Results tagged ‘ Hudson Valley Renegades ’

On the Road: So Close and Yet So Far Away in Hudson Valley

Over the last five seasons my Minor League Baseball ballpark travels have taken me to every corner of the continental United States, from El Paso, Texas to Everett, Washington to Burlington, Vermont to Fort Myers, Florida. Yet it wasn’t until this season-ending trip of 2014 that I visited the Hudson Valley Renegades, who are located just 75 miles north of my home base of New York City.

Finally, on August 30th, I rectified this egregious omission. Welcome to Dutchess Stadium, home of the Hudson Valley Renegades.

IMG_0791Construction on Dutchess Stadium began in January of 1994, and, somewhat miraculously, completed in time for the start of the 1994 New York-Penn League season. (The construction crew, like a good entomologist, was able to make adjustments on the fly.) Dutchess Stadium has hosted the Renegades for the duration of their existence, after the franchise relocated from Erie, Pennsylvania following the 1993 campaign.

While Dutchess Stadium boasts an ample parking area, be forewarned that traffic into and out of the ballpark is very slow moving. Don’t let that get to you, though. Just take a deep breath and take in the mountain view.

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The Renegades are owned by the Goldklang Group, whose baseball portfolio also includes the Charleston RiverDogs, Fort Myers Miracle, independent St. Paul Saints and wood-bat collegiate Pittsfield Suns. The Goldklang Group’s executive roster features the likes of Mike Veeck and Bill Murray, but I was disappointed to find out that neither man had traveled to Dutchess Stadium on this evening to give me a proper Hudson Valley welcome. “Don’t they know who I am?” I bellowed to no one in particular. “I am the mighty Ben’s Biz!”

Goldklang Group vice president Tyler Tumminia is the mastermind behind the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame, and plaques featuring the inductees are displayed at each Goldklang Group ballpark. At Dutchess Stadium, these plaques are located just outside of the main entrance.

IMG_0793It’s not hard to discern Tumminia’s motivations for establishing the PBSHOF — her father, John, a veteran White Sox scout and global baseball humanitarian, is one of the inductees.

IMG_0794 Meanwhile, I had my own scouting to do. The view from the inside.

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If you like inflatable cacti — and who doesn’t? — then you’ll love the team’s Fun Zone.

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If you don’t like cactus then you are Nopal of mine

Heading down the third base line, one encounters this bit of creative landscaping. I just wish that dessicated cow skulls and tumbleweeds had also been incorporated into the design.

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Renegades players prepared for their imminent New York-Penn League contest by congregating in the outfield and staring blankly into the middle distance.

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While, down the first base line, an unruly mass of pre-game guests began to congeal.

IMG_0803Fortunately, I had some help making sense of the chaos. Sandy Tambone, a local photographer who often works Renegades games, introduced himself to me prior to the game and, throughout the evening, helped me make sense of what I was seeing. For instance, in the above photograph, you can see a woman wearing a crown. That would be Miss Hudson Valley, one April Maroshick, who soon had to handle the awkward task of throwing out a first pitch while wearing a skirt, sash and high heels. (I would be happy to attempt this at a Minor League game in 2015. Get in touch.)

photo: Sandy Tambone

photo: Sandy Tambone

Nadia Manginelli, also known as Miss Westchester, threw out a first pitch as well. While she might Miss Westchester, she did not miss her home plate target.

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Photo: Sandy Tambone

During my pregame peregrinations Sandy introduced me to the Hanson Sisters, a pair of Hudson Valley superfans who are not actually named Hanson but are in fact sisters. I wrote a story about them that appeared on MiLB.com last month; click HERE to learn all about the sisters’ well-honed raccoon-centric ballpark antics.

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Photo: Sandy Tambone

I also spoke with Glenn Looney, a veteran usher.

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Photo: Sandy Tambone

2014 marked Glenn’s 18th and final season as an usher at Dutchess Stadium, but he will continue to participate in the Renegades’ host family program.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” said Glenn of his impending retirement as an usher. “But part of the reason [I’m retiring] is because I’m getting a new hip. I made sure to schedule the surgery after the playoffs, though. But now I’ll have time to sit in section 203 with the other host families, having a beer and watching my kids play baseball. I’m looking forward to it. Yesterday the score [of the Renegades game] was 3-2 and I had no idea what happened. I was working.”

By “my kids” Glenn meant the players that he’ll be hosting during the baseball season. I’ve heard that terminology used frequently when talking to host families, which speaks to the level of commitment and loyalty that develops as a result of these endeavors.

Left once again to my own devices, I resumed my aimless ballpark wanderings. Several Midway-style games had been set up in the “Corona Cantina” as part of the evening’s carnival theme.

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Among the carnival games was this strength-determiner, which featured an insulting and not entirely politically correct set of benchmarks (the first five were “softy,” wimp,” “girly man” “sissy,” and “assistant general manager”). Also, I have no idea whether that basketball shot made it in or not. It shall now linger on the rim for all eternity.

IMG_0808The team’s concession-area signage is similarly carnival-esque.

