Results tagged ‘ Fresno Grizzlies ’

2015 Promo Schedule Highlights: Early Returns

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently looking at Minor League Baseball promotional schedules, as it is imperative that I know what’s going on once the season is underway. And if there’s one that I can say about Minor League Baseball promotional schedules, it’s this: They are not created equal. This post is dedicated to sharing the highlights off of some of the best 2015 promotional schedules I have perused thus far.

Fresno’s Pacific Coast League club, entering the first season of its “Growlifornia” marketing campaign, is calling this “the most comprehensive and diverse promotional schedule in the history of the club.” The Grizzly details:

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Highlights include the Fresno Philharmonic Brass Quintet playing Star Wars music on Star Wars Night, the social experiment that is “Pay What You Want Night” and, most crucially, a Biz Markie “Sing-A-Long” during which the eccentric hip hop icon will lead the crowd in a stadium-wide rendition of “Just A Friend.” (Here’s hoping there will also be time for the Biz to do his version of “Bennie and the Jets.” Because I need to prove how cool I am, I’d like to note that I have a Biz Markie “Bennie and the Jets” flexi-disc 7″ that was included within the second issue of the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal magazine.)

And as if all of the above wasn’t enough — and isn’t it? — on Monday the Grizzlies unveiled their March Madness-style “Fresno Famous” bobblehead tourney. This is a great initiative, and clearly a lot of work was involved in order to make this a “thing.”

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After careful perusal of the bracket, I have decided to endorse the “Waving Lady on 41″ as my choice for the Fresno Famous bobblehead. Read all about her.

Remember last season when Myrtle Beach Pelicans general manager Andy Milovich sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while undergoing a prostate exam?

Milovich’s stunt garnered national attention and kickstarted an “Ice Bucket Challenge”-style in-game prostate exam trend within the industry. And now, on June 21st, the Pelicans are giving away this Father’s Day “Bobblefinger.” Note the sponsor:

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Perhaps the Lehigh Valley IronPigs should be credited with an assist on this one, as the club has already established a tradition of giving away foam fingers on “Prostate Exam Awareness Night.”

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Another highlight of the Pelicans’ promo schedule is July 26’s “Christmas Vacation in July.” The first 1000 fans receive a “Cousin Eddie-style alpine hat,” and the team will be wearing these Griswold-inspired jerseys.

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Hey, Pelicans, you play in a tourism-centric town. As part of this promo, you should offer special discounts to fans visiting from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Meanwhile, in Altoona, the always-innovative Curve have unleashed an array of superbly creative bobbleheads modeled after some of their most distinguished recent alumni.

Tony “Elementary” Watson:

Tony Watson SherlockStarling Marte brings the “Partay”:

Marte PartayAnd while no photos are available, this is worth noting as well:

Yeah, yeah. I know:

While individual visuals are not available, I would also like to nod in the general direction of the Potomac Nationals. Their promo schedule is spectacular:

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The P-Nats’ exceedingly verbose press release includes this passage on bobbleheads:

[Giveaways include] a Steven Souza Jr. “The Catch” figurine commemorating his no-hitter clinching web gem behind Washington Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann on the final day of the 2014 regular season (Saturday, June 13th), a Michael Taylor “Flattop” Major League Debut bobblehead with faux hair (Saturday, June 20th), a Wilson Ramos hybrid half-man, half-buffalo “Buff-A-rine” (Sunday, July 5th), The Goonies 30th Anniversary “One-Eyed Willie” bobblehead (Saturday, August 1st).

That Goonies promo is sure to be one of the most ballyhooed theme nights of the year. As you can see in the top left corner of the above graphic, Corey Feldman (who has probably aged a bit since that photo was taken) will be in attendance. There will also be the aforementioned “One-Eyed Willie” bobblehead, as well as theme jerseys and a post-game screening of the film.

And, not to be lost in the (truffle) shuffle, there’s this:

The P-Nats will also be hosting tentative “body improvement” nights including Hair Removal Night, Tattoo Appreciation Night, and Skin Tag Removal Night.

I’ll end this post with a Trigger warning: On June 18, the Round Rock Express are giving away this awesome bobblehead featuring Willie Nelson and his guitar:

WillieNelsonBobbleheadbenjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Time for a Do-Over?

Over on MiLB.com you can read my round-up of the 2014-15 Minor League re-branding season, featuring 11 new team names and/or logos. In conjunction with this, my latest journalistic masterwork, I decided to take a look around the Minor League landscape in order to subjectively determine the team from each league that is most in need of a makeover.

We’ll start at the top of the Minor League ladder and work our way down. Perhaps, come this time next year, some of these clubs will have opted to update their iconography. Whether you agree, disagree or couldn’t care less, feel free to tell me so in the comments or on Twitter (@bensbiz).

