Results tagged ‘ Quad Cities River Bandits ’

On the Road: Weather Changes Moods in Quad Cities

To see all of my posts from this May 2015 visit to the Quad Cities River Bandits (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

On Sunday, May 24, I visited the Quad Cities River Bandits’ home of Modern Woodmen Park. I spent several hours at the stadium, enjoying many experiences, but one experience I did not experience was the experience of experiencing an actual ballgame. Instead, I experienced a rainout. C’est la vie, sure, but nonetheless my failure to have experienced an actual Midwest League baseball game at Modern Woodmen Park really stuck in my craw.

The following afternoon, I took in a 1 p.m. doubleheader in Clinton between the LumberKings and Burlington Bees. You might think that two games and 14 innings of Midwest League Baseball is enough for one day, but if you thought that then you thought wrong. Upon the conclusion of the Clinton twinbill I drove to Modern Woodmen Park, where the River Bandits were taking on the Peoria Chiefs in a doubleheader of their own (start time: 4 p.m.).

I arrived at Modern Woodmen Park just as the second game begun, meaning that I would be able to witness River Bandits baseball after all. Immediately, my craw became unstuck.

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The players were playing, the Ferris Wheel was spinning. The Centennial Bridge was spanning its usual distance betwixt Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois. All was right with the world.

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Well, not all the players were playing. Some were just sitting around like a bunch of lazy jerks.

056The Ferris Wheel is the most prominent of the River Bandits’ ballpark amusements, but there are also zipline rides, the Drop ‘N Twist and Space Camp. Although I would’ve loved it when I was younger, I could not bring myself to attend Space Camp.

But the Ferris Wheel? Of course I’ll ride the Ferris Wheel, in all of its 105 feet of glory. This was to be my second Modern Woodmen Park Ferris Wheel ride in as many days.

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You say you want a revolution?

Along for the ride was none other than River Bandits owner Dave Heller, the man responsible for the Ferris Wheel’s purchase and installation.

IMG_1261The Ferris Wheel is open during all ballgames, as well as Friday and Saturday evenings, weekend mornings (in conjunction with a nearby Farmer’s Market) and special events.

“It’s a different way to think about the ballpark,” said Heller. “This is a wonderful way to maximize our gorgeous venue all Spring and Summer long and well into the Fall.”

This, clearly, was the view to the west.

IMG_1260Downtown Davenport:

IMG_1263Meanwhile, back on the ground, the views can still hold their own. Check out these two guys, staring intently into the back of the batter’s eye.

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Vantage point from the right field deck.

061This scoreboard is also a relatively new addition to the ballpark. I took a picture of it because Blake Drake was up to bat at the time. You’ve to got to love Blake Drake.

063As mentioned in my previous River Bandits post, one of the next major projects for the team is to expand the concourse outward and on to this rooftop area.

“We never stop improving,” said Heller, who is among the most passionate team owners I have ever met. “Every year, there’s something new.”

067Day’s transition into night was accompanied by lights.

In this photo, the River Bandits outfielder is not fielding a batted ball. Rather, it is between pitches and he has rushed over to the warning track in order to retrieve a ball that kids had dropped onto the field from the berm. These kids were really sloppy in their catching and throwing habits. I was kinda hoping, all Grinch-like, that they wouldn’t get their ball back.

071With the ballgame in its waning moments, I hurriedly delivered my groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the evening.

The seventh inning began with the River Bandits holding a 3-2 lead, just three outs from victory. But victory was not to be theirs, as the Chiefs scored four runs in the top of the frame and went on to win by a score of 6-3.

This disappointing conclusion to the ballgame was followed by the ceremonial throwing of tennis balls onto the field. (And, yes, that is a washing machine stationed just past the second base bag.)
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The Ferris Wheel lights were then shut off for the evening, a symbolic conclusion to a day in which I had seen three games totaling 21 innings at two Midwest League stadiums. (I then drove right on over to another Midwest League city, Peoria, as I would be seeing the Chiefs the next day.)

076Good night from Modern Woodmen Park. I’m glad that I was able to see a game here, after all. Everything works out in the end.

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On the Road: Eating in the Rain in Quad Cities

To see all of my posts from this May 2015 visit to the Quad Cities River Bandits (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

If you read the previous post in this series, then you know that the Quad Cities River Bandits game I (attempted to) attend at Modern Woodmen Park was rained out. But while rain stopped the ballgame, it didn’t stop my designated eater! (You know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.)

