Results tagged ‘ Birmingham Barons ’

Return to the Road: Restricted Diets, Restricted Access, and the Godfather of Soul

One more time, with feeling!

In other words, it’s time for November’s third and final “Return to the Road” installment, in which I highlight that which was experienced above and beyond the ballpark during my road trip travels.  The first post covered May 8 and 9th in Bowling Green and Nashville, and part two involved the events of May 10th and 11th in Nashville, the Smoky Mountains, and Asheville. Which brings us to, yes, May 12th.

I woke up early in Asheville on this fine Sunday morning, after attending a Tourists game the night before that was eventually covered HERE, HERE, and HERE. (Thirsty Thursday origin story!)  I woke up so early, in fact, that I forgot to do the obligatory road trip hotel room review and thus had to improvise.

The inability to “Sleep Inn” was because my next destination, Savannah, GA, was over four hours away and I was scheduled to attend a Sand Gnats Mother’s Day matinee at Grayson Stadium that began at 2 o’clock. The only documentation that I possess of this journey is this rather underwhelming photo of Talmadge Memorial Bridge.

001

Underwhelming photo, perhaps, but the bridge is anything but. Named after Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge, it connects downtown Savannah with Hutchinson Island and spans a distance of two miles. The Talmadge is  imposing and picturesque, and it makes one’s entryway into Savannah proper a truly memorable experience. It astounds me, however, that what is surely the most iconic structure in a city with a majority black population is named after a politician who viciously and unapologetically espoused racial hatred and exploited racial tensions.

There’s really no way to smoothly segue from the above sentence, so I’m not even going to try. I crossed the bridge, attended the Sand Gnats game (read all about it HERE! And HERE!), and after the game found myself in a bit of a quandary in that was early evening on Mother’s Day — not exactly the best time for a  traveling gluten-free Minor League Baseball writer to do a bit of exploring and socializing. Savannah’s waterfront downtown area was packed, and I simply drove along the cobblestone streets at about one mile an hour with absolutely no idea regarding what it was that I was looking to accomplish. I snaped a few underwhelming photos out of the driver’s side window and then got out of Dodge as quickly as I could.

081

082

084

My lack of a plan and general feelings of alienation from the scene around me put me in a grumpy frame of mind.

085

So I did what I always do in these situations: went to a diner, ordered steak and eggs, and then brought a stash of pork cracklins and Mello Yello back to my hotel room to serve as writing fuel. It was a beautiful night.

But frustration continued to follow me the next day, eventually catching up with me somewhere between Savannah and my next destination of Augusta. My problem was that it was lunch time and in the breaded and fried deep South it can be difficult to stay true to the gluten-free diet that a battery of medical professionals have insisted that I follow.

I was hungry and not seeing many viable options along whatever lonely stretch of road that I was on,  so when I spotted a sign advertising one “Bay South” restaurant I figured I may as well roll the dice and give it a try.  At the very least I’d be supporting a humble local business as opposed to a monolithic chain entity doing its part to further exacerbate America’s descent into corporatized homogeneity, and that’s half the battle right there.

002

The restaurant didn’t have a menu, just a small board listing the day’s specials. I was hungry, and as a stranger in a strange land I was feeling a little self-conscious and didn’t really want to give the waitress a spiel regarding my dietary needs. I simply ordered the pork chop special with field peas and stewed tomatoes and hoped for the best. This is the platter that soon arrived:

001

Don’t get me wrong — that’s a good looking plate of food, and in my pre-gluten free days I would have devoured it without a second thought. But that pork chop was heavily breaded, the peas were in a thick sauce that likely used flour as a thickener, and bread crumbs were mixed in with the tomatoes. The piece de resistance in this fete de gluten was the cornbread, which is to the South what pickles are to a Jewish deli.

“I made my bed, now I’ve got to lie in it,” was the thought that went through my head, so I went ahead and ate the whole plate of food. And, no surprise, it was delicious. I experienced no side effects from this major diet deviation, as I am an asymptomatic (or “silent”) celiac. It’s weird — in a way I almost wish I had symptoms, because the debilitating short-term side effects of eating gluten would serve as a safeguard against the long-term bodily damage that occurs as a result of “cheating” episodes along the lines of that detailed above (which I really don’t do very often at all).

But enough gnashing of teeth, as tautologically speaking celiac disease simply is what it is. I’m just trying to articulate the tortured mental gymnastics that accompany most restaurant meals these days, as these minor setbacks within a life of immense privilege really take a lot out of a guy!

And speaking of immense privilege, the next stop on my itinerary was none other than this esteemed locale.

