Yesterday, new Ben’s Biz Blog contributor Ashley Marshall introduced himself via a Pac-Man inspired tour of the Minor League landscape. Today, he really goes the extra mile with this “ultimate” Minor League Road Trip itinerary. Please keep in mind, however, that this “ultimate” itinerary is entirely theoretical. Neither I (Ben’s Biz) or Ashley or anyone else will actually be doing it. For my 2015 road trip itineraries, click HERE.
Happy Opening Day, baseball fans. From Vancouver to West Palm Beach, San Jose to Winooski, Vt, the Minor Leagues bring baseball to millions of fans in thousands of communities.
Each year, there are 160 Minor League teams playing more than 8,000 games in 42 continental US states and one Canadian province across 14 leagues and six levels from Triple-A down to rookie ball. All this happens in a five-month, 152-day window from Opening Day on April 9 to the regular season finales on Sept. 7.
That had me thinking. With fewer than 10 flights and relying otherwise only on car travel, is it possible to visit all 160 teams in one season? Also, how big does my suitcase need to be to fit five months’ worth of clothes into it?
I’ll try to answer the first question. I’ll leave the second one up to your own imagination. At the end of this article, I’ll also tell you what such a trip might cost. While seeing every club play one home fixture during 2015 is possible, the logistics of planning such a schedule range somewhere from tricky to excruciatingly frustrating.
But with Ben unveiling his road trip itinerary Friday, I thought now would be as good a time as any to share with you one way such a mammoth, travel-intensive journey could take shape.
Call this whatever you want — a logistical crossword, a thought experiment, a lesson in tedium. But just to be clear, this is a ‘paper only’ experiment. Neither I nor anyone I know is undertaking this trip.
So, a few initial observations: While some states boast a high number of Minor League teams (Florida is home to 14; California, 12; Tennessee and North Carolina, nine each), eight other states and provinces are home to just one club. For those keeping score at home, they’re Vermont, New Hampshire, Missouri, Maine, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Delaware and British Columbia.
There’s no way to tackle these except in isolation in the context of a bigger road trip. The need to schedule at least eight day-night twinbills of two games in two ballparks on one day is the very minimum requirement to make such an ambitious itinerary possible.
But factoring in days off (the Florida State League is off entirely on Mother’s Day, for example; the International and Pacific Coast Leagues are off July 13-15 for the Triple-A All-Star Game) homestands not always coinciding with the days you’re in that part of a state and the fact that the rookie-level and short-season leagues are at opposite ends of the country and only play for around the final 10 weeks of the year, it’s imperative to double up on games almost twice as many times.
These leagues are limited geographically from the northeast (New York-Penn League) and down the coast as far as the Carolinas (Appalachian League) on one side of America, and from the pacific northwest down into Montana and Colorado on the other. To make it at least somewhat cost-effective, I’ll limit airplane travel to 10 times during the season, most likely for cross-country journeys or picking off isolated teams that otherwise wouldn’t fit into a schedule.
I initially thought you could start in the Midwest around Omaha, head east through the Midwest League and then tackle the International League, Eastern League and South Atlantic League teams as you get to them. At that point, you could head south and west, starting with the New York-Penn League and Appy Leagues and going into Florida to wrap up the Florida State League in two weeks.
Next would be the Texas League and more eastern Pacific Coast League teams, the California League and finally the Northwest and Pioneer Leagues. Two potential problems with that plan.
- One, the New York-Penn League doesn’t kick off until mid-June, meaning you’d need to hit around 65 teams before starting the NYPL schedule. There’s just not enough teams in the Midwest, International and Eastern Leagues to make that happen
- Two, the weather is notoriously unpredictable in the spring in the east and Midwest, making rainouts more likely, even if exact postponements could never be foreseen that far in advance.
So instead, here’s how you could make it work. Start on the west coast. Head south and east through Texas, looping up through Florida, up the east coast (by which time the NYPL will be playing), then across the top of the country finishing back in the northwest with the two summer leagues there.
That should give you enough time to head back into California or toward Texas to mop up any teams you missed the first time through. Most of the day-night games have to be in the Florida State League or along the eastern seaboard where multiple teams are within a few hours’ drive of one another.
Even if, for example, Corpus Christi played an 11am game on the same day El Paso had a 7pm start, Texas is just too big to navigate between them to arrive at the second ballpark in time.
About one-third of the way into the planning of this fictitious trip that exists only on paper, I ran into another problem. Biloxi’s new stadium will not be ready until early summer, with the home opener scheduled for June 6. With that obstacle in mind, you can bypass the trio of Biloxi (and neighboring Mobile and Pensacola) for now, planning to return to them later in the year when all three teams are at home. The next time this happens is the third week of July. Biloxi has a homestand from July 15-21, Mobile from 15-19 and Pensacola from July 20-26. That gives you just enough of an overlap to make it possible, allowing you to return north to complete that leg of the trip.