International League: Louisville Bats (current logo in use since 2002)

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This logo is a little too reminiscent of Batman, so maybe it’s time that Louisville Gotham selves another one.

Pacific Coast League: Fresno Grizzlies (current logo in use since 2008)

frezThe Grizzlies are actively embracing their post-San Francisco identity, but the orange and black color scheme still screams “Giants affiliation!”

Eastern League: Portland Sea Dogs (current logo in use since 2003)

portlandThe “Sea Dog” in question looks like a Puritan-era rulebreaker, locked in the stockades so that all may ridicule him for his misdeeds.

Southern League: Mississippi Braves (current logo in use since 2005)

mbravesI guess there’s not much that can be done when you share the name of the parent club. Atlanta affiliates are a pretty strait-laced bunch.

Texas League: Midland RockHounds (current logo in use since 1999)

midlandThis ‘Hound looks like he would have been pals with Canseco and McGwire during their “Bash Brothers” days.

California League: High Desert Mavericks (current logo in use since 1991)

hdYou may not be able to set your watch to this logo, but at least you can hang your hat on it.

Carolina League: Carolina Mudcats (current logo in use since 1991)

mudcatsThis reminds me of the Sea Dogs’ logo. What did these poor creatures do to deserve permanent entrapment within a letter of the alphabet?

Florida State League: Tampa Yankees (current logo in use since 1994)

tampaThis is the Minor League logo equivalent of having a no-facial hair policy.

Midwest League: Lansing Lugnuts (current logo in use since 1996)

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As was pointed out to me when I visited Lansing: That’s not a lugnut. It’s a bolt.

South Atlantic League: Kannapolis Intimidators (current logo in use since 2001)

kannapWhen it comes to this logo, my mind says “No” but my heart says “Yes.” I (not-so) secretly love it, despite, or perhaps because, it is inherently insane.

New York-Penn League: Brooklyn Cyclones (current logo in use since 2001)

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The Cyclones seem to do everything right, so I may as well give them a hard time for not updating the logo they came into existence with.

Northwest League: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (current logo in use since 1997)

skvFor my thoughts on this, see: Intimidators, Kannapolis

Appalachian League: Johnson City Cardinals (current logo in use since 1995)

jccNot sure where this one falls in the bird-logo pecking order.

Pioneer League: Helena Brewers (current logo in use since 2011)

hbAs someone with celiac disease, I find this logo offensive.

In closing, I’d like to offer a tip of the cap to Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net. It’s a great source of info.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Growlin’ and Meowin’

As we approach the 2015 season, one thing that has been made abundantly clear is that there is no love lost between the Fresno Grizzlies and Sacramento River Cats.

The rivalry between the two Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division clubs took an interesting twist upon the conclusion of the 2014 season when the San Francisco Giants severed ties with Fresno, their long-time Triple-A affiliate, in favor of Sacramento. It’s the Minor League Baseball equivalent of getting jilted by a long-time lover in favor of an enticing seductress.

This turn of the events left Fresno scrambling for a new affiliate (the Houston Astros, as it turned out) as well as a new identity. After all, a Giants affiliation was all that the team had ever known. In November, I wrote a piece about the Grizzlies’ marketing strategy in the wake of San Francisco’s departure, which included this quote:

“We’ve started a “Growlifornia”-themed marketing campaign, revolving around our unique California vibe,” said Grizzlies marketing director Sam Hansen. “When California revolted against Mexico [in 1846] it was called the ‘Bear Flag Rebellion.’ That’s why the California state flag has a bear on it. We’re celebrating the Bear Flag Rebellion of 2015, because people here in Fresno feel that rebellious sort of pride. This is our own unique region, and our affiliation with Houston is going to help us get back to those roots.”

Screen_Shot_2015_02_01_at_7.11.02_PM_3aanok86_poh4urz9But then a funny thing happened. In December, the River Cats co-opted a key element of the Grizzlies’ “Growlifornia” campaign by announcing a California state flag theme jersey promotion of their very own. Sacramento is the capital of California, after all. That’s all the justification they needed.

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This River Cats’ promotion did not sit well with the Grizzlies, and a feisty Twitter war between the two clubs ensued.

The Grizzlies may have been bruised by that turn of events, but they were certainly not beaten. River Cats, Schmiver Cats. You want a California flag theme jersey? This is a California flag theme jersey. And, what’s more, it will be worn during the first home stand of the season. Consider the tone set.

The Grizzlies’ theme jersey unveiling came one day after the team posted an open letter from executive vice president Derek Franks, entitled “The Bear Flag Rebellion Begins Now.” A relevant excerpt:

There’s a shift happening around this organization and it’s brought the community together more than ever. No matter what you hear, this team is not a trend or a fad. Fresno Grizzlies baseball is a way of life and one that is unapologetically Central Californian. We’re going to flip the script of what you expect from a Minor League Baseball team this season. Don’t believe us? We’ll prove you otherwise.

