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.
In 2010, the Frederick Keys staged “Volt Night” in honor of the acclaimed hometown restaurant owned and operated by celebrity chef Bryan Voltaggio.
Early-arriving fans received Bryan Voltaggio bobbleheads, but the real draw was the food. Voltaggio and his crew took over the concession stands for the evening, creating an improbable ballpark menu highlighted by items such as Dipping Dots Gazpacho (which would make for a great band name) and lamb hot dog with chow chow (which wouldn’t).
Volt Night made it’s return on Tuesday evening, this time as an offseason event celebrating the release of the new Volt Ink cookbook (penned by Bryan and his brother Mike). I posted the menu earlier this week, but since I live in a world free of restrictions here it is again:
I do not have any photos of Old Bay Popcorn, which is just as well since I’d probably make it my desktop background and then salivate over it in a daily display of craven covetousness. But here are a few of the items on offer.
The evening also included a cookbook signing, kickball game, and live music.
“Let us in!” demanded the assembled hordes!
The Voltaggio Bros were busy, of course. They had food to cook, questions to answer, books to sign and mascots to pose with.
Meanwhile, the hoi polloi sampled the concessions, took in some live music, and played (or watched) what had to have been a riveting game of kickball.
While most teams don’t have hometown celebrity chefs ready and willing to collaborate on ballpark promotions, I still think that this basic “Volt Night” concept should be applied to other markets. Reach out to the “top chefs” of your community, and have them put a new spin on ballpark concessions for an evening.
And, of course, if you have photos, videos, and anecdotes from offseason events then please send ‘em along. I am not content without content; the content keeps me content because otherwise I must contend with the gaping maw of the offseason, therein which lies an eternal void.
Last week satiated my season retrospective tendencies, and hopefully yours as well. So now what? It’s mid-October, and quite honestly there isn’t much to report on save for the odd ballpark haunted house (they’re all pretty odd, really).
But there’s always something, isn’t there? Let’s start with the Grasshoppers of Greensboro, who announced their “Guarantee to Give” pledge last September. The crux of the guarantee was that if the Grasshoppers made the playoffs in 2011, then 20 local charities would receive $5000 each.
Well, not only did the Grasshoppers make the playoffs, but the philanthropic impulses of this over-achieving bunch were so strong that they went ahead and won the South Atlantic League championship. Last week was payoff time:
President and General Manager Donald Moore, with help from Hoppers Field Manager Andy Haines, randomly selected the 20 charities that would get $5,000 apiece at a celebration Tuesday with sponsors and season ticket holders.
Unfortunately, the Benevolent Brotherhood for the Betterment of Ben’s Biz Blog did not make the cut. Maybe next time. In further philanthropic news, 2011 Promo of the Year candidates the Stockton Ports recently released the annual report of their charitable Anchor Fund. Therein one can find a detailed breakdown of $29,000 in charitable donations and another $68,500 of in-kind giving.
Along somewhat similar lines, the Great Lakes Loons recently announced that a new 1000-ft. blood donation center will be located within the confines of the Dow Diamond.
As far as I know, this marks the first time that a permanent blood donation center will be located within a professional sports facility. It’ll be interesting to see the ways in which the Loons incorporate this into their promotions; my suggestion of a “Typo Positive” night with intentional ballpark spelling errors will most likely go unheeded.
After three items with a more philanthropic bent, I’m in the mood for some pure unfiltered narcissism. For that, we turn to Tagg Bozied and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Tagg, who made a memorable filmmaking debut in Reading last season, is now the “Most Interesting Man in Baseball.”
Sorry that I neglected to post this the first time around, but better late than never!
Finally, the Frederick Keys’ Harry Grove Stadium is being taken over by culinary superstars the Volt Brothers tomorrow night. I hope to obtain some pictures, videos, anecdotes and whatnot, but in the meantime check out the concessions menu. I’m pretty sure I could eat my weight in Old Bay popcorn.
“Offseasoning” is a bi-weekly MiLB.com that chronicles (surprise!) what players are up to during the offseason. The first edition of ’11-’12 ran today, on the clothing company being launched by White Sox prospects Daniel Wagner and Kyle Colligan.
