Results tagged ‘ Great Lakes Loons ’

Return to the Road: A Three-Sided Midland Perspective

Thus far, this ongoing “Return to the Road” series has highlighted outside-of-the-ballpark trip highlights from Appleton, WI to Beloit, WI (but barely) to Midland, MI. Midland is where we are going to remain, as we begin today’s fourth and final post in the series.

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I awoke in Midland on Wednesday, June 26, and had a little bit of time to explore after checking out of the hotel. After all, that evening’s destination of Lansing (home of the Lugnuts) was just a short drive away. My partner in these explorations was writer Matt LaWell, who shadowed me during this trip as part of a book he is writing on Minor League Baseball. We began in downtown Midland, which included the periodic table-influenced “H Hotel” and its attendant eateries “Table restaurant” and the “Zinc Cafe.”

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The heart of downtown Midland, and certainly its most recognizable landmark,  is “The Tridge,”

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The Tridge, built in 1981, is what its name implies: a three-way bridge (built at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa Rivers). A Farmer’s Market is located nearby (it wasn’t open on the day I visited), and a variety of cultural events are held in and around this area as well. It’s all very scenic and well-maintained, and we were fortunate enough to have visited on a beautiful day.

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This statue, simply title “Couple,” features its titular individuals gazing upon the Tridge in perpetuity.

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After a little bit of wandering, we came upon the similarly-titled “Family.”

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Unfortunately, a certain subset of Midland’s public statue-viewing public can’t keep their hands to themselves.

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A little bit of local history, courtesy of a rock.

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These idyllic early afternoon wandering were much enjoyed, but soon enough it was time to depart not just the Tridge but Midland itself. Farewell county courthouse, I hardly knew ye!

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From here on out, my outside-of-the-ballpark content from this week-long Midwest League excursion is exceedingly minimal. As previously mentioned, I attended that night’s Lansing Lugnuts game (and wrote about it HERE and HERE and HERE). Unfortunately, there was no time to explore Lansing proper, as I had to get up bright and early the next morning in order to appear on Grand Rapids radio. That was the first act in what turned out to be a full-to-bursting West Michigan Whitecaps experience, which was chronicled HERE and HERE and, yes, even HERE.  My time with the Whitecaps turned out to be so full-to-bursting that I didn’t get any real chance to explore Grand Rapids, either, although on the way out of the city Matt LaWell and I stopped at an eatery recommended by then-Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Slavko Bekovic.

This eatery was called “The Winchester.” As a Brooklyn resident, I am quite familiar with this sort of establishment: a locally-sourced nouveau American bistro with self-consciously hip sensibilities.

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Here’s a picture of Matt LaWell at the bar. I only wish his well-manicured mustache was visible, as well-manicured mustaches are just the sort of thing one would expect to see at such an establishment.

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If you’ve got $40 to spend on a hamburger, then you’re everything that is wrong with America. But if this is wrong, maybe you don’t want to be right….

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All in all the Winchester had a very impressive menu, and “GF” designations are always much appreciated by celiac disease-afflicted individuals such as myself.

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An order of chicken wings and polenta fries turned out to be way more food that I bargained for.

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Sorry for the anti-climax, but this is all I’ve got and my Midwest League 2013 content well is now officially dry. (From Grand Rapids it was on to South Bend and my time visiting the Silver Hawks was chronicled HERE and HERE. Unfortunately, time constraints were such that no explorations of South Bend proper were able to take place.)

Therefore, this particular “Return to the Road” series is going to end with a picture of chicken wings and polenta fries. Isn’t that always the case?

In any case —  I’ll “Return to the Road” again before the offseason is through, in order to cover August’s trip to the West Coast. Gotta milk the material for all it’s worth!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: A Well En-Dow-ed Afternoon in Midland

It’s time for another installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I, yes, return to the road in order to further elaborate on that which was experienced during my 2013 Minor League road trips. Part one of this episodic adventure covered Appleton, WI, part two covered Beloit, WI (however fleetingly), and today will cover Midland, MI (home of the Great Lakes Loons).

bens_map_2013_ha1isac9I spend the entirety of Tuesday, June 24 in Midland, giving me plenty of time to explore the city before attending that evening’s Loons game. Often when I  find myself in this type of situation, I look up the location of a local record store and orient my wanderings from there. But this time was different, as Loons vice president of marketing Chris Mudhenk had magnanimously set up an afternoon itinerary of local cultural destinations.