With that in mind, I present to you the following schedule.
|14-Apr||Lake Elsinore||High Desert||CAL||6:00|
|4-May||St. Lucie||Palm Beach||FSL||6:30|
|12-May||New Orleans||Oklahoma City||PCL||7:05|
|1-Jun||Bowling Green||Great Lakes||MWL||12:05|
|3-Jun||2||South Bend||Cedar Rapids||MWL||7:05|
|4-Jun||West Michigan||Quad Cities||MWL||7:00|
|10-Jun||Cedar Rapids||Great Lakes||MWL||6:35|
|13-Jun||Quad Cities||Great Lakes||MWL||6:00|
|18-Jun||Great Lakes||Lake County||MWL||7:05|
|25-Jul||Hudson Valley||State College||NYPL||7:05|
|2-Aug||Lake County||Great Lakes||MWL||6:30|
|29-Aug||El Paso||Oklahoma City||PCL||7:05|
|31-Aug||Las Vegas||El Paso||PCL||7:05|
|6-Sep||Rancho Cucamonga||Inland Empire||CAL||5:05|
|7-Sep||Colorado Springs||New Orleans||PCL||1:35|
This incorporates 15 dates with two games on the same day, and just six days out of 152 with no games scheduled.
Breaking it all down
- This itinerary logs almost 40,000 miles, including almost 30,000 by road and nearly 10,000 on 10 trips through the air.
- You’ll spend a little more than 500 hours driving and another 38 hours on an airplane. That’s nearly 24 full days.
- The shortest leg of the trip is from Staten Island to Brooklyn, just 18 miles.
- By contrast, the longest leg is going from Erie, Pa., to Vancouver. That’s a 40-hour, 2,600-mile trip by car, reduced to a seven hour, $500 multi-leg flight from Buffalo, Cleveland or Pittsburgh.
- Other flights include Los Angeles (serving Adelanto) to San Antonio, Texas; Mobile, Alabama to Clarksburg (serving Granville, West Virginia); and Orange County (serving Rancho Cucamonga) to Colorado Springs.
- Assuming your car gets 33 miles to the gallon and the average cost of a gallon of fuel nationwide is $2.50, you’ll spend around $2,272 on 1250 gallons of gas alone. Figure to spent another $3,000 on air fare.
- There are 30 Triple-A teams, 30 Double-A teams, 60 Class A teams, 22 short-season teams and 18 rookie-level teams on the schedule. Based on the average prices published by MiLB least year, if you bought one ticket, a soda and a hot dog, a program and paid for car parking at each game, you’d spend $3,280 during the year.
- The most expensive part of such a ludicrous trip would be hotels. Even at $75 a night, a place to crash after a ballgame would ring up an additional $12,000 over five months.
- Then factoring in taking five months off work. With the average American making between $27,000 – $28,000, taking such a long period of time off work could lose you around $11,000 in wages.
These calculations don’t even take into account paying for breakfasts, lunches or dinners, doing laundry every week you’re on the road, the possible need to rent a vehicle assuming you don’t have access to one in each city you travel through, and just the general cost of living. Food alone could run upward of $5,000, and that’s only budgeting $30 a day.
So the real cost of this trip? It could very possibly cost you a cool $40,000.
How would your schedule look? Which way would you attack such a logistical nightmare? How would you save time, money or both? If you only traveled throughout one league, which one would you pick and why? Feel free to message me on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB or reply in the comments below. And if you have any MiLB travel plans this season, however small or large, I’d love to hear from you. Plan your own road trip here.
Hello everyone. The italicized text you are currently reading is courtesy of I, Ben Hill, proprietor of the eponymous “Biz Blog.” Though I have run many “guest posts” on this blog through the years, what you are about to read is something a little bit different. Ashley Marshall, who has been writing for MiLB.com since the 2010 season, has agreed to become a regular contributor to this blog as well as some of my regularly occurring MiLB.com content (such as the long-running “Promo Preview”).
Therefore, when I am on the road, Ashley can keep you abreast of Minor League Baseball business and promotional happenings that I otherwise might not have had the time or sanity to write about properly. I’m considering this a win-win-win situation: I have a little bit less on my proverbial plate and can produce my “On the Road” material in a timelier fashion. Ashley, a Minor League Baseball renaissance man, gets to write more about an area of the industry that he is interested in. And you, the presumably loyal reader, get more of the material you have come to know and, yes, love.
So who is Ashley Marshall? No one knows the answer to that question better than Ashley Marshall himself. The floor is now ceded to him, so that he may introduce himself and then, as the title of this post implies, take you on a Pac-Man inspired tour of the Minor League landscape.
Hello and welcome to
Ash’s Ben’s Biz Blog. My name is Ashley and I’m entering my sixth season as an editorial producer at MiLB.com. You’ll see my name popping up from time to time in this blog as I contribute to the site and help Minor League Baseball’s chronicler of promotions during his road trips.
You’ve probably spotted my byline atop game recaps, prospect primers, league previews and Q&A’s over the past few years. Now you’ll see me pinch-hitting on the top pro Minor League blog on the Internet. Fortunately for Ben’s loyal readers, I share a number of interests with the master of puns himself. We both love viral content, thought-provoking analysis, eye-catching designs and curated information exploring the business side of baseball.
If you follow me on Twitter — and if you don’t, then you really should rectify that right now — you will know that I love anything made from a part of a pig, as well as photography, themed jerseys and all things British. If I could take pictures of a team playing in uniforms depicting the Queen of England eating bacon on a stick, I’d die a happy man. I think a lot of other people would get a kick out of that, too. Lehigh Valley, I’m looking at you.
