Results tagged ‘ Lehigh Valley IronPigs ’

Out of Many, One

MLB.com is currently running a content called “Face of MLB” (or, more accurately, #FaceOfMLB), a Twitter-driven popularity contest to determine, yes, the “Face of Major League Baseball.” This bracket-style tournament is now in the finals, with David Wright pitted against dark horse contender Eric Sogard, but Major League Baseball is clearly not the concern of this little slice of the internet. Our concern is this:

Who, or what, is the face of Minor League Baseball? On Monday, with a lot of help from my Twitter followers, the answer to this question was finally obtained. THIS is the “Face of MiLB”:

For those who may be unawares, this face is comprised of the eyes of the Lake Elsinore Storm, the nose of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the mustache of the Lexington Legends, and the mouth of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. Four teams, in four states, in four leagues, at four levels of play combining their otherwise disembodied facial features into a coherent and not-at-all frightening whole. This is what Minor League Baseball is all about!

My thanks to Ben Gellman-Chomsky for his photoshop skills, and John B. for getting the ball rolling with this tweet.

And if you’re wondering what this face would like in physical form, well, wonder no longer. Simply observe the efforts on one David Dermer.

After all this, I only have one more thing to add: an even better “Face of MiLB” would also include a hat bearing the Minor League Baseball logo as well as a gold pendant inscribed with the words “Ben’s Biz.” Feel free to make that happen. (I don’t actually do anything, I just make passive-aggressive suggestions.)

The above bit of inspired stupidity was inspired, however indirectly, by this bit of inspired stupidity: this season, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs will wear several new alternate uniforms. And one of those uniforms revolves around brine-soaked pig meat:

strip

From the team:

The “Smell The Change” initiative is brought to life in the IronPigs brand-new bacon-themed Saturday ensemble, which includes a bacon strip logo transfixed to the cap, a fresh “Pigs” jersey design emblazoned across the chest as well as the first-of-its-kind bacon-style piping down both legs of the pants….The bold new bacon strip logo sits atop a two-tone cap featuring the familiar colors of IronPigs Steel and Furnace Blue. The bacon-enriched pants, the first baseball pants to feature a logo design within the piping, are also IronPigs Steel. In addition to the cap and uniform offerings, innovative “scratch-and-sniff” t-shirts that smell like bacon (they’ll literally make your mouth water) are also now available.

Scratch_Sniff_Shirt_300

“Smell lasts for up to 10-15 washes.”

In my early days of doing this blog, I would have tried very hard to be “first” with news such as the above. But now that I am old and wizened, I don’t worry about it, for the increased traffic that results is as ephemeral as the morning dew. My strategy now is to simply sit back and watch the amateur hour internet hyperbole pour in from across the land. Hey guys, did you know that the IronPigs are your new favorite sports team, that their epic bacon logo will make your mouth water, that it has “won” the internet, and is therefore the best thing in the history of ever?

Have some dignity, internet, says man who just wrote the above blog post.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Covering All Bouillabaisses

Over the last four months there has been plenty of content on this ol’ blog, from road trip retrospectives to Promo Seminar and Winter Meetings recaps to Job Seeker Journals to personal numerical milestones to re-branding round-ups to guest posts on attendance, Google stadium tours, and theoretical sports leagues. Just scroll through the archives! That, and much more, is all there for the (re)visiting.

But while I’ve continued to deliver the varied and indispensable content that one would expect from the Greatest Minor League Baseball Blog of All-Time (TM), one word has been missing from the conversation for nearly four months now. It is a word that is very dear to me, seeing as how it connotates an endlessly malleable approach to both topic and presentation.

Bouillabaisse.

Yep, today’s post is gonna be a bouillabaisse, a hodgepodge of Minor League news and notes that have been simmering together for quite some time on the pilot light that is my “blog topics” notebook page. As always, let’s hope that the sum is greater than its parts and, more importantly, that the remainder of this post (#1034 in Ben’s Biz history, for those keeping track at home) is less meandering and inconsequential than the intro. Not likely!

