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A Mass of Cots-tumed Characters

I’m going to assume that, at this point in time, you have already thoroughly scoured my post on 2014 road trip itineraries. (If you haven’t, then please click HERE). Thanks to all who have provided feedback on that post; more is always encouraged via benjamin.hill@mlb.com  and twitter.com/bensbiz

But enough about me! Did you know that, in recent weeks, several new Minor League mascots have made their debut? I am sensing a profoundly ambivalent response to that query, but soldiering on in the face of ambivalence is what I do best. Therefore, let’s start with Chico of the El Paso Chihuahuas, who I will be able to meet in person on April 29th. Say what you will about the Chihuahuas name/logo/overall branding efforts, but one thing they are definitely not is bashful. Chico, who came into the world without even a scintilla of an origin story, is IN YOUR FACE.

(This, and all Chico photos, courtesy Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas)

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Let’s back up a little…

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From the rear. This photo could in no way be misconstrued.

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I do my best to refrain from lazy “only on the internet” phrases such as “nightmare fuel,” but there’s no doubt that Chico has a bit of an edge too him. He’s got red eyes, a dog collar necklace, and a cockeyed, teeth-baring grin, three presentational elements that are rarely associated with the Minor League mantra of family-friendly entertainment.

El Paso Chihuahuas — on the cutting edge, or missing the mark? I have a feeling that Chico doesn’t care what your opinion is, whatever it is. He will be performing for a fan base that includes Pauly Shore and Cheech Marin (really!), so chances are that he’ll fit in just fine.

Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas

Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas

Meanwhile, a couple thousand miles to the northeast, the Akron RubberDucks have unveiled “Webster.” 

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And, yes, let’s get this out of the way. As noted by more than one of my Twitter followers, Webster appears to be Minor League Baseball’s version of “Poochie,” the superfluous Itchy and Scratchy sidekick whose cynical conception and even more cynical demise was the subject of a classic Simpsons episode.

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It turns out that, in the flesh, Webster is downright endearing. Chances are slim that he will die on the way back to his home planet, I look forward to meeting him when I visit Akron on July 18.

Out in Modesto, Al the almond and Wally the walnut have long held things down on the mascot front. You’d think that the team would be content with displaying their pair of nuts at every home game, but, no, they want more. Get ready for a female pistachio!

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Like all female pistachios, this one needs a name! Fans are invited to choose among Penny, Patty, Shelley, Bella, or Polly, but why isn’t “Ms. Tachio” one of the options? I need to start a consulting company so that such wordplay opportunities are always taken advantage of within the industry. I would be good at this, and you know it.

Finally, in Little Rock, the Arkansas Travelers have unveiled not one and not three but yes two mascots: Ace and Otey. Sez the team:

Ace is a native Arkansan who grew up rooting for the Travelers. He proudly served his country and upon returning to the Natural State competed and won the Mascot Tryout. With a name like “Ace” of course he is a pitcher and stands at a very menacing 7′ 2″ tall and weighs 501 pounds with a size-36 hoof.

From the Travs’ Opening Day Facebook photo album:

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At 7’2″, Ace’s height is even greater than former Arkansas Traveler Loek Van Mil!

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This, also from the Travs, might be one of my favorite mascot bios in recent memory.

Initially the idea was for just one mascot, but when Ace introduced the Travs and Hughes Agency to his best friend “Otey the Swamp Possum” during the interview process all bets were off. Just like Ace, Otey is also native to the state hailing from Southeast Arkansas. He grew up watching Travs games with his family from underneath the stands at Little Rock’s Ray Winder Field. Otey, who was named after former Traveler infielder and groundskeeper R.C. Otey, claims that he is the Travelers’ “Good Luck Charm”. In fact Otey believes that his superstitions helped the Travs win the 2008 Texas League Championship even though their 62-78 regular season record was the worst for a champion in Texas League history. Otey stands a stout 5 feet tall, he is a fan of second base and the “phantom double play” and his favorite number is .984, which was R.C. Otey’s career fielding percentage.

And with this memorable bio comes a very memorable mascot.

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Okay, let’s back it up just a bit…

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Otey inspired a brief burst of snark and faux-outrage from amateur hour internet hyperbolists, but so what? As Otey’s bio makes clear — and this is something I learned firsthand when I visited in 2012 — the Travs and their fans have a strong nostalgia for their colorful Ray Winder Field past.  So much so, the beer garden at their current home of Dickey-Stephens Field is named after a well-known and often well-lubricated fan who would slide, in shorts, into a popcorn box base. Otey should fit right in.

And with that, it’s time for me to hook slide on out of here.

hook

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Sun Will Come Out…Eventually

Yesterday was Opening Day, except when it wasn’t.

As is common at this time of year, there were a range of weather woes across the Minor League landscape. Seven of the 58 scheduled games were rained out, with the most dramatic example coming courtesy of the Frisco RoughRiders.

Today isn’t looking much better. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who played in frigid conditions on Thursdays, have already announced a postponement. In Toledo, meanwhile, the visiting Louisville Bats are worried about the viability of their game against the Mud Hens…

And — WHOA! — things are looking severe out by Sevierville. Click on THIS and then come back to me. I’ll be waiting….

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Okay, cool, thanks for re-joining me. All of this meteorological mayhem got me thinking about a guest post that ran on this blog last year, in which Pete Golkin advocated for the creation of an industry-wide Universal Rain Check. The idea is simple: when a game gets rained out, the team in question issues a rain check that can be redeemed at any Minor League ballpark. Wrote Golkin at the time:

Remember, we’re talking about Minor League Baseball tickets. They’re not supposed to break the bank or become scarce–which is why you’ll never see a scalper in the parking lots at Danville, Greensboro or Richmond.

