So, a proper article on all of this appeared on MiLB.com yesterday evening, but in the interest of redundancy and poor time management let me reiterate: the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre International League entity formerly known as the Yankees (and, prior to that, the Red Barons) are now known as the RailRiders.
That image seen above is, of course, a porcupine straddling streetcar tracks. To explain why, let me quote liberally from an up-and-coming young writer by the name of Benjamin Hill:
The name-the-team contest was conducted online and fans were able to choose their top three candidates. While RailRiders received the most first-place votes, the name that appeared on the most ballots was Porcupines. That helps explain the team’s primary logo, designed by San Diego-based Brandiose, which features a porcupine straddling trolley tracks atop the word “RailRiders” in a stylized cardinal red and gold font.
The team announced the name at a gala open-to-public event that they dubbed “The Big Reveal.” And here’s how they revealed it:
As a staunch advocate for the increased deployment of Black Sabbath in public situations, I love that the team chose “Iron Man” as the soundtrack to their unveiling video. However, this comment on the RailRiders Facebook page showed that there was, in fact, a better option.
Why would you use ironman instead of crazy train for this promo?
The RailRiders have since posted a plethora of “Big Reveal” photos on their Facebook page (which, as of this writing, still lists them as the Yankees). As you can see, the citizenry turned out in big numbers for the announcement:
Here’s SWB president Rob Crain (formerly of the Omaha Royals-turned-Storm Chasers) tossing t-shirts into the crowd after the announcement. When it comes to Minor League Baseball executives looking like hip-hop performers, this is about as close as you’re ever gonna get.
Of course, a lot of the online chatter regarding the new name has been negative. No opinion is illegitimate when it comes to personal taste, of course (unless it involves a continued affinity for so-called “Nu-metal”), but with team re-branding efforts it’s not so much a case of the name itself as it is how you use it. I’ve known Rob Crain since his days with Omaha, and he’s poised to bring an energetic and innovative operating style to a moribund and disconnected-seeming franchise that really needed an injection of personality. Combine that with the massive renovation to PNC Field taking place, and it seems apparent to me that the 2013 season will be one of the most successful in franchise history. More power to you, online commenters threatening to cancel their season ticket plans, but that to me is like breaking up with a beautiful and intelligent woman because you don’t like her new haircut.
As for RailRiders — if it’s good enough for Greg Legg it’s good enough for me! Legg, second from left in the below pic, is a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre baseball legend who suited up for the Red Barons from 1989-94. I was a fan of his throughout, as during that time I regularly attended SWB Red Barons games while visiting my grandparents in nearby Gouldsboro.
If only Jeff Grotewold and Steve Scarsone could have been there to join him!
Legg and his crony on the far left there are sporting the team’s road cap, which references the team’s Red Barons past. It’s probably my personal favorite aspect of the re-brand.
Anyhow, to sum it up, there are a stew of competing forces at work whenever a team unveils a new look and regardless of your opinion, my opinion or anyone else’s opinion it will take several years before one can say whether RailRiders has been a success or failure. Instead of repeating myself more than I already have, I’ll close by referring you to a point-counterpoint I engaged in back in 2010 when the Omaha Royals became the “Storm Chasers.”
Rob Neyer (then with ESPN): the Storm Chasers have joined “the ranks of the embarrassing.”
Rob Neyer never acknowledged this “debate,” and maybe he never even knew it was taking place (he was probably too busy counting his baseball writing-derived fortune in some Scrooge McDuck-like lair), but nonetheless the phrase “ranks of the embarrassing” has since become part of my everyday lexicon and for that I thank him.
And, jeez, I got so caught up in the RailRiders that I forgot to mention this: in celebration of their upcoming 20th anniversary season, the Hudson Valley Renegades have unveiled a new set of logos!
The new home uniforms will consist of a solid white jersey, with Dutchess blue piping and the new Renegades script logo across the chest. The uniform number will also be Dutchess blue, with a white outline both on the front and back of the jersey. The home uniform pants will be white with Dutchess blue piping down each pant leg. The home cap will feature the Renegades mask logo on a solid black cap. The mask logo will be embroidered on the cap adding a raised element to the overall appearance.
Careful, Hudson Valley: a glowering blue-tinted raccoon is watching your every move!
And, oh, hey: since I’m rambling on and on about logos and seem to have a NYPL fixation, here’s one more for you before I go. The 2013 New York-Penn League All-Star mark, courtesy of the Connecticut Tigers.
Okay, that anchor should keep me from drifting any further. I’m quitting while I’m still ahead, even if I don’t know what it is I feel that I might be still ahead of.
Professional baseball bullpens have long been breeding grounds for eccentric behavior and bizarre rituals and, really, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Leave a group of bored young men to their own devices and spitting contests, impenetrable slang words and, yes, even lizard eating will result.
One particular bullpen competition that really seemed to take off this season was the in-game standing contest. The premise is simple: starting with the National Anthem, one (or more) players from each team’s bullpen attempts to stand at attention for the duration of the contest and beyond. This simultaneous exercise in endurance and absurdity was first brought to my attention via an excellent Myrtle Beach Pelicans blog post, and later in the season the Lowell Spinners produced a video that chronicled their standoff versus the State College Spikes.
Yet another standoff occurred on August 25, this time featuring the Lancaster JetHawks and visiting Lake Elsinore Storm. The following day I got an email from JetHawks director of sales and marketing Will Thornhill, who wrote in part:
[F]ollowing the National Anthem last night nobody in either the JetHawks or Storm Bullpen sat down. After a couple innings we figured something was going on. Eventually only one player remained standing in each bullpen and it lasted throughout the ENTIRE game. The Standoff continued 45 minutes after the game and both players were eventually carried out to center field where they negotiated a continuation….By the end of the game all of the fans sitting behind the JetHawks bullpen were standing as well, and when the game ended about 50 fans made their way to the bullpen and stood behind our pitcher.
