Results tagged ‘ Guest Post ’

Guest Post: Why I Love the Lake County Captains

It’s time for another edition of “Why I Love”, in which Minor League fans explain just what it is they love about their favorite  Minor League team. Today’s guest author is 21-year-old Lake County Captains fan Tyler Stotsky, a native of nearby Mentor, Ohio. Stotsky, a junior at Lake Erie College who is pursuing a sports management degree, has served as the team’s bat boy for the past four seasons.

If you would like to write a “Why I Love” guest post about YOUR favorite team, send me an email benjamin.hill@mlb.com

Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (photo: Ben's Biz)

Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (photo: Ben’s Biz)

In the Northeast Ohio area, there are two options for Minor League Baseball: the Akron RubberDucks and the Lake County Captains. The Captains are situated in Eastlake, Ohio, playing their first season in 2003. I have been a fan since 2008, for many different reasons: the staff, atmosphere, promotions and the chance to see the Cleveland Indians of the future.

I love my hometown Lake County Captains.

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Photo: Ben’s Biz

I love the Lake County Captains because of the always friendly and hospitable staff that you see throughout the ballpark on a daily basis. The crowd is led by on-field host and ticket sales representative Andrew Grover, who who walks through the crowd during every game to ensure that every fan is having a great time. Grover is one of the many smiling faces you see when you walk in the ballpark, and he is the last one you see when you leave. Each and every one of the staff members is incredibly helpful and happy to be there.

I love the Lake County Captains because of the family-friendly atmosphere that the team promotes at Classic Park. one of the best atmospheres that I have experienced in my life. I can bring my girlfriend, brother, sister, parents and other friends to Classic Park, and we can all enjoy a game together. Last year, I took my girlfriend Kelli to her first Captains game. She had so much fun at her first game, she wanted to come back for more throughout the year! I always have an amazing time at the Captains games no matter who I bring.

The Captains are the low-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, which means that fans could possibly be watching the future of the Tribe as they begin their careers with the Indians organization. 44 Captains alumni have reached the major leagues, and some of the notable names that I have seen and met include Vinnie Pestano, Danny Salazar, Preston Guilmet, Cody Allen and Jose Ramirez. Being able to see players develop at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario is a big reason why I love the Lake County Captains.

The Captains have a great slate of promotions every year, developing ideas that will make the fans come back. One of my favorite promotions from the last few years is “A Captains Story,” where everyone’s favorite mascot — Skipper — is featured in a bobblehead portraying scenes from the film A Christmas Story.

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Other outstanding Captains’ promo nights include Cleveland Sport History Night, Star Wars Night and an assortment of ethnic heritage nights. I have had the opportunity to meet many celebrities at the ballpark, such as former WWE wrestlers Sgt. Slaughter & Ted DiBiase, Peter Ostrum (the original Charlie Bucket from Willy Wonka) and Cleveland Cavaliers play-by-play man Fred McLeod. The Captains try to get the fans involved with the promotions and it works!

Tyler with Sgt. Slaughter

Tyler with Sgt. Slaughter

These are just some of the the reasons why I love the Lake County Captains, and the fact that I get to be the batboy makes it so much sweeter!

All Aboard!

Thanks to Tyler for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” Lake County Captains post from 2011.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Memphis Redbirds

Last month I featured a guest post on this blog by Gillian Richard, who wrote about her love for the soon-to-be-departing Huntsville Stars. In the wake of that post I took to Twitter, asking Minor League Baseball fans to write about why they love their hometown team. Wes Milligan was the first to respond to this challenge; what follows is his ode to the Memphis Redbirds. If you would like to write a “Why I Love…” guest post about YOUR favorite team, then shoot me an email benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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AutoZone Park in Memphis (All photos in this post courtesy Wes Milligan, unless otherwise noted)

You don’t get a second chance to throw out a first pitch at a Memphis Redbirds game.

There I was, just a few feet from the mound, a bundle of nerves as I prepared for my moment on the hill. To make matters worse, a few days earlier Carly Rae Jepsen had thrown out what could be the worst first pitch in Major League Baseball history, and her horrific bounce was playing in a loop in my head. I was so terrified that I hadn’t even told most of my FedEx co-workers about my impending moment in the spotlight. If I bounced it, I would never hear the end of it. Ever.

Right before I stepped on the mound, I asked a staff member which player would be catching the baseball. She said, “Oh, it’s Michael Wacha.” I went pale. True, Wacha wasn’t yet the NLCS MVP, but every die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan knew the young prospect. He wasn’t going to be in Memphis long, and I didn’t want his last memory of AutoZone Park to be a slider in the dirt, 30 feet from home plate. And did I mention America’s Homecoming Queen was throwing another first pitch after me? So I have a future MLB star, a beauty queen and thousands of fans watching me. Nah, no pressure. No pressure at all.

When I moved to the Memphis area more than two years ago, I was more excited about seeing the Redbirds play than starting my new job at FedEx. As a lifelong Cardinals fan and former resident of St. Louis, being able to watch the young baseball talent move up the farm system firsthand was a  great tourism attraction and on my baseball bucket list. It quickly became so much more than that.

My best memories of Memphis now involve the Redbirds: snagging a foul ball, tasting Rendezvous barbecue nachos for the first time, and taking in a weekday matinee game on an extended lunch break. The willingness of the team to support the Alzheimer’s Association, my charity of choice, has meant a lot to me. And who doesn’t like fireworks night?

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BBQ Nachos (photo Ben’s Biz)

There was also the time I beat my buddies during the fifth inning tricycle race. I never did tell them one of the Memphis RedHots gave me the inside track on how to win, but does that really matter? The Memphis Redbirds give us all a chance to wind down after a long day at work, catch up with friends – and make new ones – while watching quality baseball in the city we call home.