007

I arrived at this legendary expanse of greenery  with one Chad Walters, an Augusta resident and founder of Lean Blitz Consulting (who served as Designated Eater at that night’s GreenJackets game). Chad kindly spotted me a set of clubs, and I strode toward the entrance gate all like “Oh, no big deal, I’m here every day.”

008

I’ve actually never played golf in my life, and in one of the most predictable outcomes of all time I was turned away by a guard who denied Chad’s requests to take a picture. Whatever lurked beyond this road way was going to remain a mystery.

013 I sat dejectedly by the curb for the next 110 minutes, thinking about how this had been the first day of my life that had included both celiac disease snafus and country club exclusion.

010

Desultory contemplation complete, this Augusta excursion ended with a walk down the surprisingly pedestrian (but not pedestrian friendly) pathway that separates Augusta from the strip mall homogeneity that surrounds it.

017

Fortunately, Chad had one more Augusta landmark to show me and this one was far more accessible. We drove into downtown proper and, after taking advantage of the ample parking opportunities, made our way to this location.

020

Yes, that James Brown. The Godfather of Soul! Presiding over all that he sees!

022

024

Brown was not an Augusta native, but he did spend his formative years here. Per the plaque that resides at the base of the structure, Brown “has called Augusta ‘home’ since moving here when he was five. It was in Augusta’s Lenox Theatre that he first received recognition for his talent by winning an amateur contest.”

Perhaps the James Brown’s of tomorrow are honing their chops at downtown Savannah’s I-3000 Club, although the focus there seemed to be more on adult entertainment.

025At the very least, one can obtain some James Brown recordings at nearby Pyramid Music.

027

After that it was goodbye downtown Augusta and hello GreenJackets. (I wrote about that ballgame HERE and HERE, as I am wont to do.) The next day it was on to Birmingham,  where I closed out this trip by attending two games at the Barons’ new home of Regions Field. (Check it out, if you are wont to do such a thing.)  My time in Birmingham yielded two blog posts and two MiLB.com features, virtually exhausting all of my Dream City content, so all that I have left to share is this: before leaving for the airport, I stopped for a meal at the Birmingham BBQ institution that is Dreamland BBQ. 

I patronized the 14th Avenue South location, which is located in a rather residential area.

140

141

The majority of the patrons on this Tuesday afternoon were sitting in the booths…

142

but given my lonely traveler status I opted for a seat at the bar and promptly ordered a half slab of ribs. They were delectable (and gluten-free).

143

During the meal I made small talk with the bartender, who turned out to be the younger brother of outfielder Josh Phelps (now retired). This minor but nonetheless interesting baseball-related happenstance marked the conclusion of this particular road trip, as from Dreamland I went straight to the airport. I am happy to report that the boiled peanuts made it home safely. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Grinnin’ and Baronin’ It in Birmingham

Welcome back! When the previous post had concluded, a Southern League baseball game had just broken out at brand-new Regions Field in downtown Birmingham.

IMG_0672

With the game underway, it was time, of course, for a trip to the concession stand. You probably know the drill by now — my gluten-free diet prohibits me from enjoying most ballpark food items, so at each stadium I visit I recruit a “designated eater” who samples the cuisine instead. In Birmingham this individual was Abby Southerland, a University of Alabama graduate now in her second season as a media relations intern.

IMG_0686

Despite the fact that Abby was a team employee and I the world’s most talented, beloved and universally respected Minor League Baseball blogger, we were left to the wolves when it came to food procurement. The Barons hadn’t had much time to prepare after moving in to the new ballpark, and the lines at the concession stands were long and slow moving.

Like the Davies brothers waiting to use the treadmill, there were still some Kinks to work out.

IMG_0677

A new location of Alabama’s iconic Dreamland BBQ now exists in Regions Field’s outfield entertainment area, but it wasn’t yet open on the night I was in attendance. So Abby and I instead braved the line at Piper’s Pub and Grill, which, as a consolation prize, featured several items that incorporated Dreamland ingredients.

IMG_0678

We ended up with this array:

IMG_0679

Item Number One, on the far left, is the Magic City Dog (Magic City is Birmingham’s nickname, but you knew this). This item is comprised of a 1/4 pound smoked sausage, cole slaw, BBQ sauce, and spicy brown mustard.

IMG_0680

Abby gave it a go:

IMG_0682

Abby’s take: “The spiciness of the mustard gives it a kick, and the cole slaw gives it a real Southern feel. And then the sausage, that’s classic, so altogether this is a good ballpark food.”