And — BREAKING — just before this blog post went to “press” yet another war of the words broke out between these two distinguished entities. Theme jerseys sure are a contentious topic!

Whew! This beef is hotter than a cattle ranch on Venus. Clearly, Fresno is going to remain on the offensive and, clearly, Sacramento aren’t going to back down from a challenge. And when it comes to the River Cats on Twitter, engage at your own risk. During the 2013-14 offseason, the Reno Aces learned this the hard way:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Mysteries Revealed in “108 Stitches”

During the 2012 season, the Orem Owlz became the first Minor League team to welcome Larry “Soup Nazi” Thomas to the ballpark for a promotional appearance.

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Photo: Orem Owlz

Then, the following season, the Owlz gave away 5000 pairs of team-logo sunglasses as part of a “most people wearing sunglasses at night” world record attempt. (The blue balls were part of a different promotion. Please ignore the blue balls).

owlz_promos_nbqtshzb_dz7aciy6These two promotional endeavors, different as they may seem, have one thing in common. This:

108108 Stitches  is a low-budget baseball comedy, executive produced by Owlz owner Jeff Katofsky and produced and co-written by his son, Jake. A raunchy and ramshackle underdog sports comedy (think Major League or Animal House), 108 Stitches involves the exploits of a fictional Orem-based collegiate baseball team. The players wear the uniforms of the real-life Orem Owlz (Class A Short Season affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels), and the baseball scenes are shot at the so-called “Home of the Owlz,” located on the campus of Utah Valley University.

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The Owlz are not what they seem.

The above fictional squad is coached by one Scott Deshields (esteemed character actor Bruce Davison); meanwhile, assistant coach Kassem Bosco is played by — wait for it — Larry “Soup Nazi” Thomas. So that’s why he was in Orem in the first place!

coachesThen, later in the film, the Owlz’ “most people wearing sunglasses at night” record attempt is incorporated into the plot. It’s life meets art, or something like that.

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Photo: Orem Owlz

The movie also features cameos from Owlz mascots Hootz and Holly, but unfortunately does not reference Holly’s 2012 pregnancy announcement.

Speaking of procreation, Roger Clemens has declared, somewhat incomprehensibly, that “If Animal House, Bull Durham and Major League had a threesome, 108 Stitches would be its kid.” Also, somewhat incomprehensibly, Clemens has a cameo late in the film. Here’s the trailer, which features Clemens, Hootz, Holly, the Soup Nazi, 3D Glasses and, of course, more:

If you’re interested in checking out the film, it it available for streaming via virtually every streaming platform known to man. Click HERE.

If you are desirous of even more Minor League “cinema,” then click HERE to see Lake Elsinore Storm mascot Thunder riding a dirtbike. Or, hey, how about this: Fresno Grizzlies mascot Parker provides the mascot perspective on a hot-button social issue.

Or if lip-syncing front-office members are more your thing, then how about this video courtesy of the Tulsa Drillers?

In the Academy Awards of my mind, which take place biannually for some reason, these are all statuette-worthy efforts.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Fresno Grizzlies

Greetings. I have returned from my first road trip of the 2014 season; articles from the trip have been running on MiLB.com throughout the past week and into next, and the corresponding blog posts will soon follow. (I promise!) But first, another edition of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain just what it is that they love about their favorite team. Today’s guest writer is Milana Lock, a verifiable Fresno Grizzlies super-fan who I wrote about during one of my 2013 road trips. If YOU would like to write a “Why I Love”  post, email me benjamin.hill@mlb.com

But, for now, the floor is ceded to Milana:

Love of The Game, Crack of the Bat, Thump in the Glove

Stories from the world of Major League Baseball are filled with huge contracts, catchy nicknames, big endorsements, fan worship, scandals and gourmet menus; these are the topics that go along with the the sport at its highest level.  But there’s a side to baseball that should be fully appreciated, as it’s one of the most important:  the Road to “The Show”.

I’m a devout fan of those who play for the Fresno Grizzlies (Triple-A team for the San Francisco Giants), and there are several things that draw me to every home game:  the amazing work ethic, a determination to excel, and a level of play that, hopefully, gets the players noticed by the parent club’s front office. With intense focus, these guys work out and play just as hard as their Major League counterparts; maybe with more heart, and definitely for much less money (a maximum of about $2,200 a month).  In fact, it seems they play harder because they have more to prove.

The Minor Leagues are a place where fans have the closest access to players, some who are returning for another season and others who are entering a higher level for the first time.  While our hope is for them to get a call-up, there’s a mixed yet very real joy in seeing favorite players again and renewing friendships that are based on unconditional support and encouragement.  The fields are smaller, the stands are closer to the bullpen. The autograph line, filled with kids and adults alike, is the place where players take the time to sign autographs and pose for selfies.