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Minor League Baseball teams, like the Memphis Redbirds, are community treasures. The team gives us affordable access to the game we love so much, supports the community and local charities, and introduces children to America’s pastime in a close and intimate environment. For example, the Memphis Redbirds have supported the RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) for a very long time, raising thousands of dollars to grow the next generation of players and fans. That’s how I got to throw out a first pitch. Fans who donate to the program at a certain level can fulfill that baseball dream. Just don’t bounce it.

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Well, if Bob Uecker was there that night, he would have called my pitch “just a biiiiit outside.” But I didn’t bounce it. Wacha autographed the baseball, I rejoined my friends in the stands and we all enjoyed yet another Memphis Redbirds game at AutoZone Park, my favorite place to watch baseball.

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To the Memphis Redbirds: thank you for the memories and for the great times that I know are just around the corner. I’ll see you Opening Day — now pass those nachos!

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Thanks to Wes for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then email the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” Memphis Redbirds blog post from 2012

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Saying Goodbye to the Huntsville Stars

Earlier this month I wrote a post asking for suggestions regarding my 2014 road trip itineraries. Responses flowed in (well, perhaps trickled in) via both email and Twitter, but an email I received from one Gillian Richard stood out above the rest. Richard is a passionate fan of and advocate for the Huntsville Stars and their home of Joe Davis Stadium, and as I read her email it became apparent to me that hers is a perspective worth sharing. While this may have been addressed to me specifically, it can — and should! — be read as a message to all Minor League Baseball fans: Get thee to Huntsville in 2014!

Enjoy, and after reading get thee to MiLB.com and read this blog post’s companion piece, my interview with Stars general manager Buck Rogers.

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photo: Gillian Richard

Hey Ben,

I just wanted to add my thoughts about your 2014 road trip itinerary, on behalf of the Huntsville Stars. I’ve been a Stars Fan for a long time (since birth, actually. I’m from Huntsville), and I’m really sad to see the team go at the end of the year. However, since it is the last year for the team, I think they are very deserving of a spot on your itinerary.

While the team doesn’t have the best reputation within the Minors, it holds a special place in my heart. Being in the South, baseball usually comes second to college football, but it was never that way for me, and that’s largely because of the Huntsville Stars. I grew up going to games, and I worked at “The Joe” for two summers that went by way too fast. It was at Joe Davis Stadium that I fell in love with the game, and during my second season there that I realized all I ever want to do in life is wake up and work at a ballpark. I poured my heart and soul into that summer, and I was paid back tenfold because of the people who worked there and, of course, because of the game.

 Joe Davis Stadium has a lot more to offer than it’s given credit for. Being the oldest stadium in the league has its perks, one of which is the great wildlife you can find inside the park! Gary the Groundhog was the subject of many conversations, and I think it’s safe to say he’s the unofficial mascot of the Stars. (He even has his own Twitter handle.) One of my cats was a stray I found running around after a game, so I took him home and named him Joe Davis. It just seemed like the right thing to do. There are countless other things that make the stadium unique, and I’m sure you could find several long-time season ticket holders who can share even better stories than what I’ve got. I can think of several people who feel the same way I do about this place, as a matter of fact.

Photo: Ben's Biz

Photo: Ben’s Biz

So maybe the attendance numbers aren’t as good as they could be. Maybe I spent my 20th birthday spray painting a tarp to cover a hole in the batter’s eye because the stadium is outdated. But despite those things, I can’t think of a staff or a stadium more deserving of recognition. Isn’t Minor League Baseball supposed to be about the historic instead of these brand new, high-tech stadiums anyways? About spending an afternoon in the cheap seats, appreciating the simple things in life? Focusing more on the talent and the crazy promotions than on the stadium amenities? That’s what I love about the game, anyways. And that’s what I’ve gotten out of the countless nights I’ve spent at The Joe throughout my life.

If nothing else I’ve said makes you at least consider coming to Huntsville to help me say goodbye to my team, we have a sweet used record store that’s trip-worthy! I would be more than happy to show you all Huntsville has to offer, which is more than you might think.

I don’t know if you’ll be able to make time for it, but I would appreciate you considering it. Baseball is one of those things that gets in your blood and stays forever, especially for those of us who have chosen to make careers out of loving a game. The Huntsville Stars are definitely in my blood, and even though all my merchandise will become vintage come September, I’ll never forget what the team meant to me and what a difference it made in my life.

I think I wrote this letter partially to pitch the idea of you coming for a visit, but mostly it was for me to be able to express how I was feeling about the team leaving to someone who might understand. Thanks for reading, and thanks for writing this blog. You do a great job with it, and I appreciate every post.

Gillian Richard

While I have visited Huntsville in the past, Gillian’s email really got me thinking about how a “final” visit would be appropriate. While I am not ready to announce my road trip itineraries yet (i’s need to be dotted, t’s need to be crossed, blah blah blah), I have put together a trip that does include Huntsville on the schedule. I’ll be there in early June, God willing, chomping at the bit to visit that used record store.

But, more importantly, I hope that Gillian has inspired YOU to perhaps visit the Stars in their final season. You might get to meet Gary the Groundhog, and, who knows? You might get to go on the field after a rain out and watch the general manager use a bullwhip to pull a sword out of a guy’s mouth. That’s what happened when I stopped by in 2009.

 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: The Number Tamer Tames the Numbers

Last Friday I composed an MiLB.com feature focusing on the annual Minor League attendance report written by David Kronheim (aka “The Number Tamer”).

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The information contained in the feature, while copious, was a proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to the statistical largesse  one can find in the full report. Therefore, I asked Kronheim if he would be willing to write a guest post in which he further expostulated upon MiLB attendance trends as well as the methods behind his numerical madness. He graciously obliged, and now my only hope is that you will be so gracious as to read it. 