Next up was the Dreamland BBQ Nachos:

IMG_0681

“You come to Birmingham, you want good Southern food, you go to Dreamland. That’s what people will tell you,” said Southerland, a Birmingham native. “This is a good finger food, one of those things you just have to try.”

IMG_0685

As for me? While people are often deeply sympathetic to my gluten-free circumstances, I’m always like ‘Nah, it ain’t that bad” and explain that there are always options. My attempt to consume a small orb of concourse luminescence turned out to unsuccessful…

IMG_0687

but I had no problem with this pickle. More teams should sell pickles!

IMG_0689

New online dating profile pic

It took a while for me to get the pickle out of my mouth, but once I did I looked up and realized that a dual no-hitter was going on.

IMG_0690

The first hit of the game occurred almost immediately after I took the picture. That’s how these things work.

But anyway, with the concessions portion of the evening out of the way — thanks, Abby! — I was pretty much left to my own devices. Just an ineffectual man wandering around with an ineffectual plan, of no concern to the stadium’s elite and hoi polloi alike.

I took pictures, I did.

IMG_0691

IMG_0692

Like Dreamland BBQ, this “Power Force” batting cage wasn’t yet open on the night that I was in attendance. But it’s pretty unique in that it’s the batting cage the players will use, and fans can then take their hacks during the game.

IMG_0694

But who wants to be in a cage on such a beautiful night?

IMG_0696

This outfield play area, manned by a gameday employee (on the mound) is really cool.

IMG_0697

It was all very vague, but earlier in the evening I’d been told that I was to be a participant in some sort of between-inning tomfoolery. This allowed for a stop at my favorite area of any ballpark: the promo closet.

IMG_0700

Turns out that I was selected as a Chicken Dance participant. I mean, sure, whatever, dude’s got to make a living. I gave my camera to a promo intern to document my fowl maneuvers, and I guess she thought I wanted her to take a picture of me right there and then.

Oh, hello.

IMG_0701

She also took a picture of her and a friend, who now achieve internet immortality by appearing on this blog.

IMG_0703

I think this picture  sums up my enthusiasm for this particular iteration of the Chicken Dance.

IMG_0706

If you’re one of those people who is obsessive about team store ceiling height, then you’re going to want to contact the Barons for the specific dimensions of this imminently airy retail operation. It’s vertically proficient!

IMG_0707

Segues are for losers. Long streams of disconnected images, on the other hand? That’s where it’s at!

IMG_0708

IMG_0709

IMG_0713

Oh, hey, look, the Barons won! I had barely noticed.

IMG_0714

And when the Barons win, you win! And when something is free, you don’t have to purchase it! Who knew?

IMG_0715

The game may have ended, but this post (and, by extension, this seemingly never-ending stream of road trip coverage) is going to keep right on going. I spent that night in the Birmingham Sheraton, and, as you can see, I loved it there:

 

That morning was an 11 a.m. Education Day game or Kid’s Day game or Kidpacalypse or whatever you want to call it, so back in the rental car it was for one final stadium drive. I was a bit late in arriving, and the parking lot I had utilized the day before was full. I  then circled around construction sites and detour signs and dead ends until I began to feel like I was trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

121

So close, yet so far

I eventually found a spot about 11/32 of a mile from the ballpark, and upon entering the stadium found myself in the midst of madness. My take on Kid’s Day promos can be summed up thusly:

Kids were everywhere, most of them shrieking like insects out of Hades, but looking on the bright side it was a beautiful day. Here’s another barrage of photos for you, largely unencumbered by words.

124

125

introspective mascot

introspective mascot alert

128

Can’t get no relief

  131

A great way to spend three innings or so.

132

133

This shot of the first base concourse  illustrates Regions Field’s impressive (and imposing) steel warehouse motif, as well as its altogether Brobdingnagian dimensions.

137 For one inning there toward the end, I actually sat down and watched the game like a normal person. It didn’t feel right.

139But you know what does feel right? Bringing this blog post to an end. Eight MiLB.com features, 10 blog posts, and two dozen Vines later, road trip number one of the 2013 season is now officially in the books.

Thank you for reading. Next time I file an “On the Road” dispatch, it will be from the great state of Wisconsin.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: From Very Old to Very New in Birmingham

My first road trip of the season ended in Birmingham, and it ended in Birmingham for a reason: the Barons’ Regions Field is one of two new Minor League Baseball stadiums to open in 2013 (the other is in Hillsboro, Oregon, home of the brand-new Hops. I’ll be visiting on August 10).