To work out the details, I suggest calling in the same accountants who said my old sliced cheese wrapper meant two-for-one admission anywhere on a Tuesday. And if I have to prove I’m an out-of-towner to get a rain check with “range,” I’ll gladly show a driver’s license. Simple stuff.

So on behalf of baseball pilgrims everywhere—at least the ones not bound for Fenway in an SUV limo–give the Universal Rain Check a shot, MiLB. It can only mean more fans up and down the road.

That post was met with one of the most robust comment sections in Ben’s Biz Blog history. But, alas, it was met with silence from those in a position to actually implement the program.

UNTIL NOW.

On Tuesday, the Dunedin Blue Jays issued a press release, and the press release contained the following information:

The Dunedin Blue Jays…are proud to announce the Raincheck Baseball Initiative (R.B.I.) program for the 2014 Florida State League season.

This unique program will allow fans to redeem a ticket from any rained out game from another team in Minor League Baseball for a Dunedin Blue Jays game….The R.B.I. program is believed to be the first of its kind in professional baseball.

“Basically, it’s a universal rain check,” said Nate Kurant, the new Director of Marketing and Social Media for the D-Jays. “A friend and I did a baseball road trip across the Southeast last season and each day had at least a 70% chance of rain. If any of those days had been rained out, we never would have made use of a rain check.”

“I know a lot of people love Minor League Baseball and take trips throughout the season to visit different parks. Essentially, I wanted to develop something that would meet a need for MiLB fans and help set us apart in Dunedin,” said Kurant. “It’s a beautiful city and hopefully this will give baseball fans more incentive to visit us throughout the year.”

Fair-weather fans that present a ticket from a different MiLB team’s rained out game not only will receive admission to a D-Jays game, but also take home a “Rainy Day Blue Jays” pack including a Blue Jays rain poncho. They will also have the option to participate in one of the numerous in-game promotions.

“It’s a nationwide, international MiLB promotion that is open to everyone from our fellow Jays affiliate in Vancouver all the way to our Florida State League friends in Palm Beach County.”

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“Come see us using a ticket stub from a rained-out Minor League game,” said the Dunedin Blue Jays in unison.

One team down, 159 to go. Do YOU think the universal raincheck is a good/viable idea? Would you take advantage of such a program? Are you tired of me asking obscure questions, as you would rather see a picture of a giant hamburger?

Okay, fine, here you go:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: In-N-Out of Bakersfield and on to Visalia

The 2014 season is almost upon us, and my recent realization of its imminence quickly led to another, related, realization: I had better finish writing about my 2013 road trips!

As you probably know, I went on three road trips during the 2013 campaign: A Southern Swing, some Midwest League Meandering, and, finally, a little bit of West Coast Wandering. Every last ounce of material from those first two trips has been wrung dry, but, today, it’s time to “Return to the Road” for the third and final time this season. I have odds and ends from the West Coast to share!

This particular trip took place in August, beginning in Bakersfield, Calif. and concluding in Hillsboro, Ore. I arrived in Bakersfield at about 3:30 on Saturday morning, after driving in from LAX, and following a good night’s sleep I pulled back the hotel room curtain to reveal this landscape.

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Just across this vast expanse of asphalt was a water park, an appropriate entertainment destination for those residing within this arid atmosphere.

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After sleeping late and doing a little bit of writing, there wasn’t much time to explore Bakersfield before heading to that evening’s Blaze game. So, rather unambitiously, I set my GPS coordinates toward a local In-N-Out Burger.

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While I find the slavish devotion of its chief adherents to be a bit comical, there is no doubt that In-N-Out Burger is an above-average fast food establishment. I’ve made a point to eat there whenever I’m on the west coast, but this time around my patronage was strategic as well. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, and since then good gluten-free fast food options have been hard to come by. In-N-Out Burger, with its minimal, fresh menu, provides an easy option: protein style, in which lettuce is used as a bun (yes, I promise that there is a burger somewhere in there). The fries are “animal style,” with a thousand island-esque dipping sauce.

2916I spent that evening at Sam Lynn Stadium, home of the Blaze, which resulted in some of my best writing of the season (if I do say so myself, which I just did). The next morning I checked out of the Marriott — watch the Vine! — and spent an hour or so exploring downtown Bakersfield. Here’s “Lyles College of Beauty,” which I drove past while en route to World Records.

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World Records was closed.

002It was late on a Sunday morning, and downtown was so silent as to be a little eerie. What few sounds there were (a car passing by, the cough of a pedestrian) seemed magnified, momentarily overtaking my entire aural landscape. The scene, as I recorded it.

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The Prospect Lounge — where Bakersfield’s Minor League elite go to eat?

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Amid this desultory wandering I located another record store and this, too, was closed.

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Did anybody go to this show? If so, I’d be happy to publish your review on this blog.

Since there didn’t seem to be too many lunch options in downtown Bakersfield proper, I instead went, once again, to In-N-Out Burger. Different location, but the meal remained the same. (Perhaps also worth noting is that, according to my notes, Bakersfield’s 89.7 is a “great radio station.” Further investigation reveals that to be KSVG “Savage Radio,” a community-owned non-profit.)

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The evening before, while attending the Blaze game, assistant general manager Philip Guiry told me about a vintage store called “Hidden Treasures” that he was a fan of. It sounded like an offbeat place, the kind of spot you go to if you’re trying to make a doll head necklace, so I decided to try and check it out.

My “Hidden Treasures” internet research brought me to, well, I don’t know where I was. All I know is that I couldn’t find a place called “Hidden Treasures.”