The last JetHawk standing was Zack Grimmett, who for reasons lost to the annals of time conceded the stand-off during the first inning of the following day’s ballgame. Also lost to time was the name of his Lake Elsinore adversary [this info has since been regained from the annals of time. It was Mark Pope] — this all happened back in August and who among us can remember what happened back in August?
But to the extent that I can record this stand-off for posterity, I will. For while not necessarily of the best quality, some photos eventually emerged and I feel that it is my duty to share them with you. Italicized text is of the descriptive variety, and courtesy of JetHawks sales executive Jenn Adamczyk.
[I] first noticed stand-off while waiting for the [mascot] race to start. All but one or two in the JetHawks bullpen were standing. The Storm had one guy still up.
Later in the game — down to one JetHawks player and one Storm player
Post game; fans started crowding around the JetHawks player, cheering him on
Teammates carry both players from the bullpens to center field. At this point the clubbies from both teams brought the players dinner and were feeding them.
Other guys started playing [the card game] War on the field
End of the stand-off, called a truce. Both went home.
Truly, this was a classic moment in California League history. And since I’m still sitting here typing, I may as well take this opportunity to highlight my own moment in baseball stand-off history. Prior to the 2009 season, I traveled to Altoona and took past in the Curve’s “Last Fan Standing” competition. My mission was to keep one hand upon Diesel Dawg at all times.
I lasted 14 hours — good, but not nearly good enough. Story of my life.
As with Monday’s better ladle than never post about the Orem Owlz, today’s missive is a blast from the recent past. This time around we travel to McKechnie Field – home of the Florida State League’s Bradenton Marauders — which played host to the following event on July 27:
I’ll let the team explain their motivations for staging such a spectacle:
Many teams are doing promotions based on the Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics; the Marauders have put their own spin on it by celebrating the “Plumber Olympics”….[L]ocal plumbing company “Plumbing Today” is sponsoring the night and providing a tee shirt giveaway to the fans in blue, green, or red. Those colors represent which plumber those fans are rooting for…as we have a plumber representing each of those three colors. Each of our plumbing competitors will [compete] in a series of on-field events, gaining points based on their finish in each of the competitions. Upon our final contest we will line each of the plumbers up and don them with a gold, silver, or bronze toilet seat cover….Whichever color plumber takes home the gold will also win a special prize for all fans in attendance wearing that team’s color giveaway tee shirt.
Marauders coordinator of stadium operations Kris Koch first alerted me to this promotion, writing in an email that “it may be a little over the top toilet humor for you and your visitors’ taste.” While I appreciate Mr. Koch’s high regard for the Ben’s Biz Blog readership, I nonetheless believe that any visitors to this post will find it to be in excellent taste. (This is, after all, the blog that broke the “Subtle Butt” story.) So let us proceed unencumbered, with photos and commentary courtesy of Koch.
But first, a promotional video to whet the appetite.
Our three finalists (from left to right) Mario DePeau in Blue (France), Buzzy ‘Bare-hands’ Miller in Green (USA), and Paul McCloggin in Red (Ireland) pose for a picture with Marty the Marauder and the Plumber Olympic Torch
Fans were given t-shirts in the color of their favorite plumber when they entered through the gates
McCloggin and DePeau being introduced to the crowd pre-game
Plumbers took on challenges throughout the game, including the Toilet Paper shot put, Plunger Javelin and Toilet Seat Discus
In the end the USA was victorious as Buzzy was crowned with the Golden Toilet Seat Cover, DePeau received the silver, and McCloggin the Bronze
And there you have it, folks — a riveting account of one of the more “unique” events to occur in the Minor Leagues this season. Thanks to Koch for filling me in on the glorious details, and let this be a reminder to you: it is never too late to get in touch regarding notable 2012 promotions. Never!
Yesterday’s “ribbeting” narrative from Everett ended where such Biz Blog narratives often do: with the evening’s ballgame having just begun. I spent the first couple of innings with the AquaSox “Frog Squad” game day promo crew, overseen by director of community relations Katie Crawford and fronted on the field by the esteemed Mr. Schuyler Muller.
Upon the conclusion of the top of the second inning, I was among those assigned to toss t-shirts to the crowd. My area of operation was directly behind home plate, which requires innovative wind-up techniques in order to insure that the shirt makes it over the net.
A far more memorable endeavor occurred one inning later, when I suited up as “Frank” in the nightly “Waddle Race.” This is the continuation of new ballpark tradition for me — dressing up as a food product that I can no longer eat due to my recent celiac disease diagnosis.
I become that which I cannot consume!
Frank has been a staple of the Everett Memorial Stadium experience for years, but apparently his appearances have become increasingly rare. While waiting to appear on the field, I learned that Frank was, truly, a processed meat product in demand. I signed several autographs for enthusiastic fans, feeling the whole time as if I was failing them because my “signature” was terrible. It is very hard to use a Sharpie when it is gripped through ill-fitting slippery red gloves!
One woman, in particular, was a rabid Frank fan. As soon as she spotted him she ran over, offered a big hug, and then had me sign two balls, a hat and a stuffed Frank doll. Clearly, this was a moment she had been waiting for. (And, clearly, I am currently confused as to whether I am writing in the first or third person).
As for the “Waddle Race” — I’d definitely never seen the likes of this before. It was a relay race, featuring two teams of two, in which participants had to run while gripping a baseball between their legs. If the ball was dropped along the way, the contestant had to spin around twice before proceeding. Frank was assigned the second leg of the race, alongside a competitive Dad with a prominent calf tattoo.