At Modern Woodmen Park, that individual was Dean Birkhofer.

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Dean, a retired math teacher, husband, father and Beatles fan, grew up in Wilton Junction, Iowa (“Junction” has since been dropped from the town name) and now lives in North Davenport. He was motivated to become a designated eater after receiving pressure from his daughter and son-in-law. (That son-in-law, Paul Worley, is a reader of this blog who contributed a “Why I Love” guest post this past February.)

Dean is a lifelong baseball fan, particularly of the Brooklyn-turned-Los Angeles Dodgers. So how did a kid from the Midwest come to like the Dodgers?

“I think I finally figured it out,” said Dean. “My Dad played softball. He threw right and played center field….I think I came to associate him with Duke Snider. [My Dodgers fandom] solidified when I was six. I made a bet with my uncle on the ’55 World Series, that I’d get a nickel if the Dodgers won. They won, and a couple weeks later I had to send him a letter. ‘A bet’s a bet.’ He sent me 27 cents, which was probably all the change in his pocket, and of course I changed that into 27 baseball cards.”

Fortunately for Dean and I, the River Bandits were willing to whip up a few special concession stand offerings despite the fact that the game had been called and the concession stands were closed.

We started with the “Pit Boss Burger” — an all-beef burger, cheddar cheese and in-house smoked BBQ pork.

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Here’s Dean, sauce all over his face, enjoying this delicacy.

“Oh, it’s awesome,” he said. “Really good barbecue sauce. Tangy. It’s going to be on my list when I come back for a game next year.”

Dean then wiped his mouth with paper towels that he had brought from home. Dean was nothing if not prepared.

Dean was also prepared for the next item presented for his consumption: the Midwestern delicacy that is the pork tenderloin sandwich. Believe it or not, this thing is on a bun. It’s just that the bun is obscured by the meat.

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Have at it, Dean.

080Dean opted to consume the the pork tenderloin sans condiments, remarking that “I’m a meat eater. Don’t ruin it.”

But first, the sandwich needed to cool off a bit. Dean, once again displaying an admirable level of preparation, passed the time by asking baseball trivia questions. One such question went as follows:

Who was the first player to hit two pinch-hit home runs in the same World Series?

I’ll provide the answer at the end of this post.

As for the tenderloin, Dean said that he’s a big fan of this sandwich in general and the River Bandits’ iteration in particular. As for why he’s a fan, he had a bit of trouble articulating.

“There’s a taste. I don’t know how to describe it. Yeah, I don’t know,” said. Dean. “This one’s really good though.”

Good? Yes. But the River Bandits don’t make the area’s best, according to Dean. That honor goes to Tc’s Point After in Dewitt, Iowa.

Meanwhile, Dean complemented his sandwich consumption with a beverage housed in a collectible cup. Yep, it’s time for a #cupdate!

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082But wait! Dean wasn’t done yet. In addition to arriving at the ballpark with his own napkins and trivia questions, he had a also brought me a gift.

084For those not in the “know,” the above mini-helmet depicts the logo of the awkwardly-named “Swing of the Quad Cities.” The franchise was known by this name — which referenced Bix Beiderbecke and the Quad Cities’ jazz legacy — from 2004-07. The River Bandits moniker, which had been in use from 1992-2003, was readopted in 2008 and the team hasn’t looked back since.

In fact, current River Bandits general manager Andrew Chesser was downright offended by Dean’s mini-helmet offering.

“I’m a little sick to my stomach,” he said.
083I, for one, like the mini-helmet. I wear it every day here in the office.

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And that’ll do it for Dean and his Quad Cities River Bandits sandwich-eating experience. I’d like to express my thanks to both him and the team for being Designated Eating pioneers, as never before had the eating been done after the ballgame was postponed.

“It was awesome,” said Dean, when all was said and done. “I just wish there was baseball to go with it.”

Trivia Question Answer: The first player to hit two pinch-hit home runs in the same World Series was Chuck Essegian, who accomplished the feat in 1959 as a member of the Brooklyn Los Angeles Dodgers.

Thanks for playing.

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On the Road: Riding in the Rain in Quad Cities

To see all of my posts from this May 2015 visit to the Quad Cities River Bandits (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

My May 2015 Midwest road trip began on a beautiful Saturday night in Geneva, Illinois, home of the Kane County Cougars. The following day’s destination was Davenport, Iowa, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits.