Driving into Birmingham, I had a stadium’s address entered into my trusty GPS — 1137 2nd Ave. W . But this address wasn’t the one belonging to Regions Field. It brought me here instead:

IMG_0602

IMG_0603

IMG_0604

IMG_0607

IMG_0608

IMG_0610

IMG_0611

IMG_0612

IMG_0616

Yes, 103-year-old Rickwood Field, home of the Barons from 1910-1986.

If you ever get the chance to visit Birmingham, then Rickwood is a must. It’s kept in great shape by the non-profit Friends of Rickwood organization, and is open to the public daily for self-guided tours. I visited in 2010 for the annual Rickwood Classic (in which the Barons return to their old home for a mid-week matinee), and coverage from that event can be read HERE and HERE.

But let’s move from the there and was to the here and now. As you may have noticed in this post’s second photo, there was a gathering of people on the field at the time I arrived. This wasn’t just any gathering of people — it was members of the 1964 Birmingham Barons, the first integrated sports team in the history of Alabama. They were in town for a reunion, which was inspired by the release of Larry Colton’s new book on the team: Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South’s Most Compelling Pennant Race. 

As I arrived at Rickwood, the ’64 Barons were posing for pictures for a small assemblage of local media. Colton is third from the left (holding a copy of his book), while prominent alumnus Blue Moon Odom is fourth from the right.

IMG_0605

I made it there just in time, as mere seconds after this photo was taken these old teammates dispersed and left Rickwood in order to travel to Regions Field for the evening’s ballgame. I lingered around for another 10 minutes or so, taking pictures all the while.

IMG_0617

IMG_0622

IMG_0624

The locker rooms now serve as a makeshift museum and Friends of Rickwood office space.

IMG_0625

IMG_0626

All things considered, the showers are in good shape.

IMG_0628

Even though I missed most of it I’d like to thank Friends of Rickwood member Joe DeLeonard for alerting me to the 1964 Barons Rickwood visit. At the very least, it gave me an excuse to visit this beautiful old ballpark.

This was my view from the Rickwood Field parking lot…

IMG_0629

and approximately 10 minutes and two-point-something miles later my view was this:

IMG_0630

 This is the parking lot, or at least one of them, for Regions Field. Its ramshackle nature is indicative of the area as a whole, which is the midst of being  – buzz word alert — revitalized! From this parking lot one can be driven to the stadium in style, but being a proud biped I chose to walk.

IMG_0631

 The short walk to the stadium exemplifies the current bedraggled state of the area surrounding Regions Field, as well as its promise. This is something that I wrote about more extensively in my MiLB.com piece on the stadium, which I hope you might take the time to check out.

Wide open spaces:

IMG_0632

A team bus cozies up to its improbable best friend abandoned building. (I’m in the midst of writing a pilot script for a proposed sitcom entitled “The Adventures of Team Bus and Abandoned Building.” Let me know if you want to contribute to the Kickstarter.)

IMG_0633

 Relics of an industrial past.

IMG_0635

 After walking underneath this bridge (as a freight train rumbled overhead), the scenery changed quite dramatically.

IMG_0634

 For there, on the left, is Railroad Park. This public space opened in 2010, and is the literal centerpiece of these downtown revitalization efforts.

IMG_0638

IMG_0640

IMG_0646

 I’m no cartographer, but I believe that Regions Field abuts the north side of Railroad Park. You can’t miss it.

IMG_0645

IMG_0639

IMG_0647

IMG_0648

One thing I did miss, however, was a decent photo of the brick and steel facade that features “BIRMINGHAM” in huge letters. This aerial photo from the team’s website illustrates just what it is I’m talking about here.

aerial1_jay8ma79

Birmingham, Birmingham, Sweetest city in Alabam

 First impressions:

IMG_0649

IMG_0651

IMG_0652

 A next level view:

IMG_0654

 I had proceeded to this elevated vantage point in order to see my old friends the 1964 Barons, who were conducting a pre-game press conference.

IMG_0659

 After a general Q and A session with local media, I had the chance to interview Colton and Odom about the groundbreaking ’64 campaign. You can read that  – please! — over on MiLB.com.

283

Immediately after the interview concluded we descended to the level of Barons and Biscuits alike.

IMG_0661

IMG_0662

 The 1964 Barons odyssey continued, as now they were gathering on the field for a ceremonial first pitch.

IMG_0663

 The purpose of this photo is two-fold — gaze upon Minor League Baseball’s newest videoboard whilst learning facts about Blue Moon.

IMG_0664

 Ceremonial first pitch chaos:

IMG_0667

 The Biscuit contingent had risen rapidly since the last time I had checked in on their visitor’s dugout environs.