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Since I wasn’t in the market for a 420 evaluation, I reluctantly left the Bakersfield area for good. Visalia, home of the Rawhide, was next up on the agenda, and my first impression of Visalia was distinctly positive. Welcome to the Lamp Liter Inn, one of the quaintest team hotels one can find in the world of Minor League Baseball.

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That Sunday evening I attended the Visalia Rawhide game, writing about alligator hexes and giant pretzels and whatnot. The next morning began at the Lamp Liter Inn, and that’s where tomorrow’s post shall begin as well. Until then, I remain,

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Bouillabaisse Blog Post II: Electric Bouillabaisseabaloo

In all likelihood you haven’t yet digested — or even been aware of the existence of — yesterday’s full-to-bursting bouillabaisse post. But that’s not gonna stop me from delivering yet another heaping hodgepodge of worthwhile Minor League Baseball news, because that’s just the kind of guy I am: the kind of guy who cannot be stopped, or even contained, really. Lil B’s got nothing on me, for I am the #BouillabaissedGod!

The more perceptive among you may have noticed that yesterday’s post, full-to-bursting though it may have been, contained no videos. Today is not like yesterday, because it never is, and therefore today’s post will contain videos. Let’s get to them, starting with a significant bit of publicity for Lake Elsinore’s “World’s Fastest Squirrel.” 

For more on the World’s Fastest Squirrel and the surreal world from which he emerged, kindly read my 2012 “Minoring in Business” article.

Another example of Minor League Baseball mascots in big-time roles can be found in “What the Phanatic Say?,” which features an impressive collection of Phillies-affiliated characters.

The above video, a parody of “What Does the Fox Say?”, is not to be confused with other such spoofs. THIS, for example, explains the fundamental tenets of Quakerism.

No Segue!

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The Indianapolis Colts may have been eliminated from the playoffs, but that’s not going to stop me from sharing a video that was made before the postseason begun. This Christmas, Indianapolis Indians stalwart Matt Hague offered valuable sliding tutelage to his next door stadium neighbor Andrew Luck. Hilarity, or perhaps something bearing no small resemblance to hilarity, ensued.

If it’s outdated Indianapolis Indians comedic holiday content that you want, then it’s outdated Indianapolis Indians comedic holiday content that I’ve got!

And, let’s be honest here, if something’s funny then it has no expiration date. That’s my excuse for providing yet another piece of comedic holiday video content, this time courtesy of my old pals the Altoona Curve. Get psyched for The Pockster!

The “Pockster” is a parody of Conan O’Brien’s “Rublight” ad, which you absolutely must watch. There is no person who won’t find it funny. Or, if there is, I don’t want to know that person. And if I do know that person, then all ties are renounced effective immediately.

nosegway

When it comes to Minor League Baseball blogging, I am the greatest of all time. But when it comes to the grapest Minor League entity of all time? That honor now belongs to the Reading Fightin Phils, whose mascot and star player competed against one another in a local grape-stomping competition because of course they did.

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I’ve shared a lot of stupid videos with you today, resulting in more wonton absurdity then a surrealist painting of a Chinese restaurant. But I’m going to close this post with a video that is thoughtful, tasteful, personal, and passionate. I like it a lot, this heartfelt musical plea to preserve the former home of the Eugene Emeralds.

The fact that this song was written by one “Scoop McGuire” makes it that much better. Check out savecivicstadium.org for more info.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Minor League Baseball On Ice!

The viciously cold temperatures that accompanied this week’s much-ballyhooed “Polar Vortex” aren’t exactly compatible with ideal Minor League Baseball conditions, but that didn’t stop the Potomac Nationals from having a little frigid fun at the ballpark. On Tuesday and Wednesday the team held its first-ever “Polar Plunge.”

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The P-Nats described the event thusly, while also noting that EMT personnel and warming blankets would be on hand (in my opinion, it’s not a true promo unless EMT are on the premises):

While temperatures plummet in Northern Virginia and around the country, the Potomac Nationals encourage fans to participate in the first annual two-day P-Nats Polar Plunge at Pfitzner Stadium on Tuesday, January 7th and Wednesday, January 8th from 1:00pm to 3:00pm each day.

Nationals fans will have the opportunity to win full general admission season tickets to the upcoming 2014 season if they stay submerged for a total of five seconds inside the home clubhouse ice bath tub which will be wheeled into the first base dugout. 

The first 20 people to arrive for the P-Nats Polar Plunge will be eligible to enter the frosty ice bath. 

Ice Bath

Northern Virginians with hardy souls, including team vice-president Josh Olerud, took the plunge.

An Olerud Awakening

An Olerud Awakening

Among the photographic highlights were these. My only question is “Where you at, ladies?”

P-Nats Plunge 9

P-Nats Plunge 2

P-Nats Plunge 4

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Via email, P-Nats media relations director Bryan Holland offered his thoughts on his team’s sub-freezing shenanigans:

The first annual P-Nats Polar Plunge allowed us to bring some levity to the sweeping arctic temperatures, and also connect with our fan base in a fun way amidst the winter season while reminding them that baseball is right around the corner.

After a terrific turnout for the inaugural plunge, we intend on hosting this event annually and perhaps we will up the ante next year on the prize, but also the length of submersion.

And please disregard my previous “Where the ladies at?” comment. As I was putting this post together Holland sent over this video, which proves that ladies plunged into the icy abyss with equal levels of enthusiasm.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_UgUpv9SMQ

For the record, I am a longtime participant in Coney Island’s annual Polar Bear Plunge. In order to finally put an end to the deluge of requests I receive via email and Twitter to “please post a topless photo of yourself,” here’s a picture of me welcoming 2014 in style.

