Results tagged ‘ Guest Post ’

Guest Post: Why I Love the Asheville Tourists

It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Michael James, who lived in Asheville in the summer of 2012 and quickly became enamored with the Tourists and their home of McCormick Park. James is now based in Baltimore; his travel blog can be found HERE

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

(all photos courtesy of Michael James)

Asheville's art deco City Hall

A long view of Asheville’s art deco City Hall

Why I Love the Asheville Tourists, by Michael James

I first experienced one of the coziest stadiums in all of professional baseball during the summer of 2012, when I arrived in town as a curatorial intern at the Asheville Art Museum. Soon, I found myself making the quick drive to McCormick Field on a daily basis, seeing the likes of Trevor Story, Taylor Featherston, Sam Mende, and Will Swanner bludgeon the baseball night after night while getting just enough pitching — led by Tyler Anderson — to produce an overall 88-52 record. This memorable regular season campaign was punctuated by a South Atlantic League championship over the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Managed by the fiery, infamous Joe Mikulik, that team set numerous offensive records, batting .278 and ripping 127 home runs and 335 doubles over their 140-game regular season.

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McCormick Field at sunset. Hard to beat this sky

The Tourists’ offensive numbers were inflated by the extremely hitter-friendly dimensions of McCormick Field – just 297 feet to right and 373 feet to center. Lazy fly balls hit to right would either clear the 36-foot high wall, which is cut into a hillside that serves as the parking lot for players and fans alike, or bounce high off the fence for a double. Hard-hit shots that would be doubles in almost every other park would become singles due to the short throw back to second base for right fielders, who routinely played near the warning track. In the Colorado Rockies’ farm system, numerous players have put up huge numbers during their stints in Asheville. A truer test of those players’ abilities has usually come the next season, while playing for Modesto in the Class A Advanced California League.

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Behind the visitors dugout on the third base line.

I went back to Asheville for a weekend last July and took in two more games at McCormick Field, bringing my total to 28 games there over the two and a half months I’ve spent in that city in total. The 2014 team would again go on to win the South Atlantic League title, posting a superior 89-49 record, including a 43-26 mark at home. I was in attendance for Games Three and Four of their championship series in Hagerstown against the Suns, though, to my extreme annoyance, I was not able to make it to the decisive Game Five. That team featured some of the system’s top prospects, including Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Correlle Prime, and Antonio Senzatela. I loved seeing the Tourists so much that now, as I currently live in Baltimore, I went to watch them on the road in Lakewood, New Jersey, as well as Hagerstown and Salisbury (home of the Delmarva Shorebirds), both in Maryland. I’ve now visited six of the 14 South Atlantic League stadiums, all in my support of the Tourists.

The baseball itself is one thing. It’s a major thing. More than that, though, it’s the overall experience that keeps me coming back. It is a difficult thing to convey in words, even for someone who prides himself on his writing, the feeling that one gets when taking in a game on a warm summer’s night. Is there anything better than spending three hours in the fresh air enjoying cheap nachos and even cheaper beer amongst like-minded fans, who are all there to enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie of the ballpark?

It’s the people.

It’s the entertainment and smiles produced by the PA announcer, Rick Rice. Asheville has one of the best in the business in Rice, whose humor and wit makes every between-inning promotion and on-field game a sight to behold. It’s the way the Tourists’ Spirit Squad gets the crowd on its feet to perform “YMCA” during the seventh-inning stretch. It’s the way the Tourists’ mascot, Mr. Moon, constantly engages the youngest fans and makes them jump up and down and run through the aisles to give him a hug.

It’s the way every usher at McCormick Field would work feverishly to towel off the bleachers after one of Asheville’s notorious summer rain showers, and the way every ticket-taker treated fans with kindness and genuinely asked each one of them how they were doing, wishing them a good time at the game.

It’s the way I sat behind the Tourists’ entire front office at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown last September, after they made the 453-mile trek up I-81 from Asheville. Right next to the visitors’ dugout on the third base line, players and staff interacted with each other so warmly. It’s the way Correlle Prime signed every autograph, flashing his huge smile and laughing with opposing fans.

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2014 South Atlantic League championship series introductions in Hagerstown

That, to me, is the beauty of baseball. No other sport allows you this daily interaction, this sense of community and togetherness that is fostered night in and night out from April to September. Has it helped that the Asheville Tourists have been great during the two seasons I’ve been able to watch them? Of course. Everyone loves a winning team. But McCormick Field is so beautiful, and Asheville is such a great town, that it would be a privilege to spend three hours every summer night there to watch the 2003 Detroit Tigers.

