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 email@example.com
(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.
From 50-50 raffles to jersey auctions to rappelling mascots, Minor League teams are well-versed in the art of raising money for charity. And, lately, some teams have taken their philanthropic endeavors in bold new directions.
Take the Sacramento River Cats — please — who last month announced that they will issue a $1 fine to anyone who spells their name incorrectly:
You’ve been warned: the moniker “River Cats” is comprised of two words, with a capital “R” and a capital “C.” Effective immediately, all members of the local and national media, River Cats corporate partners, full- or part-time River Cats staff, and season, flex, and mini-plan ticket holders will be fined $1 for spelling “River Cats” incorrectly.
All money collected will go to the River Cats Foundation, which has contributed more than $1.5 million in cash and $16.2 million in in-kind donations to the greater Sacramento community since 2000.
This despite the fact that the team’s Twitter handle is @rivercats — no underscore! — and their logo doesn’t really make a point of separating “River” and “Cats.”
The River Cats’ initiative brings up a larger issue, in that there is a complete lack of uniformity when it comes to Minor League monikers. The Charleston RiverDogs do not use a space between River and Dogs, for example, while the Delmarva Shorebirds go the one word, no caps route. The Minor Leagues are a grammatical minefield, their team names as unregulated as a 19th century western territory brothel.
Another unique fundraising effort comes courtesy of the Greensboro Grasshoppers, who partnered with outbid.com in order to host a live online auction featuring team owner Donald Moore as auctioneer.
Outbid is said to “combine the theater and transparency of live online auctions with social gaming features,” and its existence means that we are all one step closer to living in a Utopian society. Items that the Grasshoppers auctioned off included team-autographed baseballs, a night in a 24-person ballpark suite and, best of all, an autographed Willie Nelson jersey.
Finally, we turn our attention to the Lancaster JetHawks (who, it should be noted, recently had to postpone one of their games due to a haboob).
The JetHawks won the California League championship last season, and now fans are being given the chance to get a ring.
Swiped from the press release:
The Lancaster JetHawks have partnered with two local little leagues to host a special raffle giving two individuals the opportunity to win an authentic customized 2012 California League Championship Ring. Proceeds from the raffle will be donated to West Lancaster and Quartz Hill Little Leagues.
Raffle tickets are on sale now and will be sold through June 10. Tickets will be available for $5 each, or five for $20….The winning raffle tickets will be drawn just prior to the JetHawks game on June 12. The two winners will receive custom-made rings personalized with their own last name during a special pre-game ceremony that will take place at a JetHawks game in late August.
And that shall conclude this blogging week, which was admittedly a light one. And when things are light on the blog it’s always a good bet that they’re correspondingly heavy over on MiLB.com Head to the site for Promo Preview, an Opening Weekend Crooked Numbers column, and three — count ‘em three — pieces of content related to 42.
I do it all for you, as “you” is what I have nicknamed my paycheck.
I was in the midst of a brief vacation when the Lehigh Valley IronPigs unveiled their video game urinals, and my silence when it came to covering this momentous bit of news led to a barrage of emails, texts and tweets along the lines of “You saw this, right? You’re not dead, are you?”
Saw it I did and dead I am not! And to prove to you, the demanding consumer, that I can still be trusted as your “number one” source for urinal-based Minor League news and imagery I now present to you an exclusive look at the urinal cakes that can be found within the men’s rooms of the Harrisburg Senators’ home of Metro Bank Park. These “leaked” photos are presented alphabetically.
Akron Aeros — An affiliate of the Cleveland Indians? More like an affiliate of the Pee-veland Indians!
Altoona Curve – The Curve play at People’s Natural Gas Field? More like Pee-ples Natural Gas Field!
Binghamton Mets – B-Mets? More like the P-Mets!
Bowie Baysox – Bowie Baysox? More like the Flowie Baysox!
Erie SeaWolves – Erie Seawolves? More like the Erie PeaWolves!
New Britain Rock Cats – The Rock Cats used to play in Beehive Field? More like the Rock Cats used to play in Pee-hive Field!
New Hampshire Fisher Cats – New Hampshire Fisher Cats? More like the New Hampshire Flusher Cats!