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That photo is sure to result in a spike in traffic. Speaking of which, the State College Spikes also capitalized on this week’s spate of cold weather. On Monday, an email including the text excerpted below landed in my inbox:

If you can’t beat the Arctic Blast predicted for Central Pennsylvania, then why not embrace it?

That’s the attitude the State College Spikes and local partner DQ Grill & Chill are bringing to area residents who will be dealing with some of the coldest weather to visit the region in decades on Tuesday.

With high temperatures predicted to be in the low single digits and wind chills forecast to be as low as 32 degrees below zero, the Spikes have announced that the club will be handing out complimentary slices of DQ’s famously-refreshing ice cream cake between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Those brave enough to endure the elements for a cool treat on Tuesday can claim their free slice of DQ ice cream cake by visiting the front door of the “Off the Rack Outfitters” Team Store….anyone who visits will receive 30-percent off any one Spikes merchandise item.    

A healthy smattering of fans did indeed endure the elements, as the tweet ably proves.

In non-cold weather news, I believe that a lot of this blog’s regular readers will enjoy my most recent feature on 2013 Minor League attendance. Within the article one can find a link to David Kronheim’s annual report, a cornucopia of ballpark facts and figures worthy of some serious study. Read it over the weekend, and get back to me.

Oh! And for what it’s worth: let it be known that the P-Nats, in addition to staging this offseason’s best cold-weather promotion, also possess Minor League Baseball’s best-named manager.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Winter Meetings Job-Seeker Journals: Meredith Perri, 12/9/2013

Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to keep a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). In this installment, Meredith Perri (@meredithperri) lands her first interviews amid a barrage of hotel lobby networking. 

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I honestly did not know what to expect when I got to the Swan on Tuesday, but by the end of the day, it seemed like one phrase accurately depicted my experience from start to finish: organized chaos.

Now, that isn’t a bad thing, it’s just what happens when a few hundred job seekers sit in one room anxiously waiting for someone to post a new position or an interview schedule on one of the boards.

I made my way over to the job posting room at 8:30, forgetting that the area didn’t open until 9:00. I wasn’t the only one. Fellow job seekers were scattered throughout the hallways as they waited to see the results from the previous night’s bombardment of the job posting room. When the it opened up, I didn’t see anything, but that was fine. I had worked out my schedule so I would have something to do other than play the wait-and-see game.

Before coming out to the Winter Meetings, I got in touch with a few people that I knew from Twitter, Boston University or SportsNet New York. I’m lucky that my supervisor from when I interned at SNY not only encouraged me to come to the meetings, but also got me involved with the outlet’s online coverage. So, once I didn’t see any new teams to apply to, I made my way back to the Dolphin and picked up my media credential.

I was just about to head back to the Swan to scan the postings again when one of my friends told me that I had an interview. I hustled to the other hotel, signed up for a time in the early evening and did another walk through before going back to the Dolphin to meet up with a beat reporter that I reached out to on Twitter.

During one of my trips to check the latest postings, I ran into [fellow journal writer] Kasey [Decker] in the hallway. We could not have had better timing. As we went from basic introductions to how our experiences were so far, I received a text from a general manger asking if I was near the PBEO area and if I had time to meet with him. Within the next hour I had completed my first interview and felt a lot better about the entire process. A few hours later, I had my second interview, and was even more encouraged.

I found Kasey and a few people she had introduced me to after my interview, and I learned quickly that having a group of people to battle through the now-swamped lobby was a good thing. I stayed with them until a BU alum and beat reporter who has been incredibly helpful during my job hunt was free to chat. Over the course of the next two-plus hours he introduced me to a dozen or so people from different media outlets and beyond.

The evening could not have turned out better.

Now it’s time to pack my bags and head to my final day at the meetings. I have one more interview this morning and hopefully a few more people to speak with before I leave. Maybe it was the organized chaos, but I cannot believe how short my time in Florida was. Regardless, I have one more day, and I’m ready to go.

Note: Meredith is returning to school on Wednesday in order to take her final exams. The other three journal writers will remain in Orlando until Thursday. Check back tomorrow for Meredith’s final entry of the week.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

In Which A Costumed Bird Becomes Accountable for his Actions

I hope that everyone enjoyed (or at least benevolently tolerated) my recent blog detour, in which I covered the time that was had in Louisville during the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar. But that detour, circuitously indulgent as it was, has now led us back to the main road. And while traveling this main road my mission is simply to provide lots and lots (and lots) of content pertaining to in-season innovations that I didn’t get around to covering during the season itself.

I’ll begin today’s post with a cavalcade of pictures sent to me by loyal readers (and veteran MiLB ballpark travelers) Rex and Coco Doane. Back on June 23 they attended a game in their home borough of Brooklyn, where the Cyclones held an on-field mascot Bar Mitzvah as part of their annual “Jewish Heritage Night” promo.

Yes, a “mascot Bar Mitzvah.”

Sandy_at_Baby_Naming_Ceremony

I had been unaware that Sandy the Seagull was Jewish (he, like most mascots, had heretofore kept his spiritual proclivities under wraps), but this really was his 13th birthday and therefore it was imperative that his transition into manhood be properly commemorated.

Here, Sandy is congratulated by his mascot counterpart Pee-Wee as King Henry narrates the action and a Beach Bum stands sentinel.

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Mazel Tov! (I’m sorry, I’m not Jewish, Mazel Tov is the only seemingly-relevant comment that I can muster.)

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Shortly thereafter, a rabbi threw out the ceremonial first pitch. It was a “bris”tering fastball.

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Meanwhile, the Cyclones players wore jerseys featuring Hebrew lettering.

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No right leg? No problem!