But this isn’t the first time that the name Daniel Wagner has appeared on this blog. When I visited the Winston-Salem Dash this past July, I took the following photo of Wagner’s scoreboard mugshot:
Yes, this aspiring clothing magnate was attacked by a bat and somehow lived to tell the tale. During our interview yesterday I couldn’t resist asking about this incident, and what follows is a Ben’s Biz Blog exclusive:
Daniel Wagner dishing on his harrowing on-field encounter with an out-of-control winged rodent!
I remember it like it was yesterday. We were in Kannapolis; I was playing second base and Sally [Tyler Saladino] was at shortstop. There were all these bats swooping down and flying around, and I looked over at Sally, like “Do you see these bats? They’re getting really close!”
Two or three pitches later, two bats landed on the second base side of the pitcher’s mound. I said to Sally, “Dude, they’re right there!” He was just laughing. So then Ryan Buch threw a pitch, and as soon as it popped in the catcher’s mitt both bats take off and start flying right at me. I thought one of them was going to hit me in the face, but I dodged it. I forget who the runner on second base was, but I turned to him and asked “Did you see that?”
He just said “Bro, there’s one on your leg!”
And it was! It was clamped on my leg, so I swiped it off with my glove and it ended up on the ground opening and closing its mouth at me. I could see the fangs. It was super-creepy, worse than a spider or a rat, just nasty. I took off running, and that’s when I think the fans noticed what was happening. A lot of them were laughing, and from then on sometimes people would call me ‘Batman.’ It was just wild.
I think I do have a [bat] phobia now, those things creep me out. Of all the strange things that I’ve seen happen on a baseball field, having a bat land on me was obviously number one.
For the record, a fear of bats is officially known as “chiroptophobia.” That would be a mighty strange reason to have to go on the disabled list, but fortunately Wagner has been able to persevere. I thank him for sharing his story, and an additional head nod goes in the direction of the Winston-Salem Dash’s preternaturally on-point team Twitter account for reminding me to ask him about it in the first place.
I would love to be able to provide additional animal attack tales from the Minor League trenches, as well as strange stories in general. If you’ve got something to share, well, you know where to find me.
The Reading Phillies were one of the highlights of last year’s Pennsylvania-centric road trip, as I was able to witness (and participate in) the team’s extensive tribute to the iconic Crazy Hot Dog Vendor. I even got the opportunity to dress up as his “apprentice” and throw a few hot dogs into the crowd myself.
This year’s tribute to the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor took place on Sunday (July 10), and once again I was in attendance. Looking back on it, I’m not sure this was the best idea — I wasn’t on any particular assignment, just motivated to get out of New York City and see some Minor League Baseball. In all honesty, I’m half insane this time of year — either overwhelmed by Minor League Baseball or beating myself up because I’m not.
So off I went. And this time, I made sure to arrive in Reading in time to visit the town’s star attraction: The Pagoda.
This is a quirky place with a quirky history, but nonetheless a beloved area landmark. As all-knowing Wikipedia reports, The Pagoda was “completed in 1908 at a cost of $50,000, it was intended to be the hotel/restaurant centerpiece of a luxury resort. When plans for the rest of the resort were abandoned, the 7-story wooden building and 10 acres of land were donated to Reading as a public park in 1911.”
The main attraction are the views:
Inside the main entrance of the Pagoda is a small cafe and gift shop. For $1, one may trudge up all 87 steps to the top floor.
I would have liked to hang glide from the Pagoda to FirstEnergy Stadium, but that option is no longer available. It was nonetheless a painless 10 minute drive, and upon arriving I checked out the stadium’s refurbished exterior. As you may remember, the 60-year-old facility underwent a $10 million renovation this past offseason.
It was a full two hours before game time, and the place was already jumping. The Reading Phillies do a phenomenal job (better than any team I’ve ever seen) when it comes to making the ballpark a pre-game entertainment destination. Upon entering the “Vist Financial Plaza”, there is a carnival-esque concourse area packed with concessions, games, a bar, and performance stage.
But I made a beeline for the seating area behind home plate, as members of the team’s “Kid’s Club” (aka “Future Crazy Hot Dog Vendors) were participating in a Question and Answer session with theme jersey-wearing pitchers Austin Hyatt and and Derrick Loop.