When Frank received the ball from his teammate, he had a healthy lead over the opposition. The hand-off:
But keeping a baseball between such slippery uniform fabric was hard work, and Frank’s progress toward the finish line was slow.
Okay — pause! Do you remember when I was at a Jackson Generals game earlier this season, and participated in a Fruit Race? My camera mysteriously stopped working during the race, with this damaged photograph followed by a series of “file not found” blank images.
At the time, I offered the following theory to why this had occurred:
My camera loves me…and was probably dismayed to see me demeaning myself at a Minor League ballpark yet again. Its malfunction was a protest of sorts, motivated by a desire to only document me at my best.
I am now convinced that this theory is true, as this damaged “Waddle Race” photo was followed by another series of “file not found” images. Unpause!
So, what happened the rest of the way is that Tattooed Dad overcame Frank’s lead and coasted to victory. In my opinion, this was because Tattooed Dad was wearing shorts. It is much easier to sandwich a baseball between bare skin than it is to do so with polyester pants. Please trust me on this!
But, anyway, my camera malfunction continued throughout the following between-inning contest. Muller the MC, who was already in his golf clothes, donned a green jacket and narrated the “Three Stroke Golf Challenge” in suitably hushed tones. It went off really well, and the success of the “Three Stroke Golf Challenge” was par for the course for the AquaSox. They have a creative slate of between-inning contests, and aren’t afraid to take risks. If you work for a team and feel that your operation might be getting a little stale in that department, then I’d suggest stealing some of their ideas.
Around the fifth inning or so I joined up with fourth-year employee Alex Baker, now a Frog Squad member and marketing intern, and the two of us went on a daring journey behind the outfield wall.
This mysterious area led to a mysterious alcove.
I was briefly tempted to plunge the entire ballpark into darkness…
But, instead, I just kept on walking until we reached our final destination: a lair!
And not just any lair, but the lair of the manual scoreboard operator. A grounds crew employee named Steven Cook resided therein, dropping numbered slats of wood into their appropriate holes.
Somewhere along the line, this list of rehabbing Seattle Mariner players morphed into a list of AquaSox scoreboard operators. What’s the difference, really?
I enjoyed my time in this lair, as I enjoy my time in all lairs. But there was more to see, and more to do. Back amongst the public, I snapped this shot of what the scoreboard looks like from the stands.
A brief stop back in the promo pit proved that all was copacetic; a typical scene consisting of dice-sitting employees in plastic hats with a cross-legged amphibian adjacent.
So Baker and I continued to our next destination — the “Frank’s Loaded Dogs” concession stand.
While I could not consume Frank in his full form, I did order a “Webbly’s AquaDog” sans bun.
Very tasty, yes, but in this anecdote I am a peripheral character. Upon meeting Baker earlier in the evening, he had earnestly inquired whether or not I had found a “designated eater” (i.e. one who is ready and willing to “take a gluten-filled bullet” on my behalf).
I replied that “No, I had not” and he quickly assured me that he would be up to the task. And, boy, was he ever. Baker chose the “Build Your Own” option, and after a bit of trial and error he concocted the following: Hebrew National frankfurter with mac and cheese, bacon, pulled pork, onions, jalapenos, cheddar cheese and bbq sauce (and probably more, there was only so much room in my notebook). I have multiple pictures of him posing with it, because he kept adding things to it.
But, throughout, the smile remained consistent.
The final product, which Baker dubbed the “Ultra-Dog.” It was, truly, a work of art.
We retreated to the picnic area down the first base line. Members of the Yakima bullpen were completely oblivious to the culinary history that was taking place just behind them.
I daintily approached my dinner.
While Baker’s approach was anything but dainty. I mean, he just devoured that thing.
Baker’s take on the “Ultra-Dog”: “Delicious! The flavors balanced each other perfectly — it was spicy, savory, and had a little tang from the onions. And then the hot dog brought it all together, serving as the backbone, if you will.”
At this point it was the seventh inning, and I was struck by a crazy idea — how about sitting down and watching the baseball game?
The fans engaged in an enthusiastic rendition of the seventh-inning stretch, which warmed my heart.
But, of course, I almost immediately forgot about my plan to just watch the game. In the eighth inning, it was time for “Garbage Gremlins.” I had never seen such a thing! Anyone who desired was invited to grab a (sponsored!) yellow trash bag, in order to collect garbage from the stands. All who did so received “AquaDollars” that could be redeemed at the ballpark, with the individual collecting the most trash receiving bonus AquaDollars (I forget just how many AquaDollars were at stake, so let’s just say “$850,000″).
Garbage Gremlins in action! Refuse to lose, there’s refuse to gain!
But this was no garbage time ballgame, and the hometown team emerged triumphant.
Frank approved the outcome.
You’d think that at this point it was time to call it a night, except no, it’s never time to call it a night when on these trips. Acting on a tip I had received earlier, I proceeded past out-of-uniform AquaSox autograph signers in search of a significant historical marker.
In the dark Everett night, it took me a while to find what I was looking for.
But, finally — success!
That square plaque on the bottom right commemorates the approximate landing spot of Ken Griffey Jr.’s first professional hit. I’ll let the plaque do the explaining (cigarette butt included to provide a sense of scale).
A unique bit of baseball history, and the icing on the cake to one of the most enjoyable and diverse “on the road” experiences that I have ever had. These days, I am constantly asked “You travel a lot. What are your favorite ballparks to visit?” Well, Everett Memorial Stadium is way up there, ranking with other 2012 favorites such as the Daytona Cubs and Arkansas Travelers. Great ballpark, great staff, great logo, great food — I’d highly recommend visiting should you ever get the chance to do so.