For my first post, however, I wanted to share something that recently caught my eye, because one Easter egg that didn’t go unnoticed over the weekend was the gem brought to you by Google Maps and Pac-Man.
The concept was simple, the execution flawless. Take existing Google Maps, turn the screen into a playable maze, transform roads and paths into a grid of Pac-dots and guide Namco’s most famous two-dimensional character to glory.
Productivity nationwide took a hit when the browser game went viral. Now it’s about the take another hit. What’s better than helping Pac-Man evade Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde in your neighborhood? How about zig-zagging your way around your favorite Minor League ballparks?
I’ll take you on a virtual tour of Pawtucket, Jupiter, Albuquerque, Great Lakes and Staten Island, while inviting you to find other maps that appeal to your baseball and gaming sensibilities.
1) Guide Pac-Man down S. Bend St, and along Division St. to help him beat the McCoy Stadium level. The running track to the northeast of the stadium presents just one way in and one way out, so make sure you bring a solid gameplan to this Rhode Island task. Red Sox Nation can’t help you here, so you’re all alone at the plate. See Blinky, hit Blinky.
2) Roger Dean Stadium is bordered by back fields to the north, Florida Atlantic University to the south and Abacoa Golf Club to the west. The key to winning this map on Florida’s east coast is successfully navigating the traffic circle joining Central Blvd, Main St and Scripps Way. The Hammerheads may share the ballpark with the Palm Beach Cardinals, but you have this course all to yourself.
3) Albuquerque’s Isotopes Park sits in the heart of Central New Mexico Community College’s campus. University Blvd SE runs north-south and Avenida Cesar Chavez SE goes east-west, but the intricate combination of adjoining streets make it hard to pass this midterm exam. You’ll be going up and down more often than Joe Girardi in the eighth inning of a one-run game.
4) Located two hours north of Detroit between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Dow Diamond is surrounded by roads of every side that dissect Fournie Park and lead to the Tittabawassee River. Fortunately for Loons fans, you get to avoid Rt. 20 and instead stay on Buttles and State Streets. There are no season-ending trips to the DL in this map.
5) Richmond County Bank Ballpark sits at the north-eastern tip of Staten Island, a stone’s throw from the Hudson River and New York Bay. The four enemies start at the corner of Hamilton Ave. and St. Mark’s Place, giving Baby Bombers fans the chance to gobble up the pellets along the waterfront before Inky and Pinky catch you in a rundown.
Now you’ve checked out a few of my favorite MiLB mazes, why not spend a couple minutes finding your own team on Google Maps and seeing if you can get the cherries before your three lives run out. Reach out to me on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB or via email and share a screenshot of a map you enjoyed playing.
Upon learning that a key component of my job involves exploring America through Minor League Baseball, innumerable people have responded with a simple three word phrase:
Living the dream.
The 2015 season marks the sixth in which I will have the honor, privilege and anxiety of living this dream — hitting the road in order to deliver the Minor League Baseball ballpark experience to YOU, the presumably loyal reader. I have visited more than 100 stadiums thus far — some more than once — and, when 2015 is said and done, that count should be close to 130. There are 159 ballparks in the Minors and, of course, my ultimate goal is to “collect ’em all.”
This image, taken from the indispensable (and new and improved!) MiLB.com “Tickets” page, shows just how vast the Minor League landscape is. This post is dedicated to sharing the portions of it that I plan to travel through in 2015.
(For links to all of my 2014 “On the Road” coverage, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” blog posts, click HERE. If you have trouble finding any of my “On the Road” articles and blog posts from seasons past, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.)
As many of you know, I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012 and had to switch to a gluten-free diet. This makes it hard for me to sample ballpark delicacies with the reckless abandon to which I had been accustomed, but there is a solution: THE DESIGNATED EATER.
At each ballpark I visit, I am looking for a fan (ideally) or local media member who will sample the concessions that I cannot. I will document your eating experiences in words and pictures, so that those reading can still enjoy the comprehensive ballpark food coverage they have come to expect.
If YOU are interested in being a designated eater at one of the ballparks listed in the itineraries below, then get in touch: email@example.com. First come, first served.
(Note to teams: if you are planning on staging a contest of some sort to find the designated eater, then let me know so that I do not accept someone on my own accord.)
This could be you!
As always, my time at each location will be limited. But, also as always, I am interested in your recommendations regarding what else there is to do, see and consume in the area. If you have any cultural, culinary or record-store expertise regarding any of the locations listed, then GET IN TOUCH.
I have (or will be) getting in touch with all of the teams included, but if you’re a member of the front office, feel free to jump the gun and reach out to me regarding lodging, story suggestions, designated-eater leads, etc.
Sorry for burying the lede here, but I wanted to get all of the fine print out of the way first. And now, without further ado, the itineraries!
TRIP #1: The Sunshine State
April 11: Bradenton Marauders
Designated Eater: Joe Mynaugh
April 12: Tampa Yankees
Designated Eater: Brian Cochrane
April 13: Dunedin Blue Jays
Designated Eater: I know some guys
April 14: Jupiter Hammerheads
Designated Eater: Stephen Goldsmith
April 15: Jackie Robinson Celebration Game at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach (St. Lucie Mets vs. Brevard County Manatees)
April 16: St. Lucie Mets
Designated Eater: Jay Meyer
April 17: Brevard County Manatees
Designated Eater: Enrique Cortes
April 18: Jacksonville Suns
Notes: April, in general, is a tough month for Minor League travel. The weather is cold, school is still in session, and none of the short-season leagues are in operation. Florida, though, is a relatively safe bet. Here’s hoping for no game-ruining downpours.