Let’s start at the top of the alphabet, as the always-reliable Altoona Curve have become the latest team to turn the oft-lackluster slugfest that is the All-Star Game Home Run Derby into something else entirely (see Quad Cities River Bandits, Reading Phillies, Charleston RiverDogs). Last month, the team announced “The Ghost Man Games Challenge.”

ghost man

The premise:

Ask almost anyone from any generation about a “ghost man” and it will conjure up childhood memories of playing baseball with imaginary base runners. The Altoona Curve (AA, Pirates) plan on bringing those ghost men to life as part of the 2014Eastern League All-Star Stop in Curve, Pa. on Tuesday, July 15. “The Curve, Pa. Ghost Man Games and Hitting Challenge” will cap an evening’s worth of activities at Peoples Natural Gas Field the day before the league’s annual All-Star Game.

Each division (Eastern vs. Western) will receive six ghost men and have the opportunity to earn up to 15 extra ghost men in five games leading up to the hitting challenge. The games include: Bubble Gum Blowing Challenge, Closest-to-the-Pin Flying Disc Toss, Mascot Mouth Accuracy Challenge, T-Shirt Cannon Catch, and Mascot Dodgeball Challenge. Each game will have three ghost men up for grabs.

Following the five, fast-paced games, three hitters for each division will take their hacks trying to hit home runs and doubles (anything that reaches the warning track on the fly). The trick will be how each division employs their ghost men ahead of home runs or doubles hit by the sluggers in order to score the most runs. Each hitter will get five outs before their turn or “inning” is finished. The divisions will take turns and play a three-inning contest.

You know what the above picture means? No segue!

Let’s move straight to the next item, which is this: the Nashville Sounds are playing their final season at Greer Stadium in 2014, and are commemorating it with this nifty logo:

greer-stadium-nashville-sounds-commemorative-mark-37-years-of-hits

It should read “37 seasons of hits,” if you want to get technical about it, but still: a cool logo. (And, with any luck, I’m hoping that 1978-2014 are not the dates that end up on my tombstone. Fingers crossed).

Meanwhile, on the other end of the birth-death continuum upon which we all reside, 2014 marks the Charlotte Knights’ first season in a brand-new downtown facility. This, too, has been commemorated in logo form, and it looks great. Joust great.

Charlotte Knights Inaugural Season Logo

 No segue!

nosegway

The Omaha Storm Chasers already have three mascots, a fact that, in the past, has been known to rile up ornery snarkhounds. Well, those of the curmudgeonly persuasion are going to go full-bore apoplectic once they hear of the team’s latest endeavor, as the Storm Chasers are adding three more mascots to the fold for 2014. These mascots are currently only identified via their silhouettes, such as this guy (who, if you read his character description, is clearly a piece of corn).

Omaha_Character1

Each of these three characters needs a name, so click on the above link if you want to register your opinion. My three choices are Kernel Cobb, Cap-Tin, and Tony Bone.

nosegway

A number of Minor League entities have dance teams that perform routines between innings, but this is even better: in 2014, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are going to have a drumline. It’s about time!

Designated_Hitters_small

Team sez:

This 15-member drumline will be a featured act at 15 home games throughout the season. The Designated Hitters will welcome crowds in the parking lot at Coca-Cola Park before games, participate in player introductions and perform Drum Battles atop the dugouts after select innings later this season.  

And for an example of even more unorthodox between-inning entertainment, please consider this from the IronPigs’ fellow PA denizens the Erie SeaWolves:

nosegwaybenjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Ben’s Biz Backlogged Blog Bonanza

When I’m on the road I always have so much to write about, both here on the blog and over at MiLB.com. This content overload is a good thing, but one negative aspect of it is that I can’t devote enough of my attention to that which is taking place outside of the places I visit.

C’est la vie, as the French say (when they’re giving examples of the cliched French terms that Americans actually know).

But right now? Right now I’m not on the road, nor do I have any more “On the Road” content. Therefore, today will be the first in a short series of bouillabaisse posts, in which I jump haphazardly from item to item with startling rapidity. Commence organized chaos and — warning! — some of this material is rather dated. I’m working my way through this backlog in chronological fashion.

Apropos of nothing — is R.A. Coon the best front office name in Minor League Baseball, or does Lexington’s Ty Cobb retain that honor?

(Regardless, THIS is the best blog post written by a Minor League broadcaster about someone named R.A.)

You may have seen my recent MiLB.com article about the Jacksonville Suns’ Casey Challenge, in which team president Peter “Pedro” Bragan challenges area school students to memorize the poem.