But, c’mon guys, you need to invest in at least one more letter “a.” An upside-down “u” doesn’t quite cut it…
Note: It took all of my willpower not to reference my favorite GNR song of all time in this post’s title.
I visited six teams on this most recent road trip, and five of these teams were members of the aptly-named Northwest League. The one anomaly was the Tacoma Rainiers, who compete in the inaptly-named Pacific Coast League (unless you consider locales such as Memphis and New Orleans to be part of the Pacific Coast).
The Northwest League is Class A Short-Season, comprised of players just beginning their professional journeys. But the PCL is Triple-A, just one level removed from “The Show,” and the mentality of fans, front office staff and players at this level is markedly different.
So I knew going in that the Rainiers would be a whole ‘nother animal, operating on a totally different scale than the likes of Eugene, Salem-Keizer, and Yakima. These differences rang loud and clear as soon as I checked into the team hotel, which offered BY FAR the swankiest (and most self-consciously post-modern) accommodations I’ve ever enjoyed whilst on one of these road trips.
That’s room 2306 (!) of the Hotel Murano, and this was the view:
I’ll have more on the Hotel Murano in an upcoming “Return to the Road” post, but for now let’s get to the evening’s primary locale: Cheney (pronounced “Cheeny”) Stadium, home of the Rainiers since 1961 and the recent recipient of a massive renovation (read all about that, and more, in last week’s MiLB.com piece). After getting lost on the way to the stadium (which happens regularly, even with GPS) I arrived at a parking lot which placed me in the rear of the facility.
Unfortunately the above entrance, neatly carved into the landscape, was not the one for me. “Will Call,” world-famous home of the media pass, was at home plate and thus began an arduous journey. Along the way I saw the back end of the stadium’s famous batter’s eye — located a staggering 425-feet from home plate and one of the few features of the old Cheney that survived the renovation intact.
Along the road I came across a species you rarely encounter in the Minors — the ballhawk. These guys were doing their darndest to snag batting practice home runs.
Finally, parched and hallucinating, I arrived at the front entrance. I can’t say for sure what those satellite dish-looking obelisks are above the sign, but they are a publicly-funded art project (Cheney’s renovation was partially funded by public money, and with this came the stipulation that it be decorated with public art).
First order of business was, as it often is, to conduct a few interviews with the good ol’ Flipcam. While waiting for my victims to emerge, I took a few shots of the dugout surroundings.
I interviewed Danny Hultzen first, an affable young TOP PROSPECT who has been a member of the Rainiers for less than two months. (I had actually been in attendance for his final Double-A start, when he took the mound for the Jackson Generals during my aptly but inelegantly named “OKARKMOTN” road trip). This was followed by a clunker of an interview with Italian-born third baseman Alex Liddi, in which I led off with a question about a ridiculous article I wrote about him back in 2006.
Nick Franklin was next up, who I wanted to talk to simply because I’d already interviewed him in High Desert and Jackson. But Franklin, now hip to the awkwardness that ensues whenever I roll into a Minor League dugout, never emerged. He was “busy.” That’s okay, Nick. I was busy, too — taking pictures of scintillating light pole signage (as an aside, those antiquated light fixtures are originally from San Francisco’s Seals Stadium).
I would have relished the opportunity to ketchup with Franklin, so its too bad that he never mustard the initiative to speak with me. Instead, I joined up with director of communications Ben Spradling for a pre-game ballpark tour. Post-renovation, Cheney Stadium is a dramatically different place than it was. Examples of creative re-invention are everywhere.
This berm area, sponsored by Alaska Airlines and featuring blinking blue airport runway lights, used to be comprised of bleacher seating.
This “Backyard BBQ” area was once a batting cage.
And what was once the visitor’s clubhouse is now a secondary ticket office.
Next to this structure is a new group area called the “Home Run Porch,” which sits level with the playing field.
Spradlin and I soon made our way back to the main area behind home plate, where we took the elevator to the topmost floor (otherwise known as the “third”). Once there, he opened an imposing metal gate (with the power of his mind) and we ascended up a darkened stairwell.
This camera well area, not open to the public, has been dubbed “The Bird’s Nest.” The view (and note the batter’s eye, some 425 feet away):
Also offering a prime view is the “Summit Club,” a season-ticket area that was packed with fans eager for some pre-game food and, especially, beverage.
The Summit Club offers views of, appropriately, a summit: Mt. Rainier, for which the franchise is named.
Okay, well, it would have been a great view of Mt. Rainier. But, unfortunately, on the day I was in attendance the mountain was completely obscured by the clouds. I never did get a proper glimpse of it, but such is life.
Doing my best to let go of feelings of disappointment regarding view obstruction, I stopped into the press box just as the game was about to begin (that’s Spradling, my tour guide, in the middle).
As always, the press box was the place to be if you’re a fan of sardonic, quick-witted banter. (Sample bit of dialogue: “Tonight’s ‘Play Ball Kid’ was pretty good. Yesterday’s asked for his line.”)
But with the game now underway, I felt a restless itch that only wandering can scratch. So off I went — to wander! The concourse, although not of the “open” variety, is very spacious. Although this picture was taken later in the evening (My beloved chronology! Ruined!) it does help to illustrate the overall feel of the place.
One of the evening’s promotions was “Firefighter’s Night,” as members of local departments had been invited out to the ballpark. One crew even drove out in this beautiful antique:
Around the bend from this cherry-red beaut was another stadium feature that had survived the renovations intact: the Tacoma Baseball Hall of Fame.
A more poignant (and noticeable) tribute to Cheney can be found in the seats behind home plate (and slightly up the first base line). A bronzed Cheney can be observed watching the game, surrounded by a small section of original blue stadium seats.
