When one thinks of Lexington, Kentucky, and its surrounding environs, two things that quickly come to mind are bourbon…
Baseball, perhaps not so much.
But professional baseball in Lexington is very much a thing. Welcome to Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the South Atlantic League’s Lexington Legends (Class A Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals). The ballpark opened in 2001, marking the return of professional baseball to Lexington after a 47-year absence.
(Note: this woman would not stop fiddling with Darth’s midsection. Finally I just gave up and took the picture.)
“Star Wars Night” has become a bona fide phenomenon in the world of Minor League Baseball promotions, and many teams consider it to be one of the cornerstones of the promotional schedule. The Legends’ iteration was a decidedly low-key affair, however.
“Tonight is the first time we’ve done it in several years,” said Sarah Bosso, Legends director of community relations. “We’re just getting our feet wet, doing it on a Wednesday and testing it out.”
Following standard (but by no means mandatory) Ben’s Biz Blog operating procedure, I took to the field in order to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. While there, I got my picture taken with my good friend Darth Vader.
Soon after this photo was taken, Darth overheard Bosso and myself talking about the Legends’ concession options.
“Did you say ‘Hot Brown Dog?'” asked Darth, intrigued by a local culinary specialty. “Where can I get that? Can you maybe put it through a blender?”
There were three individuals throwing out a first pitch: Judge John Schrader (Fayette Family Court), myself, and Darth Vader. I later mentioned to the judge that it was funny that Schrader and Vader were both throwing out a first pitch. He responded with a blank stare.
Here’s Judge Schrader. Or, as I now call him, the Mirthless Magistrate.
Darth Vader first pitch Lexington Legends For the record, mine was faster. https://t.co/y8QUZZ1myV
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 20, 2014
I’ve thrown dozens of first pitches through the years; perhaps I should begin taking note of each team’s first pitch procedure?
The Legends did two things that I had never seen before: the balls used were from the batting cages (and therefore scuffed up and dirty), and the speed of the pitch was displayed and announced to the crowd. For the record, Darth and the Mirthless Magistrate both clocked in at 38 miles an hour. I, meanwhile, threw a blistering 47.
How’s ’bout a buncha random ballpark photographs, provided by a writer with rudimentary photography skills? That writer would be me, and these would be the photos:
The Jim Beam distillery is located just outside of Lexington. Maybe the team could get Jim Beam to be the official sponsor of these massive concourse beams?
As you may be aware, the Legends re-branded themselves in a mustache-centric fashion prior to the 2013 season. Therefore, plenty of mustache-centric gear can be obtained at the Legends Locker.
But this? This is no dream. This is real: a piece of officially licensed Minor League Baseball apparel that explicitly references the time-honored act of mustache riding.
After this exhilarating foray into the wilds of the team store, I journeyed to the stadium’s second level. This picture, as inelegant as it may be, portrays the area immediately surrounding Whitaker Bank Ballpark. A downtown facility, this isn’t.
While visiting the press box, I was pleased to see my visage beaming back at me from the videoboard. Move over, Darth! I am the evening’s true guest of honor.
Flipping the switch causes flames to shoot out of the Candleberries situated atop the scoreboard. (Now that’s a sentence that I’ve definitely never written before.) This photo is unfortunately flameless.
Ty Cobb serves as the Legends creative marketing director and PA announcer, and I wrote a story about him that can be found HERE. During my time in the press box with Mr. Cobb, he reminded the crowd that if the Legends get 10 hits then they can redeem their ticket stubs for a free order of fried pickles at Hooters.
This dude, I bet that he likes fried pickles at Hooters.
The above individual is Ryan Ferry, who had agreed to be my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Ryan, a Lexington native who says that he can see the Whitaker Bank Ballpark scoreboard from his backyard, was nine years old when the Legends played their first season. He used to be a batboy, and now occasionally mans the speed pitch booth as a game day employee. Among other claims to fame, he was waiting in line for kettle corn when Bryce Harper hit his first professional home run.
“I consider myself a fixture here,” said Ryan, a sports management major at Eastern Kentucky University.
He also collects hats and shoes. Check out these size 15 specimens.