Questions included “How do you know what time it is to hit?”, “After you hit someone, do you feel bad?”, and “Do you guys ever get to go to ‘real’ Phillies games?”
After Hyatt and Loop departed, out came the man himself:
It was around this time that I dropped my camera onto the concrete. It wasn’t a high drop or particularly hard landing, but nonetheless the screen froze and it was rendered unusable.
The lack of a camera, compounded by my general confusion over exactly what I was hoping to accomplish in Reading in the first place, led to a bit of an existential crisis. When a blogger breaks his camera, does he cease to exist?
The answer, in this case, was yes. After touring the ballpark, sans camera, with media relations director Tommy Viola I stuffed my credentials in my pocket and spent the remainder of the evening simply watching the ballgame. It was kind of nice, actually.
But this post shall continue, thanks to these photos from R-Phils team photographer Ralph Trout.
The Crazy Hot Dog Vendor’s legion of “future vendors” received free t-shirts, and later got to perform on the field.
See that suspiciously big-headed individual in the middle of the above shot? That’s the “life-size 550-lb Crazy Hot Dog Vendor replica,” awarded to one lucky (?) fan after the ballgame.
The aforementioned “VIST Financial Plaza” is highlighted by a performance stage. If you’re lucky, the mascot band will be playing.
Truly, the R-Phils know how to pack ‘em in.
Toward the end of the ballgame, I decided to see how my camera was doing. The good news was the screen was no longer frozen, but the bad news was that the batteries had drained. I snapped one quick photo before it shut off for good.
And that, as they say, was that.
Monday’s game between the Inland Empire 66ers and visiting Visalia Rawhide didn’t start until 7 p.m., but I made it to the ballpark nearly four hours early.
Why? Because I had been tipped off that an exorcism was going to take place. The 66ers have been playing miserably in the month of May, with the low point being the previous day’s 17-2 loss. So the team decided to burn their struggles away, via a soul-cleansing trash-can fire in the groundskeeper’s area beyond center field.
I went out there around 3:30, and came across a plastic bin full of sacrificial baseball detritus.
One of the most prominent items contained therein was one of first baseman Casey Haerther’s rejected pieces of lumber.
Soon the players emerged from the dugout and somberly trudged toward the ceremonial grounds.
The plastic bin was emptied into a trash can, and a copious amount of lighter fluid was poured on top.
Before lighting this mess ablaze, veteran southpaw Harold Williams gave a speech about how this fire symbolized a fresh start. It was a surprisingly somber and serious affair (to me, at least), but losing is no fun so I can appreciate how miserable these guys had been recently.
Burn, burn, yes you’re gonna burn!
But not for long.
And wouldn’t you know it? The 66ers went out on Monday night and scored five runs in the first inning, highlighted by back-to-back-to-back home runs by Michael Wing, the aforementioned Cody Haerther, and Kole Calhoun. Meanwhile, a trio of pitchers kept the Rawhide offense in check, and the 66ers rolled to a 7-1 win.
I have a newfound faith in the power of baseball voodoo. If this works for writers, then when I get home I’m going to set fire to a trashcan filled with a laptop, old notebooks, broken pens, rejection letters, and business cards.
Read more about the 66ers’ ceremony over at MiLB.com, please. But it’s now time for us to turn our attention toward the usual blogging shenanigans. For example, I soon noticed that one of the outfield billboards featured the world’s most voluptuous peach.
Viewing that image got me all worked up. In order to restore a sense of calm to my harried brain I hung out for a bit in the air-conditioned comfort of the 66ers’ front office. Director of Ticket Operations Joey Seymour filled me in on the team’s “Road to the Show” ticket package, marketed to nearby Angels fans and featuring home games taking place when that team is out of town.
Good idea, right?
Seymour also removed the perforation from tickets this year, in order to make them more of a souvenir item. Keeping with that philosophy, the season tickets are jumbo-sized and perfect for player — or mascot — autographs.
The man in the suit seen above is Douglas Maiden, in his first season as Bernie but with 12 seasons of mascot experience.
An interesting aspect of the Bernie character is that he often emits a high-pitched “Wooooo!” catchphrase. All through the evening, this noise could be heard (from Bernie as well as from fans trying to get his attention).
