In 2014, as Opening Day approached, I abandoned my long-time policy of reviewing the books I received in a timely manner. Timeliness is always a priority, of course, but I can’t get them to all while also maintaining my even longer-time policy of reading books that aren’t about baseball.
That said, I still make a dedicated attempt to read the books that are sent to me — it just might take a little while. Case in point: last month’s “Ben’s Bookshelf” MiLB.com article, in which I belatedly reviewed three exemplary MiLB-themed books. Further case in point: this blog post, which is dedicated to my thoughts on James Bailey’s 2014 novel Nine Bucks A Pound. (An article about Bailey’s Durham Bulls-focused debut, The Greatest Show on Dirt, can be found HERE.)
“[The lies] came so fast and furious lately they passed through his lips like carbon dioxide…Too many to count. If each one were a brick, the walls would be so high he’d have to tilt his head back to see the sky.”
The above passage, which closes out a chapter late in James Bailey’s second novel Nine Bucks a Pound, speaks to the heart of the predicament faced by protagonist Del Tanner. Most individuals who find themselves in such situations are sociopaths; a knack for distortion, obfuscation and untruth being a defining characteristic. But Del Tanner is no such individual. He is simply a Minnesota Twins farmhand who possesses marginal, by professional standards, talent. In order to keep his baseball dream from flickering out in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, the Washington state-bred first baseman — a “contact player at a power position” — resorts to steroid use. (The “nine bucks a pound” of the book’s title is a reference to the benefits of Propionate, as Del’s first $180 injection cycle nets him 20 pounds of pure muscle.)
Del is joined in this endeavor by his gleefully immature teammate/roommate Ryan Edsell, their efforts aided and abetted by agent Ian Wicker. Wicker’s motivations are similar to those of his clients, as his professional legitimacy is wholly dependent on having one of them make it to “The Show.” These are quietly desperate people playing a quietly desperate game.
Nine Bucks a Pound follows Del’s career from 2003 through 2010, as he transitions from Minor League roster filler to top prospect to Major League success story. Steroid use plays no small role in his unexpected ascension, but throughout the book the question lingers: Was it worth it? His lies, and the paranoia that accompanies them, place a dark cloud over all that he has accomplished.
Bailey ably handles the above scenario, working to humanize a subset of the baseball community that has been generally been treated with a dismissive scorn. Steroid users may be cheats, frauds, disgraces to the game, or [insert your preferred epithet here], but their detour into chemical enhancement is most likely motivated by the same fears and insecurities that haunt all of us: Fear of failure, fear of being left behind, fear of losing that which defines them. Could it be that they are worthy of our pity? Of our forgiveness? Bailey does not shove these questions down the reader’s throat; they arise simply and organically as the story unfolds.
As a former Baseball America correspondent (and book reviewer), Bailey is well-qualified to tell such a story. He is familiar with the Minor League locales through which Del ascends, as well as the various personalities — agents, scouts, host families, coaches, players and assorted hangers-on — that populate the landscape. Additionally, Bailey did his research, speaking to (unnamed) former players about the drug testing process and to trainers about workout regimens. Nine Bucks A Pound, though a work of fiction, seems real.
Bailey’s emphasis on Del’s personal life — including his somewhat unorthodox parental relationship with dad, Milo, and mom, Gwen — illustrates the psychological cost of living a full-time lie. But my primary criticism of Nine Bucks A Pound is that such a large portion of the narrative is dedicated to Del’s oft-tumultuous relationship with his high school sweetheart, Dana. Bailey is adept at describing the difficulties of maintaining a romantic partnership while living according to the rigorous demands of the baseball schedule, but I never took to Dana as a character. She, in my view, was selfish and materialistic, and I found her and Del’s relationship to be rooted in immaturity and the fear that often results from such an emotional state. I never found myself rooting for them to succeed, because part of life’s growing-up process is the realization that (in most cases) your first love is not equipped to be your life’s love. The lack of an emotional investment in this key plot element resulted in a detraction from my overall enjoyment of the book.
Requisite penultimate paragraph griping aside, Nine Bucks A Pound is well worth purchasing. In providing the perspective of a steroid user, Bailey humanizes the demonized. Yet, he also illustrates the severe consequences, both professional and personal, of their transgressions. As Del Tanner learns, the choice to play dirty is a comparatively easy one. The hard part is coming clean.
It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what it is they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Paul Worley, a long-time supporter of the “abstraction otherwise known as the Charleston baseball club.”
Why I Love the Charleston RiverDogs, by Paul Worley
(All photos by Paul Worley, unless otherwise noted)
Despite what the tourist brochures may tell you, Charleston, South Carolina, is largely a screen for the projection of history. Little could be said to still happen there. The city has stepped outside of the flow of time, as intentionally anachronistic horse-and-carriages echo down streets that are hardly large enough to accommodate the late-model sports cars owned by the men and women who fly back twice a year to take in a bit of salt air from meticulously reproduced antebellum verandas.