Well, speaking of the Bragans, did you know that the Suns gave away a “talking bobblehead” of Pete Bragan, Sr., the iconic team owner who passed away last season?

It really talks. Listen!

(And speaking, as I was, of “Casey at the Bat” — my favorite rendition, by far, is Tug McGraw narrating the poem while backed by Peter Nero and Philadelphia Pops Orchestra. I have it on record, and if anyone would like to assist with the LP-to-computer uploading process then let me know because I need to share it with the world at large.)

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have long had an almost maniacal propensity for pig-related puns (the Pork Illustrated game program, for example, or a conference room for “Boar”d Meetings). These days, said puns are practically avant-garde.

The team has named its frozen yogurt bar the “Soo’eyte Spot.” You figure it out.

I have no idea how or why this happened (and it seems to have happened on multiple occasions), but the Erie SeaWolves are most likely the only team to have a Dr. Batboy.

I would like for there to be a band named “Dr. Batboy.”

Meanwhile, via Visalia broadcaster Donny Baarns, this photo of multi-generational intolerance:

And, that’s it for now. Much more where this came from, as soon as time allows.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Turn the Page, Part 2

As you may recall, the last post on this blog was a bountiful bouillabaisse of ripped-straight-from-the-notebook Minor League news items. Well, that’s what this post is gonna be dedicated to as well.

But before we get started with that, please click THIS LINK to read this MiLB.com article detailing my Top 10 favorite Minor League stadiums. Feedback is appreciated and encouraged, and views both complementary and dissenting will be included in a future blog post.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

And now, to the notebook!

IMG_0022

I’ve never been a Jay Leno fan, but nonetheless there’s always been one thing I’ve loved about his show and that’s the weekly “Headlines” segment. And wouldn’t you know it? Last month, none other than the Lehigh Valley IronPigs made an appearance thanks to this newspaper ad:

foamfinger

Watch it HERE, the IronPigs reference is around the 2:30 mark.

I haven’t yet compiled my 2013 Minor League promotions spreadsheet (yes, compiling such a spreadsheet is an annual offseason task), but one giveaway item that has already caught my eye — and you know how painful that can be — comes courtesy of the Lake County Captains:

On Saturday, July 6, a Skipper Rock-N-Bobble doll featuring the Captains mascot paying tribute to Randy Newman, an inductee in this year’s class of Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame musicians, will be given to the first 1,500 fans compliments of Sysco. This year’s doll will also feature a sound clip from Randy Newman’s Burn On, which is synonymous with the Major League movie. 

Yes! A Randy Newman-themed giveaway. And one featuring a song from “Sail Away,” arguably his best-ever album (it’s certainly my favorite). Here’s hoping Randy Newman promos spread through the Minors like a fire on the Cuyahoga. How about “Salute to American Foreign Policy Night”?

It’s pretty much indisputable that the Lexington Legends possess the best team van in Minor League Baseball. Great slogan, horrible pick-up line:

lexxx

photo posted by @Irrational_Fan on Twitter

Remember a few weeks back when I wrote about the Hickory Crawdads’ “Day in the Minors” fan package? This post prompted an email response from New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ media relations manager/broadcaster Tom Gauthier, who wrote:

While we don’t have a program like [the Crawdads], we do offer a program for young kids to experience a day in the life.  We work with Citizens Bank (sponsor love) to open up a handful of jobs for kids ages 6-16.  They shadow with us for an afternoon and then through the game itself. 

To read more about the Fisher Cats’ “Kids Run the Show” promo, click HERE.

kidsrun

A kid, running things

Meanwhile, I’m more than happy to have kids shadow me for a day. As a veteran blogger, I will teach them how to show up to the office late and disheveled, overpay for lunch in lieu of bringing your own, and write jokes on Twitter instead of doing meaningful work.

You may remember my piece last season on the art of scorekeeping. In this piece one of the fans profiled was the pseudonym-ed “Stevo,” and I will now take the opportunity to direct you to his blog “The Baseball Enthusiast.” Stevo has just begun a series of posts entitled “For Those Keeping Score at Home,” featuring “intermediate to advanced” tricks of the trade.

I have a feeling that many readers of this blog will enjoy picking up what he’s putting down.