FOLLOW-UP ON THE 2013 MINOR LEAGUE ATTENDANCE ANALYSIS ARTICLE

By David Kronheim, Numbertamer.com

Cartoon from numbertamer.com

Cartoon from numbertamer.com

Benjamin Hill provided a very good overview of my 2013 Minor League Baseball Attendance Analysis in his article on the Minor League Baseball website. He has asked me for my thoughts on the main points of the report, as well as information regarding how I compiled all of this data.

OVERALL ATTENDANCE GROWTH

Minor League Baseball is a great example of how a business that was dying in the 1950s and 1960s rebuilt itself very successfully. Its growth goes beyond ticket sales. Food and merchandise revenue has hugely increased, as have other income sources, along with the value of teams. The days of being able to buy a Minor League team by just assuming its debts are long gone.

The Minor Leagues had a big attendance boost following World War II, but then suffered a very rapid decline. Attendance went from nearly 40 million in the late 1940s to less than 10 million by the early 1960s, with most lower level leagues and teams going out of business. Run-down ballparks, home air conditioning, and easier access for many fans to Major League ballparks were among the causes of this drop in attendance. But the introduction of television was by far the biggest factor.

The Pacific Coast League was good example of this. That league had the highest caliber of Minor League players, good ballparks, and large markets. Between 1946 and 1949, the teams in this league had an average attendance of 475,006 per team, per season. Just a few years later, from 1954 through 1957, Pacific Coast League teams averaged only 212,226 per team, per season, a 55.3% decline. Major League attendance was down 16.9%, when comparing these same 4 year periods.

The PCL still had teams in the biggest markets on the West Coast before the Dodgers and Giants moved to California in 1958.  The closest Major League teams were over a thousand miles away, in St. Louis and Kansas City, yet P.C.L. attendance plunged, mainly due to the availability of television.

Now, Major League Baseball attendance is at near-record-high levels, with teams all over the mainland United States, plus a team in Canada. Baseball and other sports are available on television and other devices every day. Yet Minor League Baseball attendance, with far fewer teams than 65 years ago, has been approaching 50 million fans a year (including the independent leagues).  The basic causes of this attendance growth are simple: new ballparks and effective marketing.

Many of the newer Minor League ballparks offer the same comforts, conveniences, and amenities as a Major League park, just on a smaller scale. Re-branding of teams and gameday promotions certainly helped grow attendance.  More importantly, Minor League Baseball has promoted itself as low cost, fan-friendly, family fun in a safe and pleasant environment. It works! Just look at how many kids you see at the games.

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Kids aplenty

MINOR LEAGUE ATTENDANCE IN MAJOR LEAGUE MARKETS

The return of Minor League Baseball to some of the largest markets in the U.S. is one of the more striking changes in this industry.

For years it was thought that a Minor League team located near a Major League team could not survive. In 1976, only 4 Minor League teams were located with 60 miles of a Major League team. In 2013, there were 60 Minor League teams (including the  independent leagues) located in the same TV market as a Major League team. Or, if they were in a different TV market, they still were within 60 miles of an MLB team.

20 years ago there were no Minor League teams in the New York TV market. In 2013 there were 10, including two (Brooklyn, Staten Island) within the borders of New York City itself. Some Minor League Baseball teams draw quite well even in this market, which has nine teams in the four major sports leagues.

Near Philadelphia, the Reading Fightin’ Phils were drawing under 85,000 per season as recently as the mid-1980’s. Now they have topped 420,000 for 16 years in a row, despite playing in an older ballpark and being just 60 miles from Citizen’s Bank Park (home of the Philadelphia Phillies). Plus, there are now Minor League teams in much newer ballparks, in nearby cities such as Trenton, Allentown, Lancaster, and Harrisburg. They all draw well, and even more competition in Reading comes from a modern indoor arena that is home to a minor league hockey team. Yet none of this has hurt the Fightin’ Phils at the gate.

Meanwhile, in Ohio, there are the Dayton Dragons. This Midwest League club, located 60 miles from Cincinnati, have had 983 playing dates in their 14 year history and have officially sold out every single one of them!

Reading: A Modern-Day Success Story

Reading: A Modern-Day Success Story

MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ATTENDANCE GROWTH COMPARED TO GROWTH IN OTHER LEAGUES

My research found that, over the past four decades, Minor League Baseball attendance has increased at a much faster pace than almost all other leagues. Comparing 2013 to 1999, the only U.S. pro sports league that has grown faster than Minor League Baseball is Major League Soccer.

I looked at total and average attendance per team for 2013 vs. 1999, 1989, 1979, and 1969, and compared the growth rates in those categories for Minor League Baseball (affiliated leagues only) and for MLB and other sports.

The 2013 vs. 1999 comparison covered MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, WNBA, MLS, and Minor League Hockey. Minor League Baseball average attendance per team (up 18.1%) increased by at least double the pace of any of these leagues except for Major League Soccer, which was up 38.3%.

For 1989, 1979, and 1969, the comparisons were made with MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL. In 2013, the Minor League Baseball average attendance per team was 67.6% higher than in 1989. The NHL, up 21.6%, had the next best growth.

Comparing the 2013 vs. 1979 growth rate shows that Minor League Baseball’s average per team attendance rose 119.6%, more than double the pace of any other sport.   The 2013 vs. 1969 increase was 250% for the Minors. The next best increase was 191.5% for the combined NBA and the old American Basketball Association. (If you look at NBA teams only, their average per team rose 129.2%.)

The American Basketball Association: a big deal in its day

The American Basketball Association: successful in its day

HOW THIS DATA IS COMPILED

I also compile and write a report covering Major League Baseball attendance. Both analyses can be found on the ‘Baseball Reports’ page of numbertamer.com.