I wrote a story on all of this for MiLB.com, but in the interest of redundancy and copious photo-dumping I will recap it here as well. First up was the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio.

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From the MiLB.com piece:

In many ways, Midland is synonymous with Dow Chemical, as Herbert Henry Dow established the company there in the late 19th century, and its headquarters have remained there ever since.

Herbert’s son Alden was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright who went on to enjoy a distinguished architectural career, and for the last 50 years of his life he lived and worked in a whimsical yet geometrically precise house — constructed largely with one-foot square “Unit Blocks” recycled from the chemical company — that has since been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Pictures weren’t allowed inside the house, but these outdoor images help to illustrate the spirit of pragmatic whimsy which infused Dow’s work.

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Next up was the Midland Center of the Arts, beginning with a stop at the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art. Again, from the MiLB.com piece:

The Midland Center for the Arts is a cultural consortium, a one-stop humanities shop in which “art, science, history, music, theatre, dance, films, camps, classes and professional world-class entertainers live under one roof.” The building housing these complementary entities was designed by none other than Alden B. Dow and is anchored by the four-story Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art.

Assistant marketing director Kristen Wuerfel gave me a brief after-hours tour of the facility, passing by attractions such as a mastodon skeleton, an interactive periodic table of the elements and a full-size farm tractor en route to a fourth floor “Icons of the Sky” exhibit featuring the Lego architecture of Adam Reed Tucker.

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Next door to the museum is the Dow Gardens. For the last time, an excerpt from my MiLB.com piece:

This 110-acre sanctuary was developed by Herbert [Dow], expanded upon by Alden, and now maintained via the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. Amid the impeccably maintained expanses of grass, curved pathways and idyllic waterways are a variety of sculptures, many of which are installed temporarily. Dow Gardens assistant director Elizabeth Lumbert explained, “Our visitors might not like everything they see, but the art helps people see the landscape in a fresh way.”

Dow Gardens [then featured] an exhibit titled “Zimsculpt,” which highlights work done by Zimbabwean artists.

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Not a bad way to spend an afternoon; those considering visiting Midland in order to see the Loons should know that they’ll have plenty to do beforehand. My evening was spent at the Loons game, of course, and you can read about that experience HERE. But if I had to sum it all up in one photo, then that photo is this.

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There will be one more “Return to the Road” post next week. After that, other topics will be explored. I’m just not sure what, so let me know if you any suggestions or perhaps want to write a guest post. Like a produce stand sold out of everything except corn, I’m all ears.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Occupational Hazards Abound

The previous post to have been published right here on this little slice of the internet that I call my professional home featured a bevy of ostensibly quality videos from the 2013 campaign.

[cue sound of a needle scratching across a record]

What a needlessly convoluted sentence that was! What I meant to say is: let’s start this post with some more videos.

Specifically, I’d like to highlight this A+ effort out of Daytona. The weather in that city can be quite intense, to say the least, turning tarp pulls into a harrowing battle with the elements. This preview is rated MM for “meteorological mayhem:”

The intro to the above video shows clips of several notable “tarpocalypse” videos from seasons past (at least one of which was featured on this blog). Well, this one outta Ogden can now be added to the ranks:

Oh. but calamity can befall ballpark denizens in a multitude of ways. This season Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler emerged as the nation’s pre-eminent chronicler of press box laptop foul ball casualties. To wit:

Let’s take a closer look. First up is L. Tyler Murray of the Dunedin Blue Jays.

Next, we have a MUST-READ ACCOUNT of foul ball laptop terror (complete with an absolutely uncanny audio clip), courtesy of Winston-Salem’s Brian Boesch.

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For the record, Winston-Salem’s  aforementioned “The Dash Board Blog” is easily among the best team blogs in all of Minor League Baseball. Broadcasters looking to raise their writing game would do well to scroll through its ample archives.