The second annual Jackie Robinson Game will be one of the highlights of this trip, for sure. April 15 marks the 68th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1948, Dodgertown became the first integrated Spring Training site in the south.
Upon the conclusion of this trip, I will have visited every Minor League team in the state of Florida. (My first trip to the Sunshine State occurred in 2012, when I visited Clearwater, Fort Myers, Charlotte, Lakeland, Daytona and Pensacola.)
TRIP #2: More Midwest Meanderings
May 23: Kane County Cougars
Designated Eaters: Jason Bohn, David Lesser
May 24: Quad Cities River Bandits
Designated Eater: Dean Birkhofer
May 25: Clinton LumberKings
Designated Eater: Amanda Cady
May 26: Peoria Chiefs
Designated Eater: Thomas Doran
May 27: Cedar Rapids Kernels
Designated Eater: Tim Mullin
May 28: Omaha Storm Chasers
Designated Eater: Paul Biler
Notes: After this trip, I will have finally visited every team in the sprawling 16-team Midwest League. Clinton, Peoria and Cedar Rapids had been the last three I needed in this regard. I visited Kane County, Quad Cities and Omaha as part of a season-ending trip in 2010, but much about my operation, and much about those teams, have changed since then. Omaha, for example, changed its name from the “Royals” to the “Storm Chasers” and moved to a new stadium.
June 25: Richmond Flying Squirrels
Designated Eater: Stuart Jordan
June 26: Norfolk Tides
Designated Eater: Andrew Lind (taking the “Salute to Pork Challenge“)
June 27: Lynchburg Hillcats
Designated Eater: Judi Muir/David Freier
June 28: Salem Red Sox
Designated Eater: Jennifer Frye
June 29: Potomac Nationals
Designated Eater: Tony Jaeger
June 30: West Virginia Black Bears
Notes: The impetus for this trip was to see the West Virginia Black Bears in their first season of existence. Morgantown, where the team is based, is not particularly close to any of the other cities in this itinerary. But, still, the idea of a “Virginia” trip appealed to me as it is not a state that I have visited before in a Minor League context.
* * *
July 11: Vermont Lake Monsters
Designated Eater: “Weird Al” Yankovic, until I hear otherwise
Note: On July 12th, my cousin and I are seeing a “Weird Al” Yankovic concert in Burlington, Vermont. With that on the calendar already, then why not stop in and see Burlington’s Minor League Baseball team? I attended a Lake Monsters game in 2009, before these road trips were really a “thing.” so I’m glad to be able to visit again and (hopefully) do it up right.
* * *
Trip #4: Deep South in the Deep Summer
July 28: New Orleans Zephyrs
Designated Eater: [Name Withheld]
July 29, 30: Biloxi Shuckers
Designated Eater: Cale Merrill
July 31: Mobile BayBears
August 1: Montgomery Biscuits
Designated Eater: Joe Marcus
August 2: Mississippi Braves
Designated Eater: Steven Ericson
August 3: Jackson Generals
Designated Eater: Bob Sanders (Bob, my email reply to you keeps bouncing back)
August 4: Off (drive to Nashville)
August 5: Nashville Sounds
Designated Eater: Tyler Glaser
This is a big one. The Biloxi Shuckers (formerly the Huntsville Stars) are a new team in a new stadium. However, due to construction delays, this stadium will not be ready until at least June. Fingers crossed that everything will be good to go this late in the season. I’ve already visited Mobile (2010), Jackson (2012) and Nashville (2013), but since the Sounds are playing in a new stadium this season, it became imperative to visit the Music City once again.
August 29: Connecticut Tigers
Designated Eater: Paul Woodin
August 30: New Britain Rock Cats
Designated Eater: Ryan Drzewianowski
August 31: Lowell Spinners
Designated Eater: Joe Beauregard
September 1: Pawtucket Red Sox
Designated Eater: Brian O’Connell
September 2: New Hampshire Fisher Cats
September 3: “Off”
September 4: Portland Sea Dogs
Designated Eater: Isaac Stephenson
Notes: This is an awkward itinerary. But, similar to how I ended the season in New York State in 2014, I really liked the idea of being in New England as summer begins to give way to fall. The only one of these teams that I have visited previously is the New Britain Rock Cats, but that game on August 30 is significant as it is the last-ever Rock Cats game. In 2016, the team will move to nearby Hartford and begin existence as the “Yard Goats.” Pawtucket should be intriguing as well, as the team is nearing the end of the line at McCoy Stadium (the new ownership group plans to build a new stadium in Providence).
Finally, upon the conclusion of this trip I will have visited all of the teams in the New York-Penn, Eastern and International Leagues.
So there you have it: my 2015 road trip itineraries. Complaints, critiques, commendations and criticisms always encouraged; feel free to get in touch any time.
And apologies once again to the teams in the Appalachian and Pioneer Leagues. Here’s hoping that I can make 2016 my “Rookie” season on the road, as I very much want to visit both of these circuits in their entirety.
Hi everybody. Ben’s Biz here. I hope that you had a great offseason.
