Results tagged ‘ Lowell Spinners ’
Professional baseball bullpens have long been breeding grounds for eccentric behavior and bizarre rituals and, really, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Leave a group of bored young men to their own devices and spitting contests, impenetrable slang words and, yes, even lizard eating will result.
One particular bullpen competition that really seemed to take off this season was the in-game standing contest. The premise is simple: starting with the National Anthem, one (or more) players from each team’s bullpen attempts to stand at attention for the duration of the contest and beyond. This simultaneous exercise in endurance and absurdity was first brought to my attention via an excellent Myrtle Beach Pelicans blog post, and later in the season the Lowell Spinners produced a video that chronicled their standoff versus the State College Spikes.
Yet another standoff occurred on August 25, this time featuring the Lancaster JetHawks and visiting Lake Elsinore Storm. The following day I got an email from JetHawks director of sales and marketing Will Thornhill, who wrote in part:
[F]ollowing the National Anthem last night nobody in either the JetHawks or Storm Bullpen sat down. After a couple innings we figured something was going on. Eventually only one player remained standing in each bullpen and it lasted throughout the ENTIRE game. The Standoff continued 45 minutes after the game and both players were eventually carried out to center field where they negotiated a continuation….By the end of the game all of the fans sitting behind the JetHawks bullpen were standing as well, and when the game ended about 50 fans made their way to the bullpen and stood behind our pitcher.
The last JetHawk standing was Zack Grimmett, who for reasons lost to the annals of time conceded the stand-off during the first inning of the following day’s ballgame. Also lost to time was the name of his Lake Elsinore adversary [this info has since been regained from the annals of time. It was Mark Pope] — this all happened back in August and who among us can remember what happened back in August?
But to the extent that I can record this stand-off for posterity, I will. For while not necessarily of the best quality, some photos eventually emerged and I feel that it is my duty to share them with you. Italicized text is of the descriptive variety, and courtesy of JetHawks sales executive Jenn Adamczyk.
[I] first noticed stand-off while waiting for the [mascot] race to start. All but one or two in the JetHawks bullpen were standing. The Storm had one guy still up.
Later in the game — down to one JetHawks player and one Storm player
Post game; fans started crowding around the JetHawks player, cheering him on
Teammates carry both players from the bullpens to center field. At this point the clubbies from both teams brought the players dinner and were feeding them.
Other guys started playing [the card game] War on the field
End of the stand-off, called a truce. Both went home.
Truly, this was a classic moment in California League history. And since I’m still sitting here typing, I may as well take this opportunity to highlight my own moment in baseball stand-off history. Prior to the 2009 season, I traveled to Altoona and took past in the Curve’s “Last Fan Standing” competition. My mission was to keep one hand upon Diesel Dawg at all times.
I lasted 14 hours — good, but not nearly good enough. Story of my life.
As you probably have noticed, the vast majority of content here on the blog in recent weeks has been “On the Road”-related. And, well, there’s going to be plenty more where that came from. Local trips will continue to the extent that time allows, but, also, in addition to that, I’ve got one more blockbuster to share.
Pacific Northwest, here I come!
The itinerary is as follows:
8/18: Eugene Emeralds
8/19: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes
8/20: Yakima Bears
8/21: Tacoma Rainiers
8/22: Everett AquaSox
And, the piece de resistance — Ben’s Biz is going international! I am happy to report that I will be observing Julio Franco’s 54th birthday in Canada!
8/23: Vancouver Canadians
I’m not exactly sure how this latest jaunt will play out, but one thing’s for sure. I’m gonna be spending some quality time with this guy:
Beyond that, you know the drill: should you have any recommendations regarding where to eat and what to visit while I’m in the area, then please get in touch via the comments, email, or Twitter. These recommendations have been absolutely crucial on past trips, and I’m sure that this time around will be no different.
Also, keep in mind that this will be the first larger-scale trip in which I am following a gluten-free diet. Therefore, “designated eaters” would be appreciated at each stop. If you think that this is a role (eating the ballpark delicacies that I cannot) that you can fulfill at any stop along the way then, please, get in touch.