I urge everyone to visit McCormick Field at some point. It made a cameo appearance in Bull Durham. It has hosted the “Sultan of Swat.” Its venerable history more than makes up for whatever it may lack in modern and cutting-edge amenities. Go on a Thursday night – it is the original home of “Thirsty Thursdays,” a promotion many teams have emulated over the years. Your experience there will be one you remember; I can assure you that.

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If you get lucky, you might see a Lamborghini in downtown Asheville…

Thanks to Michael  for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here is my 2013 blog account of my visit to McCormick Field (one of my Top 10 favorite ballparks): Part One/Part Two

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Mobile BayBears

It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what it is they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Brittany Callahan, who has spent countless hours at the Mobile BayBears’ home of Hank Aaron Stadium. Her father, Mike, spent 13 seasons as the team’s assistant general manager.  

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

(All photos from the Ben’s Biz collection, unless otherwise noted)

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Why I Love the Mobile BayBears, by Brittany Callahan

What is your first thought when I mention the city of Mobile, Alabama? The home of Mardi Gras? Maybe. White sand beaches? Possibly. College football dominance? Probably. Baseball, most likely, is absent from your list. But what is surprising to many, however, is that Mobile has played a huge role in baseball history. Outside of New York and Los Angeles, Mobile claims more Hall of Famers (five) than any other city in America. Those Hall of Famers — Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith and Billy Williams — play a large role in making Mobile one of the most storied cities for baseball in the country.

A concourse sign honoring Ozzie Smith, one of five Mobile-born Hall of Famers

A concourse sign honoring Ozzie Smith, one of five Mobile-born Hall of Famers

Mobile’s rich baseball history can be seen before you even enter Hank Aaron Stadium, which the Baybears — Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks — have called home for eighteen years. In the shadows of the stadium sits Hank Aaron’s Childhood Home and Museum. Yes, you read that correctly. Partnering with the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and Major League Baseball, a few select BayBears staffers relocated the home that Mr. Aaron and his siblings grew up in, from its original location just a few miles away to the stadium grounds. Upon relocating, it was transformed into a museum which houses artifacts from the Aaron family as well as mementos from Hank’s journey from childhood to Home Run King. For those who want to see this remarkable piece of Mobile baseball history, tours are available before and during games as well as in the offseason.

The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum

The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum

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Bob Feller, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, Reggie Jackson, Hank Aaron and Rickey Henderson, attending the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum

The BayBears continue Mobile’s tradition of excellence by being perennial playoff contenders, with many of their alumni making an impact in the Major Leagues. The BayBears were originally the Double-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres and, during that time, they won two Southern League championships. They also sent players such as Jake Peavy (who calls Mobile home), Josh Barfield, Jason Bay and Adam Eaton to “The Show.”  In 2007, the BayBears switched their affiliation to the Arizona Diamondbacks, going on to to win back-to-back Southern League championships in 2011 and 2012. They advanced to the championship series again in 2013, attempting to earn a three-peat (something that had only been done once before in the league) but ultimately lost in the decisive fifth game. Some recognizable BayBears to have debuted in the Majors since 2007 include Max Scherzer, Justin Upton, Carlos Gonzalez, Gerrardo Parra, Mark Reynolds and Paul Goldschmidt.

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Paul Goldschmidt, smiling BayBear. MiLB.com photo

With the recent addition of baseball legends such as Tony LaRussa, Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson to the Arizona Diamondbacks staff, it is not uncommon to see these famous faces walking the concourse of Hank Aaron Stadium to scout their players and coaches. Mr. Hank Aaron has even sat within his namesake stadium to take in a few ballgames while visiting his hometown.

Mobile has been a hotbed for baseball, and notable baseball players, for decades. Now, the BayBears have taken the reigns in leading the sport into the 21st century. I would be hard pressed to think of another Minor League stadium in the country where you can catch future Major League standouts in the hunt for another championship while bumping into Hall of Famers and (in my opinion) a man who can still claim to be the all-time Home Run King. Go BayBears!

Thanks to Brittany for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2010 article on the opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Charleston RiverDogs

It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain what it is they love about their favorite team and why. Today’s guest writer is Paul Worley, a long-time supporter of the “abstraction otherwise known as the Charleston baseball club.” 