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Brandon Belt

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Brandon Crawford

Sitting only 75 feet from the field, we feel the vibe of 6-4-3-2 plays for a third out and actually see the pride on the players’ faces. I’ve been wowed by outfielders who refine their throw from medium-depth center field to get an out at home plate, and have launched myself out of my seat to unapologetically celebrate a 410-foot grand slam.

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It’s this kind of up-close and personal experience that makes it important to be more supportive, to share in this love of the game and the players that develop within it. If they can play everyday in 105-degree heat, then I can go to every Grizzlies home game and cheer. If they get a percentage from the sale of their Spring Training batting jerseys, then I’ll buy one or two from the parent club’s team store. If I’m given a chance to meet them, then they’ll get a birthday shout-out on the big board. And if there’s heckling going on, I’ll be even louder in shouting words of encouragement. These may be little things but they seem to mean a lot; it’s a way for a fan to be a part of the game.

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The phrase “you get what you put into it, and more” applies to the Minor League ballpark experience as well. If you look closely, you’ll watch top prospects refine their skills and be able to tell friends at the Major League park who are the up and comers, who’s dangerous with an opposite field bat, who delivers high heat, who’s got crazy-fast legs, who’s a thief on the basepaths, who brings that secret weapon, who’s got a cannon arm. In a way, I guess you could say that Minor League fans are unofficial scouts. In the spirit of Yogi Berra, “you get to see the future today”.

And where else but in these leagues can you strike a pose with prized baubles, and even wear them for a minute? These are lifetime memories!

2010 World Series Ring

2010 World Series Ring

2012 World Series Ring

2012 World Series Ring

You can find new things, almost weekly, at the Grizzlies’ team store while also supporting the community.  New T-shirts and caps designed with this year’s logos or slogans, black and orange nail polish (team colors), foam fingers printed with the mascot’s paw, the Major League club’s caps and hoodies, and blingy summer tops are all on display. Also, it’s the place to buy something that contributes to the organization’s community programs, as a portion of the proceeds helps to fund school scholarships, special needs baseball games and equipment, and a reading program. What a great combination! We can improve the community while supporting our team in style.

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For the girl who has everything: Fresno Grizzlies nail polish and nail files.

For the girl who has everything: Fresno Grizzlies nail polish and nail files.

Yes, I love watching the game, eating another hot dog, sitting for too long, buying another T-shirt, and cheering loudly at every accomplishment.  Yes, getting to the Majors is the ultimate dream come true for a ball player.  But the pursuit of that dream and the celebration of the heart of hopeful champions is what brings me back to the same seat, every season, every night. Play Ball!

Thanks, Milana. And, again, if you’d like to write a “Why I Love” blog post, about YOUR favorite team, then get in touch. I am very accessible and a pleasure to communicate with. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Pictures of Food

I’ve recently dedicated a post to showcasing new mascots that can be seen around the Minors; today’s post will focus on that other integral aspect of the Minor League Baseball experience: the food.

Let’s start with the El Paso Chihuahuas, who play their first-ever ballgame at brand-new Southwest University Park on April 28. Concessions at the new facility will be provided by Ovations, who unveiled the ballpark menu last month. Fairly thorough coverage of some of the more unique items can be found HERE and HERE among other places, including an awesome looking beef brisket “Salpicon Salad” that very well may be gluten-free (fingers crossed, I’ll be there on April 29 and 30 and will find out for sure).  I contacted the team in the wake of their concessions unveiling, and Ovations’ Jeff Hanauer responded with the following pictures. And that is what you’re all here for, what you’re always here for: the pictures. Let’s proceed.

The Pico de Gallo will be included with many of the Chihuahuas’ Mexican-themed offerings. It looks outstanding, and this picture is suitable for framing.

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Alligator bites with jalapeno cornbread (an El Paso specialty?)

Alligator Bites

The Chihua Dog, with bacon, beans, and jalapenos:

ChihuaDog

The Dudley Dog, a foot long and a half a pound, topped with chile con queso and pico de gallo:

DudleyDog

A few of the many “Juarez Dogs” that will be available:

JuarezDogs

This sandwich is called, “From Philly, with Love”.

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The Flamethrower, a half pound burger with ghost peppers, jack cheese, deep fried jalapenos, and chipotle ranch sauce:

Flamethrower

Of course, no discussion of ballpark food is complete without the requisite White Michigan Whitecaps mention. Following in the footsteps of the Fifth Third Burger and the (gluten-free!) Baco, this year’s premier addition is the Auger Dogger. It is a deep-fried hot dog on a stick, surrounded by potato chips. Here’s hoping that this, too is gluten-free:

auger

More notable concession additions, per the Whitecaps:

Pretzilla Bacon Cheeseburger (a pretzel bun with a one-third pound hamburger patty, bacon and cheese).