Meanwhile, I have two months of backlogged blog material to get to. I no longer stress out about such backlogs (as part of my longer-term strategy to prioritize permanence over the ephemeral), but nonetheless I might as well get to some of it now. How about this awesome Lowell Spinners commercial, which immortalizes a Spinners-ValleyCats batboy battle that took place at a game I was in attendance for last month?
Let’s see, what else have I got here…
How about this? On July 13, the Lake Elsinore Storm had over 500 people “Tebow” in the outfield as part of a “Night of Fellowship” promotion. Here’s what that looked like:
And speaking of fellowship, Elizabethton Twins general manager Mike Mains recently sent out a mass email regarding a helpful groundskeeping trick that his team employs. I hope that he won’t mind me excerpting it here, as it could help teams as they deal with weather that, in recent weeks, has bordered on the apocalyptic:
We’ve had so much rain that we got a little creative this past week. The fans blowing air under the tarp keeps the air circulating which limits damage to the grass when the tarp is down for long periods of time. The most useful thing we found is when heavy amounts of water forms on the tarp the fans will literally pick up the tarp which will form a bubble and then will force the water to the edges of the tarp which makes it much easier and quicker to push the water off and then remove. I’ve heard of this before but it has really worked for us especially with limited manpower.
The best fans in baseball:
And that’ll be it from me, until it isn’t. Thanks for reading.
Little-known fact: The Lowell Spinners were the subjects of my first-ever “On the Road” post. The year was 2009, when Barack Obama was president and the price of stamps had just been increased to 44 cents. While that might not be that long ago in the scheme of things there has nonetheless been quite a large amount of professional
and personal growth since then. Simply put — in 2009 I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. And now? Now I have very little idea.
Here’s to growth!
But, in 2009, I did lead my Lowell dispatch with this photo. I still rather enjoy it.
I did not come across that formidable metallic bust of mascot Canaligator on my most recent visit to the Spinners’ LeLacheur Park, which occurred on July 2. But he remains well-represented in other inanimate forms:
That picture was taken three hours before game time, but already there was a hardy band of souls lined up outside of the stadium. Their objective was to ensure themselves acquisition of the evening’s giveaway — a Dom Dimaggio military bobblehead.
Using my vast industry influence, I was able to procure one of the above items without waiting in line for it. (It has since been given away via my Twitter account. Follow @bensbiz.) Instead I took a lap around the stadium before heading inside, accompanied by Zack Hample and his girlfriend Robin. (As you may recall, this Massachusetts jaunt was motivated by Zack’s attempt to catch a ball dropped 1000 feet from a helicopter.)
It was a beautiful day for such a stroll, as LeLacheur Park is bordered by a pathway that offers pleasing vantage points of nearby woods, waterways, and re-purposed landmarks of an industrial past.
I soon left Zack and Robin to their own devices, and went into the park to conduct a couple of pre-game interviews (including first-round draft pick Deven Marrero and the iconic Spinners clubhouse manager known simply as “Dog Man”). The scene on the field, and in the dugout:
Things soon got pretty crowded in the dugouts, as a local youth team engaged in a Q&A and autograph session with a handful of Spinners players.
In search of open spaces in which to roam free, I bid adieu to this humanity-soaked subterranean lair. But not before snapping a pic of the aforementioned Dog Man. Here he is in conversation with some of his young clubhouse charges.
As soon as I left the dugout, I forgot about my supposed quest for wide open spaces (segue cynicism at its finest). Instead, I dropped off my belongs in the Spinners office and took a picture of one of the more original theme jerseys ever created. From 2006-08, the team dedicated one night a year to being the “Mike Lowell Spinners” in honor of the popular Boston third baseman.
(Meanwhile, I am still hoping for a Lynchburg Ben Hillcats promotion. Any day now, guys. Any day now.)
I then was able to snag an exclusive interview with the copy machine. I said I’d give him some good ink if he provided me with some local color, but he cut the conversation short because he didn’t like my toner. (Later we patched up our differences over a drink. He had a Jameson on Xerox).
Next stop was the Gator Pit, a buffet area that, prior to the start of the ballgame, is only open to season ticket holders, groups, and sycophantic media types looking for a free meal. My kind of place, in other words.