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

Why I Love the Charleston RiverDogs, by Paul Worley

(All photos by Paul Worley, unless otherwise noted)

Charleston sunset, as seen from the RiverDogs' home of Joseph P. Reilly Ballpark (Ben's Biz file photo)

Charleston sunset, as seen from the RiverDogs’ home of Joseph P. Reilly, Jr. Ballpark (Ben’s Biz file photo)

Despite what the tourist brochures may tell you, Charleston, South Carolina, is largely a screen for the projection of history. Little could be said to still happen there. The city has stepped outside of the flow of time, as intentionally anachronistic horse-and-carriages echo down streets that are hardly large enough to accommodate the late-model sports cars owned by the men and women who fly back twice a year to take in a bit of salt air from meticulously reproduced antebellum verandas.

As someone who left Charleston to go to school in the mid-’90s, I return home to find that others have moved in, knocked out the walls and rearranged the furniture. Everywhere, that is, with the exception of the ballpark. Bill Murray (yes, THAT Bill Murray, a.k.a. the RiverDogs’ Director of Fun) and the rest of the Goldklang Group brought changes to the team, but as much as possible they have really left things the same. That’s why I love the RiverDogs.

The narrator of Louis D. Rubin Jr.’s 1979 short story about Charleston baseball in the 1930s spends his time in-between innings observing a little train over the outfield fence at College Park, one of the oldest Minor League parks in the country and the RiverDogs’ original home. He tries to catch it coming or going, but never can. He looks up and it’s there, or looks up and it’s gone. The train is either at the station or it isn’t. The train never moves or changes, but it does. It’s an apt metaphor for the team.

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In my lifetime, the abstraction otherwise known as the Charleston baseball club has had several names: Patriots, Pirates, Royals, Rainbows and RiverDogs. Before that, the club was known as the Rebels, the Palmettos and the Quakers. Pro baseball in the city was founded in 1886 by two teams: a member of the Southern League of Colored Baseballists called the Fultons; and a Southern Association team known as the Seagulls. Unlike most teams then, the genealogy of the Riverdogs doesn’t lead us back to a single man or single team, but to the segregated legacy of the Jim Crow South that, through baseball, results in a kind of unity. White and black, they’re all founding fathers of Charleston baseball.

The RiverDogs play at Joe Riley Park, shortened by most fans to “The Joe.” Built in 1997, it’s among the new wave of parks whose architects, taking a cue from Baltimore’s Camden Yards, wove the park into the city. From the backside you can look out over the marsh leading onto the Ashley River with Citadel faculty housing tucked beneath a few oak trees on the shore off to the right. The outfield fence is lined with trees hiding the river just beyond with a tall building or two finishing out a modest skyline.

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While the RiverDogs go to great lengths to capture the attention of the casual fan, the team has etched South Carolina’s baseball history into the park itself. Camden’s own Larry Doby has his number 14 retired out on the centerfield wall, the forlorn hero of Pickens County, Shoeless Joe Jackson, has a small beach named for him just beyond the right field foul line and there is a “Scouts Hall of Fame” located along the main concourse. Every year, during “Larry Doby Heritage Weekend,” the team hosts members of the Cannon Street All-Stars, an all-African-American Little League team from Charleston who, in 1955, were denied the opportunity to play in the Little League World Series because they’d won all of their games in the segregated South by forfeit.

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Before they were a Yankees affiliate, the RiverDogs were one of the original franchises associated with my favorite team, the Tampa Bay Rays, which means I cheer for certain “Yankees as Riverdogs” while still hoping that New York’s American League baseballers finish somewhere north of 100 losses. After all, while they come and go and by definition are trying to get somewhere else, it’s the players who make the Charleston experience meaningful.

Hall of Famers, all-time greats and MVPs have played with the Charleston club, and their names are easy enough to find. I’m a big fan of former RiverDogs catcher Francisco Arcia, who, during a “kids day at the (water)park” a few summers ago, walked around the bullpen area with a Super Soaker hosing down everything within 100 feet of him.