How was mine?
Thanks for asking. I kept busy. I enjoyed some vacation time in San Francisco and Montreal, lost money at the racetrack on a couple of lazy Sunday afternoons, volunteered on a regular basis, determined that Isaan Thai cuisine is the world’s finest, put one of my cats to sleep, thought a lot about the music Mark Sandman would have made had he not died at such a young age, broke up with my girlfriend and finally surpassed the halfway mark in my ongoing effort to watch all 325 episodes of Mary Hartman Mary Hartman. Just life, is all.
Of course, I wrote about Minor League Baseball throughout, covering all of the offseason developments that are fit to print (or post, or tweet, or whatever). But, for everyone in baseball, life takes quite a drastic turn once the season starts. Instead of being merely involved with baseball, one becomes consumed by it. For me, that means traveling the country visiting Minor League ballparks.
Therefore, I’d like to let it be known that my 2015 trip itineraries will be revealed on…drum roll please…April 3.
So, yeah. Get excited. Did you hear me? GET EXCITED. At this point I’m not sure if I’m talking more to you, the presumably loyal reader, or myself. But, regardless: This season, like every season, my goal is to provide the best “On the Road” content I possibly can. From the start it’s been a learn-by-doing kind of thing. There’s certainly no established template for it, and your feedback (yes, yours) regarding what works, what doesn’t and what it is that you’d like to see has been crucial. So, please, keep getting in touch.
And, please, keep spreading the word that I’m doing this is in the first place. Readers, tell your like-minded friends. Teams, tell your fans. New Yorker “Talk of the Town” writers, please consider profiling me.
Finally, as I count down the days until the unveiling of my road trip itinerary, I’ve been sharing some of my favorite #BensRoadTrip memories from seasons past:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) March 24, 2015
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) March 25, 2015
Thanks for your continued support.
Harbingers of baseball season are everywhere these days. It will soon consume us entirely; we are the Jonah to its whale. One of today’s most prominent harbingers involves that which will be soon be consumed. The West Michigan Whitecaps, perpetual culinary innovators, have unveiled their new 2015 concession items.
Leading the list of additions is the winner of this season’s Food Contest, as voted on by the fans. Among a field of 10 items, the “Hot-to-Tot” nabbed 17% of the votes en route to victory.
Hot-to-Tot, which I assume is a reference to the best movie within the “stock market-savvy talking horse” genre, is described as “Buffalo tater tots with pulled chicken topped with blue cheese.”
Hot-to-Tot was an exercise in democracy, but the Whitecaps acted unilaterally as well. The following items will also be added to their array of 2015 concession items:
Nutella Poppers: “Nutella-stuffed sweet dough fried to a golden brown and rolled in sugar.”
Oreo Churros: “Oreo cookie pieces made into a churro served with Oreo frosting.” In my opinion, the team should have named these Choreos.
Pretzel-Breaded Italian Sausage: (Self-explanatory)
Beer-A-Misu: “Tiramisu gelato with local stout beer.”
Chicken and steak quesadillas will also be served at the Whitecaps’ home of Fifth Third Field in 2015, but I do not believe that photos of this item will excite the masses and therefore I will not post it.
Getting back to the “Hot-to-Tot,” the Whitecaps note that “previous winners of the food contest include the Auger Dogger (2014), Baco (2013), Westside Po’ Boy (2012), Chicks with Sticks (2011), the Cudighi Yooper Sandwich and the Declaration of Independence (both 2010). All have now been retired from the menu.”
It was a good run while it lasted, Baco. I got to enjoy one of those when I visited the Whitecaps in 2013.
The “Fifth Third Burger,” which is 5/3rds of a pound, lives on. Think you can eat one in one sitting?
Finally, I would like to commend myself for continuing to celebrate the ballpark food items that I cannot eat due to my 2012 celiac disease diagnosis. Yeah, I suffer for my art. Don’t we all?
If you read this blog, then of course you also read all of the articles I write for MiLB.com. It goes without saying. But, nonetheless, I feel compelled to share with you my latest (and therefore greatest) “Minoring in Business” feature, which provides an in-depth look at the theme jersey phenomenon that has swept the Minor League landscape.
The article begins thusly:
Not long ago, Minor League Baseball theme jerseys were almost exclusively based upon a small array of pre-existing options. Pink, patriotic and camo were the three most common offerings, with pop culture references virtually non-existent. But now?
“Now it’s just a free-for-all.”
That’s how Elaine Gastineau of OT Sports describes Minor League Baseball’s current theme jersey landscape. OT Sports, based in Burlington, North Carolina, is a leading theme jersey manufacturer, and Gastineau is their factory sales representative specializing in Minor League Baseball. Over the last decade she’s done her part to facilitate an industry-wide theme jersey phenomenon, with teams attempting to outdo one another in the ever-competitive category of “Who can be the most outlandish?”
If early returns are any indication, then 2015 will be the most outlandish year yet.
Read the rest HERE.
Of course, the big news story in Minor League Baseball this week was the announcement that Hartford’s baseball team will be known as the Yard Goats. The Yard Goats will make their debut in 2016, after relocating from nearby New Britain (where they are known as the Rock Cats).