Whereas Saturday was beautiful, Sunday was gray, wet and altogether kinda depressing. But the show must go on.

After a car ride spent listening to episode #997 of “Floydian Slip” on 103.9 The River, I arrived at the River Bandits’ home of Modern Woodmen Park. This stadium was built in 1931, making it one of the oldest in Minor League Baseball. Through the years it has undergone extensive renovations, however. It certainly doesn’t feel 83 years old.

Parking lot views.

048To my left, I could see the left field Ferris Wheel installed prior to last season.

049 While, behind me, a flock of birds had made the decision to get outta Davenport.

050To get into the stadium, one must cross train tracks that are still frequently utilized by the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

051The Ferris Wheel is the crown jewel of an ongoing effort by River Bandits’ ownership to create a carnival-esque atmosphere at the ballpark. But as I arrived on Sunday morning, these amusements were not yet in use. It had recently rained, and it sure looked like it would rain again.

The Zipline was folded over, sitting in the shadow of the Centennial Bridge (which crosses the Mississippi River, connecting Davenport and Rock Island, Illinois).

052The Space Camp ride had not achieved liftoff.

053The Drop ‘N Twist was not dropping. Nor was it twisting.

054The tarp was just about the only thing in use. Even on a gloomy day, Modern Woodmen Park remains beautiful.

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Rain or shine, the show must go on. River Bandits general manager Andrew Chesser gamely led me on a tour of the facility, showing off some of the latest improvements to Modern Woodmen Park along the way. (This is a team that is always improving. Main Street Baseball ownership group, led by Dave Heller, has shown a nearly messianic zeal in this regard.)

This room, located on the concourse down the third base line, used to be a storage closet. Now, it’s a Birthday Room. Video games are forthcoming.

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Further down the third base line, one finds this soon-to-be rooftop party deck.

“We’re sandwiched by the Mississippi River, train tracks and historic parks on both sides of the stadium,” said Andrew. “Building up is the only option we’ve got.”

060The River Bandits have three full-time staff members who only deal with non-baseball events, 150 to 175 of which take place every year. One key component of the non-baseball side of the equation is weddings. In fact, there was a wedding scheduled for later in the day. (Yes, it was Sunday. But it was Sunday of a holiday weekend and, thus, a Sunday in name only.)

061Here, we visit the Sears Manufacturing Suite. Note, once again, the view of the Ferris Wheel.

062This is the “Budweiser Champions Club,” a multi-purpose room in which wedding ceremonies are sometimes held. I mean, who wouldn’t want to get married in a room called the “Budweiser Champions Club”?

065My tour went on hiatus at this point, as Andrew had to take part in some weather-related manager and umpire consultations down on the field. In the meantime, I spoke with a trio of long-time season ticket-holders: Frank (89), Shirley (the youngest-seeming 86-year-old I have ever met), and Douglas (I’m not sure of Douglas’s age. What I can tell you is that he’s a Cardinals fan who was mighty disappointed when the River Bandits switched affiliations to the Astros).

066Frank, whose last name is “Wulf”, has been attending games at this ballpark for 70 years. His late wife, Dorothy, was named the team’s “Fan of the Century” in 2000. Dorothy attended the first game ever played here (in 1931, when it was called Municipal Stadium), and remained a fixture until her death in 2008.

Dorothy is memorialized at the ballpark with this outfield-area plaque.

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With the tarp still on the field, River Bandits players appeared on the concourse for a 20-minute autograph session. There were plenty of River Bandits to go around.

068Speaking of going around, it was time for my first-ever ballpark Ferris Wheel ride. My entire life had all been a stilted, uneventful prelude to this moment.

069I rode the wheel along with River Bandits assistant general manager of amusements Mike Clark, who I believe is the only person in Minor League Baseball to have such a job title. Clark told me that a ride on the wheel lasts for 12 rotations — approximately four minutes.

More views from the Ferris Wheel:

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IMG_1228In which I insert myself into the narrative:

IMG_1230Shortly after the ride ended, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: Today’s Midwest League contest between the River Bandits and visiting Peoria Chiefs would be postponed. It was 1:04 p.m. — 11 minutes before the game’s scheduled start time. This may sound like a premature time to have bagged it, but the radar wasn’t looking good.

The view from a deserted press box.