And then there’s Goldberg-Strassler’s 2013 broadcast partner, the inimitable and on-the-rise Slavko Bekovic.

And wait, what’s this? Yet another example of foul ball lap top destruction? Yes, it’s true, and this one is live and direct from Great Lakes.

Speaking of Mr. Goldberg-Strassler, during the season he anchored a weekly podcast called “Around the Nest.” In this podcast he talked to every broadcaster within the Blue Jays farm system (himself and Bekovic included), so that they could share their expertise regarding that particular team. The end result was a thorough farm system overview, all in the course of a single broadcast.

A replicable idea, no?

This has been Ben’s Biz Blog post #992. Ben’s Biz over and out.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Delusions of Grandeur and Natural Splendor in Great Lakes

The last post on this blog ended as posts on this blog so often do — with the resounding belch of a local morning radio DJ. That memorable moment occurred just before the start of a late June ballgame between South Bend and Great Lakes at Midland’s Dow Diamond, and that is where this narrative resumes.

The fans were settled in, and it was time for some Loons baseball.

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These fans didn’t have to wait long to have something to cheer about, as the Loons scored five runs in the bottom of the first inning en route to an easy 10-1 victory. And every time that the Loons score, a ballpark dance ritual known as “The Funky Feather” commences.

It’s real easy to do, check it out:

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“Be sure to breathe”

Here’s the Funky Feather in action:

In the midst of this sustained period of rampant gesticulating, myself and Loons entertainment and marketing VP Chris Mudhenk embarked upon a quick tour of Dow Diamond. The facility opened in time for the 2007 season after a construction period of just 364 days, housing a team that is owned by the non-profit Michigan Baseball Foundation (the Loons strive to make as much money as they can, just like any other team, and the profits are funneled back into the community via a series of annual grants).

One recent addition for 2013 is the Midland County Sports Hall of Fame (or McShof, as I like to call it), located outside of the front entrance.

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This picture doesn’t really convey the extent of it, but this past autumn a major development project began directly across from the stadium. Offices, bars, restaurants and retail space shall soon be in abundance.

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This picture’s even worse, but I am including it only because this building houses the “Dirk Waltz Body Shop.” It would be nearly impossible to have a name better than “Dirk Waltz.”

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But anyway…I was talking about the Dow Diamond.

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Since I’m really on a roll with the unremarkable photos, I’d now like to share this.

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This shadow-enshrouded picture displays the entrance to the Michigan blood donation center, located within the stadium itself but run independently of the team. This is the first-ever blood donation center to be located in a stadium, and a very cool and altruistically-minded additon to the facility (yes, that misspelling was intentional. Like the blood donation center itself, I want my writing to be typo-positive).

At this stage of the tour I was getting antsy, in that I was in an area that any old fan could just walk right on up to. But I’m Ben’s Biz! A celebrity! I need unrestricted access to parts of the stadium that the average fan will never see, as this establishes my inherent superiority as an individual.

All of this is to say, we soon descended into the bowels of the stadium and I got really excited by the size of the Loons’ promo supply area.

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This box was once used to house a rally camel, or, more specifically, Rall E. Camel.

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I’m telling you, most teams would kill for this kind of storage space. Literally, they would commit an act of murder for it.

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To paraphrase one of my favorite protest chants: This is what 50,000 feet of removable flooring looks like:

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Meanwhile, out in the open air, one could find a most familiar Minor League tableau.

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Up on the second level, everything was copacetic as well.

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That’s Brad Golder and Jared Sandler calling the action on ESPN 100.9, a team-owned station whose offices are on the press box level. In addition to the Loons the station broadcasts a plethora of local high school and collegiate action.

“To have this sort of mouthpiece for the franchise is huge,” said Mundhenk. “I can write copy, send it up, and within an hour its live if it needs to be.”

Up here is where the promo brainstorming magic happens. Here are some of the ideas that were bandied about for an upcoming “Most Interesting Mascot in the World” promotion.

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Speaking of this allegedly “most interesting mascot,” he could be found in the stands hamming it up with the crowd.

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And a robust crowd it was, particularly for a Tuesday night.