I have no inside information, and I’ve never been employed by any sports league or team. I began to keep track of sports attendance when I was a radio sportscaster in college, because I knew that teams often made personnel decisions based, in part, on attendance. I also worked on sports-related accounts in my advertising career, so I had to keep up with the business side of sports. These reports are part marketing analysis and part journalism. Most of the news regarding Minor League attendance is positive. But I also make sure to report on those teams that don’t draw well.

All of my data comes from sources that are available to the public and to the media. The charts and tables in both reports were all originally done by me; often, quite a few calculations were needed to create them. But the raw data I used can be found by anyone.

In addition to what you see in my reports, I have created huge databases of both Major and Minor League Baseball attendance information. For example, I have listings of each current Minor League city’s yearly attendance going back to at least 1947.  My Major League data goes back to 1900 and has each team’s yearly total attendance, their yearly average attendance per date, and much more.

It would be far too cumbersome to publish all of this data, but I’m always willing to share it for free. All I ask is that you list my name or numbertamer.com as the source of this information if you use it.

My major sources for Minor League data have been the Sporting News Baseball Guides (no longer published), the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (edited by Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff), independent league websites, and the office of Minor League Baseball (with special thanks to Steve Densa, their Executive Director of Communications.)

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a tip of the cap to Steve Densa

For the Major League report, my main sources of information for recent years are the Major League Baseball Information System which reports all Major League statistics, and the team media guides. Much historic data is from Total Baseball and from the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, both edited by Pete Palmer (among others). Retrosheet.org is a very valuable source, especially when it comes to determining how many home dates each Major League team played every year. I have many other sources of information, and they are listed near the front of the Major League Analysis.

If you are a baseball fan who cares about attendance records and statistics, I hope you find my reports interesting. After all, attendance is the only sports statistic created by the fans.

Thanks to David Kronheim for taking the time to compile these reports every season, they are an invaluable source of information for fans and the industry alike. At least one more post will appear on this blog before the week is out, and all I can tell you is that it will contain considerably less information than this one. That’s a guarantee.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz 

Winter Meetings Guest Post: The Outsider Becomes a Regular

Mike Lortz is a freelance writer from Tampa, Florida. He is currently working on his MBA and finishing his first baseball fiction book, but briefly took time off from those pursuits in order to attend the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando. 2013 marked the third time he’d made such a pilgrimage, but was it a charm? In this guest blog post, he describes his latest Winter Meetings experience.

“You will never find a more reported hive of rumors and ability.” – Unsaid at the Baseball Winter Meetings

Most baseball fans know the Winter Meetings as the annual gathering of agents, players, and front office folks to negotiate trades, signings, and other personnel decisions. Fans of this blog and of Minor League Baseball might also know the business meetings and Job Fair side of the Winter Meetings. But for me, the Winter Meetings is something different. For me, the Winter Meetings is a chance to be part of the baseball scene and peek into the guts of the machine.

The 2013 Winter Meetings, held from December 9-12, marked my third venture to the Swan and Dolphin Hotel since moving to Tampa in 2006. During my first visit, I was a fly on the wall, watching people and scrapping up the courage to shake hands with Ozzie Guillen, Cal Ripken, Jim Leyland, and others. My second trip in 2010 was less star-studded, but I did talk briefly with Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner and met a few people I conversed with on Twitter, including an NBC Sports writer. I was still a fly on the wall, but I was learning how the room was arranged.

Since 2010, my writing career has grown quite a bit. Not to the point where I am a multimedia hero or a trending topic on Twitter, but to the point where I have a network, albeit small. Most of this network would be at the 2013 Winter Meetings. This time I might actually feel like I fit in.

So for a third time I traveled over the river (the Hillsborough) and through the woods (the somewhat barren ruralness of Knights Griffin Road) to the Baseball Winter Meetings. In the weeks prior, I contacted some of my small network to see if they were interested in meeting face-to-face. To my surprise, they were open to the idea.

As I did in 2006 and 2010, I parked in the guest lot at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. Little known fact: guest parking at the Winter Meetings has increased from $9.50 in 2006 to $15 in 2013. I guess the folks at Disney realize people like me are showing up and want to make a few bucks. But after an hour drive, I would not be deterred.

Walking around the Swan and Dolphin lobby, I was immediately struck by how many more media people seemed to be there. During my first year, there was no news desk near the lobby’s giant Christmas tree. In 2010, ESPN started broadcasting live from the lobby. In 2013, MLB Network joined ESPN with a desk. The media presence down the media hallway had exploded as well. SNY, NESN, and several other regional sports media had tables, desks, and other broadcast equipment assembled. If there was a transaction, or the rumor, thought, or idea of a transaction, it was going to be talked about right there.

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Lobby of the Dolphin Resort — media hotspot and epicenter of schooze

I also saw a group at this year’s Winter Meetings who I had never seen before: autograph seekers. I was shocked to see several guys (isn’t it always guys?) trying to get signatures from Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and network analysts Ron Darling and Dan Plesac. Although I understand autograph seeking, the Winter Meetings just doesn’t seem the place for that.

Another popular group at the Winter Meetings were job hunters. Unlike the autograph seekers, job hunters are expected, encouraged, and embraced. The easiest way to identify a job seeker is to look for the young person in a suit jacket. Most media and baseball people dress well, but forego the jacket.

After reorienting myself with the lay of the Swan and Dolphin, I met with Minor League blogger Jessica Quiroli of the blog High Heels on the Field and had a great discussion on Minor League reporting, prospect analysis, and brand building. Even better, she knew who I was. I also talked with a writer I knew from the Tampa Bay Rays blogosphere and another former Baseball Prospectus writer. Three people!