At one point in the evening, I heard a one-second sound clip come on over the PA, simply the word “Bernie.” My ears perked up immediately — this solitary word had been taken from Weird Al’s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” (!!!) This is one of my favorite Weird Al songs of all-time — a loving celebration of aburdist Americana that pretty much encapsulates everything that is great about this country. Upon graduating college, I embarked on a road trip to the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, located in Darwin, MN. I want this song played at my funeral.
But I digress…
My next stop was the home dugout in order to do a few player interviews (I ended up speaking with Jean Segura, Mike “No, Not that Mike Piazza” Piazza, and Harold Williams). Also milling about was a contingent of local bloggers. The team had invited them on “Ode to Bloggers” Night, part of their series of “Social Media Monday” promotions.
And — hey! — I blog as well. Perhaps this is why I was asked to throw out the first pitch.
First pitch friends for life!
The evening’s contingent of bloggers spent the evening in a suite owned by 66ers consultant Byron Marquez. It was swanky.
But my peripatetic tendencies are too strong, so I commenced to wandering.
The 66ers, like virtually all teams, claim to have one of the largest scoreboards in Minor League Baseball. It certainly is beautiful.
Arrowhead Credit Union Stadium doesn’t offer an open concourse, but at least there’s plenty of room to move back there.
By this point you may be saying to yourself, “This place reminds me of Lancaster’s stadium.” Well, that’s because they’re virtually identical (designed by the same architect, built around the same time. But in Inland Empire, the builders at least remembered to include player clubhouses. This was overlooked in Lancaster, resulting in extraneous buildings in far right and left field).
But what you’re really here for is to check out the team’s concession prices. Here you go:
Thank goodness the team didn’t offer Ben’s Biz Blog a Bernie’s Belly Buster Burger. So many “b”s involved, I would’ve broke out in hives.
Corporate Groups Manager David May spent much of the evening extolling the virtues of “Flavor Burst” ice cream. Perhaps the company can use the following photo in their promotional materials.
But out on the concourse, a game was going on. It was a cold gray Monday night, not exactly the kind of evening that packs ‘em in. Still, a beautiful place to see some Class A Advanced baseball.
“Passing the Hat” after the 66ers’ first-inning tater triumvirate.
The scoreboard was often used as the focal point of between-inning games and contests, such as the “Dueling Banjo Cam.”
But soon it came time for me to compete in a between-inning promotion. May, website manager Robert Peters and I descended into the prop room…
And suited up as “racing molars.”
We had plenty of time to kill while waiting for the race, which was largely spent interacting with a gaggle of kids who descended upon us. I was asked for my autograph no less than six times, despite doing nothing more than gripping a pen in my fist and scrawling “TOOTH.” Kids are the best.
But it was all business once race time came, and I’m pleased to say that I emerged victorious.
But my on-field participation wasn’t quite over. Upon the conclusion of the eighth inning, I served as MC for the “Yodeler” contest (modeled after the popular “The Price is Right” game). I had to ask the contestant (who said his name was “Bruiser”) three 66ers trivia questions, and if his answers kept Bernie from falling off a cliff then he would win two tickets to an upcoming game.
I think I did alright, but it’s kind of nerve-wracking to hear your own voice echo through the stadium on a slight delay. I felt like I was talking too slow, and was so focused on not messing up that I didn’t add much personality to it. I guess this is to say that like anything else, being an on-field host is an acquired skill (and one I wouldn’t mind learning if ever given the opportunity).
But the night, like all things in life as well as life itself, soon came to an end. You know what tipped me off to this? Tennis balls on the field.
Today’s “Farm’s Almanac” feature is on the topic of walk-up songs, and includes a variety of anecdotes related to this increasingly popular facet of the professional baseball experience. Did you know that Josh Harrison’s walk-up music is written by his brother? Or that Jeff Locke chose his after extensive focus group testing on Twitter? Or that our old friend Scot Drucker once coordinated bullpen dance routines to New Kids on the Block?
Read all about it HERE.
But the article was over-stuffed as it is, and one aspect of the walk-up experience I wasn’t able to include was that of the visitors. Or, rather, that the visiting team is at the mercy of pun-happy and perhaps slightly mean-spirited control room employees. What follows is a sampling of the info I collected:
Over Twitter, Jackson Generals assistant general manager Jason Compton shared the following:.