Coaches’ Sandwich – In honor of the three Whitecaps coaches, who hail from Australia (Andrew Graham), Texas (Mike Henneman) and Cuba (Nelson Santovenia), this sandwich includes two slices of ham, Hormel barbeque pulled pork, pickle shreddies, Swiss cheese and shrimp served on a sub bun.

Tony Gates Venison Burger – Named after the 97 WLAV local radio personality who is passionate about the outdoors and is an avid hunter, this venison burger on a bun and will be served at the Steak Cart behind home plate.

Over in Kannapolis, the Intimidators have unveiled some notable new additions. This one is self-explanatory, but I’ll explain: a 64 ounce serving of loaded nachos, served in a batting helmet.

helmet

Also of note is the Dale’s Mater sandwich, a favorite of Dale Earnhardt (for whom the Intimidators are named). It is, quite simply, a tomato sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise.

The Trenton Thunder have unveiled a new signature item, one with a distinctly New Jersey flair. The Thunder Dog is “a jumbo sized Black Bear Franks hot dog wrapped in American cheese and famous Trenton pork roll and served on a torpedo roll.”

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Also new in Trenton is the “Mega Nachos” stand, which can (and should!) be gluten-free. Sez the team:

Another new addition on the first base side is Mega Nachos, where fans can build-their-own nachos from a variety of toppings including: cheese, queso, chili, steak, chicken, pulled pork, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and olives.

The Thunder have long had a Chickie and Pete’s stand at the ballpark, but these Philly-area purveyors of sandwiches and (gluten-free!) crab fries are now in Wilmington as well:

And, hey, for those of you who consider gluttony to be a virtue: the Frederick Keys have recently announced a rather considerable eating challenge. Think you can do it? If so, what’s wrong with you?

Finally, in Fresno, the Grizzlies are now serving a “Grizzly Egg.” Per the Fresno Bee, it’s a “cream cheese-filled deviled egg, wrapped in bacon, baked and drizzled in buffalo sauce.” This thing better be gluten-free, because it looks awesome!

GRIZZLIES

And that’s all of the food news I have to share with you, at least for the next couple of days. In the meantime, please know that I am writing up a storm over at MiLB.com:

New Promo Preview leads with the Louisville Bats Corky Miller #FeartheStache t-shirt.

New Farm’s Almanac takes a look at team-branded beer throughout the Minors.

And, as always, much more to come! There’s a reason that I say that I am the greatest of all time: because it’s true.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Visalia, Modesto, and Fresno In-Between

Welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I re-trace my steps during my third and final road trip of the 2013 campaign in order to bring you all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print. The previous post in the series began in amid the vast expanse of Bakersfield and ended at Visalia’s Lamp Liter Inn, surely one of the quaintest team-affiliated hotels in all of Minor League baseball.

The Lamp Liter still issues honest-to-God keys, and the room signage was a definite blast from the past.

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The on-site diner was similarly retro:

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Before leaving Visalia I headed downtown and took a stroll. Most of the Central Valley California towns I visited on this trip were rough-around-the-edges and possessed an air of general economic despair, but the core of Visalia I found to be surprisingly vibrant. A brief photo tour, starting with a record store that was, unfortunately, closed on Mondays (marking the second day in a row my attempts to visit a local record store were thwarted).

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I was very taken with Visalia, but my momentary illusion that it was some sort of small town utopia quickly received a reality check.

016 Finally, a bit of history, delivered via the time honored method of plaque-on-boulder.

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I didn’t get any lunch in Visalia. My next stop was Fresno, and in that city my first order of business was to go on a brief tour of notable area taco trucks. This tour, arranged by members of the Fresno Grizzlies front office, was covered extensively on MiLB.com. In brief, I had a really good time!

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My time at that evening’s Fresno Grizzlies game has also been extensively documented. Among many highlights of my time at the ballpark was my encounter with this particularly committed “designated eater” (ie, the individual recruited at each ballpark to consume the gluten-free cuisine that my celiac disease prohibits).

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The next day I made a pit stop at E. Olive Street in Fresno.

003The motivation for this pit stop was the same as so many other pit stops that I make while on these road trips: I had been tipped to the existence of an independent record store.

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This particular record store was called Spinners. Welcome!

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I picked up a few moderately-priced used classic rock LPs (Michael Nesmith, Humble Pie, Black Oak Arkansas), bantered with the friendly clerks for a bit, and then was on my way out of Fresno.

Next stop: Modesto, home of the Nuts. As is my standard operating procedure on these trips, I entered the ballpark while waving to my fans while riding atop a ’59 Corvette.