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Getting a leg up on the competition

The game I attended was on a Saturday night, the penultimate home game of the 2014 season. A robust crowd had filed in at this point, and many fans went straight to the concession stand.

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Wade-ing in line

It is perhaps to be expected from a team operating within the exorbitant orbit of New York City, but the Renegades’ concession items were on the pricier side. An order of nachos (just chips and processed cheese, no other toppings) was $5.50, and a 22-ounce soda went for $4.50. Perhaps also to be expected from a team in the greater NYC area, security procedures were more rigorous than at any other Minor League ballpark I had ever been to (including Brooklyn and Staten Island). Security personnel wielding hand-held metal detectors greeted fans at the gate and dog-toting officers from the Dutchess County sheriff’s department were on the premises as well.

IMG_0814Somehow this wildly gesticulating freakazoid made it past security, attracting children who came to the ballpark wearing the same shade of blue.

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If this blue dude is indicative of the Renegades’ customer service approach, then let it be known that they will bend over backwards to fulfill your needs.

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Truth be told, I developed a mild obsession with this aqua-hued creature. In this panoramic photo, he reveals himself to be a shape-shifting entity capable of dividing himself into a half-dozen separate organisms.

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Regretfully, and with no small amount of effort, I wrested myself away from the Blue Man Group.

A Minor League Baseball game was about to begin!

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The Renegades get pretty creative with their between-innings contests, which are overseen by Rick “Zolz” Zolzer.

Photo: Sandy Tambone

Photo: Sandy Tambone

Zolz paces around the concourse throughout the whole game, handling both PA duties and on-field emcee duties. The only other locale in which I saw such multi-tasking in action was Charleston, which, not coincidentally, is also part of the Goldklang Group empire.

I didn’t get the name of this particular contest, but it involved guessing song lyrics which were played over the PA in a monotone robotic voice. I can’t believe that these guys couldn’t guess this one, and it only got worse! They later failed to identify “New York, New York.”

There was also a putting challenge at one point. Two guys, one shirt.

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Later in the game I witnessed “Pie Wars.” Ostensibly this is a trivia contest, but really it seemed like an elaborate excuse for Zolz to mercilessly pick on one of the contestants. Check out the acerbic absurdity.

You can take away his dignity, but you can’t take away his smile.

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I have no idea what is going on in this photo. Maybe an on-field Heimlich maneuver demonstration?

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On-field shenanigans are all well and good, but I had other things to do. Namely, it was time to meet the evening’s designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

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The above two individuals are Kathleen Fleming and Josh Gladstone. Josh is a fellow Major League Baseball Advanced Media employee, though his work and mine don’t often intersect. “Managing Producer” is his job title, though I generally refer to him as “guy who is always talking about technical things I do not and probably never will understand.” Nevertheless, I think he’s an HTML of a guy.

At the time this game took place, Kathleen and Josh were engaged to be married. And now, thanks to the inexorable passage of time, they are husband and wife! Congratulations, guys! Let me treat you to an array of concession offerings at a Class A Short Season Minor League Baseball game. Really, it’s the least I could do.

“I’m one of those obnoxious foodies who posts a photo of a tray of oysters,” said Josh.

“On our ‘Save the Date’ invite, we’re literally stuffing pie into our mouths,” added Kathleen.

Clearly, I was dealing with a couple of discerning gourmands.

Kathleen ordered a portabello-and-swiss burger, obtained from a made-to-order concession kiosk located on the concourse behind home plate.

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Josh opted for a nacho cheese-slathered hot dog. (In a feat of perhaps unparalleled gastronomic ingenuity, he then opted to put the potato chips directly onto his hot dog.)

IMG_0831The lovebirds have at it.

Kathleen, unfortunately, was unimpressed.

“Portabello and Swiss, both of which are cold,” she said. “I did not expect that. It was grilled…at one point. It tastes good, but I’m sorry: Cheese on a hot sandwich that’s not at least nominally melted? At least make an attempt.”

Josh had a better experience.

“Plus one on the ridged potato chips. If it’s not Ruffles, it’s a strong rival,” he said. “The hot dog is well-cooked, and I like a heavier, well-cooked dog. The chips on the dog give it a nice crunch. It tastes like America.”

Earlier in the evening I had noticed that the “Curious Traveler Eatery” featured a “Kegs and Eggs” special: scrambled eggs, home fries, bacon and a beer for $7.

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Being a curious traveler myself, I quickly procured this Minor League Baseball culinary rarity so that Josh and Kathleen could (hopefully) enjoy it.

“I am excited about Kegs and Eggs because my favorite time to eat breakfast is anytime but breakfast,” said Josh.

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Kathleen may have dabbled a bit, but it was Josh who ended up doing most of the Kegs and Eggs heavy lifting. Sorry, ladies. He’s taken.

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“This is a summer camp-quality scramble,” said Josh.

“Uh, is that a good thing?” I asked him.

“You can leave that up to the reader to decide. I, for one, have fond memories of summer camp,” he replied.

And with that, we say goodbye to Josh and Kathleen. Any final words?

“We’re getting married on October 12, and interested parties can find our registry at joshandkathleen.com,” said Kathleen, not realizing that this post would not appear until two weeks after their nuptials. “Maybe strangers on the web will contribute. ‘Oh, those people with their portabello burgers. They’re adorable.'”