And whilst bedecked in this one-time only bit of religiously-themed apparel, the Cyclones won the ballgame. Mazel Tov! (Really, that’s all I’ve got.)

Upon further perusal of my “potential blog topics” email folder, I see that I am in possession of even more Rex and Coco-submitted Brooklyn Cyclones content. In August the Doanes attended “Bark in the Park Night” with their dogs Cricket and Brisket, reporting that “PeeWee went crazy for Cricket. Brisket went crazy for ballplayers.” Let’s go to the tape:

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Moving on to this post’s first bit of non-Doane content, check out what has to be one of the better tattoos to be emblazoned upon a body in the year 2013.

As you can infer from his twitter handle, Jeff is a clubbie. His occupation goes a long way toward explaining this tattoo as well:

And with that, I have hit upon my totally arbitrary and completely self-imposed offseason blog post word quota. Thanks for reading, and please do not hesitate to get in touch via the below channels.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Day Three of the Promotional Seminar in Louisville

Welcome to another installment of this Louisville tour diary, in which I detail the time that was had (by me) during last week’s Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar. This post shall chronicle Day Three, but before proceeding please know that a recap of Day One can be found HERE and a recap of Day Two can be found HERE.

And with that bit of introductory housekeeping out of the way, we can now proceed with an unburdened spirit.

Thursday, September 26

Day Three started out strong, as Golden Bobbleheads were the first order of business. These annual awards honor the best promotions to take place in the Minor Leagues during the season, and are voted on by Seminar attendees (the finalists are chosen on a monthly basis by Minor League Baseball HQ in St. Pete). Before voting, each nominated team gives a brief presentation on their promotion, with teams not attending sending video submissions instead (these teams rarely, if ever, win). The end result is a fun and fast-paced couple of hours, as teams politic, provoke and plead from the podium.

Five Golden Bobbleheads are eventually awarded, in the categories of Best Non-Game Day Event, Best Theme Night, Best Charity Promotion or Event, and Best In-Game. I’ll weigh on the winners at a later date in the near future, but as for the presentations themselves this is the only photo that I possess:

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That’s Lake Elsinore Storm assistant general manager Raj Narayanan standing next to a gorilla, who soon took part in a light saber battle that almost ripped down the stage curtains. Such anarchy is par for the course when it comes to the Storm, who regularly engage in such nonsense at the Promo Seminar (for better or for worse I’ll never forget their 2009 presentation in which they touted their Subtle Butt flatulence neutralizer giveaway).

Meanwhile, my 10 nominations for 2013′s “Promo of the Year” MiLBY Award are just about to be unveiled. Check them out on MiLB.com and vote for your favorite! The MiLBY’s are the fan equivalent of the Golden Bobblehead, the hoi polloi-embracing yin to their industry insider yang. These two awards are not in competition with one another, but I’ve got to say it’s been a bit disheartening to find that teams generally care a lot more about winning a Golden Bobblehead. Again and again teams brag to me about winning a Golden Bobblehead (often thinking that I have something to do with their selection), but rarely do I hear such excitement when it comes to the MiLBYs.

This is disheartening, yes, but somehow I carry on.

There was a full slate of presentations after the Golden Bobblehead portion of the morning (one of which included a hilarious verbal slip-up), but for the most part I wasn’t paying much attention. In fact, for much of it I wasn’t even in the room. This is because I was to be the Seminar’s final ballroom presenter, so I spent some time in the hotel room putting the finishing touches on this:

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I suppose the title is self-explanatory, as this 20-minute speech simply detailed my 2013 travels in chronological order. I tried to keep it breezy and funny yet informative, and I think I succeeded. Going into it I was incredibly nervous and edgy and couldn’t really sit still, but as soon as I got on the stage I was completely relaxed and started making jokes like they were going out of style (and my kind of jokes really are going out of style).

(Also: I am available to give this speech, or variations thereof, in other venues. All that I ask is for travel and lodging expenses to be covered and a small “whisky stipend” provided.)

Unfortunately this smartphone photo seems to be the only documentation of my speech that exists. Please know that it was delivered into a sea of smiling faces, each more impressed than the last at my boundless charm, buoyant humor, and verbal dexterity. If anyone else has any more photos then please send them to me! The flames of narcissism need to be fanned, as I am a lonely man and the offseason is long and cold.

photoI celebrated my victorious speech like I celebrate everything else: by eating a meal in public while standing, completely alone. In the afternoon there were a couple more “Group Therapy” sessions, and one of the ones I attended was titled “Beyond the Press Release” (moderated by Minor League Baseball corporate communications manager Mary Marandi). I spoke a little bit during the session about the unpredictable crapshoot that is national media attention, but here are two things in my notes that I didn’t get around to mentioning.

– For the love of God, it is the year 2013 and therefore ALL press releases should be sent using BCC (believe it or not, there are still some teams who display their entire mailing lists in the “to” column of every single press release they send).

– Maintain Facebook and Twitter feeds separately. There are still several teams whose Facebook posts automatically appear on Twitter in truncated form (usually ending in the middle of a sentence, followed by an ellipse), which gives Twitter followers the impression that they are a total afterthought. Twitter is far too important a means of communication to be used in such a slapdash manner.

Any thoughts on any of this? Let me know.

Up until this juncture I have been extremely heavy on the written word, leading eyes to glaze over, minds to numb and joints to atrophy. As a remedy to these myriad afflictions I shall close the post with a barrage of photos from Thursday evening’s ballpark outing to Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Bats (this is easily the best stadium naming rights deal in Minor League Baseball, as regards the company’s connection to both city and sport). After shuffling off of the hotel shuttle almost everyone headed toward the concourse booze merchants, but not I. My allegiance is not to the booze (well, at least some of the time), my allegiance is to you. Therefore, I did a full lap around the stadium before entering.