Portland Sea Dogs – Portland Sea Dogs? More like the Portland Pee Dogs!
Reading Fightin Phils – Reading recently re-branded itself? More like Reading recently pee-branded itself!
Richmond Flying Squirrels – Richmond Flying Squirrels? More like the Richmond, uh, Peeing Squirrels!
Trenton Thunder – Both Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte have played for the Thunder on rehab? More like both Derek Pee-ter and Andy Pee-titte have played for the Thunder on pee-hab!
I’m not sure if encouraging your male fans to urinate on visiting team logos constitutes cruelty to the opposition. If so then I’m sure Harrisburg will be hearing from PEETA about this.
And- hey! — turnabout is fair play. What team out there is going to obtain a Senators’ urinal logo? Pee on this!
But for what it’s worth, the Senators aren’t the only team to have engaged in a little bathroom humor as of late. As part of their recent “nautical re-branding,” the Lake County Captains re-named their restrooms the “Poop Deck.”
Don’t blame me — I’m just the messenger!
(Special thanks to Senators director of digital and new media Ashley Grotte for going beyond the call of duty in order to provide me with the photos in the Eastern League urinal collage seen at the top of this post. “I had to explain to people numerous times why I was wandering around in the men’s restrooms” she wrote in an email.)
For those who may have been caught unawares, yesterday marked the start of the 2013 Minor League season. Clearly there is and will be much to talk about — read Promo Preview for an indication of just how much – but today I wanted to focus on the most pressing matter I could possibly think of:
Did the teams who issued weather-related guarantees see their guarantees come to pass? Or were fans left out in the cold?
Let’s start with the Indianapolis Indians, who have long been the preeminent meteorological guarantors of the International League.
Guarantee: 60 degrees
Actual Game Time Temperature: 56 degrees
Result: “Fans Win 60 degree guarantee,” was the headline of a press release the team put out this morning. As a result of this “win” ”[A]ll Tribe fans in attendance to the contest have won a free ticket to any 2013 April home game of their choice.”
Team: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
Guarantee: 60 degrees
Actual Game Time Temperature: 51 degrees
Result: Per Crain: ”To back my guarantee, if it is not 60 degrees on April 4, then anyone who comes to Opening Day will get a free Sunday through Thursday ticket any day the rest of the entire 2013 season.”
Enjoy your non-weekend free baseball, RailRiders fans!
Team: Gwinnett Braves
Guarantee: “Temperatures will not dip below 50 Degrees.“
Actual Game Time Temperature: There was no game, as it was rained out.
Result: Mired in uncertainty, as fans on the team’s Facebook page have spent the afternoon parsing the text of the team’s original press release. Some have advanced the argument that since the temperature was below 50 yesterday, then fans should be awarded a ticket voucher in addition to the one that Opening Day ticket holders are already slated to receive as a result of the rainout.
But not so fast! The original press release stipulated that the G-Braves “were prepared to offer free tickets to those in attendance.” As Facebook fan Trey Farr pointed out, “Since they postponed it, no one [was] in attendance on Thursday, April 4.”
I think that the G-Braves should award free tickets to Mr. Farr, simply for having such a razor-sharp legalistic mind.
Team: Peoria Chiefs
Guarantee: 62 degrees
Actual Game Time Temperature: 59 degrees
Result: “All fans with a ticket will receive a free ticket to another Chiefs home game in April or May.”
59 degrees and a free ticket? That’s pretty much win-win! (But, alas, the Chiefs lost.)
So there you have it: there were four Opening Day weather guarantees (that I was aware of), and teams went 0-for-3 with a rainout. Small sample size, yes, but I think the lesson here is that Opening Day weather guarantees are destined to fail.
Hey, it’s Opening Day! No fooling!
The time for fooling was Monday, of course, and as usual there were several Minor League teams who attempted to prank their fans. The Lowell Spinners helped to spread a rumor that, due to concerns about the weather, the Boston Red Sox’s home opener was being moved to LeLacheur Park, while the Bowling Green Hot Rods claimed that the team would take a cue from the 1976 Chicago White Sox and begin wearing shorts on the field. But the day’s winner was the Tennessee Smokies, who were able to convince some of their more gullible Facebook fans that they were re-branding themselves as the “Tennessee Browns.”