“This is the best baseball experience we’ve had all season,” added Josh, who had not been to a baseball game in 2014. “I like food of all kinds, and I’m always excited to check out a new venue. This was my first visit to the Renegades, but it will not be my last.”

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I may be posting these final “On the Road” missives of 2014 at a glacial pace, but the game itself was moving quicker than a jackrabbit dancing on a bed of coals. By the time I parted ways with Josh and Kathleen, it was already the top of the eighth inning. The crowd was fully settled in and the stands were packed.

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With everyone safely ensconced in their seats, this usher had plenty of time to pose with visiting regional beauty pageant royalty.

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Photo: Sandy Tambone

In addition to taking the above photo, Sandy introduced me to Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro. His personal grooming > my personal grooming.

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Molinaro has been a strong advocate for the Renegades, to the extent that the team gave away Molinaro bobbleheads in 2012. Prior to this season Dutchess Stadium, a county-owned facility, installed a new artificial turf playing surface and Molinaro has been a key supporter of efforts such as these. Here’s one more photo from Sandy Tambone, depicting the official public debut of the new playing surface. Clearly, it is a cut above.

Photo: Sandy Tambone

Photo: Sandy Tambone

Anyhow, the visiting Connecticut Tigers defeated the Renegades by a score of 3-2, in a ballgame that took a tidy two hours and 15 minutes to play.

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The game was over, but there was still a four-part suite of post-game entertainment.

Part One: Space Invaders — Live!

Part Two: Fireworks

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View from the rafters

While the fireworks show was going on, I ducked into the temporarily deserted men’s bathroom to document the wall art found therein.

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This falls under the “general interest” category

Part Three: Launch-A-Ball

IMG_0859Part IV: Dance Party!

On my way out of the ballpark, I noticed this dismembered action figure abandoned on a concourse table. That’s a metaphor for something, I just don’t know what.

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Good night from Hudson Valley.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Turn the Page, Part One

Have you ever tried to monitor the actions of 160 entities on a daily basis? That’s basically what my job is here at MiLB.com, and please believe me when I say that it can be overwhelming! Keeping track of a such a vast industry exacerbates my already quite pronounced OCD-tendencies, and leads to notebook pages such as the following:

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All of this is to say — it’s time to turn the page! But before doing so, please enjoy this bouillabaisse blog post consisting entirely of news items seen on the above notebook page. Y’know, topics that I’ve kept meaning to get around to but never did (or at least never did outside of the Twitter realm).

So here you go — no segues, just news news news!

Would you believe that the Hudson Valley Renegades have not one but TWO former MLB pitchers on their front office staff? Joe Ausiano (1994-95 Yankees) has long been with the team, and he has now been joined by Rob Bell (who played for four teams over seven big league seasons). Bell, now 36, will serve as a sales account executive.

Hudson Valley: home of Minor League Baseball’s best front office softball team?

The Iowa Cubs have long prided themselves on conducting the most irreverent website polls in MiLB, but decided not to continue with the practice after their site underwent an extensive re-design (as nearly all  team sites have done of late, courtesy of the tech wizards here at MLBAM).

But, rest assured, they went out on top of their poll game!

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It’s always about Battle Creek

You may recall my recent post on Minor League Front Office Cliches, in which one of the cliches mentioned was “We wear a lot of hats.” This prompted @Interstate19Cap to reply, via Twitter: “I wear a lot of hats. Haha! I should work in MiLB.”

He also attached a picture of his formidable hat wall. Not quite at a St. Pete level, but close!

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You may or may not be aware of my most recent “Ben’s Bookshelf” column, which had a Black History Month angle.

bhmbookshelfI recommend all six of the titles shown above (read the article, linked to above), but there’s far more where that came from. Check out this bookshelf pic, sent to me via Twitter by @BeesGal_SLC, and marvel at its thoroughness.

That reminds me — I really should read Curt Flood’s book!

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On the promotion front —  this, from the Altoona Curve, is worthy of attention. April 11 will be BOpening Night, a tribute to batboy Bo Forney who passed away earlier this month at the age of 21.

Bo Forney, with the Dubble Bubble

Bo Forney, with the Dubble Bubble

From the team:

Bo has been an inspiration to many with the way he lived,” said Curve General Manager Rob Egan.  “He had the rare ability to make anybody who came in contact with him feel better.  Bo was such a positive person, loved life, and truly enjoyed people.  We miss him deeply and look forward to celebrating his life on ‘BOpening Night’ and throughout the season.”

A silent auction will take place during BOpening Night with all proceeds from the auction benefitting the American Heart Association.  The auction will consist of game-used items from the Pirates-Curve Exhibition game and will include, in addition to other items, 14-game used jerseys that have been signed by former Curve players /current Pirates players.    

To commemorate the life of Forney, a patch with Bo’s cartoon likeness will be affixed to all bat boys uniforms throughout the 2013 season.  The Forney family will also be in attendance for BOpening Night and will throw out ceremonial first pitches prior to the game.  A moment of silence will be held in Bo’s honor prior to the game as well. 