We played “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” for Prince Fielder when Huntsville visited Pringles Park back a few years ago.
And, even better:
We also played “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” for Delmon Young when the Biscuits came to town…this was my favorite.
Take that, Dmitri!
Kevin Huisman, who now works for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League, shared this anecdote from his days with the Hickory Crawdads:
Being in the Sally League, we got a chance to play the Rome Braves, which gave us the chance to break out some opera and just about anything that we could find that had an Italian sound to it (“Funiculi Funicula”, etc.). That season, Rome also had a gentleman by the name of Van Pope on their squad, which gave us an added chance to pull in some Gregorian Chants more likely to be heard in Vatican City than a ballpark….Another opponent that season, the Greensboro Grasshoppers, gave me the most memorable dig from that season. One of their players was named Jared Gaston…[fellow Crawdads employee] Mark had 3 children at home, and we were both fans of Disney movies, so we both came up with “Gaston” from “Beauty and the Beast” pretty quickly. I think we were only able to get away with playing it once, but the reaction was priceless. My wife was sitting with the wife of one of the Crawdads players that we’d gotten to know pretty well…when they heard the first line come out, you could hear their laughter echoing along with everyone else in the crowd.
Along those lines, Altoona Curve director of creative services John Foreman shared the following.
“Last year when New Britain was in town, we’d play Skee-Lo “Wish I Was A Little Bit Taller” for [7'1"] Loek Van Mil. And when [catcher] Carlos Santana was with Akron we’d play Carlos Santana and incorporate a Carlos Santana headshot on the videoboard.
“And then there’s Lucas Duda, he’d get “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” or “Camptown Races”….Guys with the last name of Sylvester we’ll play “I Tawt I Taw A Putty Cat,” and the Mr. Rogers theme song for anyone with the last name of Rogers.”
And on and on and on it goes. This topic is a wordplay goldmine and I expect — nay, demand! — for this to be an ongoing feature. So please, no matter who you may be, get in touch with examples of visiting team audio hi-jinx!
And, of course, what would YOUR walk-up song be? Contenders in my universe include James Gang “Bomber”, CCR “Bayou Country,” Dirtbombs “Wreck My Flow” Fat Joe “Massacre on Madison” and New Kingdom “Mexico or Bust.” But number one remains:
To begin today’s post, I’d like to share one of the greatest mascot photos of all time:
That sky-diving bull is Hornsby of the Tulsa Drillers. Jumping out of an airplane (why not?) was one of his last acts before undergoing a thorough overhaul. As part of an effort overseen by Mascot Doctor (and original Phillie Phanatic) Dave Raymond, the Drillers hired a full-time performer and and re-did the costume.
Meet Hornsby 2.0:
I think a good way to publicize the new Hornsby would be to make a video of him in a sushi restaurant eating soup, accompanied by the sounds of 2 Live Crew. The video would be called “Miso Hornsby.”
Never mind, sorry, strike that from the record. It’s just that if you can’t please everyone you’ve got to please yourself. And speaking of guardin’ parties, the 550-pound Ryan Howard Garden Gnome recently presided over the Reading Phillies humdinger of an Opening Night celebration.
A $10 million offseason renovation project always results in an extra-festive atmosphere!
But for many teams, the pomp and pageantry of Opening Day soon succumbs to cold, hard, reality. Emphasis on the cold. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are snowed out today, and yesterday evening West Michigan Whitecaps played a ballgame despite this being the scene earlier in the day:
But in the team’s own words: “If there’s snow on the field, play ball!”
Such frosty weather can be hazardous to mascots as well, as the Lake County Captains latest “Christmas Story”-themed giveaway dramatically illustrates. On July 23, one year after the “Skipper Leg Lamp“, the team is distributing this:
Yes, Skipper’s nose magnetically attaches itself to the foul pole.
That’s all for me today, but before I go let me note that there is a NEW PROMOTION PREVIEW column and that FEEDBACK IS APPRECIATED! I want to be the Big Meech of Minor League Baseball writers, but instead feel like Hoover because all of my writing occurs in a vacuum.
I’m sure this has nothing to do with belabored, obscure, and obsessive compulsive wordplay.