Through wandering the halls of the Swan and Dolphin, I also met and shook hands with the ownership of the Tampa Bay Rays. I told them I had been a part-season ticket holder for several years and thanked them for their product. I think it’s important to tell people that you enjoy the entertainment they provide.

Another little known fact of the Winter Meetings through the years: in 2006 a bottle of Bud Light was $5.50. In 2013, a bottle of Heineken was $7.50. And a can of Diet Coke was $3.50. I guess those making $60 million over five years can afford more than one, but I sure couldn’t. Maybe the high prices are to keep the job seekers from mingling with the millionaires. I am not sure where the media personnel fall on that spectrum, but many of them congregate near the lobby bar alongside the baseball lifers.

Before leaving, I had one more writer e-migo to meet, the illustrious king of reporting on Minor League gimmicks, fashions, and trends, the one, the only bloglord of Ben’s Biz, Ben Hill. During a break in his busy schedule, I told Ben to look for the only person in the lobby wearing a Santa Claus hat. Accompanied by other Minor League front office folks (Ben is a very popular guy!), we chatted about travel, the career of writers, Florida’s minor league parks, and death metal. Next thing I knew it was past 11pm. I still had to drive back to Tampa.

I bid adieu to Ben and the other folks in our conversation and made my way to the exit, another Winter Meetings under my belt. I’ve made progress in the seven years since my first Winter Meetings. Maybe next time the Winter Meetings comes to Disney World, people will be asking for my autograph. Or at least I’ll be able to expense the cost of parking.

For more from Mike, follow him on Twitter @JordiScrubbings. For more from me, just visit bensbiz.mlblogs.com and keep hitting refresh. Something’ll come up eventually. See ya in 2014! 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Tis the Season for the Holiday League

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and with Thanksgiving comes the official start of the holiday season. What better time, then, to turn this blog over to the Holiday League? 

Yes, the Holiday League — a theoretical three-team (and growing) circuit whose logos are entirely real. The “HL,” as I just decided to call it, is the brainchild of artist/designer/baseball fan John Hartwell, who established Hartwell Studio Works in 2006. In this post he talks about his professional background, how the Holiday League came to be, and, most importantly, shares his collection of HL primary and alternate marks. This should gave you logo fiends out there — you know who you are — a lot to talk about, but even casual fans should enjoy perusing an imagined sporting realm which has room for zombies, reindeer, and anthropomorphic evergreens. Get ready to read John’s words now, as this italicized intro has run its course. 

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I’ve been working as a creative professional for the past 20 years, first as an illustrator and cartoonist, adding graphic designer to my description for the past ten. I cut my sports teeth on the Nolan Ryan-era Texas Rangers and absolutely feel in love with minor league baseball in the mid-to late 90‘s with the San Antonio Missions. Games at the Wolff with Henry the Puffy Taco and Ballapeño are not to be missed.

When Hartwell Studio Works launched as in independent sports design shop in 2006, one of my very first clients was Jonathan Nelson and the Birmingham Barons, doing a variety of marks for the team, including a team rebrand in 2008. As the studio’s client list grew, I knew marketing and self-promotions needed to be part of the regular project mix.

The Holiday League started as last Christmas’ North Pole Reindeer studio promo. The Reindeer were, if nothing else, a clever idea that made me laugh. It could have fallen flat on its face, but at least I would have fun doing it.

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North Pole Reindeer secondary marks

The overwhelmingly positive response to the Reindeer, however, led to the idea that this “Holiday League” could have real legs as a studio promotional campaign. The “Holiday League” name was a throw-away line in the Reindeer promo, but through the Huggers and Creepers promos and the league website and store launches, the whole thing has taken on a life of its own. It’s proven to be a great creative exercise, giving me a chance to try out new ideas and stay fresh.

Arborville Huggers “traditional” logo option for fan voting. (Extra points to whomever can identify the Monty Python reference in the original email promo.)

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The Arborville “hippie” option:

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The Huggers logo option for “today’s modern hipster.”

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The Amityville Creeper primary logo. I briefly considered hailing them from Crystal Lake, but thought that might be too obscure:

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Don and Doug the Doubleheader. The Creepers were an exercise in making bad baseball + Halloween jokes.

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Credit for Bat Boy goes to a designer buddy of mine who, when I told him about the Creepers idea over lunch, blurted out “Bat Boy!” as a name for one of the mascots. I literally stopped in mid-chew, smacked my forehead, and realized it was a far better idea than the vampire character I originally had in mind. He was kind enough to let me use his much better idea!

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I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead, so Wally the Walker was a no-brainer (get it?) for the Creepers. I laugh every time I look at him. 

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This year’s Christmas promo is already teed up with a return trip to the Reindeer. It will be a bit different from what has gone before, but I think folks will get a kick out of it. Next year’s holiday teams have already been determined, and I’m already looking forward to Christmas 2014.

Keep up with the latest from the Holiday League at www.holidayleague.com, or follow Hartwell Studio Works on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

So there ya have it, folks: John Hartwell and the Holiday League. Thanks for reading, enjoy your Thanksgiving, and see you in December. Oh, and that reminds me: The Winter Meetings are almost upon us! Please get in touch if you’re going be there and/or have any Winter Meeting content suggestions or article and blog post pitches That’s what I’m here for. 

benjamin.hill

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Go Ogle This Great Virtual Tour

Last week I received an email from Brad Lawrence of Fox Virtual Tours, “the leading provider of Google Business Photos 360 Virtual Tours in the [Illinois] Fox Valley.” Brad, a certified “Google trusted photographer,” had recently created one such tour for the Kane County Cougars and as such thought that I might be interested in the potential of this technology for Minor League Baseball teams in general. I was, which leads us to this: a guest post by Brad in which he extols the virtues of Google tours. Perhaps this technology, as utilized by Kane County, will soon be coming to a team near YOU.

