An Edifying Evening in Honor of a Cultural Icon

It took me more than five months to get around to it, but please don’t mistake tardiness for a lack of interest. Today’s post looks back at one of 2014’s most notable Minor League promotions. It is mandatory that you read it: 

Major League Baseball has long been concerned with the issue of parity, working to insure that there is a level competitive playing field across the sport. Minor League Baseball, meanwhile, is more concerned with the issue of parody. At no time was this more apparent than this past August 27, when the Altoona Curve staged a night in honor of consummate pop parodist (and one of my personal heroes) “Weird Al” Yankovic.

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I have long advocated for a Minor League promotion of this nature (see HERE), and previewed the Curve’s promotion this past August. While there is no wrong time to honor the work of Mr. Yankovic, “Weird Altoona Night” occurred during a particularly noteworthy time of his career. From the Curve press release:

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His “Mandatory Fun” album reached #1 on the Billboard pop charts recently and he’s now being championed by his fans to be the entertainment at next year’s Super Bowl. So, the time is right for the Altoona Curve, Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, to celebrate the success of Weird Al Yankovic with “Weird Al(Toona) Night” on Wednesday, August 27. At the same time, the team’s rally mascot, Al Tuna, will play a starring role on the night when the Curve play the Richmond Flying Squirrels in a 7 p.m. game at Peoples Natural Gas Field. 

(Note: Please take a moment to appreciate the fact that the Curve play at a stadium named “Peoples Natural Gas Field.”)

I am happy to report that, soon after this promotion took place, the Curve got in touch with photos and a recap. As a result of having recently enjoyed a five-month nap, I am just getting to it now.

Curve director of creative services Mark Milligan writes:

Please see the pictures attached for some of our staff dressed as Weird Al and some sponsor slides that makes me question if I need my college degree for this.

So here we go. Here’s Curve general manager “Weird” Rob Egan, who apparently did the best he could with the wigs that were available from the promo supply closet.

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This staffer — who I believe might be ticket associate Luke Johnson — didn’t even wear a wig. Weird Al purists were appalled.

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Milligan also sent along the team’s “Weird Al” playlist for the evening. These songs were used for between-inning contests tailored to the “Weird Al” theme. (My commentary on each song is in parentheses.)

Seat Upgrade – ‘Such a Groovy Guy

This, a deep cut off of Al’s eponymous 1983 debut album, is an original composition in which Al reveals that his idea of romance involves “pouring chocolate pudding down your pants.” Regardless of the specifics, it is clear that a seat upgrade would make any fan feel groovy. 

Sheetz Shuffle (Find the ball under the hat on the videoboard)  – ‘Bob’

This Bob Dylan-themed stylistic parody, from 2003’s Poodle Hat, inspired a spot-on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” parody video. The lyrics consist entirely of palindromes, and yet still sound quintessentially Dylan in content. “God, a red nugget, a fat egg under a dog/Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog.”  

— Sheetz Tags (a social media to screen promotion) – ‘Word Crimes’

A parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” which transformed 2013’s misogynistic ear worm into an impassioned screed against flagrant grammar and syntax transgressions. An all-time classic Weird Al track (and video), and for my money the best song on Mandatory Fun.

— Gift Card Giveaway – ‘Bedrock Anthem

This song is a parody of Red Hot Chili Peppers “Give It Away,” which would of course be far more apropos as regards this contest. Al’s version is about The Flintstones. It’s fine for what it is, but a much better classic TV-themed parody within Al’s oeuvre is 1990’s “Isle Thing” (Tone Loc’s Wild Thing, with lyrics about Gilligan’s Island).

— Minute to Win It (Twinkie Weiner Sandwich eating contest) – ‘Eat It’

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“Eat It,” Weird Al’s best-known parody, makes sense in this context. But, given the name of the contest, the Curve could also have opted to go with the nostalgic balladry of 1985’s “One More Minute.” (One of my greatest fourth grade coups was convincing the bus driver to play this song on the way to school). In any case, the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich employed in this between-inning endeavor is a nod to this scene from the 1990 cult classic film UHF: 

Budweiser Thirst Inning – ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ performed by Frankie Yankovic

The Curve took some liberties with this one. While Al and Frankie are both famous accordion-playing Yankovics, they are not related to one another.

— Burrito Scream (burrito coupons given away to screaming fans) – ‘Tacky

“Tacky,” a parody of Pharrell’s “Happy,” was the first single released off Mandatory Fun. If the team wanted to go deep on this one, they could have chosen the scream-laden midsection of “Nature Trail to Hell in 3D” (the closing song on In 3D). 

— Grounds Crew dragging the infield – ‘Handy

Well, why not? Grounds crew members are the handiest people in the ballpark. This, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” is the leadoff track on Mandatory Fun. “Hardware Store,” one of the strongest tracks off of Poodle Hat, would also have been an acceptable choice. 

— T-shirt Launch – ‘Bohemian Polka

This, off of 1993’s “Alapalooza,” is Al’s polka-fied rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Carry on, carry on. 

— Birthday Announcements – “Happy Birthday” played on the accordion

I mean, sure, that works. But I’m very disappointed that the Curve passed on the opportunity to play Al’s “Happy Birthday,” in which birthday wishes are offered amid a dsytopian landscape of poverty, famine and nuclear armageddon. “Well what’s the matter, little thing? You think this party is the pits? Enjoy it while you can, we’ll soon be blown to bits!” 

– Eye Ball Race (Hamster ball race) – ‘Rye or the Kaiser’

In which “Eye of the Tiger” is reconfigured, describing a post-retirement Rocky and his new life as a deli proprietor. But given that this is a hamster ball race, it’s a shame that a “Harvey the Wonder Hamster” reference wasn’t worked in at some point. 

