Results tagged ‘ Kane County Cougars ’

Return to the Road: Bouncing Between Illinois and Iowa

Earlier this month, I wrote a series of “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark experiences during April’s trip to Florida. Today, I’ll move on to similar material, this time centering around late May’s quick jaunt through the Midwest.

midwest_final_61t5gp7u
May 23 was a whirlwind — an early flight from NYC to Chicago, an extremely long wait for a rental car, a quick hotel check-in and then a jam-packed evening with the Kane County Cougars. It was all a blur, and that feeling persisted into the next morning.

I had no idea which car in the hotel parking lot was mine! I took both of them, just to be sure.

IMG_1222From there it was on to a (rained out) afternoon with the Quad Cities River Bandits, followed by an early evening drive to Clinton, Iowa. At some point during this drive, I took a picture of some amusing rest stop bathroom graffiti. I wish that I could share it with you in full, but this is a family blog (you’re probably reading this with your family right now, as Ben’s Biz is one of the few things that unites the average American family in this fractured media age).

IMG_1223Upon arriving in Clinton, I was hungry. And when I am on the road and hungry, I generally seek out one of four (reliably gluten-free) options: barbecue, Mexican, Vietnamese or Buffalo Wild Wings.

Clinton, a factory town, came through on the Mexican front. This restaurant, as you can see, was in close proximity to a smoking lamppost.

IMG_1237

Despite an 80 percent ingredient overlap from dish to dish, El Tapatio had a menu whose length was roughly equivalent to that of the Old Testament.

IMG_1235I don’t remember what I ordered, exactly, but it was, essentially, steak and eggs and rice and beans. Fundamental. (In the below photo, note that I was still reading an Athlon baseball preview magazine in late May. Those things take me forever to get through, as I am one of those obsessive types who reads every word of every page.)

IMG_1236The next morning, May 25, I drove to Clinton’s Eagle Point Park and took a stroll.

001

002While I had less than an hour in which to wander around the premises, I’m glad that I visited Eagle Park. If you should ever be in Clinton, to see the LumberKings or otherwise, then I suggest that you do so as well. The park overlooks the Mississippi River, which, as it runs past Clinton, is at one of its widest points.

IMG_1241I would have liked to meditate in this location for upwards of three hours, but, as always, duty called. Soon enough, I was on the path back to reality.

006Reality remained a whirlwind, but on the way to see the LumberKings I took the time to pull over and take a photo of Snodgrass Motors.

IMG_1254This brief pit stop was motivated by then-Richmond Flying Squirrels (and now Virginia Tech) broadcaster Jon Laaser, who consistently paid tribute to pitcher Jack Snodgrass via creative use of the “word” Snodgrass.

One of many examples.

snod

After witnessing a Memorial Day doubleheader in Clinton, I drove back to Quad Cities and caught the second game of the River Bandits’ doubleheader against the Chiefs. From there, it was time for a nighttime drive to Peoria so that I would be well-positioned to see those very same Chiefs the following evening.

The second — and final — entry of this Midwest-based “Return to the Road” saga will begin in Peoria. We’ll see how it plays.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

New Logo Round-Up: Fierce, Streamlined and Verdant

So, didja miss me? What’s that? You didn’t even know that I was gone? Ah, well, whatever. The important thing is that I’m back from vacation and now fully in “offseason mode.” I have nothing left to write regarding my 2015 ballpark travels, but, when one dwells fully within the world of Minor League Baseball, there is always something to write about.

Today, that something will be a full-to-bursting bouillabaisse concerning all of the new Minor League logos that were unveiled when I was outta sight and outta mind. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us.

Kane County Cougars — For the first 25 years of their existence, the Kane County Cougars held the distinction of “Minor League team whose primary logo looks most like a Boy Scout merit badge.” I always kind of liked it, at least because it was so out of place in the current Minor League landscape.

oldkcThe Cougars unveiled an entirely new logo set on November 10. The Cougar in question, previously a blank slate upon which we could project our own emotional interpretation, is now fierce.

newcoug

The logos were designed by Studio Simon, in conjunction with Cougars graphic designer Emmet Broderick. The team is now one of a select handful in Minor League Baseball whose wardrobe includes a lime green alternate jersey.