085Game or no game, I still had work to do. After a post-postponement meeting with my designated eater (this will be chronicled in a separate post), I resumed my ballpark tour with general manager Andrew Chesser.

We strolled past the extensive Quad Cities Sports Hall of Fame…

087and eventually made our way down to the home dugout.

More Centennial Bridge views!

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More Ferris Wheel! 090This might be Class A, but nonetheless the Houston Astros organization puts together some really detailed scouting reports on the opposition. These were still hanging in the dugout after the rainout. I’m going to assume that they aren’t confidential.
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I’m just the dude who writes about ridiculous promos and dresses up as various racing food mascots. I can’t begin to make sense of this stuff.
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Walking back toward the home clubhouse, I noticed that the walls displayed evidence of a thorough punching. That’s life in baseball for you.

095Maybe those wall markings were caused by the Rock, in a fit of rage. The Rock oversees the trainer’s area.

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Back on the concourse, we stopped by the Cornfield Seats.

098That patch of dirt, on the far left, is indeed a corn field. The corn will be “knee high by the Fourth of July,” at which point the River Bandits will use it as a Field of Dreams style pre-game entrance area.

A brief detour to the team store soon followed.

099Hats! Hats! Hats! Hats! Hats!

My afternoon with the River Bandits ended back outside, right where I started. See those brick pillars?

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See these rectangular base plates?
101See this sidewalk to nowhere, roped off by a small length of chain?

103Well, all of these things are integral to Modern Woodmen Park being able to withstand flooding from the Mississippi.

Read all about it HERE, in a piece I wrote for MiLB.com. It is truly fascinating. This picture was taken last season, just prior to a ballgame taking place as scheduled.

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Believe it or not, there is still much more to come from Modern Woodmen Park. And good stuff, at that.

The show must go on.

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About Sunday Afternoon: Quad Cities River Bandits, May 24, 2015

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

May 24, 2015 — Modern Woodmen Field, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits (Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros)

Opponent: Peoria Chiefs, 1:15 p.m. start time

Modern Woodmen Park, from the outside:

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Modern Woodmen Park, from the inside: 

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Culinary Creation: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich (bun obscured by oversized meat patty)

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At Random: My first ride in a ballpark Ferris Wheel

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: Postponed! In it’s place, enjoy this Vine video displaying the River Bandits’ myriad cap offerings.

It’s All Over: Well, this one never began. The ballgame was rained out.

085(Spoiler alert: I was able to make a bonus, top-secret return to Modern Woodmen Park the next day. Stay tuned next month for full coverage.)

Next Up: 

5/25: Clinton LumberKings

5/26: Peoria Chiefs

5/27: Cedar Rapids Kernels

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers

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The Best Seat in the House: My View

What Minor League team offers the best ballpark views?

That’s the question that MiLB.com’s “Best Seat in the House” contest is currently seeking to determine, via an online vote among 66 MiLB teams. Vote now; the winners will be announced on May 21.

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In my now-established role as wandering MiLB ballpark minstrel, I’ve visited 24 of the top 30 ballparks in the current voting. Though I may not have sat in the exact seats or section highlighted in the Best Seat in the House contest, I can speak to the spectacular nature to the ballpark views found in these stadiums. What follows is my personal Top 10, presented alphabetically by stadium name (it’s already hard enough to choose 10, ranking them in a specific order would be too much for my fragile psyche to bear).

As an added bonus, each team name is linked to my corresponding blog post describing my visit:

AutoZone Park (Memphis Redbirds) — A downtown stadium should always have downtown views.

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BB&T Ballpark (Charlotte Knights) — The city skyline threatens to swallow the ballpark whole.

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Dell Diamond (Round Rock Express) — Okay, so this is a view of those enjoying the views. But it doesn’t get much better than watching a game from an outfield concourse rocking chair.

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Modern Woodmen Park (Quad Cities River Bandits) — Centennial Bridge backdrop (the bridge crosses the Mississippi River, connecting Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois):

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Pensacola Bayfront Stadium (Pensacola Blue Wahoos) — The Pensacola Bay lies beyond right field, and beyond the bay lies the Gulf of Mexico.

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PNC Field (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders) — The outfield concourse incorporates the stadium’s natural surroundings very nicely.

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Richmond County Bank Ballpark (Staten Island Yankees) — This is not the best representation, as this photo is from a foggy night. But the lower Manhattan skyline is visible from across the water. It is, as always, an awe-inspiring sight.