– Kiss Cam — ‘If That Isn’t Love 

An Al original off of 2011’s Alpocalypse, in which he extols his gentlemanly bonafides (“I’ll kiss you even if you have omelettes for breakfast, and I can’t stand omelettes.”)  

Sing for Dairy – ‘Amish Paradise

Sing-for-Dairy

This, off of 1996’s Bad Hair Day, is one of Al’s best known parodies. The Curve milked it for all that it was worth. 

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Mascot Race – ‘Another One Rides the Bus’

My favorite Weird Al song of all time is this, a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Y’know, in case you weren’t aware, Al has been doing his thing for quite a while now. 

Dessert in Curve, PA — I Love Rocky Road

A perfect choice, of course. This, like “Another One Rides the Bus,” “Happy Birthday,” and “Such a Groovy Guy,” can be found on Al’s 1983 self-titled debut. It goes without saying that this album is an all-time classic, probably my favorite of all.   

Fan Cam — Polka Face

Each Weird Al album includes a polka medley of (more or less) current Top 40 hits. This one, from 2011’s Alpocalypse, includes snippets from the likes of Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum and various other notable ladies (and gents). 

Sweetfrog Selfie Winner – ‘Livin in the Fridge

This is a parody of Aerosmith’s “Livin on the Edge.” I’m not sure what this song has to do with selfies, but I’ll trust the Curve’s judgement on this one.

Chili’s Delivery Dash – ‘Taco Grande

This homage to Mexican food, from 1991’s Off the Deep End, is a perfect choice for a contest sponsored by Chili’s. “Taco Grande” is a Gerardo parody, not to be confused with Al’s Geraldo parody from the UHF film:

Angry Birds Ballpark – ‘I Can’t Watch This

Another cut from Off the Deep End. This is a parody of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This,” in which Al rants against the banality of television.

When I started writing this blog post I really had no idea what I was that I was getting myself into, but I suppose that sentiment applies to most of life’s endeavors. At any rate, I hope that, in addition to illuminating my love for Weird Al, that this post illuminates how much detail must go into each and every Minor League Baseball promotion. I commend the Curve for the work they did on “Weird Altoona Night,” and hope that other teams follow suit in 2015 and beyond.

Until next time, I thank you for your continued support.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Charlotte Knights

It’s time for another “Why I Love” guest post, in which a Minor League fan explains what it is they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is LaMichael Mitchell, a die-hard fan of Charlotte sports in general and the Charlotte Knights in particular.

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And If YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com.

Why I Love the Charlotte Knights, by LaMichael Mitchell

(Photos courtesy LaMichael Mitchell, unless otherwise indicated)

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When you think of sports in Charlotte, North Carolina, what comes to mind? For many of us, it’s the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, who are coming off of a playoff appearance. There are also the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, who are once again using the Hornets name after a 12-year absence, as well as college basketball. But for me, a die-hard Charlotte sports fan, it’s all about spending summer evenings catching a baseball game inside the warm confines of BB&T Ballpark in uptown Charlotte, cheering on my beloved Charlotte Knights.

Back when I was just 10 years old, in 1994, my parents used to take me to Knights games when they played down in Fort Mill, South Carolina. The team’s home in those days was Knights Stadium, and it was there that I learned about the one thing that I love to do when coming to a game: keeping score. That is something that I still do to this very day.

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Knights Stadium, the team’s home from 1990 through 2013 (Ben’s Biz file photo, circa 2014)

Like many Knights fans, I spent several seasons hoping and wondering: Would the Knights finally come back to a ballpark located within Charlotte city limits? We have a rich and storied baseball heritage here, as Knights alumni include Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. That dream became a reality in 2014, when we finally saw our team return to its rightful home in Charlotte.

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I was there for the Opening Night of BB&T Ballpark, in April of last year, and the experience was truly electrifying. Even though the Knights lost in extra innings to the Norfolk Tides, I still had a fun time witnessing a new chapter in Charlotte baseball history. Whenever I attend a game at BB&T Ballpark, I feel welcomed by a warm and friendly staff that is passionate about making the experience at the ballpark fun. This is certainly true of media relations director Tommy “The V” Viola, and also includes the man that made it all happen for the Knights to return home to Charlotte, COO Dan Rajkowski. And I can’t forget Homer the Dragon, as he makes the experience of attending a Charlotte Knights game at BB&T Ballpark fun for kids of all ages.

LaMichael and Homer

LaMichael and Homer

Along with everything else that I mentioned, I can’t forget about the views. The Charlotte skyline is visible from just about anywhere you sit in the ballpark.

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Ben’s Biz file photo

I usually choose the seats in left field, where the Charlotte Panthers’ home of Bank of America Stadium can be seen in the distance. The view from right field isn’t too bad, either.

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Baseball in Charlotte has truly been a way of life for over 100 years. With the recent success of BB&T Ballpark in its record-setting inaugural season, it is no wonder why I love coming to a Knights game. The experience is out of this world. If you’re from in and around the Charlotte area, or if you’re planning to make a visit here during the summer, I would like you to check out a Charlotte Knights game at BB&T Ballpark. Once you attend a game, then you will see for yourself that it’s a great way to enjoy a warm summer night here in Charlotte.

Thanks to LaMichael for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” post detailing my Charlotte Knights experience during the 2014 season.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Free Admissions

Earlier this month I posted a, uh, post that included one item of recent vintage and one left over from the 2014 season. This endeavor received a rapturous response, as most of my endeavors do, so once again I’m going to utilize this format. We’ll start with something new. It’s more of an update, really, regarding the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ “Fan Photo Contest.” The team’s pitch was as follows:

Want to see your photo on a Season Ticket? Post your favorite Fisher Cats-themed photo on our Facebook page, and it could be featured on a 2015 Season Ticket.