Kane_County_Cougars_2

Bowling Green Hot Rods — When the Hot Rods played their inaugural season, way back in 2009, they looked like this:

bgold

And now, after just six seasons, the club has completely overhauled its look. The old logo was designed by Brandiose (then known as Plan B Branding); these new marks are courtesy of SME. I don’t really know much about SME, as they are not a firm that has had many Minor League clients. I guess I’ll have to learn.

hotrods

If you’re looking for a relevant excerpt from the accompanying Hot Rods MiLB.com story, then boy are you in luck:

[Hot Rods general manager Adam] Nuse said the variety of colors and the shape of the old logo presented challenges to the team, especially when it came to merchandise.

“We’re certainly happy with [the new look]. Previously, we had a lot of different colors, and now we’re kind of focusing on the navy and the orange. It simplifies things a bit and makes it a little more modern. Our new logos are a little more symmetric than the other ones. I really liked our old logos, but they made it hard graphically — they created some centering issues — and I think our new stuff avoids those. They’re easier to fit on graphic pieces and merchandise.”

New Hampshire Fisher Cats — You may remember reading, here or elsewhere, that the New Hampshire Fisher Cats were originally called the “New Hampshire Primaries.” The franchise never played a game as the “Primaries”, however, because the local stick-in-the-mud population was thoroughly against it.

primaries

Still, the Fisher Cats continue to have fun with their what-coulda-been “Primaries” identity. Take it away, press release, and never come back:

prime

As the Granite State celebrates the 100th anniversary of its presidential primary, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats have launched a campaign of their own, “We the Fans 2016.” The interactive campaign will allow fans across the country to participate in New Hampshire’s rich political history by casting votes for the official game hat to be worn by the Fisher Cats on Opening Day, April 14, 2016.

Voting…will take place on the new voting website, www.WeTheFans2016.com. The initial question will ask fans nationwide to determine which hat the Fisher Cats wear for the first game next season – a blue hat with a donkey logo or a red hat with an elephant logo. The two logos are throwbacks to the Fisher Cats’ original name, the New Hampshire Primaries, and will be accompanied by the team’s bipartisan jersey that is half red and half blue with ‘Fisher Cats’ in script across the chest.

This is the first time that I’ve encountered the phrase “bipartisan jersey” and I pray that it will not be the last. I voted on Tuesday morning, at which point the votes were evenly split, but at the end of the day the Donkey was winning in 48 of 50 states. One of the two states in which the Elephant was winning was New Hampshire.

Omaha Storm ChasersOmaha’s Pacific Coast League franchise switched its name from the “Royals” to the “Storm Chasers” prior to the 2011 season. The Royals affiliation remained, however, and now it is receiving an increased emphasis via the Storm Chasers’ new uniforms.

That one on the bottom right, it’s called the “Vortex.”

omahajerz

The press release, the embodiment of all Earthly knowledge, contains the following quote:

“In light of the Royals’ World Series Championship, there is no better time to further connect our two franchises, part of which is shown with these new jerseys,” said Storm Chasers President and General Manager Martie Cordaro. “From adding blue to our road jersey and with an all-new alternate powder blue jersey, we are now aligned with the color-scheme of our parent club’s primary three jerseys.”

In conjunction with the uniform unveiling, the Storm Chasers also announced that they have extended their affiliation with the Royals through the 2018 season. This affiliation, which began in 1969, is the longest in Triple-A baseball.

Appalachian League — Prior to this offseason, I can’t remember the last time a new league-specific logo was unveiled. This is, most likely, because I have a bad memory. Last month, the Southern League unveiled a new logo. And, last week, the Appalachian League followed suit:

appy

One thing that these two new league logos have in common is that they were both designed by Todd Radom.

“The goal was to create something timeless, but built with digital platforms and the varied needs of the 21st century firmly in mind,” said Radom. “The results embrace baseball’s time-honored visual culture with a verdant palette that celebrates the traditions of baseball, the sport of summer.”

