Part One of this “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. This post, which I will cleverly refer to as Part Two, picks up right where I left off in, still in St. Petersburg. After a quick stroll through the city’s downtown, I hopped back into the rental vehicle and drove to an unassuming office park. This is the site of Minor League Baseball headquarters.
I’ve been to MiLB headquarters before, in 2012. The above photo was taken during that visit, which yielded a blog post as well as a MiLB.com article. As in 2012, I spent a nice chunk of time exploring the building’s treasure trove of historical Minor League artifacts. Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball’s director of communications, served as my tour guide.
This narrow cinder-block room, fireproof and lined with filing cabinets, gives on an indication as to how player data was stored in the pre-digital age.
Some of the cards contain a detailed record of the player’s transaction history. I must have taken a photo of this one simply because it was located in the first drawer. John Ackley played seven seasons in the Red Sox system, from 1979-85.
More reading material can be found in the library, which totally makes sense. Shelves such as this might not look particularly interesting, but looks can be deceiving.
If time was not of the essence, I would have spent the remainder of the day in the Minor League Baseball library. But time was of the essence, and there was still one more room I absolutely had to visit.
The legendary hat wall, a point of obsession for a certain subset of baseball fans, features the primary hat of all 160 affiliated Minor League teams. The hats are listed alphabetically, and I imagine that since this photo was taken the Hartford Yard Goats and Columbia Fireflies have been added (and the New Britain Rock Cats and Savannah Sand Gnats removed).
With the help of Jeff Lantz, I then produced the following Vine video.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) January 15, 2016
And that just about did it for my time at Minor League Baseball Headquarters, as I was due to catch that evening’s Dunedin Blue Jays game. All I remember about the drive from St. Petersburg to Dunedin was that the weather was bad and the traffic awful.
Regular readers of this blog might recall that, in years past, I supplemented my “On the Road” ballpark material with “Return to the Road” posts detailing that which I was able to experience outside of the ballpark. I always enjoyed doing this, but as my operation has expanded (in scope, if not in scale) I have found it increasingly difficult to incorporate “non-ballpark” activity into my schedule.
That said, I do my best, and figured that these early months of 2016 represented a good opportunity to go back and revisit my 2015 trips. Yes, let’s Return to the Road! This post will focus on my trip to Florida, which took place from April 11 to the 19th.
Despite the relatively short drives from ballpark to ballpark on this trip, I didn’t have the time to explore many of the towns themselves. I didn’t even set foot on a beach, outside of the night I sleepwalked onto one while wearing an ankle-length gown and nightcap. But what I’ve got is something, and something is always better than nothing.
It all started in the town of Pinellas Park, Florida, where I set up shop prior to visiting the nearby Bradenton Marauders. As you can see, this is an American town like no other, one in which Mr. Pool uses supplementary signage to clarify that he does, indeed, sell pools.
Being gluten-free on the road is tough. Since my celiac disease diagnosis, I always pack an extra bag of road snacks to insure that I’ll have an option. But best of all is finding something that meets my needs and tastes great. Often, that something is Vietnamese. When I saw this sign, I was like “Pho Quyen, awesome!”
The objective on this day was to get to Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees, in time for a pregame local food fest on the concourse. Time was of the essence, but nonetheless I was able to make a pit stop at a record store.
This is Mojo Books and Records in Tampa. It opened in 2007, during a period when most stores of this nature were shutting down or in their death throes. Mojo is packed to the gills with new and used books, LPs and CDs, and a coffee shop is located on the premises as well. My lone photo does not do it justice.
Unfortunately I cannot locate the pocket notebook in which I wrote down what I purchased, but I know it included the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Freedom Tower — No Wave Dance Party” as well as a day-by-day diary “written” by Pete Rose as he chronicled his record-breaking 1985 season.
That evening, as I was driving from somewhere to somewhere, I discovered that Wawa (cultishly beloved in eastern Pennsylvania) exists in Florida as well. They even stocked Herr’s and Tastykake.
I spent the evening with the Dunedin Blue Jays, but prior to that I spent a nice chunk of the afternoon in St. Petersburg. I was impressed with the downtown area, Central Avenue, to be specific, which was vibrant and tree-lined. The State Theatre is located on the left hand side of the below photo, a venue that hosts a diverse array of concerts (although, looking at the current listings, none that I would pay to go see. Except maybe Bubba Sparxxx).
Daddy Kool Records is located next door to Local 299. I went inside, and took my standard issue poor-quality photo.