Well, the results are in. Fisher Cat fans such as these will be showcased on season tickets in 2015:

Joseph from Barnstead, who is ready to catch the first pitch:

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A triumphant Maureen from Manchester

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Ian from Manchester honors America

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And so on and so forth. To see all of the winners, go to the Fisher Cats’ Facebook page. I had never seen such a thing done before in the world of Minor League Baseball — correct me if I have overlooked a similar endeavor — and think that it’s a great idea.

Speaking of great ideas… 

The Dunedin Blue Jays are located one rung below the Fisher Cats on the Toronto Blue Jays’ organizational ladder. And, this past July, they made baseball history. Therefore, if you care about baseball, history and the intersection of the two, then you will be fascinated by this. I guarantee it:

DUNEDIN, FL –This past Saturday, July 19th, 2014, was a historic day for baseball, as a baseball “first” took place at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida. The Dunedin Blue Jays defeated the Jupiter Hammerheads 12-7 in front of an announced crowd of 1,098. But the story actually begins almost two weeks earlier and about 58 miles to the east.

On Sunday, July 6th, the Lakeland Flying Tigers were set to host the Daytona Cubs. The Flying Tigers were looking to bounce back after losing the night before at Joker Marchant Stadium. On this Sunday, though, the Flying Tigers weren’t able to get back on the winning side of things.

Because on Sunday, July 6th, in Lakeland, Florida, it rained.

A ticket from that Cubs/Flying Tigers game was redeemed at the box office here in Dunedin, marking the first time in baseball that a fan has made use of the “Universal Rain Check” policy. This policy was created at the beginning of the 2014 season by the Dunedin Blue Jays, and they are the first and only team in Minor League Baseball to offer this unique rainout program.

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The program is set up so that fans from all over Minor League Baseball are able to use a rain check from any MiLB game for admission to a D-Jays game. While the promotion is open to teams from all across the minors, as expected, the first redemption came from a fellow Florida State League game.

“I think it’s awesome that someone made use of it,” said Nate Kurant, the D-Jays director of marketing and social media. “I’m grateful that our GM, Shelby Nelson, allowed us to try something unique and I’m glad that it paid off for at least one fan. Hopefully it gains a little more momentum and more fans take advantage of it, especially here in the FSL.”

Longtime Ben’s Biz Blog readers, of which there are several, will recall that the Universal Rain Check idea can at least partially be attributed to reader Peter Golkin. In 2012, Golkin wrote a guest post in which he advocated for the implementation of the Universal Rain Check throughout Minor League Baseball. This post inspired one of the most robust comments section that this blog has ever seen, an occurrence that always does my heart good.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Deflated Balls, Good Cause

There’s been a lot of chatter lately regarding “Deflategate.” Unless you are living under a rock and/or don’t care about extremely trivial matters, then you are no doubt already familiar with this latest and greatest NFL controversy. It revolves around allegations made against the New England Patriots and their coach, Bill Belichick, who have been accused of gaining an unfair advantage in last Sunday’s AFC Championship game against Indianapolis via the use of improperly inflated balls.

This scandal, ridiculous yet captivating, calls out for a satirical response from a Minor League Baseball team. Yesterday evening, after a little Twitter prompting from yours truly, one team answered the call: The Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

On Wednesday, April 15, the Pelicans will be staging #DeflateCancer Night at their home of TicketReturn.com Field. The aim, as the team puts it, is to “tighten the grip on testicular cancer.”

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This promotion, simply put, is brilliant. Minor League Baseball at its best. Tire service checks? Free ball inflation? A Rocky Mountain Oyster eating contest? A deflation ceremony? An apropos Breeders reference? It’s all here, along with much, much more. Let’s go to the press release:

In light of the NFL and New England Patriots “Deflate-gate” scandal, #DeflateCancer Night will focus on raising awareness for testicular cancer and feature an inflatable baseball giveaway to the first 1200 fans through the gates. Eleven of every 12 fans will receive a deflated ball, while one in every 12 will receive a “properly” inflated ball.

When fans arrive at the ballpark, they will be greeted by a variety of ball-related promotions. Any fan who arrives in a vehicle with a Massachusetts license plate can request a complementary tire-pressure check from service technicians from Tire Town, who will also be on-site passing out free tire pressure gauges to fans.  

The Pelicans staff will offer free ball inflation at Gate 1 to fans that bring deflated balls in need of inflation. If they wish to donate their deflated (but functional) balls (footballs, beach balls, basketball, volleyballs, and soccer balls), the Pelicans will donate them to the Boys and Girls Club of the Grand Strand.

Once inside the ballpark, fans can take advantage of concessions discounts on meatball sandwiches, chicken bog balls, roasted and boiled nuts, and of course, discounted hot dogs as a part of the yearlong Weiner Wednesday promotion. The team also plans to conduct a Rocky Mountain oyster-eating contest between Pelicans Vice President and General Manager Andy Milovich and one “lucky” fan as a between inning game. Fans can also take deflated hot-air balloon “rides” at the park.

The Pelicans will also pass out balloons to fans during the game to engage in a communal deflation ceremony while playing the “Deflate-gate” press conference of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the left field video board.

Music for the night is sure to feature famous ball-related tunes like “Great Balls of Fire,” “Cannonball,” “Wrecking Ball,” and “Balls to the Wall.”

Important to note for concerned parents, the Pelicans have opted not to invite the New England Patriots equipment manager to run the Kids Zone. The bounce house, speed-pitch, and obstacle course will, as always, be inflated to the specified safety levels outlined in their respective manuals.

Finally, the Pelicans plan to formally invite Walt Anderson and his officiating crew from the AFC Championship Game to inspect the game balls prior to first pitch.

Word from Splash, the Pelicans mascot, is that Mugsy, the Salem Red Sox mascot, has been hatching plans to film the Pelicans practices prior the three-game series, which begins on April 13 at TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark.

