Results tagged ‘ On Location ’

I’ve Got You, BayBears

baybears logo.jpgAs previously mentioned, I was in Mobile, Alabama last week in order to attend the gala opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum. Read up on it HERE, if you so desire (and HERE, while you’re at it).

Fortunately, I was able to document my experience in Mobile above and beyond Wednesday’s extravaganza. In addition to several abbreviated bouts of aimless wandering, I also attended Thursday’s Mobile BayBears game (a FAR more subdued atmosphere than the day before). Let’s go to the pictures!

The Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum:

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Willie Mays Arrives at Wednesday’s Grand Opening: The “Say Hey Kid” disappeared shortly thereafter making his entrance here, leading to concerns that he was under the weather. But he participated in the pre-game on-field ceremony less than two hours later, telling a humorous anecdote about the difficulty of assembling National League All-Star line-ups in the 60s.

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Hank at the Podium:

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The Hall of Fame Crew:

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Inside the Museum:

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On Thursday, I was able to explore Hank Aaron Stadium as the BayBears took on fellow Alabamans and Southern League rivals the Birmingham Barons.

Stadium Exterior

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Thirsty Thursday (Beer Through A Straw)

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Frito Pie, the Perfect Complement to $1 Bud Products

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The BayBears honor Mobile’s rich baseball history throughout the concourse.

A Nod to the Atlanta Braves:

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Each of the team’s suites is named after a Mobilian Major Leaguer. I do have to take issue with this sign, however, as Satchel notched a LOT more than 288 strikeouts throughout his career. Major League Baseball was just slow to catch on to his talents. REAL slow.

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Here’s another distinguished suite honoree –

The Wizard

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Behind the Curtain

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On-Field Action

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Tropical Environs Down the Left Field Line

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One the team’s most popular recurring in-game promotions is the Rally Rave. For 90 exhausting seconds, team employees dance to frenetic electronic music in the press box while throwing rally caps into the crowd. The official “Rally Rave” video can be viewed HERE, but I must say I was pleased with my own attempts to video the spectacle. I did NOT speed this up in any way:

And this is the cap being tossed into the crowd. It is naturally inside out, so if you turn it inside out it becomes outside in and if you are awake you start to dream and vice versa.

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And, finally, I happened to film a most comical mascot race. The quality isn’t the best, but

when it comes to this blog when is quality ever the best? (please don’t answer that)

And while I did not have as much time as I would have liked to explore Mobile, I must say I was quite smitten with Dauphin Street and Bienville Square. The slow, surreal, timeless quality of the area is a world away from the hostile hustle and bustle that I am used to here i the Northeast.

The Big Apple, Southern Style:

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Kids Are Better Dressed Here, Too:

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Bienville Square

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Well, that’s gonna do it for me and Mobile. Apologies to all those who have sent me blog-worthy material over the past several days. I’ll get to it eventually, promise.

And, as I’ve surely mentioned before: I would like to visit YOUR hometown stadium. Invite me, please, and I’ll do my best to transcend my usual non-committal ways.

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

Having A Swine Time in the Lehigh Valley

There is much talk these days about how new media platforms have made is so that information can be conveyed nearly instantaneously.

This is all well and good. But I’m a born contrarian, so that sort of bloviating simply motivates me to move in the other direction. I believe that the best things in life are worth waiting for. And I believe that the best things in life are blog posts.  Therefore, here’s a post on my visit to Lehigh Valley — nearly two months after it happened.

Lehigh Valley IronPigs vs. Charlotte Knights @ Coca-Cola Park, June 13, 2009

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I attended June 13’s contest with my friend Ted. He and I were
next-door neighbors growing up, and such rabid Phillies fans that we
spent much of the the fall of ’93/winter of ’94 throwing darts at a Baseball Digest magazine cover featuring Joe Carter. Ted was a logical choice to see the IronPigs with, seeing as how they are a Phillies affiliate, and it was he who took the photos in this post (at this point in the season, I was not aware that cameras were readily available in stores across the country and that I should perhaps buy one).