030Architecturally speaking and otherwise, Louisville Slugger Stadium is an absolute gem. It fits beautifully into its downtown surroundings, incorporating a defunct train depot into the design and featuring gorgeous views of the Ohio River and the bridges spanning it.

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The statue out front commemorates Louisville native Pee Wee Reese in high-flying form.

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This pathway (located down the third base side of the facility) leads to an outfield entrance.

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032There is a statue on this side as well, honoring Hall of Fame running back (and Louisville native, natch) Paul Hornung.

033The long and winding road continued from there, ultimately bringing me back to where I started and then into the stadium itself.

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037Like moths to a flame, industry was gathered ’round the booze (yes, I have a tough time maintaining a gluten-free diet in a ballpark environment, but I think it would be even tougher to work in baseball as a recovering alcoholic).

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Tours were being offered at this stage, so I joined on with a group whose departure was imminent. The view from the suites:

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This picture, hanging in a corridor located outside of the press box, gives a sense of what an absolute behemoth Cardinal Stadium was (the team played here from 1982-99, largely as a member of the now-defunct American Association).

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Old American Association championship banners decorate this spacious entranceway area, which used to be the aforementioned train depot.

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We then ambled down to the Bats’ clubhouse, home of the forsaken Aerobie.

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This was one of the few clubhouses that I’ve seen that feature a pool table.

050Beyond that, I simply enjoyed documenting some of the more absurd pieces of 2013 season detritus. I wonder what the fine is for allowing the fine box to be photographed by a middling Minor League blogger?

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Not the best place for a fitted hat sticker, guys.

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No offense, USA Baseball.

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And while Muhammad Ali is one of Louisville’s most famous native sons, let it be known that one of his most celebrated adversaries also logged time here.

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Back upstairs, there was a whole lotta eatin’ going on. Although I failed to document it, the centerpiece of my dinner was a “Kentucky filet mignon” aka fried bologna.

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Dinner was followed by the presentation of the Golden Bobbleheads, but, as mentioned previously, I’ll save my thoughts on them for another time. After the awards “ceremony,” whilst in the midst of the usual industry event hobnobbing, I was approached by members of the Bats’ staff. Would I be interested in dressing as a racing food product? How could I say no?

Back down into the abyss we descended:

055I eschewed the Taco Bell sauce packets in favor of this guy.

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056No documentation exists of our concourse forays, but it was an interesting experience. Usually when I’m in costumes such as the above, the response is one of constant attention. “Hey, can I get a picture?” “High five!” “I know you can hear me!” etc. But when dressing up as a racing food product amid an all-industry crowd, THE INDUSTRY DOES NOT CARE. I was met with contemptuous glares by some, but most were completely indifferent and couldn’t even be bothered to high five. Okay, cool, that’s fine, save your energy for the piano bar. I understand that at this point in the calendar year a certain ennui has set in. It sure has for me!

But yet, I keep writing. There will be more from Louisville, because there is always more until there is nevermore. But, for now, I’m gonna quit Raven.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Day Two of the Promotional Seminar in Louisville

Wednesday, September 25

The previous post in this ongoing saga detailed Day One of the 2013 Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar, held in Louisville’s Galt House Hotel. And when there’s a Day One it’s a near certainty that Day Two will follow. In my case that’s just what happened, and therefore Day Two is what this post shall detail.

But no matter what day it is, you be sure that there’s a lot going on at the Seminar.

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The morning portion of the Seminar was devoted to “Around the Horn,” in which the microphone is passed around the room so that attendees may detail their most successful endeavor of the 2013 season. I wrote all about this on MiLB.com, which, believe it or not, is the official web site of Minor League Baseball. But I took note of far more than that which was included in the article, some of which I will now share:

– South Atlantic League president Eric Krupa plugged his website Club Philanthropy, which details charitable efforts taking place across the world of Minor League Baseball. (Lots of great ideas are contained therein, although it hasn’t been updated since April.)

– The Gastonia Grizzlies, a collegiate wood bat team, staged a “Dig to China Night” promotion in which plane tickets to China were buried in the infield dirt. Whomever located the tickets in a post-game dig would win them, but here’s the catch — the tickets were one-way only, and nothing else was included as part of the package.

– Myrtle Beach Pelicans GM Andy Milovich said that “Salute to Smells” was his team’s best promotion of the year. I wrote about it HERE.

– Phil Wrye, assistant GM of the Bowie Baysox, extolled the virtues of his team’s “Glow in the Park Night.” 2500 fans received glow sticks, greatly enhancing the ballpark atmosphere (especially prior to that evening’s fireworks display).

– The Tri-City ValleyCats attempted to set the Guinness World Record in the category of “Most People Wearing False Mustaches.” This endeavor was inspired by manager Ed Romero, who has a real mustache. (In other news, I am not a fan of the Guinness World Records governing body. My thoughts on that, and much more, can be heard in the latest GameOps podcast. I was speaking live and direct from Louisville’s Galt House Hotel.)

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– Emcee Todd “Parney” Parnell remarked at one point that during the early stages of the offseason it would behoove teams to look into the upcoming summer movie release schedule. Based on this info, you can plan timely theme nights well in advance. Another solid Parney tidbit was this: “I tell everyone on our staff to read the [local] paper every day. Some of our most impactful promotions have been done at a moment’s notice.”