I had worked for the Cougars during college, in the early years of the franchise. Typical of Minor League Baseball, I wore multiple hats—answering phones during the day, and manning the Customer Service booth during games.  (I was in my booth the night of OJ’s infamous slow-speed chase in 1994, and I’ll never forget the bizarre scene in the adjacent press box, as all the guys huddled around a TV.)  Little did I know that almost 20 years later, I’d be back at that very same spot shooting a virtual tour for this new company called “Google,” which in ’94 did not exist.

I presented the idea to the Cougars in late August, and they were enthusiastic. Their Google tour would be the first of its kind in Minor League Baseball. It would showcase the ballpark 365 days per year on Google properties, and it would be a valuable resource for both fans and team alike. When fans bought tickets, they could sample views from around the stadium—even the lawn area or the “Leinie Lodge” right field deck. The Cougars had added an impressive Upper Deck since my stint with the team, and we were excited to show it in the tour. We would include the Super Suite, both party decks, and two standard suites in the tour. Fans could see the spectacular views from the balconies. At field level, fans would be able to take a “virtual” trip around the bases on a picture-perfect day.

The Cougars gave me the green light and I began shooting just after the season ended. We had an ideal window where the weather was great and the ballpark still looked “game-ready,” but there were no games to work around. After a few trips to the ballpark, I had all the individual “panos” I needed to assemble the tour. I then began the final stage of connecting them all to create a seamless tour of the ballpark. It all came together nicely, and I was thrilled to publish it and see it live on Google. The Cougars were thrilled, too.

I enjoyed my rendezvous with the Cougars. I think the moment is right for Google’s virtual tours, which are offered in the Google Business Photos program. With fast Internet and widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets, the tours look great on a variety of devices. They engage fans with interactive content on Google, and can be embedded on the team’s website and Facebook page. Sales staff can keep a spreadsheet with links to various locations in the tour, and simply share a link to show a section, suite or party deck. It’s a tremendous marketing resource. And with some of the finest views in all of sports, a baseball park makes a wonderful subject for a Google tour.

And now, a brief addendum from Kane County director of public relations Shawn Touney: 

Just a couple of weeks in, this has been a great resource for us. I have personally used this for a couple of sponsorship meetings I’ve had. I actually spoke to a college class last week and they asked me about the tour before I had even mentioned it in my presentation. And our ticket sales team has used this as well to facilitate new business for company outings. For several of the group picnic areas at our ballpark, we have embedded code on their corresponding web pages. Here’s an example from our Party Suites web page.

And that, as they say, is that. Thanks to Brad (brad@foxvtours.com)  for writing this post (which, by the way, was #997 in Ben’s Biz Blog history). If you are interested in writing a guest post then, by all means, get in touch. I’m all ears, figuratively if not literally. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: I Wanna be Cupdated

As you may be aware, I embark upon yet another Minor League road trip this Friday. While on the road I strive to have a set of established routines, so that my content remains consistent from location to location. Blog posts, MiLB.com stories, photo galleries, hotel room reviews, player interviews and Designated Eater Vine videos will be provided this next time around, but for one reader that’s not enough. This reader, he wants more.

And what does this reader want, specifically?

Cupdates —  as in, information regarding the specifics of each team’s collectible plastic drinkwear accompanied by corresponding visuals.

This cup-besotted reader is Peter Golkin, last seen on this blog advocating for the “Universal Rain Check” (a guest post that resulted in a series of very thoughtful comments, though “the powers that be” didn’t see fit to respond). This time Golkin’s agitating is directed at me specifically, however, and I may accede to his demands if it is demonstrated that they do not occur in a vacuum. I now give this virtual floor over to Golkin, so that he may make his case.

cup

With the new season well under way and Minor League Baseball still heatedly debating the concept of a transformational, good-at-any-park Universal Raincheck (OK, that idea was completely ignored), attention now shifts downward–under the seats amid the soggy post-game detritus.

What Minor League Baseball fans want to know is: Which teams will bring forth the great stadium soda cups of 2013?

Besides the potential jackpot from a killer cap, ballclubs have no more alluring canvas on which to paint their identities than the 16- or 24-ounce plastic vessel now given by architects its own seatside suspension system.

Beer cups tend to be clear and generic for the benefit of security. But an illustrated soda cup begs for a collectable’s afterlife. Perhaps a spot next to the backyard hammock or snug in the minivan’s console. Even as a dipper’s cuspidor, the ballpark cup suggests longevity like few souvenirs can.

So what is the state of the MiLB soda cup in 2013?

Are teams going with thin, delicate models with high centers of gravity and pastel logos like those from Churchill Container Co.? Or are they opting for the thick and litho-friendly Dynamic Drinkware tumbler, like Greensboro did last year with its memorable “Grasshopper Gone Big Time” series? (Yes, they still called Giancarlo Stanton “Mike” but that’s what his superimposed signature reads and the cup was a keeper nonetheless.)

And unlike with official team headwear, money does not have to be a factor in the preservation and study of stadium soda cups. All that’s needed are patience and a willingness to touch someone else’s moist refuse. That’s why ballparks have bathroom sinks and free napkins.

As Rougned Odor continues to make his way toward Arlington and Eastern League clubs keep adding rival logos to urinal strainers, let us also pay close attention to those graspable plastic works of sports art and history.

And who can give us regular “cupdates” while on his pixie-like travels across America? Ben Hill, with perhaps some crowdsourced assistance from his much-intelligent and much-attractive readership.

We want pictures and we want stats (capacity, price of cup with drink, manufacturer, ads/no ads, dishwasher-friendly? etc.) Perhaps this is why Twitter was invented.