IMG_0668

 So many ups and downs! For reasons I can’t quite recall, I was soon back up on the second floor. On the journey there I snapped this photo of the expansive bar and lounge area down below.

IMG_0669

 My destination was a bit more modest, however, as down this corridor lurked the press box.

IMG_0670

 Define “working”

IMG_0671

 It is from this location that I watched the game begin, with the Biscuits taking on the Barons in Minor League Baseball’s newest facility.

IMG_0672

IMG_0673

IMG_0675

I’ve got quite a bit more to report from Regions Field, so I think the best course of action would be to make this a two-part post.

But since I’m still a bit under my self-imposed 1000 word minimum, a limerick:

There once was a team called the Barons

On the side of caution, they weren’t erring

Displaying operational agility

They moved to a new facility

And well they seem to be faring

What? I’m still not at a thousand words? This is crazy. Here’s a haiku:

I’m wasting my time/obsessive and compulsive/For word counts, care not

I am STILL not at 1000 words, but at the end of this completely gratuitous sentence I will be. Or at least I thought I would be. I do my best.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Never-Ending Happening

I’m posting this on a Friday afternoon, and on a Friday afternoon there’s only one way to do things: Bouillabaisse style!

So let’s do it! I’ve got lots to share with you, starting with a new logo straight from the heart of Appalachia. 

astroz

Greeneville’s new look is a response to similar changes made by the parent club and in this regard they are the Bluefield and Dunedin of 2012. (That reference is apropos, but I’m not going to take the time to contextualize it. I have a press release to quote!)

Sez the team:

The new Astros identity features a full star logo with a block letter ‘G’ in the middle of the star. The Astros home caps will feature this logo on a solid blue cap while the road caps will be solid orange.

The G-Stros (does anyone call them that?) change is permanent, so now let’s move on to something of a “one night only” variety. On July 12th, the Erie SeaWolves will be donning these nautical duds:

Niagara Jersey FBThese jerseys are the result of the SeaWolves partnership with the Flagship Niagara League, an organization that is seeking to promote its Tall Ships Festival.

I realize that this explanation raises more questions than it does answers. In brief: Lake Erie was the site of key 19th-century naval battles, and the Tall Ships festival (which does indeed feature tall ships) commemorates this history. Read more HERE.

Now we must proceed from theme jerseys to alternate ones, as the Mississippi Braves have somehow managed to fit “Mississippi” across the chest of this navy blue number:

bravez

I’d link to a press release with more info, but there doesn’t seem to be one. All I can tell you is you can buy these jerseys for $175 at the M-Braves team store. I guess in this case the “M” in “M-Braves” stands for “mum’s the word.”

Transitioning from the occasional to the regular, the new-look Buffalo Bisons recently unveiled their 2013 uniforms.

bisonzA bit more from the Bisons:

In the creation of their new uniforms, the Bisons paid special attention to popular team jerseys from the past. The use of a ‘Scarlet Red’ lettering and ‘Reflex Blue’ numbers on the front of the ‘Ice White’ home and gray road uniforms was taken from the jerseys worn by the team in the early years of Coca-Cola Field. A ‘Hitting Buster’ has also returned to the team’s official on-field cap, a look Bisons fans have long enjoyed from those first seasons at the ballpark. 

Meanwhile, one of the rarest of logo creatures was released into our midst this past week. A ballpark logo, this one for the Birmingham Barons’ currently under-construction Regions Field. I will refrain from editorializing, because words only get in the way of images.

The image:

baronz

I’ll close, as I often do, with something out of left-field (not literally, in most cases).

How’s THIS for a staff bio pic?

shiner

According to the GreenJackets, Kyle’s shiner was obtained while playing in a staff basketball game. Reminder to all: never play basketball with the staff of the Augusta GreenJackets.

Okay, this post isn’t quite over yet due to my desire to do some ponderous professional pontificating.

And what I have been pondering lately is whether or not to make some changes to this blog in regards to the frequency with which I post. These days I average about three entries a week, with each post (allegedly) having some substance in that it is at least 400 words long and often covers multiple topics.

But perhaps more timely “Quick Hit” or “Short Hop” or “Biz Quick” posts would be a good strategy to utilize as well? The idea here is that whenever some particularly news/buzz-worthy content appears, I would immediately generate a short post. The plus side is timely and engaging material and more of it, but the potential negative is that this approach would cheapen the product and make this blog just another cheap cranker-outer of disposable content.