– The Lowell Spinners talked about their military trading card set giveaway, which honors local servicemen and women both past and present. This is an idea that other teams will almost certainly steal for their own promotional schedules, and later in the week I snagged my own pack of these cards. Check ‘em out (and excuse the glare):

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But, of course, not everyone attending the Promo Seminar works for a Minor League Baseball team. This “Around the Horn” session also gives Job Seekers a chance to introduce themselves and Trade Show exhibitors a chance to promote their product. And when the mic was passed to me, I took the opportunity to lobby for increased gluten-free options at Minor League ballparks in 2014 and beyond. There’s no interest like self-interest ‘cuz self-interest don’t stop!

Wednesday afternoon was largely taken up by “Power Sessions,” in which industry leaders take part in a moderated panel discussion. First up was an intermittently illuminating “What’s Next” roundtable about the future of the industry, which included Minor League exec-turned Astros president Reid Ryan on the panel. I found Reid’s perspective to be an interesting one, in that he is attempting to incorporate some Minor League-style entertainment into the Astros’ big league show. For example — this season, the Astros asked fans to tweet suggestions for the walk-up songs of visiting players.

Michael Hand, the chief marketing officer of Project Brand, spoke on Wednesday afternoon as well. This was the first chance for many in the industry to meet Mr. Hand, who is tasked with obtaining national sponsorship deals for Minor League Baseball as the industry attempts to establish itself as a uniformly formidable sporting entity (which it is!) Hand has an aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach to his job and I got the sense that his intensity and enthusiasm impressed many in the audience.

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The Seminar portion of the day complete, attendees adjourned to the Trade Show cocktail party and silent auction. I made a brief appearance at this shindig, but, like the day before, soon left the hotel in order to spend the evening with an actual Louisville resident. Wednesday’s tour guide was Dan Simon of Studio Simon fame (he designed this year’s Promo Seminar logo, in fact), and during a drive around the city we saw many sights and some of them I actually managed to take pictures of.

Such as this — Jim Patterson Stadium, home of the University of Louisville baseball team.

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This was a very impressive looking facility, as were all of the University of Louisville facilities I saw during my time in the city. It kinda left me with the impression that academics is not exactly the top priority at this institution, but who knows? Maybe they’re excelling on all fronts?

One pocket of the city that’s definitely excelling on all fronts is St. James Court, located in “Old Louisville.” The houses on this tree-lined street were a sight to behold, bestowed as they were with turn-of-the-20th century Victorian architectural splendor, and I immediately began to fantasize about living in one of them.

I’m not sure what adjective anyone else would use, but I’m going to go ahead and call this fountain “iconic.”

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The Conrad-Caldwell house is on the corner, fully restored and open for tours. The internet informs me (and by extension, us) that this house is a “stunning example of Richardsonian-Romanesque architecture” and though I don’t know what that means I am nonetheless impressed.

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There was more to my evening in Louisville, but since it wasn’t documented photographically it may as well have not happened. If there was only a way in which one could paint a picture with their words!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Firsts among Lasts in Hillsboro

When Part One of this Hillsboro dispatch concluded I was standing in the tunnel adjacent to the visitor’s dugout, ready and waiting to participate in a between-inning contest. The kneepads were affixed and the blindfold was on, but then something got in the way of my imminent humiliation. Let’s go to the Vine.

This turned into a torrential downpour in a hurry, and the game continued a minute or two longer than it really should have. This continuation of play in the midst of severe precipitation was much to the consternation of the Dust Devils dugout.

In the above Vine it’s not profanity that you hear, but an angry cry of “That’s Bolshevik!” I constantly heard this word in Minor League dugouts this season, and still don’t quite understand the connotation, but shortly after hearing this word yelled in their direction the umpires did indeed agree to the cessation of play. My moment of on-field “glory” would have to wait.

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Cue the interrobang because guess what?! This was THE FIRST RAIN DELAY IN HILLSBORO HOPS HISTORY. I’ve been to a lot of ballparks in my life, and seen a lot of things, but never have I witnessed a meteorological event as significant as this. I and the 3,528 fans in attendance on this sodden August Oregon evening will always be able to say, the pride evident in our respective voices, that “I was there.” (To the Hops front office: when you do the inevitable “First Franchise Rain Delay” commemorative t-shirt giveaway next season, please make sure to send one my way.)

The good news was that the turf at Hillsboro Ballpark was of the artificial variety, and therefore not much was needed in the way of tarp application: all that needed coverage was the pitcher’s mound and batter’s box.  The bad news was that the grounds crew, for several agonizing minutes, was nowhere to be found (I think they were doing work on one of the other fields in the athletic complex of which Hillsboro Ballpark is a part?)

But, eventually, the grounds crew showed up and everything was put in order.

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“Dude, first rain delay in franchise history and we were the ones who got to call it!” is what I’m pretty sure this umpire was saying to his cohort. (I’m sure there are some people who will call bolshevik on that quote, but I stand by it.)

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The grounds crew might not have been totally prepared for the rain delay, but Barley was.

The rains were fast, furious, and fleeting (alliterative life metaphor). After approximately half an hour the adorable mini-tarps were taken off the field, and the grounds crew started tamping things back into shape. As they did, a marriage proposal played out on the videoboard.

“There may have been a brief cessation in play, but there will never be a cessation of our love,” said the man.

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I wish that couple all the best, but, for me, the promise of lifelong love took a backseat to the threat of imminent humiliation. (I’m used to it). “Here we are now, entertain us,” demanded this throng of Pacific Northwesterners….

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and the Hops obliged by sending me out on to the field blindfolded, spinning me around in circles, and then leaving me to the mercy of the crowd’s ostensibly accurate “warmer/colder” exhortations as a means to locate some sort of prize box.

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Colder.

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Colder:

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Colder.

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Colder.

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Coldest.