I enjoyed wandering through Daddy Kool’s but nothing was really jumping out of the stacks at me. I debated buying a record by Midnight, a Cleveland metal band, but it was, like, $30 bucks. I have a hard time understanding why records are that expensive. In lieu of that, I picked up Mudhoney’s “Live at Third Man Records” LP (marking the second day in a row I bought a new record by a band I’ve been a fan of for two decades. Old habits die hard).
I did not visit the Stoner Organization, as I am in no need of a health benefits specialist.
My main objective in St. Petersburg, however, was to visit Minor League Baseball headquarters. I’ll write about that in the next post.
These were the winning numbers in yesterday’s largest-ever Powerball drawing, which was won by three (currently anonymous) individuals. This supremely lucky triumvirate will now split an estimated $1.5 billion dollar jackpot, a windfall that will be accompanied by a new, unexpected perk:
The State College Spikes — Class A Short Season affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals — have invited the three winners (who bought tickets in Chino Hills, California, Munford, Tennessee and Melbourne Beach, Florida) to attend July 3’s “Billionaire’s Ball.”
As part of the festivities, all three winners are invited to come to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park and pick the promotions of their choice for that night.
The Spikes will make every effort to fulfill any choice each winner makes while adhering to applicable laws and regulations.
“All of our fans would love to have the chance to share a billion-dollar jackpot, but it’s not too often can you have that and do whatever you want at a ballpark,” said Spikes General Manager Scott Walker. “If they want to bring out giraffes, or have the Spikes wear all-plaid uniforms, we’ll do everything we can to try and make that happen. We’re excited to find out what the Powerball jackpot winners want to do at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.”
I’m not sure if having carte blanche at the ballpark would lead me to create an evening of giraffes and plaid, but to each his own. Maybe the Spikes could get this kids clothing store to sponsor it.
Anyhow, the Spikes’ “Billionaire’s Ball” will also feature fanfare for the common man. The team reports that “Fans can also participate in an array of fun giveaways that night based on the winning numbers, including:
- 4 first pitches
- 8 Bullpen Box tickets
- 19 T-shirts
- 27 boxes of popcorn
- 34 hot dogs
- 10 special “Spikes Power Packs.”
Finally, the night will feature an appearance by David Smith, the Human
Powerball Cannonball. There’s never not a good time to post a Human Cannonball video.
The Spikes are encouraging the three “newly minted tycoons” to call them at 814-272-1711 to get the “Ball” rolling on this promotional endeavor. What are the odds that one of them picks up the phone? I’d put it at something like one in 292 million, but, hey, ya never know.
* * *
While the Spikes were looking for the Powerball winners today, the Charleston Riverdogs engaged in the far more manageable task of identifying the losers.
See? It pays to play.
Last week, I wrote an MiLB.com article about how the West Michigan Whitecaps built their ballpark exclusively with private funds. This piece inspired one Mick Alldis to get in touch with me. Mick, a baseball-loving Australian with a dream, is engaged in a private funding endeavor of his own.
I think the readers of this blog might be interested in what Mick is doing. I’ll let him tell it:
I read your piece on Fifth Third Ballpark (I’m very envious of the ballparks in the U.S.) and while we are nowhere in the league of this type of setup, I thought I’d drop you a line about baseball here in Armidale NSW, Australia. We are a six hour drive from Sydney and three hours inland from the nearest beach (we don’t all live on the beach and punch sharks in the face, you see!)
I’ve played baseball here in Australia since I was a little kid (my claim to fame is that I played against Graeme Lloyd as a kid growing up in Geelong, Victoria and I think I once tagged him for a home run). Now I find myself building a team in the small town of Armidale NSW (population 25,000).
People are passionate about baseball here. So much so that we’ve been able to secure some land from the local University and they are happy for us to build our diamond on it. Our own little Field of Dreams might bring a homegrown Jackie Robinson, Derek Jeter or Mike Trout all the way to the USA. We will play in the local Tamworth Winter League (beginning in April) and will drive 80 minutes each week to play until our ground becomes a reality.
We live in a country dominated by cricket and Australian Rules Football (AFL), and are desperate to think of innovative ways to raise the revenue to build this field. We had an idea. How many people have wanted to co-own a baseball team? For $100 AUS (about $70 US) we’ll send you an Armidale Outlaws cap (Richardson Cap Flexifit design made in the USA) and a Certificate of Ownership.
It’s a bit of fun and a chance for us to raise money to build a baseball diamond, dugouts and netting and even purchase some uniforms. We hope that we might find some generous baseball followers out there! Our GoFundMe page is https://www.gofundme.com/vfhx3bxw. We have a recent article written about us on the Australian Baseball Alumni page as well
As of this writing (Wednesday, January 13. 12:21 p.m. ET), eight generous souls have donated a combined $575 Australian dollars to the Outlaws’ $5000 goal. If you, like so many others, have once dreamed of nominal ownership in an amateur baseball team located half a world away, then I urge you to donate some dollarydoos. Plus, that’s a pretty sweet hat.
