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.
(Note: On March 4th, the Southern League announced its 2015 Hall of Fame inductees. This post is therefore now updated to include not just my selections, but the actual voting results as well.)
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.”
2015 Inductee: Scott Brosius
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.
2015 Inductees: The voting ended in a tie, so both Fingers and Thomas are going to go in. Here’s hoping that this results in a dual bobblehead promotion.
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.
2015 Inductee: Trevor Hoffman (shocker, I know)
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.
2015 Nominee: Razor Shines
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?
2015 Inductee: Randy Johnson
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.
2015 Inductee: Chipper Jones
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.
2015 Inductee: Turner Ward
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).
2015 Inductee: Lou Whitaker
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.
2015 Inductee: Jason Kendall
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.
2015 Inductee: Carlos Delgado
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.
Final Analysis, now that the inductees have been announced: Seven of the 10 players I chose were inducted. The overall preference among the voters was to prioritize the biggest names, in that regard there are no true “upsets” to be found. It is worth noting that Tony LaRussa went 0-for-2 on the ballot, failing to receive induction as both player and manager.
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.
It took me more than five months to get around to it, but please don’t mistake tardiness for a lack of interest. Today’s post looks back at one of 2014’s most notable Minor League promotions. It is mandatory that you read it:
Major League Baseball has long been concerned with the issue of parity, working to insure that there is a level competitive playing field across the sport. Minor League Baseball, meanwhile, is more concerned with the issue of parody. At no time was this more apparent than this past August 27, when the Altoona Curve staged a night in honor of consummate pop parodist (and one of my personal heroes) “Weird Al” Yankovic.
I have long advocated for a Minor League promotion of this nature (see HERE), and previewed the Curve’s promotion this past August. While there is no wrong time to honor the work of Mr. Yankovic, “Weird Altoona Night” occurred during a particularly noteworthy time of his career. From the Curve press release:
His “Mandatory Fun” album reached #1 on the Billboard pop charts recently and he’s now being championed by his fans to be the entertainment at next year’s Super Bowl. So, the time is right for the Altoona Curve, Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, to celebrate the success of Weird Al Yankovic with “Weird Al(Toona) Night” on Wednesday, August 27. At the same time, the team’s rally mascot, Al Tuna, will play a starring role on the night when the Curve play the Richmond Flying Squirrels in a 7 p.m. game at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
(Note: Please take a moment to appreciate the fact that the Curve play at a stadium named “Peoples Natural Gas Field.”)
I am happy to report that, soon after this promotion took place, the Curve got in touch with photos and a recap. As a result of having recently enjoyed a five-month nap, I am just getting to it now.
Curve director of creative services Mark Milligan writes:
Please see the pictures attached for some of our staff dressed as Weird Al and some sponsor slides that makes me question if I need my college degree for this.
So here we go. Here’s Curve general manager “Weird” Rob Egan, who apparently did the best he could with the wigs that were available from the promo supply closet.
This staffer — who I believe might be ticket associate Luke Johnson — didn’t even wear a wig. Weird Al purists were appalled.
Milligan also sent along the team’s “Weird Al” playlist for the evening. These songs were used for between-inning contests tailored to the “Weird Al” theme. (My commentary on each song is in parentheses.)
— Seat Upgrade – ‘Such a Groovy Guy’
This, a deep cut off of Al’s eponymous 1983 debut album, is an original composition in which Al reveals that his idea of romance involves “pouring chocolate pudding down your pants.” Regardless of the specifics, it is clear that a seat upgrade would make any fan feel groovy.
— Sheetz Shuffle (Find the ball under the hat on the videoboard) – ‘Bob’
This Bob Dylan-themed stylistic parody, from 2003’s Poodle Hat, inspired a spot-on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” parody video. The lyrics consist entirely of palindromes, and yet still sound quintessentially Dylan in content. “God, a red nugget, a fat egg under a dog/Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog.”
— Sheetz Tags (a social media to screen promotion) – ‘Word Crimes’
A parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” which transformed 2013’s misogynistic ear worm into an impassioned screed against flagrant grammar and syntax transgressions. An all-time classic Weird Al track (and video), and for my money the best song on Mandatory Fun.
— Gift Card Giveaway – ‘Bedrock Anthem’
This song is a parody of Red Hot Chili Peppers “Give It Away,” which would of course be far more apropos as regards this contest. Al’s version is about The Flintstones. It’s fine for what it is, but a much better classic TV-themed parody within Al’s oeuvre is 1990’s “Isle Thing” (Tone Loc’s Wild Thing, with lyrics about Gilligan’s Island).
— Minute to Win It (Twinkie Weiner Sandwich eating contest) – ‘Eat It’
“Eat It,” Weird Al’s best-known parody, makes sense in this context. But, given the name of the contest, the Curve could also have opted to go with the nostalgic balladry of 1985’s “One More Minute.” (One of my greatest fourth grade coups was convincing the bus driver to play this song on the way to school). In any case, the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich employed in this between-inning endeavor is a nod to this scene from the 1990 cult classic film UHF:
— Budweiser Thirst Inning – ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ performed by Frankie Yankovic
The Curve took some liberties with this one. While Al and Frankie are both famous accordion-playing Yankovics, they are not related to one another.