“Verdant Palette” would be a great name for a college football player.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Heart Attacks and Raging Cougars in Kane County

To see all of my posts from this May 23, 2015 visit to the Kane County Cougars (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Regarding designated eaters, standard operating procedure calls for one (1) such individual to be recruited at each ballpark I visit. This individual will then consume, and be documented consuming, the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

But standard operating procedures can be deviated, subverted, tweaked and outright ignored when the situation calls for it. The situation called for it in Kane County, as I recruited not one but — wait for it — two designated eaters.

052That’s David Lesser on the right and, because Lesser is more, Jason Bohn behind him and to the left. I asked both of these gentlemen to be designated eater, simply because they sent me an email asking for the privilege at exactly the same time. Tie goes to the eater.

The Cougars, led by the unstoppable force of hospitality that is public relations director Shawn Touney, provided David and Jason with seating in the new “Strike Zone” area behind home plate. This area includes wait staff service, which was coordinated in this case by food and beverage director Jon Williams.

So what do you have planned for these guys, Jon?

We began with the Heart Attack Burger, described by Jon in the above video as “Two grilled cheese sandwiches. In between that is a half-pound burger, grilled onions, fried egg, two strips of bacon and a bacon-chipotle mayo sauce.”

053Have at it, guys.

Okay, let’s take a moment to meet our designated eaters.

055

David, a long-ago West Michigan Whitecaps intern, was attending the game with his wife, Kristin. They live in Chicago; he works in the accounting department of a law firm and she as a fifth grade teacher. David enjoys Cougars games because “they put on a good show,” and is a huge fan of Minor League Baseball in general. He said that he wanted to be a designated eater because it represented “a great chance to eat a lot of good food.”

“My wife claims that when I got this opportunity, I was more excited than when we got married,” said David.

“That’s not a joke,” added Kristen.

I then, apropos of nothing, asked David to name his favorite band of all time. He had to mullet over, but settled on Diamond Rio.

Of the Heart Attack burger, David said that “It’s basically a patty melt with an egg on it, in between a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s good. Really good.”

Okay, let’s move on to Jason, who was a considerably faster eater than was David.

054Jason grew up in the idyllic vacation wonderland that is the Wisconsin Dells, and now lives in Milwaukee. After a stint doing software support for a tech company, he is about to begin a new position with the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin. He had previously worked in the world of Minor League hockey, which gave him an appreciation for how such entities operate. These days, Jason loves visiting Minor League stadiums as they help facilitate his passion for “travel, sports and zoos.” His favorite band is Ben Folds Five, whom he had recently seen play at a church.

“It was a hike to get here. I had to rent a car,” said Jason of his designated eating motivation. “But I get to see a Minor League team I haven’t seen yet, meet royalty — that’s you — and eat at the same time. I mean, I might as well.”

Jason accomplished his goal of not being “the first person to die of a heart attack while eating the Heart Attack Burger.” He did eat the thing in 90 seconds flat, however, remarking that “I fasted all day for this.”

“It’s actually really good,” he said. “It’s obviously sloppy, but everything is quality.”

Okay, next up: BBQ Pork Chop Sandwich. 10 ounces of butterflied boneless meat on a bun.

057

David was familiar with this item, which he said might already be his favorite ballpark concession item. (“The barbecue sauce is great.”) In this photo he appears to be kissing the sandwich as opposed to eating it. To each his own.

059

As for Jason — blink and you miss him eating it. This man was a true speed demon.

058

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m not really a big pork guy. It’s all the same.”

Next — more pork! A barbecue pulled pork sandwich, specifically.

IMG_1175

Kristin, David’s wife, volunteered to be photographed with this one because “My students will love it.” Okay, Mrs. Lesser’s fifth-grade students, this one’s for you:

064Meanwhile, Jason had pretty much eaten the whole thing by the time I was able to look in his direction.

065Despite his already-professed lackluster pork opinions, Jason was effusive.

“The pork was tender and the barbecue wasn’t overpowering. It never overtook the flavor of the awesome bun.”

Meanwhile, I was provided with some cheese fries. Cheese fries are good. I enjoy them. I wish I had some right now.

060Gluten-free for life!