Thanks for getting in touch, Mick.
It’s a slow time of year for Minor League Baseball, but that doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Something is always happening. Today’s something is out of Myrtle Beach, as the Pelicans have announced that they are helping one of their employees “fulfill [a] lifelong dream.”
That staffer is Justin Fletcher, an intellectually challenged autistic individual who began working with the club as a custodian in 2014. As you may be able to infer from the above photo, the “lifelong dream” in question is Justin’s desire to be an umpire. To that end, the Pelicans are sending him to Vero Beach tomorrow. On Wednesday and Thursday, Justin will attend classes at the Major League Baseball Umpire Training Academy. Some snippets from the press release:
Fletcher…. [is] the first person at the Vocational Rehabilitation of South Carolina to earn a custodial certification. Following his morning and afternoon work at TicketReturn.com Field, Fletcher attended nearly every home Pelicans game, quickly displaying a love for the Carolina League’s umpires by imitating the men in blue in the stands behind home plate.
“Justin has always said for years now he wants to be an umpire,” said his father Allan Eoff. “And when he found out that (Pelicans assistant general manager) Mike Snow and the staff of the Pelicans were helping his dream come true, he was ecstatic. From that day on, it’s been baseball every day, outside, inside and in his sleep. His mom and I even hear him calling balls and strikes in his sleep. He also only asks for gifts that would outfit an umpire.”
As part of his two-day training, Fletcher will receive a mask, chest protector and shin guards while also spending time in the classroom to work towards completing his umpire education.
“(Pelicans general manager) Andy Milovich told me about this young man at their ballpark who just loved umpiring and loved talking to the umpires that visited Myrtle Beach during the season,” said Minor League Baseball Director of Umpire Development Dusty Dellinger. “After meeting Justin and hearing others tell stories about him dressing up in his umpiring shirt and mask and making calls from the seats behind the plate, I knew we had to bring him to the academy for a few days and give him a taste of what umpiring is really like. I hope he enjoys the experience.”
An alum of Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, Fletcher was able to meet a few of his umpiring idols prior to games during the Pelicans’ 2015 championship campaign.
He’s like a 21st-century Mark Grant.
In 2009, the Wilmington Blue Rocks became the first team to book Team Ghost Riders — better known as Cowboy Monkey Rodeo — at a Minor League ballpark. The thrilling spectacle of a monkey riding a dog herding sheep soon became an industry-wide phenomenon.
In 2016, the Blue Rocks have once again made Cowboy Monkey Rodeo history.
“Dir of Mktg Joe” is more coherently known as Blue Rocks director of marketing Joe Valenti, a longtime Cowboy Monkey Rodeo supporter. Valenti serves as the point man when the rodeo rolls into Wilmington, and in that capacity had gotten to know ringleader Tim Lepard.
“[Lepard] will retire the dogs at a certain age so they can live a dog’s life, not doing the grind,” said Valenti. “Last year he was in town in August. I mentioned to him, that if he was retiring a dog my wife and I would definitely be interested. He said, ‘We’ll look into it.’ But that night at the end of the show, as he was standing at home introducing the dogs and monkeys, unbeknownst to me he called me up there and gave me Shot. I had no idea that it was coming, we hadn’t discussed it or anything. It was crazy…He said when you’re ready, we’ll make the tradeoff.”
This past Saturday Valenti, his wife and young daughter, Rose, met with Lepard in Virginia and officially adopted the 5-year-old Border Collie.
“He was confused and tentative at first, not sure what to think about having a new family and a new home,” said Valenti. “One reason that Tim was ready to retire him is because he’s so docile. Just an affectionate, laid-back kind of dog, who was over doing the chasing rams kind of thing. Tim thought he would be a good fit with the family. So it’s been an adjustment to get his bearings and figure out who we are, but it’s gone really well….It’s cool to see him slide into the family role.”
While Shot will spend the bulk of his time at home, Valenti plans to bring him out to Frawley Stadium on a regular basis.
“He loves people. I do the onfield, hosting, so I can have him come down with me,” said Valenti. “It’ll be cool leading up to the games [with Cowboy Monkey Rodeo], a little teaser, to have the dog here. And I’ll definitely bring him when the monkeys are here, to reunite him.”
Valenti won’t consider adopting a monkey, however.
“The dog is enough. Monkeys are cool, and it’s always fun when they’re around,” he said. “They run around and scare the players. But I’ll stick to the dog.”