— Burrito Scream (burrito coupons given away to screaming fans) – ‘Tacky’
“Tacky,” a parody of Pharrell’s “Happy,” was the first single released off Mandatory Fun. If the team wanted to go deep on this one, they could have chosen the scream-laden midsection of “Nature Trail to Hell in 3D” (the closing song on In 3D).
— Grounds Crew dragging the infield – ‘Handy’
Well, why not? Grounds crew members are the handiest people in the ballpark. This, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” is the leadoff track on Mandatory Fun. “Hardware Store,” one of the strongest tracks off of Poodle Hat, would also have been an acceptable choice.
— T-shirt Launch – ‘Bohemian Polka’
This, off of 1993’s “Alapalooza,” is Al’s polka-fied rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Carry on, carry on.
— Birthday Announcements – “Happy Birthday” played on the accordion
I mean, sure, that works. But I’m very disappointed that the Curve passed on the opportunity to play Al’s “Happy Birthday,” in which birthday wishes are offered amid a dsytopian landscape of poverty, famine and nuclear armageddon. “Well what’s the matter, little thing? You think this party is the pits? Enjoy it while you can, we’ll soon be blown to bits!”
– Eye Ball Race (Hamster ball race) – ‘Rye or the Kaiser’
In which “Eye of the Tiger” is reconfigured, describing a post-retirement Rocky and his new life as a deli proprietor. But given that this is a hamster ball race, it’s a shame that a “Harvey the Wonder Hamster” reference wasn’t worked in at some point.
– Kiss Cam — ‘If That Isn’t Love‘
An Al original off of 2011’s Alpocalypse, in which he extols his gentlemanly bonafides (“I’ll kiss you even if you have omelettes for breakfast, and I can’t stand omelettes.”)
— Sing for Dairy – ‘Amish Paradise’
This, off of 1996’s Bad Hair Day, is one of Al’s best known parodies. The Curve milked it for all that it was worth.
Mascot Race – ‘Another One Rides the Bus’
My favorite Weird Al song of all time is this, a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Y’know, in case you weren’t aware, Al has been doing his thing for quite a while now.
Dessert in Curve, PA — ‘I Love Rocky Road‘
A perfect choice, of course. This, like “Another One Rides the Bus,” “Happy Birthday,” and “Such a Groovy Guy,” can be found on Al’s 1983 self-titled debut. It goes without saying that this album is an all-time classic, probably my favorite of all.
Fan Cam — “Polka Face”
Each Weird Al album includes a polka medley of (more or less) current Top 40 hits. This one, from 2011’s Alpocalypse, includes snippets from the likes of Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum and various other notable ladies (and gents).
Sweetfrog Selfie Winner – ‘Livin in the Fridge’
This is a parody of Aerosmith’s “Livin on the Edge.” I’m not sure what this song has to do with selfies, but I’ll trust the Curve’s judgement on this one.
Chili’s Delivery Dash – ‘Taco Grande’
This homage to Mexican food, from 1991’s Off the Deep End, is a perfect choice for a contest sponsored by Chili’s. “Taco Grande” is a Gerardo parody, not to be confused with Al’s Geraldo parody from the UHF film:
Angry Birds Ballpark – ‘I Can’t Watch This’
Another cut from Off the Deep End. This is a parody of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This,” in which Al rants against the banality of television.
When I started writing this blog post I really had no idea what I was that I was getting myself into, but I suppose that sentiment applies to most of life’s endeavors. At any rate, I hope that, in addition to illuminating my love for Weird Al, that this post illuminates how much detail must go into each and every Minor League Baseball promotion. I commend the Curve for the work they did on “Weird Altoona Night,” and hope that other teams follow suit in 2015 and beyond.
Until next time, I thank you for your continued support.
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 LaMichael Mitchell, a die-hard fan of Charlotte sports in general and the Charlotte Knights in particular.
Why I Love the Charlotte Knights, by LaMichael Mitchell
(Photos courtesy LaMichael Mitchell, unless otherwise indicated)
When you think of sports in Charlotte, North Carolina, what comes to mind? For many of us, it’s the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, who are coming off of a playoff appearance. There are also the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, who are once again using the Hornets name after a 12-year absence, as well as college basketball. But for me, a die-hard Charlotte sports fan, it’s all about spending summer evenings catching a baseball game inside the warm confines of BB&T Ballpark in uptown Charlotte, cheering on my beloved Charlotte Knights.
Back when I was just 10 years old, in 1994, my parents used to take me to Knights games when they played down in Fort Mill, South Carolina. The team’s home in those days was Knights Stadium, and it was there that I learned about the one thing that I love to do when coming to a game: keeping score. That is something that I still do to this very day.
