Hey, it’s Opening Day! No fooling!
The time for fooling was Monday, of course, and as usual there were several Minor League teams who attempted to prank their fans. The Lowell Spinners helped to spread a rumor that, due to concerns about the weather, the Boston Red Sox’s home opener was being moved to LeLacheur Park, while the Bowling Green Hot Rods claimed that the team would take a cue from the 1976 Chicago White Sox and begin wearing shorts on the field. But the day’s winner was the Tennessee Smokies, who were able to convince some of their more gullible Facebook fans that they were re-branding themselves as the “Tennessee Browns.”
Meanwhile, in South Bend, one of the Silver Hawks’ most recent improvements to Coveleski Stadium only sounds like an April Fool’s prank. But this somewhat emasculating visitor’s locker room is gloriously, hilariously real:
When I first heard about this bold stadium “improvement,” I thought it might indeed be a joke. But Silver Hawks president Joe Hart confirmed in an email that “as you can see, they certainly are pink. It is the entire locker room, bathrooms, hallways, showers and even pink urinals and sinks.”
Yes — pink potties!
“The idea came from our owner, Andrew Berlin,” Hart went on to write. “[It] just came from wanting to be a little different and give people something fun to talk about. I know the University of Iowa did it years ago to the visiting locker room for football and we had just never heard of it being done for baseball. We figured if we can get people talking about the Silver Hawks across the country than it is a success.”
Oh, this will get people talking all right. My thoughts immediately turned to the visiting teams themselves — I can see many players and coaches thinking this is absolutely hilarious, but won’t there be some who consider this radical redecoration an affront to their dignity?
“We are not too worried,” wrote Hart of potential negative reactions. “I am sure we will hear some comments but it really is something done in fun. We just wanted to make sure when the visiting teams remembered their time in South Bend.”
And thus concludes the first post of the 2013 season, the sixth in the history of this blog and my ninth whilst in the employ of MiLB.com.
Minor League Baseball — it is happening again!
Part one of this blogging odyssey, detailing Saturday’s packed-to-the-gills Altoona Curve vs. Pittsburgh Pirates exhibition game, was comprised of 1645 words and 39 photos. And, yet, by the time it ended I STILL hadn’t made it to the game’s first pitch.
It was just that kind of afternoon — so much was going on that it was hard to keep track of it all. A franchise record 10, 166 fans were in attendance, and the Curve used the occasion to announce a four-year extension of their affiliation with the Pirates and also let it drop that they would be hosting the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game. (I got tired just writing that sentence.)
But as for the action on the field, a casual “Go Everybody! (Just don’t get hurt!”) vibe prevailed. This sign on the concourse sums it up perfectly:
As for those fans that were welcomed back — there sure were a lot of them. As the game got underway, I took a lap around the grounds of People’s Natural Gas Field in order to get a sense of what the largest crowd in franchise history looked like. 10,166 Altoona Curve fans can’t be wrong.
I saw much during my wanderings, but perhaps my favorite example of creative sponsorship was this: signs such as the one below could be found at many staircases, reminding fans that they could burn (as many as 25) calories simply by walking up and down them.
Interesting signage abounds. The team has branded the ballpark as its own standalone town, Curve PA, which is represented in a consistently cartoonish fashion courtesy of resident artist/director of mascot and brand development Bill Bettwy.
First, for context’s sake, Curve PA’s immediate surroundings:
The GM recommends:
There is also the “Curverogie” — Ham, Pierogies, Onions, Cheese, and, crucially, more Ham.
The Curve are also well-known for their Curve Burgers, with several people telling me via Twitter last week that I needed to procure one. But here’s the thing, guys: I was diagnosed with celiac disease last year, and have been following a gluten-free diet for the last 10 months. This has severely limited my ballpark food options, a limitation I hope to overcome my recruiting a “designated eater” at each ballpark I visit.
But this trip to Altoona was Spring Training for me as well, and I wasn’t as prepared on the concessions front as I should have been. A designated eater had not been found, so no Curve Burgers were had. Instead, I ordered some BBQ Pork Nachos. (Which, in retrospect, were almost certainly not gluten-free. I really was off of my game.)
These nachos were great, as nachos by definition are great. (A quick aside: Standalone “Nacho Bar” concession areas are something I would love to see more teams do, as with a little thought they can accommodate gluten-free and vegetarian diets without seeming like some sort of sad consolation prize for those with restrictions.)