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Whatever. I didn’t want whatever was in that box anyway. It probably, like, had gluten in it or something.

Not that I had time to be a sore loser anyway, as immediately after my final on-field failure of the season I scurried up to the second level and did a half-inning on the radio with Hops announcer Rich Burk.

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Burk is a veteran broadcaster with far more credentials than your average Class A Short Season shot-caller, as, among other things, he served as the Portland Beavers’ play-by-play man until their departure for Tucson following the 2010 campaign. During the half-inning I was on the air we talked about my travels  in general and, more specifically, the fact that I suffer from the ceremonial first pitch version of Steve Blass disease. (I felt dizzy throughout, still feeling the effects of my on-field humiliation.)

And that was that. I took a broadcast booth selfie and then commenced to wander about by myself for a bit.

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The solo wandering didn’t start off so well, as I ducked in to an upper level bathroom and then left quickly under duress upon seeing a Playtex dispenser. I thought I had somehow ended up in a women’s room, but it turned out that it was a unisex bathroom and, therefore, my gender confusion was unwarranted. Whew! The last thing I need is people starting rumors that they saw Ben’s Biz walking into the ladies room with a camera and a notebook.

Anyway, here’s a picture that I took just outside the unisex bathroom. It depicts right-hander Blake Perry (or at least I think that’s Blake Perry), who never actually pitched for the Hops. But he did pitch for Hops’ predecessor the Yakima Bears in 2011 and 2012, meaning that his Arizona Diamondbacks Class A Short Season credentials remain impeccable.

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 Wherefore art thou, press box denizens? In line for the unisex bathroom?

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The seating bowl below these invisible media members was far more lively.

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As I observed last season in Eugene and (especially) Vancouver, the Northwest League is home to some grade-A baseball fans (although, in Vancouver, that would be “grade-eh”).

“Having Too Much Fun May Distract From the Actual Game” went one of the lighthearted stadium signs…

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but I found this one to be more apropos.

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I’m going to let the Vine do the talking.

But, as with everything else in life, there are two sides to every story. (Also, I have no idea what that kid is wearing on his head.)

After following the fair weather fans outside so that I could harangue them further, I got distracted by the public art project that was detailed in Part One of this Hillsboro blog series.  It looked more beautiful at night, because everything does.

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I made it back inside in time for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is sung nightly by Burk while leaning out of the press box (he used to do the same while broadcasting at Portland’s PGE Park).

The stretch is followed by the House of Pain parody “Hop Around,” in which Barley and game day employees lead the crowd in, yes, hopping around. My attempt to document said hopping on this particular evening was a failure.

But the Hops players didn’t join me on board the failure train, however, as they scored three runs in the seventh to secure a 6-3 victory over (didn’t) Tri (hard enough) City. A word to the wise: once a Hops game ends, wait a few minutes before trying to exit the stadium. Otherwise you’ll end up in an agonizingly slow line of disproportionately white-haired people.

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Now, under normal circumstances, the post would end here. But these are not normal circumstances, as I attended the following afternoon’s game as well. This was my final day at the ballpark, not just of this road trip but of 2013 overall, and it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.

On the way into Hillsboro Ballpark I put together a whimsical signage Vine:

Upon arriving I conducted a couple of interviews that would eventually form the basis of THIS STORY about the farcical events that surrounded the first home run in Hillsboro Hops history. One of those interviews brought me down to the home dugout.

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003Seeing that Hillsboro logo reminds me that, somehow, I never visited the team store during my two days at Hillsboro Ballpark. The Hops were the number-one selling team on the Minor League Baseball merch charts at the time that I visited, thanks to an enthusiastic reception from the local fan base combined with interest nationwide from baseball fans/beer aficionados who were simply enamored with the team name and logo.

The players mingled on the field while the fans mingled out front.

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I toe the line when it comes to the gluten-free diet that celiac disease has imposed upon me.

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But, this being the Hops and all, I still felt compelled to document their signature Long Ball Ale to an extent greater than I had in the previous post. Therefore, I issued the following tweet:

Soon enough, a season ticket holder named Dani Mullen approached me and said “So, anyone get that beer yet?” The answer was no, of course, so the beer became hers.

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Dani is originally from Fort Wayne (hence the TinCaps t-shirt), but moved to Oregon after 13 years of living in Arizona. She and her husband Allan were fans of Rich Burk when he called games for the Beavers, and she told me that having him here in Hillsboro was “the icing on the cake” when it comes to being a Hops fan. In fact, it was through her listening to my interview with Burk the night before that she knew who I was in the first place.

But anyway, Dani said that the Long Ball Ale was “good, a little bitter, and very hearty. It gets better as you drink it.”

Thanks, Dani, for being the first “designated drinker” in Ben’s Biz Blog history. (Perhaps I can recruit individuals for this position during my 2014 road trips?)

Allan, Dani, and Long Ball Ale:

012My pace was leisurely during this, my last “On the Road” ballgame of the 2013 season. I got some garlic fries and ate ‘em on the outfield berm.

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I made it back to the area behind home plate in time for “Hop Around.”

And then spent an inning watching the game with Bob Webster, a recently retired Intel employee who is now writing a book on the history of the Northwest League.

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Bob, a member of the SABR Bio Committee, encourages anyone with information or suggestions pertaining to NWL history to contact him at bob234@comcast.net

Meanwhile, the professionals on the field soon gave way to amateurs.

021022 Which gave way to my belated realization that I have a couple of ballpark panorama photos to share.

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And that, finally, is all I have to share from the road. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for an offseason of plentiful content (including the 1000th post in Ben’s Biz Blog history).

Until then, goodbye from Hillsboro.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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