As someone who left Charleston to go to school in the mid-’90s, I return home to find that others have moved in, knocked out the walls and rearranged the furniture. Everywhere, that is, with the exception of the ballpark. Bill Murray (yes, THAT Bill Murray, a.k.a. the RiverDogs’ Director of Fun) and the rest of the Goldklang Group brought changes to the team, but as much as possible they have really left things the same. That’s why I love the RiverDogs.
The narrator of Louis D. Rubin Jr.’s 1979 short story about Charleston baseball in the 1930s spends his time in-between innings observing a little train over the outfield fence at College Park, one of the oldest Minor League parks in the country and the RiverDogs’ original home. He tries to catch it coming or going, but never can. He looks up and it’s there, or looks up and it’s gone. The train is either at the station or it isn’t. The train never moves or changes, but it does. It’s an apt metaphor for the team.
In my lifetime, the abstraction otherwise known as the Charleston baseball club has had several names: Patriots, Pirates, Royals, Rainbows and RiverDogs. Before that, the club was known as the Rebels, the Palmettos and the Quakers. Pro baseball in the city was founded in 1886 by two teams: a member of the Southern League of Colored Baseballists called the Fultons; and a Southern Association team known as the Seagulls. Unlike most teams then, the genealogy of the Riverdogs doesn’t lead us back to a single man or single team, but to the segregated legacy of the Jim Crow South that, through baseball, results in a kind of unity. White and black, they’re all founding fathers of Charleston baseball.
The RiverDogs play at Joe Riley Park, shortened by most fans to “The Joe.” Built in 1997, it’s among the new wave of parks whose architects, taking a cue from Baltimore’s Camden Yards, wove the park into the city. From the backside you can look out over the marsh leading onto the Ashley River with Citadel faculty housing tucked beneath a few oak trees on the shore off to the right. The outfield fence is lined with trees hiding the river just beyond with a tall building or two finishing out a modest skyline.
While the RiverDogs go to great lengths to capture the attention of the casual fan, the team has etched South Carolina’s baseball history into the park itself. Camden’s own Larry Doby has his number 14 retired out on the centerfield wall, the forlorn hero of Pickens County, Shoeless Joe Jackson, has a small beach named for him just beyond the right field foul line and there is a “Scouts Hall of Fame” located along the main concourse. Every year, during “Larry Doby Heritage Weekend,” the team hosts members of the Cannon Street All-Stars, an all-African-American Little League team from Charleston who, in 1955, were denied the opportunity to play in the Little League World Series because they’d won all of their games in the segregated South by forfeit.
Before they were a Yankees affiliate, the RiverDogs were one of the original franchises associated with my favorite team, the Tampa Bay Rays, which means I cheer for certain “Yankees as Riverdogs” while still hoping that New York’s American League baseballers finish somewhere north of 100 losses. After all, while they come and go and by definition are trying to get somewhere else, it’s the players who make the Charleston experience meaningful.
Hall of Famers, all-time greats and MVPs have played with the Charleston club, and their names are easy enough to find. I’m a big fan of former RiverDogs catcher Francisco Arcia, who, during a “kids day at the (water)park” a few summers ago, walked around the bullpen area with a Super Soaker hosing down everything within 100 feet of him.
Dante Bichette, Jr. once impressed me with his knowledge of vintage minor league uniforms (I was sporting a Durham Bulls jersey from the mid-1990s signed by former RiverDog and Bull Elliot Johnson). I particularly enjoy talking smack to players in Spanish, and I’ll forever remember the pitcher (name withheld) who turned around to me in the middle of a game and asked me bluntly, “Y tú, ¿quién eres?” My scorecard from that game notes that this conversation lasted from two outs in the top of the fourth until the seventh inning stretch. My favorite Charleston ballplayer of all-time is the late Tom Saffell. His best memory of playing in Charleston occurred during the 1946 season, while running from first base to second on a routine ground ball. The shortstop, having made the pivot and overanxious to get the runner going to first, drilled Saffell, who was trying to break up the double play in the usual way, square in the head. This happened twice in the same game. There should be a plaque somewhere in the park to honor Saffell and the bungled routines that make life memorable.
Players present constantly intersect with players past, and you get the impression that if you could read them correctly, 30-year-old scorecards and discarded tidbits from the news would reveal tomorrow’s starting lineup. Walt “No Neck” Williams managed the Rainbows, so it’s unsurprising that Mason Williams, his nephew, would one day turn up in the RiverDogs outfield. Rob Refsynder had a few choice words for University of South Carolina fans after his Arizona team defeated USC in the 2012 College World Series, so naturally Charleston was his first stop after the Yankees drafted him. If L.J. Mazzilli is starting for the visiting Sand Gnats, expect Lee Mazzilli to materialize in the park. When Dante Bichette, Jr. was with the team, you could look up during the inevitable late August thunderstorm rain delays and find Dante Bichette, Sr. seated two rows up from you, eating a hot dog, drinking a Diet Coke and waiting out the rain with the rest of us who never played an inning beyond Little League.
During the South Atlantic League All-Star Game festivities that were held in Charleston in 2012, I had a chance to speak with the Director of Fun himself. He told me that slip-and-sliding on a tarped field during a rain delay is the best thing in the world, and that if I ever got the chance I should go for it. In honor of Rubin, Saffell, and Arcia, and Cannon Street, and the Fultons and the Seagulls, the next time I’m in Charleston I’ll take him up on it, if only to tell the cops who arrest me, “With God as my witness, Bill Murray told me it was all good.” Because it’s better than good, and it’ll always be home. That’s why I love the Charleston RiverDogs.
Thanks to Paul for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2011 “On the Road” post detailing my Charleston RiverDogs experience.
It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explains what it is they love about their favorite team, and why. Today’s guest writer is Jared Wicks, a Syracuse resident who, over the past decade, has become an ardent supporter of his hometown Chiefs.
Why I Love the Syracuse Chiefs, by Jared Wicks
(All photo courtesy of Jared Wicks, unless otherwise noted)
Growing up in Syracuse, New York, I was taught that there were two teams to root for: Syracuse University basketball and Syracuse University football. If you insisted on watching baseball, then there were New York Yankees games on TV. I was also taught that my family’s income level would only permit attending a few sporting events each season, and always in the upper, upper deck.
In my youth I was familiar with the Chiefs. But, like many people in the area, I never thought much of them. That changed during the 2004 season, when I was 17. I received some free tickets from my sister, so my friends and I decided to head to the ballpark. Why not? The list of things to do in the area on a minimum wage budget were few and far between. That night, after the seventh inning, my friends and I sneaked down to the lower level seats and watched a man named Russ Adams play for Syracuse. He made an impression on us, largely because of the PA announcer’s introduction of “Ruuuussss Ad-dams.” Then, just a few days later, my friends and I were at a local sports bar watching the Toronto Blue Jays play against the New York Yankees. Up to plate came a man whom I had recently been just a few feet away from. Yes, Mr. Ruuuuussss Ad-dams.
Ever since that day I’ve been a die-hard fan. The Chiefs have, without seeming to even try, made me feel important while providing top-notch entertainment. I am certainly not rich, but when I’m at NBT Bank Stadium it’s hard not to feel that way. For a small price, you can sit just a few feet away from the baseball stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Chiefs became my little secret, but it wasn’t long before all of my friends took to the idea of going to games. In the central New York area there aren’t too many entertainment options on a summer night, and it doesn’t get much better than being at the ballpark watching players competing within the highest level of the Minors. From my vantage point in section 105, row 1, I’ve gotten a chance to watch Jayson Werth, Vernon Wells, John Smoltz, Josh Beckett, Melky Cabrera, Bryce Harper and many, many more. I can hear, smell and see everything, and maybe even get to hear the players say “Thank you” after I scream out “Good luck.”
In all the time I’ve been going to games, one of the most important aspects has been getting a chance to meet and become friends with some great people. Unlike bigger sports franchises, Minor League Baseball provides an intimate atmosphere. I have gotten to know many season-ticket holders and fans on a first-name basis — or should I say on a nickname basis? One of my favorites is former season-ticket holder Michael Kendrick. (Or, as we liked to call him, “K Dad.”) Kendrick came to every game from 2005-13, and during this time he was responsible for hanging the strikeout “Ks” for the Chiefs pitchers. He also was known for his heckling of players, which he peppered with unique and obscure facts. He might mention a player’s interests outside of baseball, or call former Yankee prospect Shelly Duncan by his real name (it’s David).
And then there’s Dave, who sits in section 207, row 1 at every single game (and many road games, too). While quiet in nature, Dave boasts a vast knowledge of not just Syracuse Chiefs baseball but also politics, social issues and other areas of sports history. And of course I have to mention Lloyd “The Suspect” Broadnax. We call Broadnax “the suspect” because of the catchphrase he uses while heckling the opposing team: “You’re not a prospect, you’re a suspect!” Broadnax doesn’t stop his heckling for even one minute during the game. The writer of this blog, Ben Hill, learned that this past season. Hill was trying to interview him, and during the interview Broadnax would only answer his questions in-between pitches.
(That article can be found HERE).
As if I didn’t already have enough reasons to love the Chiefs, management at the ball yard changed hands prior to the 2014 season. Jason Smorol was named general manager, and everything that I always said I would love to do if I owned a Minor League team came to life during his first season. Smorol brought an unmatched energy to the ballpark, introducing great games, promotions, deals and themes that made you not want to miss a single game.
One night, during a rain delay, the Chiefs set up a free miniature golf course on the concourse. I mean, how cool is that?
One promotion that I really became a part of was Tattoo Night. This promo offered me a chance at two great things: One, to get a free Syracuse Chiefs’ logo tattoo, courtesy of the Chiefs and sponsor Carmelo’s Ink City. Two, that very tattoo now grants me free admission for life to all Chiefs games.
Regardless of the tattoo, the Chiefs are well worth the five dollar cost of admission. They have provided me with years of not just entertainment, but memories. Summer nights with friends, enjoying dollar hot dogs, talking about work and family, watching fireworks, laughing at monkeys dressed as cowboys riding dogs and even seeing things like a perfect game by Columbus Clipper Justin Germano and a four-homer game by the Chiefs’ Michael Aubrey. And last season I — and the whole city — was provided with a real chance to get excited. The Chiefs made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1998 and won their first division title since 1989.