This was the first time I was at a ballpark since I had publicly come out with my (not-so) harrowing diagnosis of Celiac disease. So what to get? I settled on this tasty (but way too meat-heavy) meal of steak tips, ribs and corn on the cob.
The corn on the cob was, of course, gluten-free. No problem there. The steak tips (which were phenomenal) were also good to go, but the ribs were a bit more of a gray area. A Gator Pit employee brought out a bottle of the BBQ sauce, and while I didn’t see anything problematic in the ingredients (like, you know, wheat flour) I really can’t say for sure that they were celiac friendly.
All in all, this was a pretty half-hearted gluten-free meal attempt. But, like I said when I first wrote about the diagnosis — this is going to be a process. And, to tell you the truth, at the time I wasn’t really thinking about how I was going to justify this meal to a reading audience. I was just really hungry, and the game was about to start.
So get off my back, guys (inside my head)! I mean, jeez! Dude’s gotta eat.
But the game really was about to start, so let us slowly back away from this never-ending internal dialogue and instead check out the view from the press box.
Never mind that in the above picture the game is clearly NOT about to start. Gaps in the chronology can be attributed to celiac disease fever dreams. Those are a thing, right? No?
Well, anyway, the game really was about to start. Promise. One of the pre-game entertainment rituals involves mascot Canaligator chasing away his Yankee fan doppelganger, all while an oblivious photographer proves to be be hilariously unable to pick up the action (that guy must be a Yankees fan).
Get out of here, Yankee! On my own personal approval matrix, I consider you to be low-brow and despicable! Go back to your high-falutin big city and get in some stupid argument regarding the urban philosophies of Jane Jacobs versus those of Robert Moses. And give Ernie Anastos my regards while you’re at it!
The aforementioned Zack Hample threw out a ceremonial first pitch, and as an added bonus his name was misspelled on the videoboard.
But in the scheme of things, an ‘h’ where a ‘k’ should be is no big deal. Everybody makes mistahes from time to time. What really mattered at this juncture was that — yes! — the game was about to start! For real this time! Once action was underway, my first order of business was to descend into the bowels of the stadium and prepare for battle.
I had volunteered to suit up as the “Boxing Cream Donut” in the nightly “Mascot Mania Musical Chairs” competition.
This competition, which should be self-explanatory, results in a kaleidoscopic jumble of costumed craziness.
And as is so often the case in life, the action gradually degenerated into unmitigated chaos. Mascot pile-up!
I’m not sure who won, or if anyone won. But the thrill of competition was coursing through my veins; I felt like a gladiator out there. I stayed on the field, daring anyone to come feel the wrath of the Boxing Cream Donut, until a kindly elderly usher handed me a cup of juice and escorted me off of the field.
After that experience, I was finding it hard to leave the bowels of the stadium. This is where the magic happens!
Fortunately I was once again given the opportunity to get into costume, emerging onto the field of play via the entrance down the left field line.
I was “Bristles,” the anthropomorphic toothbrush who cleans the bases while the grounds crew drags the infield behind him.
But, strangely enough, Bristles doesn’t use his titular bristles to clean the bases. Instead, he has a broom. Isn’t that kind of like equipping a dragon with a blowtorch?
Once Bristles’ time on the field was done, this young man demanded a picture. “My Dad is a dentist!” he kept yelling. “My Dad is a dentist!”
After removing the Bristles’ costume (but retaining his essence), I wandered over to the Swampland kid’s area (located down the left field line).
One of the top new additions to the Swampland area is Dunk A Yankee, which is exactly what it’s name implies.
But nothing much was happening over there. The Yankee in question was pretty laid back, and hyperbolic anti-Puritan invective did not seem to be forthcoming. So I did what I always do in these situations.
It was a beautiful night, after all.
An accurate representation of 21st-century political discourse:
But I could not resist the siren song of the stadium bowels for long. I returned one more time, to find a veritable cavalcade of front office and game day employees.
This time around, I was there to observe a game whose premise I liked quite a bit. A trio of young contestants had been told that they would be participating in a soda-chugging competition, but little did they know that the carbonated beverage in question had been shaken to the point where it would explode in their faces.
