Results tagged ‘ Fresno Grizzlies ’

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?)

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

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

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

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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

twitter.com/bensbiz

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

On the Road: Providing the Grizzly Details in Fresno

This West Coast road trip began with Bakersfield and then continued on to Visalia before bringing me here, the largest and, arguably, most in-chargest city to be found in California’s Central Valley.

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Welcome to Fresno, home of the Pacific Coast League’s Grizzlies, who play in the downtown facility that is Chukchansi Park. My day in Fresno actually began hours earlier, when I and two members of the team’s front office staff visited three of the region’s most venerated taco trucks (the Grizzlies, as you may know, host an annual “Taco Truck Throwdown” promotion that has become of their most popular nights of the year).  These corn tortilla-inspired peregrinations will be detailed in full later this month, but today (and tomorrow’s) Fresno-based dispatch shall remain focused on this particular Monday evening at the ballpark.

An elevated view of Chukchansi’s environs:

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The above views can be obtained from the upper level concourse, looking out from what would be the first base side of the stadium.  But as is my general tendency, attention soon turned inward.

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The outfield entrance of Chukchansi Park opens out into a pedestrian walkway that leads to a variety of Fulton Mall retail establishments (or the ghosts thereof), and one of those retail establishments was Luftenberg’s Bridal. While not located in the stadium proper, the Luftenberg’s signage in left field is a distinctive Chukchansi characteristic and it will be interesting to see what becomes of it now that the business in question has re-located (after more than 70 years occupying the building seen in the above picture).

Accompanying me for the bulk of my evening at Chuckchansi was media relations coordinator Chris Kutz, a Fresno native who was in his last week with the Grizzlies before moving on to a job within Kansas State’s sports information department. I was glad to have Chris around, as he was a wellspring of local knowledge in general and Grizzlies knowledge in particular. For instance, he told me with pride that Chukchansi Park boasts this, the slowest elevator in Minor League Baseball.

053When it comes to that elevator all you can do is grin and bear it  (sorry, but there’s a claws in my contract that gives me free reign to make such jokes). We made it down eventually, and soon discovered that the scene at ground level was just as beautiful as that which had existed above. It was a beautiful day in Fresno. Amid the beauty, some early arriving fans had taken it upon themselves to snag some Grizzly autographs.

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But who cares about players when Parker’s around?

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I had actually scored an interview with Parker soon after arriving at the ballpark, a journalist coup if there ever was one. We touched on a variety of topics, most of them having to do with his presumed supremacy over all other mascots, but due to rampant fluctuations between the first and third person our conversation was largely unusable. These are the hazards that come with interviewing a mascot, who aren’t accustomed to communicating within the realm of words, but nonetheless I thank Parker for his time.

While he wasn’t the only mascot at Chukchansi that evening, he was still atop the bill. Duck, you sucker!

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Stare into the maw of eternal darkness

It’s probably a good idea to duck when I’m on the mound, as ever since throwing a perfect strike in Great Lakes my ceremonial first pitch offerings have been atrocious. Similar to Bakersfield, I overcompensated for my fear of bouncing it by tossing an ineffectual airmailed lob.

Ben on mound

Parker the arbiter

All alone in failure:

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Parker, gracious bear that he is, nonetheless gave me the thumbs up.

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My first pitch segued into the National Anthem, which was to be sung by Joe Price.  Joe is a professor of religious studies at Whittier College and, as you may recall, he took a sabbatical in 2011 so that he and his wife, Bonnie, could traverse the Minor League landscape in an RV.  Joe sang the National Anthem at over 100 ballparks that season, which he dubbed “The Anthem Tour,” and I wrote an MiLB.com feature story about it HERE (the ongoing Anthem Tour blog, with dispatches from these ballparks, can be read HERE).

“I always love for people to join in, and for the anthem to be sung together regardless of political orientation,” said Joe, in my aforementioned 2011 feature story. “This can, potentially, be everyone’s national anthem. And as a result it can bridge the gap between the Tea Party and liberals, between hawks and doves. Because, even though it is a wartime song, it was written as a celebration of freedom. The preservation of our freedoms is what lies at the heart of it.”

Joe at the ready, as the fans sitting in the Dugout Club suites behind him engage in an amateur otolaryngological exam.

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Given the depth and breadth of Joe’s National Anthem knowledge, the Grizzlies had agreed to allow him to sing the song’s fourth stanza as well as the first. (Read the lyrics HERE.) Unfortunately there was confusion in the Grizzlies PA booth regarding just what it was that Joe would be doing, and most fans were summarily confused by his double-length rendition. Nonetheless, it was cool to see this lesser known portion of the song get a public airing and I hope Joe gets the chance to do it again sometime.

With the game almost underway, Chris led me on a tour of Chukchansi’s labyrinthian corridors. The Grizzlies, a Giants affiliate, were playing the Albuquerque Isotopes, a Dodgers affiliate, and this would explain one of the first things we came across: a decimated prop from one of Parker’s recent skits.

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Parker and a camouflage-adept accomplice, hastily departing from the scene of their Dodger-bashing crime.

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Parker was able to escape to parts unknown, but he didn’t exactly disappear without a trace.

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As for the rest of Parker’s belongings? They can be found here:

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All sorts of sartorial wonders lurk within this room.

And let it be known: in addition to having the slowest elevator in Minor League Baseball, the Grizzlies can also boast of having the largest number of non-functioning industrial kitchen appliances.

Outside of the Grizzlies clubhouse, a series of motivational signs have been posted by the parent club. They are very well done, these signs.

066Each sign features a player who exemplifies the characteristic in question. Here’s a closer look at “The Journey,” as personified by the long, unpredictable and ultimately triumphant career of Ryan Vogelsong.

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But is that really the best quote they could come up with? Bochy’s syntax is exquisitely mangled: “Well, I’ve said so many times about Ryan is how impressive his perseverance has been through everything.”

After trying to process that tortured mouthful of inspirational managerial verbiage I needed a breath of fresh air.

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And alright! A game was going on!

That’s my cue to end Part One of this blogging odyssey, and my promise is that Part Two will pick up exactly where Part One left off.  Until then, thank you for putting up with me, reader. Well, I’ve said so many times about you is how impressive your perseverance has been through everything.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Maker’s Make Their Mark in Fresno

As you may recall, one of my recent Promo Preview columns included the following write-up:

Fresno Grizzlies (Pacific Coast League) Mini-Maker Faire, April 21

Maker Faires, in which creative individuals from a wide variety of disciplines gather to showcase their creative efforts, are described as “part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new.” They are gaining in popularity throughout the country, and on Sunday the Grizzlies will become the first professional sports team to host such an event. The event has been scheduled on a ticket redemption day for members of the Grizzlies “Wild About Reading” program in the hopes that the young fans in attendance will be see the innovation on display and become inspired to become makers themselves.

The inexorable passage of time being what it is, this unprecedented occasion has now occurred. Grizzlies media relations coordinator Chris Kutz sent along a recap and photos documenting the firestorm of creativity and innovation that took place at the park, so from here on out this post is in his hands. Take it away, Chris:

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We had 33 makers and seven local high school robotics teams on hand to take part in Fresno’s greatest show and tell. Makers included blacksmith, 3D printers, woodworkers, “How To Make Beer” station, knitters, painters, and metal workers

There was also two Rube Goldberg machines created by some local students. While one didn’t work, the other one needed a slight push at the end to set it off. The result was the machine throwing a wiffle ball (printed by a 3D printer at the stadium earlier in the day).

We had a crowd of over 9,000 people at the game, with plenty of families who made a point to visit the Mini Maker Faire before the game. As some of the photos show, lots of kids were able to get hands-on with some of the makers’ projects.

We opened at an early time (12 pm, two hours before game time) to allow people to experience the Mini Maker Faire before the game.

The most popular attraction for kids were the robots. These robots threw flying discs and tennis balls into a hoop, similar to their competitions.

We are the first sports team to hold a Mini Maker Faire at a game, while we were also the first Mini Maker Faire in Fresno.

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Ultimately, the event did what we set out to do from the very beginning: for children and adults alike to experience innovation and creativity right here in the Central San Joaquin Valley. These Mini Maker Faires are held worldwide, but we wanted to show our fans that the maker movement is taking place right in our own backyard. 

 Was this idea “out-of-the-box”? Absolutely. But hopefully, we created an experience everyone will never forget when they look back at attending Grizzlies games.

I am an unabashed fan of such “out-of-the-box” endeavors, and encourage other teams to follow the Grizzlies’ lead. And, of course, if you’d like to see YOUR team featured on this blog in such a manner then get in touch. It really is that simple.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Harlem Shake: A Minor Overview

Introductory paragraphs within this blog forum can sometimes be needlessly circuitous, steeped as they are in obscure references and acute self-consciousness. But not today. Today, we cut to the chase:

What follows is a comprehensive round-up of Harlem Shake videos produced by Minor League teams. 

Yes, you’re probably sick of the Harlem Shake at this point. I am too. But let’s take the long view, as historians with an interest in baseball history, viral fads and the intersection of the two will no doubt delight in stumbling upon this post at some at some unknown moment in the distant future. I am doing this for you, future historians! I always am. For it is you who will ensure my legacy.

Plus, you’ve gotta admit — Minor League teams, with their easy access to supply closets full of banana suits and inflatable ponies, make better Harlem Shake videos than most. So here we go! In no particular order, here are two dozen Harlem Shake videos produced by professional baseball teams in possession of a formal affiliation with a Major League club.

Frederick Keys — Apparently a big-headed reincarnation of Francis Scott Key regularly sits in on front office meetings:

Columbus Clippers — Warning! Includes bear-on-frankfurter violence that may be unsettling to younger viewers:

Bowie Baysox — A toothbrush can’t dance? I bristle at such a notion:

Lexington Legends — Mister would you please stop punching that pony? WATCH ON FACEBOOK.