I’m pretty sure that the Reading Fightin’ Phils are the first team to give away their stadium, even if it is only for a day. Read all about it HERE. Or just look at this visual and wonder.

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I know that snow-covered ballpark photos are so two weeks ago, but here’s a good one courtesy of the New Britain Rock Cats. So soothing!

nbsnow

In what I believe is a Minor League anomaly, the hair of Wilmington Blue Rocks mascot Rocky is real and actually grows. And once it grows long enough, he’s going to donate to Locks of Love. Click HERE to see his ‘do.

Proving that just about anything can be capitalized on by Minor League Baseball teams, the Mobile BayBears recently opened their arms to distressed travelers after the beleaguered Carnival Triumph finally limped into Mobile.

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Sez the team:

The Mobile BayBears would like to give all passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph cruise ship the opportunity to visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum for free on Thursday and Friday February 14th and 15th.

“We understand travelers have been through a lot in the past few days,” said team spokesman Craig Durham. “In an effort to make their time in Mobile as enjoyable as possible we encourage them to come see one of baseball’s most unique museums and pay tribute to Mobile legend Hank Aaron.”

The museum will be open from 9-5 on Thursday and Friday, and all non-Carnival passengers will be able to visit the museum for the standard price of $5.

NYC still has a long ways to go when it comes to fully recovering from Superstorm Sandy, and the Brooklyn Cyclones are doing their part via their “Meaningful Mondays” initiative. $3 from every ticket sold to every Monday game will go toward a local charity — read about it HERE.

Speaking of meaningful, I’d recommend that you read these most insightful observations from former Durham Bulls staffer Matt DeMargel regarding why employers should look at Minor League Baseball experience in a positive light. 

And now I have reached the end of this notebook page and, therefore, the end of this post. I’ll conclude by sharing this Augusta GreenJackets staff bio. The legend of Dumpster the Stadium Cat continues to grow!

cat

Who is CatDog?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Harlem Shake: A Minor Overview

Introductory paragraphs within this blog forum can sometimes be needlessly circuitous, steeped as they are in obscure references and acute self-consciousness. But not today. Today, we cut to the chase:

What follows is a comprehensive round-up of Harlem Shake videos produced by Minor League teams. 

Yes, you’re probably sick of the Harlem Shake at this point. I am too. But let’s take the long view, as historians with an interest in baseball history, viral fads and the intersection of the two will no doubt delight in stumbling upon this post at some at some unknown moment in the distant future. I am doing this for you, future historians! I always am. For it is you who will ensure my legacy.

Plus, you’ve gotta admit — Minor League teams, with their easy access to supply closets full of banana suits and inflatable ponies, make better Harlem Shake videos than most. So here we go! In no particular order, here are two dozen Harlem Shake videos produced by professional baseball teams in possession of a formal affiliation with a Major League club.

Frederick Keys — Apparently a big-headed reincarnation of Francis Scott Key regularly sits in on front office meetings:

Columbus Clippers — Warning! Includes bear-on-frankfurter violence that may be unsettling to younger viewers:

Bowie Baysox — A toothbrush can’t dance? I bristle at such a notion:

Lexington Legends — Mister would you please stop punching that pony? WATCH ON FACEBOOK.

Vancouver Canadians — As if any proof was needed that this was an international phenomenon:

Fort Wayne Tincaps — A solitary pothead gives way to a banana who loves the queen of hearts.

Lake Elsinore Storm — Yes that is an upside-down squirrel hanging from the dugout, and yes he is happy to see you:

Corpus Christi Hooks — Can’t a man bike through the office in peace? WATCH ON MILB.COM

Tulsa Drillers — Hey, no dogs in the swimming pool!

Gwinnett Braves — Team store? More like surreal fever dream store!

New Hampshire Fisher Cats — Fungo and friends “rose” to the occasion:

Lehigh Valley IronPigs — Give peas a chance. WATCH ON MILB.COM

Buffalo Bisons — Vest-wearing gentleman on the right is my favorite individual to appear in any Harlem Shake video:

Charlotte Stone Crabs – What’s to stop the Incredible Hulk from wearing a sombrero?

Fresno Grizzlies — Forget this faddish viral bastardization. Parker knows how to do the REAL Harlem Shake. WATCH ON VINE. 

Louisville Bats — This takes place in multiple dimensions simultaneously. It will blow your mind.

Bowling Green Hot Rods — I guess you could say that Axle rose to the occasion.

Delmarva Shorebirds — The Shake so nice they did it twice.

Springfield Cardinals — You know what? This is probably the  best one out of all of ‘em.

Round Rock Express — All bobblehead version!

Connecticut Tigers — Shout it from the rooftop!

And, finally, there are the State College Spikes. The first Minor League team to post a Harlem Shake video, and the last to be featured in this post:

EDIT! 

Two latecomers have entered the fray!

Orem Owlz — Holly, the Owlz pregnant mascot, wisely sat this one out.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans — Fans of multi-colored crustacean triumvirates rejoice!

And that’s all she wrote, folks. “She” being me, of course. I am a man. A 34-year-old man. A man who is perhaps too old to be providing you with diversions such as the above. But yet I do, and yet I did.

Do not forsake me, future historians! I do not want to believe that this has all been in vain.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Lehigh Valley Tangents

Over their first five years of existence the Lehigh Valley IronPigs have been a rousing success, and in 2012 they once again led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance. I have visited the team on several occasions, the most recent of which are documented HERE and HERE.

On a personal level, I am pleased by the IronPigs’ exemplary operation because they provide that much more reason to visit the Lehigh Valley specifically and Pennsylvania in general (I grew up in neighboring Montgomery County, in the town of Ambler). Last month a group of friends and I spent a weekend in the region, which is documented in this “Return to the Road” post. The purpose, as always, is to document the myriad ways in which a trip to a Minor League Baseball ballpark can be combined with other regional activities.

Ben’s Biz Blog: Exploring the country through Minor League Baseball, one stadium at a time. Let’s go!

This particular Lehigh Valley excursion began in the town of Nazareth, home of the esteemed Martin Guitar company.

Martin Guitars was established in 1833, and is now in its sixth generation of family ownership. Free factory tours are offered daily, and a museum detailing the company’s history is located on the premises as well. The tour was free, although there were strings attached in that there were literally strings attached.

From Nazareth it’s a short drive into Allentown, where we had lunch at the unassuming and welcoming Wert’s Cafe.

I enjoyed my meal here, but this was a case were the restrictions of a gluten-free diet become quite pronounced. No sandwiches, no pies, and no signature onion rings for me! But one regional specialty that I was able to sample was birch beer on tap! I had never had such a thing.

Central Pennsylvania is a haven for birch beer enthusiasts, and in past visits I have been simultaneously confused and delighted by the many varieties. I was certainly confused by the tap offering seen above, at first thinking that the waitress had brought me an actual beer of the mass produced pilsner variety. I enjoyed its smooth, sweet taste, but no ice and low carbonation made it a beverage experience that took some getting used to.

After lunch, Ben’s Biz Blog guest-post writer Steve May suggested that we visit Allentown’s Double Decker records. Great idea!

The store’s exterior may not inspire, but the inside is another story.

Double Decker had a great selection of vinyl both new and used, representing a vast cross-section of (mostly) American music. The store boasts a passionate clientele, whose frequent browsing helped to insure a high turnover rate when it comes to what’s in the bins. If I lived in the area, Double Decker would quickly become part of an early Saturday afternoon routine.

Of course, I couldn’t help but add to my own collection (cat sold separately).

One album I considered buying was Blues Control’s “Valley Tangents,” and I really wish I had. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the band had re-located to Lehigh Valley to record the album (hence its title), and there is even a track titled “Iron Pigs.” This song is awesome and I think it should be played during extra innings at Iron Pigs games once things start to get a little surreal.

As for us, it was indeed time for another valley tangent, as the record store was located quite nearby to the Playdrome Rose Bowl!

I did not bowl nearly as well as I am capable of, but my form remains impeccable. (A rant for another day: Why are 16-pound house balls so hard to find at many bowling alleys?)

My first strike of the day came when “Baby Got Back” was playing. Not a coincidence.

Two games of bowling was the opening act — the day’s headline event was, of course, the IronPigs.

As you know, this particular IronPigs experience has already been chronicled in copious (some would say excessive) detail. But instead of ending this post, I’d like to extend my definition of “Lehigh Valley” to include Elysburg, PA. This humble burg is home to Knoebel’s Amusement Park and for my money (the only money I’m spending these days), Knoebels is the best amusement park in the country — It’s family-run, and there is a level of quality and attention to detail that permeates every aspect of the operation. (Plus, there’s no admission charge! One pays with tickets on a per-ride basis, and a $20 ticket pack has always lasted me throughout the entirety of the day).

The Knoebel’s parking lot, buffeted by rolling hills and formidable cloud cover.

A pickle on a stick and birch beer (in this case a sparkling white) can be had for $2.50, total.

Getting the lay of the land.

The mighty ferris wheel, from below and above.

There was a Theater of Magic pinball machine on the premises. I left my mark.

Each of these airplanes has a built-in rudder, which one can manipulate for maximum aerial advantage.

I miss summer already.


My favorite of all carnival games — you have to roll the bowling ball with enough force to get it over the hump, but delicately enough where it doesn’t simply roll right back to where it started.

A metaphor for life, because what isn’t?

The Haunted House is scary.

“Fascination,” in addition to being an awesome name for a game, is extremely addicting. It’s a form of bingo, basically, in which you fill your card by rolling a ball into numbered holes.

The bumper cars are world class.

As night fell, a large crowd had gathered to see a rock n roll revival show. The band, whose name I cannot recall, devoted the set to covers from each of the Beatles’ solo careers.

So, yeah: Knoebels. It is an awesome place, as is the Lehigh Valley, as is Pennsylvania. I’ll leave it at that, but please know my love extends to all corners like the ever-expanding tentacles of an obtrusive octopus.

Talk to you later.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pack 76, present and accounted for.

Allentown? I could have sworn this is heaven.

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

Ben: Steps on the head?

Shal stands up and shouts.

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

Other shuckers for corn.

Unexpectedly Starbucks-like ordering etiquette.

Man, corn, IronPig.

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

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

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

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

FeFe goes TMZ on an unsuspecting fan.

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

Each says, “Remember.”

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

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

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

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Banging Heads and Headbanging in Lehigh Valley

Like nearly everyone who works in Minor League Baseball, I’ve reached the point where it’s nearly impossible to attend  a game strictly as a fan. I certainly try to, but just being at the ballpark makes me feel as if I have to get at least a blog post out of it. Relaxation amidst the gentle rhythms of our National Pastime is pretty much out of the question.

That was the situation this past Friday, when I attended a Lehigh Valley IronPigs game with a conglomeration of friends representing overlapping areas of my Philly suburbs-to-Pittsburgh-to-New York City personal history. Some of these friends will soon offer guest blog posts of their own, and I plan an eventual “Return to the Road” post focusing on some of the many, many wonderful things that the Lehigh Valley has to offer. But, for now, here are my “fan mode” observations from an enjoyable Friday night spent with Minor League Baseball’s top-drawing entity.

The IronPigs play in Coca-Cola Park. As corporate ballpark names go that’s a pretty good one, although I find it frustrating that Coca-Cola does not offer the delicious white birch beer that is otherwise so prevalent in the Lehigh Valley region.

Storm clouds loomed over the area throughout the day, and were still creating a threatening backdrop as the 7 p.m. game time rolled around. But, mercifully, a deluge did not occur and the game was played without incident. Our seats were right behind plate, offering an excellent view of the playing field (as seats behind home plate are wont to do).

The chance of inclement weather undoubtedly kept some fans away from the ballpark, but there was nonetheless a fairly robust crowd as the game got underway. To the left:

To the right:

But, as is always the case, there was no time to relax. Utilizing the vast influence that comes as a result of authoring one of the internet’s top 400,000 blogs, I was able to place two of my friends in the nightly “Whack an Intern” on-field contest. We were ushered down to the third base dugout area by always-hospitable director of public relations Sarah Marten, where this was the view.

Steve and Beth eagerly awaiting their moment of on-field glory.

The interns, meanwhile, morosely prepared for their nightly half-inning of ritualized abuse.

“Whack an Intern” is pretty much what the name implies — a modified game of boardwalk classic “Whack-a-Mole,” in which the moles are replaced by real-live interns. The IronPigs don’t take the contest to the delirious extremes of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, but it still makes for some great visuals.