“In honor of the New England sports tradition, the choice of a night in which the Boston Red Sox affiliate was in town was the obvious choice for this night,” explained Milovich. “To be able to promote awareness of such a serious disease so early in the season, while having some fun in the process is what we are all about.” 

#DeflateCancer Night is one of the nights in the Pelicans’ Strike Out Cancer series, a six-night series devoted to raising awareness and money to fight different types of cancer. The series was a great success in 2014.

Kudos to Andy Milovich and the Pelicans staff for once again showcasing their formidable brainstorming skills, and for once again tying it all in to a good cause. As you may recall, Milovich has ample experience with this sort of thing:

Meanwhile, word on the street is that at least one other Minor League team will be announcing a #DeflateGate promo today. Stay tuned…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: The Number Tamer Returns

In January of 2014, I wrote an MiLB.com article about David “The Number Tamer” Kronheim, a Queens-based “freelance advertising copywriter and marketing research analyst” who annually produces hyper-detailed (and deeply informative) baseball attendance reports. In conjunction with that article, Kronheim contributed a guest post to this blog in which he further elaborated on his methods.

Another year has come and gone, which means that it’s once again time to check in with Kronheim. In this, his most recent guest post, he elaborates on 2014’s biggest attendance gains throughout Minor League Baseball and the common factor which united them all. Unruly digits beware, the Number Tamer is on the case! 

New Cities and New Ballparks Had Big Attendance Increases in the Minor Leagues in 2014

By David Kronheim – Numbertamer.com

The big attendance story in 2014 for the affiliated leagues of Minor League Baseball was the huge increases posted by three teams that moved to new cities or new ballparks.

A Mexican League team moved from Minatitlan to Tijuana. Attendance in Tijuana was 419,169 in 2014, up 298,658 from the 120,511 that this team drew in Minatitlan in 2013.

El Paso opened a great new ballpark, and a Pacific Coast League team moved there from Tucson, where it had drawn 200,077 in 2013.  In 2014, the El Paso Chihuahuas attracted 560,997, an increase of 360,920.

Southwest University Park in El Paso (Ben's Biz file photo)

Southwest University Park in El Paso (Ben’s Biz file photo)

The biggest attendance increase in 2014 for any Major League or Minor League Baseball team was by the Charlotte Knights of the International League. They moved from the suburb of Fort Mill, South Carolina to a magnificent new, mass transit-accessible ballpark in the uptown section of Charlotte.

The Knights led Minor League Baseball in total attendance in 2014, drawing 687,715. Their previous high was 403,029, in 1993. The 2014 total was the third best ever by an International League team. Average attendance per date in Charlotte was 9,686, tops among all United States Minor League teams.

BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte (Ben's Biz file photo)

BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte (Ben’s Biz file photo)

In 2013, in Fort Mill, the Knights drew 254,834. Attendance at the new ballpark in 2014 was up 432,881. This was the third-highest increase in Minor League history for a team that moved from one ballpark to another in the same geographic market. Buffalo had a 650,891 increase when they moved into a new park in 1988. Memphis posted a 462,512 gain in 2000, the year they relocated from Tim McCarver Memorial Stadium. (Tim McCarver says that the ‘Memorial’ part of that stadium’s name was in memory of his throwing arm.)

Tijuana, El Paso and Charlotte had a combined 2014 attendance increase of 1,092,459.  Such huge growth by teams moving to new markets and/or new ballparks has not been unusual in recent decades within the Minor Leagues.

Much of the tremendous growth in Minor League Baseball attendance since the late 1970s has been the result of so many markets opening new ballparks, either for a team they already have or to attract a new team.  Here are some examples:

The first of a new era of Minor League ballparks was Cooper Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. In 1977, the Clippers moved there from Memphis, and attendance increased from 364,278 to 457,251. From 1953 through 1976 only one U.S. team, Hawaii in 1970, had drawn that well. In 1979, Columbus drew 599,544, the highest Minor League total since the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League drew 606,563 in 1948.

Columbus got a new park in 2009 and continues to be one of the best draws in the Minors. In 2014, the Clippers drew 628,980. It was the fifth time in the last six years that the Clippers topped 600,000, and the 28th time in 36 seasons that they drew above 500,000.

Huntington Park in Columbus (Ben's Biz flie photo)

Huntington Park in Columbus (Ben’s Biz file photo)

In 1982, a team moved from Springfield, Illinois to Louisville and began to shatter attendance records. The 1982 Louisville club drew 868,418, breaking the then-Minor League record of 670,563 by the 1946 San Francisco Seals.

Louisville’s gain of 747,881 from the 120,537 that the franchise drew in Springfield in 1981 is still the biggest year-to-year attendance increase in Minor League history. In 1983, Louisville became the first Minor League team to draw one million, averaging 16,191 per date. That year, Louisville outdrew three Major League teams (Cleveland, Minnesota and Seattle) in total attendance, and those teams plus Cincinnati and the New York Mets in average per date.

Louisville has now topped 560,000 for 15 straight seasons.  The Bats have drawn better than 500,000 in 29 seasons, more often than any other team.

Louisville Slugger Field (Ben's Biz file photo)

Louisville Slugger Field (Ben’s Biz file photo)

As noted earlier, the Buffalo Bisons had a 650,891 increase in 1988 when they moved to Pilot Field (now Coca Cola Field).  The Bisons had drawn 495,760 in 1987 at War Memorial Stadium, which was quite an accomplishment. The old park had been home to the Buffalo Bills until 1973, and was where the acclaimed baseball film The Natural was shot. But this facility had seen better days.

