Results tagged ‘ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders ’

On the Road: It All Comes to an End in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE  to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all!)

(Also: I will be on vacation through Monday, November 17. Please take this opportunity to get caught up on all of my 2014 in-season content. And if you have suggestions regarding offseason topics that I may wish to pursue, then please get in touch. Your feedback is always appreciated.)

The first Minor League game that I ever went to was in 1989, when I saw the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons play at Lackawanna County Stadium. The Red Barons were a Philadelphia affiliate, and as a fanatical young Phillies fan, I loved seeing players in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre whom I might one day see play in Philadelphia. I also thought it was really cool that Lackawanna County Stadium was designed as a mini-Veterans Stadium, so that players who got the call-up to the Phillies would already have a good sense of the field layout as well as the unforgiving nature of the artificial playing surface.

I attended Red Barons games on a semi-regular basis over the next half decade or so, one of the primary perks of my grandparents having bought a house in nearby Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania. I remember cheering on the likes of Greg Legg, Steve Scarsone and Jeff Grotewold, and occasionally seeing rehabbing Major Leaguers such as Darren Daulton and, on one memorable day, Darryl Strawberry (suiting up as a member of the visiting Columbus Clippers). These are my first, and still some of my best, Minor League Baseball memories.

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At one time in my life, I had a Red Barons pennant hanging in my bedroom

Some two decades later, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre still has a Triple-A team. This much has remained constant. But the franchise has switched affiliations (from the Phillies to the Yankees in 2007) and rebranded itself twice (becoming the Yankees in conjunction with the 2007 affiliation switch and then adopting the “RailRiders” name prior to the 2013 season). Furthermore, the team is playing in what is essentially a new ballpark. Renovations to Lackawanna County Field (now called PNC Field) were so extensive that the team was forced to spend the entirety of the 2012 season on the road. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre baseball experience of my youth is no longer. The franchise is now ensconced with a whole new epoch and on Sunday, August 31, I finally got the chance to see it for myself.

*  *  *

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was the 10th and final stop of my fourth and final road trip of the 2014 season. Finally, the end was in sight, and it seemed fitting that my travels would end with the franchise where my relationship with Minor League Baseball began.  I arrived at the ballpark in the late morning, and was greeted not by a parking attendant but by a “Director of First Impressions.”

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First impression: you should tuck in your undershirt

“Director of First Impressions” and other whimsical approaches to customer service can be attributed to team president Rob Crain, who came aboard in 2012 and oversaw the stadium renovation and rebranding efforts that occurred prior to the 2013 season. He had experience with that sort of thing, having previously been a part of similar endeavors in Omaha (during the 2010-11 offseason, the Omaha Royals moved to a new ballpark and named themselves the “Storm Chasers”).

It was approximately two hours until the start of the game, meaning that I had the parking lot practically to myself.

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I wasn’t the first one to arrive, however. These fans were already in line, presumably so they could obtain one of the team-logo toothbrush holders that were to be given away.

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Which, by the way, looked like this. (I’m not sure where the toothbrush is supposed to go, but whatever. I’m sure those in the know will bristle at my ignorance.)

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I met Rob Crain outside of the ballpark, and he gave me a tour of the facility. Let’s begin.

*  *  *

This mural depicting Northeastern Pennsylvania’s history and culture, was painted by local artist Evan Hughes. (His was the winning design in a contest staged by the RailRiders prior to this season.) The mural runs alongside the steps that lead to PNC Field’s Mohegan Sun Club, a private second-level club and suite area.

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Outside the entrance to the Mohegan Sun Club, I happened upon this curious sight.

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The RailRiders were set to play the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and in response the team was roasting a pig and selling the resulting “IronPig Sandwich” for $7.50.

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The RailRiders had already lost the “IronRail” head-to-head season series with Lehigh Valley, and both teams had long been eliminated from playoff contention, but there was still something to play for: the battle to not finish in last place!

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The playing field is one of the few things at PNC Field that is not new. The days of this ballpark bearing a distinct Veterans Stadium resemblance are long, long gone.

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For the record, Rob was very enthusiastic about the drink rail that wraps around the entire concourse. I think he used the term “Trex-style decking,” and I was like “How can T-Rex even hold a drink when he’s got those tiny baby arms?”

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One of the coolest things about this “new” ballpark is the extent to which the natural landscape is incorporated into the outfield concourse. This is the Railhouse Bar.

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Booze with a view.

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And this picnic area is called “Oak Grove.” The trees are lit up at night, but, alas, I was there during the day.

“I’m not sure if the trees are oak, but that’s what we call them,” said Rob. “I’m no arborist.”

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Stay off of the rocks, please.

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Actually, on second thought: have a seat:

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The rocks have eyes!

$2 buys three shots on the Porcupine Putt Putt.

“If you’re wondering, it goes to the left,” said Rob.

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“We wanted the biggest, tallest, most intense visual we could find,” said Rob, explaining the thought process behind this gargantuan Fun Zone offering.

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The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons/Yankees/RailRiders have retired two numbers over the course of franchise history. Greg Legg, No. 14, was not honored simply on the strength of his name, but because he played for the Red Barons from 1989-94. All told, Legg played 11 seasons in Triple-A, all within the Phillies organization, and he has since spent the last two decades coaching and managing within the Phillies system. Dave Miley, No. 11, has managed the club since 2007. He is the only manager Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has had during its time as a Yankees affiliate.

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On the third-base side of the concourse, one finds this Midway-style attraction.

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Ribbet Riders in action, featuring president Rob.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Frogs, but it was time to move on. The Laurel Line Grill is named after the Laurel Line trolley route. Did you know that Scranton is the birthplace of the electric street car? And that’s why the team is called the “RailRiders” in the first place? Well, now you do.

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I’m not sure that I had ever seen this before: add peanuts for $3.00.

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The Birthday Burrow is where all the cool Scranton kids have their parties.

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During our lap of the concourse, Rob was in full taking-care-of-business mode. In addition to augmenting my tour with various ballpark facts, I witnessed him pick up stray pieces of litter, radio a co-worker about a broken armrest in section 11 and constantly monitor the weather via an app on his cell phone. A storm front was in the vicinity of the ballpark, and it was an open question at whether it would wreak havoc or steer clear.

In the meantime, Rob and I went upstairs in order to check out the aforementioned Mohegan Sun Club.

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The four-top tables placed outside are in the shape of blackjack tables.

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The elevated view from the second level makes it easier to appreciate the artistry of the groundskeeper.

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The suite hallways are decorated with photos of Yankee greats.

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In the suites, one finds induction heaters mounted inside harvest tables. Other teams are gonna have to step up their food-heating game!

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There are 18 suites overall, identified by glowing signage modeled after that which can be found at Yankee Stadium.

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Back on the concourse, pitcher Nick Rumbelow and second baseman Robert Refsnyder (separated at birth?) were in the midst of a 20-minute pregame autograph session. Refsnyder didn’t know it then, but weeks later he would win a MiLBY for Top Home Run Video.

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The RailRiders’ press box and control room are located on the concourse level. Twenty-one games are broadcast on local television each season, with most of the equipment needed for such an endeavor found here.

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With the game about to begin, I bid adieu to President Crain (for the time being) and wandered back to the outfield concourse. One of the coolest features of this area is the primo view it affords of the home and visiting bullpens. Here, IronPigs pitcher Sean O’Sullivan gets in some final tosses before taking the mound.

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The RailRiders’ relievers struck a casual pose.

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But the IronPigs’ bullpen denizens were even more relaxed. Dude on the left is all, “Man, it’s the penultimate day of the season. I’m not even gonna put on pants.”

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*  *  *

With the game under way, I recommenced wandering, and, soon enough, my wanderings led me to this trio.