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Dante Bichette, Jr. once impressed me with his knowledge of vintage minor league uniforms (I was sporting a Durham Bulls jersey from the mid-1990s signed by former RiverDog and Bull Elliot Johnson). I particularly enjoy talking smack to players in Spanish, and I’ll forever remember the pitcher (name withheld) who turned around to me in the middle of a game and asked me bluntly, “Y tú, ¿quién eres?” My scorecard from that game notes that this conversation lasted from two outs in the top of the fourth until the seventh inning stretch. My favorite Charleston ballplayer of all-time is the late Tom Saffell. His best memory of playing in Charleston occurred during the 1946 season, while running from first base to second on a routine ground ball. The shortstop, having made the pivot and overanxious to get the runner going to first, drilled Saffell, who was trying to break up the double play in the usual way, square in the head. This happened twice in the same game. There should be a plaque somewhere in the park to honor Saffell and the bungled routines that make life memorable.

Players present constantly intersect with players past, and you get the impression that if you could read them correctly, 30-year-old scorecards and discarded tidbits from the news would reveal tomorrow’s starting lineup. Walt “No Neck” Williams managed the Rainbows, so it’s unsurprising that Mason Williams, his nephew, would one day turn up in the RiverDogs outfield. Rob Refsynder had a few choice words for University of South Carolina fans after his Arizona team defeated USC in the 2012 College World Series, so naturally Charleston was his first stop after the Yankees drafted him. If L.J. Mazzilli is starting for the visiting Sand Gnats, expect Lee Mazzilli to materialize in the park. When Dante Bichette, Jr. was with the team, you could look up during the inevitable late August thunderstorm rain delays and find Dante Bichette, Sr. seated two rows up from you, eating a hot dog, drinking a Diet Coke and waiting out the rain with the rest of us who never played an inning beyond Little League.

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During the South Atlantic League All-Star Game festivities that were held in Charleston in 2012, I had a chance to speak with the Director of Fun himself. He told me that slip-and-sliding on a tarped field during a rain delay is the best thing in the world, and that if I ever got the chance I should go for it. In honor of Rubin, Saffell, and Arcia, and Cannon Street, and the Fultons and the Seagulls, the next time I’m in Charleston I’ll take him up on it, if only to tell the cops who arrest me, “With God as my witness, Bill Murray told me it was all good.” Because it’s better than good, and it’ll always be home. That’s why I love the Charleston RiverDogs.

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Thanks to Paul for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2011 “On the Road” post detailing my Charleston RiverDogs experience.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Syracuse Chiefs

It’s time for another installment of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explains what it is they love about their favorite team, and why. Today’s guest writer is Jared Wicks, a Syracuse resident who, over the past decade, has become an ardent supporter of his hometown Chiefs.  

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

Why I Love the Syracuse Chiefs, by Jared Wicks

(All photo courtesy of Jared Wicks, unless otherwise noted)

NBT Bank Stadium, home of the Syracuse Chiefs (Ben's Biz file photo)

NBT Bank Stadium, home of the Syracuse Chiefs (Ben’s Biz file photo)

Growing up in Syracuse, New York, I was taught that there were two teams to root for: Syracuse University basketball and Syracuse University football. If you insisted on watching baseball, then there were New York Yankees games on TV. I was also taught that my family’s income level would only permit attending a few sporting events each season, and always in the upper, upper deck.

In my youth I was familiar with the Chiefs. But, like many people in the area, I never thought much of them. That changed during the 2004 season, when I was 17. I received some free tickets from my sister, so my friends and I decided to head to the ballpark. Why not? The list of things to do in the area on a minimum wage budget were few and far between. That night, after the seventh inning, my friends and I sneaked down to the lower level seats and watched a man named Russ Adams play for Syracuse. He made an impression on us, largely because of the PA announcer’s introduction of “Ruuuussss Ad-dams.” Then, just a few days later, my friends and I were at a local sports bar watching the Toronto Blue Jays play against the New York Yankees. Up to plate came a man whom I had recently been just a few feet away from. Yes, Mr. Ruuuuussss Ad-dams.

Ever since that day I’ve been a die-hard fan. The Chiefs have, without seeming to even try, made me feel important while providing top-notch entertainment. I am certainly not rich, but when I’m at NBT Bank Stadium it’s hard not to feel that way. For a small price, you can sit just a few feet away from the baseball stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Chiefs became my little secret, but it wasn’t long before all of my friends took to the idea of going to games. In the central New York area there aren’t too many entertainment options on a summer night, and it doesn’t get much better than being at the ballpark watching players competing within the highest level of the Minors. From my vantage point in section 105, row 1, I’ve gotten a chance to watch Jayson Werth, Vernon Wells, John Smoltz, Josh Beckett, Melky Cabrera, Bryce Harper and many, many more. I can hear, smell and see everything, and maybe even get to hear the players say “Thank you” after I scream out “Good luck.”