I wrote a story about this, of course. A relevant excerpt, which truly illuminates my ability to quote from a press release:
So what is a Yard Goat, and why is it the name of a Minor League Baseball franchise? As the team explained on its HartfordPlaysBall2016 website, Yard Goats “honors Hartford’s rich railroad history.” It is a slang term for “an engine that switches a train to get it ready for another locomotive to take over.”
A press release issued by the Rock Cats on Wednesday afternoon provided further detail.
“A Minor League Baseball player is like that humble Yard Goat,” it reads. “Not a glamorous job but working day in and day out away from the big city lights to assure that the Major League affiliate is kept on track.”
Said story was accompanied by this image, which shows the winner of the “Name the Team” contest attempting to keep a couple of live goats in line.
Rock Cats/Yard Goats general manager Tim Restall seems to think the situation is under control. He’s on the right, probably checking to see what @bensbiz was writing about the team name on Twitter.
Hartford Yard Goats! Let the “this is an embarrassment and I will never attend a game” commentary commence!
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) March 18, 2015
Thanks for playing along, Brandon.
@bensbiz this is an embarrassment and i surely dont plan on attending. what team is intimidated by a yard goat?
— Brandon Apter (@ApterShock) March 18, 2015
My favorite Twitter reaction to the Yard Goats name came from New Britain mayor Erin Stewart.
— Mayor Erin Stewart (@stewartfornb) March 18, 2015
There is no love lost between the city of New Britain and the Rock Cats/Yard Goats ownership, as negotiations to relocate the team were done in secret. When the news of the proposed move first broke, it was news to New Britain as well. Suffice to say, I do not think Mayor Stewart will be attending any Yard Goats games in 2016.
Finally, I hit a major professional milestone this week, via the issuance of my 20,000th tweet. Here’s how it went down:
This is my 19,998th tweet. Any suggestions for 20,000? It should, in a pithy way, encompass the entirety of who I am and what I stand for.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) March 18, 2015
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) March 18, 2015
I’m not that stupid RT @sbanks_: *attempts to get Ben to respond to this tweet so I can effectively be his 20,000th tweet*
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) March 18, 2015
Here’s to 20,000 more. I mean, why not?
Bill Valentine, legendary Arkansas Travelers executive and former American League umpire, was named”King of Baseball” at the 2014 Winter Meetings in San Diego. The day after his crowning ceremony, I sat down with Valentine, now in his 80s, for a wide-ranging interview. This chat has already resulted in one MiLB.com feature, but , as I noted at the time, there was PLENTY more where that came from.
During the course of our very long conversation – if you know Bill Valentine, then you know that he likes to tell stories – I asked him if, as King, he had any advice for his “subjects” now working in the industry. His advice, in so many words, could be summarized as “Keep it simple, stupid.” But I’ll let him tell it. The floor is now ceded to the King, so that he may enlighten the next generation of Minor League Baseball executives on a variety of topics.
Finally, it would be a good idea to listen to this classic Valentine voicemail message before reading the remainder of this post. It really helps to have a sense of his distinct (and often hilarious) manner of speaking.
(Note: This article, in slightly different form, first appeared in the Minor League Baseball industry newsletter The Dugout.)
Bill Valentine on ballpark food
People don’t know this, but when Bobby Bragan was the president of the Minor Leagues I started the Freitas Seminar [a Minor League business seminar held during the Winter Meetings]. It wasn’t called that then, I just had a seminar. I brought the general managers in to speak, but we talked about soft drinks, we talked about food, we talked about promotions, we talked about ticket sales, we talked about the souvenir stand.
You know what people want when they come to the ballpark? Peanuts, popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, a cold beer and a soft drink. They can get a brisket sandwich for lunch or anywhere else. But when they come to the ballpark, even if they’re in $40,000 suites, they want ballpark food. I found that out. And it’s true to this day. You can’t make a hamburger better than Five Guys. There ain’t no way you’re going to do those type of things better than the local guys. You can’t do barbeque better than some guy who owns a barbeque place. But hardly anybody in town is doing peanuts, popcorn, nachos and hot dogs.
You got high profit in it. And I tell people, no one ever said “Hey, let’s go to [the Travelers home of] Dickey-Stephens Park tonight. They’ve got great sushi.” Stick with the basics. Put your emphasis on what I just told you. Keep the popcorn hot, make sure you’ve got an all-meat fantastic hot dog, and the beer should be the coldest of anywhere in town. Seriously, [slapping hands for emphasis] that will make you a lot of money.
On team merchandise
My idea of souvenirs was to have my logo in the community. I wanted everyone to have Traveler ballcaps. I wanted the kids to have Traveler wristbands. I wanted them in a Travelers t-shirt…..So, a $10 t-shirt. They don’t blink. But a $22 t-shirt? Jeez.
The team cap, one size fits all? Maybe $10, $11. The one that’s a real team hat? In the $20s, maybe. Then have a lot of things, like a logo baseballs. You get the damn things for a dollar and a half. Sell it for four. Sell all that stuff, get a nice little margin but try to push it out the by the barrelful.
On customer service
I really think that, every game, there should be someone at the entrances with a club hat on welcoming people. And at the end of the game, same people, saying “Hope you come back.” And I think people enjoy that, they say, “You know, they were really nice.” I think that can go a long way. Just saying thank you.