So, anyway, yeah — I did not get a Curve Burger, nor do I have any pictures of the Curve Burger. Someone please send me some pictures, and I will gladly post them along with your commentary regarding how good Curve Burgers are.
All of this culinary hand-wringing led me to seek refuge in the press box for a bit, as I cleared my head and plotted my next move.
And the next move was obvious: “Quit feeling sorry for yourself and get back out there!”
Earlier in the day I had been informed that an on-field “Mascot Mayhem” race would be taking place on the field after the fourth inning, involving characters from both the Curve and Pirates’ costumed character universe. I descended into the bowels of the stadium in order to find the mascots who would be participating, and knew I was on the right trail once I came across this “Only in Minor League Baseball” tableau.
It is not often that one sees Pierogies in their natural habitat!
I briefly caught a glimpse of the Pittsburgh Parrot as well…
Perhaps inevitably, I was soon recruited to be a “Mascot Mayhem” direct participant. I might not be able to eat hot dogs in this gluten-free reality (at least not with the bun), but I can damn sure dress up as them. It was really hard to document anything once I was in the costume, but I did manage this hot dog selfie:
A Hot Dog eye view of the game action:
As for the “Mayhem” itself, I have no idea what happened. I just tried to avoid Steamer, Tenacious, the Pirate Parrot and everyone else in the cavalcade of pierogies, sumo wrestlers, and jousters streaming past me. I was winded afterwards, and keenly aware of my need to get in shape for the oncoming mascot race season. Anyone have a workout plan to recommend?
Still panting, and with the hot dog costume removed (physically, if not psychically), I made it back to the concourse just in time to see Curve GM Rob Egan, Eastern League president Joe McEacharn and Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner take the field to make a VERY SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT.
Down in front!
What this esteemed troika of Minor League personnel was on the field to announce was this: The Curve will host the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game.
Perhaps the Eastern League All-Star Game is out for vengeance? The last time the Curve hosted the event, in 2006, they set a franchise record by drawing 9,308 fans and this record was broken during Saturday’s exhibition game. Will the 2014 version of the contest set the record anew?
“To announce [the All-Star Game] on a very special day like this reinforces the commitment this franchise has made to the community,” said McEacharn, and his sentiments summed up the spirit of the afternoon. Between the All-Star Game announcement and the announcement made earlier in the day that the Curve and Pirates affiliation had been extended until 2018, Saturday was all about celebrating and re-affirming what the Curve have accomplished throughout their 15 seasons of existence.
I’d write more on all of this, but, man, it just smells so good around here. It’s the nuts!
Seriously, these things are just fantastic. Seeing them there in the roasting pan, glistening in their own juices, almost brought a tear to my (metaphorically) jaundiced eye.
Less successful was the edible sand being sold down by the kid’s Fun Zone, but I have faith that, over time, the fans will come to see the brilliance of this innovative product. Why go against the grain?
Or maybe at this point there was simply too much dessert going around. Here’s Steamer throwing Kit Kats into the crowd at the conclusion of the seventh inning.
The Curve put the finishing touches on their 8-6 victory over Pittsburgh just a few innings later, providing incredulous joke fodder for days to come. “The Pirates can’t even beat their own Minor League team?”
But, on this afternoon, it didn’t matter to anyone who won or lost. All that mattered is that they played the game.
March 30′s exhibition game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and their Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve was, in one sense, meaningless. The Curve won 8-6, and would have won by more if Tony Watson hadn’t surrendered a second-inning grand slam to Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte. Watson pitched for the Curve in the ballgame even though he is actually on the Pirates, but it was a uniform that was familiar to him. He last suited up for the Curve in 2010, one year before — drumroll, please — Starling Marte.
Such absurdities are common in exhibition contests that pit MLB team vs. affiliate — everybody knows everybody, the uniforms often seem interchangeable, and the main objective for those on the field is not to get hurt. After all, “real” baseball is right around the corner.
But, yet, one could also make the case that this Saturday afternoon contest — played in almost impossibly idyllic Spring conditions, especially considering that Altoona received six inches of snow earlier in the week — was one of the most meaningful in the Curve’s 15-year history. A franchise-record 10,166 fans packed People’s Natural Gas Ballpark (formerly known as Blair County Ballpark), eager to see their Major League heroes compete within intimate Minor League environs. And, yes, while it is essentially a central Pennsylvania metropolis there can be no doubt that Altoona’s sporting loyalties lie with their far-west Steel City brethren. This is a region that roots for Pittsburgh through and through, taking no small amount of pride in seeing its hometown Curve players (Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Marte, Josh Harrison and many more) elevate themselves to positions of PNC Park prominence.
Saturday, then, was a triumphant homecoming as well as a chance to celebrate and — spoiler alert! — extend a long-running symbiotic relationship. Altoona made the most of it.
I arrived in Altoona at noon, after a Starbucks and bad radio-fueled drive from the Philadelphia area that included a rest stop nap as well as a shocking toll charge of $19.55 for the privilege of driving on the Pennsylvania turnpike. Although the first pitch was still more than two hours away upon my arrival, the fans were already out in full force.
I unfortunately arrived too late for the designated clubhouse media sessions with the Pirates players, in which I invariably would have asked Curve alumni for thoughts on their (presumably triumphant) return to Altoona. But, for that kind of content, I kindly refer you to the team website. Take it away, Jared Hughes! And you too, Pedro Alvarez!
Being “media,” I was able to bypass the long lines seen above. But, upon walking by the hoi polloi, I did witness a security guard prevent a man from bringing an empty water bottle into the stadium. “You mean I can’t have my spitter?” the man said incredulously.
I don’t know what I was expectorating, but the scene upon entering the ballpark was truly beautiful. The sun was shining, the grass was green, and U2′s “Beautiful Day” was playing on the PA. I’m generally not a fan of Bono’s brand of messianic uplift, but it was most apropos: “Beautiful Day” over the p.a., beautiful day in PA!
Josh Harrison, who spent the entirety of 2010 with the Curve, was particularly accessible.
During his time with the Curve, Harrison used a rap song written by his brother as his walk-up music. The song, entitled “I’m the Man,” was played for Harrison’s at-bats during the exhibition as well.
While on the field I ran into Adam Erikson, an Altoona radio DJ who will be working as an on-field emcee for the Curve this season.
I hadn’t seen Adam in four years, but we will always bonded by a common semi-traumatic experience. In 2009 we were both contestants in the Curve’s “Outstanding Fan Competition” which involved determining who could continuously touch a life-size bobblehead mascot for the longest amount of time. That’s Erikson, touching Steamer, on the top right.
Me, far left, among those touching Diesel Dawg (my foot was on the base of the statue, promise).
I spent a few moments reminiscing about days past whilst looking longingly into the middle distance, but was broken out of this midday reverie after noticing that players from both teams were trudging toward the outfield. It was picture time!
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle also proved himself adept at the middle distance gaze.
This dude from “Moments Photography” was all business when it came to setting up the shot. Like a Wall Street dominatrix, he had no problem ordering millionaires around.
After lining up a bunch of Curve players and getting them to sit Indian-style, he then proceeded to assemble a row of Pirates.
Mr. Moments Photography kept yelling “Knees, knees, knees, knees, knees” at the Pirate players in the second row, so that they would, you know, kneel. This prompted one player to respond with “That’s what she said!” before retracting the joke in confusion.
From chaos, order:
In which the takers become the taken:
Smile! Or not.
Now here’s where you’ve really got to appreciate good game-day planning. The players’ walk from the outfield back to their respective dugouts was routed down the right field line, where a contingent of local Miracle League players was waiting to high-five them, followed by a quartet of disconcertingly fresh-faced servicemen (who later presented the colors during the National Anthem).
Players high-five, mascots hug. Mascots win.
Pretty much apropos of nothing, but while walking back along the perimeter of the playing field I passed the Pirates (read: visitors) dugout and was very much impressed, both aesthetically and practically speaking, with this trainer’s medicine chest that was propped open on the bench.
Hopefully coming soon(ish) to an obsessive-compulsive Minor League Baseball blog near you: a post detailing the anatomy of a trainer’s medicine chest.
Coming now: a photo of a man with a neck tattoo signing an autograph for a child with a mohawk. Norman Rockwell, 21st century-style!
But A.J. Burnett wasn’t the biggest name to be found at People’s Natural Gas Field. Have you guys ever heard of, oh, I don’t know, Jay Leno?
Actually, that’s Curve mascot Tenacious (the Curve have a lot of mascots), who soon decided to photo-bomb me with his prodigious gut.
Prodigious guts aside, you may have noticed that there is a roller coaster beyond the outfield fence. It is called “The Skyliner,” and is part of an independently-run amusement area called Lakemont Park which also boasts THE OLDEST ROLLER COASTER IN THE WORLD.
Why the Curve don’t have a concession item called “The Skyliner” is a question for another day. A question for now: what Curve-turned-Pirate did broadcaster Mike Passanissi interview during his on-field pre-game show?
That would be Jeff Locke, who during his time with the Curve had a promotion staged in his honor that dealt explicitly with his Lost fandom. Also, he had his intro music chosen by fans via Twitter so that he would never again feel the taint of Lil Jon.
Jeff Locke, ladies and gentleman! Or, to be more specific: Jeff Locke upon being paid a visit by his favorite Curve mascot Al Tuna.
Al Tuna, like Wilmington’s Mr. Celery or State College’s Nookie Monster, is one of those elusive sort of mascots who only appear in-game when the home team scores. But, this being Curve vs. Pirates, he appeared on behalf of BOTH teams in this ballgame. Like a bluebanded goby, Al Tuna is a fish that can go both ways.
More sure of his allegiance is the Pittsburgh Parrot, seen here having a catch with a kid in the stands.
More specifically — a kid with a sweet pill-box hat and rigid follow-through on his throwing motion.
Also boasting an exemplary follow-through motion is Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner, who not only boasts first pitch-throwing prowess — he wears a leather jacket while doing it.
Donnie Iris — Pittsburgh rock legend, National Anthem singer, and consummate jacket-wearer — was impressed.
Donnie would soon have his moment to shine, but first — “World Series-style” team introductions!
But even after this well-calibrated hullabaloo, it still wasn’t Donnie’s time to shine. Curve GM Rob Egan took the field, flanked by a coterie of VIPs, in order to make the announcement that the Pirates and Curve had extended their affiliation another four years. It will now run until the fantastical-sounding year 2018 (during which I will turn 40).
The announcement was made by Curve owner Bob Lozinak, Curve General Manager Rob Egan, Pirates President Frank Coonelly and Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington ….Altoona, which at the end of its previous agreement would have already become the longest-standing Pirates affiliate in the modern era, will strengthen its hold on that mark having been affiliated with the Pirates for 20 consecutive seasons at the end of the newest agreement (1999-2018).
A standing-room only crowd is definitely the best time to make such an announcement. Here’s Coonelly thanking “the best fans” in Minor League Baseball (159 teams disagree, of course, but Curve fans are pretty impressive).
Donnie then sang to the fans, a fitting culmination to a series of touching moments.
That’s life-size bobblehead Diesel Dawg for ya — incessant cranial undulation, but otherwise inert. I missed the guy.
And, hopefully, you missed me writing blog entries such as this. It is now the season! Part Two from Altoona coming soon!
Over the past two weeks I have spent a heroic amount of time combing through the promotional schedules of Minor League full season teams, in search of the best, brightest, weirdest and wackiest innovations that will be on offer during the 2013 campaign.
As always, this was a LOT of information to digest, especially since there are many teams that schedule multiple promotions for each and every contest. Such promo overload is the inevitable result of the industry’s never-ending quest to be all things to all people, and as an added bonus it sometimes provides unintentional comedy fodder. (The best example of this comes courtesy of an Eastern League club that shall remain anonymous, who in 2011 scheduled “Tribute to Michael Jackson” on the same evening as “Boy Scout Sleepover Night.”)
What follows is a brief list of absurd and/or incongruous promo combinations scheduled for the 2013 season. Maybe one of them will be incongruously taking place at a ballpark near you! (And, of course, if you have further examples then please send ‘em my way.)
Akron Aeros — International Juggler’s Day/Thirsty Thursday
This can’t end well.
Kannapolis Intimidators — $2 16 oz Budweiser drafts/Operation Family Time (May 17)
Spending time with the family can be stressful, but the Intimidators are offering a way to take the edge off.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans — Hangover Night/Thirsty Thursday (May 23)
Seems like “Hangover Night” would make more sense on May 24th…
Omaha Storm Chasers — Superhero Cape Giveaway/Diaper Derby (June 8)
Perhaps unprepared Diaper Derby participants could just use the cape?
Lakewood BlueClaws — Cecil Fielder Appearance/Wing Fling (June 12)
While perhaps not quite as rotund as his immodestly-named son, Tigers slugger Prince, there’s no denying that Cecil Fielder was one of the largest individuals to ever don a Major League uniform. He’s scheduled to sign autographs at Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park on June 12, during which the BlueClaws will also be staging a “Wing Fling.” Local restaurateurs will compete in a “best wing” contest, and it seems to me that Cecil would be the perfect judge. And if he’s moved to participate in the scheduled “wing-eating contest”? Forget about it…
Quad Cities River Bandits — “Ghost Rider” Cowboy Monkeys/John Deere Night (June 15)
The Cowboy Monkeys usually ride border collies, but perhaps on this special evening they could ride a tractor instead.