Being a fan of the Chiefs has also given me an opportunity to visit other great cities, simply by following the team. Day trips to Rochester, Scranton and even Cooperstown to see them play have allowed me to explore those cities.
Shopping, zoos and landmarks lead to great day trips, which still cost under $100 for two people (including game tickets, gas and food). I even got a chance, in 2011, to watch the Chiefs play the Pawtucket Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston. The seats we had would have cost $150 face value at a Red Sox game, but they only cost me $22 and that was for a doubleheader.
The cuisine at any ballpark is great, superior to any other sports option in Syracuse. The Chiefs sell Hoffman’s Hot Dogs, a central New York staple, a dog so good that Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach became investors. The Chiefs sell these hot dogs at the same price that it would cost you to make one at home and, on Thursdays, for even less than that. My love of all things Canada is satisfied with poutine, and there are also pulled pork sandwiches, salt potatoes (a New York specialty) and even a burger with a hot dog on top of it.
I have recently changed my goals in life, from working as a correction officer to returning to school. I now want to work in sports, preferably Minor League Baseball, and it’s all thanks to the Chiefs. I love this team because they love me right back. Unlike at Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field, there is something to be said for watching a sports team whose staff knows your name, whose ushers know your seat and whose players smile when they hear you say something funny.
While other sports fans in New York may struggle to obtain custom license plates of their favorite teams — they’re all taken — GoChiefs was available for me as a way to show my pride. Summer is meant to be spent outdoors, and in central NY there is no cheaper or better option than the Syracuse Chiefs.
Thanks to Jared for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2014 “On the Road” post detailing my Syracuse Chiefs experience. Jared even makes a cameo:
April 27, as you well know, is “National Tell A Story Day.” The Akron RubberDucks, seeking to commemorate this beloved annual occasion, were recently struck with a burst of inspiration: Why not pay tribute to disgraced NBC news anchor Brian Williams, a man who has recently proven himself to be a storyteller par excellence?
— Akron RubberDucks (@AkronRubberDuck) February 11, 2015
And here we go, the first Minor League promo to be inspired by the Lies of Brian, live and direct from the (Sa)Tire City. It is sure to anchor the RubberDucks’ promo schedule, and if you don’t like that they’re doing it, I simply refer to you this piece of apparel that can be found in the team store:
And now, in the interest of maintaining my own impeccable journalistic credentials, I will now unquestioningly quote the team’s press release at length:
[Brian Williams Pants on Fire Night] will feature an array of storytelling-related fun. Highlights include:
- First 100 fans will receive a pair of suspenders upon entering Canal Park
- On-field contests, including “To Tell the Truth” and “Two Truths & a Brian Williams,” also known as “Two Truths and a Lie”
- In honor of National Tell a Story Day, a fan named Brian Williams will read tall tales
- A between-inning chance for fans to audition to be the next television news anchor on the video board, with the fan-voted winner’s video sent to NBC
- A pair of pants from Brian Williams will be burned in a “pants on fire” ceremony
- Any fan in attendance named Brian Williams will have a chance to throw out a ceremonial first pitch
I’m guessing that the suspenders will help suspend fans’ belief that such a ridiculous promotion is actually taking place. I would also like to know how, exactly, that the RubberDucks’ plan to obtain a pair of Brian Williams’ pants for the on-field “pants on fire” ceremony. Did they have just so happen to have a pair lying around, right next to Brokaw’s blazer and a pair of Cronkite cuff links? I heard a rumor they also might have a pair of Dan’s underwear, but I’d Rather not go there.
Either way, I’m looking forward to April 27. Here’s hoping the RubberDucks actually go through with this promo, and don’t later claim that the idea had, in fact, been shot down.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a more good-natured media-themed Eastern League promo announced in the late afternoon of February 10, the Trenton Thunder would like you to know about this:
Further strengthening my Pulitzer credentials, I once again defer to the press release in lieu of any journalistic legwork whatsoever:
Last night, Mercer County native Jon Stewart (Lawrence, NJ) announced his plans to leave Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” after a historic run as the show’s anchor for over 16 years. Stewart mentioned that he had looked forward to having dinner on a school night with his family and that he had heard from multiple sources that they “are lovely people.”
Your Thunder proudly extend an official invitation to Mr. Stewart to enjoy a game in the family-friendly environment of ARM & HAMMER Park.
Stewart, a well-known Mets fan, is welcome to attend the Binghamton Mets’ only visit to ARM & HAMMER Park during a four-game series beginning on July 23. That weekend the Thunder will giveaway CC Sabathia bobbleheads presented by TD Bank (July 24 to the first 2,000 fans ages 14 and over) and have two opportunities to watch fireworks shows (July 23 and 25). On Sunday July 26, the first 1,000 fans (age 14 and over) through the gate will get a duffle bag, and after the game, kids can run the bases courtesy of TD Bank.
My sources (aka “the voices in my head that compel me to keep writing nonsense long after people have stopped reading”) tell me that the Thunder briefly considered extending a similar invite to Stewart’s The Daily Show predecessor. That idea, however, was Kilborn.