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You can read all about my evening with the Nuts HERE. Part three of this series will pick up with my wanderings the next day in Modesto. A visit to a record store may have been involved.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Marching Toward the Inevitable

The ides of March is (are?) almost upon us, and I’m not really sure if this is has any relevance to the world of Minor League Baseball. Nonetheless, the ides of March are (is?) inextricably linked with the word “beware,” and therefore I feel a nagging sense of foreboding and anxiety that I just can’t shake. In order to deal with this lingering angst in a productive way, today’s post will be a good ol’ bouillabaisse of Minor League news and notes. May this be a therapeutic experience for all.

60 Degree Weather Guarantees are a common Opening Day promotion, with the Indianapolis Indians being long-time proponents of the concept. Last year Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders president/general manager/chief of unwieldy job titles Rob Crain got in on the act in a most enthusiastic fashion, and in 2014 he’s taking things even further. Per the team:

Clad in floral orange shorts, inexplicable snorkel gear and a life preserver designed for a little girl while wearing a face of both fun and fierce determination, the RailRiders’ venerable top executive issued assurance that families and baseball enthusiasts will be comfortable when the gates open on April 10….But he did not stop there. Like most extremists, Crain took it to another level when he also promised triumph. If the RailRiders fail to defeat their nearby rivals from Syracuse? “I will dress up like a woman until we win,” said Crain.

 

Before moving on, I would like to note that “Inexplicable Snorkel Gear” should be the title of the next Guided By Voices album.

My colleague Josh Jackson, whose eloquence never crosses into grandiloquence, recently wrote a MiLB.com article about the Fresno Grizzlies “Farm Grown” program. (I wrote briefly about this program during my visit to Fresno last August.) “Farm Grown” seeks to highlight Central Valley agriculture as well as the Grizzlies’ role in developing “Farm Grown” players, and in 2014 there will even be an agriculture center located at the Grizzlies’ home of Chukchansi Park.

The Gar Tootelian Agriculture Zone, to be exact:

Gar Tootelian Ag Zone Rendering

I mentioned to the Grizzlies, via Twitter, that “Gar Tootelian” sounded like something out of the Star Wars universe. They concurred, and hinted that 2014’s “Star Wars Night” promo would indeed have a Gar Tootelian aspect to it.

At this point, I don’t even understand what it is that I’m writing about. Time to move on.

Oh, wait, I’m not going to move on. Yesterday, these very same Fresno Grizzlies became the latest team to inspire an avalanche of lazy “greatest thing in the history of ever”-style hyperbolic internet rhetoric. Congratulations!

On August 2, the Grizzlies will wear Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle theme jerseys. Perhaps the Grizzlies’ version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song can go like this.

Giants Farm Club Fresno Grizzlies, Giants Farm Club Fresno Grizzlies, Giants Farm Club Fresno Grizzlies — prospects in theme jerseys, auction later!   

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Remember when I wrote about the as-of-now-theoretical Holiday League? Well, that entity welcomed a new team last month: the Rushmore Commanders. The Commanders have four primary logos, one for every president enshrined on Mount Rushmore. And they, like the Grizzlies, will also wear theme jerseys during their (as of now theoretical) debut season.

A sampling:

Abe Lincoln primary logo

Abe Lincoln primary logo

ratification of the Constitution theme jersey

ratification of the Constitution theme jersey

Okay, after my latest and therefore greatest blogging exercise I feel considerably more relaxed. But for how long? The ides of March are just four days away.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Information Regarding the Online Insult Prowess of Aquatically-Inclined Felines

In yesterday’s post on the West Michigan Whitecaps, I speculated that their Facebook update in the aftermath of Friday’s stadium fire was the most liked and shared Facebook update in the history of Minor League Baseball. Continuing on this speculative line of social media-centric thought, it is also likely that the most popular tweet in the history of Minor League Baseball occurred just last month.

It all began on Tuesday, December 3, when the Sacramento River Cats sought to fill some offseason down time by engaging fans in an “ask us anything” discussion. This prompted their Pacific Coast League rivals the Reno Aces to posit a somewhat snarky question, and within a quarter hour the River Cats responded in devastating fashion:

Oooh, burn! And, as burns are wont to do, it soon spread like wildfire throughout the Twittersphere and then the internet in general. Retweet upon retweet soon inspired a number of regional and national blog posts, amusing innumerable individuals along the way. I expected the Aces, egos bruised, to retort in kind but instead they took a “you’ve won the battle, but not the war” stance and humbly retreated into the background.

The background is where this feud remained, until the River Cats decided to end 2013 by gloating anew.

This time, the Aces couldn’t stay silent.

And on and on it went, a tit for tat diss battle in which no clear winner emerged. Click HERE to read the whole back and forth, but please know that it ended with the Aces’ referencing the “worst bobblehead of all time.”