The IronPigs are in their second season as a franchise, after re-locating from Ottawa following the 2007 campaign. Despite lackluster on-field results, the team has drawn remarkably well thus far. That’s really no surprise — combine a state-of-the-art facility, dedicated front office staff, and baseball-crazy fan base and success is sure to result.

As for the stadium itself, it offers plenty of room to move. A wrap-around concourse provides a virtually limitless array of vantage points, and the overall feeling is one of spaciousness. In short, this is very much a 21st-century ballpark.

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Before the game, Ted and I wandered around the team store. Here I am, inexplicably looking like a grumpy eight-year-old who just got out of bed:

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The IronPigs’ entertainment philosophy can be summed up in three words: more is more. On this particular evening, the team took the the field in throwback ’80s powder blue Philllies jerseys (which were auctioned off to charity after the game). The popular touring act Quick Change performed between innings, and ’80s pop culture was celebrated throughout the game. The front office staff got dressed up in their best Reagan-era attire for the occasion, including general manager Kurt Landes. Here, he and I have a chat before the game:

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Quick Change performed several times throughout the game, doing routines that consist of — surprise — quick costume changes. The following photo might not provide much detail, but it’s the best I’ve got:

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The presence of Quick Change inspired IronPigs mascot Ferrous to attempt a routine of his own. Not only was his pacing sluggish (“It’s a quick change, not a take-your-time change” said the PA announcer, in one of the best adlibs of the night), but he also ended up naked. I wish I had a picture of this.

During the game, Ted and I were given a whirlwind behind-the-scenes tour of Coca-Cola Park, courtesy of community relations director Sarah Marten. We went through the press box, private suites, and fully-equipped conference and banquet rooms with a remarkable rapidity, finally ending up here:

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Sarah then led me onto the field and handed me one end of a roll of yellow streamer. I was barely able to register what was happening, but it turned out we were holding the finish line of a meat product mascot race. It was thrilling to say the least, and it was a satisfying feeling later that night when I was able to cross “hold half of finish line in mascot meat product race” off of my bucket list (next-up: go para-sailing with the former head of an Eastern European intelligence agency).

I didn’t feel nearly as good one inning later, when I dropped a t-shirt in the stands that was tossed right at me. The shirts read “I went hog-wild at the IronPigs game”, one of many, many, many pig-related puns the team employs on a nightly basis. Really, that should be a whole separate post. Or roast, as it were.

As has been the case so many times this season, in so many ballparks, the weather took a turn for the worse. After seven innings of play, the skies opened up and torrential rains began to fall. The tarp came on:

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 And the tarp stayed on. After a 45-minute delay (in which fans were entertained by the Phillies-Red Sox game on the videoboard), the game was called. Final result: Charlotte 6, Lehigh Valley 4.

Before leaving, I made sure that Ted took a picture of the door to the ladies room (I have since painted my bedroom door with the same message, to no avail).

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Believe it or not, I still have more in the queue when it comes to posts like these. The day when that is not the case will be a most merciful one indeed.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

On Location In: Vermont

Thumbnail image for vml.jpgLast week, I was able to (finally) share some video and images of my trip to Lowell, MA. Today, my sluggishly-paced travelogue continues — this time in the idyllic counter-cultural confines of Burlington, VT.

I (along with my cousin and her family) attended July 10’s Vermont Lake Monsters game at Centennial Field. This summer has been anything but kind when it comes to the elements, but on this particular evening the weather was just about perfect. A Friday night in July at an old ballpark in New England — what could be better than that? The following video, while lacking in picture quality, really helps to convey what the Lake Monsters experience is like. Enjoy the ambience:

While there may be issues with ancient Centennial Field from the player development side of the equation, it remains an excellent place for the fan. A raucous small town atmosphere prevails, part county fair and part high school football game. A little background on the stadium, explained in plaque form:

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The stadium itself is set back from the street, and one first walks past the visitor’s locker rooms (this is a long way from the bigs) and the University of Vermont soccer field in order to get there.

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The inside of the ballpark is no frills — there are seats and a baseball field, and that’s about it. Therefore, things that would be located on the concourse in other stadiums — souvenirs, concessions, information booths, etc — are located on the outside of the ballpark.