This reminds me of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who last season held a ballpark service for vendor Brock Calmes. Events like these help to illustrate the deep bonds that form within Minor League Baseball ballparks, and just how meaningful the presence of Minor League Baseball within a community can be.

Last week, the Tacoma Rainiers let it be known that anyone willing to purchase 350 Opening Weekend ticket deals would receive this pyramid of Dustin Ackley bobbleheads. I don’t think that anyone took them up on it.

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Next I’d like to give a shoutout to Spikes, intrepid mascot for your (or at least someone’s) Rochester Red Wings. He joins Rocky of the Wilmington Blue Rocks as the only mascots (that I am aware of) to take part in a Polar Plunge for charity.

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During all 10 of their Friday night home games this season, the Charlotte Knights will be wearing 1990 throwback uniforms. Luxuriate in this image!

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This initiative was inspired by the fact that 2013 will be the team’s last at Knights Stadium. 1990 was the first. Sez the team:

The jerseys, which were worn by the inaugural Knights Stadium Team in 1990, will now be worn by the current Knights team during the new “Flashback Fridays” series, which is set to commemorate 24 years of history at Knights Stadium.

To return to philanthropic endeavors, the Erie SeaWolves are now at the tail end of their “Drive to Five” initiative. 

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The most pertinent of the details:

Through February 28, the Erie SeaWolves will donate $25 to United Way for each new full-season ticket package purchased. If 100 new season ticket packages are purchased, the SeaWolves will double the contribution – raising $5,000 to help United Way achieve its goal to reduce poverty in our region.

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys detailed analysis of industry-wide attendance figures, then you’re going to love the Number Tamer. Nobody does it better! (Or, if someone does, I’m certainly not aware of it).

As you may be aware, one of this year’s most ill-fated sporting ventures occurred in Williamsport, PA. The Federal Hockey League’s Outlaw franchise set up shop at outdoor Bowman Field (longtime home of the Crosscutters), an idea that may sound cool in theory but turned out to be a unmitigated financial disaster. The team pulled the plug on the season mid-way through, leaving everyone in the lurch, and once this happened the Crosscutters offered a quick response via this local newspaper ad:

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This seems like a disaster waiting to happen, but nonetheless I encourage you like Lancaster JetHawks mascot KaBoom on Facebook. Here’s why:

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Speaking of inadvisable mascot feats, here’s a picture of Lake County’s Skipper, immediately after “Tackling the Tower.”

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“Tackling the Tower” isn’t some sort of euphemism, but an annual stair-climbing event with (of course) philanthropic intent. Good work, Skipper!

And, my goodness, this notebook page still has a lot of stuff on it. This post is gonna be a two-parter.

Everything I do, I do it for you.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbizb

Where There’s a Quill There’s a Way

So, a proper article on all of this appeared on MiLB.com yesterday evening, but in the interest of redundancy and poor time management let me reiterate: the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre International League entity  formerly known as the Yankees (and, prior to that, the Red Barons) are now known as the RailRiders.

That image seen above is, of course, a porcupine straddling streetcar tracks. To explain why, let me quote liberally from an up-and-coming young writer by the name of Benjamin Hill:

The name-the-team contest was conducted online and fans were able to choose their top three candidates. While RailRiders received the most first-place votes, the name that appeared on the most ballots was Porcupines. That helps explain the team’s primary logo, designed by San Diego-based Brandiose, which features a porcupine straddling trolley tracks atop the word “RailRiders” in a stylized cardinal red and gold font.

The team announced the name at a gala open-to-public event that they dubbed “The Big Reveal.” And here’s how they revealed it:

As a staunch advocate for the increased deployment of Black Sabbath in public situations, I love that the team chose “Iron Man” as the soundtrack to their unveiling video. However, this comment on the RailRiders Facebook page showed that there was, in fact, a better option.

Why would you use ironman instead of crazy train for this promo?

Touche.

The RailRiders have since posted a plethora of “Big Reveal” photos on their Facebook page (which, as of this writing, still lists them as the Yankees). As you can see, the citizenry turned out in big numbers for the announcement:

Here’s SWB president Rob Crain (formerly of the Omaha Royals-turned-Storm Chasers) tossing t-shirts into the crowd after the announcement. When it comes to Minor League Baseball executives looking like hip-hop performers, this is about as close as you’re ever gonna get.

Of course, a lot of the online chatter regarding the new name has been negative. No opinion is illegitimate when it comes to personal taste, of course (unless it involves a continued affinity for so-called “Nu-metal”), but with team re-branding efforts it’s not so much a case of the name itself as it is how you use it. I’ve known Rob Crain since his days with Omaha, and he’s poised to bring an energetic and innovative operating style to a moribund and disconnected-seeming franchise that really needed an injection of personality. Combine that with the massive renovation to PNC Field taking place, and it seems apparent to me that the 2013 season will be one of the most successful in franchise history. More power to you, online commenters threatening to cancel their season ticket plans, but that to me is like breaking up with a beautiful and intelligent woman because you don’t like her new haircut.