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My conversation with the above trio led to an MiLB.com article, excerpted below of context:

Junichi “Jay” Inoue, Yu “Buffalo” Matsumoto and Tetsuhiro “Freddy” Usui were visiting the RailRiders from Sendai, Japan, as part of a tour of American sporting venues. All three men work in the “enterprise department” of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles — a Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) team commonly referred to simply as “Rakuten” — and they were in America on business.

Inoue, Matsumoto and Usui wanted to learn about how professional sports teams operate in the United States. The hope was that, after careful observation, they could apply some of these American ideas to the Rakuten baseball experience.

This trio of international travelers was accompanied to PNC Field by Morris Morioka, a native of Japan who has just completed his second season as the Lehigh Valley IronPigs manager of marketing and promotions. Two years ago, Morioka and IronPigs promotions director Lindsey Knupp traveled to Japan to share ideas at sports promotional seminars in Tokyo and Sendai. While in the latter city, they met Usui, who kept in touch with Morioka and solicited his help in planning a trip to the United States.

Inoue, Matsumoto and Usui had an interesting array of paraphernalia, including this Masahiro Tanaka golden bobblehead.

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This concessions brochure was fascinating.

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And, yes, your eyes do not deceive you. In the bottom right hand corner, Andruw Jones is eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.

*  *  *

After parting ways with my new Japanese friends, I returned to the pig carving station to see how things were going. A significant chunk of this unfortunate fellow was now missing.

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I abstained from the pig, but, seeking sustenance, did procure an order of nachos. These were obtained from a concession kiosk sporting the incredibly creative name of “Nachos.” They were delicious.

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Nachos consumed, I reconvened with President Rob to continue my tour. As we proceeded into the guts of the facility, I offhandedly mentioned that the game was “flying along.” Without missing a beat and without even turning around, Rob raised a finger in the air and said “Don’t jinx nothing.” Clearly, I had broken a baseball taboo: never comment on how quickly a game is proceeding. This will anger the baseball gods, who will respond with a rain delay and/or extra innings.

Anyhow, this is the visitors’ locker room. It is perfectly adequate.

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The refrigerator in the nearby kitchen area was covered with signatures, sayings and off-color baseball poetry. One man who added his name to the mix this season was peripheral Duck Dynasty character Mountain Man.

Mountain Man was not just here this season, he was everywhere. 

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While the visiting clubhouse is adequate, the home clubhouse is spectacular. Rob mentioned that such deluxe accommodations aid the Yankees in their efforts to sign six-year Minor League free agents and fringe MLB veterans who might end up spending some or all of the season at Triple-A.

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The weight room:

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The former auxiliary clubhouse is now used as the groundskeeper’s area. Be jealous, other Minor League groundskeepers.

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When we emerged back on the concourse, T-shirts were being launched. Note that image on the videoboard, as that’s one impressive-looking gun.

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Later, a Honda Fit was given away to a fan who had correctly guessed the number of baseballs filling the trunk of said vehicle.

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Those who did not win a Fit could still obtain a fitted cap at the team store. There were some interesting specimens therein.

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Meanwhile, on the field, the game continued to fly right along. The RailRiders held a 1-0 lead through seven innings, with Tyler Henson leading off for the IronPigs in the top of the eighth.

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Henson was greeted with Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” as he strode to the plate, and he promptly deposited a fat-bottomed offering from Rumbelow over the center-field fence to tie the game, 1-1. In the bottom of the eighth, Lehigh Valley’s Hector Neris was summoned from the bullpen. I found it odd that a Philadelphia-affiliated pitcher was greeted with the Rocky theme while pitching on the road.

But that’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for ya. It’s a land of divided loyalties.

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Rob’s efforts notwithstanding, apparently I had jinxed this ballgame’s ability to conclude at a rapid pace. For in the bottom of the eighth inning, the rains came.

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A tarp snafu resulted in the right side of the infield getting completely waterlogged.

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I was certain that the game would be called immediately, but this was not the case. A protracted rain delay then followed, indefinitely extending my season-ending road trip. I entertained myself by watching “Baseball’s Best Blunders” on the videoboard until, finally, mercifully, the following message was broadcast to the fans.