What you see above is the Hot Brown Dog, which Darth Vader wished to be pulverized so that it could be poured through the holes in his mask. The Hot Brown Dog is a ballpark variation of a Hot Brown sandwich, a Kentucky specialty described by Wikipedia thusly:
Of course, the Hot Brown Dog substitutes a hot dog for the turkey. As a Pennsylvania native, it reminded me of a hot dog version of cream chipped beef on toast.
Hot Brown, goin’ down.
“The saltiness is what sticks out, and the bacon also sticks out because it’s the king of all meats,” said Ryan. “It definitely lives up to the hot name, at least in temperature. The sauce is like gravy, and a little sweeter than I expected it to be. I hope that nobody from Kentucky comments on this, calling me out for not eating Hot Browns all that much.”
Next, Ferry suggested that he sample a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly donut called the “PBJD.” When we ordered it, the woman manning the concession counter gave us an annoyed stare, sighed, and said “Are you kidding me?”
Apparently, PBJDs are not ordered very often.
“It’s totally slept on,” said Ferry. “They really need to market it more.”
Indeed, the only mention of the PBJD that I could find was on this concession sign. Just four little letters; no picture, no explanation.
Here it is, in all of its obscure glory.
Ryan savors the moment:
And with that, Ryan’s work was done. We now return to the ball field. Notice the “stables” group area in the background.
Next on my agenda was to compete against children in a between-inning game of “musical donkeys.” These three children, specifically:
Things were beginning to wind down on this sleepy Star Wars night.
“What do you call a potato that has gone to the dark side?” Cobb asked the crowd.
The crowd did not seem eager for an answer, but Cobb persisted.
The Legends ended up losing the game to the Charleston RiverDogs, by a score of 6-4. But that’s okay. It’s a long season, full of ups and downs; you’ve just got to keep on grinding.
In other words: keep a stiff upper lip.
Meanwhile, I’m on the road again! Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.
August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs
August 23 — Rochester Red Wings
August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*
August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*
August 26 — Buffalo Bisons
August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs
August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*
August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats
August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades
August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
The fourth stop on this, my penultimate road trip of the season, was Indianapolis. I had been to this city once before in a professional context, as Indianapolis was the site of the 2009 Winter Meetings. Weirdly enough, I didn’t visit the Indianapolis Indians’ home of Victory Field during the 2009 Winter Meetings. I did, however, take a tour of the Colts’ home of Lucas Oil Field. Man, this feels like a long time ago.
After checking into the downtown La Quinta, I began the .75 mile walk to Victory Field. Along the way, I passed the home of the Indianapolis Pacers. It is called the “Bankers Life Fieldhouse,” because very few things are more exciting than the life of a banker.
Ah, yes, here we are: Victory Field, built in 1996 as the home of the Indianapolis Indians. Please note that the Indians are NOT an affiliate of the Indians, but the Pittsburgh Pirates. They and the Spokane Indians are the only two teams in Minor League Baseball to share a name with a Major League team while not being affiliated with the team in question. Do with that what you will.
Victory Field is located within spitting distance of Lucas Oil Field, the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Indianapolis Zoo (among other points of cultural interest). It is also located within spitting distance of a steam plant.
Upon arriving at the stadium, I was met by Indians media relations manager Brian Bosma. He was a very gracious and accommodating host throughout the evening, which kicked off with a walking tour. We started at the uppermost tier of the ballpark, with me making an offhand remark that walking around at this level of elevation felt like “being on the roof.”
We did, climbing an imposing steel ladder to get there, and here are the photos to prove it. That monolithic JW Marriot is a recent addition to the skyline; it was completed in 2011 and is part of a $450 million “Marriot Place” project consisting of five hotels that are all connected to the Indiana convention center.
Also, note that the Indiana state capitol building can be seen as well. It’s located beyond center field (shaded toward left), a green-ish dome dwarfed by the buildings surrounding it.
Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to meet Indy Indians president Max Schumacher, who began working for the team in 1957 as a ticket sales manager. He became president in 1969, and was instrumental in the conception and construction of Victory Field. The stadium opened in 1996, its name a reference to the team’s previous home of Bush Stadium, which itself bore the name of Victory Field from 1942-67. (Bush Stadium, incidentally, has since been turned into an apartment complex.)