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Stephen Strasburg pitching for the Chiefs in 2010

In all the time I’ve been going to games, one of the most important aspects has been getting a chance to meet and become friends with some great people. Unlike bigger sports franchises, Minor League Baseball provides an intimate atmosphere. I have gotten to know many season-ticket holders and fans on a first-name basis — or should I say on a nickname basis? One of my favorites is former season-ticket holder Michael Kendrick. (Or, as we liked to call him, “K Dad.”) Kendrick came to every game from 2005-13, and during this time he was responsible for hanging the strikeout “Ks” for the Chiefs pitchers. He also was known for his heckling of players, which he peppered with unique and obscure facts. He might mention a player’s interests outside of baseball, or call former Yankee prospect Shelly Duncan by his real name (it’s David).

And then there’s Dave, who sits in section 207, row 1 at every single game (and many road games, too). While quiet in nature, Dave boasts a vast knowledge of not just Syracuse Chiefs baseball but also politics, social issues and other areas of sports history. And of course I have to mention Lloyd “The Suspect” Broadnax. We call Broadnax “the suspect” because of the catchphrase he uses while heckling the opposing team: “You’re not a prospect, you’re a suspect!”  Broadnax doesn’t stop his heckling for even one minute during the game. The writer of this blog, Ben Hill, learned that this past season. Hill was trying to interview him, and during the interview Broadnax would only answer his questions in-between pitches.

(That article can be found HERE).

Jared Wicks, center, dressed as an umpire. Lloyd "The Suspect" Broadnax is in the white Chiefs jersey.

Jared Wicks, center, standing next to Lloyd “The Suspect” Broadnax (in white)

As if I didn’t already have enough reasons to love the Chiefs, management at the ball yard changed hands prior to the 2014 season. Jason Smorol was named general manager, and everything that I always said I would love to do if I owned a Minor League team came to life during his first season. Smorol brought an unmatched energy to the ballpark, introducing great games, promotions, deals and themes that made you not want to miss a single game.

One night, during a rain delay, the Chiefs set up a free miniature golf course on the concourse. I mean, how cool is that?

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One promotion that I really became a part of was Tattoo Night. This promo offered me a chance at two great things: One, to get a free Syracuse Chiefs’ logo tattoo, courtesy of the Chiefs and sponsor Carmelo’s Ink City. Two, that very tattoo now grants me free admission for life to all Chiefs games.

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Regardless of the tattoo, the Chiefs are well worth the five dollar cost of admission. They have provided me with years of not just entertainment, but memories. Summer nights with friends, enjoying dollar hot dogs, talking about work and family, watching fireworks, laughing at monkeys dressed as cowboys riding dogs and even seeing things like a perfect game by Columbus Clipper Justin Germano and a four-homer game by the Chiefs’ Michael Aubrey. And last season I — and the whole city — was provided with a real chance to get excited. The Chiefs made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1998 and won their first division title since 1989.

Being a fan of the Chiefs has also given me an opportunity to visit other great cities, simply by following the team. Day trips to Rochester, Scranton and even Cooperstown to see them play have allowed me to explore those cities.

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Shopping, zoos and landmarks lead to great day trips, which still cost under $100 for two people (including game tickets, gas and food). I even got a chance, in 2011, to watch the Chiefs play the Pawtucket Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston. The seats we had would have cost $150 face value at a Red Sox game, but they only cost me $22 and that was for a doubleheader.

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The cuisine at any ballpark is great, superior to any other sports option in Syracuse. The Chiefs sell Hoffman’s Hot Dogs, a central New York staple, a dog so good that Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach became investors. The Chiefs sell these hot dogs at the same price that it would cost you to make one at home and, on Thursdays, for even less than that. My love of all things Canada is satisfied with poutine, and there are also pulled pork sandwiches, salt potatoes (a New York specialty) and even a burger with a hot dog on top of it.

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Poutine, Bens Biz file photo

I have recently changed my goals in life, from working as a correction officer to returning to school. I now want to work in sports, preferably Minor League Baseball, and it’s all thanks to the Chiefs. I love this team because they love me right back. Unlike at Yankee Stadium or Lambeau Field, there is something to be said for watching a sports team whose staff knows your name, whose ushers know your seat and whose players smile when they hear you say something funny.