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Finally, my 2014 ballpark travels were complete. Just before exiting PNC Field, I thrilled to one last instance of creative Minor League Baseball sponsorship.

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But as much as I was looking forward to finally returning home, I nonetheless was overtaken by a pervasive melancholy upon leaving the ballpark. In 2014, I would be “On the Road” no longer. Seeking to postpone my inevitable offseason existential crisis for as long as possible, I shuffled about at a snail’s pace and snapped photos of anything that even seemed remotely interesting.

Hey, Gene Schall! I remember seeing him play back in 1993.

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Finally, at approximately 5:30 p.m., I officially closed the book on this season’s travels.

Thanks to all the teams that hosted me, the fans I met and, most importantly, everyone who has taken the time to read this season’s crop of MiLB.com articles and blog posts. I really appreciate it. Get in touch anytime, and stay tuned later in the month for the start of offseason content as well as odds and sods left over from the road. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Marching Toward the Inevitable

The ides of March is (are?) almost upon us, and I’m not really sure if this is has any relevance to the world of Minor League Baseball. Nonetheless, the ides of March are (is?) inextricably linked with the word “beware,” and therefore I feel a nagging sense of foreboding and anxiety that I just can’t shake. In order to deal with this lingering angst in a productive way, today’s post will be a good ol’ bouillabaisse of Minor League news and notes. May this be a therapeutic experience for all.

60 Degree Weather Guarantees are a common Opening Day promotion, with the Indianapolis Indians being long-time proponents of the concept. Last year Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders president/general manager/chief of unwieldy job titles Rob Crain got in on the act in a most enthusiastic fashion, and in 2014 he’s taking things even further. Per the team:

Clad in floral orange shorts, inexplicable snorkel gear and a life preserver designed for a little girl while wearing a face of both fun and fierce determination, the RailRiders’ venerable top executive issued assurance that families and baseball enthusiasts will be comfortable when the gates open on April 10….But he did not stop there. Like most extremists, Crain took it to another level when he also promised triumph. If the RailRiders fail to defeat their nearby rivals from Syracuse? “I will dress up like a woman until we win,” said Crain.

 

Before moving on, I would like to note that “Inexplicable Snorkel Gear” should be the title of the next Guided By Voices album.

My colleague Josh Jackson, whose eloquence never crosses into grandiloquence, recently wrote a MiLB.com article about the Fresno Grizzlies “Farm Grown” program. (I wrote briefly about this program during my visit to Fresno last August.) “Farm Grown” seeks to highlight Central Valley agriculture as well as the Grizzlies’ role in developing “Farm Grown” players, and in 2014 there will even be an agriculture center located at the Grizzlies’ home of Chukchansi Park.

The Gar Tootelian Agriculture Zone, to be exact:

Gar Tootelian Ag Zone Rendering

I mentioned to the Grizzlies, via Twitter, that “Gar Tootelian” sounded like something out of the Star Wars universe. They concurred, and hinted that 2014’s “Star Wars Night” promo would indeed have a Gar Tootelian aspect to it.

At this point, I don’t even understand what it is that I’m writing about. Time to move on.

Oh, wait, I’m not going to move on. Yesterday, these very same Fresno Grizzlies became the latest team to inspire an avalanche of lazy “greatest thing in the history of ever”-style hyperbolic internet rhetoric. Congratulations!

On August 2, the Grizzlies will wear Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle theme jerseys. Perhaps the Grizzlies’ version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song can go like this.

Giants Farm Club Fresno Grizzlies, Giants Farm Club Fresno Grizzlies, Giants Farm Club Fresno Grizzlies — prospects in theme jerseys, auction later!   

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Remember when I wrote about the as-of-now-theoretical Holiday League? Well, that entity welcomed a new team last month: the Rushmore Commanders. The Commanders have four primary logos, one for every president enshrined on Mount Rushmore. And they, like the Grizzlies, will also wear theme jerseys during their (as of now theoretical) debut season.