Anyhow, I was talking about not having met Max Schumacher. But I did visit his suite. That framed uniform on the wall dates back to 1949. It belonged to the team’s bat boy, who eventually grew up to be a bat man.
Each of these balls is from an Indianapolis Indians’ no-hitter, signed by the pitcher (or pitchers) who threw it.
Below, you will be gazing upon framed ticket stubs from the last game at Bush Stadium (July 3, 1996) and first game at Victory Field (July 11). I can only imagine how hectic that season must have been, closing one ballpark and opening another in the span of a little more than a week.
Down on the concourse, one can find many an illuminated placard dedicated to prominent Indy Indians alumni.
Bosma told me a story about Randy Johnson during his time in Indianapolis, when he was so wild and intimidating that none of his teammates would stand in against him during batting practice. Razor Shines finally stepped up the challenge and immediately got drilled; thereupon everyone steered clear of Randy Johnson for good. Out of options, the team borrowed a mannequin from the nearby Indiana State museum and Johnson promptly threw a ball right through it.
I can only assume that this is true, but, even if it’s apocryphal its still a good story and who doesn’t love a good apocryphal story?
As for the presence of Razor Shines on the Indians’ roster, that can definitely be confirmed. He spent nine seasons in Indianapolis, retiring after the 1993 season at the age of 36.
“Razor Shines, he was the mayor of Indy,” said Bosma. “If you talk to anyone here who’s in their late 30s or early 40s, they’ll say that Razor was their favorite player.”
Razor and Randy played in Indianapolis at a time when the Indians were affiliated with the Expos. These days, the Pirates are the parent club.
This seating section is sponsored by the Hoosier Lottery. If an Indians player hits a home run off of the foul pole in the fifth inning, then one person in that section wins $1 million. This has yet to happen.
Here’s another enticing home run target. A pre-selected fan wins this truck if a player hits it with a home run, but that fan needs to be in attendance to win it. While the truck has been hit on several occasions, no fan has ever been in the ballpark to claim it. Bosma reports that Tony Sanchez hit it once, and asked if he could win it instead. No deal, Tony. No deal.
My previous post, on the Columbus Clippers, noted that that team has a Victory Bell. Well, so do the Indians. Specifically, it is the “Max Schumacher Victory Bell.” It was dedicated in 2011, and a fan gets to ring it after every victory. Max Schumacher does not ring it, because after it was dedicated the team lost their next seven games and he figured that he must have cursed it somehow.
With the game about to begin, Bosma and I headed over to “The Cove.”
Note the near-total lack of outfield signage. It’s all part of a larger organizational philosophy, to present the team as simply and professionally as possible. This is a Minor League stadium with a Major League kind of feel, as befits a team playing in a city that also hosts an NBA and NFL team.
Plenty of people were willing to pay $10 for berm seats, hauling in their own blankets and coolers. Or, even better for young fans, membership in the team’s Knothole Club costs just $16 and includes a season-ticket pass good for lawn or reserved seat admission. $16 for the whole season!
But we weren’t in the Cove just so that I could randomly take a bunch of photos and make a bunch of observations. I can do that anywhere. We were in the Cove so that I could meet my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
This is Greg Hotopp, an Indianapolis resident (by way of Cincinnati) who works for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
This was definitely a first, and credit to Brian Bosma for doing it: Greg was given his own designated eating credential. Other teams, take note!
Greg said that he enjoys attending Indians games with his wife, Tracie, and their three-year-old daughter (she was left at home with a sitter on this particular evening). He has no problem rooting for the home team, but as a fan of the Cincinnati Reds this can lead to conflicting emotions.
“It can be tough as a Reds fan,” he said. “Like, ‘McCutcheon is amazing!’ and then the realization ‘Oh, crap. That’s not going to bode well for the Reds.'”
But Greg wasn’t here to wax on the contradictory nature of the Minor League fan experience. He was here to eat, and eat he did.