Here, director of promotions Lindsey Knupp helps Steve with his inflatable boxing glove (perfect for whacking interns, of course).

Each contestant gets 30 seconds to whack as many interns as possible. Beth went first, utilizing an approach that was heavy on finesse. Her style drew prodigious crowd support, despite Steve’s hapless attempts to quiet everyone down.

Steve’s strategy, meanwhile, was a flailing display of brute force.

The final tally was Beth 19, Steve 16. And to the victor goes the spoils.

Upon the conclusion of the contest, I proceeded to the East Gate to meet late-arriving friend Andrew J. Shal. He was wearing a Dio shirt, as he is wont to do, and immediately began pontificating on the IronPigs experience (stay tuned for a guest blog post).

We were in our seats long enough to take in the nightly pork race which, as you can see, ended in a photo finish.

Upon the conclusion of the fifth, I joined Andrew J. on the field for some more between-innings shenanigans. We were two of the four contestants in the nightly “Human Bobblehead,” in which a pedometer is affixed to each competitors forehead. He or she who bobbles the most over the course of 30 seconds, wins.

Awaiting our moment to shine:

Don’t knock my shorts. I love them.

“Shining”

Andrew J.’s stolid head-banging (no doubt that this was playing in his head) proved to be far more effective than my histrionic apoplections. Another victor, more spoils:

One should never eat prior to participating in a human bobblehead contest (this is something that I learned the hard way, earlier this season in Tulsa). But afterwards? Now we were good to go! First order of business was a celebratory Lime-a-Rita at the Tiki Terrace.

From the Tiki Terrace its a short walk to the glorious views of the center field berm.

An even more glorious view, courtesy of the “Aw Shucks” stand in right-center field.

From there we hit up the Blast Furnace Grill. Andrew J. got the pierogies.

I certainly could have inquired, but instead I took a leap of faith and just assumed that these Philly Fries would be gluten-free (as I have mentioned 36 times previously, I have celiac disease).

“Philly Fries” are topped with chopped steak, Cheese Whiz, peppers and onions. And, outside of potential “dedicated fryer” issues (I’m still a little lax on that front), they are indeed gluten free!

It’s worth mentioning that these fries cost $3, and the pierogies a mere $1.50, thanks to the IronPigs’ “Battlefield Challenge” promo. I had meant to pay more attention to this creative endeavor throughout the game, but here’s the scoop: 

During Battlefield Challenge (occurring during every game from August 8 thru August 13), the actual playing field at Coca-Cola Park is divided into six battle zones which the IronPigs and their opponent try to gain control of in an effort to conquer the entire playing surface. Control is gained or lost through plays that occur on the field such as hits, RBIs and home runs. Fans can follow the action via Coca-Cola Park’s videoboard. When Lehigh Valley controls all six zones, all fans in attendance are rewarded with a 40 to 50 percent discount on all food and non-alcoholic beverages available at all concessions stands!

Control the zone!

We made it back to our seats in time for an up-close-and-personal visit from FeFe, who was practically sitting on my lap (my most successful interaction with a female this month!)

And, jeez, the game was pretty much over after that (a crisply-played 6-0 IronPigs win). But this being Minor League Baseball, there was still launch-a-ball…

and fireworks…

worst photo of all-time

and then a post-game drink at the Tiki Terrace while local scouts prepared for an on-field overnight.

second-worst photo of all-time

As we were leaving, one of the campers spotted Steve on the concourse and asked for an autograph. Why? Because he had been enamored with Steve’s violent Whack An Intern stylings. Steve obliged, albeit grudgingly.

And with that run of sub-par photography, I’m going to call it a blog post. Thanks to the IronPigs for the hospitality, and look for more Lehigh Valley viewpoints in the near future. I command you.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Meat, Fire, Bobbleheads, Silence, and Announcers

As a hardened veteran of the anthropomorphic pork beat, I’m rarely phased by any of the news which emanates from this durable sub-genre of the Minor League Baseball experience.

But the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are really taking things to the next level. First came the announcement that “Barbie Q” had been added to the team’s stable of meat racers:

Barbie-Q will be racing against Hambone, Chris P. Bacon, and Diggity this season, and despite her newness on the scene she has already been granted a rare form of immortality:

This mammoth installation is called — what else? — Mt. Porkmore. On Tuesday the team asked fans to come up with a caption for the above image, and while many of the respondents didn’t quite seem to grasp the concept of “making a joke”, there sure were some good ones.