As mentioned, the above Twitter battle gained some notoriety not just within Minor League Baseball but within the sports universe at large. But the River Cats take on all comers, as evidenced by this far-less publicized battle that took place with the Fresno Grizzlies on December 19. This one was started by Parker, the Grizzlies mascot, in response to an innocuous question from a local radio station.

Oh, Parker, why did you do that? Did you really think you’d get away it? Cue debilitating River Cats comeback in 3…2…1…

Parker’s ensuing retort wasn’t much to speak of (Sorry Parker, just keepin’ it real), but the Grizzlies jumped in with a parting shot. The lesson here is: when beefing with the Sacramento River Cats on Twitter, and at a loss for words, simply mention “the worst bobblehead of all time.”

At the end of the day, Twitter wars are stupid. But aren’t most things? And Twitter wars are not only stupid, they’re entertaining as well. So I guess what I’m saying is this: if you’re a Minor League Baseball team, go ahead and tweet something insulting at one of your league rivals. I’ll be glad you did.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Around, Down, Up, Over and Out in Fresno

Part One of this Fresno saga featured slow elevators, neglected stanzas, mascot wardrobes and deceased appliances. It was a masterwork, in other words, and like all masterworks it is bound to be neglected until long after I, its creator, have shuffled off of this mortal coil and back into the flux. I accepted this fate long ago and am at peace with it, having learned to still the superfluous concerns of the raging ego within the infinite beauty of the eternal present.

And speaking of infinite beauty, on the evening in which I was in town Chukchansi Park and its immediate surroundings were positively radiant.

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I took these pictures from a perhaps not-so radiant area of the ballpark, as Grizzlies media relations coordinator Chris Kutz and I were wandering in and around Chuckchansi’s obscure backroads.

Gotta love it!

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The Grizzlies are the most prominent occupants of Chukchansi Park, but they’re not the only ones. The Fresno Fuego soccer team plays in the facility as well, and when they do they play upon an uncoiled iteration of this massive turf lollipop.

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Beyond the tarp lies glorious piles of detritus, and beyond the detritus lurks an orange-shirted team employee tasked with operating the manual right field scoreboard.

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But this team employee is not alone among the debris. He’s got these guys to keep him company.

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Perhaps the cats know what this vehicle is used for, because none of the humans I talked to had any idea.

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And finally, there is this.

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I don’t know what “C.B.T.” stands for, but I do know that visiting clubhouse manager Joe Castillo smokes ribs in this thing at the end of a homestand and then serves said ribs as the centerpiece of a post-game meal. My guess is that Mr. Castillo receives better-than-average tips for his efforts, and between him and the legendary tacos often prepared by head groundskeeper David Jacinto it is apparent that the Grizzlies are among the best post-game food providers in the PCL.

While I was loathe to leave the ramshackle charm of the Grizzlies’ storage area, Chris and I soon proceeded to the outfield area proper. Again, let it be said that it was a beautiful night in downtown Fresno.

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In the outfield one can find the “Grizzlies Garden,” created and cultivated by the 2013 graduating class of downtown Fresno’s Acel Charter School (located the proverbial “hop, skip, and a jump” away from the stadium).

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The school year was over and the garden’s best days were behind it, but the students had grown the likes of apples, corn, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, oxford commas, and chard. This project was under the umbrella of the Grizzlies “Farm Grown” program.

“We’re trying our best to tie in [the Central Valley’s] agriculture industry and community with the Grizzlies,” said Chris. “We’re all farm grown. The players are farm grown through the Giants system and we in Fresno are farm grown because so much of our food is grown here locally.”

Chris went on to explain that the high school garden was the beginning of a much larger project, as the Grizzlies are seeking to “tie in the farming community with our urban environment.” To this end, they’ll soon be turning this expanse of outfield area dirt into a garden featuring demonstration plots of prominent local crops.

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Also tied in with the “Farm Grown” initiative is this very cool recurring promo advertised on the concourse.

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Chukchansi Park was built in 2002, just before what Chris called “the berm rage,” and as such there isn’t a lot of berm seating.

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But there is a small berm area that surrounds the pool, the centerpiece of a private outfield group area available for rental on a per-game basis. At this moment in time the life guard had no lives to guard, thus calling into question the essential premise behind her reason for being.

(And, for the record, the last Grizzlies player to have achieved a so-called “Splash Hit” was Cole Gillespie this past June.)

086 There were people out here, however. It was just that the food and beverage options were, at least at the moment, more enticing than going for a well-guarded dip.

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And when the focus finally moves from the food to the field, let it be known that the view is spectacular (not-so spectacular: the sound of the stadium PA blaring from directly above).

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When Chukchansi Park was built, one of the guiding principles behind it was that people would come in and out of the park via downtown Fresno. Hence, this prominent outfield entrance that connects the park with Fulton Mall’s pedestrian walkway.

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Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out the way that its planners intended. The pedestrian walkway is well maintained and public art can be found throughout, but most of the storefronts are empty. Even though there was a game going on at the time, there was no signs of additional life outside the stadium.