061Finally, our designated heroes enjoyed Oreo Churros for dessert.

066En garde!

067“Excellent, and who doesn’t like a big tub to dip it in?” said David. “Growing up a White Sox fan, these were one of the staples of the concourse.”

Finally, it should be noted that David and Jason were drinking the new, team-branded “Raging Cougar Ale.”

ragingAnd in a collectible cup, no less.

068

#Cupdate

“Two Brothers makes a lot of good beer,” said David. “It’s hoppy. It’s good. I’m not good at giving descriptions, as you can tell.”

“I know nothing about beer, and I’m from Milwaukee,” said Jason. “It tastes like beer to me.”

So there you have it, folks, a cavalcade of Kane County concessions. Thanks to David and Jason for their enthusiasm, Kristin for her humor and patience, Jon for his culinary expertise, Shawn for the generous accommodations and the Strike Zone waitress (I never got her name) who provided excellent service throughout.

That’ll do it from Kane County, but this ramshackle one-man show of mine will be rolling on for months and months to come. Thanks, to you, for following along.

050

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

 

On the Road: Battling, Blasting and Bouncing in Kane County

To see all of my posts from this May 23, 2015 visit to the Kane County Cougars (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

When Part One of this Kane County content compendium concluded, the game had just begun and I was preparing to engage in something that I had never before engaged in.

Battle Balls.

Battle Balls 2

That’s me on the left and my opponent, Logan, on the right.

Fight!

I would like to dedicate my victory to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers dugout, whose denizens offered words of support throughout my battle with Logan.

Next up on the evening’s ever-evolving aganeda was a visit to the new “Strike Zone” seating area. This is where I would meet the evening’s designated eaters.

050

We’ll meet those designated eaters soon enough (in the next post, specifically). As the food was being consumed, we had the pleasure of witnessing a classic Zooperstars! routine. The Zooperstars! follow me around. They were in Jacksonville (the last stop of my last trip), and now here they were in Kane County (the first stop of my next trip).

Once the designated eating was complete, and all underwear-wearing men had skedaddled off of the field, I introduced myself to usher “Wild Bill” Bowers.

069

Wild Bill — wow, what an interesting guy to talk to. He’s 91-years-old and has a great life perspective. I wrote an article about him for MiLB.com, which can be found HERE.

Upon concluding my conversation with Bill, Cougars director of public relations Shawn Touney and I commenced to wandering. My first groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the road trip soon followed.

A beautiful day was fast evolving into a beautiful evening.

IMG_1178

Shawn and I then worked our way behind the outfield fence, so that I could visit an old acquaintance.

073That’s Jack “Mr. Kaboom” Phelan, who I wrote an article about in the wake of my 2010 Kane County visit.  Man, this feels like a long time ago:

kc_37benandkaboom-thumb-450x337-24042713

2010 Ben’s Biz Blog file photo

 

As his nickname would imply, Mr. Kaboom’s job is to set off in-game fireworks (such as when a Cougars player hits a home run). Click HERE to see a quick Instagram video of him in action.

080

He’s still using the Delcor MP-20 as his preferred pyrotechnic-launching device.

076Mr. Kaboom’s perch provides a nice view of the ballgame.

074

079

The @TimberRattlers outfield kinda sorta does the hokey pokey https://t.co/J9qmdpnLRT

— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 24, 2015

After bidding adieu to Kaboom, Shawn and I just kept walking. From behind the outfield fence…

081

…and past a father and daughter having a catch…

083…until, finally, we reached the Cougars Craft Beer Cave.

086There’s plenty to choose from. Beers are $6, which are opened and poured into a plastic cup upon purchase.

084 The Cougars fans, led by emcee Derek, believed that they would win.

They were wrong, as the visiting Wisconsin Timber Rattlers slithered away with a 5-3 victory.

IMG_1192 There was still plenty of entertainment left this evening, however. First up was a performance by the Jesse White Tumblers, a Chicago-based acrobatic troupe founded in 1959 by — you guessed it — Jesse White. (White, for those keeping score at home, currently serves as Illinois secretary of state.)  IMG_1193I did my best to document the tumblers in action. But, literally and figuratively, it was kind of a blur.  IMG_1209That’s Mr. White himself, wearing the red cap and white pants.

In this Vine video, White assists directly with one of the routines. (And credit to the girl being held up, who perseveres after taking a rolling somersault kick to the thigh.)

More tumblin’

I’m not exactly sure how it all happened, but at Shawn’s suggestion Mr. White went ahead and inserted me into the final routine.  TumblersShowtime!

The Tumblers were done, but the post-game entertainment was not. It was just one of those nights.

First, tennis balls were thrown onto the field with reckless abandon. 090Next up: fireworks.

Never have I ever taken a good photo of a fireworks display.

IMG_1212These fireworks had a “popular music” theme. As an avid chronicler of the zeitgeist, I made a point to write down the songs that played during the show:

“Uptown Funk” — Mick Ronson and Bruno Mars

“Shower” — Becky G

“You Make Me Feel” — “Weird Al” Yankovic  Cobra Starship

“Blank Space” — Taylor Swift

“What Makes You Beautiful” — One Direction

“Lips are Movin’ — Megan Trainor

“Ugly Heart” — G.R.L.

“All Alone on the Grass” — Ben’s Biz

IMG_1214

If you thought the night was over now — THINK AGAIN.

It was now time for thousands — literally, thousands — of people to run the bases.

IMG_1215At 10:26, the last base-runners rounded third and crossed the plate.

IMG_1219But if you thought the night was over now — THINK AGAIN AGAIN!

The scouts, not yet ready to retire to their tents, were now readying to watch a screening of Big Hero 6 on the videoboard.

097

But I wasn’t about to take part in that particular Geneva convention. I had had enough. Thank you and good night from Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, where, apparently, the fun never ends.

IMG_1217

And when visiting Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, please remember:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Tent Pitchers and Catchers in Kane County

To see all of my posts from this May 23, 2015 visit to the Kane County Cougars (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Long-time readers of this long-time blogging concern might remember that, yes, I have visited the Kane County Cougars before. It was on Labor Day, 2010, a speedily played afternoon game on the last day of the season. There was a melancholy vibe at the ballpark that day; summer was giving way to autumn and thus it was time to say goodbye to Minor League Baseball.

My most recent visit, which kicked off my May 2015 Midwest-based road trip, was the yin to that yang. It was May 23, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and the ballpark vibe was lighthearted and celebratory. Spring was giving way to summer and thus it was time to welcome Minor League Baseball with open arms.

Hello, Kane County! Time to take a crooked photo.

001

The Cougars have played in the same ballpark since their 1991 inception. The last time I visited it was known as “Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium,” but these days it carries the moniker of “Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.” (There are a lot of Fifth Third Bank ballparks around the Minors these days. It’s getting kind of annoying.)

The ballpark is located on the grounds of the Kane County Forest Preserve, in the town of Geneva, Illinois. The parking lot is spacious.

IMG_1164

“Camp Local,” says one of the brochures on this Forest Preserve bulletin board.

002

How’s this for camping local? The Cougars were hosting a scout camp out that evening, with the scouts pitching their tents in a field located, literally, across the pond. (This field, accessible via bridge, was located just beyond the right field berm seating area.)

IMG_1166Most fans in attendance would be leaving the ballpark after the game. For those wondering what to do when leaving the ballpark…

004My ballpark wanderings began here, in Fifth Third Bank Ballpark’s spacious front lobby.

006

Shawn Touney, the Cougars director of public relations and a very helpful and proactive guy, met me here and began showing me around. This is the new Strike Zone seating area: $69 for a four-top ($89 on fireworks nights).

007 The picture above shows the view from the radio booth. I was in said booth for a pre-game interview with Cougars announcer Joe Brand.

008Brand, in his second year in Kane County, is seeking to become the latest Cougars broadcaster to make it to the Major Leagues. If he accomplishes this goal, he’d join the meritorious likes of Scott Franzke (Phillies), Wayne Randazzo (Mets) and Dave Wills (Rays).

Fifth Third Bank Ballpark (which, henceforth, I will refer to as “FTTB”) covers a lot of acreage. This is the view beyond right field.