While other sports fans in New York may struggle to obtain custom license plates of their favorite teams — they’re all taken — GoChiefs was available for me as a way to show my pride. Summer is meant to be spent outdoors, and in central NY there is no cheaper or better option than the Syracuse Chiefs.

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Thanks to Jared for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2014 “On the Road” post detailing my Syracuse Chiefs experience. Jared even makes a cameo: 

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Durham Bulls

It’s time for another “Why I Love” guest post, in which a Minor League fan explains what it is they love about their favorite team, and why. Today’s guest writer is Ken Childs, a proud resident of Durham, North Carolina and, therefore, a proud fan of the Durham Bulls. 

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

Why I Love the Durham Bulls, by Ken Childs 

(All photos courtesy of Ken Childs)

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Opening Day, 2014

I’ve been a resident of the beautiful city of Durham, North Carolina my entire adult life.  The city has transformed over the last 14 years from what was almost an afterthought of a place into a bustling center for local restaurants, shopping and the arts.  And in the middle of all that growth has been (and always will be) the Durham Bulls.

You’ve probably heard the name: There was a little indie movie made about the Bulls in the 1980s that did okay.  The players who have come through here have shaped the Major League Baseball landscape for quite some time. The Bulls have been a consistent model of how teams should be run, and that has been shown in their continual trips to the Governors’ Cup playoffs. The list of “what’s not to like” about the Bulls, their home of Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP) and their organization as a whole wouldn’t be long enough to fill out an index card, let alone this space, so we’ll go with “what there is to like” and ramble on for a while all about it!

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The view atop the “Blue Monster” in left field

Durham Bulls Athletic Park, which opened in 1995, is considered “older” now, at least when compared to the Minor League Baseball building boom that’s come about over the last decade or so. Nonetheless, you likely won’t find a nicer stadium anywhere. On any given summer night, on the corner of Blackwell and Jackie Robinson, you’ll find families, friends, couples and desperately single guys alike settled in the beautiful 10,000 seat stadium to take in not only great baseball, but great entertainment in general. And the building itself is what those new stadiums aim to be. You want your Minor League park to be a smaller version of a Major League stadium, downtown, near lots of restaurants and things to do both before and after the game?  The DBAP has long been that, before most new stadiums were even a glimmer in an architect’s eye.

The DBAP has its own little quirks that make it like no other: There’s the bull (of Hit Bull, Win Steak fame), Jackie’s Landing (the nicest bar in Durham), the Blue Monster, the grass in the outfield entire families sit on to enjoy a game on a weekend evening and no other shortage of things that make it unique.

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For a facility of its caliber, and a team of its caliber, the Durham Bulls are just about as budget-friendly as their mascot, Wool E Bull, is family-friendly (the “E” is short for “Education”…seriously).

Peek-A-Bull

Peek-A-Bull

The Bulls offer dollar hot dog nights, the best fireworks show anywhere (your town’s 4th of July show pales in comparison, I promise) and lots of great coupons and deals to get in on the cheap. And, even if you don’t, the most expensive ticket in the place is $15.  Admit it: in the past, you’ve spent a lot more on a lot less.

Section 114, Row A

Section 114, Row A

So that’s what there is to love, in general, about the Durham Bulls. Now, why do I love them? For starters, they’re my hometown team. At heart I’m a Chicago White Sox fan, and their Triple-A team is down the road in a lesser city in North Carolina playing in the same International League division. But when they come to town, you can only root for one team, and that’s going to be the hometown one (even if the Bulls are an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays).

At heart I’m a “people person” kind of guy, and the Bulls’ entire staff are the same way. From Jatovi (the Bulls on-field announcer and master of ceremonies) to general manager Mike Birling and everyone in between, there’s not a single person who won’t go out of their way to help a fan make his or her experience amazing. I’m not a needy guy, but anytime I’ve ever had any issue with anything, there was someone there in a Bulls shirt to lend a hand.

I’m also a sucker for food and cheeky events, and the Bulls have me covered that department as well. There’s Food Truck Rodeo night, where all of Durham’s best food trucks (and we have many) line up in right field. There’s craft beer night, ’80s night, ’90s night and the always popular Bark in the Park night.  The concessions have everything from traditional ballpark food to taco stands to what is truly some of the best BBQ anywhere. So, whatever you’re in the mood for, DBAP most likely offers it. The on-field action is always great, but sometimes it’s that little extra fun in-between innings that makes the night special.