While I was taking pictures of Mr. Cheney, an usher approached and drew my attention to the ground in front of him. There, embedded in concrete, was one of Cheney’s peanut shells.
Meanwhile, PCL baseball was breaking out all around us. The view from the top (note the steep pitch of the seating area, a Cheney staple).
New seats, original grandstand.
The Rainiers hit something like 11 home runs in the second inning, en route to a seven-run frame (you do the math). Exhausted by the offensive outburst, I went back down to the concourse in search of sustenance.
Oh, hey, it’s Rhubarb!
I decided upon the Narrows Catch stand — while there were some seafood on offer (almost always a good thing) the necessity of obtaining a gluten-free option led me to go with what had become a theme on this trip: hot dog, sans bun.
“The Best Hot Dog in Baseball,” to be more specific.
I dressed it up with condiments as well as I could — and it was a very tasty hot dog — but even considering that a bun is usually involved here this seemed like a small amount of food for $7.
While ordering the hot dog, I noticed that the next stand over offered gluten-free Grist Mill beer. Finally, my first chance for a celiac-friendly beer at a Minor League Baseball game!
I’ve gotta say, what followed was a very frustrating experience. I ordered the beer, and even though the menu placard directly behind the woman at the register listed Grist Mill I was told that “We don’t serve beer here.” She then pointed toward all the other places in which I could get beer, apparently not realizing that Grist Mill was only offered in one place and that, if you’re ordering it, you’re doing so for a reason. So I went back to Narrow’s Catch, where I had ordered my hot dog, and was told that Grist Mill was only available at the next stand over — where I had just been! So I went back there, but to a different register, and now the beer was magically available. Except, no. “Sorry, sir,” I was told. “We don’t have a bottle opener.” This was followed by a shrug of the shoulders, as if to say “And we’re not going to look either.”
Disillusioned, I retreated to a concession stand on the other side of the concourse and got some fries. Those were good.
The evening slowed down a bit at this point, giving me the time to appreciation this high-resolution scoreboard graphic. Konrad Schmidt: a Sal Fasano for a new era.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cheney had found some company.
This game turned out to be a blowout win for the Rainiers (seven-run second innings often lead to such things), but the visiting Reno Aces weren’t completely lifeless. Here’s Josh Bell, in the midst of a leisurely home run trot.
I made one final concessions stop, at this popular and distinctly Pacific Northwest eatery. Baked goods and high end coffee at the ballpark!
I ordered a mocha (for whatever reason, that was my coffee drink of choice throughout the trip).
Throughout the ballgame, firemen (the evening’s guests of honor) had comprised the majority of the between-inning games and contests. Most of these games were quite simple (trivia, push-up contests, etc) and conducted from the top of the dugout by ebullient MC Christy Magana.
Although not a firefighter (at least not in this life), I was asked to be a contestant in a between-game at the end of the seventh inning. I can’t remember what the game was called, specifically, but it was of the standard “Sing for Your Supper”/”Finish that Tune” variety.
Knowing that my pipes would soon be on display in front of thousands, I retreated to the top of the stadium and practiced a bit.
For those who’ve never done it — being alone in a strange place and knowing you soon have to entertain a crowd with some off-the-cuff stupidity can be a bit nerve-wracking. I’ve done it enough where I’m no longer really nervous, because the number one takeaway is this: In the best way possible, it just doesn’t matter. You can do (almost) anything you want, and it will be fine. Don’t think.
Blogger in need of a makeover, reporting for duty.
The song was “Billie Jean.”
I adopted a falsetto, and then realized I didn’t really know the lyrics. The combination of the ridiculous voice, awkward pause, and mangled lyrics (“I am the one! (pause) I have a son!”) got a surprisingly strong reaction from the crowd. As much as I look like (and am) a doofus, I like the below picture because Christy seems genuinely amused by my idiocy. What can I say? As much as I’m a very reserved person overall, in these sort of situations I really enjoy making people laugh.
That’s enough narcissism for now, and there’s not too much else to report. The game ended unceremoniously, and upon its conclusion I snapped a few pictures of my new interview-avoiding nemesis Nick Franklin. You can never escape the all-seeing eye of Ben’s Biz! (For the record, I have no real issue with Mr. Franklin).
On my way out, I documented some glow-in-the-dark stadium art. Publicly funded! This one is called “Home Run.” The artist is David Franklin (no relation to Nick), and the medium is powder coated aluminum LED RGB fixtures.
All that was left for me to do was to drive upstream back to my place of lodging. The Hotel Murano, its day-glo “M” beckoning from on high, awaited!
The bad news about this OK-ARK-MO-TN trip, accommodation-wise, was that the team hotels were more expensive than I had been used to. But the good news (and stop me if you’ve heard this one before) was that many of them were walking distance to the stadium. And oh what a lovely perk this is — to step out of the Sleep Inn, strut a few blocks along South Main, take a left on Monroe and then — bam! — Memphis Redbirds baseball!
When I arrived there was, unfortunately, no entry between the legs.
But access was quickly gained nonetheless, and one of the first orders of business was to conduct a couple of player interviews with the trusty Flipcam.
Some of the players were taking cuts in a subterranean indoor location, alongside a mural that celebrates each season in which a Memphis professional baseball entity won a championship (the first flag, from that disease-plagued year of 1893, was earned by a team called the “Fever Germs.” Take note, Tim Hagerty!)
Other players were getting their work in, in the great outdoors. Eugenio Velez stood out in this regard, fielding ground balls on his knees in foul territory along third base. (Here’s hoping Velez makes it back to the Majors soon, so that he may enjoy a run of success comparable to last year’s futility!)