In theory at least. The end result was a bit confused and underwhelming, as was my attempt at documentation. But, again, the premise is great, and if there’s one thing I’ll always champion it’s a good premise. If you don’t agree with me on that one, then please leave the premises.
The game soon fizzled out as well, with the visiting Tri-Cities ValleyCats earning the win.
After the game, there were TWO supplementary entertainment options for young fans. Run the bases:
Or take a lap around the field in Thomas the Tank Engine:
I chose the latter option, and since the only other riders at this late juncture were Zack and Robin I was given the opportunity to drive it myself. What a thrill!
I wasn’t the only one driving vehicles around the field. Here’s general manager Tim Bawmann, decompressing with a little groundskeeping work after a long day.
And speaking of groundskeeping, my time at LeLacheur Park finally came to a close after Zack got done speaking with Spinners’ turf tender Jeff Paolino. He was expressing his apologies for any damage that may have been caused by balls landing on the field that had been dropped via helicopter.
Jeff seemed cool with it at this point.
And that is finally, mercifully, all that I have to report from Lowell. Maybe when I visit again in 2015 I’ll finally have some clue as to what it is I’m doing.
Here’s to growth!
I’m not really sure what constitutes a typical week these days, but regardless of the criteria this week was anything but typical. On Sunday afternoon, I embarked on a trip to Lowell, MA with Zack Hample, his girlfriend Robin and his friend Andrew. This jaunt was motivated by Zack’s world record attempt the next morning — his goal was to catch a ball dropped from a helicopter at a height of 1000 feet.
I wrote 1800-some words on all of this over at MiLB.com, so if there is anything that you find lacking in this particular narrative then please, by all means, read the story. This blog post is supplementary content, and I do not wish to be redundant. But here’s the gist of it: Zack is the world’s greatest “ballhawk” (having “snagged” over 6000 baseballs at 50 Major League stadiums) and as such is a niche celebrity. He seems to attract fans and detractors in equal measure — the former are in awe of his unparalleled skill within his chosen area of expertise, the latter often characterize him as an obnoxious manchild in the throes of a seemingly endless adolescence.
I’m neither fan nor detractor. As I explain in the story:
I first met Zack in 2003, after answering his Craigslist ad in search of individuals to hit fungoes with in Central Park (strange but true). We were briefly co-workers at MiLB.com in the site’s inaugural 2005 season, and, in fact, it was Zack who first alerted me to a job opening there. So, in writing about this stunt, I am not an impartial member of the media. I am a friend of Zack’s, and in that capacity, played a small role in helping this stunt get put together.
This past offseason, Zack asked me for recommendations regarding which teams might be interested in hosting his record attempt, and the Lowell Spinners were the first that came to mind.
The night before, I stopped in Zack’s hotel room in order to rub some balls (go ahead, make some jokes, it’s all too easy). The folks at Lena Blackburne’s Rubbing Mud had donated a jar of their signature product, which is the same mud rubbed on all Major League Baseballs before they are put into play.
I even rubbed up a few myself:
The next morning started bright and early, as the stunt was scheduled for 7:30 in order to take advantage of optimal wind speeds. We entered through a LeLacheur Park side entrance, just as the helicopter was landing on the field:
The first order of business was a safety and logistical briefing from stunt coordinator (and aviation professional) Mike Davison. He’s the guy in the dark blue shirt, very serious about his responsibilities.
After the briefing, the spectators (comprised of friends, family, Spinners interns and staff and local media) retreated to the dugout.
Zack, meanwhile, suited up in catcher’s gear donated by Rawlings. In this shot, his mother, Naomi, looks on with concern.
Into the great wide open…
The first drop was from 300 feet, with a softball (in order to set the softball drop world record, of course). The heights then increased incrementally throughout the morning, to 550 to 750 to, finally, 1000. At first visibility was a problem, but all involved soon settled into a groove.
Spinners groundskeeper Jeff Paolino was not a happy camper, as each missed ball created a new divot in his beloved ball field.
I got lucky with this shot –a ball dropped from an official height of 762 feet, just before it landed in Zack’s glove. This turned out to be the highwater mark of the morning.