Does this debate exist strictly in my own head? Probably. Am I talking to myself as I write this? Definitely. I guess the takeaway here is that after 5+ years and 900+ posts I care about this blog more than I’d like to admit, especially in regard to how the content is packaged and presented. So, if you have opinions on this (or any other pertinent matter), please get in touch. If you don’t have any opinions on this, that’s okay too. If I was you then I wouldn’t either.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Sit Down, Man

Toward the end of the season, several teams are staging “Bobblection” promotions in which fans get to choose either an Obama or Romney bobblehead. Supplies are limited, and the evening’s winner is he whose bobblehead supply runs out first. I’ll certainly be covering these exercises in American democracy as they occur, but in the meantime let’s take a look at even more absurd promotion being staged by the Stockton Ports on June 15th.

Yes, fans will have the chance to sit on the face of either Obama or Romney. These items are unique pieces of political pop culture ephemera and should be valued as such, but the premise is admittedly a little confusing. The thinking here is that you would want to sit on the face of the candidate you DON’T support. Hence, the #SitOnMitt hashtag under Obama and the #BunsOnObama tag beneath Romney.

The promotion inspired a spirited discussion on the team’s Facebook page, with many fans arguing that baseball and politics just don’t mix. But one Kevin Rager delivered the most cogent remark: “in all honestly both are butt munchers,” he wrote.

Partisan politics have always been a fact of American life, but recently the Birmingham Barons hearkened back to a much less divisive era. The annual Rickwood Classic was held on Wednesday afternoon (in which the team returns to its old Rickwood Field home), and this year’s theme was WWII-era baseball. Check out the beautiful posters created for the event, which drew a lot of fan interest when I first posted them on Twitter:

and

And, more and more often, teams are staging promotions to eras that NEVER existed. On June 8th, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ “What Could’ve Been Night” will imagine a reality in which the team went by the name of “Thunder Chickens.”

These t-shirts will be available for this day only:

And here are the chicken-scratch hats. One of these should be sent to Axl Rose so that he can update his wardrobe.

I am missing this promotion by one day (I’ll be visiting the Naturals on June 9), but I hope the team sets aside some Thunder Chickens gear for me. It will be a nice complement to my Bowling Green Cave Shrimp t-shirt.

Finally, you may remember my post about the Quad Cities River Bandits photo jerseys, which will feature a collage of cancer survivors.  Last week, the Gwinnett Braves announced that they would be doing a photo jersey promotion as well. Their take on it is that it will be a Fan Appreciation Day promo that features — who else? — the fans.

The deal:

G-Braves fans will have the opportunity to have an image of their face featured on the back of replica jerseys which will be given out to the first 2,000 fans on that night, courtesy of Coolray Heating and Cooling. The images will be embedded as half-inch squares creating a mosaic in the uniform number 12 on the back of the jersey.

Another unique aspect is that fans will not know if they have been selected to be featured on the jersey. Fans will have to “like” the G-Braves post of the Fan Appreciation Night story to be considered to be featured on the giveaway. Approximately 390 faces will be featured, but fans will have to come to the game in order to see if they have won!

Great stuff, right? I’m always writing about great stuff. It’s what I do.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Groundbreaking News, Familiar Terrain

It’s nearly impossible to comprehend, but I am writing this on a Friday and you are reading on a Monday. Whatever sundry delights the weekend had to offer have since passed, including that inimitable annual Sunday delight that is the Super Bowl.

Thus, the consequences of the following bet are now known to the world:

As the lone Massachusetts-based entity in the New-York Penn League (go figure), the Spinners have made the following wager with no less than seven teams:

The bet, vastly superior to the minute wagers made by city mayors, would find each team’s most beloved figure donning enemy colors for a home stand: each team’s mascot would wear the opposing team’s jersey during a homestand.

Now those are some high stakes! I imagine that some mascots would commit hari-kari before succumbing to such an indignity, but that’s just idle seppuku-lation on my part.

After writing that last line, it took a long time for the applause in my head to die down. Now that it has, let’s look at another team that found a way to commemorate the Super Bowl: the Fresno Grizzlies.

But nothing can top the Super Bowl efforts made by host city denizens the Indianapolis Indians, whose Victory Field environs were totally transformed:

Read all about it on MiLB.com, a website that employs me to write such things.

Another MiLB.com dispatch of note (note: they’re all of note) emanates from Birmingham, as the Barons have broken ground on their new ballpark.

Rendering!

But that’s not the only big Southern League ballpark news. Pensacola has a new ballpark opening in April — it will house the Blue Wahoos, of course — and this facility has now turned on the lights. Here’s the view:

Meanwhile, in Altoona, the Curve are relying on a different sort of energy. This week the team announced that, as the result of a new naming rights deal, Blair County Ballpark will be known as “Peoples Natural Gas Stadium.”