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Bermanent Vacation

This robust crowd got to witness the professional debut of 2013 first round draft pick Chris Anderson, chosen by the Dodgers with the 18th selection overall.

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But far be it for me to pay attention to this emerging phenom, as I myself am an emerging phenom as well. While Anderson put up a couple of zeros on the scoreboard, I was engaged in the task of autographing various items for members of the Loons grounds crew.

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All joking aside about my “celebrity” status, it really was an honor to be asked to sign something. Thanks, guys!

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Uh, yeah, in the above photo I am indeed holding up a pair of pantyhose with a baseball inside. Soon, this pair of pantyhose was placed over my head.

Usually this is only the sort of thing I do in the privacy of my own home, but in this particular instance I was a contestant in a between-inning game called “Wrecking Ball.” Instead of trying to explain how this game is played, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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Wrecking Ball is a fun game to play and it provides humorous visuals and it can be done on the cheap, so I recommend that all teams add it to their between-inning arsenal.

At this stage in the ballgame there wasn’t much left for me to do but wander around on my own, and that’s just what I did.

Vantage points!

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Fire pit panorama!

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On Michigan summer evenings, it stays bright outside for a long, long time. This picture, taken at 9:30 p.m., captures one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever see at any Minor League Baseball stadium, ever.

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Like a solid classic rock playlist, Big Pink soon gave way to Deep Purple.

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And with that appealing image of unfettered beauty, I wish you good night from Midland.

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Thanks for having me!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: The Beginning of a Blogstravaganza in Great Lakes

The second stop on my Midwest League road trip was Beloit, MI while destination number three was Midland, MI. Those two locations are quite removed from one another, both psychically and geographically, and getting there required an arduous day of travel that included roadside distractions, a seemingly interminable slog through the city of Chicago, an hour lost due to the vagaries of the Central/Eastern time zone divide, and a pleasant hour and a half cruising on rural Michigan roads while listening to the West Michigan Whitecaps radio broadcast (Ben Chiswick on the play by play).

I arrived in Midland late that Monday night, and was shocked — shocked! — to discover that the price of a Jameson on the rocks at the Buffalo Wild Wings near my hotel was just $3. That was a pleasant way to unwind from the day of travel, and the next morning I woke up ready for a full to bursting day of Midland exploration. The results of these explorations — the Alden B. Dow House! Midland Center for the Arts! Dow Gardens! The Tridge! — are already chronicled in a full-to-bursting “Farm’s Almanac” piece on MiLB.com.

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But the above mentioned attractions were but an aperitif, as the main course was, of course, Dow Diamond. This facility houses the Midwest League Dodgers affiliate that is the Great Lakes Loons, who seem content to remain sedentary despite possessing the ability to fly:

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Just to the left of this outfield entrance are a set of solar panels, 168 to be exact. Loons marketing and entertainment VP Chris Mundhenk later explained to me that the panels don’t directly power the facility, but the energy generated goes back into the grid and is roughly equivalent to the amount needed to run the videoboard over the course of a season.

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Upon entering, one finds a a more primitive power source.

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Those fire pits are certainly appreciated on chilly nights in April and May, but totally unnecessary on the late June evening in which I was in attendance. The weather was downright gorgeous.

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The Dow Diamond has plenty of open air seating, as well as plenty of room for open air eating. My first order of business was to rendezvous with the evening’s Designated Eaters — y’know, the people (or person) that I recruit at each ballpark that I visit to sample the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

In what was to soon become a trend on this trip, the Loons had arranged for local morning radio DJs to serve as the Designated Eaters. Meet Johnny and Blondie of 96.1 WHNN, who have been doing a show together for 12 years (Blondie began as a producer and later became a co-host, remarking that she ended up with Johnny because she “drew the short straw.)

Given that their show starts at 5:30 a.m., Johnny and Blondie don’t go out in the evenings very often. But apparently a complimentary ballpark buffet was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

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In the above pic, this esteemed morning team are toasting with a pair of Michigan Cherry Chicken Wraps. Yes, a Michigan Cherry — I had not known this before visiting, but cherries are a common crop in Michigan and therefore both beloved and ubiquitous.