Pilot Field was the prototype for all the retro-minded ballparks that have been built since then. It was designed with Major League expansion in mind, and the fans in western New York certainly made the effort to convince MLB to give them a team. In 1988 the Bisons drew a Minor League record 1,146,651 fans. They went on to top the one million each season through 1993, led by 1991’s total of 1,188,972 (1,240,951 including post-season games).  No team has reached a million since 1993, but, through 2014, attendance in Buffalo has been above 500,000 in a record-setting 27 straight seasons.

Coca-Cola Park in Buffalo (Ben's Biz file photo)

Coca-Cola Park in Buffalo (Ben’s Biz file photo)

In 1994, Salt Lake City got a Pacific Coast League team from Portland, Oregon. Attendance rose 527,214.

Starting in the 1990s, teams from some of the lower classifications posted huge gains as a result of relocation. In the Class A Midwest League, the 1994 move of Waterloo to West Michigan (near Grand Rapids) resulted in a gain of 423,883.  Also in the Midwest League, in 1996, the Lansing Lugnuts drew 498,858 above their 1995 attendance figures in Springfield, Illinois.

In 2000, five teams playing in brand-new ballparks had a combined increase of 2,486,321 over what those franchises drew in 1999. Louisville opened a new park, and their attendance rose 324,444. A new park in Memphis resulted in a gain of 462,512. Sacramento drew 861,808, a then-record high for a Pacific Coast League team, and 620,347 above what the franchise had attracted in Vancouver in 1999. Round Rock, then in the Texas League, drew a Double-A record of 660,110 (up 560,870 from what the team drew in Jackson, Mississippi in 1999).

Dell Diamond in Round Rock (Ben's Biz file photo)

Dell Diamond in Round Rock (Ben’s Biz file photo)

In 2000, Dayton drew 581,853, then the highest-ever in Class A. This was a gain of 518,148 from their 1999 totals in Rockford, Illinois.  The Dayton Dragons have been an incredible success story, topping 570,000 every year, and they now have the 15 highest attendance totals ever in Class A. They’ve sold out all 1,051 home dates that they’ve played, including playoffs and two league All-Star games. This is the longest sellout streak in North American pro sports history! The Boston Red Sox, whose sellout streak covered 794 regular season and 26 postseason dates, hold the Major League (in any sport) sellout streak record.

There have been more huge attendance increases posted since 2000. In the Class A South Atlantic League in 2001, Lakewood and Lexington each drew more than 420,000 above the 2000 attendance totals they had posted in Cape Fear and Kissimmee. respectively.

The top short-season team increase took place in 2001. The Brooklyn Cyclones drew 289,381, which was then the highest attendance ever by a short-season team. The gain was 250,719 above what they had attracted while playing in Queens in 2000. The Cyclones  compete in a location unlike any other in pro baseball. MCU Park is right off of the famed boardwalk at Coney Island, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the amusement rides. Brooklyn has led all short-season teams in attendance every year, topped by a record-high 317,124 total — and 8,345 average per date — in 2002.   Throughout their history, Brooklyn has achieved a higher average per date than nearly all teams below the Class AAA level.

MCU Park in Brooklyn (Ben's Biz file photo)

MCU Park in Brooklyn (Ben’s Biz file photo)

Honors for the best gain since 2000 go to Frisco of the Texas League. In 2003, the RoughRiders drew 666,977 — 642,408 more than the team they replaced drew in Shreveport in 2002.

Tijuana, which had a big gain with a new team in 2014, also got a new team in 2004. They drew 474,573 more fans than the Dos Laredos club they had replaced. The team left Tijuana after the 2008 season.

Also in 2008, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Allentown, Pennsylvania) reached 602,033 in their inaugural season. This marked a 475,139 increase from the total of 126,894 the franchise drew in Ottawa in 2007.  (This club’s name comes from the term ‘pig iron,’ which is used to make steel.)  The IronPigs are the only team to top 600,000 in each of the past 7 years. Their ballpark seats 8,089, making it one of the smallest Triple-A parks. In the team’s seven seasons, attendance has exceeded the seating capacity of the ballpark 392 times in 491 dates (including the postseason). They’ve sold out all seats, lawn seating and standing room in 132 of those dates.

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Coca-Cola Park in Lehigh Valley (Ben’s Biz file photo)

More new ballpark-related increases may come to Minor League Baseball in 2015. Biloxi, Mississippi gets a Southern League team, the Shuckers, who moved from Huntsville, Alabama. A short-season New York-Penn League team relocated from Jamestown, New York, to Morgantown, West Virginia, where it will share a new ballpark with West Virginia University.  The Nashville Sounds open First Tennessee Park, which, just like the old park, will have a guitar-shaped scoreboard in recognition of Nashville’s role as the ‘Music City.’

You can get much more information about 2014 and historical Minor League and Major League Baseball attendance from my website – numbertamer.com.  Just go to the ‘Baseball Reports’ page on the site to get your free downloads of the attendance analysis reports.

Thanks to David Kronheim for once again taking the time to share his expertise. Meanwhile, if YOU have Minor League Baseball-related expertise that you would like to share then please get in touch with me about the possibility of writing a guest post. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Now and Then

As I have often mentioned, the offseason content on this blog can be characterized as an ongoing battle between the old and the new. The urge to share new Minor League initiatives and ideas must do constant battle with the desire to give belated coverage to that which I didn’t get around to writing about during the season itself.

But why must this dynamic always be framed in oppositional terms? Today’s post represents an attempt at reconciliation, so that the old and the new may transcend temporal concerns in favor of taking up residence within the eternal now. It’s a perfectly logical approach.

New! 

Like it or not, Valentine’s Day is less than a month away. The Bowie Baysox, like many teams, are offering a variety of romantic ticket packages in honor of this occasion. But, unlike many teams, they are also offering a vitriolic “Love Bites” anti-Valentine’s Day package featuring secondary mascot Rocko.