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Given the state of Fulton Mall, it’s easy to interpret the above statue as a cry of frustration. A feeling of “what should’ve been” pervades, as this seems like a perfect area for the usual array of bars, restaurants, retail establishments and refurbished theaters and concert halls that play such a major role in downtown revitalization projects. I don’t know the factors that have led to Fulton Mall’s current air of desolation, but Chris told me that “parking is a big issue and one of the reasons that this hasn’t worked. The lot for season ticket holders is on the other side of the ballpark, and they have no reason to walk through here.”

As I mentioned in the last post, Chris is a Fresno native and this was his last homestand as a Grizzlies employee before moving on to a job within Kansas State’s sports information department. He loves his hometown and wants to be a part of its long-term success, but also felt that he had no choice but to leave.

“Growing up I always heard about Fresno’s ‘brain drain’ and was told to get out, to leave while you can,” he said. “I guess [succeeding in Fresno is] too tall of a mountain to climb sometimes. A lot of my heart and soul is in this stadium and a lot of my heart and soul is in this downtown. But if you can’t create an environment for someone like me to make a difference then you’re going to face this problem.”

Chris Kutz, now working at Kansas State

Fresno native  and Grizzlies media coordinator Chris Kutz, now working at Kansas State

This moment of poignant pondering complete, Chris and I wandered back into the stadium and through the concourse on the third base side. On this particular Monday there was plenty of room to move.

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It was also quiet outside of the stadium’s front entrance.

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But during busy nights, the above area is anything but empty. Here’s the scene at this year’s “Taco Truck Throwdown,” which attracted more than 14,000 fans. (And, yes, as I mentioned in the last post: this month will not end without me producing some taco-related Fresno Grizzlies content).

photo: Fresno Bee

photo: Fresno Bee

There’s also a carousel outside of the stadium.

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Beware! Terror monkey resides therein.

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But why focus on primate horror on such a beautiful evening? At this particular moment in space and time the ballpark atmosphere was idyllic.

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Given the taco-related activities that had taken place earlier in the day (again, I will be writing about this), getting some food during the game itself had become a bit of an afterthought. But the show must go on, and the Grizzlies had recruited three fans to serve as the evening’s “Designated Eaters” (you know, those who consume the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

From left to right, meet Derek Pharis, Joel Medina, and Jace LeVasser. The three all went to high school together in Porterville, CA (located about an hour south from Fresno), and Derek and Joel are now attending Fresno State.

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Jace quickly emerged as the star of the show because, well, Jace really liked this giant hot dog.

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“It has a lot of flavor and is very delicious, but I did not feel dignified while eating it. I think a piece of me died inside,” said Jace. “I’d probably order it again.”

Derek and Joel were presented with Dinger Dogs, in which the frankfurter is butterflied open and topped with pulled pork onions, peppers and (optional) cole slaw.

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Have at it, guys.

This thing got absolutely rave reviews from Derek and Joel, although this was mostly conveyed via raised eyebrows, incredulous stares, and thumbs-up gestures.

“I thought that food here was just nachos and pizza,” said Joel.

“Me too,” said Derek. “I had no idea that [the Dinger Dog] was here, but I’m definitely glad that I found it.”

I thanked Derek, Joel, and Jace for their service and soon I was on my way. Sun or no sun, the atmosphere remained beautiful.

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At this late juncture in the ballgame the player’s headshots had morphed into an advertisement for California’s premier fast food establishment.

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And speaking of Animal Style, Chris and I soon found ourselves under attack.

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But it would have taken more than an onslaught of silly string to impede our progress. Soon enough we were within the relative safety of the Grizzlies’ front office.

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Would you believe that Parker has his own desk? It’s true, and it’s easy to tell which one is his.

Fun is guaranteed, and brainstorming encouraged.

133“This is how we think. These are the thoughts of people who can’t get their thoughts together,” said Chris. “We come in here and brainstorm, this is the room to do that.”

135Chukchansi Park is the rare two-level Minor League stadium. Here are some views from the top.

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139Back at ground level, I watched Parker get ejected from the ballgame for reasons that have since receded from memory.

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141With the concession stands about to close, it suddenly occurred to be that I had neglected to provide a stadium #cupdate. A certain subset of my readership craves such things, and on this particular trip I did not do a good job when it came to providing regular cupdates. I apologize, but one day it will please us to remember even this.

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144My last act at Chukchansi was to interview Dan and Milana Shydler, a pair of loyal and enthusiastic Grizzlies fans who bring dozens of homemade signs to each and every game. I wrote an article about them for MiLB.com, which you can and should read HERE.

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These sentiments are most apropos: Bye Bye Baby, and good night from Chukchansi Park! Before closing the book on my visit to Fresno, I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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