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Lake Monster pitchers Graham Hicks and Jose Pinales manned the pre-game autograph booth:

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Players from the visiting Lowell Spinners making their way from the locker rooms to the playing field:

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It was “Summer of Love” night at the ballpark, a celebration of the ’60s sponsored by the mighty Ben and Jerry’s (for a subset of Vermont residents, EVERY night is a celebration of the ’60s sponsored by Ben and Jerry’s…but I digress).

The giveaway was a tie-dyed Vermont Lake Monsters baseball, which I unfortunately do not possess a picture of at the moment. The front office staff got into the theme as well, as evidenced by the mighty afro of community relations man/on-field mc Denny Madigan.

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Of course, Champ the mascot got in on the act. The affable lake monster (he hails from Lake Champlain, hence the name) entered the field on the back of a Ben and Jerry’s truck as “Bad to the Bone” blasted over the PA:

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In the above picture, an unusually contemplative Champ is looking at his feet with child-like wonder. 1960s-themed promotions will encourage that level of introspection, and I wouldn’t be surprised if after the game he spent seven hours staring at a candle and eating oranges.

Here was the view from my seat, directly behind home plate. To the right:

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To the left:

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And, finally, straight ahead (okay, I cheated a little in order to not take a photo through the screen:

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At the end of seventh inning, the crowd of 3,569 fans thinned considerably. This wasn’t due to the commanding lead enjoyed by the visiting Lowell Spinners. Rather, it was because the Ben and Jerry’s truck was giving away complimentary cups of their fine product. I went ahead and got in line myself:

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Ice cream runs aside, the vast majority of fans stayed still the final out had been recorded. The crowd remained enthusiastic and engaged despite the lop-sided final score (Spinners 10, Lake Monsters 3), and one really gets the sense that Lake Monster fans are true baseball fans. The relative lack of stadium amenities and supplemental entertainment is more than offset by the opportunity to watch nine innings of baseball in a charming and historic facility.

Centennial Field is located in a residential area, and upon making my way back to the sidewalk I came face-to-face with a quintessentially Vermont abode: a purple house with pink polka dots, emblazoned with the message: Cut Consumption, Not Foreskins. It was too dark for me to get a quality picture of this unique structure, but rest assured I am working on obtaining one.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

On Location In Lowell — the Sequel

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(Lowell’s motto is even embossed on its trash cans)

Earlier in the week, I crafted a post that detailed my time at LeLacheur Park — home of the New York-Penn League’s Lowell Spinners.

But my time at the ballpark represented just one aspect of my Lowell getaway, as I was also able to spend time in the city itself. This was easy enough to do, as my base of operations was the Brew’d Awakening coffee shop in the heart of downtown Lowell. I took advantage of that establishment’s strong coffee and even stronger internet connections, en route to cranking out articles and blog posts of unparalleled irrelevance excellence.

Fortunately, I was able to wrest myself away from the unforgiving monster that is my laptop long enough to go on some explorations. Most notably, on the afternoon of July 8 I received a one-on-one guided tour of the city courtesy of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.

This tour gave me much-needed perspective regarding Lowell’s history, and how it came to be the city it is today. And, perhaps most importantly, it helped to contextualize the Spinners’ baseball experience.

Why the team is called the Spinners in the first place? And why their logo is a baseball bat wrapped with yarn?

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Lowell was founded in the 1820s, and played an important role in America’s Industrial Revolution. The city is named after Francis Cabot Lowell, an industrialist who spearheaded the campaign to turn the area into an all-in-one textile manufacturing center. Raw cotton shipped from the South was transformed into fine cloth through the processes of carding, spinning, and weaving.

Hence, the Spinners.

While Lowell is no longer a manufacturing epicenter, there are many purveyors of yarn and fine cloth in the downtown area. There is also a quilt museum, which, if I was my Mom, I most certainly would have visited.

The Spinners’ Mascot is Named “Canaligator”. Why?

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Visiting Lowell dashed my naive hope that the city would be full of alligators. As it turns out, alligators do not live in New England at all. Their personalities do not generally mesh well with the Puritanical stoicism that characterizes the region’s human population. “Canaligator” is instead a nod to the fact that Lowell boasts the largest system of canals in the United States. These canals were used as a direct source of power for the mills.The canals are well worth checking out, and guided tours are available. I took such a tour:

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Lowell has a lot of charm and personality due to the way that its industrial past meshes with the post-industrial present. Today, many of the mills have been converted into condos. Pretty cool place to live, right?