Zack didn’t get many opportunities from 1000 feet, as the stunt was called off due to increasing winds. This was the closest he came:
In the past, similar world record attempts resulted in a litany of injuries: smashed teeth, broken limbs, etc. All Zack ended up with was a bruised middle finger. And in this shot, the bruise hadn’t even appeared it. All things considered, that’s a pretty clean escape.
Zack, just after the stunt, recounting just how close he’d come to a 1000 foot catch.
But soon enough Zack had to yield the floor to Spinners clubhouse manager (and New England baseball icon) “The Dog Man.” Once the Dog Man gets on a roll, there’s no stopping him.
I’ll have plenty more from the Dog Man — and the Spinners in general — next week. But, for now, that’s gonna do it. For far more context on the world record attempt click HERE. Otherwise, I’ll catch you on the flip side.
The previous post on this blog ended with an anniversary logo (the Hickory Crawdads 20th, to be exact), so in the interest of seamless transitions let’s keep that particular train right on a-rollin’:
It should be self-explanatory, but the above mark commemorates the fact that 2012 will be the Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ fifth season. They played their first season way back in 2008, when George W. Bush was president, the price of a postage stamp was a mere 41 cents, and Ben’s Biz Blog was less than a year old.
But enough about bygone eras. Let’s celebrate the future! The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers announced that there will be a nacho stand at the ballpark in 2012, and the team is currently conducting a Facebook poll to determine what the stand should be called. I am pleased to report that my submission of “Nacho, Nacho Stand” is one of the finalists.
I am not pleased to report that, as of this writing, my submission has received all of 16 votes. “Class A Nachos” is currently in first, and, really, that one is not nearly as good as mine or fellow contender “Nachossss.” Biz Blog readers, now is the time to rectify this egregious wrong! Vote HERE! (If I win, I’ll donate my free full-size free nacho grande helmet to charity).
2012 will also be Season 1 for the new-look Swoop, mascot of the South Bend Silver Hawks. When Swoop last appeared in this blog, he was engaged in an intimate moment with a Miss America contest.
But those days of tongue-in-beak insouciance are over. For last week, the Silver Hawks gave Swoop a makeover:
Speaking of the Silver Hawks, they were, to my knowledge, the only MiLB team to run a local TV ad during the Super Bowl. That spot, cinematic in scope, can be viewed HERE.
Of course, a far more common Minor League approach is to engage in a spot of parody. The Frederick Keys did just this, putting their own spin on a FIAT ad (the original can be viewed HERE).
And speaking of the Super Bowl, you’ll no doubt recall that the last post on this blog started with info on the Lowell Spinners us-against-the-rest of the New York-Penn League big game bet.
It was a sizable gamble, and the Spinners lost. Therefore, mascot Canaligator is in for a summer of abject humiliation.
Even more so than usual:
As for me, I’ll be “writing a blog…all summer long.” Don’t you forget about me.
It’s nearly impossible to comprehend, but I am writing this on a Friday and you are reading on a Monday. Whatever sundry delights the weekend had to offer have since passed, including that inimitable annual Sunday delight that is the Super Bowl.
Thus, the consequences of the following bet are now known to the world:
As the lone Massachusetts-based entity in the New-York Penn League (go figure), the Spinners have made the following wager with no less than seven teams:
The bet, vastly superior to the minute wagers made by city mayors, would find each team’s most beloved figure donning enemy colors for a home stand: each team’s mascot would wear the opposing team’s jersey during a homestand.
Now those are some high stakes! I imagine that some mascots would commit hari-kari before succumbing to such an indignity, but that’s just idle seppuku-lation on my part.
After writing that last line, it took a long time for the applause in my head to die down. Now that it has, let’s look at another team that found a way to commemorate the Super Bowl: the Fresno Grizzlies.
But nothing can top the Super Bowl efforts made by host city denizens the Indianapolis Indians, whose Victory Field environs were totally transformed:
Another MiLB.com dispatch of note (note: they’re all of note) emanates from Birmingham, as the Barons have broken ground on their new ballpark.