Designated Eater checks in IndyIndians https://t.co/7aBPlMPE9v
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 21, 2014
Greg is eating a “Shish-Kadog,” which is a shish kabob on a hot dog bun. It stands to reason that this would be so. This is the chicken version, topped with onion, pineapple, peppers and teriyaki sauce.
Greg was mildly pleased with this creation.
“It tastes pretty good, pretty much as advertised,” he said. “A little messy, but that’s okay. I’d never had pineapple at a ballpark before.”
The kadog was washed down with an Indians Lager, made specially for the team by Sun King brewery.
“This isn’t just me trying to impress Ben Hill, I actually like it,” said Greg of the lager. “This is third on my list of favorite Sun King beers [behind Sunlight Cream Ale and Cowbell Porter]. I get growlers of this.”
Tracie couldn’t help chiming in here.
“All of a sudden he’s this craft beer guy,” she said. “He used to never drink it.”
Greg agreed that this was true. He was more of a whisky guy, with Kentucky Barrel Bourbon Ale serving as his gateway to the world of beer.
Beer definitely goes with nachos.
BBQ Nachos, specifically, topped with pulled pork, cheese and jalapenos. Traiei had been content to stay behind the scenes — “Behind every designated eater is a good woman,” said Greg — but who can resist nachos?
And with that, Greg’s duties were done.
“It was everything I could have wished for, and more,” he said.
Thank you for your service.
While still in The Cove, I spoke with communications coordinator Chris Robinson about the team’s Twitter account. The Indians have more followers than any team in Minor League Baseball, and I wrote an article about the team’s Twitter strategy and style HERE.
Robinson, wishing to retain an air of mystique, posed for a photo with his face obscured. He may or may not be the same Chris Robinson who fronts the Black Crowes.
As Rowdie looked on, I made a top-secret transformation into a Chik-Fil-A Cow. A sign was draped around my neck exhorting the populace to consume the flesh of a chicken in lieu of consuming the flesh of a cow.
Did an onfield race occur? Does documentation exist? These questions may never be answered. All that I can tell you is that transforming into a cow and then back into a human takes a lot out of a guy. I was exhausted.
But there was no rest, for the weary or otherwise. Another metamorphosis led to a another new persona, this time as an overall, glove and goggle-wearing keg-toting bearded Sun King brewer.
My task was to carry a keg toward my teammate stationed in the outfield.
Good luck, and Godspeed.
It was a valiant effort, but we lost. I drowned my sorrows with french fries from the team’s “Build-A-Fry” concession area. (One can also build their own burgers and nachos.) Yes, there are french fries in there somewhere.
And, yes, that is a collector’s cup. I have not done a good job providing #cupdates this season, but here you go:
And that’s all she wrote from Indianapolis, she being the muse that guides all creative endeavors. I spent the last inning of the game in fan mode, sitting in the Cove with Bosma, waxing nostalgic about childhood baseball memories. It was nice to get the chance to do this.
But, alas, no victory bell could be heard at Victory Field that evening as the visiting Charlotte Knights emerged victorious. Maybe some other time, bell. Maybe some other time.
Meanwhile, my next trip begins later this week. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.
August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs
August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*
August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*
August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*
August 26 — Buffalo Bisons
August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs
August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*
August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats
August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*
August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
Welcome to Crooked Nuggets, the scrappy and succinct offshoot of my long-running , exceedingly awesome Crooked Numbers column on MiLB.com.
For the uninitiated, Crooked Numbers is a monthly round-up of the the weirdest, wildest and most anomalous things to have occurred on a Minor League Baseball field. Jayson Stark does not know that the column exists, though he inspired it. The July 2014 edition of “Crooked Numbers” appeared on MiLB.com today — read it or die trying – and this post contains even more instances of Minor League Baseball on-field weirdness.
Brevity is key! Let’s get to it, lest it get to us.
WHAT A TAVAREZ-TY — The Salem Red Sox made five errors during July 7’s game against Frederick. Three of them were by right fielder Aneury Tavarez, and two of those were made on the same play. Tavarez has made 12 errors on the season, second-most in the Carolina League.