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Southwest University Park (El Paso Chihuahuas) — The Franklin Mountains loom beyond left-center field. (Meanwhile, behind the ballpark, Juarez, Mexico, is clearly visible.)

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Victory Field (Indianapolis Indians) — Technically, no one is allowed to sit up here. But the view from the roof is awesome.

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Whataburger Field (Corpus Christi Hooks) — Harbor Bridge beckons.

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Once again, you can vote in the Best Seat in the House contest HERE. Do you agree with my Top 10 picks? Who are you voting for, and why? Per usual, I’m amenable to having a conversation about this and all Minor League-related matters. Feel free to get in touch anytime.

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Bouillabaisse III: The Search for More Material

Each of the last two posts on this blog were full-to-bursting bouillabaisse blasts, but those who thought that I was out of Minor League news and notes to share THOUGHT WRONG. A final scouring of my myriad notebooks and spreadsheets has brought even more items to light, and thus it is now my duty to shine this light unto the world.

Let’s begin by re-stating a proven fact, and that is that Ben’s Biz Blog is the greatest Minor League Baseball blog of all time. While this should be common knowledge, I nevertheless work tirelessly to disseminate this message to all corners of the known universe. Enter the Hickory Crawdads, who last week issued a press release in which they welcomed fans to leave a message on their office walls prior to renovation:

Renovations are already underway at Crawdads Stadium, but fans can visit the ‘Dads old front office one last time this week and leave a personalized message on the walls. Join Conrad and the rest of the front office staff by inscribing a favorite memory, a goodbye, or simply well wishes, and have your message shared on the Crawdads Facebook page.

I humbly asked the team, via Twitter, to please make note of my blogging supremacy and, happily, they assented. If it’s written on a South Atlantic League front office wall, then you KNOW it’s true!

In perhaps slightly more meaningful Minor League indoor art news, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are staging an innovative mural painting contest. An excerpt from the press release:

[The RailRiders] and Lackawanna County are sponsoring an indoor mural competition for the entrance of the Mohegan Sun Club at PNC Field. The mural will be unveiled on Wednesday, April 2 at the annual “Meet the RailRiders” event. Experienced mural artists are invited to submit designs capturing the essence of baseball, community and Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Three finalists will be chosen by a selection committee before the public votes on the winning design from Feb. 14-24. The winning artist(s) will paint the mural during the month of March. All supplies and materials will be provided, including scaffolding. The winning artist will receive a cash award of $5,000 to paint the mural and two RailRiders 2014 season tickets.

Rest assured that I will be following this contest as it develops, but in the meantime: What other Minor League Baseball stadiums feature murals? I, like a painter who has lost his inspiration, am drawing a blank.

No segue!

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“This post is going to the dogs” sounds like something that I’d write if I was completely and totally devoid of inspiration. But I’m not, at least not yet, so instead just let me inform you that some canine content is imminent. Did you know that the El Paso Chihuahuas have sold merchandise in all 50 states, in advance of ever playing a game?  Team-produced infographics, like sleeping dogs, don’t lie!

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In other news, the Chihuahuas are now selling “pawtial” season ticket plans. I am apparently alone in thinking they should have found a way to utilize the phrase “season yip-ets.”

And then there are the Trenton Thunder, who have welcomed a new bat dog into the fold. This puppy, son of Derby and grandson of Chase (R.I.P.), needs a name and in this matter your assistance is requested.

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I voted for Mo.

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My readership is largely comprised of Los Angeles culinary scenesters with Midwestern roots, so I apologize that many of you are familiar with the following bit of news:

Restaurateur Susan Feniger has opened the Mud Hen Tavern, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, is “a neighborhood bar with ‘gourmet pub and comfort food’ inspired by the chef’s memories of going to Mud Hens baseball games in Toledo, Ohio.”  The menu looks great, and it’s immediately apparent that the chef attended Mud Hens’ games during that brief period (’75-’77) when tuna ceviche and pumpkin ravioli were available at the concession stand. 

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I’ve never seen a team do this before:

Fans of the Quad Cities River Bandits can own a piece of history with a commemorative 2013 Midwest League Championship ring in a limited-time sale. Until Feb. 1, fans may purchase rings that match the ones earned by the team’s players and staff, and each fan may personalize the championship hardware with his or her last name on the side of the ring.

