Results tagged ‘ Home Run Derby ’
“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” has become one of my favorite cliches, primarily because it helps to justify the fact that some of my content is months old at this point.
It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
With that in my mind, let’s (re)visit one of the most unique events to take place in the Minor Leagues this season: on June 18, the first round of the South Atlantic League Home Run Derby was held on the deck of Charleston’s USS Yorktown. Participants hit balls into the Charleston Harbor, which were summarily scooped up by volunteers on jet skis.
The above photo, and all of the photos to come, were taken by Chad Walters. You may remember Walters from the 2011 Winter Meetings in Dallas, as he set up shop at the Trade Show in order to inform teams about his Lean Blitz consulting business. He also was a Dipquest attendee. When Walters got in touch just prior to the derby to see if I’d be interested in running his photos on the blog, I said “of course!” I didn’t say that it would take upwards of two months for me to run them but, well, here we are.
Some background info, courtesy of Walters:
The USS Yorktown is docked in Patriots Point in Charleston Harbor. The large bridge in the background is the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge across the Cooper River. The USS Yorktown is a naval museum and is permanently docked.
Miller High Life was one of the event’s sponsors and, as such ,High Life spokesman Wendell Middlebrooks was in attendance.
More from Walters:
The manufacturer of the inflatable backstop is InMotion Air out of Alpharetta, Georgia. It took them about six minutes to inflate the backstop and probably 20 minutes to completely set up to accommodate some reservations by the organizers about the netting hanging down a little close to bat swing paths.
The scene around the Yorktown as attendees and participants made their way to the venue.
Truly, there had never been a home run derby like this before.
Just a bit more from the virtual pen of Mr. Walters:
The two hitters I’ve shown from the front side are Matt Skole of Hagerstown and Matt Duffy of Lexington (the jersey resembles the 80’s Astros design). Both moved onto the finals being held tonight at the RiverDogs stadium prior to the start of the All-Star Game.
Oh, well, then let’s take a look at these front side batsmen.
Walters, unfortunately, had to depart the event before Bill Murray showed up to take a few swings (Murray is a Charleston resident and co-owner of the RiverDogs). For more info on how it all went down, then take a gander at this photo recap provided by Charleston-based Post and Courier.
Thanks to Walters for sending his pictures and observations, and my apologies for taking some 52 days to run them. Remember: it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Quad Cities River Bandits, what have you wrought?
As you may recall, last season the River Bandits turned their All Star Game home run derby into a cartoonish extravaganza replete with beer keg targets and Hooters girls in a dunk tank. The Reading Phillies took this concept and ran with it — on July 10, the team is staging a home run derby that looks like something out of a Chuck Jones fever dream.
And now? Now we have THIS. The Charleston RiverDogs, hosts of the 2012 South Atlantic League All-Star Game, are holding their home run derby atop an aircraft carrier. The Yorktown:
Quite possibly the first-ever derby off the flight deck of a carrier, the event…will be held on Monday, June 18, at 11 am with the championship round being staged at 5:15 pm Tuesday, prior to the All-Star Game at Riley Park.
The 10 Home Run Derby competitors – five from the Northern Division and five from the Southern Division – will take their 10 swings in an inflatable batting cage that is stationed on the flight deck. A total of four players will make the final round that is set for 5:15 pm at Riley Park.
The RiverDogs, being the community-involved and environment-conscious organization that they are, have addressed the litter potential as they have hired kayakers and personnel on jet skis to retrieve the balls hit into Charleston Harbor. The US Coast Guard will supervise and assist, and no sea life will be disturbed.
In addition, the Coast Guard will assess and note the longest homers to determine the finalists and will radio the results to officials that are stationed on the Yorktown to record.
Moving on, you may remember that in 2010 the Cleveland Indians and their affiliates put together an “Around the Horn” ticket pack that included games at Mahoning Valley, Lake County, Akron, Columbus, and Cleveland.
It’s a great idea (the similarly-clustered Phillies farm system should do one!) and now the Baltimore organization has introduced their own version.
Visit the Fan Assistance Center in the Warehouse at Camden Yards to pick up your Birdland Passport. Use the passport when traveling to Oriole Park and the many Orioles’ Minor League affiliates’ ballparks throughout the region. Once you’ve gathered five stamps (of the possible six local Birdland destinations), you’ll receive a limited edition “Did Somebody Say Roadtrip?” Birdland Passport T-shirt.
And since I was speaking of Indians affiliates earlier, I’ll close with this lil anecdote. A couple of months ago, I received an email from a reader named Steve Wood. He lives in Ontario, but is a fan of the Indians and all of their affiliates. He lamented the isolation of the Canadian Cleveland fan:
Standing on the north shore of Lake Erie I would love to be able tell you that I can see the lights of Eastlake, Ohio, home of the Lake County Captains, or straight up East 9th St.in Cleveland as if the founders of that glorious city planned on building a bridge right to my province. Alas, when I stand on the north shore of Lake Erie all I see is lots of Lake Erie and it’s usually pretty cold so I get back in the car.
Struck by his plight, I forwarded his info to the Captains and the team sent a “fan pack” all the way to Ontario (assistant GM Neil Stein lamented that international shipping laws prevented the team from including a “Moby Dick” sandwich). Here’s Wood now, representing the Captains in the comfort of his kitchen:
All’s well that ends well,
The posts on this blog are rarely team-specific during the offseason, simply because there is rarely enough content from one team to comprise an entire post.
Today is one of those rare occasions, as the Reading Phillies have unleashed a torrent of notable news upon the world. First and foremost, the team’s plans for the 2012 Eastern League All-Star Game Home Run Derby are downright hallucinogenic.
The above visual (yes, that is an intern on a crane out in left field) will all come to life on July 10. Perhaps some extensive quoting from the press release would be warranted at this juncture:
[P]layers will be trying to hit select targets around the field to earn points….targets include outfield dunk tanks, R-Phils fanatics jumping on a trampoline, and pink flamingo yard ornaments sprinkled around the outfield.
Conversely, there will be obstacles hitters will want to avoid in order to not lose points. The Reading Phillies mascots will be scattered around the field, trying to snag balls hit by the all-stars. For each ball the mascots catch, the hitter will be penalized with negative points.
While the hitting challenge is going on, an exclusive VIP party will actually take place right on the infield. These VIP quests will be protected by a net as they party away with homerun balls sailing over their heads.
Grammy Award-winning musician and Berks County resident David Cullen will also be performing uncomfortably close to the pitcher’s mound in a protected area as he entertains fans and all-stars in attendance.
Those desirous of a detailed visual explanation would do well to watch the team’s five-minute explanation video, linked to in the aforementioned press release.
My guess is that the R-Phils were influenced by the Quad Cities River Bandits, who last season put some very unique twists on the Midwest League Home Run Derby. Any other 2012 All-Star Game hosts planning something similar? Let me know!
Meanwhile, a new logo has come out of Reading as well. This:
The above frankfurter, designed by
the artists formerly known as Plan B Branding Brandiose, is the new mark for the club’s Baseballtown Charities. Some explanation:
Baseballtown Charities, a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity, was launched ten years ago in association with the Reading Phillies in order to keep baseball alive in Reading through charitable donations to underprivileged youth, who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to play baseball. The organization was also founded to pay tribute to Reading’s rich baseball history.
Since its inception in 2002, the Baseballtown trademark has played a necessary part in the baseball community of Berks County. Under the Baseballtown namesake, FirstEnergy Stadium has played host to the High School All-Star Game and the Olivet’s Boy’s and Girl’s Club Championship. Each year, the organization crowns the King or Queen of Baseballtown to honor the past by recognizing that individual’s accomplishments and contributions to baseball/softball.
And, finally, with Valentine’s Day on the horizon the R-Phils have put out a video in which team employees explain the significant role that mascots have played in their love lives.
Maybe one of these days I’ll put out a video explaining how mascots played a role in mine.
Like 3D Television, light beer, and marriage, Minor League Baseball home run derbies are often far better in theory than they are in practice. The thrill of seeing emerging baseball superstars belting balls out of the park often gives way to a monotonous string of foul balls and harmless outfield flies.
In order to avoid such an underwhelming spectacle, the Quad Cities River Bandits — hosts of the recent 2011 Midwest League All-Star Game — put an entirely new twist on this year’s Derby. One glance at the field should tell you just how different this particular contest was.
As River Bandits marketing and promotions manager Shelley Heward explained in an email:
What the home run derby became was a hitting contest with over 50 targets and prizes scattering the outfield, ranging from a River Bandits-themed van, sponsor banners, cutout beer bottles and even a dunk tank with Hooters girls ready to splash down…. We even gave away $2 beers when a batter hit the cardboard beer cutout which sent the crowd racing to the concession stands.
The team invited category leaders from each division, including home runs, batting average and stolen bases, and points ranging from one to 15 were awarded for various hits and points were deducted for foul balls and swinging strikes. Each player represented a fan and a charity. The fan received prizes as their player hit targets.
This culminated in a highly entertaining event with four on-field emcees, a charity receiving over $2,500 in donations and the event coming down to one final swing that had the fans on their feet. While the final hit did not result in a home run, it was still good enough for the player to win and get mobbed by his teammates.
Derby winner Travis Witherspoon and his designated fan.
In conclusion, Heward writes that:
The River Bandits redefined the home run derby with this event, involved local media, fans, charities and gave not only the All-Star players, but also thousands of fans, a memory that will not soon be duplicated.
Thanks to Heward for writing a detailed enough email that all I had to do was cut and paste. I’ll close today’s post by once again mentioning that, apropos of nothing, I am currently soliciting introspective mascot photos such as the one seen below.
I will not stop soliciting these until I have at least 10 (the current count is three), so please do your part and send ‘em to me.
I suppose it should be fairly evident by now (especially after the Fort Wayne post), but when I’m on the road I say “Yes” to anything that the teams might ask me to do. I call it the “participatory approach”, mainly because I like how those words sound together.
And in Lake County, I most definitely took the participatory approach. The team was uber-hospitable to me from the get-go, a welcoming attitude perhaps best embodied by this ego-stroking media credential.
I needed the boost, honestly, as it rained heavily throughout the four-hour drive from Fort Wayne to Lake County (just outside of Cleveland). In fact, this was the scene as I pulled into the stadium.
But this was the last hurrah for inclement conditions, as almost immediately the sun started to shine and the birds began to chirp One of my first acts of the evening was to “assist” with the tarp pull.
Let me note the following: tarp pulls are hard work! Similar to when I put on a mascot suit last season, I immediately was hit with a newfound respect for how difficult it must be to do on a daily basis.
With the tarp removed, the following realization finally hit home: It’s going to be a great night for baseball, after all.
And do you know what makes a great night for baseball even better?
It was “Thirsty Thursday,” and the Captains offer one of the best (and most creative) Minor League drinking bargains around. For one hour prior to game time, the team offers 10-cent beers. These dime brews (Budweisers, all) are sold in five ounce cups and available at Castaways Bar (in left field). Fans may buy up to 10 beer tickets, but may only redeem two at a time.
The 10-cent price is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to one of the most infamous promotions in baseball history: the Cleveland Indians’ “10 Cent Beer Night” in 1974. My favorite sentence from the well-worth-reading Wikipedia entry on the fiasco: A large number of intoxicated fans – some armed with knives, chains, and portions of stadium seats that they had torn apart – surged onto the field, and others hurled bottles from the stands.
But unsettling indicators of pervasive post-industrial societal decay were nowhere to be found on this particular evening.
Serenity ruled, so I stepped behind the counter and spent a half-hour pouring beers for early-arriving imbibers.
It was a pretty simple operation. Bud was poured from kegs into pitchers, and from pitchers into the 5 ounce cups. From there it was a matter of repeating the simple mantra of “drop two, take two” (drop two beer tickets in the bucket, take two beers).
And, novelty aside, this is still a tremendous bargain — the equivalent of a 20 ounce beer for 40 cents!
I was soon instructed to put down my pitcher so that I could become one. Yes, for the second time on this trip (and fourth overall) I had the honor of throwing out the first pitch. But once arriving on the field there was some time to kill, so groundskeeper Dan Stricko put me to work watering the infield.
I believe that I’m displaying improper technique in the above photo, as the hose should in fact be wrapped around my back. And speaking of improper technique — time for the first pitch.
In this photo, I am patiently waiting for ebullient on-field host Andrew Grover to finish introducing me to the crowd.
It was a strike, I tell you. A strike.
And it was now time to get the game underway.
The evening’s “Play Ball” kid went dead silent when it became time to perform his assigned task of yelling “Play Ball!” After about 15 seconds of silence, Grover adopted a falsetto voice and uttered the game-starting phrase himself.
Number #45 in the above picture is hitting coach Jim Rickon, who I interviewed prior to the game. Rickon is an aspiring inventor, with his latest creation being the Bat Jack. Check it out HERE, and tell them Ben’s Biz Blog sent ya.
Update! Check out this MiLB.com article about Rickon and the soon-to-be mentioned Cole Cook.
A grip trainer would perhaps have been helpful for my next endeavor — participating in a between-inning “Minute To Win It” contest. My task was to extricate every tissue from a box of Kleenex, one at a time and using one hand.
In 60 seconds.
And I did it! With just one second to spare! This was the most challenging and dramatic between-inning contest I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been basking in the memory of it ever since. Update! And now I can re-live it again and again! Here’s the video:
This led to a far less successful endeavor, in which me and three 20-someting male fans (some might call them “bros”) participated in the Team Trax race against a team of interns.
We dubbed ourselves “Team Dime Beer”, then ran like a group that had far too many of them. The guy in the back (not visible in the above pic) immediately steamrolled into the guy in front of him and we went down like dominoes as the interns methodically made their way to an easy victory.
Team Trax are one of the newer offerings from the excellent Gameops.com, and more info on can be found HERE. Company founder Jon Cudo happened to be in attendance at the game; it must have been painful for him to see his creation utilized so poorly. But it’s always good to see Cudo — he contacted me for an interview back in 2007, a key step in my slow realization that I might be able to write about this kind of thing for a living.
Quote from the interview: [B]eing based in NYC I rarely get to see what I’m writing about, which is frustrating and something I hope to change as the years go on.
And now I’m actually getting to participate in what I’m writing about — thank goodness for the inexorable passage of time! Which, on the particular evening, soon brought us to the “Sheetz Hop-A-Long Poniez” race. The team has put the video up on YouTube:
In retrospect, I should have continued with the “sideways hop” strategy. But congrats to the winner, who taunted me repeatedly about it for the rest of the evening. I think he said his name was Jay Milo.
In the middle of the fourth inning I ascended atop the third base dugout, and once again felt the unique agony that comes with not being able to aim a t-shirt throw properly. I hammed it up, delayed my throws, picked my target, and…missed. Both times. I’m sorry I let you down, fans I was aiming for.
No pictures of this failed effort exist. Immediately afterward, I was ushered up to the broadcast booth for an inning on the air with announcer Craig Deas. I had already done a pre-game interview with Deas for the “Captains Warm-Up Show”, so this time around I simply provided “color commentary” about a game I hadn’t watched at all up until that point.
A highlight of the conversation centered around pitcher Cole Cook, who I had interviewed earlier in the day. Cook’s father Peter MacKenzie is a well-known character actor, and among his many credits is the sitcom Herman’s Head (Cook used to visit his father on set, and during downtime would actually play inside Herman’s head. This is the greatest thing I have ever learned about any ballplayer ever).
To any Fox executives who may be listening, PLEASE release Get A Life on dvd!
Between that and my Weird Al plug in Fort Wayne, I was very pleased with my on-air performance during this trip (and please email me if you’d like to discuss anything at all related to Get A Life).
The commercial break in the broadcast booth provided a chance for some between-inning sustenance in the form of a hot dog slathered in world-famous Bertman’s Ballpark Mustard. Clevelanders are crazy about this stuff — and for good reason.
And — jeez — during the inning break there was a marriage proposal on the dugout! I would have loved to cover that as well but one thing I’ve learned on these road trips is that you can’t do it all. The days are stuffed to the gills.
And speaking of being stuffed to the gills (yeah, I’m just gonna play this segue off like it was an accident), it was soon time for the nightly Fish Race!
I was the blue fish, and eked out a victory over green and red (not pictured) that may or may not have been pre-arranged. Also, the photo above might not be to “scale.”
After changing out of my fish costume, I stuck around the right field area and snapped what I may believe may be the most introspective mascot photo of all time.
But Skipper soon snapped out of his mental reveries. For it was his duty to lead a gaggle of youths across the field as part of a nightly “Fun Run.” I tagged along, but as it turned out the whole thing was a blur.
With the game winding down, I ducked into the team store in order to pick up a Captains shirt.
The change of clothes was necessary, as I was slated to be a special guest in a post-game high school home run derby. Assistant general manager Neil Stein threw me batting practice in the cages located beyond right field, and it’s fortunate no footage exists of this because I started out by whiffing on five straight pitches.
I shagged balls in the outfield while waiting for my turn, watching kids about half my age pummel it out of the park. When it came time for me to bat I performed better than I had in the cage, in that I least made contact with all 10 swings. But it generally wasn’t very solid contact, and the best of the bunch was an opposite field “shot” that traveled an estimated 265 feet.
Maybe I needed a Bat Jack?
So, yeah, all this (and more) happened in the span of a little more than three hours. Huge thanks to the entire Captains staff for such an enjoyable and action-packed experience — I only wish that I had had more time to spend there.
But there’s still more to come from “the road.” Stay tuned, and thank you for reading. Please continue to do so, while spreading the Ben’s Biz gospel to any and all interested parties.