This news sent Twitter all a-twitter (or at least my Twitter feed), with flatulence jokes a-plenty. But, lest we forget, the Lake Elsinore Storm have already staged the preeminent natural gas-related promotion.

And, finally — who wants to see a new logo? Anybody? Okay, at least that one guy over there does.

So here you go: at last week’s hot stove dinner, the Hickory Crawdads unveiled this anniversary mark.

Guess that’ll do in a pinch.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Celebrating the Past, in the Present

I took a vacation day on Friday. It was a vacation that brought me all the way to my kitchen, which I cleaned.

True story.

Also on Friday, my latest “Minoring in Business” article appeared on MiLB.com. It was about using a team’s history as a promotional tool, and focused on an in-depth project undertaken by the Visalia Rawhide.

The article was inspired by broadcaster Visalia broadcaster Donny Baarns, who gave a speech at the Winter Meetings entitled “Learning From Orwell: How History Can Enhance Your Club’s Brand.” There are many advantages to a historically-minded marketing approach (read the article!) but one of Baarns’ more unexpected examples was this: re-connecting with old sponsors.

In 1952, Buckman-Mitchell Insurance had their name at the top of the club’s pocket schedules.

At some point along the way, Buckman-Mitchell stopped sponsoring Visalia’s professional baseball team. But upon being shown the schedule seen above, the company is now back on (bill)board.

Visalia’s efforts have been particularly impressive, but historically-minded promotions and displays can be found throughout Minor League Baseball. The  Rickwood Classic, in which the Birmingham Barons return to their former home for an afternoon of nostalgia, is a justly-celebrated annual tradition. I was lucky enough to attend in 2010.

Also in 2010, the Mobile BayBears opened the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum. In an unprecedented effort, they moved Hank Aaron’s childhood home to the grounds of the stadium, renovated it, and re-opened it as a museum.

I attended the opening, which was attended by luminaries even more luminous than myself.

Feller, Smith, Sutter, Jackson, Aaron, Henderson (Willie Mays not pictured, but he was there!)

And then there are the Delmarva Shorebirds, whose stadium hosts the “Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Finally, last week I took to Twitter in order to ask “In what ways do you promote your team’s history, at the ballpark and otherwise?”

I got a wide range of responses, including the following:

Bowie Baysox: Celebrating 20th anniversary this season. Articles on website recapping past seasons, and several events scheduled during season.

Connecticut Tigers: Pay tribute to Norwich’s previous franchise by staging “Navigator’s Night” promotions with throwback jerseys.

Hagerstown Suns: Put out a “Legends” baseball card set honoring players from throughout the past three decades.

Harrisburg Senators: All time roster on a board, and pictures of the ballpark going back 60 to 70 years.

High Desert Mavericks: Year-by-year Opening Day line-ups displayed on stadium pillars.

Inland Empire 66ers: 66ers celebrated 25 years last season. Had articles on team history, wore throwbacks every Tuesday and did themed giveaways.

The San Jose Giants went ahead a sent a few photos, of the hand-painted murals and timelines located throughout the ballpark.

Scooter Tucker's first appearance on this blog

And on and on it goes. This is the part of the blog where, without the slightest hint of disingenuosness, I ask YOU to get in touch.  In what ways is history celebrated and promoted by your favorite Minor League team? What else could be done?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Seats and Tweets and the Combination Thereof

Got a lot on the docket today, starting with an intriguing ticket offer from the Timber Rattlers of Appleton, Wisconsin: The team is offering complimentary ducats to the 400 “displaced Super Bowl attendees” who bought tickets to the game but were unable to watch due to a seating snafu.

The “Super Second Chance” offer is really only applicable to 399 fans, as Timber Rattlers box office manager Ryan Moede was among the “displaced.”

Hopefully the aggrieved individuals in question take advantage of the offer, as it could be the first step toward overcoming the unimaginable trauma they were forced to endure.

But those lucky enough to actually have seats at sporting events now have incentive to tell the world. At least if said seats are located within Waterfront Park in Trenton.

tweetyrseat.jpg

The Trenton Thunder announced their “Tweet Your Seat” promotion yesterday, an initiative that comes equipped with its own URL (tweetyourseat.net). On game days, fans can “Tweet Their Seats” for a chance to win a gift card to the nearby Nassau Inn. Declares the organization: 

Include your seat location, tag BOTH the Trenton Thunder and Nassau Inn in your tweet or status update and use the hashtag”#TweetYourSeat”.