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For $295, it can be yours! That would be a good investment for those looking to impress women, because nothing (and I mean nothing) impresses the fairer sex like a Midwest League Championship ring. I am speaking from experience.

Or am I?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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Making Concessions to Fitness

In my capacity as floundering elder blogger-statesman of the Minor League scene, I’ve written about more than my share of patently unhealthy and/or ridiculously oversized and/or ridiculously conceived concession items.

Y’know, like this “Ramen Dawg” that the Salem Red Sox served during last month’s “College Night” promotion.

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But there’s a yin to every yang, a Jekyll to every Hyde, a Shobam to every Yobam, which is to say that for the remainder of today’s post I will feature some downright healthy ballpark undertakings.

Let’s start with the Akron Aeros, who, perhaps in atonement for the “Inside Out Burger,” recently staged a promotion with the undeniably awesome name of “Vegan Iron Chef.” Director of promotions Christina Shisler explains:

For Vegan Iron Chef we have partnered with the “Who’s Your Mama? Earth Day Festival” to bring in Vegan Iron Chef contestants and a Vegetable Carving Championship Competition to Canal Park on April 22 (Earth Day)! There will be eight chefs making vegan dishes for a table of judges. Fans will get to watch, as the competition begins when gates open, and then sample vegan food throughout the game.

Two of the competitors in action.

Chef prepping for judgesThe results of the chefs’ labor:

All Eight Vegan Iron Chef DishesThe judges assemble

Vegan Iron Chef serving the Judges

And, yes, there was also a Vegetable Carving Championship.

Team-logo Cantaloupe. (Cantalogo?)

Veggie Go AerosThe runners-up:

Veggie Carving Runner Up

Winner, winner, meat-free dinner!

Veggie Carving Winner

For another excellent bit of healthy ballpark living we go to the Quad Cities, as the River Bandits staged a “Race the Game” promotion as a follow-up of sorts to their inaugural 5K race.  Director of promotions and marketing Shane Huff explains:

[We] invited one of the top overall finishers [in the 5K race] to come back to today’s game and literally race the game. This contestant, Marvin McMeekan, will try to comlete a 9-mile run on a treadmill – placed on the outfield berm for everyone to see – before the game becomes official. If Marvin can beat the game, EVERYONE in attendance wins a prize. We’re going to interview Marvin before the game and do live look-ins throughout the game to help build suspense.

Marvin in action.

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Sean Flynn photography

I, for one, never had any doubt that Marvin would complete the task. And he did, ably. Writes Huff:

It went very well. The live look-ins between innings really helped get the crowd get into it. And Marvin crushed it! He completed the 9 miles with just under an inning to spare!

It went so well that we’re already discussing plans on doing it again later this summer on a night with a bigger crowd and better prizes.

Race the Game is a great, easily adaptable idea and if it doesn’t catch on then I will be deeply disappointed in the entire industry. (Crushed, even, in the non I-just-outraced-a-ballgame-sense-of-the-word.)

And if you want add a real sense of drama to the whole thing, then invite me to be the runner. I’d probably fail, and failing is what I do best (especially in front of crowds).

On that note I shall conclude. Tomcat says “Have a Great Weekend!”

Kitty-Growl-Awesomeness

More on that guy in an upcoming post.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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2013 Promotions: Strange Combinations

Over the past two weeks I have spent a heroic amount of time combing through the promotional schedules of Minor League full season teams, in search of the best, brightest, weirdest and wackiest innovations that will be on offer during the 2013 campaign.

As always, this was a LOT of information to digest, especially since there are many teams that schedule multiple promotions for each and every contest. Such promo overload is the inevitable result of the industry’s never-ending quest to be all things to all people, and as an added bonus it sometimes provides unintentional comedy fodder. (The best example of this comes courtesy of an Eastern League club that shall remain anonymous, who in 2011 scheduled “Tribute to Michael Jackson” on the same evening as “Boy Scout Sleepover Night.”)

What follows is a brief list of absurd and/or incongruous promo combinations scheduled for the 2013 season. Maybe one of them will be incongruously taking place at a ballpark near you! (And, of course, if you have further examples then please send ’em my way.)

Akron Aeros — International Juggler’s Day/Thirsty Thursday

This can’t end well.