Like many Knights fans, I spent several seasons hoping and wondering: Would the Knights finally come back to a ballpark located within Charlotte city limits? We have a rich and storied baseball heritage here, as Knights alumni include Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. That dream became a reality in 2014, when we finally saw our team return to its rightful home in Charlotte.
I was there for the Opening Night of BB&T Ballpark, in April of last year, and the experience was truly electrifying. Even though the Knights lost in extra innings to the Norfolk Tides, I still had a fun time witnessing a new chapter in Charlotte baseball history. Whenever I attend a game at BB&T Ballpark, I feel welcomed by a warm and friendly staff that is passionate about making the experience at the ballpark fun. This is certainly true of media relations director Tommy “The V” Viola, and also includes the man that made it all happen for the Knights to return home to Charlotte, COO Dan Rajkowski. And I can’t forget Homer the Dragon, as he makes the experience of attending a Charlotte Knights game at BB&T Ballpark fun for kids of all ages.
Along with everything else that I mentioned, I can’t forget about the views. The Charlotte skyline is visible from just about anywhere you sit in the ballpark.
I usually choose the seats in left field, where the Charlotte Panthers’ home of Bank of America Stadium can be seen in the distance. The view from right field isn’t too bad, either.
Baseball in Charlotte has truly been a way of life for over 100 years. With the recent success of BB&T Ballpark in its record-setting inaugural season, it is no wonder why I love coming to a Knights game. The experience is out of this world. If you’re from in and around the Charlotte area, or if you’re planning to make a visit here during the summer, I would like you to check out a Charlotte Knights game at BB&T Ballpark. Once you attend a game, then you will see for yourself that it’s a great way to enjoy a warm summer night here in Charlotte.
Thanks to LaMichael 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 “On the Road” post detailing my Charlotte Knights experience during the 2014 season.
Earlier this month I posted a, uh, post that included one item of recent vintage and one left over from the 2014 season. This endeavor received a rapturous response, as most of my endeavors do, so once again I’m going to utilize this format. We’ll start with something new. It’s more of an update, really, regarding the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ “Fan Photo Contest.” The team’s pitch was as follows:
Want to see your photo on a Season Ticket? Post your favorite Fisher Cats-themed photo on our Facebook page, and it could be featured on a 2015 Season Ticket.
Well, the results are in. Fisher Cat fans such as these will be showcased on season tickets in 2015:
Joseph from Barnstead, who is ready to catch the first pitch:
A triumphant Maureen from Manchester
Ian from Manchester honors America
And so on and so forth. To see all of the winners, go to the Fisher Cats’ Facebook page. I had never seen such a thing done before in the world of Minor League Baseball — correct me if I have overlooked a similar endeavor — and think that it’s a great idea.
Speaking of great ideas…
The Dunedin Blue Jays are located one rung below the Fisher Cats on the Toronto Blue Jays’ organizational ladder. And, this past July, they made baseball history. Therefore, if you care about baseball, history and the intersection of the two, then you will be fascinated by this. I guarantee it:
DUNEDIN, FL –This past Saturday, July 19th, 2014, was a historic day for baseball, as a baseball “first” took place at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. The Dunedin Blue Jays defeated the Jupiter Hammerheads 12-7 in front of an announced crowd of 1,098. But the story actually begins almost two weeks earlier and about 58 miles to the east.
On Sunday, July 6th, the Lakeland Flying Tigers were set to host the Daytona Cubs. The Flying Tigers were looking to bounce back after losing the night before at Joker Marchant Stadium. On this Sunday, though, the Flying Tigers weren’t able to get back on the winning side of things.
Because on Sunday, July 6th, in Lakeland, Florida, it rained.
A ticket from that Cubs/Flying Tigers game was redeemed at the box office here in Dunedin, marking the first time in baseball that a fan has made use of the “Universal Rain Check” policy. This policy was created at the beginning of the 2014 season by the Dunedin Blue Jays, and they are the first and only team in Minor League Baseball to offer this unique rainout program.
The program is set up so that fans from all over Minor League Baseball are able to use a rain check from any MiLB game for admission to a D-Jays game. While the promotion is open to teams from all across the minors, as expected, the first redemption came from a fellow Florida State League game.
“I think it’s awesome that someone made use of it,” said Nate Kurant, the D-Jays director of marketing and social media. “I’m grateful that our GM, Shelby Nelson, allowed us to try something unique and I’m glad that it paid off for at least one fan. Hopefully it gains a little more momentum and more fans take advantage of it, especially here in the FSL.”
Longtime Ben’s Biz Blog readers, of which there are several, will recall that the Universal Rain Check idea can at least partially be attributed to reader Peter Golkin. In 2012, Golkin wrote a guest post in which he advocated for the implementation of the Universal Rain Check throughout Minor League Baseball. This post inspired one of the most robust comments section that this blog has ever seen, an occurrence that always does my heart good.