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Food Truck Rodeo

Bark in the Park

Ken Childs (right) and his dog, Deacon, at Bark in the Park Night

And, of course, there’s the baseball itself. The roster is generally made up of outstanding players who are also outstanding people. Hardly ever do you see a player skip a chance to sign an autograph, grab a picture with a fan or flip an extra ball to a kid in the first few rows. Great players like David Price, Wil Myers, Chris Archer, Craig Albernaz, Desmond Jennings and so many more have spent substantial time here in Durham, and this has led to the knowledge that, at any given ballgame, you’re seeing the future of baseball right before your eyes.

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Wil Myers thrills a young fan

A moment with Craig Albernaz

A moment with Craig Albernaz

The Bulls are always in the hunt for the playoffs, and since moving to Durham in 2001 I’ve seen them win the International League championship four times. Baseball is always a little bit more fun when your team is winning, and that is rarely a problem here in Bull City.

The Governors' Cup, awarded to the IL's championship team

The Governors’ Cup, awarded to the IL’s championship team

In short, there are a lot of baseball teams out there, but none are as great as the Durham Bulls. Candlesticks always make a nice gift, but Bulls tickets might be just a little bit nicer.

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The iconic Lucky Strike tower, towering over DBAP

Thanks to Ken for taking the time to write this and, again: If YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email to the address below. In the meantime, here’s my 2011 “On the Road” post detailing my Durham Bulls experience.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Poetry: Mighty Casey is in the Best Shape of His Life

In many parts of the country, the temperature is below freezing and ballparks are blanketed in snow. Images such as these are commonplace:

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Photo from the archives of Wisconsin Timber Rattlers broadcaster (and noted snow-covered field chronicler) Chris Mehring

The thought of warm weather, freshly cut grass and nightly baseball games may seem remote at the moment but Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster (and author) Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is here to remind us Opening Day will soon be upon us.

In this guest post, Goldberg-Strassler channels his inner Ernest Thayer via this offseason-themed rendition of the classic baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.” I recommend that this be read aloud, whilst utilizing the most stentorian tone that can be mustered:

The skies were grim in Mudville, snow blanketing the ground.

The wind was fierce and wicked and the flu was going ‘round.

Elsewhere throughout the nation ’twas football tackling the day,

Mudvillians cared naught for this, nor for the NBA.

 

Just one sport could sway their hearts, on this they hung their reason,

The national pastime was still at rest, in the thick of the offseason.

But now Christmas had come and gone, a new year was at hand,

Hall of Fame debate dissipated; Opening Day was being planned.

 

They knew how last year finished, a reminiscence far from fond,

Mighty Casey choked the game away, leaving two ducks on the pond.

Yet here their hope bloomed anew, banishing all strife;

Last week a columnist reported: “He’s in the best shape of his life.”

 

Add to the new Nine roster the gigantic lefty Hill,

A first-rate fireballer costing over $200 mill.

The free agent haul continued with first baseman Steel Magliore,

Projecting 42 roundtrippers (not to mention solid WAR).

 

Good riddance to old Cooney, farewell to lulu Flynn,

Two traitors chasing paychecks; too bad they’ll never win.

“The Mudville Nine are flawless; ’twill be a special year,”

Mighty Casey modestly proclaimed, with no hint of a sneer.

 

“We’ve learned from any past mistakes, if you catch my drift –

And, no, I s’pose, I’m not opposed, should they act to ban the shift.”

These words did bring Mudvillians strength, all through a hailstorm night,

As if the ice were gopher balls, being blasted out of sight.

 

Now from the Twitter feed there rose a mighty tweet,

It swept through the school halls, it echoed in the street.

It caromed across Facebook, filt’ring into Instagram

One grandmother proudly printed it and shared it with her fam.

 

What was it? A picture of a sunset above the field of play,

And the words, modestly imposed, “65 days away.”