Meanwhile, in South Bend, one of the Silver Hawks’ most recent improvements to Coveleski Stadium only sounds like an April Fool’s prank. But this somewhat emasculating visitor’s locker room is gloriously, hilariously real:
When I first heard about this bold stadium “improvement,” I thought it might indeed be a joke. But Silver Hawks president Joe Hart confirmed in an email that “as you can see, they certainly are pink. It is the entire locker room, bathrooms, hallways, showers and even pink urinals and sinks.”
Yes — pink potties!
“The idea came from our owner, Andrew Berlin,” Hart went on to write. “[It] just came from wanting to be a little different and give people something fun to talk about. I know the University of Iowa did it years ago to the visiting locker room for football and we had just never heard of it being done for baseball. We figured if we can get people talking about the Silver Hawks across the country than it is a success.”
Oh, this will get people talking all right. My thoughts immediately turned to the visiting teams themselves — I can see many players and coaches thinking this is absolutely hilarious, but won’t there be some who consider this radical redecoration an affront to their dignity?
“We are not too worried,” wrote Hart of potential negative reactions. “I am sure we will hear some comments but it really is something done in fun. We just wanted to make sure when the visiting teams remembered their time in South Bend.”
And thus concludes the first post of the 2013 season, the sixth in the history of this blog and my ninth whilst in the employ of MiLB.com.
Minor League Baseball — it is happening again!
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.
March 30′s exhibition game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and their Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve was, in one sense, meaningless. The Curve won 8-6, and would have won by more if Tony Watson hadn’t surrendered a second-inning grand slam to Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte. Watson pitched for the Curve in the ballgame even though he is actually on the Pirates, but it was a uniform that was familiar to him. He last suited up for the Curve in 2010, one year before — drumroll, please — Starling Marte.
Such absurdities are common in exhibition contests that pit MLB team vs. affiliate — everybody knows everybody, the uniforms often seem interchangeable, and the main objective for those on the field is not to get hurt. After all, “real” baseball is right around the corner.
But, yet, one could also make the case that this Saturday afternoon contest — played in almost impossibly idyllic Spring conditions, especially considering that Altoona received six inches of snow earlier in the week — was one of the most meaningful in the Curve’s 15-year history. A franchise-record 10,166 fans packed People’s Natural Gas Ballpark (formerly known as Blair County Ballpark), eager to see their Major League heroes compete within intimate Minor League environs. And, yes, while it is essentially a central Pennsylvania metropolis there can be no doubt that Altoona’s sporting loyalties lie with their far-west Steel City brethren. This is a region that roots for Pittsburgh through and through, taking no small amount of pride in seeing its hometown Curve players (Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Marte, Josh Harrison and many more) elevate themselves to positions of PNC Park prominence.
Saturday, then, was a triumphant homecoming as well as a chance to celebrate and — spoiler alert! — extend a long-running symbiotic relationship. Altoona made the most of it.
I arrived in Altoona at noon, after a Starbucks and bad radio-fueled drive from the Philadelphia area that included a rest stop nap as well as a shocking toll charge of $19.55 for the privilege of driving on the Pennsylvania turnpike. Although the first pitch was still more than two hours away upon my arrival, the fans were already out in full force.
I unfortunately arrived too late for the designated clubhouse media sessions with the Pirates players, in which I invariably would have asked Curve alumni for thoughts on their (presumably triumphant) return to Altoona. But, for that kind of content, I kindly refer you to the team website. Take it away, Jared Hughes! And you too, Pedro Alvarez!
Being “media,” I was able to bypass the long lines seen above. But, upon walking by the hoi polloi, I did witness a security guard prevent a man from bringing an empty water bottle into the stadium. “You mean I can’t have my spitter?” the man said incredulously.
I don’t know what I was expectorating, but the scene upon entering the ballpark was truly beautiful. The sun was shining, the grass was green, and U2′s “Beautiful Day” was playing on the PA. I’m generally not a fan of Bono’s brand of messianic uplift, but it was most apropos: “Beautiful Day” over the p.a., beautiful day in PA!
Josh Harrison, who spent the entirety of 2010 with the Curve, was particularly accessible.
During his time with the Curve, Harrison used a rap song written by his brother as his walk-up music. The song, entitled “I’m the Man,” was played for Harrison’s at-bats during the exhibition as well.
While on the field I ran into Adam Erikson, an Altoona radio DJ who will be working as an on-field emcee for the Curve this season.
I hadn’t seen Adam in four years, but we will always bonded by a common semi-traumatic experience. In 2009 we were both contestants in the Curve’s “Outstanding Fan Competition” which involved determining who could continuously touch a life-size bobblehead mascot for the longest amount of time. That’s Erikson, touching Steamer, on the top right.
Me, far left, among those touching Diesel Dawg (my foot was on the base of the statue, promise).
I spent a few moments reminiscing about days past whilst looking longingly into the middle distance, but was broken out of this midday reverie after noticing that players from both teams were trudging toward the outfield. It was picture time!
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle also proved himself adept at the middle distance gaze.
This dude from “Moments Photography” was all business when it came to setting up the shot. Like a Wall Street dominatrix, he had no problem ordering millionaires around.
After lining up a bunch of Curve players and getting them to sit Indian-style, he then proceeded to assemble a row of Pirates.
Mr. Moments Photography kept yelling “Knees, knees, knees, knees, knees” at the Pirate players in the second row, so that they would, you know, kneel. This prompted one player to respond with “That’s what she said!” before retracting the joke in confusion.
From chaos, order:
In which the takers become the taken:
Smile! Or not.
Now here’s where you’ve really got to appreciate good game-day planning. The players’ walk from the outfield back to their respective dugouts was routed down the right field line, where a contingent of local Miracle League players was waiting to high-five them, followed by a quartet of disconcertingly fresh-faced servicemen (who later presented the colors during the National Anthem).
Players high-five, mascots hug. Mascots win.
Pretty much apropos of nothing, but while walking back along the perimeter of the playing field I passed the Pirates (read: visitors) dugout and was very much impressed, both aesthetically and practically speaking, with this trainer’s medicine chest that was propped open on the bench.
Hopefully coming soon(ish) to an obsessive-compulsive Minor League Baseball blog near you: a post detailing the anatomy of a trainer’s medicine chest.
Coming now: a photo of a man with a neck tattoo signing an autograph for a child with a mohawk. Norman Rockwell, 21st century-style!
But A.J. Burnett wasn’t the biggest name to be found at People’s Natural Gas Field. Have you guys ever heard of, oh, I don’t know, Jay Leno?
Actually, that’s Curve mascot Tenacious (the Curve have a lot of mascots), who soon decided to photo-bomb me with his prodigious gut.
Prodigious guts aside, you may have noticed that there is a roller coaster beyond the outfield fence. It is called “The Skyliner,” and is part of an independently-run amusement area called Lakemont Park which also boasts THE OLDEST ROLLER COASTER IN THE WORLD.
Why the Curve don’t have a concession item called “The Skyliner” is a question for another day. A question for now: what Curve-turned-Pirate did broadcaster Mike Passanissi interview during his on-field pre-game show?
That would be Jeff Locke, who during his time with the Curve had a promotion staged in his honor that dealt explicitly with his Lost fandom. Also, he had his intro music chosen by fans via Twitter so that he would never again feel the taint of Lil Jon.
Jeff Locke, ladies and gentleman! Or, to be more specific: Jeff Locke upon being paid a visit by his favorite Curve mascot Al Tuna.
Al Tuna, like Wilmington’s Mr. Celery or State College’s Nookie Monster, is one of those elusive sort of mascots who only appear in-game when the home team scores. But, this being Curve vs. Pirates, he appeared on behalf of BOTH teams in this ballgame. Like a bluebanded goby, Al Tuna is a fish that can go both ways.
More sure of his allegiance is the Pittsburgh Parrot, seen here having a catch with a kid in the stands.
More specifically — a kid with a sweet pill-box hat and rigid follow-through on his throwing motion.
Also boasting an exemplary follow-through motion is Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner, who not only boasts first pitch-throwing prowess — he wears a leather jacket while doing it.
Donnie Iris — Pittsburgh rock legend, National Anthem singer, and consummate jacket-wearer — was impressed.
Donnie would soon have his moment to shine, but first — “World Series-style” team introductions!
But even after this well-calibrated hullabaloo, it still wasn’t Donnie’s time to shine. Curve GM Rob Egan took the field, flanked by a coterie of VIPs, in order to make the announcement that the Pirates and Curve had extended their affiliation another four years. It will now run until the fantastical-sounding year 2018 (during which I will turn 40).
The announcement was made by Curve owner Bob Lozinak, Curve General Manager Rob Egan, Pirates President Frank Coonelly and Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington ….Altoona, which at the end of its previous agreement would have already become the longest-standing Pirates affiliate in the modern era, will strengthen its hold on that mark having been affiliated with the Pirates for 20 consecutive seasons at the end of the newest agreement (1999-2018).
A standing-room only crowd is definitely the best time to make such an announcement. Here’s Coonelly thanking “the best fans” in Minor League Baseball (159 teams disagree, of course, but Curve fans are pretty impressive).
Donnie then sang to the fans, a fitting culmination to a series of touching moments.
That’s life-size bobblehead Diesel Dawg for ya — incessant cranial undulation, but otherwise inert. I missed the guy.
And, hopefully, you missed me writing blog entries such as this. It is now the season! Part Two from Altoona coming soon!
Over the past two weeks I have spent a heroic amount of time combing through the promotional schedules of Minor League full season teams, in search of the best, brightest, weirdest and wackiest innovations that will be on offer during the 2013 campaign.
As always, this was a LOT of information to digest, especially since there are many teams that schedule multiple promotions for each and every contest. Such promo overload is the inevitable result of the industry’s never-ending quest to be all things to all people, and as an added bonus it sometimes provides unintentional comedy fodder. (The best example of this comes courtesy of an Eastern League club that shall remain anonymous, who in 2011 scheduled “Tribute to Michael Jackson” on the same evening as “Boy Scout Sleepover Night.”)
What follows is a brief list of absurd and/or incongruous promo combinations scheduled for the 2013 season. Maybe one of them will be incongruously taking place at a ballpark near you! (And, of course, if you have further examples then please send ‘em my way.)
Akron Aeros — International Juggler’s Day/Thirsty Thursday
This can’t end well.
Kannapolis Intimidators — $2 16 oz Budweiser drafts/Operation Family Time (May 17)
Spending time with the family can be stressful, but the Intimidators are offering a way to take the edge off.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans — Hangover Night/Thirsty Thursday (May 23)
Seems like “Hangover Night” would make more sense on May 24th…
Omaha Storm Chasers — Superhero Cape Giveaway/Diaper Derby (June 8)
Perhaps unprepared Diaper Derby participants could just use the cape?
Lakewood BlueClaws — Cecil Fielder Appearance/Wing Fling (June 12)
While perhaps not quite as rotund as his immodestly-named son, Tigers slugger Prince, there’s no denying that Cecil Fielder was one of the largest individuals to ever don a Major League uniform. He’s scheduled to sign autographs at Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park on June 12, during which the BlueClaws will also be staging a “Wing Fling.” Local restaurateurs will compete in a “best wing” contest, and it seems to me that Cecil would be the perfect judge. And if he’s moved to participate in the scheduled “wing-eating contest”? Forget about it…
Quad Cities River Bandits — “Ghost Rider” Cowboy Monkeys/John Deere Night (June 15)
The Cowboy Monkeys usually ride border collies, but perhaps on this special evening they could ride a tractor instead.
Frederick Keys — Meet the Team/Pajama Night (June 23)
Finally — a socially acceptable way to mingle with professional athletes in an outdoor setting while wearing a bathrobe.
Frederick Keys — Military and Civilians Night (July 31st)
Or, as I like to call it — “Everybody Night.”
Hickory Crawdads — Kids Run the Show/Unemployment Night (August 7)
Well, yeah — when kids are running the show then the adults are out of a job!
I’ve got plenty more where this came from, and I’m sorry if that sounds like a threat.