“It’s light and refreshing, not like nachos and hot dogs that just lie there in your stomach,” said Blondie.

While waiting for the next entree, I asked Johnny and Blondie what it was they generally talked about on the air.

“Everything from sex to sports,” said Blondie.

“A lot of sex,” emphasized Johnny.

But the sex talk was going to have to wait, as a Macstravaganza had arrived.

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The above items can be found at the “Mac Mac Mac Mac Gone!” concession kiosk:

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Johnny and Blondie were intrigued:

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They had plenty of help, as this was a family affair (while Blondie is Johnny’s “work wife,” his real wife is there on the left).

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The consensus was that the BLT was the best and lobster the runner-up. Round three awaited, but in the meantime I had a pair of duties to attend to on the field.

First up was a pre-game interview on the field with voice of the Loons Brad Golder, broadcast over the stadium as well as the FM radio waves. The Loons actually own their flagship station (ESPN 100.9), and the station’s office is located in the stadium itself. I’ll have a bit more on that later, but first, please endure this sustained stretch of narcissism.

Golder and I on the set:

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Hearing my voice broadcast over the stadium PA is always a bit nerve wracking, but I enjoyed the interview due largely in part to Golder’s lively and well-prepared line of questioning. I don’t know how long it lasted  – four minutes? 400? — but it flew by as quickly and assuredly as a Loon in its prime.

Next up was a ceremonial first pitch, which was documented better than any first pitch I have ever thrown (my compliments to the photographer, I’m sorry that I don’t have your name).

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Seriously, I think I’m going to have this made into a flip book!

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Yep, I threw a perfect strike. It was one of the highlights of my career thus far.

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Nice career highlight, bro.

By the time I arrived back on the concourse, Johnny, Blondie and crew had already devoured most of their latest round of food offerings. Apparently a prime rib sandwich as well as a pastrami sandwich had been placed before them, but somehow this is the only photographic evidence that remains.

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Dive In

And, yes, since you can see it in the above picture I may as well get one of my more recent contractural obligations out of the way and provide a #cupdate. The collectible cup that Johnny is holding in the above pic is for beer:

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Finally, I’d like to note that I was too busy running around to indulge in any concessions during the ballgame, but the Loons are one of the few teams I’ve encountered who make a note of all of their gluten-free ballpark options. Check it out!

And as for the food in general? Well, I’m going to let Johnny and Blondie have the final word.

And I’m going to go ahead and let that be the final “word” of this post as well. Stay tuned for part two of this Great Lakes Loonstravaganza, coming soon!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Welcome to the Jungle

We’re still in the midst of Opening Week, during which Minor League teams pull out all of the stops: Blue Angel flyovers, operatic National Anthems, special guests from seasons past, that sort of thing.

But there’s always room for the weirdness. Always. And one of the prime purveyors of the surreal ballpark spectacle are the Lake Elsinore Storm, whose Opening Night festivities included the following dance routine.

Ah, Grounds Crew Gorilla, I missed you, buddy. Planks for being you.

The Grounds Crew Gorilla may be a unique character, but he’s hardly alone when it comes to animalian ballpark denizens. One of the most recent on the scene is the Great Lakes Loons’ “Rall E. Camel“, a new companion to Lou E. Loon:

Rall E. was the denizen of the much-hyped mysterious box that arrived at Dow Diamond this winter, but apparently he’s none the worse for wear after his long confinement. (No word yet on whether his theme song will be “My Humps.”)

Amidst a spirited discussion on the team’s Facebook page, the Loons offered the following explanation for Rall E.’s existence:

It all dates back to one game in 2009, having exhausted all means of sparking a Loons rally, there was still one last video clip in the production vault. The following ‘Rally Camel’ clip was played on the video board and lo and behold the team rallied. Throughout the year the clip was played in late-game situations and every time the team would rally for the win. Rall E was born.

But sometimes it’s better, or at least more fun, to present things out of context. For example, the following image was recently attached to a press release put out by the Charleston RiverDogs.

Just stare at that for a few minutes, and it will provide entry into new realms of consciousness.