010 Beyond the flag and beyond the inflatables, there were the aforementioned tents.

013 As game-time approached, this legion of future tent-sleepers took part in a pre-game parade.

016I needed to head plate-ward myself. Realizing that I had thrown out more than my share of ceremonial first pitches, the Cougars asked me to instead be the “ceremonial first pitch catcher.”

032Cougars reliever Cody Geyer, a frequent first pitch catcher, was psyched to have the day off. Here he shares some of the tricks of the ceremonial first pitch-catching trade.

033

Geyer warned me that balls bouncing in the dirt were an occupational hazard, but both of the pitches that I caught came in high and true. (Even better, no one complained that some weirdo writer was catching the balls instead of a Cougars player.)

I quickly swapped out one pair of balls for another.

IMG_1169It was time for a softee toss. I was to be a softee tosser.

“Look for energetic kids, and get some height on the throws because it’s fun to watch [the fans] jump for it,” said Logan, a member of the promo team.

I did my best. And, as usual, my best ends up looking weird and awkward.

041

042The softee ball toss got the fans all Francis Scott Keyed up. It was time for the National Anthem .

044The National Anthem featured “bombs bursting in air” fireworks courtesy of Cougars pyrotechnic expert Jack “Mr. Kaboom” Phelan, who I’ve written about before and will write about again. Certainly, this was not an atmosphere lacking in patriotic flourish.

045

With the game underway, my promo team cohorts and I retreated to a tunnel alongside the visitor’s dugout.

046I had already caught balls and tossed balls, but even more balls were in my Kane County future.

Battle Balls, to be specific.

049Stay tuned…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Saturday Night: Kane County Cougars, May 23, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I will provide the deep-dive blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. So let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 23, 2015 — Fifth Third Bank Ballpark,  home of the Kane County Cougars (Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks)

Opponent: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, 6:30 p.m. start time

Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, from the outside:

003

Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, from the inside: 

050

Culinary Delight: The Heart Attack Burger

053At Random: Scouts don’t camp out on the field. They camp out beyond the field.

IMG_1166Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day:

It’s All Over: Ozzie waits for the last two fans to finish running the bases.

IMG_1219

 

Next Up: 

5/24: Quad Cities River Bandits

5/25: Clinton LumberKings

5/26: Peoria Chiefs

5/27: Cedar Rapids Kernels

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Notable Nuggets and Meaningful Morsels

It’s been a busy week here at MiLB.com HQ, at least by February standards. We had a stadium groundbreaking on Tuesday, a logo unveiling on Wednesday, and today marked the appearance of my feature story chronicling the Potomac Nationals’ attempt to privately finance construction of their new ballpark.

Through it all, I was surrounded by wispy strands of Minor League Baseball ephemera. I always am. What follows is my attempt to compile these recently appearing items into something resembling coherence. Wish me luck.

Remember last April when I wrote an article detailing the various team-branded beers that can be found across the Minor League landscape? No? Doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Kane County Cougars are the latest team to throw their stein into the brewing game:

So, yeah, fans can vote on what the beer should be named. Two of the choices are rather generic and more or less interchangeable; the other choice is not. If that option wins, then expect plenty of jokes like this to follow:

I’ve written several times in the past about the Holiday League, a theoretical professional baseball circuit featuring, yes, holiday-themed teams. The project, overseen by designer John Hartwell of Hartwell Studio Works, unveiled its latest entity this week: The Bourbonville Krewe.

bourbonville

This entity, unbeknownst to most, has been in existence for 40 years. From the press release:

In a carnival atmosphere full of masked performers and festooned floats at Flambeaux Field, the Bourbonville Krewe unveiled a special fortieth anniversary logo and announced plans to celebrate the milestone throughout the coming season. “We’re gonna have ourselves one season-long party,” Owner Rex Proteus proclaimed. “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

A parade of former players was on hand for the kick-off event, including the legendary Balthazar “Babycakes” Gateaux. The Krewe’s all-time home run leader, Gateaux entertained the throng of gathered fans with a wild reenactment of the day in 1983 when he walloped three round-trippers, then wrestled a gator that had crawled into right field. 

There are 160 affiliated Minor League teams, only two of which have crossed threshold of 100,000 Facebook likes. Those teams are the Toledo Mud Hens and El Paso Chihuahuas, and now the San Jose Giants are gunning to be the third:

10980747_10153637588809616_1652541321553341602_nSez the team:

[W]e are hosting a 100,000 Likes Promotion. Share photos with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat showing your favorite memories and orange and black pride, using #SJG100K to enter. One lucky fan will walk away with the biggest prize in the organization’s history[.]

I’m hoping that it is, literally, the biggest prize in the organization’s history. Like, a topiary maze in the shape of the team’s logo or something of that nature.

Last season, I visited the Midland RockHounds home of Security Bank Ballpark. One of the highlights of that visit was seeing the team’s concourse train take laps around the stadium. In 2015, the team is adding another concourse attraction.

Peters later informed me, that, due to “safety reasons,” the concourse train would not drive straight through the fountains. Oh, well. A man can dream.

Speaking of dreams, one of mine has finally come true. Enigmatic Wisconsin Timber Rattlers announcer Chris Mehring has appeared as a guest on the latest episode of “Between Two Berms.” Mehring can out-deadpan anyone, even host Sam Merle.

And that’s all I’ve got. Thank you for your support, be it continued, sporadic, or barely discernible.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

In With the New

Happy 2015 to you and, should you be the possessive type, yours. The first post of this calendar year, which you are reading now, shall be nothing less and nothing more than a good old fashioned bouillabaisse. A bewildering array of interesting tidbits are offered therein, and the only thing these tidbits have in common with one another is  — you guessed it — Minor League Baseball.

Let’s start with a hot-off-the-virtual-presses promo that was announced today by the Kane County Cougars. The team is currently staging a “Social Media Virtual Championship Ring Unveiling,” which I believe just might be the first such thing of its kind.

Do not adjust your set:

Championship Ring BlurredHow it works:

Beginning [January 5], the Cougars will post a blurred image of the ring design on their social media channels and fans, through a pre-determined quantity of Facebook ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ as well as Twitter re-tweets and ‘likes’ on Instagram, will help virtually “unveil” the ring design, which will be released in its entirety to the public this Friday.

This reminds me of a long-gestating but little-acted-upon article idea I have had: What Minor League teams have the best championship rings? If you think the team that you follow (or work for) might qualify for such a distinction, then please get in touch.

The holidays may be over, but the Holiday League goes on. I am speaking, of course, of the as-of-now theoretical league created by logo designer John Hartwell (of the eponymous Hartwell Studio Works). Last month, the  2014 North Pole Reindeer baseball card set was unveiled, featuring the starting line-up of the North Pole Reindeer. A lot of work has gone into these; each card features an full color front and back, and every Reindeer has his own Baseball-Reference page.

cupid-front-2x

cupid-back-2x

The North Pole Reindeer open the 2015 Holiday League season on April 9 against the Arborville Huggers.

 

Every year, Minor League teams vie for the coveted honor of “alternate logo most likely to inspire scores of Space Jam references on Twitter.” In 2015, it looks like this distinction will be going to the Rome Braves.

rome

The R-Braves maintain that their inspiration for the logo came from a far weightier source:

The logo features a Roman soldier’s helmet on a baseball with the letter ”R” on the front. The helmet was used by the military of ancient Rome from 753 BC – AD 476 and pays tribute to the name of our hometown of Rome, GA with a red, blue, and gray color scheme.

Did you know? A new Minor League mascot-themed children’s book has been released, and this book features a “very special guest appearance by Darryl Strawberry.” What more could you ask for as regards literary material for beginning readers?

Stormy_and_the_Case_of_the_Terrible_Twister_Book_2014_300

Finally, what do these four disconnected images all have in common?

MiBPanel_72cf27vo_u2gxcu56

Yep, you guessed it: They are all proud winners of the first-annual “Bizzie Awards,” created and then (virtually) distributed by me at the end of last month. Everyone else seems to be giving out awards at the end of the year, so why can’t I?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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

Fractions, Reflections, and Farewells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spot the difference:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solondz, farewell.

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 598 other followers