It’s time for another “Why I Love” guest post, in which a Minor League fan explains what it is they love about their favorite team, and why. Today’s guest writer is Ken Childs, a proud resident of Durham, North Carolina and, therefore, a proud fan of the Durham Bulls.
Why I Love the Durham Bulls, by Ken Childs
(All photos courtesy of Ken Childs)
I’ve been a resident of the beautiful city of Durham, North Carolina my entire adult life. The city has transformed over the last 14 years from what was almost an afterthought of a place into a bustling center for local restaurants, shopping and the arts. And in the middle of all that growth has been (and always will be) the Durham Bulls.
You’ve probably heard the name: There was a little indie movie made about the Bulls in the 1980s that did okay. The players who have come through here have shaped the Major League Baseball landscape for quite some time. The Bulls have been a consistent model of how teams should be run, and that has been shown in their continual trips to the Governors’ Cup playoffs. The list of “what’s not to like” about the Bulls, their home of Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) and their organization as a whole wouldn’t be long enough to fill out an index card, let alone this space, so we’ll go with “what there is to like” and ramble on for a while all about it!
Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which opened in 1995, is considered “older” now, at least when compared to the Minor League Baseball building boom that’s come about over the last decade or so. Nonetheless, you likely won’t find a nicer stadium anywhere. On any given summer night, on the corner of Blackwell and Jackie Robinson, you’ll find families, friends, couples and desperately single guys alike settled in the beautiful 10,000 seat stadium to take in not only great baseball, but great entertainment in general. And the building itself is what those new stadiums aim to be. You want your Minor League park to be a smaller version of a Major League stadium, downtown, near lots of restaurants and things to do both before and after the game? The DBAP has long been that, before most new stadiums were even a glimmer in an architect’s eye.
The DBAP has its own little quirks that make it like no other: There’s the bull (of Hit Bull, Win Steak fame), Jackie’s Landing (the nicest bar in Durham), the Blue Monster, the grass in the outfield entire families sit on to enjoy a game on a weekend evening and no other shortage of things that make it unique.
For a facility of its caliber, and a team of its caliber, the Durham Bulls are just about as budget-friendly as their mascot, Wool E Bull, is family-friendly (the “E” is short for “Education”…seriously).
The Bulls offer dollar hot dog nights, the best fireworks show anywhere (your town’s 4th of July show pales in comparison, I promise) and lots of great coupons and deals to get in on the cheap. And, even if you don’t, the most expensive ticket in the place is $15. Admit it: in the past, you’ve spent a lot more on a lot less.
So that’s what there is to love, in general, about the Durham Bulls. Now, why do I love them? For starters, they’re my hometown team. At heart I’m a Chicago White Sox fan, and their Triple-A team is down the road in a lesser city in North Carolina playing in the same International League division. But when they come to town, you can only root for one team, and that’s going to be the hometown one (even if the Bulls are an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays).
At heart I’m a “people person” kind of guy, and the Bulls’ entire staff are the same way. From Jatovi (the Bulls on-field announcer and master of ceremonies) to general manager Mike Birling and everyone in between, there’s not a single person who won’t go out of their way to help a fan make his or her experience amazing. I’m not a needy guy, but anytime I’ve ever had any issue with anything, there was someone there in a Bulls shirt to lend a hand.
I’m also a sucker for food and cheeky events, and the Bulls have me covered that department as well. There’s Food Truck Rodeo night, where all of Durham’s best food trucks (and we have many) line up in right field. There’s craft beer night, ’80s night, ’90s night and the always popular Bark in the Park night. The concessions have everything from traditional ballpark food to taco stands to what is truly some of the best BBQ anywhere. So, whatever you’re in the mood for, DBAP most likely offers it. The on-field action is always great, but sometimes it’s that little extra fun in-between innings that makes the night special.
And, of course, there’s the baseball itself. The roster is generally made up of outstanding players who are also outstanding people. Hardly ever do you see a player skip a chance to sign an autograph, grab a picture with a fan or flip an extra ball to a kid in the first few rows. Great players like David Price, Wil Myers, Chris Archer, Craig Albernaz, Desmond Jennings and so many more have spent substantial time here in Durham, and this has led to the knowledge that, at any given ballgame, you’re seeing the future of baseball right before your eyes.
The Bulls are always in the hunt for the playoffs, and since moving to Durham in 2001 I’ve seen them win the International League championship four times. Baseball is always a little bit more fun when your team is winning, and that is rarely a problem here in Bull City.
In short, there are a lot of baseball teams out there, but none are as great as the Durham Bulls. Candlesticks always make a nice gift, but Bulls tickets might be just a little bit nicer.
Thanks to Ken for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2011 “On the Road” post detailing my Durham Bulls experience.
For the most recent edition of “Minoring in Business,” I wrote about establishing Halls of Fame in the Minor Leagues and the tricky issues that that endeavor raises. The piece begins thusly:
Minor League Hall of Fame.
To some, this is an inherently contradictory concept. How can there be a Hall of Fame for individuals who competed within a professional baseball realm that, by its very definition, exists only as a proving ground and launching pad for greater accomplishment?….How does one establish the criteria for a Minor League Hall of Famer? What is the voting and induction process? And will this Hall of Fame occupy a physical space or simply exist within a virtual realm?
I then attempted to justify the reasoning that has led 11 leagues across Minor League Baseball to establish a Hall of Fame, using the Southern League as an example.
Why the Southern League? For one, this Double-A circuit is the most recent Minor League to have established a Hall of Fame, having done so in 2014 as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. And, not insignificantly, they had asked me, earlier in the week, to be one of 31 voters on their 2015 Hall of Fame class. This marks the first year that the Southern League has factored outside voting into the equation, as in 2014 they simply allowed each of the 10 teams in the league to choose their inaugural inductee. This year, each team has submitted multiple nominees. The process, per Southern League Hall of Fame Committee head Jason Compton:
As you know, the SL HOF is in its infancy and is still very much a work in progress. During our December, 2014 Hall of Fame Committee Meeting, it was decided that we would allow one (1) inductee from each organization in the 2015 class. So, you are to vote for one (1) nominee from each organization.
As a voter, I thought it would be fun and educational (my two favorite activity qualifiers) to share the ballot with you and explain the reasoning behind my choices. I may not be a BBWAA member, but BBWAA nonetheless is an apt acronym for how I hope you feel about me: Ben’s Biz Writes Awesome Articles.
And now, to the ballot! If you have any critiques or criticisms of my reasoning, then please let them be known. In true Hall of Fame fashion, let’s make this as contentious as possible.
Team: Biloxi Shuckers (choosing on behalf of their previous iteration, the Huntsville Stars)
Nominees: Scott Brosius (player, 1989-90), Rocky Coyle (1985-1986), Jimmy Jones (1987-88)
My Pick: Jimmy Jones
Why: This slate of choices is indicative of the murky criteria that surrounds virtually all Minor League Hall of Fame elections. Should priority go to future Major League stars or those who made the most impact in the Minor League cities in question? I may not vote consistently as regards this conundrum. My preference, on the whole, is to go with those in the latter category, especially when the future Major League standout (in this case, Brosius) is not of superstar caliber and/or did not accomplish anything spectacular in the Minor League city in question.
Per the “supporting information” PDF that was included with my ballot, Rocky Coyle played two seasons with the Stars and was named “Star of the Decade” at the conclusion of the team’s first 10 seasons as a result of his community-friendly approach. I went with Jones, however, despite his negligible impact on the playing field. Upon retiring as a player, Jones remained in Huntsville and became a team and community fixture. Per the supporting information:
“Never asking for anything in return, Jimmy has taken the road from the Minor League Baseball player to the consummate supporter of everything happening at the ballpark. Our experience with Jimmy has gone way past player, season ticket holder, or friend of the team…he’s essentially become a family member that the team can’t live without.”
Team: Birmingham Barons
Nominees: Rollie Fingers (1967-68, Birmingham A’s), Frank Thomas (1990)
My Pick: Frank Thomas
Why: Okay, so now the choice is simply between two big league Hall of Famers who passed through Birmingham en route to superstardom. So what criteria should I apply here? The strength of the numbers that they put up in Birmingham? Whom I feel had the most impressive career overall? I went with Thomas, simply because he was extraordinary as a member of the 1990 Barons (Baseball America 1990 Player of the Year, including an unreal .487 OBP). His time with the club was more indicative of future success than Fingers, who was primarily a starter throughout his two seasons in Birmingham.
Team: Chattanooga Lookouts
Nominee: Trevor Hoffman (1991-92)
My Pick: Trevor Hoffman
Why: They didn’t leave me a choice! I’ve got nothing against Trevor Hoffman, but, c’mon Chattanooga. Up your nominating game.
Team: Jackson Generals (nominating on behalf of their previous iteration, the Memphis Chicks)
Nominees: Charlie Lea (1978-80, Memphis Chicks), Razor Shines (1981-83, Memphis Chicks)
My Pick: Charlie Lea
Why: Both Lea and Shines played three seasons in Memphis, and both put up generally solid if generally unspectacular numbers. Shines has gone on to manage in the Southern League (he spent 2014 looking out for the Lookouts), but he made his biggest impact as a player with Triple-A Indianapolis and not the Double-A Memphis Chicks.
Lea, however, was a Memphis icon. He grew up in the city, went to college there, and later broadcast games for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds (he passed away in 2011 at the age of 54). And while it’s a very small sample size, his 1980 season with the Chicks was a thing of beauty: Nine starts, nine wins, seven complete games, three shutouts, and an ERA of 0.84. That effort earned him a promotion to the Montreal Expos, for whom he would pitch seven seasons.
Team: Jacksonville Suns
Nominees: Randy Johnson (1987 Jacksonville Expos), Gabe Kapler (1998), Larry Walker (1987 Jacksonville Expos)
My Pick: Randy Johnson
Why: In this case, we have three recognizable names, each of whom played one season with the Suns. Kapler’s 1998 season in Jacksonville was truly spectacular (28 home runs, 146 RBIs, .976 OPS) and Walker was a force to be reckoned with as well (26 homers, 83 RBIs, .917 OPS). Both men were better during during their one season in Jacksonville than was Johnson. The future pigeon killer was solid (11-8, 3.73 ERA) but predictably wild (128 walks in 140 innings) during the 1987 campaign. Still, I went with Johnson because, well, it’s Randy Johnson. The Big Unit is set to be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer; why not now take the opportunity to immortalize him in the Southern League as well?
Team: Mississippi Braves (nominating on behalf of previous iteration the Greenville Braves)
Nominees: Steve DeSalvo (executive, 1987-2004 Greenville Braves, 2005-present Mississippi Braves), Tom Glavine (1986 Greenville Braves), Chipper Jones (1992 Greenville Braves)
My Pick: Chipper Jones
Why: DeSalvo has a very distinguished track record as a Southern League executive, and there’s no doubt that he will one day be enshrined in the league’s Hall of Fame. But the Southern League Hall of Fame is a new creation, and in the early going it’s probably better to induct candidates who have a little more sex appeal (with all due respect to Mr. DeSalvo’s sex appeal). I went with Jones over Glavine because, as the first pick of the 1990 draft, he came into the Southern League with high expectations and proceeded to meet them and then some. He hit .346 with Greenville over 67 games, compiling a .961 OPS in the process. That 1992 squad went on to win 100 games, a very rare feat in Minor League Baseball.
Team: Mobile BayBears
Nominees: Tony LaRussa (player, Mobile A’s 1965-67), Turner Ward (manager, 2011-12)
My Pick: Turner Ward
Why: Tony LaRussa is known as a manager, not a player, so I did not want to select him for enshrinement in that capacity. That leaves Ward, who, yes, is better known as a player (he played in the Major Leagues for 12 seasons). But Ward has genuine Southern League managerial bonafides, as he piloted the BayBears to back-to-back championships in 2011-12. That 2012 team finished with a losing record, but no matter. A championship’s a championship.
Team: Montgomery Biscuits
Nominees: Steve Grilli (1972-73 Montgomery Rebels), Gabriel Martinez (2003, 2005-09), Lou Whittaker (1977 Montgomery Rebels)
My Pick: Lou Whitaker
Why: Kudos to Montgomery for nominating such a diverse group of candidates, as here we have a pitcher for two championship teams (Grilli), a 21st century mainstay (Gabriel Martinez) and a bonafide star (Lou Whitaker). One could make a case for any of them, I think, but I went with Whitaker primarily because, last season, Alan Trammel was selected for the Southern League’s inaugural Hall of Fame class. It only seems fitting that his long-time double play partner should now join him. (Whitaker and Trammel were Montgomery teammates in 1977, marking the first of 19 seasons in which they played together).
Team: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (nominating on behalf of previous iteration the Carolina Mudcats)
Nominees: Trent Jewett (manager, 1995), Jason Kendall (1994-95), Tony Womack (1993, 1995)
My Pick: Jason Kendall
Why: In choosing these nominees, the Blue Wahoos clearly had notable alumni of their 1995 champion Mudcats squad on the brain. Jewett was the manager, and future Pirates standouts Kendall and Womack were key components. This was a tough choice and, honestly, none of them jumped out at me. I went with Kendall because his 1995 season was truly impressive, as he hit .326 and struck out just 22 times in 429 at-bats.
Team: Tennessee Smokies (nominating on behalf of previous iterations the Knoxville Smokies and Knoxville Sox)
Nominees: Chris Carpenter (Knoxville Smokies, 1995-96), Carlos Delgado (1993 Knoxville Smokies), Tony LaRussa (manager, 1978 Knoxville Sox)
My Pick: Tony LaRussa
Why: I couldn’t get behind Mobile’s nomination of LaRussa as a player, but as a manager? No problem. LaRussa made his managerial debut with the 1978 Knoxville Sox, leading them to an 88-56 record. He then joined the Chicago White Sox coaching staff at the end of the season, and in 1979 was named manager of the White Sox. The rest, as they say, is history. Carpenter and Delgado are solid nominations as well, and I imagine that as the years go on they, too, will be inducted into the Southern League Hall of Fame.
So there you have it: the logic (or lack thereof) behind my Southern League Hall of Fame ballot. I find this to be an interesting, if not somewhat absurd, process, and enjoyed putting this together. So what are your thoughts? Who would YOU have voted for, and why? Let me know, in the comments section, on Twitter, or send me an email. I’d like to hear from you.
As we approach the 2015 season, one thing that has been made abundantly clear is that there is no love lost between the Fresno Grizzlies and Sacramento River Cats.
The rivalry between the two Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division clubs took an interesting twist upon the conclusion of the 2014 season when the San Francisco Giants severed ties with Fresno, their long-time Triple-A affiliate, in favor of Sacramento. It’s the Minor League Baseball equivalent of getting jilted by a long-time lover in favor of an enticing seductress.
This turn of the events left Fresno scrambling for a new affiliate (the Houston Astros, as it turned out) as well as a new identity. After all, a Giants affiliation was all that the team had ever known. In November, I wrote a piece about the Grizzlies’ marketing strategy in the wake of San Francisco’s departure, which included this quote:
“We’ve started a “Growlifornia”-themed marketing campaign, revolving around our unique California vibe,” said Grizzlies marketing director Sam Hansen. “When California revolted against Mexico [in 1846] it was called the ‘Bear Flag Rebellion.’ That’s why the California state flag has a bear on it. We’re celebrating the Bear Flag Rebellion of 2015, because people here in Fresno feel that rebellious sort of pride. This is our own unique region, and our affiliation with Houston is going to help us get back to those roots.”
But then a funny thing happened. In December, the River Cats co-opted a key element of the Grizzlies’ “Growlifornia” campaign by announcing a California state flag theme jersey promotion of their very own. Sacramento is the capital of California, after all. That’s all the justification they needed.
This River Cats’ promotion did not sit well with the Grizzlies, and a feisty Twitter war between the two clubs ensued.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) December 2, 2014
.@RiverCats It’s more of a symbol than a piece of ownership. If anyone calls dibs it’s the people that first raised the flag in 1846.
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) December 2, 2014
.@RiverCats History never dies. Let us know if your capital ego wants to claim anything else.
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) December 2, 2014
The Grizzlies may have been bruised by that turn of events, but they were certainly not beaten. River Cats, Schmiver Cats. You want a California flag theme jersey? This is a California flag theme jersey. And, what’s more, it will be worn during the first home stand of the season. Consider the tone set.
The Grizzlies’ theme jersey unveiling came one day after the team posted an open letter from executive vice president Derek Franks, entitled “The Bear Flag Rebellion Begins Now.” A relevant excerpt:
There’s a shift happening around this organization and it’s brought the community together more than ever. No matter what you hear, this team is not a trend or a fad. Fresno Grizzlies baseball is a way of life and one that is unapologetically Central Californian. We’re going to flip the script of what you expect from a Minor League Baseball team this season. Don’t believe us? We’ll prove you otherwise.
And — BREAKING — just before this blog post went to “press” yet another war of the words broke out between these two distinguished entities. Theme jerseys sure are a contentious topic!
Only two weeks until pitchers and catchers report, so we’re showing off our awesome 2015 theme night jerseys: pic.twitter.com/W0a9518NED
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 4, 2015
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) February 4, 2015
.@FresnoGrizzlies You’re still mad that we released our California jerseys before you did, huh?
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 4, 2015
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) February 4, 2015
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 4, 2015
— Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) February 5, 2015
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 5, 2015
Whew! This beef is hotter than a cattle ranch on Venus. Clearly, Fresno is going to remain on the offensive and, clearly, Sacramento aren’t going to back down from a challenge. And when it comes to the River Cats on Twitter, engage at your own risk. During the 2013-14 offseason, the Reno Aces learned this the hard way:
.@aces River Cats are aquatically inclined felines with extremely flexible necks, developed from looking down at Reno in the standings.
— River Cats (@RiverCats) December 4, 2013
In many parts of the country, the temperature is below freezing and ballparks are blanketed in snow. Images such as these are commonplace:
The thought of warm weather, freshly cut grass and nightly baseball games may seem remote at the moment but Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster (and author) Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is here to remind us Opening Day will soon be upon us.
In this guest post, Goldberg-Strassler channels his inner Ernest Thayer via this offseason-themed rendition of the classic baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.” I recommend that this be read aloud, whilst utilizing the most stentorian tone that can be mustered:
The skies were grim in Mudville, snow blanketing the ground.
The wind was fierce and wicked and the flu was going ‘round.
Elsewhere throughout the nation ’twas football tackling the day,
Mudvillians cared naught for this, nor for the NBA.
Just one sport could sway their hearts, on this they hung their reason,
The national pastime was still at rest, in the thick of the offseason.
But now Christmas had come and gone, a new year was at hand,
Hall of Fame debate dissipated; Opening Day was being planned.
They knew how last year finished, a reminiscence far from fond,
Mighty Casey choked the game away, leaving two ducks on the pond.
Yet here their hope bloomed anew, banishing all strife;
Last week a columnist reported: “He’s in the best shape of his life.”
Add to the new Nine roster the gigantic lefty Hill,
A first-rate fireballer costing over $200 mill.
The free agent haul continued with first baseman Steel Magliore,
Projecting 42 roundtrippers (not to mention solid WAR).
Good riddance to old Cooney, farewell to lulu Flynn,
Two traitors chasing paychecks; too bad they’ll never win.
“The Mudville Nine are flawless; ’twill be a special year,”
Mighty Casey modestly proclaimed, with no hint of a sneer.
“We’ve learned from any past mistakes, if you catch my drift –
And, no, I s’pose, I’m not opposed, should they act to ban the shift.”
These words did bring Mudvillians strength, all through a hailstorm night,
As if the ice were gopher balls, being blasted out of sight.
Now from the Twitter feed there rose a mighty tweet,
It swept through the school halls, it echoed in the street.
It caromed across Facebook, filt’ring into Instagram
One grandmother proudly printed it and shared it with her fam.
What was it? A picture of a sunset above the field of play,
And the words, modestly imposed, “65 days away.”
Thanks to Jesse Goldberg-Strassler for sharing his work, and thank you for reading it. Regular Ben’s Biz Blog programming will resume shortly.