GAME NOTE OF THE MONTH — On July 4, the Charleston RiverDogs were set to face off against a “To Be Announced” Rome Braves pitcher. Who is “To Be Announced,” you ask? The RiverDogs ace media relations team took it upon themselves to provide an answer:
ROM: LHP/RHP/SHP? — To Be Announced, often abbreviated as TBA, is a fixture in the sporting world. TBA usually shows up in lineup projections in various sports. Much like close relative To Be Determined or TBD, TBA has availability for any and every team as it is also scheduled to face Charleston on Monday with the Greenville Drive. Unfortunately, TBA has not made its debut in full game action although it has often been listed to make appearances for countless numbers of athletic outfits. TBA is of indeterminate age, gender, and virtually any other personal characteristic but is still expected to be seen throughout sports in years to come.
Last Outing: Not applicable (N/A, N/A) N/A IP, N/A H, N/A R, N/A BB, N/A K
WHAT ARE THE ODDS? — The Bakersfield Blaze played their last Thursday home game of the season on July 17; each of their six remaining Thursday games will be on the road. Seriously, I’m asking you — what are the odds? This seems to be highly improbable.
WAIT, WHAT? — Entering July 16’s ballgame, Lancaster’s Danry Vasquez had hit one home run in 80 games. So, naturally, he went ahead and hit three home runs in one game.
HEY NOW, YOU’RE AN ALL-STAR, YOU’VE BEEN TRADED, GO PLAY — On the morning of July 16, Omaha Storm Chasers reliever Spencer Patton was informed that he had been traded from the Kansas City Royals organization to the Texas Rangers. Effective immediately, he would be a member of the Round Rock Express. Patton managed to make one more appearance in a Storm Chasers uniform, however. The Triple-A All-Star Game was that night in Durham, and Patton represented Omaha even though he wasn’t technically a member of the team.
BLUE WAHISTORY — It took three seasons, but on July 25 Michael Lorenzen became the first
player pitcher in Pensacola Blue Wahoos history to hit a home run. And not only did he hit a home run — he hit a grand slam against one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.
IT’S NOT HOW MANY HITS YOU HAVE. IT’S HOW YOU USE THEM — The Iowa Cubs handily defeated the New Orleans Zephyrs on July 24, winning 11-2. However, the Cubs were outhit in the game, 14-12.
ONE EVENING, TWICE TOSSED — On July 18, Oklahoma City RedHawks pitcher Alex White managed to get ejected in both games of a doubleheader against the Nashville Sounds. And, in both cases, he was ejected by the first base umpire. White, the starting pitcher in the first game, was ejected in the fourth inning by ump Ramon DeJesus after arguing that a ball ruled fair was, in fact, in his humble opinion, foul. In the first inning of the nightcap, White and manager Tony DeFrancesca were ejected from the dugout by umpire Adam Schwarz. Allegedly, the pair had been vocally expressing their disagreement with the umpiring crew’s arbitrating abilities.
SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR AWAY — It is not unusual for a Double-A team to have a pair of first-round draft picks on the roster. But what is unusual is having a pair of first-round draft picks who were picked eight years apart from one another. That was the case in Akron for much of the season, as the RubberDucks’ roster included both Adam Miller (2003) and Francisco Lindor (2011). Miller, 29, is attempting to resurrect his career after a series of injuries. Lindor, 20, is considered one of the top prospects in baseball and was recently promoted to Triple-A Columbus.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE — The Peoria Chiefs only mustered one hit against the Great Lakes Loons on July 28, but it wasn’t a typical one-hitter. From the MiLB.com recap:
The Great Lakes Loons needed a special effort to avoid a three-game sweep in Peoria Monday afternoon — from five (almost six) different pitchers.
After listed starter Jonathan Martinez was pulled from the game in the middle of the first inning, Great Lakes got a boost from its bullpen as five pitchers combined in a one-hit shutout of the host Chiefs, 4-0.
Martinez was healthy, said Jordan Hershiser, his last-minute replacement. His teammates surmised that, with the MLB trade deadline looming, perhaps Martinez was part of a deal or was being promoted, but nothing had been announced.