As for RailRiders — if it’s good enough for Greg Legg it’s good enough for me! Legg, second from left in the below pic, is a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre baseball legend who suited up for the Red Barons from 1989-94. I was a fan of his throughout, as during that time I regularly attended SWB Red Barons games while visiting my grandparents in nearby Gouldsboro.

If only Jeff Grotewold and Steve Scarsone could have been there to join him!

Legg and his crony on the far left there are sporting the team’s road cap, which references the team’s Red Barons past. It’s probably my personal favorite aspect of the re-brand.

Anyhow, to sum it up, there are a stew of competing forces at work whenever a team unveils a new look and regardless of your opinion, my opinion or anyone else’s opinion it will take several years before one can say whether RailRiders has been a success or failure. Instead of repeating myself more than I already have, I’ll close by referring you to a point-counterpoint I engaged in back in 2010 when the Omaha Royals became the “Storm Chasers.”

Rob Neyer (then with ESPN): the Storm Chasers have joined “the ranks of the embarrassing.”

Me: There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Rob Neyer never acknowledged this “debate,” and maybe he never even knew it was taking place (he was probably too busy counting his baseball writing-derived fortune in some Scrooge McDuck-like lair), but nonetheless the phrase “ranks of the embarrassing” has since become part of my everyday lexicon and for that I thank him.

And, jeez, I got so caught up in the RailRiders that I forgot to mention this: in celebration of their upcoming 20th anniversary season, the Hudson Valley Renegades have unveiled a new set of logos!

Pertinent details, per the team:

The new home uniforms will consist of a solid white jersey, with Dutchess blue piping and the new Renegades script logo across the chest. The uniform number will also be Dutchess blue, with a white outline both on the front and back of the jersey. The home uniform pants will be white with Dutchess blue piping down each pant leg. The home cap will feature the Renegades mask logo on a solid black cap. The mask logo will be embroidered on the cap adding a raised element to the overall appearance.

Careful, Hudson Valley: a glowering blue-tinted raccoon is watching your every move!

And, oh, hey: since I’m rambling on and on about logos and seem to have a NYPL fixation, here’s one more for you before I go. The 2013 New York-Penn League All-Star mark, courtesy of the Connecticut Tigers.

Okay, that anchor should keep me from drifting any further. I’m quitting while I’m still ahead, even if I don’t know what it is I feel that I might be still ahead of.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

A Season of Transition

For those familiar with Minor League Baseball’s offseason news cycle, the month of November holds special meaning in that it is prime time for teams to announce their re-branding efforts for the next season and beyond. Recent news on that front has included the unveiling of the Hillsboro Hops name and logo, the Lexington Legends’ heavily-mustachioed new look and Erie’s enhanced commitment to marauding wolves.

But this week is gonna be a doozy, with three re-branding efforts of escalating intrigue being unveiled over the course of the next five days. The Hudson Valley Renegades will debut their new logos on Wednesday afternoon, and later that evening the (relatively) nearby Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees will announce their new name. (This effort is in conjunction with the team playing in what will essentially be a “new” ballpark next season, as PNC Field is in the midst of a thorough renovation that forced the team to spend the entirety of 2012 on the road.)

The Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees — time is running out.

The six finalists in the SWB Yanks’ re-branding are a largely unserious lot: Blast, Black Diamond Bears, Fireflies, Porcupines, RailRiders and Trolley Frogs. After being known as the Yankees (and, before that, the relatively conservative-sounding Red Barons), there is sure to be some backlash in the Scranton area from fans unhappy with their home team’s more flamboyant new direction. Such controversy is par for the course, really, and SWB president Rob Crain should be well-equipped to handle it given that he was an assistant general manager in Omaha when that team changed its name from the Royals to the Storm Chasers. (That change was not at all popular in the early-going, though fans have by and large come around to it).

But whatever the reaction is in Scranton, it will be a mere prelude to the third and most fascinating re-branding effort being unveiled this week. On Saturday, after 46 years of being known as the “Phillies,” Reading’s Eastern League club is announcing a new name and to say that the local reaction to this change has been negative would be an understatement. Just check out the comments on this web site press release, or the reaction to virtually any post on their Facebook page, or this online petition against the change, or, finally, this 2800-member strong “Save the Reading Phillies” Facebook page. To add gasoline to the flames, iconic PA announcer Dave “Frenchy” Bauman has publicly declared that he will resign from his position if the R-Phils change their name and, in response, the team has announced that PA announcer tryouts will be part of Saturday’s re-branding festivities. (For those interested, Bauman has commented frequently on the aforementioned “Save the Reading Phillies” Facebook page).

Time is running out

In general I am supportive of team re-branding efforts, even when they aren’t initially embraced by the community. Negative reactions to irreverent team names and identities are often motivated by the fear of the unknown and a general ignorance of how Minor League teams operate, and a common pattern has been observable in recent years in markets such as Lehigh Valley (IronPigs), Richmond (Flying Squirrels) and, of course, Omaha: Anger gives way to acceptance once the season begins and fans are able to witness first-hand how the new identity is incorporated into the overall entertainment experience. (Because, like it or not, Minor League teams are in the entertainment business first and foremost. Affiliation agreements can be short-lived, and the product on the field is 100% dictated by the parent club. Therefore, it makes sense for Minor League teams to focus on what they can control: their identity and the multi-faceted entertainment options that complement the game itself).

But Reading is unique case in that the franchise already seemed to be enjoying a best-of-both-worlds scenario. The city has been nicknamed Baseballtown, after all, and the fan base has a justifiable sense of pride in both their classic ballpark and a long-running Phillies connection (alumni include icons such as Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski to more recent luminaries such as Ryan Howard). The “Phillies” name has a powerful resonance in Reading, perhaps more powerful than that of any other Minor League team that still retains the moniker of its parent club.

Before he wore #20

But, meanwhile, Reading’s deeply-embedded front office (led by GM Scott Hunsicker) has worked hard to create a thoroughly unique Minor League atmosphere at the ballpark, and the fan base has embraced this side of the game experience as well. Vegetable racing, the mascot band and dancing super-fan “Disco Briscoe” are all part of the FirstEnergy Stadium atmosphere, which, of course, also includes the ostrich-riding Crazy Hot Dog Vendor. (I have been fortunate enough to visit dozens of Minor League stadiums over the past several years, and never have I seen a ballpark character with the level of popularity enjoyed by the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor – read all about it HERE).

Given that the R-Phils already do an excellent job walking this distinctly Minor League tightrope, the imminent re-branding represents a huge risk and brings to mind the old “If it ain’t broke…” cliche. For even if fans eventually embrace the new name, the public relations fallout from this decision will reverberate for a long time to come. Quite frankly, the strongest partisans on either side aren’t looking particularly good right now: the R-Phils front office is rather cavalierly flying in the face of deeply-ingrained fan sentiment within an admirably supportive market, while the most vocal contingent of fans against the change are engaging in online histrionics that are rather out of proportion to what is actually taking place. (Passion for the hometown team is a wonderful thing, but it’s not like the team is relocating. They will remain a Phillies affiliate, regardless). And say what you will about Hunsicker and company, but they’re not a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies to the Reading baseball scene. Shouldn’t their success in running the club thus far be taken into consideration? Shouldn’t the tone of this discussion be a bit more diplomatic?

There’s a lot more to explore when it comes to this story, and I’ll do my best to follow up with different viewpoints throughout the offseason. In the meantime, I’d like to know your opinion: Brilliant? Suicidal? Both? Let me know.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

An Anomalous Date Leads to Phenomenal Deals

Maybe it’s an example of my sticktuitiveness, maybe an example of stagnancy. Probably both. But, at any rate, I am able to begin today’s Leap Year post by looking at what I wrote about 2/29 the last time it rolled around.

So let’s leap to it!

San Jose's got the spirit!

The year was 2008. While most Americans were busy listening to the 10th anniversary edition of the Baha Men’s epochal Doong Spank LP, the Lancaster JetHawks made their presence felt by staging a Leap Year promo. Most notably, all fans with a leap year birthday received a box seat season ticket!

Not to be outdone, the Altoona Curve soon announced a season-long “Leip Year” celebration, all in honor of skipper Tim Leiper.

Leiper the Skipper

This one had the Rainmain-like fixation on numbers that is a hallmark of any good Minor League promotion, including the provision that if any Curve player was batting .366 after April 29’s ballgame, he (or she, you never know) would be awarded $366.

Maybe I’m just jaded, but I don’t think we’ve reached that level of inspiration in 2012. But a lot is going on. Here is a thorough (but by no means authoritative) rundown of who’s doing what how. Said rundown is in alphabetical order, but starting with “N” and then continuing back around through “M.”

Portland Sea Dogs

Most notably, the above deal includes a $29 Citgo gas card.

Trenton Thunder

$17 all-you-can-eat seats, to any game. I’m just not sure who would want to eat seats in the first place, though.

Stockton Ports

More bang for the buck than a bringing an exploding dollar bill along on a deer hunt! $29 gets four tickets to exhibition game vs. Triple-A Sacramento, four ticket vouchers to opening weekend, and two souvenir caps.

Fort MyersMiracle

Interesting twist to this one, in that the $29 ticket packages includes admission to all games falling on the 29th of the month.

Hagerstown Suns


This offer comes with a $29 concession stand credit. Beet eggs included?

Hudson Valley Renegades

Two extra games included with the purchase of a five or 10-game pack!

Huntsville Stars

A $95 savings!

Inland Empire 66ers

Buy a six or 12-game ticket pack, get an additional game free.

Lake Elsinore Storm

Self-explanatory.

This concludes THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE RECAP OF MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL LEAP DAY PROMOTIONS EVER ASSEMBLED. And yet I still don’t have my own Wikipedia page.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

In Which Tweeting Leads to Eating

sandgnat.jpgBelieve it or not, I’ve gotten a little bit (heart)burned out on Minor League food news. But the latest and greatest innovation to come down the pike is interesting not just for its colossal caloric content.

The Savannah Sand Gnats will be serving two brand-new menu items at Grayson Stadium this season, the end result of an interesting case study in fan interactivity and the power of social media. Here’s how it went down.

This past Saturday, CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell asked his huge cadre of Twitter followers to come up with “The next great ballpark food.” Impressed by the response, he then decided to compile the suggestions and put them to a vote on his blog. Savannah Sand Gnats director of communications Toby Hyde quickly reached out to Rovell, saying that his team would put the winning items (main course and dessert) on the concession menu at Grayson Stadium.

The polls opened on Monday afternoon and closed 24 hours later, a span of time in which 2500 votes were collected. And the winners are:

Chicken and Waffles (27%) and S’Mores Panini (39%)!candw.jpg

The former was submitted by an attorney in San Francisco, with the stipulation that waffles would be used as buns. The latter, meanwhile, is “Nutella, Fluff, crushed graham crackers on Italian bread, grilled on a panini press.” Not coincidentally, it was submitted by the owner of a panini business.

From start to finish, this whole endeavor lasted less than 72 hours. But in that span of time, the Sand Gnats received national publicity as well as a great new marketing angle — exciting concession items!

Rovell and the Sand Gnats have provided an easily adaptable template, and I find myself crushed by the sheer inevitability of similar promotions happening in the future.

– At this juncture in the blog post, it’s time to stop writing and let some videos do the talking. Yesterday, the Pawtucket Red Sox released episode two of their Scavenger Hunt extravaganza. I am posting this because of the absolutely hilarious performance turned in by the Tae Kwon Do instructor:

Meanwhile, this video from Hudson Valley shows that old-school arcade classics can (and in fact should) be adapted into on-field post-game live-action contests. Bonus points for the onfield host, who flat-out tells a contestant that “dude, you’re terrible.”

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

One More Before Hitting the Road

pa.jpgFirst things first, I am on the cusp of my third road trip of this 2010 season. As a Pennsylvania native who now lives in NYC, this one includes some pretty familiar territory:

July 10 — Lakewood BlueClaws
July 11 — Reading Phillies
July 12 — Williamsport Crosscutters
July 13 — State College Spikes
July 14 — Triple-A All-Star Game @ Coca-Cola Park (home of the Lehigh
Valley IronPigs)
July 15-17 — Attending Keystone Mascot Camp, culminating in performance at Harrisburg Senators game
Juy 18 — Harrisburg Senators (sans mascot costume)

As always, feel free to get in touch with travel recommendations as well as suggestions as to what I should call this trip. The Keystone Krawl? Pennsylvania Perambulations? Northeastern Navigations? I got nothin.’

But it’s not about me, or what I’m doing. At least it shouldn’t be. With that in mind, here’s a formidable array of content that has nothing to do with yours truly.

– The Tennessee Smokies are one of many teams to have staged a Michael Jackson tribute night this season, but theirs stood out for one simple reason: Zombie Dancers!

This is certainly the most painstaking “Thriller” recreation to take place in the Minors this season:

Tennessee_Thriller2.JPG

Tennessee_Thriller3.JPG

Tennessee_Thriller4.JPG
Meanwhile, the Trenton Thunder’s July 4th entertainment consisted of the ultra-American combination of a Strong Man Competition and Apple Pie Eating Contest (in addition to the requisite baseball and fireworks):

The club hosted the final event of the Liberty Strongman Challenge: The Atlas Stones

Atlas Stone.jpg

And then there was this:

apple pie.jpg

The Hudson Valley Renegades recently held a “Jim Joyce Redemption” promotion, featuring plenty of fake mustaches, “Whack An Umpire” games (as opposed to the usual “Whack an Intern”), Umpire Impersonation Contests, and Umpire bloopers and arguments displayed on the videoboard.

Portrait of the Umpire As A Young Man:

Hudson Valley_Joyce2.JPG 

The Lowell Spinners recently welcomed a most intriguing between-inning performer: Al Milar the Human Knot. This flexible Australian is like a cross between Rubberboy and Mad Chad.

Lowell_Knot1.JPG

Lowell_Knot2.JPG

Lowell_Knot3.JPG

Spinners director of media relations Jon Boswell reports that the Human Knot is highly entertaining and very affordable. Give Jon a call if you want more info. Twice I tried to embed THIS VIDEO of the Human Knot in this post, and twice it disappeared. I’m giving up.

But not before mentioning that THIS is occurring in Little Rock, as I type this. I wish I was there.

Thumbnail image for jose.jpg

Okay, I think that’s enough content that has nothing to do with me. Here’s to the negation of the self!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

Just 162 Days Away…

pro-mo.jpgOne of my many self-imposed “housekeeping” tasks here at MiLB.com is to compile an Excel spreadsheet of next season’s notable promotions.

As most teams have yet to announce their promotional schedules, my 2009 spreadsheet is currently quite barren. In fact, it includes a mere 28 listings. But of these 28, four are scheduled to take place on the same day. That day is June 20, which is shaping up to be quite an action-packed day in the Minor Leagues. Let’s take a look at what lies in store thus far:

Bowling Green Hot Rods — Fan’s Choice T-Shirt Night

This design of this shirt will be selected by the fans, who will make their voices heard throughbs.gif the magic of online polling. I’m hoping that the shirt will commemorate an alternate reality in which the team’s name is “Cave Shrimp“.

Hudson Valley Renegades — Benchwarmer’s Night

I have already dedicated a post to this most entertaining of promotional nights. Inspired by the Knicks’ laughable Stephon Marbury situation, the Renegades will be paying tribute to benchwarmers all game long. The night even includes a wooden seat cushion giveaway.

HacksawJimDuggan.jpgLakewood BlueClaws“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan Appearance

In which the BlueClaws will welcome the WWE’s oldest wrestler, whose weapon of choice is a 2×4.

Peoria Chiefs — Lee Smith Appearance

Even more intimidating than “Hacksaw” is Lee Smith, the legendary 6’6″ closer who amassed 478 saves over 18 Major League seasons.

So there you have it folks…June 20 is still more than five months away, yet we are already assured of four above average promotions. Please get in touch if YOU are aware of anything going on in the Minor Leagues on June 20 (or any other day, for that matter):

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

And now, courtesy of Wikipedia, here are a few other somewhat notable events that have occurred on June 20:

451 — Flavius Aetius defeats Atilla the Hun at the battle of Chalons.

1782 — The U.S. Congress adopts the Great Seal of the United States.
seal.JPG
1893 — Lizzie Borden is acquitted of the murders of her father and stepmother.

1976 — The birth of Rob Mackowiak.

2008 — Reading Phillies stage Spam Carving Competition.

Thank you, as always, for making it through to the last sentence.

Pay to Not Play

hudsonvalley.jpegAs I write to you from an undisclosed location that may or may not rhyme with “Schnoz Tegas Bravada”, there is much on my mind, and many potential topics to write about.

But, as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Therefore, on the heels of Friday’s post about the Ports’ ESPN promo, I now must now focus my attention on another recently announced gem: the Hudson Valley Renegades‘ “Tribute to Benchwarmers Night“.

This evening of seat-riding merriment — which will take place on June 20 — was inspired by the tragicomic saga of New York Knicks’ guard Stephon Marbury, who is being payed approximiately $21 million to NOT play this season. It has nothing to do with the 2006 Rob Schneider comedy. From the press release:

“The first 1,500 fans will receive an opportunity to “grab some pine”
upon entrance with their
seat.jpg very own wooden seat cushion. A ceremony will
honor famous bench players throughout all major sports, and between
innings contests will include a Mark Madsen Dance-off and Over-the-Head
Towel Twirling among others.”

The Renegades are displaying their committment to Marbury in other ways as well. In addition to not playing a single game in the month of May, the short-season club also announced that they would offer “Starbury Seats” throughout the 2009 season. The press release explains that the Starbury Seat is

marburied.jpg“a single bench seat at field level which is available for one fan per
game. Purchase of the Starbury Seats includes two hot dogs, a bag of
peanuts, popcorn, a large soda and a bottled water along with a
complimentary Renegades t-shirt which reads, “I Rode the Pine at The
Dutch.”

So, there you have it folks. 2008 is still in its convulsive death throes, but teams are nonetheless already announcing some fantastic promos for ’09. This trend will only increase as we all journey through time towards that blessed moment of hope and renewal that is Opening Day.

Stay tuned tomorrow for, among other things, a chance to view one of the greatest pieces of adolescent American folk art of the 21st century.  

President Bobarack Bobama

bobblect.jpg

Last week, the six Minor League clubs operated by Mike
Veeck’s Goldklang Group staged “Bobblection 2008.” The premise behind
this promotion was simple, according to my Promotion Preview column from two
weeks ago:

“Bobblection is very simple at its core,” I wrote informatively.
“Upon entering the stadium, fans will select a bobblehead doll of either
Barack Obama or John McCain. The first candidate to run out of dolls (there
will be 500 of each) is declared the winner.”

The people have spoken, and the leader they prefer is bobblin’ Barack Obama.
Here are the results:

GOLDKLANG GROUP BOBBLECTION RESULTS 

TEAM        
               
        
OBAMA               
McCAIN

Hudson Valley, NY      750 
(51.3%)      713  (48.7)

Brockton, MA              500 
(52.3%)      456  (47.7%)

Charleston, SC           500 
(58.1%)      360  (41.9%)

St. Paul, MN               1250  (58%)       
906  (42%)

Sioux Falls, SD            500 
(55.2%)      405  (44.8%)

Fort Myers, FL             500  (54.4%)     
419  (45.6%)

TOTALS                   4,000 ( 55.1%)    3,259 ( 44.9%)

Astute observers will note that three of the teams listed
above (Sioux Falls, St. Paul, Brockton) are from the Independent Leagues, that wild and wooly bastion of the Minors that is officially outside of the Ben’s Biz Blog jurisdiction. For one shining moment, Bobblection was able to unite these normally isolated factions of professional baseball.  As a candidate of HOPE and CHANGE and UNITY and other buzzwords that signal a NEW ERA, Barack Obama  would certainly approve.

In other news: I will be out of the office over the next several days, for two exceedingly good reasons. Blog content will most likely be sparse, but do not think I have abandoned you. I would never do that.

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