A sampling:

Abe Lincoln primary logo

Abe Lincoln primary logo

ratification of the Constitution theme jersey

ratification of the Constitution theme jersey

Okay, after my latest and therefore greatest blogging exercise I feel considerably more relaxed. But for how long? The ides of March are just four days away.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

(Even More) Marking of Momentous Milestones (and More)

February 14 is a day when most people are either pitching woo or lamenting the absence of woo while listening to Wu-Tang Clan songs that sample John Woo movies.  I, meanwhile, devoted a chunk of my always productive and multi-faceted work day to a blog past entitled “The Marking of Momentous Milestones.” It dealt with anniversary logos.

Soon after the publication of said post, I was alerted to the existence of several more anniversary logos. So, in the interest of fairness as well as professional stagnation, today’s post will be devoted to EVEN MORE ANNIVERSARY LOGOS. (Sorry, it’s just that many of these logos are a lock to be on caps.)

Let’s start with the Round Rock Express, who are celebrating their Quinceanera.

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Meanwhile, the Richmond Flying Squirrels are entering their fifth campaign. If you don’t believe me, just look at this:

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While it’s true that you can’t spell Quinceanera without “Erie,” the SeaWolves are even older than that. Read all about their 20th anniversary plans HERE.

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Five plus 20 equals 25, which is the number of seasons in which Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s International League franchise has been operational.

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The RailRiders will be celebrating this anniversary throughout the season, including wearing a theme jersey that incorporates their three distinct identities (Red Barons, Yankees, RailRiders) into one coherent (?) whole.

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Yes, I’ve jumped from a 15th anniversary to a fifth anniversary to a 20th anniversary to a 25th anniversary. But there was a pattern to the order in which I shared the above logos, and it wasn’t numerically related. Anyone have any guesses?

Meanwhile, I’m barely more than half-way through my self-imposed blog post word minimum, so let’s keep this train rolling.

Also in (relatively) recent logo news, the Bristol Pirates have unveiled their look for 2014 and beyond (this marks Bristol’s first year as Pittsburgh’s rookie-level affiliate, hence the new look). Check it out, via this series of moving images:

The Harrisburg Senators have unveiled a new batting practice cap, which honors the insects that used to rain down upon fans during night games at City Island.

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From the team:

Mayflies, obviously huge fans of the team, have been known to hang out around Metro Bank Park, home of the Harrisburg Senators, on humid summer nights. These harmless little bugs are hatched near the banks of the Susquehanna River. The mayfly has a short lifespan and is fond of the bright lights of the ballpark. They can often be seen near the stadium light poles around 9:00 p.m. on a game night during the summer months. 

From me:

I am done writing this blog post. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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

twitter.com/bensbiz

Your 2013 Opening Day Weather Warranty Round-Up

For those who may have been caught unawares, yesterday marked the start of the 2013 Minor League season. Clearly there is and will be much to talk about — read Promo Preview for an indication of just how much —  but today I wanted to focus on the most pressing matter I could possibly think of:

Did the teams who issued weather-related guarantees see their guarantees come to pass? Or were fans left out in the cold?

Let’s start with the Indianapolis Indians, who have long been the preeminent meteorological guarantors of the International League.

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Guarantee: 60 degrees

Actual Game Time Temperature: 56 degrees

Result: “Fans Win 60 degree guarantee,” was the headline of a press release the team put out this morning. As a result of this “win”  “[A]ll Tribe fans in attendance to the contest have won a free ticket to any 2013 April home game of their choice.”

Team: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Take it away, Mr. President: 

Guarantee: 60 degrees

Actual Game Time Temperature: 51 degrees

Result: Per Crain: “To back my guarantee, if it is not 60 degrees on April 4, then anyone who comes to Opening Day will get a free Sunday through Thursday ticket any day the rest of the entire 2013 season.”

Enjoy your non-weekend free baseball, RailRiders fans!

Team: Gwinnett Braves

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Guarantee: Temperatures will not dip below 50 Degrees.

 Actual Game Time Temperature: There was no game, as it was rained out.