But that’s not the only big Southern League ballpark news. Pensacola has a new ballpark opening in April — it will house the Blue Wahoos, of course — and this facility has now turned on the lights. Here’s the view:
Meanwhile, in Altoona, the Curve are relying on a different sort of energy. This week the team announced that, as the result of a new naming rights deal, Blair County Ballpark will be known as “Peoples Natural Gas Stadium.”
This news sent Twitter all a-twitter (or at least my Twitter feed), with flatulence jokes a-plenty. But, lest we forget, the Lake Elsinore Storm have already staged the preeminent natural gas-related promotion.
And, finally — who wants to see a new logo? Anybody? Okay, at least that one guy over there does.
So here you go: at last week’s hot stove dinner, the Hickory Crawdads unveiled this anniversary mark.
Guess that’ll do in a pinch.
For mascots, there’s no escaping the spotlight. These mute yet endlessly expressive characters are the center of attention everywhere they go, and as a result they always need to be “on.” Pictures are requested, high fives demanded, and antics expected. It’s an exhilarating existence, to be sure, but not at all conducive to moments of quiet reflection and self-analysis.
Yet such moments, while rare, do occur. To capture them on camera is an exhilarating feeling, akin to a landlocked bird watcher getting an glimpse of the elusive Red Phalarope. This is how I felt during a June trip to Lake County, when I was able to capture Captains mascot Skipper in a moment of introspection.
Feeling inspired by this rare bit of photographic luck, I asked readers to please send in introspective mascot photos of their own. This request was met with an enthusiastic response, and the results are contained in this post.
What follows is the most impressive collection of introspective mascot photos that the world has ever seen.
The above individual is Louie of the Great Lakes Loons, whose powers of introspection are far greater than the average bird. Soon after abandoning his dugout perch, he went into the stands and got the fans to join him in a moment of quiet contemplation.
Another city boasting thoughtful birds amongst its citizenry is Toledo. Muddy the Mud Hen is a voracious reader, and can sometimes be spotted at the local library with his beak buried in a good book.
Muddy’s literary endeavors have increased his powers of imagination. Back at the ballpark, he sometimes gets lost in thought while resting his left arm on a railing that doesn’t even exist.
As evidenced by the picture of Skipper at the top of this post, ballpark tunnels represent a good place for a mascot to temporarily escape from the madding crowd. Here’s Phinley of the Clearwater Threshers, patriotically pontificating.
Meanwhile, in Winston-Salem, Bolt takes a moment to reflect before instigating some between-inning hula-baloo.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but I was able to get a shot of Bolt during my visit to Winston-Salem this past July. This one is perhaps less “introspective” than “fatigued.”
While in Winston-Salem, I spent time with not one but TWO blog readers who went on to email me introspective mascot photos. Matt “Possum” Campbell solicited this shot of the Danville Braves’ “Blooper,” who does his best thinking with left hand planted firmly on stomach.
Meanwhile, veteran Minor League wanderer Rex Doane sent in pictures from various far-flung locales. Our journey with Rex begins in Norfolk, where Rip Tide sometimes assumes a near-beatific demeanor.
Then we fly over to flyover country, with this behind-the-back view of Swoop of the South Bend Silver Hawks.
And, finally, we arrive in the modest environs of the Modesto Nuts’ dugout. That’s where Al Almond sometimes goes in order to escape from the nuttiness surrounding him.
Another thoughtful dugout denizen is Fort Wayne’s Johnny TinCap, whose demeanor is never crotchety even if his hobbies sometimes are.
Of course, one doesn’t need to be solitary to be introspective. Over the three seasons that the team has been in existence, Chopper of the Gwinnett Braves has established himself as one of the most empathetic woodchucks in the Minors. Here he is having an on-field heart-to-heart.
Chopper’s upright demeanor is in stark contrast to Millie of the Lowell Spinners. On the last day of the season, this canal-dwelling alligator went deep into her own headspace while sitting on a stadium bench.
Allie’s daughter, Millie, simply curled up in the fetal position in order to think long and hard about the season that had just transpired.
With this concept on the verge of collapse, it seems that I’ll have to call it a day. Of course, keeping sending those introspective mascot photos in. I am totally amenable to there being a second, third, fourth, and even fifth installment of this series.
There will be no sixth installment.