Bowie_Baysox_Anti_Valentines_Day_3n38r26k_pf52kbby

Per the team:

The Rocko’s Love Bites Pack is $55 and perfect for the downtrodden on what can be a quite depressing holiday. This lonely hearts package includes four SINGLE game General Admission Baysox tickets to enjoy by yourself, a Baysox Foam Claw signifying your ripped out heart, a Black Baysox Mini-Bat to fend off any nearby happy couples, six black balloons to denote your singular unromantic status, and a pint of ice cream with a special Baysox bowl to help alleviate your sorrows.

But that’s not all, for Rocko will also help those in unhappy relationships hit the killswitch.

Fans can have the frustrated fish do the dirty work for them and deliver his Love Bites Pack within 25 miles of the stadium to help you part ways with a significant other.

If anyone takes Rocko up on this offer, then I have but one request: Make sure you get it on video.

Old:

Remember back in June when the Potomac Nationals hosted a “Beard-A-Palooza” weekend in honor of Jayson Werth?

beardolympics_fugth0o0_r4n99jyh

Well, I have obtained photos of the festivities (by “obtained” I mean the team sent me some). Here, a pair of front office staffers engage in a beard-tasting competition.

Beard tasting“Beard vs. Food” eating contest: 

Beard vs foodTo the victor go the spoils:

Beard vs food winnerLongest beard competition:

Longest beardStrongest beard competition:

Strongest beardOnce again, to the victor go the spoils (maybe this guy won because his opponent, upon further review, was deemed to not have had a beard in the first place):

Strongest winner

This old and new coexistence experiment seems to have gone pretty well. I think I’ll do it again in the near future. In the meantime, make sure to check out the new edition of “Ben’s Bookshelf” over on MiLB.com. It features three highly-recommended Minor League Baseball-themed books:

bookshelf_5cnz06dg_vrrspcpwbenjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Guest Post: Why I Love the Columbus Clippers

After a seven-month hiatus, I am pleased to announce the return of the”Why I Love” series of blog posts. The premise is simple: Each post is written by a Minor League Baseball fan, in which they explain just what it is that they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is  Sarah Lukowski, an Ohio State University graduate student. The Buckeyes won the College Football National Championship last night and today is a day of celebration at OSU and throughout the state of Ohio. But, soon enough, it will be time for sports fans in the area and nationwide to turn their attention to baseball. In this post, Lukowski makes the case for her beloved Columbus Clippers.   

To see other “Why I Love” guest posts, click HERE. And If YOU would like to write a “Why I Love” post, email me at benjamin.hill@mlb.com.

Why I Love the Columbus Clippers, by Sarah Lukowski

It’s a beautiful evening, one of those summer evenings that seem to last forever. And if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Columbus, Ohio, on such an evening, there’s no better way than to spend it than at Huntington Park. Or, really, any other kind of evening…or afternoon, or morning. You get the point. That’s almost certainly where you’ll find me if the Clippers are in town.

1

Huntington Park, in all its majesty, before the crowd arrives

Huntington Park, a gorgeous stadium, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. What’s not to love about a beautiful diamond? If you sit on the outfield grass on those long summer evenings, you’ll inevitably see a beautiful orange-purple sky as the sun sets behind the first base side of the ballpark. Nights like these are absolute perfection, reminding each and every person in the crowd why they fell in love with the game of baseball. Children roll down the slight incline of the lawn and hope that a home run heads their way.

2

The lawn: perfect for relaxing, rolling, home runs, and, in this case, watching Trevor Bauer do his pregame long toss.

Or, if you are like me and want to get closer to the action, you can situate yourself a few yards away home plate. It’s a cliche, but there truly isn’t a bad seat.

The view I enjoy each and every day of the season.

The view I enjoy each and every day of the season.

I have always loved watching sports because of the people and the Columbus Clippers game experience is no different. The staff is always friendly, the fans in the crowd are the type of people you want to hang out with and the guys on the field are the type of players it is easy to cheer for.

And, while you never want guys to get hurt or get sent back down from the Cleveland Indians, it is a part of the game. In recent years I have seen both Michael Bourn…

6and Jason Kipnis.

5

When you think “Minor League Baseball season ticket holder” I am probably not who you would imagine. I am a 24-year-old grad student who, while growing up in rural Michigan, fell in love with the game of baseball by cheering on the Battle Cats/Battle Creek Yankees/Battle Creek Rays/Southwest Michigan Rays (the name and affiliation changed frequently). In Columbus, from time to time, curious passersby will ask with some incredulity, “So Sarah, you come here every game?!” To which I always reply with a smile, “Yes, I just really like watching baseball.” This is true, but the full truth would be that the Clippers organization creates an atmosphere that I have loved from the time I arrived in Columbus.

ate

When I moved to Columbus I knew that I wanted to be a season ticket holder and am grateful that the long-time season ticket holders — shout out to first few rows of Section 9! — have welcomed me with open arms. They tell me stories of the Clippers’ past as a Yankees affiliate, and we chat about Cleveland Indians players past, present and future. Such closeness has allowed generations to grow side-by-side over their mutual love of America’s pastime, a closeness that is truly at the heart of Minor League Baseball.

7  55

One person in particular that makes the Columbus Clippers unique is team historian Joe Santry. I can always count on Joe to tell me an amazing story of Columbus’ baseball past whenever I ask. Joe is one of the true gems of Minor League Baseball and if you haven’t met him yet, I highly recommend making a point to find him at the game. He can be hard to track down, as he is typically documenting the various events that make each game special, but if you do run into him, just ask him for a story. He never disappoints.

Joe Santry, left, and Clippers director of social media Josh Samuels.

Bens Biz file photo: Joe Santry, left, and Clippers director of social media Josh Samuels.

Beyond the people, if great eats are your thing, the Clippers do not skimp on the budget-friendly ballpark meals. I buy hot dogs for 10 cents on Mondays, dollar rib bones on Tuesdays, wings for 50 cents on Wednesday, and celebrate the beginning of the weekend each Friday with music, delicious pulled pork sandwiches, and discounted drinks. I could easily gain 10 pounds each summer feasting on all these ballpark treats. And, as if you needed an added bonus, visiting the various parts of the ballpark where they are sold give you all-new vantage points from which to take in the game.

Bens Biz file photo: Ribs at the Clippers game

Bens Biz file photo: Ribs and a view at the Clippers game

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the entertainment. You can always count on 2013 MiLB Mascot Mania champion Lou Seal to make his way through the crowd. Children shyly approach to give him a high five while their parents look on, camera in hand. The in-game entertainment brings the always crowd-pleasing hot dog race, among tons of other antics and promotions that often define the MiLB experience.

9

Ketchup and Mustard race down the first base line. Relish is missing in action.

There is something new happening all the time. But my favorite, from childhood and until now, will always be the Zooperstars! Admittedly, the Zooperstars! are not special to the Clippers organization; they travel to various ballparks throughout the summer. The games are already worth it, but they make it even better. Look them up and if they are at a park near you, YOU MUST GO! Seriously, missing a Zooperstars! game is criminal.

10

If you’re a resident of the Columbus area and haven’t gotten to a game, I’m not sure what you could be waiting for — get yourself to the game! If you’re from out of town, it is well worth the trip. To the Clippers organization: Thank you for making each game memorable. I can’t wait to see what the next several years have in store.

Thanks to Sarah  for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” post detailing my Columbus Clippers experience during the 2014 season

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Current Events

A distinct blogging dynamic has emerged this offseason, as I find myself splitting my efforts between timely, of-the-moment topics and better-late-than-never guest posts and other leftover 2014 season odds and ends. Today’s post will be dedicated to the former category. This ain’t no Rerun, this is What’s Happening!!

Obligatory pop culture reference now complete. Let’s proceed.

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are currently in the tail-end of a unique and creative ticket promotion. This promotion is pretty self-explanatory:

nhfc

Here’s how it works, per the team:

Want to see your photo on a Season Ticket? Post your favorite Fisher Cats-themed photo on our Facebook page, and it could be featured on a 2015 Season Ticket. Submit photos of your family having fun at a game, smiling with Fungo at a parade, or even wearing your favorite Fisher Cats hat at the beach! Post and share your photos here. The deadline is Jan. 10!

As of this writing (the afternoon of January 9), the team had received over 100 submissions. Check it out HERE. And, for what it’s worth, here’s my submission. It was taken at an undisclosed location during a secret visit to the Fisher Cats’ home of Delta Dental Stadium. Earlier in the evening, I had visited the team store to purchase this officially licensed cap.

IMG_0708 —

Kudos to the Potomac Nationals, who did not let the promotion of an integral member of their operation go unnoticed.

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Sez the team:

Woodbridge, VA–The Potomac Nationals have announced the contract of team Clubhouse Manager, Jeremy Delewski has been purchased by the Syracuse Chiefs, the Washington Nationals’ Triple-A International League affiliate.

According to Syracuse Chiefs officials, Delewski’s promotion from the Class-A Advanced Potomac Nationals to Washington’s Triple-A club was finalized in San Diego, CA during the 2014 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings.

The financial terms of this transaction have not been disclosed.

Hey! Remember when I visited the Bakersfield Blaze during the 2013 season? I really enjoyed my time there, and it resulted in what I feel was one of my best-ever “On the Road” MiLB.com articles (not to be confused with my “On the Road” blog posts from the same locale).

Anyhow, one of the highlights of my evening in Bakersfield was meeting mascot performer Ryan Salisbury, who had gotten a ride to the game via this Craigslist ad:

 mascotneedsrids

Ryan has now been featured in this Strongest Hearts video, which highlights his unique status as a vegan Minor League mascot. Some quotes from the video:

“Maybe it will lead to something else, maybe it won’t. But enjoy it while we can.”

“There’s a little bit of a smell.”

And, my favorite:

“You can enjoy [sports] from a nerdy background or a weird background.”

Anyhow, watch the whole thing here.

Strongest Hearts Extra; Heater the Bakersfield Blaze Mascot from Strongest Hearts on Vimeo.

And, of course, please make sure to check out my recent MiLB.com material. This week, three articles appeared:

Batting Around – My monthly (more or less) round-up of notable business developments in the world of Minor League Baseball.

Columbia Breaks Ground on New Ballpark — News story on a stadium that will be hosting a yet-to-be-officially-named relocating Minor League team. Contains plenty of insight from team CEO Jason Freier on why Columbia is “crying out” for a team.

Minoring in Business — This edition of the long-running column is a joint interview with new Midwest League president Dick Nussbaum and his predecessor, George Spelius.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Guest Post: Beer Running in Bowie

Back in April of 2013, a Ben’s Biz Blog reader by the name of Mike Bryan sent me an email that read, in part:

As someone who loves Minor League Baseball and collecting autographs as well as road trips I look forward to your posts. However, I’m disappointed that you are missing out on a great promotion not too far from your NYC location. If you do not have any Memorial Day plans I think you should schedule a trip to Bowie, Maryland and write about about the 1K beer run that [the Baysox] do. 

I was unable to make it Bowie for the 2013 1K Beer Run, but invited Michael to write a guest blog post about it if he so desired. He took me up on this offer…eventually. This past May, 13 months after he first got in touch, he sent me a detailed recap of the 2014 version of the event. By this time I was on the road, neck deep in my own ballpark endeavors, and thus unable to find the time to run it here on the blog. But now here we are, in January of 2015, the depths of the offseason, and I finally find myself with the opportunity to post Mike’s Bowie Baysox 1k Beer Run recap.

So here it is, some eight months after he sent it to me and 21 months after he first got in touch. Ben’s Biz Blog — The Pace is Glacial!