I think my favorite was “Do you smell what the rock is cooking?”, but one Dave Johnson deserves special mention for his submission of “We should give Dave Johnson from Bethlehem, PA some free Iron Pigs tickets.”

UPDATE: The team has since chosen a winning caption. One that is, in my mind, thoroughly “meaty”-ocre:

“Don’t take them for granite.”

But Pork isn’t the only thing cooking in the Keystone State. On Tuesday, the State College Spikes announced that Ted Batchelor would be making a Friday (July) the 13th appearance at the inimitably named “Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.” I’ve written about Ted Batchelor quite a bit on these virtual pages, but in case you need a visual refresher:

I have always been and always will be an advocate of the quixotic endeavor, and greatly appreciate that Minor League Baseball as an industry supports them as well. Batchelor’s goal is to be lit on fire in all 50 states — why not help him out?

Moving on to that which is only metaphorically incendiary, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have released the first in a series of videos promoting their Opening Day bobbleheads. I believe this is the first time that “Kill Bill” has been parodied within the Minor League landscape:

I also believe that, with this, the Omaha Storm Chasers have become the first team to make an online video stylistically inspired by the classic film era.

I’ll close with this random bit of uber-impressive information:

You may recall that way back in April I wrote about a post which mentioned the four Pacific Coast League announcers that had called at least 2500 games.  Eight months after the fact, Toledo Mud Hens director of public relations/broadcaster Jason Griffin wrote in with this:

Jim Weber has been calling Mud Hens games since 1975…he has called 4,720 Toledo games in a row without missing a SINGLE broadcast…if you assume a game of 2:40 that is 45,312,000 seconds of play-by-play.

Whoa! Has any active Minor League broadcaster been able to log that many seconds? Please write to me in September with your answers!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

What Goes Around Comes Around

It is happening again.

This time around, the “again” that is “happening” are two staples of the Minor League Baseball winter time news cycle: Valentine’s Day mascot delivery and snow-covered field photos.

My days of exhaustively documenting all mascot delivery offers throughout the Minors have long since passed, as I need to maintain a facade of professional growth and momentum. Nonetheless, it remains my duty to note some of the more intriguing developments in the field. For instance, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs remain the only team that offers “Pork-o-Grams” to their fan base.

Two Pork-O-Grams packages are offered, but I would opt for “Package B” as it includes both a dozen roses and a pair of pig noses. Also, I can’t help but wonder if Diggity (pictured above) is related to the self-cannibalizing fellow who has long served as the logo for Lehigh Valley-based Yocco’s Hot Dogs.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to give the proverbial head nod to the Trenton Thunder. So far as I can discern, they are the first club to include a charitable component along with their mascot Valentine’s Day delivery package. 

The $150 package includes a dozen roses, a night in a luxury suite, and “as an added “heartfelt” bonus, a 25 ticket donation will be made in your name to the Trenton Thunder Charities Tickets For Kids Program.

And now we must move on the snow-covered field photo, an enduring staple of the Minor League Baseball offseason experience. These pictures of vast white expanse are meant to convey a sense of longing, for what has been and, yes, what will be.

The current kings of this subgenre are the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, with announcer/media relations man Chris Mehring leading the charge. Last week, as Appleton WI was blanketed by snow, his Rattler Radio blog was updated by the hour with new snow-covered pics. Here’s a 4 p.m. specimen.

If there’s snow on the ground you can’t play ball, so alternate forms of recreation are needed. Fort Wayne TinCaps mascot Johnny overcame his feelings of cold-infused melancholy by dusting off the ol’ American Flyer.

And speaking of melancholy, this is certainly the feeling pervading the city of Denver after the Broncos lost to the Patriots this past weekend. The loss also scuttled the JetHawks’ planned “Tebow Tuesday” promotion, detailed in Friday’s post. That’s a disappointing turn of events, to be sure, but at least it’s the first Tebow promotion to NOT result in a cease-and-desist letter.

For example:

And that’s going to be it for today — stay tuned tomorrow for the eagerly anticipated (?) third installment of “A Quarter Century After the Cardboard.”

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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