Result: Mired in uncertainty, as fans on the team’s Facebook page have spent the afternoon parsing the text of the team’s original press release. Some have advanced the argument that since the temperature was below 50 yesterday, then fans should be awarded a ticket voucher in addition to the one that Opening Day ticket holders are already slated to receive as a result of the rainout.

But not so fast! The original press release stipulated that the G-Braves “were prepared to offer free tickets to those in attendance.” As Facebook fan Trey Farr pointed out, “Since they postponed it, no one [was] in attendance on Thursday, April 4.”

I think that the G-Braves should award free tickets to Mr. Farr, simply for having such a razor-sharp legalistic mind.

Team: Peoria Chiefs

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Guarantee: 62 degrees

Actual Game Time Temperature: 59 degrees

Result: “All fans with a ticket will receive a free ticket to another Chiefs home game in April or May.”

59 degrees and a free ticket? That’s pretty much win-win! (But, alas, the Chiefs lost.)

So there you have it: there were four Opening Day weather guarantees (that I was aware of), and teams went 0-for-3 with a rainout. Small sample size, yes, but I think the lesson here is that Opening Day weather guarantees are destined to fail.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Opening Day Onslaught

We haven’t yet hit the ides of March, but nonetheless all eyes in March are firmly gazing into the Opening Day distance. This post highlights just a few of the many, many season-starting initiatives that teams have up their sleeves.

Johnny, Cash: 2013 marks the Fort Wayne TinCaps’ fifth season, and to celebrate they are giving away $5000.

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In a press release, the TinCaps explained how this is all going to go down.

As fans enter the ballpark on Thursday, April 11th, each will receive a scratch-off card as part of the qualification process. Certain cards will be designated as instant winners, with those fans receiving a TinCaps game-worn red jersey, which the team will be wearing that night. The TinCaps red jerseys are a part of history, as each player ever to play for the team since 2009 has worn these jerseys.

Once these select fans are determined, the final $5,000 winner will be selected from among the jersey winners. The final selection process will be announced at the game on Opening Night. 

But, as with any promotional endeavor worth its salt: THAT IS NOT ALL. The TinCaps are currently staging a scavenger hunt, the weekly winners of which will pre-qualify for the $5,000 prize. Read all about that HERE.

And then there are the Indianapolis Indians, who are offering fans the chance to vote on the Opening Day field design. The choices are Cell Cut, Checkered Cut, Diamond Cut, and the Phillies Cut. They are all very attractive choices, so you can’t really go wrong, but I suppose I’d go with the Cell.

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But Opening Day pomp and circumstance goes beyond the parameters of the playing field, of course. The Memphis Redbirds are currently running a contest on Facebook, with the grand prize being a swank VIP limo ride to the ballpark.

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Meanwhile, in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, just about everything will new in 2013. Read all about it in my MiLB.com piece! But one aspect of the SWB re-invention I didn’t get around to in the piece is the mascot situation. Two new characters are all set to debut and, of course, they need a name.

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For the record, the character on the left is a “nine-foot tall superhero” while on the right is a “furry porcupine.” I’d call the former “108-Inches Man” and the latter “Quill Rogers.”

If I make this sentence long enough, this one that you’re reading now, then I’ll have reached my self-imposed 400 word minimum.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Where There’s a Quill There’s a Way

So, a proper article on all of this appeared on MiLB.com yesterday evening, but in the interest of redundancy and poor time management let me reiterate: the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre International League entity  formerly known as the Yankees (and, prior to that, the Red Barons) are now known as the RailRiders.

That image seen above is, of course, a porcupine straddling streetcar tracks. To explain why, let me quote liberally from an up-and-coming young writer by the name of Benjamin Hill:

The name-the-team contest was conducted online and fans were able to choose their top three candidates. While RailRiders received the most first-place votes, the name that appeared on the most ballots was Porcupines. That helps explain the team’s primary logo, designed by San Diego-based Brandiose, which features a porcupine straddling trolley tracks atop the word “RailRiders” in a stylized cardinal red and gold font.