Every night I would send out ‘mystery people’ to the concession stands. One had a $20 bill, and the other had a $10 bill. And they would go to the stands and buy something, and if the person selling said “Thank you” then the mystery person would give them the money. It really turned them around. Our employees were saying “thank you.” It’s just a nice courtesy. I had everyone around the ballpark saying “thank you.” I did it by passing out some money.
On the primary importance of the women’s restroom
I had never seen a line at the men’s restroom. So when we built [Dickey-Stephens] ballpark I said “We’re going to take half the men’s restrooms and add them to the ladies’ room.” They told me I couldn’t do it, because of federal things. I said, “I get to build this ballpark. The mayor gave it to me and it’s my ballpark.” So I made the ladies restroom twice as big as the men’s room. The ladies restrooms probably had 30 commodes in them. I mean, really.
Opening night, a guy came over from the television station and said “Okay, Mr. Promoter. What’s the one thing tonight you think people are going to notice?” I said “I’m going to tell you something. The first time a woman goes to the women’s restroom, if I’m nearby they’re going to come out and hug my neck and say to me that it is the most fantastic thing they’ve ever seen.”
Well, when Opening Night came and the gates opened [the TV reporter] put me at the exit of the ladies restroom. The first lady came out, ran over, hugged my neck and said “That was the most fantastic bathroom I have ever seen in my life.” And [the reporter], he just threw his hands up and said “You SOB.”
I’ve been spending a lot of time recently looking at Minor League Baseball promotional schedules, as it is imperative that I know what’s going on once the season is underway. And if there’s one that I can say about Minor League Baseball promotional schedules, it’s this: They are not created equal. This post is dedicated to sharing the highlights off of some of the best 2015 promotional schedules I have perused thus far.
Fresno’s Pacific Coast League club, entering the first season of its “Growlifornia” marketing campaign, is calling this “the most comprehensive and diverse promotional schedule in the history of the club.” The Grizzly details:
Highlights include the Fresno Philharmonic Brass Quintet playing Star Wars music on Star Wars Night, the social experiment that is “Pay What You Want Night” and, most crucially, a Biz Markie “Sing-A-Long” during which the eccentric hip hop icon will lead the crowd in a stadium-wide rendition of “Just A Friend.” (Here’s hoping there will also be time for the Biz to do his version of “Bennie and the Jets.” Because I need to prove how cool I am, I’d like to note that I have a Biz Markie “Bennie and the Jets” flexi-disc 7″ that was included within the second issue of the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal magazine.)
And as if all of the above wasn’t enough — and isn’t it? — on Monday the Grizzlies unveiled their March Madness-style “Fresno Famous” bobblehead tourney. This is a great initiative, and clearly a lot of work was involved in order to make this a “thing.”
After careful perusal of the bracket, I have decided to endorse the “Waving Lady on 41″ as my choice for the Fresno Famous bobblehead. Read all about her.
Remember last season when Myrtle Beach Pelicans general manager Andy Milovich sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while undergoing a prostate exam?
Milovich’s stunt garnered national attention and kickstarted an “Ice Bucket Challenge”-style in-game prostate exam trend within the industry. And now, on June 21st, the Pelicans are giving away this Father’s Day “Bobblefinger.” Note the sponsor:
Perhaps the Lehigh Valley IronPigs should be credited with an assist on this one, as the club has already established a tradition of giving away foam fingers on “Prostate Exam Awareness Night.”
Another highlight of the Pelicans’ promo schedule is July 26’s “Christmas Vacation in July.” The first 1000 fans receive a “Cousin Eddie-style alpine hat,” and the team will be wearing these Griswold-inspired jerseys.
Hey, Pelicans, you play in a tourism-centric town. As part of this promo, you should offer special discounts to fans visiting from Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Meanwhile, in Altoona, the always-innovative Curve have unleashed an array of superbly creative bobbleheads modeled after some of their most distinguished recent alumni.
Tony “Elementary” Watson:
.@AltoonaCurve promo sked also includes Punxatawney Phil bobblehead, complete w/ rare non-Groundhog’s Day appearance by the creature himself
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) February 23, 2015
Yeah, yeah. I know:
I spelled “Punxsutawney” wrong in my last tweet. I seem to do that over and over again, as if trapped within an endlessly repeating reality.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) February 23, 2015
While individual visuals are not available, I would also like to nod in the general direction of the Potomac Nationals. Their promo schedule is spectacular:
The P-Nats’ exceedingly verbose press release includes this passage on bobbleheads:
[Giveaways include] a Steven Souza Jr. “The Catch” figurine commemorating his no-hitter clinching web gem behind Washington Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann on the final day of the 2014 regular season (Saturday, June 13th), a Michael Taylor “Flattop” Major League Debut bobblehead with faux hair (Saturday, June 20th), a Wilson Ramos hybrid half-man, half-buffalo “Buff-A-rine” (Sunday, July 5th), The Goonies 30th Anniversary “One-Eyed Willie” bobblehead (Saturday, August 1st).
That Goonies promo is sure to be one of the most ballyhooed theme nights of the year. As you can see in the top left corner of the above graphic, Corey Feldman (who has probably aged a bit since that photo was taken) will be in attendance. There will also be the aforementioned “One-Eyed Willie” bobblehead, as well as theme jerseys and a post-game screening of the film.