While down on the field, I got my first glimpse of what is, oh, I don’t know: THE BIGGEST VIDEOBOARD IN MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.
60′ x 60′!
I’m jumping ahead in the narrative a bit, but this is funny: Prior to the start of the season the Redbirds’ ace video production team concocted the following fake-out graphic for the new videoboard. It expertly re-creates the look of the old board.
On Opening Day, the Redbirds fooled fans and media alike by displaying the above graphic when the gates opened. After enduring an hour of disappointed and/or critical remarks (“What about that big new board you guys said what you were getting?”), they finally switched over to the “real” thing.
But I digress. I hung out in the dugout as batting practice wrapped up…
interviewing third baseman Zack Cox (in his first game back after going on the DL with a concussion) and then highly-touted pitcher Shelby Miller. But first, I had to wait for Miller to get off the phone, as he was speaking with a writer from the esteemed Cardinals blog Redbird Rants.
Miller is struggling quite mightily with Memphis, and I appreciated that he was willing to talk about it in an honest and relatively unguarded manner. He was a good interview (it’s linked to above, if you’re into that sort of thing).
As for whether I’m a good interview — who knows? But after speaking with Miller I went upstairs and chatted with Redbirds broadcaster Steve Selby for his pre-game show. It was a loose conversation, and the main thing I remember is Selby talking about mascot Rockey’s huge calves and me responding that I always pay attention to mascot body part size.
And speaking of large organs, I was happy to see this beauty up in the press box:
(It unfortunately went unplayed on the Tuesday night I was in attendance, but still…)
Downstairs, upstairs, then downstairs again. This time my descent was because I had been tapped to throw a ceremonial first pitch, my second of the season (after Fort Myers). While waiting for my moment to shine, I met the aforementioned Rockey.
And, my God, look at those calves. Steve Selby was right!
I took the mound to wild, rapturous applause, and fired off an 85 mile-per-hour strike.
Or maybe it was indifferent applause and a 45 mile-per-hour lob that nearly went over the catcher’s head? I can’t remember.
The National Anthem was sang by this young woman, whose voice sounded far more mature than her years.
At one point during the anthem, I looked up at the (massive) videoboard and was dismayed to see myself in the shot (standing right behind the singer). I tried to move out of the way, but of course moved even more into the center of the shot. Being on a videoboard is disorienting! If I had to do it over again I would, but there are no second chances in life.
There are, however, seconds on the stadium clock.
Dinnertime, in other words! Out on the concourse, the biggest line was for the Redbirds’ world-famous BBQ Nachos.
Seriously — these things outsell even the hot dogs (or so I’ve been told). It’s chips, cheese, pork, and then sauce and dry rub provided by famous downtown BBQ joint Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous.
This excellent creation was just one of many I was able to sample, for at this point in the evening I received an extensive food tour from Ovations concessions general manager Mike Brulatour.
We started with the BBQ Bacon Hot Dog — topped with a vinegar and mustard-based slaw, Rendezvous BBQ sauce and dry rub and, of course, a nice hunk of bacon:
And while I did not sample the aptly-named Big Dog, it sure lived up to its name:
The cheese and sausage plate is a common Memphis menu item, and the team offers their own version: polish sausage, cheese, peppers, and pickles:
I would have liked it better had there been less sauce and a little bit more separation of the items (the cheese was buried beneath the meat), but this is nonetheless a wonderful array of foodstuffs and something I’d LOVE to see more of at ballparks nationwide. Just sayin’ is all.
The “sleeper” item on the menu (and Brulatour’s favorite) is “Chicken on a Stick.” It’s a kabob of sorts, featuring chicken, potato, pickle and onion. I’d highly recommend it:
One of the sausages on offer was the red-hued Circle B, cut in half and grilled. I had a sample, sans bun, and it was really, really good. The woman working the concession stand was incredulous that I had never heard of Circle B — “It’s everywhere!” she exclaimed.
But that’s par for the course when it comes to regional food. I’m from the Philadelphia area, where a sign like this wouldn’t be necessary:
But Parker’s wasn’t serving, so I settled for a good old-fashioned Icee. Man, it had been a while!
But, listen: do as I say, not as I do. And what I say is, “Eat healthy!”
But in the absence of eating healthy, at least I get plenty of ballpark exercise. Brulatour and I ended up walking a lap around the stadium, and I took pictures along the way.
The visiting and home bullpens are separated by some pretty impressive center field foliage.
Out beyond left-center field, there’s a bit of a carnival atmosphere, as well as a impressively steep berm seating area.
The Brula-Tour continued on, this time with a visit to the suite level.
I wanted to get a closer picture of that (officially licensed!) Elvis the Redbird painting behind the bar. But as soon as the bartender saw me, he was like, “C’mon now, what you have to do is pose in front of the picture with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”
What a great bartender!
While the picture didn’t come out all that clearly, there’s something about it that I really like.
And how’s this for a sweet suite, decorated in the style of a funky BBQ joint:
But there wasn’t much time to explore, because as is so often the case I had an obligation.
I was a pulled pork sandwich in the nightly rib race, going up against arch-nemeses Rib and Seasoning:
The gladiators enter the arena:
Despite the fact that the sandwich had the most range of movement, I got out to a slow start and finished in last place. It was embarrassing.
A considerably less taxing job was to follow — operating the largest videoboard in Minor League Baseball!
I did so under the able tutelage of marketing manager Erin O’Donnell, who explained things in a manner simple enough for an idiot (me) to understand. My notes are a bit garbled, however. They read: “Toggling btw viz ab and live shots…sponsor logos…Rockey cartoon overlay large and small…leave live shot when step in batter’s box — nothing may be moving in game.”
If you can make sense of that, let me know! All I know is that with a click of a mouse I made this happen:
Feeling giddy from this display of scoreboard power, I spent the rest of the evening trying to emulate Rockey’s cocksure strut. Things I saw on my wanderings included the team store…
and, outside of that, an outdoor display in which pitcher-turned-Redbirds broadcaster Charlie Lea (who passed away last year) delivers to notable Memphis native Tim McCarver.
And let’s not forget the specially marked “Albert Pujols seat” in right-center field, which commemorates his walk-off home run in the 13th inning of game four of the 2000 PCL Championship Series. It was all downhill for him from there.
And, hey, what do you know? The Redbirds won the game!
It was a result that was, truly, worth flipping out about.
And where else to end the night but here, between a pair of truly formidable calves.
After 365 days, we as a species have finally escaped from beneath 2011′s tyrannical yoke.
Not surprisingly, very little news of note emerged during the just-concluded holiday season. But, nonetheless, it is now my duty to get you up to speed. For starters, I am ashamed to admit that the unveiling of a Rookie-level team’s secondary logo somehow escaped my all-seeing eye. The team in question is the Grand Junction Rockies:
As you may recall, Grand Junction’s primary logo was unveiled in November (the team has re-located from Casper, where they were known as the Ghosts). Like the secondary logo, the primary logo is strongly influenced by the parent Colorado club. (And, as more than a few Tweeters/commenters/emailers pointed out to me, it may have been influenced by Pizza Hut as well.)
In any case, both logos were designed by Visual Intent. This marks a rare instance in which a Minor League logo was NOT designed by either Studio Simon or the newly-rechristened Brandiose.
Speaking of rare instances, very few teams offer ticket specials in conjunction with the New Year. But the Fort Myers Miracle have once again done just this, with their annual “Resolution Pack.”
*A $10 gift card for your nutritional needs and supplements from Mother Earth Natural Foods
*4-pack of Box Seat Ticket Vouchers to enjoy the Miracle in 2012
*One FREE week membership to Snap Fitness and a FREE training session
*One FREE Matt Booth Boot Camp Adventure
*One FREE financial planning session with Pasquale Evangelista with Raymond James & Associates
And with the new year comes HOT STOVE SEASON, when teams stoke anticipation for the upcoming season by hosting dinners highlighted by celebrity guests, giveaways, and memorabilia auctions. The Delmarva Shorebirds are putting a unique twist on the format this season, as the club is hosting a “bloggers roundtable.”
Says the team:
In addition to traditional guest speakers, the Shorebirds will host a roundtable conversation about a litany of topics. Guests will have the opportunity to engage the panelists during the roundtable and throughout the night.
“The new format really lends itself to passionate baseball fans that want to talk about the sport with those that cover it on a regular basis,” said general manager Chris Bitters.
If any teams wish to invite
hopelessly obscure superstar blogger Ben’s Biz to a banquet, then shoot me an email and we’ll discuss the specifics of my appearance fee and backstage rider.
Finally, I’d like to offer a hearty congratulations to Scott Carter, the new director of marketing for the Durham Bulls. Carter’s previous Minor League gig was as a VP of marketing for the Fresno Grizzlies, where he implemented trend-setting promotions such as Twilight Night, Tweet-Ups, post-game mascot wrestling, and much more. Looking forward to seeing what he’ll be able to accomplish in Durham, a historic franchise with a strong fan base that competes in an excellent facility.
It was in Durham, in fact, that my current profile picture was taken. I ended up wearing this hat for 43 days straight.
It’s mid-December, and all through the land Minor League teams are brainstorming 2012 promotions. On the theme night front, a constant source of inspiration are anniversaries of significant events in American history and pop-culture. In the past, this has resulted in celebrations of everything from Goonies to Bubble Wrap to, um, “The Most Boring Day in History.”
In an effort to perhaps provide some inspiration to mentally-stymied front offices, I spent some time cruising the internet (Wikipedia, primarily) in search of events worthy of celebration in 2012. Who knows? Maybe a few of these ideas will end up on a promo calendar near YOU.
Centennial Anniversaries (1912)
– The Girl Scouts were founded in 1912, so this might be a good time to partner with your local chapter in order to stage a ballpark salute. And, really, you can’t go wrong with a between-inning Thin Mints eating contest.
– The Titanic set sail on April 10. While the tragedy that unfolded is by no means worth celebrating, this could be a good opportunity to commemorate (and spoof) the ensuing century of the Titanic in popular culture.
– Julia Child would have turned 100 on August 15. How about using that as a jumping-off point for cooking contests, how-to videos, between-inning chef races, and French specialties at the concession stand (or at least some wine and cheese)?
Septuagesiquintennial Anniversaries (1937)
– Both Merle Haggard and Billie Dee Williams were born on April 6. An irreverent and all-encompassing salute to both of these cultural icons over the course of the same game would result in an unprecedented evening of ballpark entertainment.
– On April 17, Daffy Duck made his cartoon debut. Create a video of players doing impressions of this iconic fowl, and stage between-inning contests of fans doing the same. Celebrate notable ducks throughout history and have enough respect to not serve foie gras at the concession stands (it’s a ballpark favorite, I know).
– George “The Animal” Steele came into the world just one day before Daffy Duck. The wrestling legend has been a regular on the ballpark promotional circuit over the past couple of years. Who wants to host his 75th birthday party?
Quinquagenary Anniversaries (1962)
– The Navy SEALS were first established in 1962, a group that is having a cultural moment after the Osama Bin Laden assassination. Seems like a great excuse to have them helicopter in and throw out a first pitch. Then, throughout the ballgame, stage a series of grueling between-inning obstacle course fan challenges.