Kannapolis Intimidators — $2 16 oz Budweiser drafts/Operation Family Time (May 17)

Spending time with the family can be stressful, but the Intimidators are offering a way to take the edge off.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans — Hangover Night/Thirsty Thursday (May 23)

Seems like “Hangover Night” would make more sense on May 24th…

Omaha Storm Chasers — Superhero Cape Giveaway/Diaper Derby (June 8)

Perhaps unprepared Diaper Derby participants could just use the cape?

Lakewood BlueClaws — Cecil Fielder Appearance/Wing Fling (June 12)

cecil-fielder-95

While perhaps not quite as rotund as his immodestly-named son, Tigers slugger Prince, there’s no denying that Cecil Fielder was one of the largest individuals to ever don a Major League uniform. He’s scheduled to sign autographs at Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park on June 12, during which the BlueClaws will also be staging a “Wing Fling.” Local restaurateurs will compete in a “best wing” contest, and it seems to me that Cecil would be the perfect judge. And if he’s moved to participate in the scheduled “wing-eating contest”? Forget about it…

Quad Cities River Bandits — “Ghost Rider” Cowboy Monkeys/John Deere Night (June 15)

The Cowboy Monkeys usually ride border collies, but perhaps on this special evening they could ride a tractor instead.

Frederick Keys — Meet the Team/Pajama Night (June 23)

Finally — a socially acceptable way to mingle with professional athletes in an outdoor setting while wearing a bathrobe.

Frederick Keys — Military and Civilians Night (July 31st)

Or, as I like to call it — “Everybody Night.”

Hickory Crawdads — Kids Run the Show/Unemployment Night (August 7)

Well, yeah — when kids are running the show then the adults are out of a job!

I’ve got plenty more where this came from, and I’m sorry if that sounds like a threat.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Personnel Carousel

Minor League staffing changes don’t necessarily make for the most compelling content, but in recent weeks there have been some notable proclamations which are deserving of wider dissemination.

In Lakewood, it was recently announced that the BlueClaws will be losing the only general manager they’ve ever known. Geoff Brown had served in that role since November of 1999 (17 months before the team played their first game), but he’ll soon be taking a new position within the Rutgers University athletic department.

For those who like their news in simplified visual form:

brownclaw

Per the team:

“This is a bittersweet day for me,” said Brown. “For 13 years, this has been my home and my second family. Leaving Lakewood and the BlueClaws was certainly a difficult decision, but the opportunity to work for Tim Pernetti [Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics] in this new position as they join the Big Ten was something that I could not pass up.”

Under Brown’s stewardship, the BlueClaws have led the South Atlantic League in attendance in all 12 years of their existence. He has won the league’s General Manager of the Year Award on four occasions and the BlueClaws have received the league’s Club Merit Award for excellence in overall operations three times.

And — bam! — right before this post went to “press” the news broke that the BlueClaws have named Brown’s replacement: former assistant GM Brandon Marano. A relative BlueClaws newbie — he was hired “only” seven months before the team played its first game — Marano is a graduate of Rutgers. See how everything comes full circle?

Welcome to the GM clique, Mr. Marano. You will be receiving a key to the executive washroom shortly.

marano

And speaking of the BlueClaws, you may recall that I featured their “Restore the Shore” initiative in a recent post. Well, now that initiative has a notable new component in the form of “Sandy Ovations.”

ovations

Team talk:

The BlueClaws, at all 70 home games in 2013, will honor one company, individual, or charitable organization that contributed to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, the team announced, unveiling a new 70 Sandy Ovations program.

Organizations will be randomly selected among those that apply or are nominated by others.

“There are so many people that deserve an ovation for their efforts in the aftermath of Sandy, and recognizing them will make for an ovation-worthy moment at every one of our games this year,” said Brown.

Each honoree will receive tickets to that night’s BlueClaws game, a ceremonial first pitch for one representative, recognition on the field between innings, a table on the concourse, a photo with a BlueClaws player, and an interview on the BlueClaws radio broadcast.

But getting back to the topic at hand — Geoff isn’t the only GM with the last name of Brown to be vacating his or her position. Three hours before the BlueClaws made their announcement, the Quad Cities River Bandits let loose with the unfortunate news that Stefanie Brown would be stepping down from her position due to “urgent family responsibilities.”

qc

2012 marked Brown’s fifth year with the River Bandits and first as GM, and ownership made it clear that she will have a role with the team as long as she desires one:

“Stefanie Brown is an incredibly valuable part of the River Bandits and the Quad Cities community, and one of my favorite people,” said team owner Dave Heller. “She is immensely talented and will have as much of a role with the River Bandits organization as she wants, for as long as she wants.”