And, not to be lost in the (truffle) shuffle, there’s this:
The P-Nats will also be hosting tentative “body improvement” nights including Hair Removal Night, Tattoo Appreciation Night, and Skin Tag Removal Night.
I’ll end this post with a Trigger warning: On June 18, the Round Rock Express are giving away this awesome bobblehead featuring Willie Nelson and his guitar:
Over on MiLB.com you can read my round-up of the 2014-15 Minor League re-branding season, featuring 11 new team names and/or logos. In conjunction with this, my latest journalistic masterwork, I decided to take a look around the Minor League landscape in order to subjectively determine the team from each league that is most in need of a makeover.
We’ll start at the top of the Minor League ladder and work our way down. Perhaps, come this time next year, some of these clubs will have opted to update their iconography. Whether you agree, disagree or couldn’t care less, feel free to tell me so in the comments or on Twitter (@bensbiz).
International League: Louisville Bats (current logo in use since 2002)
This logo is a little too reminiscent of Batman, so maybe it’s time that Louisville Gotham selves another one.
Pacific Coast League: Fresno Grizzlies (current logo in use since 2008)
The Grizzlies are actively embracing their post-San Francisco identity, but the orange and black color scheme still screams “Giants affiliation!”
Eastern League: Portland Sea Dogs (current logo in use since 2003)
Southern League: Mississippi Braves (current logo in use since 2005)
Texas League: Midland RockHounds (current logo in use since 1999)
California League: High Desert Mavericks (current logo in use since 1991)
Carolina League: Carolina Mudcats (current logo in use since 1991)
Florida State League: Tampa Yankees (current logo in use since 1994)
Midwest League: Lansing Lugnuts (current logo in use since 1996)
As was pointed out to me when I visited Lansing: That’s not a lugnut. It’s a bolt.
South Atlantic League: Kannapolis Intimidators (current logo in use since 2001)
New York-Penn League: Brooklyn Cyclones (current logo in use since 2001)
The Cyclones seem to do everything right, so I may as well give them a hard time for not updating the logo they came into existence with.
Northwest League: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (current logo in use since 1997)
Appalachian League: Johnson City Cardinals (current logo in use since 1995)
Pioneer League: Helena Brewers (current logo in use since 2011)
In closing, I’d like to offer a tip of the cap to Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net. It’s a great source of info.
It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what it is they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Brittany Callahan, who has spent countless hours at the Mobile BayBears’ home of Hank Aaron Stadium. Her father, Mike, spent 13 seasons as the team’s assistant general manager.
(All photos from the Ben’s Biz collection, unless otherwise noted)
Why I Love the Mobile BayBears, by Brittany Callahan
What is your first thought when I mention the city of Mobile, Alabama? The home of Mardi Gras? Maybe. White sand beaches? Possibly. College football dominance? Probably. Baseball, most likely, is absent from your list. But what is surprising to many, however, is that Mobile has played a huge role in baseball history. Outside of New York and Los Angeles, Mobile claims more Hall of Famers (five) than any other city in America. Those Hall of Famers — Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams — play a large role in making Mobile one of the most storied cities for baseball in the country.
Mobile’s rich baseball history can be seen before you even enter Hank Aaron Stadium, which the Baybears — Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks — have called home for eighteen years. In the shadows of the stadium sits Hank Aaron’s Childhood Home and Museum. Yes, you read that correctly. Partnering with the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and Major League Baseball, a few select BayBears staffers relocated the home that Mr. Aaron and his siblings grew up in, from its original location just a few miles away to the stadium grounds. Upon relocating, it was transformed into a museum which houses artifacts from the Aaron family as well as mementos from Hank’s journey from childhood to Home Run King. For those who want to see this remarkable piece of Mobile baseball history, tours are available before and during games as well as in the offseason.
The BayBears continue Mobile’s tradition of excellence by being perennial playoff contenders, with many of their alumni making an impact in the Major Leagues. The BayBears were originally the Double-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres and, during that time, they won two Southern League championships. They also sent players such as Jake Peavy (who calls Mobile home), Josh Barfield, Jason Bay and Adam Eaton to “The Show.” In 2007, the BayBears switched their affiliation to the Arizona Diamondbacks, going on to to win back-to-back Southern League championships in 2011 and 2012. They advanced to the championship series again in 2013, attempting to earn a three-peat (something that had only been done once before in the league) but ultimately lost in the decisive fifth game. Some recognizable BayBears to have debuted in the Majors since 2007 include Max Scherzer, Justin Upton, Carlos Gonzalez, Gerrardo Parra, Mark Reynolds and Paul Goldschmidt.
With the recent addition of baseball legends such as Tony LaRussa, Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson to the Arizona Diamondbacks staff, it is not uncommon to see these famous faces walking the concourse of Hank Aaron Stadium to scout their players and coaches. Mr. Hank Aaron has even sat within his namesake stadium to take in a few ballgames while visiting his hometown.
Mobile has been a hotbed for baseball, and notable baseball players, for decades. Now, the BayBears have taken the reigns in leading the sport into the 21st century. I would be hard pressed to think of another Minor League stadium in the country where you can catch future Major League standouts in the hunt for another championship while bumping into Hall of Famers and (in my opinion) a man who can still claim to be the all-time Home Run King. Go BayBears!
Thanks to Brittany 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 2010 article on the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum.