaining in popularity throughout the country, and on Sunday the Grizzlies will become the first professional sports team to host such an event. The event has been scheduled on a ticket redemption day for members of the Grizzlies “Wild About Reading” program in the hopes that the young fans in attendance will be see the innovation on display and become inspired to become makers themselves.
The inexorable passage of time being what it is, this unprecedented occasion has now occurred. Grizzlies media relations coordinator Chris Kutz sent along a recap and photos documenting the firestorm of creativity and innovation that took place at the park, so from here on out this post is in his hands. Take it away, Chris:
We had 33 makers and seven local high school robotics teams on hand to take part in Fresno’s greatest show and tell. Makers included blacksmith, 3D printers, woodworkers, “How To Make Beer” station, knitters, painters, and metal workers
There was also two Rube Goldberg machines created by some local students. While one didn’t work, the other one needed a slight push at the end to set it off. The result was the machine throwing a wiffle ball (printed by a 3D printer at the stadium earlier in the day).
We had a crowd of over 9,000 people at the game, with plenty of families who made a point to visit the Mini Maker Faire before the game. As some of the photos show, lots of kids were able to get hands-on with some of the makers’ projects.
We opened at an early time (12 pm, two hours before game time) to allow people to experience the Mini Maker Faire before the game.
The most popular attraction for kids were the robots. These robots threw flying discs and tennis balls into a hoop, similar to their competitions.
We are the first sports team to hold a Mini Maker Faire at a game, while we were also the first Mini Maker Faire in Fresno.
Ultimately, the event did what we set out to do from the very beginning: for children and adults alike to experience innovation and creativity right here in the Central San Joaquin Valley. These Mini Maker Faires are held worldwide, but we wanted to show our fans that the maker movement is taking place right in our own backyard.
Was this idea “out-of-the-box”? Absolutely. But hopefully, we created an experience everyone will never forget when they look back at attending Grizzlies games.
I am an unabashed fan of such “out-of-the-box” endeavors, and encourage other teams to follow the Grizzlies’ lead. And, of course, if you’d like to see YOUR team featured on this blog in such a manner then get in touch. It really is that simple.
Among this year’s crop of new Minor League logos, surely the most striking was the Lexington Legends’ away cap. It features a mustache, and nothing else. Or, if you prefer images to words, it features this:
By adopting such a look, the Legends were clearly aiming to make an impact outside of their market. Ty Cobb, the team’s graphic designer, acknowledged as much when I spoke with him at the time of the logo’s unveiling.
“Minor League Baseball is all about the ‘wow’ factor, and we wanted to go beyond the normal stuff you’d see at the ballpark,” said Cobb, whose name is totally unremarkable. “And we wanted to be the team to do this first, to have a mustache on a hat. Our mascot, he actually has a mustache, so we’re not just hopping on a fad. … We’re going to be easily recognizable when on the road. Fans can just look at the mustache.”
As the Legends hoped, many fans have done more than just look at the mustache. They’ve gone out and bought it. As of today, the team has sold the hat in 45 out of 50 states en route to their goal of “mustache domination.” Or, if you prefer images to words:
For the most part, this is a simple matter of demographics as Alaska, Montana, Maine and Vermont are among the ten least-populated states. But Arkansas? What’s up with that? Nearly three million people live there — including those who are fans of fellow Royals affiliates the Northwest Arkansas Naturals — and yet none have sprung for a hat.
(Perhaps because headwear would only sully their beauty? As I learned last season, Arkansans are nothing if not beautiful. Just scroll through this blog post for proof!)
All of this begs the question — has any team ever sold a particular piece of headwear in all 50 states? Or will the Legends be the first?
Once again it is I, cold and alone, who asks the questions that no one else dares to.
Moving on to other matters, let this be your thrice-monthly reminder that my Promo Preview column runs every Tuesday on MiLB.com. Click HERE to read the latest edition, which is virtually hot off of the virtual presses.
Included within this week’s column is a write-up on Thursday’s “Manager Cell Phone Night” in Omaha, which pays tribute to emerging dugout-to-bullpen communication technologies. Since the column went to (virtual) press, promotions manager Ben Hemmen (the second-best Ben H. working in Minor League Baseball, after
yours truly New York-Penn League president Ben Hayes), sent the following supplemental information. I, for one, love it:
– In honor of all Major League Baseball “Calls to the Bullpen” happening on cell phones this season, the Omaha Storm Chasers are offering anyone who brings in a rotary phone or old cell phone for donation a “buy one box seat, get one box seat for FREE” ticket special.
– All “Calls to the Bullpen” will come with a special surprise from Jirsch [Manager Mike Jirschele]. We will also unveil never before heard or seen manager to manager phone calls, voicemails and texts on the videoboard.
And since you can do everything on a cell phone these days, other exciting offers, deals, competitions, and games will take place at Thursday’s game:
– There will be a Facebook challenge that night for a FREE night at a future game in the Safeco Insurance/ Manager Mike Jirschele Dugout suite.
– If you e-mail the Team Store at the game that night (email@example.com), you will receive a coupon for a special offer.
– A few lucky fans who use twitter on Thirsty Thursday and hashtag #BudLight or #Pepsi to @omastormchasers at the right time will have enjoy a beverage on the house.
– The person who posts the best picture of Manager Mike Jirschele to Instagram will win an autographed Mike Jirschele cell phone.
I was going to end this post with a picture of Mr. Jirschele, but in my quest to find a photo of him I inadvertently stumbled upon this shot of Alice Cooper and Mike Moustakas. Love it to death:
I generally lay low in the month of April, as the combination of bad baseball weather and school season concerns can result in sparse crowds. But, soon enough, it will be time for me to break free of the NYC grind and hit the open road for yet another round of Minor League Baseball stadium tours.
Here I come, America!
In previous years I posted my trip itineraries one at a time, but this season I’m going to put it all down at once. But before I do, there are a few things I’d like to note:
– This is a work in progress, as in addition to the three trips listed below I hope to sprinkle in a few visits to ballparks that are more local to my NYC homebase. The new-look Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are certainly on the agenda, as are the Hudson Valley Renegades and Connecticut Tigers (how have I never visited either of these NYPL entities?).
– Due to the vagaries of home and away schedules, it can be very difficult to assemble these itineraries. I apologize to teams that were skipped over, and please know that I am a very sensitive man who doesn’t ever want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m already bracing myself for the inevitable slew of “You were in (X) ballpark yet didn’t visit (Y) ballpark?” emails and tweets, as well as front office comments like “It’s really too bad you’re here on a Wednesday. The weekend’s gonna be awesome.” I do my best!
Also, while there are MANY places that I’d love to return to, priority will always go to places I have yet to visit.
– As many of you know, I was diagnosed with celiac disease last year and had to switch to a gluten-free diet. This makes it hard for me to sample ballpark delicacies with the reckless abandon to which I had been accustomed, but there is a solution: THE DESIGNATED EATER (feel free to use this as a name for your new band).
At every ballpark I visit, I am looking for a fan (ideally) or team employee who will sample the concessions that I cannot. I will document your eating experiences in words and pictures, so that those reading can still enjoy the comprehensive ballpark food coverage they have come to expect — nay — demand.
If YOU are interested in being a designated eater at one of the ballparks listed in the itineraries below, then get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
(Note to teams: if you are planning on staging a contest of some sort to find the designated eater, then let me know so that I do not accept someone on my own accord).
This could be you!
And, teams — my presence at the ballpark will give you a chance to highlight any and all of your gluten-free options. Don’t leave me hanging, as I am a (sadly out of shape pseudo) celebrity and need to be catered to.
– As always, my time at each location will be limited. But, as always, I am interested in your recommendations regarding what else there is to do, see and consume in the area. If you have any cultural or culinary expertise regarding any of the locations listed, THEN GET IN TOUCH. Many of these recommendations make their way into my “Return to the Road” content, in which I write about my experiences outside of the ballpark.
– I will be getting in touch with all of the teams included, but if you’re a member of the front office feel free to jump the gun and get in touch with me regarding recommended hotels, story suggestions, designated eater leads, etc.
Okay, that’s enough of the fine print. On to the itineraries!
Trip #1 — SOUTHERN SOJOURN
The Birmingham Barons’ new downtown ballpark was the motivating factor behind this trip, and in Birmingham is where it concludes. But before arriving in the Magic City I’ll be making stops in ballparks old and new in cities large and small, from Kentucky to Tennessee to North Carolina to Georgia to, finally, Alabama.
May 8 – Bowling Green Hot Rods
Designated Eater: Team to recruit via social media.