Frederick Keys — Meet the Team/Pajama Night (June 23)
Finally — a socially acceptable way to mingle with professional athletes in an outdoor setting while wearing a bathrobe.
Frederick Keys — Military and Civilians Night (July 31st)
Or, as I like to call it — “Everybody Night.”
Hickory Crawdads — Kids Run the Show/Unemployment Night (August 7)
Well, yeah — when kids are running the show then the adults are out of a job!
I’ve got plenty more where this came from, and I’m sorry if that sounds like a threat.
Year after year (after year after year) there are two Minor League teams that can be counted on to deliver the goods when it comes to creating unique concession items. One of those teams is the Charleston RiverDogs, featured yesterday.
And the other?
The West Michigan Whitecaps, of course, who made a colossal impact with 2009′s “Fifth Third Burger” and, since then, have never looked back. Each year they present 10 potential menu additions to their presumably food-crazy fan base, and the one that receives the most online votes is integrated into the concession offerings.
This year’s addition is (lurching, arrhythmic, artery-clogged drumroll please): The Baco!
The Baco (which, when first announced, had an umlaut in its name) is, quite simply, a bacon-shelled taco. Because variety is the spice of life, here’s another view:
And because the rule of threes must always be abided by, here’s one more look.
The Baco will be sold to anyone willing to purchase one, no strings attached. But the other truly significant addition to the Whitecaps’ concession menu REQUIRES FANS TO SIGN A WAIVER. This is the “Squeelin’ Pig,” to be eaten at your own risk.
Regarding the above sandwich, the Whitecaps have this to say:
Billed as the spiciest sandwich served at any ballpark, this is a pulled pork sandwich packed with a punch of Giardinara, a sprinkle of Ghost Pepper and flaming BBQ sauce.
It’s certainly the spiciest ballpark sandwich that I am aware of (if you have a dissenting view, then please let me know). I think this deserves a closer look. I mean, not all that much closer. Just a little bit:
Okay, my picture supply is officially exhausted (although please note that I actually have multiple pictures). But even in the absence of images, I must carry on. For the Whitecaps have actually added 17 items to their 2013 concession line-up, and I’d like to alert you to some of the highlights:
Fried Mac & Jack Cheese Bites - Macaroni and Jack cheese, battered and fried. (Main Concessions Stands)
Iced Coffee - Swiss Mocha or French Vanilla creamy iced coffee topped with whipped cream. (Suites and Main Concessions Stands)
Mac & Cheese Cart - Traditional or White Mac & Cheese topped with your choice of bacon, lobster, buffalo chicken, hamburger, or chili (Home Plate Concourse Cart)
Smoked Sausage Kabobs - Seasoned and apple wood smoked sausage, potato, and green pepper kabobs (1st Base Concourse Smoker)
Moo-ville Ice Cream - Flavors such as Supercow and Cowtrails top the list of a variety of premium ice creams sold at the ballpark (3rd Base Concourse)
Red’s Apple Ale, Perrin Golden Ale, and Shock Top Apple Crisp Beers- New unique profile beers to be served throughout the ballpark. (Beer Portables)
ALSO! The Whitecaps’ website features a downloadable PDF of their Gluten-Free Menu. Great news for celiac-afflicted individuals such as myself, and something I’d love to see more teams do. Let me know if your team, in fact, does.
Oh, and because I’m the best there ever was, is, or will be, this post isn’t the only thing I’ve produced today. New Ben’s Bookshelf column out NOW, featuring my favorite Minor League Baseball books. What are yours?
My previous post focused on a variety of Opening Day innovations, but consider it a prelude to this, the most reliably enjoyable Opening Day innovation of them all: creative Charleston RiverDogs’ concessions!
Regular readers of this blog have long thrilled to the culinary creations of John Schumacher (aka “Schu”), the man behind the Pickle Dog, Homewrecker, Pig on a Stick, “alternative tubular meat searches” and many more offerings at Joseph P. Riley Park (aka “The Joe”).
Yesterday Schu, the food and beverage director for the Goldklang Group (of which the RiverDogs are a part), sent me a photo-laden email containing the latest — and therefore greatest — additions to the RiverDogs food and beverage line-up. Take it away, Schu:
We’ve experimented and were extremely happy with with our Beer Shake creations, and have decided to offer 3 flavors: Palmetto Espresso Porter Chocolate (from a local brewery), Guinness Caramel and Sweetwater 420 Strawberry….they’re delicious!