– Superhero promotions have long been a staple at Minor League ballparks, and did you know that 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of both The Incredible Hulk #1 and Spider-Man’s first comic book appearance? Do with that what you will.
– Salute to Guns N’ Roses! Not only is the band being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Axl turns 50 in 2012 and this year marks the 25th anniversary of “Appetite For Destruction” (top 10 greatest album of all time, in my opinion).
(and lest we forget, both Emilio Estevez and Corey Hart turn 50 in 2012. Celebrate them).
Quadranscentennial Anniversary (1987)
– Movies turning 25 in 2012 include the likes of Three Men and a Baby, Lethal Weapon, and Dirty Dancing. Clearly, all of these are ripe for parody. Very ripe.
– Also film-related, Ishtar came out in 1987 (one of the biggest box office bombs in history). Why not use this as a launching point for a “Salute to Flops”? The possibilities are endless.
– One of the biggest songs of 1987 was Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Perhaps “Rickrolling” has run its course, but that song would make a great accompaniment to ninth-inning rally videos.
At this stage in my blogging career I have become a hardened realist, and am well aware that few (if any) of these ideas will actually be picked up by Minor League teams. Nonetheless, this is the time of year for brainstorming, and posts such as these (hopefully) help to illuminate the process.
At the very least, this post represented a legitimate reason to use the word “septuagesiquintennial.” I’ll sleep well tonight.
What am I doing with my life?
The answer to this query, at least for today, is this: Writing about the Baseball Winter Meetings, live and direct from the Big D.
Or, as people who aren’t insufferable call it: Dallas.
The location, specifically, is the Hilton Anatole seen above. For reasons I have not yet ascertained, a statue of American orating legend Will Rogers graces the outside of this quite magnificent facility.
But this is a location best seen from the indoors, especially since the climate in Dallas hasn’t exactly been hospitable (40 degrees and raining).
A triumvirate of sideways-glancing goddesses project a welcoming aura, whilst elephantine sentries stand guard for the media elite.
My day started at the Bob Freitas Business seminar, an annual cavalcade of idea-sharing. And you know what this means, don’t you? Poorly-composed photos of people sitting in conference rooms!
This is the sort of Winter Meetings coverage you just can’t find anywhere else.
From there I headed to the Stemmons Ballroom, to check out the Opening Session speeches (more on all of this can be found on that old internet stalwart MiLB.com. My coverage there has actual substance).
Even more people in an even bigger room!
I skipped the annual Awards Luncheon, because no one ever gives me awards. But before heading back to my hotel room, I met up with Lake County Captains announcer Craig Deas so that he could give me this wonderful piece of Herman’s Head-related memorabilia:
The story behind this signed artifact is explained within this blog post on last season’s visit to Lake County, and further elucidated in this interview with pitcher Cole Cook.
But such issues cannot be explored on an empty stomach. Due to time and transportation constraints, lunch options at the Winter Meetings are severely limited. Fortunately, a short walk brought me to Buck’s Prime, who specialize in “mesquite-grilled burgers.”
The meal was more than acceptable, considering the circumstances:
After lunch it was to the biggest room yet, this time to engage in the rapid-fire “roundtable” portion of the Bob Freitas Seminar. MiLB.com jack-of-all trades Danny Wild took the following photo, which illustrates just how much effective a high-quality camera can be.
From there I joined the innumerable media hordes, in order to bring my words to you.
As for what the evening will bring — who knows? But there’s a good chance that instead of sitting in a room with a bunch of people, I will instead be standing in a room with a bunch of people. This “room”, most likely.
But only one thing’s for certain: I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.
See you tomorrow — live and direct from the Trade Show!
To paraphrase a line from Moby Dick, Ben’s Biz Blog is “unbent from the vast corpulence of human dignity.” In other words, I can report on just about anything, no matter how ridiculous, and somehow not feel shame.
It’s a gift and a curse.
So let’s start with a strange and tragic tale out of Beloit. Yesterday evening, at approximately 6 p.m. ET, the Snappers posted the following Facebook update and picture.
Frack and Blaze have to easily be the two biggest fish in Minor League baseball. Little guy on the right is one of the “Wiggles,” there are three total.
That was the team’s last post of the day. And then the first post Thursday morning was this:
Well, we got to the office this morning and found that one of our fish, Blaze somehow made his way out of the tank. R.I.P. Blaze, you had a good run.
Does this seem fishy to anyone else? That Blaze would meet his untimely demise just hours after being highlighted on the Snappers’ Facebook page? Did he have enemies, who might have resented the attention being showered upon him?
Or maybe it was a desperate bid for freedom, an ill-advised leap toward the kind of life that fellow Minor League fish Al Tuna (of the Altoona Curve, natch) has carved out for himself. This globe-trotting aquatic vertebrae has appeared in all sorts of places lately, with the photographic evidence appearing on the team’s Facebook page.
St. Mark’s Basilica
A London Train Station
And even a taping of Conan in New York City.
Moving from fish to amphibians, you may remember that back in September I attended the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar in Myrtle Beach. At the event’s trade show, the following mascot was available to the highest bidder:
Multiple sources have informed me which team he will be with in 2011, but I’ll hold off from making the reveal (hint: the team’s name is itself aquatic). But if this was YOUR team, what would you name this guy? And how would you use him?
And now for a patented Ben’s Biz Blog tonal shift!
My new “Offseasoning” piece on Toronto Blue Jays prospect Bryan Kervin is now on MiLB.com. He missed the 2010 season after a life-threatening battle with ulcerative colitis, and is now on the comeback trail while also devoting himself to his Rise and Conquer charitable foundation.
A very interesting Minor League tale, and worth checking out.
Thanks, as always, for your time.