Mike Bryan (left) with friends  Andrew Renison (center) and Mark Taylor

Mike Bryan (left) with friends Andrew Renison (center) and Mark Taylor

Mike writes:

May 4th was the first of two Bowie Baysox 1K Beer Runs for the 2014 season. It also happened to be the date for my fiancée’s bridal shower. Since the bridal shower was an all-girls event, I was able to head to Bowie with a couple of friends and my dad to participate in the wonderful 1K Beer Run.

The Baysox began this tradition last year; participants start by the first-base dugout and run, jog or walk around the entire baseball field. After completing the first lap you receive a beer to enjoy on your second lap around the field. However, if you are trying to win the race — which my friends and I were — you do not really enjoy the beer. We are all out of shape from our glory days of high school, so sprinting around an entire baseball field and then chugging a beer is no easy task. After completing your beer and the second lap, you are then handed another beer to enjoy or chug before finishing your final lap around the field. Once you have finished the race you receive your final beer to “enjoy.”

run

Having already participated in this event in 2013, I decided to employ a different strategy to try and win the run. Since I am not the best beer chugger in the world, I decided to simply shotgun the beers after each lap. Although for about 4-5 seconds I felt terrible, I was able to quickly get back to the running part of the race.

Full page photo

It was a three-horse race throughout the run and my friend Andrew Renison and I were able to pass another participant by the left-field foul pole as we were heading in for the final turn. Once we passed him it was a two-horse race and I was able to edge out a victory right at the finish line. Some may say Andrew let up to let me win, but we will never know.

Full page photoAs the winner of the event I was able to throw out the first pitch. Unfortunately, that did not go so well as I tried to throw it as hard as I could. It landed right in the dirt, and, as Bob Uecker likes to say, it was “just a bit outside.”

Full page photo

Throws before hose

Despite the horrific first pitch we were all able to still have a good time at the rest of the game. Bowie won, 8-5, behind home runs by Christian Walker and Dariel Alveraz, two of the Orioles’ better prospects.

During the game we were able to enjoy the wonderful food and beer selections that the Baysox had this season. Over the last couple of years the team has really expanded their craft beer selections, serving local beers such as Loose Cannon and Flying Dog. In addition to the great beer selection, they have a couple of unique food items that we tried out. We had a hot dog stuffed with macaroni cheese and Old Bay seasoning sprinkled on top as well as an Old Bay sausage, which were both phenomenal. Then again, anything with Old Bay on it tastes great.

Old Bay Mac Cheese Hot Dog

After lunch and some more beers we moved on to dessert. For our last meal we tried out some S’mores, which were one of the best desserts I have ever had. The best way to describe them is “similar to a S’mores Pop Tart, but better.”

Smores

Unfortunately I was not able to defend my title for the next race, on June 21st, since I was on my honeymoon. But I’ll definitely participate again next year and look forward to you visiting Bowie on one of your next road trips as well!

A big thanks to Mike for taking the time to write this guest post. For the record, I did visit Bowie on a 2011 road trip; hopefully I can make it again in 2015. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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In With the New

Happy 2015 to you and, should you be the possessive type, yours. The first post of this calendar year, which you are reading now, shall be nothing less and nothing more than a good old fashioned bouillabaisse. A bewildering array of interesting tidbits are offered therein, and the only thing these tidbits have in common with one another is  — you guessed it — Minor League Baseball.

Let’s start with a hot-off-the-virtual-presses promo that was announced today by the Kane County Cougars. The team is currently staging a “Social Media Virtual Championship Ring Unveiling,” which I believe just might be the first such thing of its kind.

Do not adjust your set:

Championship Ring BlurredHow it works:

Beginning [January 5], the Cougars will post a blurred image of the ring design on their social media channels and fans, through a pre-determined quantity of Facebook ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ as well as Twitter re-tweets and ‘likes’ on Instagram, will help virtually “unveil” the ring design, which will be released in its entirety to the public this Friday.

This reminds me of a long-gestating but little-acted-upon article idea I have had: What Minor League teams have the best championship rings? If you think the team that you follow (or work for) might qualify for such a distinction, then please get in touch.

The holidays may be over, but the Holiday League goes on. I am speaking, of course, of the as-of-now theoretical league created by logo designer John Hartwell (of the eponymous Hartwell Studio Works). Last month, the  2014 North Pole Reindeer baseball card set was unveiled, featuring the starting line-up of the North Pole Reindeer. A lot of work has gone into these; each card features an full color front and back, and every Reindeer has his own Baseball-Reference page.

cupid-front-2x

cupid-back-2x

The North Pole Reindeer open the 2015 Holiday League season on April 9 against the Arborville Huggers.

 

Every year, Minor League teams vie for the coveted honor of “alternate logo most likely to inspire scores of Space Jam references on Twitter.” In 2015, it looks like this distinction will be going to the Rome Braves.

rome

The R-Braves maintain that their inspiration for the logo came from a far weightier source:

The logo features a Roman soldier’s helmet on a baseball with the letter ”R” on the front. The helmet was used by the military of ancient Rome from 753 BC – AD 476 and pays tribute to the name of our hometown of Rome, GA with a red, blue, and gray color scheme.

Did you know? A new Minor League mascot-themed children’s book has been released, and this book features a “very special guest appearance by Darryl Strawberry.” What more could you ask for as regards literary material for beginning readers?

Stormy_and_the_Case_of_the_Terrible_Twister_Book_2014_300

Finally, what do these four disconnected images all have in common?

MiBPanel_72cf27vo_u2gxcu56

Yep, you guessed it: They are all proud winners of the first-annual “Bizzie Awards,” created and then (virtually) distributed by me at the end of last month. Everyone else seems to be giving out awards at the end of the year, so why can’t I?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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