65 days

Thanks to Jesse Goldberg-Strassler for sharing his work, and thank you for reading it. Regular Ben’s Biz Blog programming will resume shortly.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Charlotte Knights

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

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

Why I Love the Charlotte Knights, by LaMichael Mitchell

(Photos courtesy LaMichael Mitchell, unless otherwise indicated)

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

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

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

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

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

LaMichael and Homer

LaMichael and Homer

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

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Ben’s Biz file photo

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: The Number Tamer Returns

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

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

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

By David Kronheim – Numbertamer.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louisville Slugger Field (Ben's Biz file photo)

Louisville Slugger Field (Ben’s Biz file photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

 

Guest Post: Beer Running in Bowie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike writes:

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

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

run

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

Full page photo

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

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

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Throws before hose

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

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

Old Bay Mac Cheese Hot Dog

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

Smores

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The 500 Club, Minor League Baseball, and You

During the season I write a column called “Crooked Numbers,” which recaps the most absurd and improbable events to have taken place on a Minor League Baseball field over the past month. I enjoy writing it, as it allows me to indulge the quirkier and more obsessive side of my baseball-writing personality.  This, in turn, encourages others to get in touch so that they may share their own quirky and obsessive baseball observations.

crooked

Which leads me to today’s post, which concerns an email I received from veteran sports announcer Jarrod Wronski in late April but didn’t have the chance to share until now. These emails used the occasion of Albert Pujols’ 500th Major League home run as a launching pad into all sorts of Minor League Baseball ephemera. I think baseball fans possessing a robust quirky and obsessive side — of which there are many — will enjoy this.

Pujols during his Minor League days.

Pujols during his Minor League days.

Wronski writes:

With Albert Pujols hitting his 500th home run on April 22, here are some interesting notes in regards to the home run:

Pujols becomes the second Potomac/Prince William franchise player to hit 500 Major League home runs; he did it against the Washington Nationals who are now the affiliate for Potomac. Pujols, who played for Potomac in 2000, joins Barry Bonds (’85) as the other former player to call Woodbridge home before heading to the bigs to hit 500 career home runs.

Bonds/Pujols become just the second pair of Carolina League organization mates to each hit 500 home runs in their Major League career.  Jim Thome (1990) and Manny Ramirez (1992) are the others; they played for the Kinston Indians. Now, here’s where it gets interesting: Kinston moved to Zebulon, North Carolina, where the Mudcats began as a Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is the same organization that moved to Woodbridge, becoming the Prince William Pirates, whom Bonds played for.

The only other Class A Advanced team to have more than one former player with 500 or more career home runs is Modesto: Reggie Jackson (1966) and Mark McGwire (1984-85).

Another interesting note regarding these three  Class A Advanced teams is that someone actually worked for all three organizations, and did so in consecutive years. That person worked for Modesto in 2002, Carolina in 2003 and Potomac in 2004.  All three of those teams went to the playoffs, with Carolina winning the Southern League championship.  That person? Me.  I was the P. A. announcer/music person/game producer and worked in the front office for Modesto, worked in the front office, emceed and did fill-in P. A. work for Carolina, and worked gameday as the P. A. announcer/music person for Potomac.

Tacoma has had three former players hit 500 or more career home runs: McGwire (1986), Alex Rodriguez (1995 -’96) and Willie McCovey (1960). The Pacific Coast League has had nine different players “start” their careers here and go on to reach the 500 home run milestone.

Here’s a list of other Minor League teams who had more than one player go on to hit 500 Major League home runs:

Minneapolis Millers (American Association): Ted Williams (1938), Willie Mays (1951)

Burlington Indians (Appalachian League): Jim Thome (1990), Manny Ramirez (1991)

Canton-Akron Indians (Eastern League): Jim Thome (1991-’92), Manny Ramirez (1993)

Charlotte Knights (International League): Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez (1993). This marked the ONLY time in Minor League history that two players to hit 500 or more home runs in the Major Leagues played on the same team.

Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League) Raphael Palmeiro (1985) and Albert Pujols (2000)

Tulsa Drillers (Texas League) Frank Robinson (1954) and Sammy Sosa (1989)

Keep in mind that during this research— with the help of Baseball Reference — I used only teams these players played for before gaining two full years of experience in Major League Baseball. The Pujols/Bonds connection is memorable because Bonds played in the first Minor League game that my dad ever took me to. My dad told me about his dad, Bobby Bonds, and we wound up moving close to the field near the end of the game so that I could see Bonds play close up.  Then, in 2000, I saw Pujols play for Potomac during a weekend visit to Myrtle Beach. My parents were there on vacation, and the team I was working for at the time (the St. Petersburg Devil Rays) were in a lame-duck season so I used it as a chance to interview with the Pelicans.

So there you have it. Thanks to Wronski for sharing this fascinating information. It’s a little dense, to be sure, but if there’s one thing I know about my readers it’s that they, too, are a little dense. We’re all in this together, so get in touch anytime.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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