The team announced the name at a gala open-to-public event that they dubbed “The Big Reveal.” And here’s how they revealed it:

As a staunch advocate for the increased deployment of Black Sabbath in public situations, I love that the team chose “Iron Man” as the soundtrack to their unveiling video. However, this comment on the RailRiders Facebook page showed that there was, in fact, a better option.

Why would you use ironman instead of crazy train for this promo?

Touche.

The RailRiders have since posted a plethora of “Big Reveal” photos on their Facebook page (which, as of this writing, still lists them as the Yankees). As you can see, the citizenry turned out in big numbers for the announcement:

Here’s SWB president Rob Crain (formerly of the Omaha Royals-turned-Storm Chasers) tossing t-shirts into the crowd after the announcement. When it comes to Minor League Baseball executives looking like hip-hop performers, this is about as close as you’re ever gonna get.

Of course, a lot of the online chatter regarding the new name has been negative. No opinion is illegitimate when it comes to personal taste, of course (unless it involves a continued affinity for so-called “Nu-metal”), but with team re-branding efforts it’s not so much a case of the name itself as it is how you use it. I’ve known Rob Crain since his days with Omaha, and he’s poised to bring an energetic and innovative operating style to a moribund and disconnected-seeming franchise that really needed an injection of personality. Combine that with the massive renovation to PNC Field taking place, and it seems apparent to me that the 2013 season will be one of the most successful in franchise history. More power to you, online commenters threatening to cancel their season ticket plans, but that to me is like breaking up with a beautiful and intelligent woman because you don’t like her new haircut.

As for RailRiders — if it’s good enough for Greg Legg it’s good enough for me! Legg, second from left in the below pic, is a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre baseball legend who suited up for the Red Barons from 1989-94. I was a fan of his throughout, as during that time I regularly attended SWB Red Barons games while visiting my grandparents in nearby Gouldsboro.

If only Jeff Grotewold and Steve Scarsone could have been there to join him!

Legg and his crony on the far left there are sporting the team’s road cap, which references the team’s Red Barons past. It’s probably my personal favorite aspect of the re-brand.

Anyhow, to sum it up, there are a stew of competing forces at work whenever a team unveils a new look and regardless of your opinion, my opinion or anyone else’s opinion it will take several years before one can say whether RailRiders has been a success or failure. Instead of repeating myself more than I already have, I’ll close by referring you to a point-counterpoint I engaged in back in 2010 when the Omaha Royals became the “Storm Chasers.”

Rob Neyer (then with ESPN): the Storm Chasers have joined “the ranks of the embarrassing.”

Me: There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Rob Neyer never acknowledged this “debate,” and maybe he never even knew it was taking place (he was probably too busy counting his baseball writing-derived fortune in some Scrooge McDuck-like lair), but nonetheless the phrase “ranks of the embarrassing” has since become part of my everyday lexicon and for that I thank him.

And, jeez, I got so caught up in the RailRiders that I forgot to mention this: in celebration of their upcoming 20th anniversary season, the Hudson Valley Renegades have unveiled a new set of logos!

Pertinent details, per the team:

The new home uniforms will consist of a solid white jersey, with Dutchess blue piping and the new Renegades script logo across the chest. The uniform number will also be Dutchess blue, with a white outline both on the front and back of the jersey. The home uniform pants will be white with Dutchess blue piping down each pant leg. The home cap will feature the Renegades mask logo on a solid black cap. The mask logo will be embroidered on the cap adding a raised element to the overall appearance.

Careful, Hudson Valley: a glowering blue-tinted raccoon is watching your every move!

And, oh, hey: since I’m rambling on and on about logos and seem to have a NYPL fixation, here’s one more for you before I go. The 2013 New York-Penn League All-Star mark, courtesy of the Connecticut Tigers.

Okay, that anchor should keep me from drifting any further. I’m quitting while I’m still ahead, even if I don’t know what it is I feel that I might be still ahead of.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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