Things to check out: Corvette Museum
May 9 – Nashville Sounds
Designated Eater: Heather Beshore
Things to check out: Gabby’s Burgers, Santa’s Pub,
May 10 – Tennessee Smokies
Designated Eater: Frederick Love
May 11 — Asheville Tourists
May 12 – Savannah Sand Gnats
Designated Eater: (Team to hold a Facebook contest)
May 13 – Augusta GreenJackets
Designated Eater: Chad Walters
Things to check out: James Brown statue?
May 14 and 15 – Birmingham Barons
Trip #2 — LAKE MICHIGAN EXCURSIONS
I have found it ridiculously difficult to put together a coherent itinerary for this region, which is why this one includes a travel day and a pair of two-night stands. Perhaps in other regions such scheduling hassles would cause me to look elsewhere, but I persevered because I have been promising the Timber Rattlers that I would visit for years now and wanted to be a man of my word (also, their mascot is a snake and for all I know that snake is poisonous and the last thing I want is for a poisonous snake to be mad at me).
Also, the triumvirate of franchises to be found in Michigan are very intriguing — whoever signs up for designated eating duties in West Michigan better bring their A-game!
June 21 and 22 – Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
Designated Eater: “We got this,” said the Timber Rattlers. Stay tuned…
June 23 – Travel (Car Ferry!)
June 24 and 25 – Great Lakes Loons
June 26 – Lansing Lugnuts
Designated Eater: Keirsh Cochran
June 27 – West Michigan Whitecaps
Designated Eater: Flounder and Marty, morning show DJs on West Michigan’s Thunder 94.5
June 28 – South Bend Silver Hawks
Trip #3 — HILLSBORO OR BUST
I ended last season’s travels in the Pacific Northwest, but nonetheless it seemed imperative that I visit the Hillsboro Hops in this, their inaugural season. But rather than re-trace the steps I took last year, this trip starts in central California and works its way toward the promised land of Hillsboro. There’s even a detour in the biggest little city!
August 3 – Bakersfield Blaze
August 4 — Visalia Rawhide
August 5 – Fresno Grizzlies
August 6 – Modesto Nuts
August 7 – Stockton Ports
Designated Eater: Lee McEachern
August 8 – Reno Aces
August 9 — Travel
August 10 and 11 — Hillsboro Hops
Designated Eater (and beer drinker):
I’ll be updating and linking back to this post throughout the season; consider it your one-stop shop for all of the road trip content that I produce (in typical making it up as I go along fashion).
Your feedback: I look forward to it. And, please, if you think your friends, family, co-workers or casual acquaintances might like what it is I do then please inform them of my existence.
The Pioneer League season doesn’t start for another two months, but nonetheless there is plenty of gamesmanship currently taking place at the Missoula Osprey’s home of Ogren Park Allegiance field.
One of the most unique aspects of the Missoula stadium experience is that there is an actual osprey nest located just beyond the center field fence. The Osprey believe that the osprey who live in this nest are “the only pro sports team mascot living in its natural habitat at the home team’s venue.”
I can’t argue with that? Can you?
But these days in Missoula the status is far from quo, as geese have claimed the osprey nest! This unexpected avian invasion prompted the Osprey (the team, not the birds) to issue a press release last week that explains the situation. Let the short declarative sentences begin!
The geese have been spotted in the nest for the past two weeks. It appears the geese are nesting. It is expected that the geese will leave the nest once the nesting season is done which could be as soon as two weeks from now. The osprey have arrived from their migration from the south and are looking to reclaim the popular nest site. However, the geese are in the way. It is hoped that the osprey will return to the nest once the geese leave later this month. The nest location has been very popular to the osprey as they have returned to the nest every year since the platform was installed.
Kim Briggeman of the Missoulian describes the osprey who normally inhabit the nest as “amorous,” “upset” and “homeless.” The osprey have repeatedly tried and failed to build nests in alternate locations, and desperately want to get back to their usual spot. But the geese — the headstrong “Clara” and her little-seen mate — refuse to cede their position as they have eggs to tend to.
Briggeman’s article — well worth the read! — includes the following quote from Rob Domenech of Missoula’s Raptor View Research Institute.
“We see this annually where the geese set up shop before the osprey come back. It’s my thought, and these are observations we’ve made in the past, that just when you think the osprey is going to run out of time, the (goose) eggs hatch, the geese bail, and (the osprey) can slide in there and do what they need to do.”
Let’s hope that this is the case! Opening Day at Ogren Park Allegiance Field is June 20, and “Missoula Geese” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.