Martinez indeed had been traded. He was the Player to be Named “Later” in the deal that sent Darwin Barney to the Dodgers.
INSIDE BASEBALL — John Drekker reports:
The Indianapolis, Bradenton, W.Va, Jamestown & Bristol pitching staffs all lead their leagues in hit batters. Pirates preach pitching inside
— John Dreker (@JohnDreker) July 21, 2014
And wouldn’t you know it? As of this writing, Altoona (the Pirates Double-A affiliate) now leads the league in hit batters as well. Bristol (Rookie-level) is now one off the pace, however.
POSITION PLAYERS PITCHING, PART ONE — On July 20, Eric Sim pitched a perfect inning for the Augusta GreenJackets while Kale Sumner fired two perfect frames for the Charleston RiverDogs. Both Sim and Sumner are catchers.
POSITION PLAYERS PITCHING, PART TWO — July 30 was a banner day in the category of “moonlighting position players taking the mound and allowing an extra-inning grand slam in a game involving a Washington Nationals affiliate” The first occurrence was in Richmond, as Flying Squirrels leftfielder Ryan Lollis (relieving second baseman Skyler Stromsmoe) was taken deep in the 13th inning by Harrisburg’s Quincy Latimore. This was the Senators’ first grand slam since 2011.
The next instance took place in Potomac, as P-Nats third baseman Khayyan Norfolk yielded a 16th inning grand slam to Myrtle Beach’s Lewis Brinson.
YOUR ALEX FREEDMAN UPDATE OF THE MONTH — Those in the know know that Crooked content is never complete until we hear from Oklahoma City RedHawks broadcaster Alex Freedman.
“There weren’t a whole lot of Crooked happenings with us throughout the July,” laments Alex. But here goes:
– Between June 21 and July 12, the RedHawks lost nine straight games when scoring first.
– From June 6 through the present day, the RedHawks have played one game that was scoreless through three full innings (July 22 vs. Round Rock).
Of course, almost immediately after that email was sent, the RedHawks played a game (August 4) that was scoreless through three innings. That’s just the way things work within this Crooked Universe.
CU next time, and thanks for reading.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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)
Let’s back up a little…
From the rear. This photo could in no way be misconstrued.
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.
Meanwhile, a couple thousand miles to the northeast, the Akron RubberDucks have unveiled “Webster.”
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.
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.
— Webster RubberDuck (@WebsterInAkron) April 12, 2014
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!
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:
At 7’2″, Ace’s height is even greater than former Arkansas Traveler Loek Van Mil!
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.
Okay, let’s back it up just a bit…
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.
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.
That will make you want to leave early.. Storm rolling through during the Frisco RoughRiders ballgame.. pic.twitter.com/unWADMJt1W
— FOX 4 NEWS (@FOX4) April 4, 2014
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…
— Louisville Bats (@LouisvilleBats) April 4, 2014
And — WHOA! — things are looking severe out by Sevierville. Click on THIS and then come back to me. I’ll be waiting….
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.
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.”
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:
— Omaha Storm Chasers (@OMAStormChasers) April 2, 2014
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.
Just across this vast expanse of asphalt was a water park, an appropriate entertainment destination for those residing within this arid atmosphere.
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.
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.
I 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.
World Records was closed.
It 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.
The Prospect Lounge — where Bakersfield’s Minor League elite go to eat?
Amid this desultory wandering I located another record store and this, too, was closed.
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.)
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.”
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Northern Virginians with hardy souls, including team vice-president Josh Olerud, took the plunge.
Among the photographic highlights were these. My only question is “Where you at, ladies?”
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.
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.
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.
— State College Spikes (@SCSpikes) January 7, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Mazel Tov! (I’m sorry, I’m not Jewish, Mazel Tov is the only seemingly-relevant comment that I can muster.)
Shortly thereafter, a rabbi threw out the ceremonial first pitch. It was a “bris”tering fastball.
Meanwhile, the Cyclones players wore jerseys featuring Hebrew lettering.
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:
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.
— Jeff Perro (@MiLBClubbie) June 14, 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:
— Jeff Perro (@MiLBClubbie) June 14, 2013
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.