Finally, you may recall that in a post last week I linked to my favorite YouTube video as a means to express my thoughts on the start of a new season. After doing this, I wrote that I would GREATLY appreciate it if someone could take the audio from the clip linked to above  and lay it over an array of upbeat Minor League images, ending with the Opening Day 2012 logo.

The very next day there was an email in my inbox, subject line “Ask and ye shall receive.” So, yes, now this exists:

Big thanks to Anita Tsuchiya for taking the time to create what is surely one of the more obscure videos floating around the internet!

And with that, today’s blogging goals have now been realized. Until next time, I remain:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Events of a Largely Unprecedented Nature

The unveiling of 2012 promotions has not yet reached a deluge, but it has far surpassed a trickle. And within this intermediate zone in which we currently reside, one of the most exciting (and sure-to-be-copied) new promotions is this:

But the above photo, while helpful, doesn’t really do the promotion justice. Per the team: 

The River Bandits are proud to announce, for the first time ever in professional sports in the U.S., a photo jersey auction to benefit local cancer organizations. Small squares in the Bandits players’ numbers are available for purchase, $25 each, to feature a photograph of yourself or a loved one who has been affected by cancer. The jerseys, which will be worn during the game on Friday, August 10th, will be auctioned off during the game. 

I’m sure I’ll be covering this one as it develops, but for now let’s stick with the “Quad” theme and check in on a most distressing development in Lake Elsinore.

Thunder, the mascot for the Lake Elsinore Storm, had his trusty quad stolen from a stadium storage shed! This sounds like it could be a joke, save for the legitimacy bestowed upon the situation by a local ABC news team.

The video is well worth viewing — check it out HERE.

My extensive reporting on the above topic led me to the Storm website, where I discovered the existence of the “Thunder Across Time” web series. How had I not known? This may turn out to be one of the greatest MiLB team video series of all time!

More creative use of video from the West Coast comes courtesy of the Fresno Grizzlies, who are conducting their annual National Anthem auditions in a most unique fashion.

Says the team:

If you think you have what it takes to sing in front of the best fans in Minor League Baseball at a 2012 Grizzlies home game, then upload your audition video to the Youtube between Wednesday, February 8th and Wednesday, March 14th. Winners will be chosen by the Grizzlies front office with the input of the number of video likes on YouTube.

We’re still a ways away from  having a mascot sing the National Anthem, but boy oh boy can they ever dance. The latest (and therefore greatest) example of mascot rump shaking comes courtesy of Tulsa’s Hornsby. Or, as I like to call him, “Bull-yonce.”

Funny that the video is called “All the Single Hornsbys,” as in actuality there appear to be duplicates. But at least Hornsby is a known commodity. Up there in Michigan, the Great Lakes Loons are dealing with an extremely mysterious situation.

So who really does know what’s in the box? It could be anything. Or, maybe, there’s nothing at all. There would be some precedent for that, you know.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Operation Shutdown

This post, the 748th in the the history of this blog, will be the last you ever hear from me…

until 2012!

But, of course, I will be back. For if there is someone out there who can resist the siren call of writing about the same subject in perpetuity at levels of increasing stagnation, that person is not I.  With that being the case, let’s end the year on a high note….

It’s time for the second edition of the Ben’s Biz Twitter Top Ten! The purpose of such an endeavor is to provide a compendium of the most intriguing @BensBiz tweets and re-tweets of the past week (or three weeks, in this case). The tweets, as they appeared on Twitter, are italicized. Let’s get to it!

10. Please re-frame in the form of a question

Indeed, the @AbqTopes were referenced on Jeopardy! last night http://youtu.be/Bz2iho2ggVE

Here’s how it went down:

9. You be the judge

Harry Potter’s “Ministry of Magic” and @MemphisRedbirds — separated at birth? http://yfrog.com/ntczkhuj

8. Just sayin’ is all

Mike Cameron signs w/ @Nationals, but he’s no stranger to the area. Spent ’94 w/Prince William Cannons, where 17 of 116 hits were triples!

If he had maintained that triples rate in his Major League career, he’d currently have amassed 250 (good enough for fourth all time, just two behind Honus Wagner).