Regardless of the ultimate format, a regular MiLB Cupdate is long overdue in this, our unprecedented Information Age.I’ll drink to that and to memories of the man once known as Mike Stanton, Big Grasshopper.

So what say YOU? Should “cupdates” become a regular part of my road trip coverage? If the people speak, I shall listen. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road Guest Post: IronPigs in Zen in Lehigh Valley

You may recall last month’s post from Lehigh Valley, in which I attended an IronPigs game with five friends (no media pass for me that evening, I stayed strictly in “fan mode”). One of the friends who took in this contest was Steve May, a Brooklyn-based English teacher with a penchant for photography, the works of Tyson Meade and, of course, the written word. In the following post, Mr. May provides an account of his inaugural IronPigs experience. All words and photos are his.

Finally, a Ben’s Biz Blog post free from the tyrannical perspective of the titular protagonist! Enjoy the brief respite:

A few Fridays ago, I attended a Lehigh Valley IronPigs game with my friend Ben, the man behind this fine Minor League Baseball business blog. The game was part of a yearly trip that Ben, me, and some other friends of ours make to the wilds of the northeastern fourth of Pennsylvania. The trip is part escape and part homecoming, as most of us are longtime New Yorkers originally from Pennsylvania; for summer to feel like summer, we need to get out on the road somewhere, go on roller coasters and dark rides, eat soft-serve and kettle corn, and be around baseball. What better place to achieve close proximity to the National Pastime than Coca-Cola Park in Allentown?

Yes, we had the best seats in the house. Don’t say there aren’t advantages to palling around with Ben of Ben’s Biz Blog. We could smell the grass.

Please forgive the fact that I didn’t really take any other photos for the first few innings. There were nachos grande and beer to be devoured and inhaled, respectively. Also I found myself roped into participating in a spirited between-inning round of Whack-an-Intern. Faced with wardrobe malfunctions, a partisan crowd, uncooperative intern heads, and formidable competition in the form of my good friend Beth, I came up a mere three whacks short of a tie. Afterwards, some interns alleged rough treatment on my part. (Ask yourself this question: If you were in my shoes, up against the considerable odds with which I was faced, would you tap softly or go hard? Yeah, that’s what I thought.)

Needless to say the critics, in the form of Andy Shal (hereafter “Shal”) and Ben, were not impressed.

Still reeling from my defeat, looking to put the sting behind me with the help of an adult beverage, I headed in the direction of the outfield Paradise. On the way, I was surprised to find one of the interns whose head I had too vigorously whacked charming the ladies with a blue puppet with baseball eyes. The intern attempted to charm me, too, but I turned the tables on him and tricked him/the puppet into posing for a face-in-hole photograph.

(ed. note: this whacked intern is none other than Ben “Utility Man” Youngerman, a talented and versatile touring ballpark performer who is no stranger to this blog.)

Intern and Puppet I: Put your hand inside the puppet head.

Intern and Puppet II: Duped into a Face-in-Hole Photo. (I love how the puppet head fits into the hole better.)

Following the arrows, I moved past the baseball-themed kiddie-land type situation on the concourse along the third-base line to left field, where Paradise awaited. As if taking in a game at a beautiful Minor League ballpark on a pleasant summer Friday evening following a day spent touring the Martin Guitar Factory for free, scoring ludicrously cheap 70’s-sleaze-era Rolling Stones albums at Double Decker Records, and bowling (!) were not enough.

Pushing the frozen drinks too hard, or just hard enough?

The foreboding sky, with nary a champagne supernova, did little to convince me I had stumbled onto an ocean (?) oasis.

Margarita or sangria? Should sangria come frozen? Does frozen sangria even count as sangria? Wouldn’t a mai tai be more appropriate? These were my concerns as I weighed the options at the Tiki Hut in Paradise. I eventually settled on sangria; it was the least fluorescent and what I think I secretly wanted in the first place (flip a coin and if you’re disappointed with the result…). The hut, with the obligatory faux-thatched roof, accented with fake palm trees and unlit torches, had all the standard tiki bases covered. Paradise? On a game night in summer, not too far off.

Duke’s Waikiki it is not, but there’s an off chance you’ll snag a home run ball.

The bartender threw in an orange peel to sweeten the deal.

Frozen cocktail in hand, I proceeded to the lawn overlooking center field, where I observed a large number of Boy/Cub Scouts/Webelos; evidently, it was Scout Sleepover Night. My anonymity compromised by my very public and still stingingly recent defeat in Whack-an-Intern, I was confronted by more than one well-meaning uniformed tween. I endured their chidings and constructive criticism with the humility of a man more accustomed to defeat than I am typically willing to accept I am.

Pack 76, present and accounted for.

Allentown? I could have sworn this is heaven.

At this point, from the field, the Human Bobblehead Game was announced. I looked up at the scoreboard behind me, and there, with pedometers strapped onto their heads, were the aforementioned Ben and Shal. That Ben, who last year logged a million steps on his pedometer [ed. note: the editor logged FOUR million steps on his pedometer], should now find himself in such a situation was completely appropriate; given this familiarity with the quirks of the ‘dometer, he was my pick to win. Shal, though, had an ace in the hole in his status as an unreformed head banger, and proved that he had the fire/desire to win.

Ben: Steps on the head?

Shal stands up and shouts.