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This walkway leads straight to LeLacheur Park. Somehow, I was able to get lost on said walkway on my return home from the stadium that night.

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One of the boarding houses where New England farm girls were housed after re-locating to Lowell:

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A look at the mills on display at the American Textile History Museum:

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Statue of painter James Whistler, one of Lowell’s most famous natives (Jack Kerouac was born here as well):

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And, finally, one of the most charming gas station signs that I have seen in a while — Haffner’s in downtown Lowell. Their motto? is “It Kicks”:

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I’d like to thank Lowell Spinners GM Tim Bawmann for arranging the tour, and Kristen Deveau of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau for providing it.

It occurs to me that this is the sort of thing I should do more often. After all — the only way to truly understand a team is to b
e able to understand the community in which it plays.

Don’t worry, though. I’ll be back tomorrow with video of a flatulent mascot, or something along those lines. I’ve got a paycheck to earn and a reputation to uphold.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

On Location in Lowell

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As regular readers of this blog may recall, I spent a week in New England earlier this month. During my time in this beautiful part of the country, I was able to visit both the Lowell Spinners and Vermont Lake Monsters. I was not “on assignment”, per se, just motivated by the desire to visit that which I write about.

What follows are a variety of observations and images from the nights of July 7 and 8 at Lowell’s LeLacheur Park.

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On both nights, I enjoyed a pre-game dinner in the so-called “Gator Pit”. This picnic area primarily services season-ticket holders, those attending a game as part of a group outing, and free-loading media types:

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Vegetarians Beware:

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As for the stadium itself, one has room to maneuver. The open concourse provides plenty of vantage points from which to view the game.

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The Spinners are one of the best draws in the New York-Penn League, with a sell-out streak that I believe dates back to the late 19th century. But during the two days I was in town the weather was horrible. Mid-afternoon downpours led to soggy conditions, and the temperature was in the low 60s. Needless to say, it did not feel like July. But that did not deter appearances by INTERNATIONAL SUPERSTARS.

On July 8 (as well as the 9th), the national anthem was sung by Cassandra De Rosa. She is a cousin of Spinners vice president of corporate communications Jon Goode — and also a bona-fide Italian pop superstar. Check out her website HERE.

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This woman was big time, but nonetheless had no problem posing for a picture with the suit-wearing assistant general manager of the visiting team (Tri-City’s resplendent Vic Christopher) and a making-it-up-as-he-goes-along baseball writer:

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When it comes to game presentation, the Spinners definitely ascribe to the “more-is-more” philosophy. Hardly a moment goes by without a sound effect, video clip or song snippet. These guys are really on their toes:

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And, of course, the mascot is a big part of the action. I can’t recall the premise here, but here’s Canaligator-as-Superman:

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The team also provides an ever-changing roster of “Spinner-tainment”. One of the acts when I was in town was this grandmaster of “Simon Says”. In a sing-song drill sergeant cadence, he systemically eliminated those who did not do what Simon said.

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The first night I was in town, I threw t-shirts into the crowd while riding in the Spinners’ Scooby Doo-influenced “Mystery Machine.” I was not pleased with my performance. I had four t-shirts to throw, and got rid of them much too quickly. I spent the
final 30 seconds of my ride feeling quite ashamed, as the eager, enthusiastic crowd stretched out their arms toward me in anticipation of what I could no longer provide.

Spinners fans, please forgive me.

The following video comprises the first footage ever shot with my new “Webby” camcorder (meaning, of course, that there is nowhere to go but up). It contains a variety of Spinners moments — including exclusive Mystery Machine footage —  and concludes with the special gift bestowed upon me by Spinners media manager Jon Boswell, left over from the club’s recent Politically Incorrect Night:

Big thanks to editing maestro Joe Pisch for putting together the above video, and big thanks to the Spinners for their hospitality. At this point I’ve learned not to promise a specific timetable when it comes to this blog, but rest assured there is more to come from Lowell.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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