7. I really would frame this

Suitable for framing RT @EverettAquaSox: Check out this awesome holiday drawing we just got! http://twitpic.com/7vxc29

6. This was in response to the question of “What MiLB theme nights would you like to see?”

Lehigh Valley IronWarPigs! RT @andyshal: Black Sabbath night in Allentown! Bill Ward as home plate ump. Ozzy on PA. Concert after the game.

“IronManPigs” would also be acceptable.

5. Another One Rides Waits For the Bus

Great idea: seats from Indianapolis’ Bush Stadium installed at city bus stops: http://indy.st/selEY9

Photo: Indystar.com

4. Someone out there needs to stage “Free Eye Pad” night, advertising it heavily on the radio.

That’s the MiLB spirit! RT @WSDashBaseball: A team could do [Free iPad Night] if they were creative enough: http://twitpic.com/7shvkc

3. Use your doppel radar

Received an email from @GreatLakesLoons alleging that fan on left is a mulleted @BensBiz doppelganger http://yfrog.com/h465jscj Agree?

Well, do you?

2. What does it mean?

Magic in Rancho Cucamonga RT @Quakes_Baseball: Check out the Double Rainbow over the Quakes Epicenter Stadium! http://bit.ly/uxsLAa

1. Effect and Cause

This picture of @TulsaDrillers Tim Wheeler is on MiLB.com: http://yfrog.com/nxrugktj Here’s why he’s so scared: http://yfrog.com/h41s4hzj

I hope you enjoyed this most recent edition of the @BensBiz Twitter Top 10. I’m almost out of 2011 material, but not quite yet….

For what better way would there be to end the year than with a video of a mascot tackling a Christmas tree?

Actually, there’s one better way. For nothing says “holiday season” like a team-produced “Twas the Night Before Christmas” parody.

And that, as they say, will be that. Thanks for sticking with me throughout a (generally) action-packed 2011, and here’s to an ennui-free 2012!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Fractions, Reflections, and Farewells

For the past two decades, the Kane County Cougars have played at Elfstrom Stadium. The facility was named in honor of Philip B. Elfstrom, a former Kane County Forest Preserve president who played a key role in bringing Minor League Baseball to the region.

It was announced on Tuesday, however, that the Cougars had reached a new naming rights deal. For (at least) the next five seasons, Elfstrom Stadium will be known as Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. 

Sound familiar? It should. For Kane County is the fourth Fifth Third Ballpark (or Field) in Minor League Baseball. (The others are located in Toledo, Dayton, and West Michigan.) Clearly, a naming-rights juggernaut is forming.

Fifth Third Bank is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s unusual name is described on Wikipedia as [T]he result of the June 1, 1908 merger of Third National Bank and Fifth National Bank, to become the Fifth Third National Bank of Cincinnati. While Third National was the senior partner, the merger took place during a period when prohibitionist ideas were gaining popularity, it was believed that “Fifth Third” was better than “Third Fifth,” which could be construed as a reference to three “fifths” of alcohol.

At the time, no one could have imagined that the name would go on to inspire the most attention-getting Minor League concession item of the 21st century: West Michigan’s “Fifth Third Burger.

Here’s hoping that the Cougars pick up on this trend, and offer a Fifth Third Brat at the ballpark in 2012 (washed down with 5/3rds of a pint of Leinenkugel).

But regardless of potential new food items, this news out of Kane County means that there are a total of 20/3 Fifth Third ballparks in the Minors (approximately 6.66, for you conspiracy theorists).  How do you feel about this? Is it an example of the increasing homogenization of a traditionally diverse industry? Or a reflection of strength and resiliency during tough economic times?

— A topic that provokes far less ambivalence is blogging, which is obviously one of the greatest things one can do with his or her time.  And for an example of a Minor League team blog at its most impressive, take a look at the “2011 Year In Review” post over at “From the Nest” (the official blog of the Great Lakes Loons).

Contained therein are everything from “Top 10 Games” to “Best Nicknames” to “Fashion Stats” to “Notable First Pitches” to “Goofy Head Shots.