Meanwhile, the River Bandits are in the midst of searching for Brown’s replacement.

Finally, the Hagerstown Suns have made a unique hire in the form of ex-city mayor Robert Bruchey. The politician, who had been in support of building a new downtown stadium for the team while he was in office, will serve as the Suns’ director of sales, marketing and community affairs. You can read more in this Herald-Mail article, which also includes this file photo of hizzoner.

bruchey

It goes without saying that Bruchey is an anomalous hire in the world of Minor League Baseball. Given his municipal connections and prior team support, it seems like he might be a beneficial guy to have in the front office…

And on that needlessly elliptical note, I’ll sign off for today. But since this was a pretty sober-minded, let me try to briefly rectify that by posting this awesome action shot that the Trenton Thunder shared on Facebook last month (along with the caption of “Yeah, this kid nailed it!”)

karate

Karate Kid is officially the second-coolest youngster to ever attend a Thunder game. For those who may have forgotten, the number one spot is forever held down by the Confident Kid:

confident

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

In the Absence of Whipped Cream: Other Delights

Everything’s Cyclical is what I named my (now-defunct) bike shop, but these two words apply to Minor League blogging as well. And in accordance with the natural rhythms of that particular cycle, it is now time for me to write a bit about ballpark food.

In comparison to past seasons, there haven’t been any media-baiting monstrosities unveiled as a means to generate interest in the coming baseball campaign. But, as always, there are some new concession stand items vying for your attention (and mine).

Down in Southwest Florida, the Fort Myers Miracle have premiered the Breakfast Brat (topped with bacon, egg, and a “drizzle” of maple syrup).

That looks like a wonderful concoction, but surely it’s not enough to satiate the appetite of the hungry blog reader. So for dessert, let’s head to that delicately-combined triumvirate of state names known as Delmarva. The Shorebirds are offering a “super-pretzel” this season, one that’s the size of five mortal pretzels and comes equipped with three toppings.

Apparently it is so tempting that the photographer ate some before taking the requisite glamor shot:

The team asked fans to give this pretzel a name, a query which generated an amazing 130 responses.

Some suggestions, such as “This does not look appetizing at all,” were not as clear and concise as the team would have liked. But many were, and among these “Pretzilla” was my favorite. My suggestion: Love Me Dough.

UPDATE: In response to a flurry of reader inquiries, I contacted the ShoreBirds in order to determine just what the above three toppings are. Your answer: Chocolate, strawberry, and cream cheese. AND THAT’S NOT ALL! The team is also offering a “savory” version of the pretzel, with toppings of pizza sauce, garlic butter, and nacho cheese.

Meanwhile, the Quad Cities River Bandits have asked fans to vote on what 2012’s new concession item will be. The choices are:

  • Chorizo Corn Dog
  • Mashed Potato Sundae
  • Smoked Turkey Leg
  • Deep Fried Pork Tenderloin
  • Fried Ravioli with Marinara
  • QC Steak Sandwich with BBQ Sauce & Cheddar Cheese

My choice is an emphatic one: the Chorizo Corn Dog. But, as is so often the case, my opinion has proven to be too esoteric. The QC Steak Sandwich is currently in first (voting ends today!), with the Chorizo Corn Dog a distant fourth.

Basically, I just wanted to write about a Chorizo Corn Dog. And it was all for naught.

This coulda been you, chorizo.

One team that is no stranger to fan voting are the West Michigan Whitecaps,  who, as is their custom, had fans vote on 10 potential new food items. As always, there were some interesting contenders.

How about some Scotch Eggs, followed by a deep-fried root beer float (ice cream sandwich dipped in root beer batter and deep fried)?

In college I used to call the above combo the “breakfast of champions,” but since then I’ve learned to consolidate. Now I just stick to deep-fried Scotch. But neither above the above two items will be on the 2012 menu. That honor goes to…well, I’ll let the team make the announcement, as they have done so in cinematic style.

Yes, the Westside Po’  Boy: sports kielbasa, pierogies and sauerkraut smothered in marinara sauce and loaded on a hoagie roll. It replaces last year’s winner “Chicks With Sticks” (celery, carrots, and hummus) which was — the horror! — actually good for you. Clearly, healthy eating at the ballpark is a concept that the American populace is not quite ready to embrace.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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