Vancouver Canadians — As if any proof was needed that this was an international phenomenon:

Fort Wayne Tincaps — A solitary pothead gives way to a banana who loves the queen of hearts.

Lake Elsinore Storm — Yes that is an upside-down squirrel hanging from the dugout, and yes he is happy to see you:

Corpus Christi Hooks — Can’t a man bike through the office in peace? WATCH ON MILB.COM

Tulsa Drillers — Hey, no dogs in the swimming pool!

Gwinnett Braves — Team store? More like surreal fever dream store!

New Hampshire Fisher Cats — Fungo and friends “rose” to the occasion:

Lehigh Valley IronPigs — Give peas a chance. WATCH ON MILB.COM

Buffalo Bisons — Vest-wearing gentleman on the right is my favorite individual to appear in any Harlem Shake video:

Charlotte Stone Crabs – What’s to stop the Incredible Hulk from wearing a sombrero?

Fresno Grizzlies — Forget this faddish viral bastardization. Parker knows how to do the REAL Harlem Shake. WATCH ON VINE. 

Louisville Bats — This takes place in multiple dimensions simultaneously. It will blow your mind.

Bowling Green Hot Rods — I guess you could say that Axle rose to the occasion.

Delmarva Shorebirds — The Shake so nice they did it twice.

Springfield Cardinals — You know what? This is probably the  best one out of all of ‘em.

Round Rock Express — All bobblehead version!

Connecticut Tigers — Shout it from the rooftop!

And, finally, there are the State College Spikes. The first Minor League team to post a Harlem Shake video, and the last to be featured in this post:

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Two latecomers have entered the fray!

Orem Owlz — Holly, the Owlz pregnant mascot, wisely sat this one out.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans — Fans of multi-colored crustacean triumvirates rejoice!

And that’s all she wrote, folks. “She” being me, of course. I am a man. A 34-year-old man. A man who is perhaps too old to be providing you with diversions such as the above. But yet I do, and yet I did.

Do not forsake me, future historians! I do not want to believe that this has all been in vain.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Mustaches Amidst the Mythical

In one of last week’s posts, I detailed a triumvirate of satirical responses that Minor League teams had come up with in regard to recent events. Well, there’s always more where that came from. One endeavor that I failed to include involved the Eugene Emeralds, who uncovered a bit of fortuitous news in the same week that they unveiled their new Sasquatch logos.

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Take it away, press release, the way you have oh so many times before:

In the same week that the Eugene Emeralds Baseball Club released their new Sasquatch inspired logo, researchers have released a study finding DNA links between humans and the legendary Bigfoot.  “Genetically, the Sasquatch are a human hybrid with unambiguously modern human maternal ancestry,” reads a statement released by former veterinarian Melba T. Ketchum, the lead researcher of the study. “Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago.”

 The Emeralds have fielded questions from fans all week inquiring about the association between the Eugene Emeralds and the new Sasquatch logo.  “Now it is clear,” said Ems General Manager Allan Benavides,  “How is Eugene linked to Bigfoot?  Well, we are all linked by DNA.  You know, science.”

Fans have also been concerned that the introduction of the Sasquatch logo means the end of the loveable bright green bear mascot Sluggo. While Sasquatch is not taking over for Sluggo, the Emeralds are looking into the potential of having a live animal mascot at home games similar to the Universities of Colorado, Georgia and Texas.  The organization is seeking a group of nature enthusiast interns (unpaid of course) to search out a live Bigfoot.  Applications for this internship can be emailed to info@emeraldsbaseball.com or mailed to PO Box 10911, Eugene, OR 97440.

Initial plans are to use Bigfoot as the world’s largest batboy.  The team has petitioned the league to have umpires undergo wilderness training to mitigate the risk of on-field attacks.

I queried the Emeralds, via Twitter, regarding the response to this unpaid internship offer. They report that they have indeed been contacted by interested applicants, and have even been in touch with a local high school’s “Squatch Club.”

Stay tuned…

For a less-recent example of excessive hair on the baseball diamond, check out this 2011 West Michigan Whitecaps innovation: the Logan Hoch cam!

Finally, fans of Minor League Baseball, movies, and the intersection of the two might enjoy my recent article on the film Parental GuidanceIt stars Billy Crystal as Fresno Grizzlies announcer Artie Decker, and the opening scene was filmed at Chukchansi Park.

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Crystal chatting up the Grizzlies during a break in filming

The article I wrote was, naturally, quite baseball-centric. But I’d like to make it known that, above and beyond the MiLB connection, Parental Guidance is a quality family movie. Yes, it suffered at times as a result of trying to be all things to all people, but it had heart, was well-written and acted, and even included a Ralph Branca cameo. In looking at some of the negative reviews it got online, my response is “Lighten up!” Making a film that can really and truly appeal to the whole family is a delicate balancing act, and Parental Guidance succeeded far more than it failed.

All of this, on some level, is a metaphor for Minor League Baseball itself.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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