I’ll be honest — Minor League team blogs usually  make me grumpy, as they are often well-intentioned but amateurishly done and eventually abandoned. So when teams go above and beyond I take notice. The Loons’ “Year in Review” is more than a blog post. It’s a statement of purpose, one that could be incorporated into sponsorship proposals and season-ticket renewal letters as an example of just how much the team has to offer.

— And speaking of going above and beyond — the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have made a tradition of offering highly collectible Opening Night bobbleheads, and 2012 is no exception. As part of a year-long 50th Anniversary of Midwest League Baseball celebration, the team is offering no less than five bobbleheads as part of an Opening Night “All-Fan” giveaway.

Spot the difference:

It is not true that their eyes glow in the dark, or that they whisper in Latin at near-imperceptible volume.

These wide-eyed fellas are united in their ability to arouse distinct feelings of unease, but diverse when it comes to what they represent. Sez the team:

Each bobblehead is decorated with the jersey and cap from one of the following years:

  •    1953 Appleton Papermakers
  •   1960 Fox Cities Foxes
  •   1983 Appleton Foxes
  •   1995 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Original home jersey)
  •   2011 Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Updated home jersey)

All fans attending the game between the Timber Rattlers and the Cedar Rapids Kernels on Thursday, April 5, 2012 will receive one of the bobbleheads at random.  There will be equal numbers of four models of bobbleheads.  However, only 250 of the 1953 Appleton Papermakers bobbleheads will be available as part of the giveaway.

Finally, congratulations to Durham Bulls broadcaster Neil Solondz, who recently got the call-up to the parent Tampa Bay Rays. As you may recall, Solondz was one of three broadcasters profiled in my recent MiLB.com article on broadcasters on the cusp. 

Solondz, farewell.

I’d like to think that I’m a blogger on the cusp. But the question remains: the cusp of what?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Passing the Time in the Absence of Our Pastime

Yesterday’s post served as this year’s Halloween content clearinghouse, but as usual a few things slipped through the cracks. And when something falls through the cracks, it’s best to save it from such a nefarious fate by belatedly bringing it back into the light.

That’s a convoluted way of saying that I stumbled across a ridiculous photo I wanted to share. It was taken at the State College Spikes Spookfest and features mascot Ike the Spike idly observing a werewolf being wheeled on a stretcher by a witch who appears to have Frankenstein in a headlock.

Just another day in the Minor Leagues.

Further PA-based Halloween content has emerged from Reading, as the R-Phils have announced the winners of this year’s pumpkin carving contest. This is a seriously impressive triumvirate of illuminated gourds:

But would you expect anything less from the Reading faithful? This is a fan base that has proven carving abilities.

At any rate, November is probably the slowest month when it comes to Minor League Baseball news. (December has the Winter Meetings, at least, and once the new year hits there is an abundance of info related to the upcoming season.) But we all get through it together, and there are many productive ways to pass the time.

For starters, Visalia Rawhide broadcaster Donny Baarns has launched a new podcast called “Candid Voices,” in which he “chats with the best sports broadcasters about their careers, their stories, and anything else they feel like talking about.” The first episode’s guest is Mariners broadcaster/veteran TV writer Ken Levine, and can be heard HERE.

Meanwhile, the always exemplary Great Lakes Loons blog “From the Nest” has a post called “25 Ways to Keep Baseball In-Season This Offseason.”


Lots of great stuff is contained therein, and the post follows a template that can (and should) be copied by other Minor League teams. Check it out.

A more “inside baseball” (so to speak) offseason perspective can be found over at gameops.com, as always astute industry veteran Scott Carter’s has filed a column featuring a veritable treasure trove of ways that teams can engage with fans when there are no games being played. This is required reading for those seeking to understand how and why teams need to function as interactive year-round entities.

And then, of course, there are videos. Always, there are videos. Some of them have malevolent undertones….

while others mine humor out of mascot misfortune.

And finally there’s our old pal Ike the Spike, who apparently snapped out of his werewolf-observing reverie long enough to lead a “Thriller” flash mob. Check it out HERE.

As always, thanks for checking this blog out. Your patronage helps to validate my professional existence.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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