What was there to do now but get something else to eat? Moving hurriedly past the speed pitching booth (I didn’t trust the tween hurlers when I was myself a tween), I made my way up the first base line to what has to be one of the most complete food courts in the Minor Leagues. Pretzels? Check. Pizza? Si. Both ice cream and Dippin’ Dots? All these are standard. Steel mill-themed Blast Furnace Grill? Gyros? German-themed beer garden? Truly, Coca-Cola Park has it all. For a New Yorker engaged in the self-conscious search for the lost Pennsylvania August of his youth, all roads necessarily led to “Aw Shucks” Roasted Corn. Four dollars later, I held in my hands a golden ear literally glistening with butter, parm, and spice. After posing with a nearby IronPig, I tore through the corn with the reckless abandon of a man in the grips of acute culinary nostalgia. It was sweet as summer.

Other shuckers for corn.

Unexpectedly Starbucks-like ordering etiquette.

Man, corn, IronPig.

Meanwhile, on the field, the ‘Pigs hit a three-run home.

Back in the best seats in the house, with the IronPigs holding a commanding 6-0 lead over the visiting Syracuse Chiefs, we were paid a visit by mischievous IronPigs co-mascot FeFe (named after the, you know, symbol for iron on the Periodic Table). In what could only be described as a three-minute thunder run through our section, FeFe sat on laps, climbed over seats, posed for photos, flirted with nonplussed spectators, and otherwise wreaked havoc as only a giant ponytailed anthropomorphic pig can.

The fan in the black shirt is like, “Oh, bleep.”

Ben reacts with shock and awe to FeFe’s fooling.

FeFe goes TMZ on an unsuspecting fan.

How else could such a front-to-back perfect evening have ended but with fireworks? Collectively, the pyrotechnic bursts of molten color served as a reminder that this had been, not just for my crew, a great night. In Allentown as in New York, summer is as fleeting as lights in the night sky over center field. A good idea then to take it in, savor it before it has passed. When, months from now, the wind is bitter cold and all the world seems to be covered with an inch and a half of snow, there will be preserved in the middle distance of our memories a time and place more temperate and pleasant, populated with tiki huts and mascots and surprisingly competitive mid-inning contests. A night at the ballpark.

Each says, “Remember.”

On behalf of Siri, I would like to thank the fan who volunteered to take this photo.

Scouts descend on outfield for Sleepover Night. In my head I hear the whistling scene from the 1961 version of The Parent Trap.

And thus concludes this guest post; thanks to Steve for taking the time to write it. I am generally amenable to handing this blog over to others, so if you would like to pen a guest post of your own then please get in touch and perhaps something can be arranged. Said post can cover a ballpark experience, share a specific Minor League memory, or advance ideas and initiatives that you’d like to see the industry take under consideration.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Rain Check, Please!

I have more “On the Road” content to come — from last month’s trip down South and last week’s jaunt to Lowell — but, for now, how about something completely different? Loyal reader Pete Golkin is a proponent of an idea that I had never heard of before and, for all that I know, he invented: a universal Minor League Baseball raincheck.

The impetus for the idea is simple. Golkin, like myself (and surely many of my readers) loves visiting Minor League ballparks throughout the country. But when attending games in this context, rain checks are useless. When, if ever, will the traveling fan be able to return to the stadium in question in order to redeem them? Golkin, therefore, wants teams to issue industry-wide rainchecks that are redeemable at any Minor League stadium. This would certainly take some bureaucratic finagling, and I’m really not sure how feasible it would be. But I like the idea, and in response to Golkin’s request that I promote the idea I did him one better. I simply asked him to write the post himself.

So here we go! A poignant plea for the Universal Rain Check, written by loyal Minor League Baseball fan Pete Golkin in the form of a humorous essay:

I finally used my Williamsport Crosscutters rain check. Actually the wife deserves credit. Heading out early a few Sundays ago, she plucked the humble scrap from a kitchen shelf and inscribed these words on the back: “Please use MANGO for bkfst.”

A forgettable detour on The Road to The Show but a victory for Vitamins A, C and B6.

And that’s the problem. If your summer travel includes Priceline, tolls, a dose of the local culture (battlefields, snacks on conveyor belts, robot tobacco farmers) and a nightly topping of Minor League Baseball, ol’ Mr. Rain Check will likely land in your wallet but only to die there.

In the case of Williamsport, who could complain?  We had already soaked up a day of the Norman Rockwellness that is the Little League World Series on the town’s south end. And a third ballgame in 7 hours, even one featuring post-pubescent pros, was testing the limits of an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old jonesing for motel Nickelodeon.

Still, we waited two hours in the heavy night drizzle. The Crosscutters and Muckdogs never got past their dugouts and we left “Historic Bowman Field” —4 hours from our old Virginia home—knowing we were done there for the season. Moosic and Harrisburg were calling, to be followed by a new school year.

Historic Bowman Field

But what if that rain check wasn’t limited to Williamsport? What if I could have used it the next night in the next park down the road? For that matter, how about anywhere in Minor League ball for the rest of the year?

Call it the “Universal Rain Check” and bask in the resulting goodwill, MiLB.

OK, maybe some accounting issues would need to be resolved.

But remember, we’re talking about Minor League Baseball tickets. They’re not supposed to break the bank or become scarce–which is why you’ll never see a scalper in the parking lots at Danville, Greensboro or Richmond.

To work out the details, I suggest calling in the same accountants who said my old sliced cheese wrapper meant two-for-one admission anywhere on a Tuesday. And if I have to prove I’m an out-of-towner to get a rain check with “range,” I’ll gladly show a driver’s license. Simple stuff.

So on behalf of baseball pilgrims everywhere—at least the ones not bound for Fenway in an SUV limo–give the Universal Rain Check a shot, MiLB. It can only mean more fans up and down the road.

Oh, and while you’re at it, how about accepting MLB gift cards? I’ve got two I need to use before I lose them.

If you have any opinions on Mr. Golkin’s proposal, then, please, let them be known in the comments section. In the words of lifelong Minor League Baseball fan Mahatmas Gandhi: “Be the change you seek.”

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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