We’ll pick one winner and deliver the gift card to their seat during the game! We’ll also post the winner’s name and/or twitter handle on this page….The contest opens at 10am on every game day and runs right up until the first pitch of the game.

This is the first time I’ve seen such a promo in the Minors, but I highly doubt it will be the last. It can easily be adapted to any market, and should help teams build social media followings for both themselves and the sponsor.

Moving from hi-tech to low, details regarding the 16th Annual Rickwood Classic were announced yesterday. The host Birmingham Barons will take on the Chattanooga Lookouts, with both teams wearing 1961-era uniforms. Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry will be the VIP Guest of Honor.

As you’ll no doubt recall, Rickwood Field is the oldest stadium in all of professional baseball. Last year, the Classic was named the top promotion in all of Minor League Baseball.

Thumbnail image for Rickwood_oldest sign.JPG

I’m not sure what the weather’s like in Alabama right now, but in Northwest Arkansas things have been unprecedentedly frigid. Check out Arvest Ballpark, home of the Naturals:

arvest_pano.JPG

“No doubt about it,” writes Naturals marketing and public relations manager Frank Novak. “I think the people of Northwest Arkansas are ready for some baseball.”

Arvest_pano2.JPG

Yesterday, the people of Earth were ready for love, and Minor League mascots across the land helped to deliver some. This picture shows Bernie of the Inland Empire 66ers with some new friends he made.

bernie.JPG
And, of course, the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor did his thing as well.Very disappointing to hear that Rodrigo the Ostrich didn’t fit in the car.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

The Envelope, Please

The quest to determine the top Minor League promotion certainly was an arduous process. A series of blog posts led to a field of 32 semi-finalists which, in turn, led to the selection of four finalists.

And of those four finalists, the one that received the most votes was…

classic_firstbatter.JPG

The Rickwood Classic!

Read all about it in my MiLB.com piece, which can be found HERE. And, as you may recall, I was actually in attendance at this game. In addition to the article linked in the preceding paragraph, blog posts on Rickwood can be found HERE and HERE.

Looking back on it, it appears that my coverage of the event turned out pretty well. It is very rare that I ever feel this way about my own writing, but why fight it? Riding this wave of self-confidence, I’ll re-attempt a joke that totally bombed when I tweeted it this morning.

Chili in Minors is today’s number one news story! Click HERE for exclusive info.

Why doesn’t anyone else think this is funny? I’m drowning in virtual flop sweat. And when that’s the case, time to resort to the tried and true: New Logos.

The Delmarva Shorebirds will be hosting the 2011 South Atlantic League All-Star Game, and today they revealed the logo.

asglogoo.JPG

This bird, his bearing upright and exclamations stentorian, was designed by Plan B Branding (who, by the way, maintain an excellent blog). As the logo implies, the game is sponsored by Perdue’s “Strike Out Hunger” campaign. More info can be found HERE.

Finally, in honor of Wednesday the 13th, a scary video courtesy of the Bowie Baysox.

The above video was rated “horror.”

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

Promo Year In Review, Part Four: Marvelous Miscellany

4.jpg

Over the past three days, I’ve presented my picks for favorite giveaways, theme nights, and celebrity appearances of the year. Nearly all Minor League promos fall into at least one of those categories, but lest anything slip through the cracks I’ve created a fourth and final category. For lack of a better name, I’m calling it “Marvelous Miscellany.”

The following six promos don’t have much in common with one another, save for the fact that they were all exceedingly memorable. But what am I missing? Surely there were many other tough-to-categorize but eminently worthwhile ballpark events that deserve postseason commemoration — let me know!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

————————————————————————————————————————————–

My six picks, magnanimously presented in alphabetical order.

Birmingham Barons –  Rickwood Classic/100th Anniversary of Rickwood Field

classic_onroofstarterlurks.JPG

Frederick Keys — Volt Night

volt.jpg


Huntsville Stars –
Car Survivor

Thumbnail image for Huntsville_Car2.JPG

Mobile BayBears — Opening of Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum

aron.jpg

San Antonio Missions — Puffy Taco, the Re-Match

Thumbnail image for Mission_taco_redemption.JPG

 

Savannah Sand Gnats — Fire Walk Around the Bases

Thumbnail image for Savannah_Fire_third.jpg

What can I say? It’s a random assemblage, but you know what else is random?

Life.

I’m just using this blog to illuminate universal truths. Also, to solicit feedback. Keep your promo suggestions coming, in all categories. You know where to find me.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 393 other followers