Beer shake ingredients:
Schu also reports that the RiverDogs will be offering a beer with the delightful name of “Pig Swig,” created by local grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly. But moving on to harder offerings, there’s this:
We will be adding Moonshine Margaritas to our Tiki Hut using locally made flavored moonshines (Peach & Cherry) from Firefly Distillery.
Such alcoholic concoctions can be paired with new menu additions like, oh, I don’t know, a Peanut Butter and Jelly Jalapeno Bacon Burger. Schu calls it “mindblowing.”
While perhaps not quite as attention-getting as the above, there are plenty of other big changes afoot. From Schu:
We are doing a slight makeover (but staying in the same hemisphere) with the changing of our Nacho House to a Taco House called “Wacko for Taco.” (However, because of their popularity we will continue to offer our Kitchen Sink Nachos.) The Taco Menu will include a Chipotle Chicken, Beef, & Pulled Pork Taco (locally made pulled pork from Sticky Fingers).
The 2 headliner items will be a Charlie T(aco) Dog which includes both a soft & hard taco with a hot dog, mustard BBQ sauce & cole slaw filling. For the other featured taco, the MUSC Urban Farm Veggie Taco, we will be partnering with The Medical University of South Carolina that recently started an Urban Garden in downtown Charleston. We will be going to the Farm each homestand to harvest the veggies & herbs to use in the taco.
Fans of tubular meats will be happy to know that the team’s Sausage World stand is returning, with a Chicken and Apple sausage now complementing the likes of Alligator, Duck, and Bratwurst. And for those just looking for a light, healthy snack, the RiverDogs now offer the following:
Under our Snack Menu we will be adding Fresh Fried Pork Rinds and Pork Cracklins. In addition we will also be offering Deep Fried Peanuts in Sea Salt & BBQ flavors.
Yes! Rinds and Cracklins (a particular bad habit of mine whenever my travels take me below the Mason-Dixon line). Writes Schu:
They come from a company called Triland Foods out of Iowa. You drop the product in 400 degree oil & they take about 30 seconds to expand (or explode as we like to put it). Then you can dust them with your favorite flavoring.
Before and after:
After a season spent preparing items such as the above, I hope that Schu and his staff can actually fit into these shirts!
We haven’t yet hit the ides of March, but nonetheless all eyes in March are firmly gazing into the Opening Day distance. This post highlights just a few of the many, many season-starting initiatives that teams have up their sleeves.
Johnny, Cash: 2013 marks the Fort Wayne TinCaps’ fifth season, and to celebrate they are giving away $5000.
In a press release, the TinCaps explained how this is all going to go down.
As fans enter the ballpark on Thursday, April 11th, each will receive a scratch-off card as part of the qualification process. Certain cards will be designated as instant winners, with those fans receiving a TinCaps game-worn red jersey, which the team will be wearing that night. The TinCaps red jerseys are a part of history, as each player ever to play for the team since 2009 has worn these jerseys.
Once these select fans are determined, the final $5,000 winner will be selected from among the jersey winners. The final selection process will be announced at the game on Opening Night.
But, as with any promotional endeavor worth its salt: THAT IS NOT ALL. The TinCaps are currently staging a scavenger hunt, the weekly winners of which will pre-qualify for the $5,000 prize. Read all about that HERE.
And then there are the Indianapolis Indians, who are offering fans the chance to vote on the Opening Day field design. The choices are Cell Cut, Checkered Cut, Diamond Cut, and the Phillies Cut. They are all very attractive choices, so you can’t really go wrong, but I suppose I’d go with the Cell.
But Opening Day pomp and circumstance goes beyond the parameters of the playing field, of course. The Memphis Redbirds are currently running a contest on Facebook, with the grand prize being a swank VIP limo ride to the ballpark.
Meanwhile, in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, just about everything will new in 2013. Read all about it in my MiLB.com piece! But one aspect of the SWB re-invention I didn’t get around to in the piece is the mascot situation. Two new characters are all set to debut and, of course, they need a name.
For the record, the character on the left is a “nine-foot tall superhero” while on the right is a “furry porcupine.” I’d call the former “108-Inches Man” and the latter “Quill Rogers.”
If I make this sentence long enough, this one that you’re reading now, then I’ll have reached my self-imposed 400 word minimum.