Happy New Year! I started this blog in 2007, which means that 2016 is the 10th year in which it has existed. And yet, this blog will not turn 10 years old for another 20 months. This is a real headscratcher, perhaps the blog anniversary equivalent of the Monty Hall Problem.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps, as usual, I simply have no idea of what it is I speak. Perhaps I should move on to an issue of greater substance. Or at least an issue of some substance. I’ll take what I can get. So let’s proceed with the first bouillabaisse blog post of 2016. (This year, I am now 1-for-1 when it comes to spelling bouillabaisse correctly on the first attempt. It’s all downhill from here.)
Yes, it’s 2016. But let’s begin with my favorite team-produced video of 2015, which comes courtesy of the Norfolk Tides.
The Tides, as you’ll recall, unveiled a new set of logos on December 2. These new logos, like almost all new logos, were immediately excoriated by the team’s fan base via the usual social media channels. The Tides, taking a page from the Jimmy Kimmel playbook, took a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach:
And, just out of curiosity, what do you think? Are these logos worthy of excoriation? I, for one, think that the sea horse is pregnant with possibility.
Moving on from excoriation to exfoliation: Dr Zizmor, a legend of New York City subway advertising, has announced his retirement. I think a “Salute to Dr. Zizmor” promo within the NYC market would be great, but maybe that’s simply because it’s the first week back from the holidays and my brain is not yet up to fully-functioning status. It might never get there.
You may recall that, during last month’s Winter Meetings Trade Show, OT Sports was hawking KISS theme jerseys.
KISS theme jerseys will inevitably lead to larger KISS theme promos, and there is a precedent for that sort of thing. Teams thinking of jumping on the 2016 KISS bandwagon can pick up pointers from the Prince William Cannons (1998) and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (1999); both of these promos were overseen by Pat Filippone (currently president of the Seventh Inning Stretch ownership group). Click on the above links and learn, while coming to terms with the fact that I am unable to close this bit with a good KISS reference. I gave it my Beth, though.
Given their innate desire to never alienate the fan base, Minor League teams are loathe to dive into the murky waters of politics. But Lowell Spinners’ mascot Canaligator already lives in murky waters, so he’s gone ahead and launched a presidential campaign.
Canaligator announced his presidential intent following a Donald Trump rally held at Lowell’s Tsongas Center (yes, a Donald Trump rally was staged at a venue named after a lifelong Democrat). The press release contains this immortal quote:
“Look, I’m just a blue-collar gator who believes in staying in touch with his roots. Lowell is my home. These are the canals I swam in as a hatchling. LeLacheur Park is where I fell in love with baseball. What’s more American than an alligator running for president out of a baseball stadium?”
Canaligator has long had his own Twitter account, but today he began a separate account solely devoted to his political aspirations. Groundbreaking.
Canaligator has not aligned himself as a member of a specific party. Why is he hiding his long-standing Green Party roots?
Get it? Because he’s green.
From the “I’ve never seen anything quite like this before” department comes this news from the Trenton Thunder:
John Fierko, a member of the Trenton Thunder front office during their inaugural 1994 season, has returned to the team as its VP of ticket sales. From the press release:
Fierko was a member of the Thunder front office staff in 1994 when the franchise began operation. Fierko spent four years with the Thunder as Director of Ticket Sales before embarking on a career that saw him spend time with the Philadelphia 76ers, the ECHL, the Trenton Devils, the Lakewood BlueClaws and Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia.
Fierko’s first stint with the Thunder began so long ago, a baby born at that time can now legally drink. Those long-ago babies can not yet rent a car, however. That milestone will not occur until 2019.
I’ll close with an item out of Lexington that is, in a word, great: On Friday, the Legends are inviting six groups of local fifth grade students to the ballpark, where they will compete in a Shark Tank-style competition to develop a 2016 promo item. More info from my best friend, the press release:
After making a visit to the ballpark last fall, students from three classes, working in teams as part of an economics unit, were asked to generate ideas for a Legends giveaway. Students conducted research, designed products, and then created and conducted surveys of other students, faculty and administrators to get their reactions.
Here’s a picture of some of the kids in brainstorming mode, aided and abetted by Ty Cobb (yes, Ty Cobb).
Stay tuned to see what these kids come up with. And, other teams: Steal this idea.
The Lake County Captains, located in the Cleveland suburb of Eastlake, Ohio, have made an annual habit of staging satirical tributes to Cleveland’s ignominious sports history. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Class A Indians affiliate is having a little bit of fun with the latest controversy surrounding Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.
For those who unaware of this latest bit of ridiculousness: Manziel partied in disguise in Las Vegas last weekend, wearing glasses, a blond wig, a fake mustache and a hoodie. During this period of surreptitious bacchanalia, he went under the assumed name of “Billy.”
Enter the Captains, via Twitter, bringing their trolling A-game:
To the victor, goes the spoils.
The mayor of Flavortown need not apply, however.
While waiting for the fan submissions to roll in, please enjoy the Captains’ 2014 homage to Major League.
I, meanwhile, will be once again reliving the greatest moment of my life. This happened in Lake County in 2011.
At each ballpark I visited during the 2015 season, I wrote and disseminated a groundbreaking and subversive joke. These jokes became very popular, viewed by dozens of people and, sometimes, even retweeted. As a service to those who somehow missed this social media phenomenon the first time around, I now present my year-end round-up of 2015’s best Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Jokes. One joke from each of my five Minor League road trips is included, as well as one from the 2015 Winter Meetings in Nashville.
Enjoy, and don’t forget to laugh!
Dunedin Blue Jays (April 13)
Kane County Cougars (May 23)
Lynchburg Hillcats (June 27)
Montgomery Biscuits (August 1)
Lowell Spinners (August 31)
Winter Meetings, Nashville, Night Three (December 9)
As you can see, I have not cut my hair since the 2015 season began. Maybe I will in 2016. Until then, thanks for reading and see you on the other side.
Situated as we are within the depths of the holiday season, I don’t get many opportunities to dash off timely posts about recently-announced pop culture-referencing Minor League Baseball promotions. So thanks, Frisco RoughRiders, for coming up with THIS:
As you may have already guessed (or read elsewhere, if I am somehow not your only source for Minor League Baseball news), this promo is in direct response to Sunday night’s Miss Universe debacle.
Oh, man. Every one was “Phillipian” out about this. Mistakes happen. I really don’t think Steve Harvey deserves the internet-fueled scorn that has been heaped upon him, but at the same time this is an all-time classic pop culture moment. It was inevitable that a Minor League team would respond, and kudos to the RoughRiders for being the first team to celebrate second-place.
In times like these, when there is only one set of footprints in the sand, it is because I have deferred to the press release:
The RoughRiders plan to formally invite Ariadna Gutiérrez Arevalo, “Miss Colombia,” as a VIP guest for the night. Gutiérrez will enjoy a suite for the night and an opportunity to throw out the first pitch. The RoughRiders are also inviting Steve Harvey to serve as the on-field host for the evening.
With the night celebrating famous second-place finishes, the Riders have also extended an invitation to Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Marv Levy the quarterback, a wide receiver, and the coach of the Buffalo Bills during their four-year stretch of runner-up finishes in the Super Bowl (1991-1994). The team will celebrate other second-place finishers including Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera (runner-up on Star Search); Adam Lambert and Clay Aiken (American Idol); Carrie Underwood and Michelle Obama (high school salutatorian); Al Gore and Mitt Romney (presidential elections); and Cowboys running back Darren McFadden (two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up).
Like all Riders home games, fans will have the chance to participate in on-field games, but on Runner-Up Night, prizes will be awarded to the second-place, not first-place, finishers. Other in-game promotions include a seat upgrade to the “Second-best seat in the house.”
During the game, RoughRiders players will be displayed on the video board with a sash, announcing each American player as “Mr. Texas” or whatever state they are from and international players honored with the name of their home country.
The RoughRiders plan to host an in-park beauty pageant throughout the game. Any fan that can prove a second-place finish in a beauty contest or pageant at any level will receive a free ticket to the game between the RoughRiders and the San Antonio Missions.
If I had had to guess which team would have been the first to announce such a promotion, I would have gone with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. They have experience with this sort of thing. But, fittingly, my second guess would have been the Frisco RoughRiders. They share an ownership group with the Pelicans, as well as staff members (Hi, Nathan Barnett) who cut their promo brainstorming teeth while working in Myrtle Beach. And it’s certainly no surprise that, via Twitter, Pelicans prez Andy Milovich offered a suggestion regarding another “Runner-Up” that the Pelicans could honor.
And since I can do anyone’s job better than they can do it, I have a few suggestions of my own. Maybe the RoughRiders could honor Teddy Roosevelt — the inspiration for their team name and logo –and his second-place showing in the 1912 presidential election.
Or how about the 1986 Boston Red Sox, who were congratulated thusly on the Shea Stadium scoreboard?
I wish I could come up with more examples, but as longtime author of the greatest Minor League Baseball blog of all time so I don’t really know much about what it’s like to be a runner-up. If you have any suggestions, let me know via Twitter, email or that archaic, dust-filled sliver of internet real estate known as “the comments section.”