I have “only” visited 77 stadiums over the past four seasons (perhaps a bit more, actually, as some may have been blocked from memory), and of those 77 my Top 10 was as follows:
Durham, Everett, Reading, Daytona, Quad Cities, Brooklyn, Arkansas, Pensacola, Vancouver, and Tulsa. (And, for the record, the five that I had the hardest time leaving off the list were Fort Wayne, Memphis, Vermont, Burlington Iowa, and Lehigh Valley. Oh, and Williamsport! See how hard this is?)
But this is all just one man’s opinion, and I happen to be that man. One of my main objectives in writing the article was to start a conversation and I am happy to report that, for once in my life, I succeeded. It’s easy to see why people responded — ballparks are a subject that Minor League fans are passionate about, and everyone has their own opinions regarding which are their favorite are and why. (And then there are the teams themselves, who passionately advocate for the superiority of their ballpark and react with wounded pride whenever others do not agree.)
All of this is to say — I got a lot of feedback. Some 22 comments were left on the story itself, and dozens more expressed their opinion through email, Facebook and, especially, Twitter. What follows is a sampling thereof and, when applicable, my response.
I’ve been to 108 of them. I agree with your set, but Centennial Field in Burlington VT is on my list, as is Coca Cola Park in Allentown PA. Other great ones worth mentioning: AutoZone Park in Memphis TN, Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona PA. (Michael Nolan)
Great calls on Durham, Pensacola, and Brooklyn. You downplay Pensacola’s architecture, but it’s sneaky-good – spot-on seating bowl pitch and sightlines, and a wide open concourse for the SRO crowd. Also, Pensacola has some of the best food I’ve had at a minor league park. (Scott Jennings)
I definitely enjoyed the food at Pensacola when I was there. Sea Dog, anyone? (Obviously this is not gluten-free and, obviously, no more Sea Dogs are in my future. Tis better to have loved and lost.)
[Harrisburg's] Metro Bank Park – the one on the island?! Nothing like it. Come back for another visit, Ben! (Randy Whitaker, who may be a bit biased given that he is the GM of the Harrisburg Senators.)
Real shame not to include Richmond County Ballpark on Staten Island. I dislike Staten Island as much as the next person, but with views of Downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty from the stands, it might the best stadium view in all of sports. (Commenter)
“Commenter” soon received an impolite reply: You must have supersonic eyesight if you can notice the Statue of Liberty from that ballpark when all I see is dirty water. Your ballpark’s a joke! (TVSBX)
My two cents — I enjoy going to games in Staten Island, and the view of the Manhattan skyline is great, but beyond that there isn’t quite enough going for it to elevate into a Top 10 experience.
Select Twitter Feedback
Soon after the article was posted I suggested a #BensBizIsWrong hashtag for those who wanted to offer a dissenting opinion, and the GM of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals was quick to weigh in:
Matt and Carolyn traveled to every full-season MiLB ballpark last season, so they know of what they speak:
Speaking of Salt Lake City…
A General observation:
The Fresno Grizzlies sent me a three-part response, here’s the third:
The splendor of Lancaster, CA:
The Memphis Redbirds are proud to compare AutoZone Park to a mausoleum:
(And, again, for the record: Memphis has a great ballpark and it was difficult for me to leave it off of the list)
Someday I hope to tour the Mexican League, Alejandro!
Meanwhile, the deeply-wounded Fort Wayne TinCaps made their feelings known in blog form:
I’m just playing Minor League teams. You know I love you.
I cannot be intimidated:
Okay, I’m only going to include one email response. But it was a real doozy, coming as it did from religious studies professor/uber-accomplished National Anthem singer Joe Price. As you may recall, Price and his wife, Bonnie, toured the country in an RV during the 2011 season. Along the way, he sang the Anthem at over 100 parks.
Joe’s email is, in many ways, more instructive and worthwhile than my original article. He writes, in part:
Although few people now inquire about my tour in ’11 unless they’ve sat through one of my presentations, the first two questions almost always have been–”Did you ever forget the words?” and “What was your favorite ballpark?
The former is an easy reply: “No.” The latter prompts different looks: “In what respects?” I retort. “Architecture, siting, history, interesting game, art, food, fans, promotions, generosity, staff, humor, mascots?” “Huh,” they grunt as they look at me dazedly.
Still, I do have faves–although I still trying to cull my list and cut it down to 10
Here’s a start:
Williamsport, with its original, propped, crooked wall behind 3rd.
Pulaski, with its original WPA entry and benchless piers.
Daytona also makes my list for being the field for Robinson’s initial spring training game, and I did enjoy the modest breeze of Savannah’s overhead fans in the grandstands.
But Burlington, VT, with its low-slung ramps, doesn’t make the cut.
Columbus, Ft. Wayne, Frisco, and Billings edge out Louisville and Lehigh Valley and Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Durham, where the concourses are too narrow for crowded games.
Albuquerque wins, but the best piece is in Rochester. Lansing‘s participation in a city-wide art festival also deserves mention.
For natural panorama: Salem (VA) can’t be beat, unless the Big Sky at Helena or the skyscape above the mountains at (now defunct?) Yakima are also taken into account. Even the sunken bowl on the prairie in Midland, TX deserves mention.
For urban settings: Bunches of places score big: Memphis, Louisvile, Tulsa.
For nearby framing: little can beat the curving rails of the roller coaster mimicking Altoona‘s curve, while the arched span beyond centerfield in Corpus Christi edges out Mississippi River bridge at Quad Cities and the impressive golden halo of the state Capitol’s dome beyond the outfield at Des Moines.
And there are playful features like the pork humor at Lehigh Valley, the painting of Cobb’s career average 366 at that distance in left field at Augusta, or the “nuts free” area in Rochester (which, of course, refers to dietary restrictions rather than to crazy fans).
Children’s areas often featured various inflated jump rooms, but the rapelling rock in Ft. Wayne was attractive, as were the sandbox areas in Wisconsin, where I hope that they checked for renegade rattlers before allowing the children to dig beyond centerfield, and Des Moines’ fountains that enticed kids of many ages.
Oops. I’ve already favored more than 10. I’ll never write for Letterman!
You and me both, Joe. You and me both.
Today I have two items of note for you, and they really couldn’t be any different in tone. On the serious end of the spectrum, the Mobile BayBears have announced that a seat at Hank Aaron stadium will remain permanently empty in honor of all American soldiers who never returned home.
Section 107, row 1, seat 1:
More, from the team:
The BayBears will hold a ceremony to unveil the seat at the home opener, Wednesday, April 10 during the pre-game festivities. Active military and veterans will be in attendance to help dedicate the seat to the over 92,000 missing American soldiers. The BayBears will be installing the seat next week.
The BayBears’ “Black Seat” initiative has garnered a lot of attention over the past 24 hours, thanks to a blog post on Yahoo’s Big League Stew blog that was then more or less re-written by a number of other outlets. There’s been an “every team ever should do this immediately if not sooner” tone to these posts, and it is almost certain that other teams will follow in the wake of the BayBears (and, moreso, the Lowell Spinners as they were the first team to do this). But such a gesture will seem profoundly empty unless it is accompanied by a season-long commitment to and engagement with the region’s military and veteran population. The BayBears, for instance, offer complimentary tickets for active duty personnel and will be staging promotions dedicated to each branch of the military throughout the season.
First things first.
And now, like a kid flipping through Mad Magazine until he sees a Dave Berg byline, we have reached the Lighter Side. I’m just going to rely on the press release for this one, courtesy of the Lake Elsinore Storm.
With the papal election process in full swing and a new Pope on the horizon, the Lake Elsinore Storm Professional Baseball Team feel they have the right candidate for the position.
He may not be global just yet, but locally a lovable dog is revered by all. That’s right, man’s best friend, who may become God’s best friend, is throwing his bone, or hat, into the papal ring. Storm mascot, Thunder, with inspiration from the likes of Saint Peter, the Apostle, and the 264 Popes that followed, is willing to leave the luxuries of The Diamond behind for the right to serve others as the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.
There have been many recommendations on who should be the successor of Pope Benedict XVI….Thunder, though, has a leg, or two, up on the competition.
He would be the first green Pope, already has his own Thunder/Pope mobile and children of all ages love him. As well, Thunder has been sermonizing and leading others as a beacon of Storm spirit for nearly a decade on the team’s annual Night of Fellowship (scheduled for July 12 this season).
Thunder’s youthful exuberance and connection with the younger generation should provide a groundswell of support through social media. His friends at @Storm_baseball have started a #Paws4Pope Twitter campaign that could go viral.
The echoing sounds of “Thunder,Thunder” is a well known cheer throughout the Inland Empire, and Popefully the people of Vatican City will be chanting in Italian “Tuono, Tuono” for years to come.
Now that I think about it, this blog post typifies Minor League Baseball: balancing the serious and the absurd on a season-to-season, month-to-month, homestand-to-homestand, game-to-game, inning-to-inning basis.