Results tagged ‘ Tri-City ValleyCats ’

On the Road: Three Times the Fun in Tri-City

August 28th was the last Friday of the regular season in Minor League Baseball, representing one of the final opportunities to pull out all of the promotional stops in the service of a celebratory evening of end-of-summer National Pastime action. That was certainly the Tri-City ValleyCats’ approach on this evening, an approach that extended to the imminent arrival of esteemed Minor League Baseball scene chronicler and gratuitous third-person referrer Benjamin Hill.

In a nod to my gluten-free diet (the result of a 2012 celiac disease diagnosis), the team released this video in advance of my arrival. No glutes!

I arrived at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in the mid-afternoon to ensure that I’d have enough time to fully experience everything that the ValleyCats had planned for me on this glutes-free evening. “The Joe,” as it as referred to colloquially, opened in 2002. Not coincidentally, 2002 was also the first season of the ValleyCats’ existence after the franchise relocated from Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Prior to the arrival of the ValleyCats, the last Minor League team to have played in the Tri-City (Albany, Troy, Schenectady) region was the Albany-Colonie Yankees of the Double-A Eastern League. That team re-located to Norwich, Connecticut, in 1995 and now plays in Richmond as the Flying Squirrels.

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The Joe is located on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College, an institution of higher learning affectionately (or would that be derisively?) known as “Harvard on the Hill.” This was not my first time attending a ValleyCats game, but it had definitely been a while. In 2008 myself and a contingent of MiLB.com staffers visited The Joe to see the New York-Penn League All-Star Game, and while there I wrote a “fan experience” article that served as a precursor to the “On the Road” material that now dominates my professional existence.

This time around I was met at the entrance by Ben Whitehead, the account executive who appears in the “glutes” video posted above at the two-minute mark. Whitehead gave me a tour of the facility, which began in the ticket office (the exterior of which you can see in the above photo.)

009From there, it was on to the team store. Note the signage, which elucidates the region’s professional baseball history. The Schenectady Frog Alleys are not included in this regional round-up, but Tim Hagerty’s much-recommended Root for the Home Team: Minor League’s Baseball’s Most Off-the-Wall Tean Names and the Stories Behind Them includes a page dedicated to this oddly-named squad.

“The city of Schenectady is where the Hudson River and Mohawk River converge, leaving plenty of opportunities for reptiles and frog alleys,” writes Hagerty in the book.

011In the team store, one can buy jars of Helmbold’s hot dog sauce. New York state is home to many regional frankfurter purveyors, as I learned on this trip, and Troy in particular is known for its unique take on the hot dog.

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Shelf, shadows, sauce

The ValleyCats won the New York-Penn League championship in 2013. This season, the trophy was displayed in the team store for all to admire.

012Championship trophy selfie! Or, as I like to call it, a selphy:

013On the day I visited, the ValleyCats had already clinched the NYPL’s Stedler Division. A playoff ticket sale campaign had been launched with the tagline #unomas, but this drive for “one more” championship was thwarted in the best-of-3 finals series by the State College Spikes. In 2015, the trophy seen above will reside there.

017Ben and I then swung by the promo supply room, which, for those keeping score at home, contains a bongo.

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I really got lucky with the weather on this trip. Once again, it was a beautiful day for Minor League Baseball in the Empire State.

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During every game this season the ValleyCats ran “sixth-inning selfie” photos on the videoboard, submitted to the team via MiLB.com’s Inside the Park app. I posed for a photo and ended up looking like a silent movie villain.

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028Also on the concourse is Food’s on First, perhaps the only concession stand in Minor League Baseball to be named after a comedy routine. (The concession stand on the opposite side is called the “Hot Corner,” but “I Don’t Know” what it should be called.)

030Brown’s Brewing Company, a Troy-based brewery, sells its beers at this location (including a team-specific “ValleyCats Ale”). Apparently this is also a pre-game hangout spot for silver-haired game-day employees.

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The pre-game silver-haired hangout scene was slightly less robust at Vamos Tacos (a play on the team slogan of “Vamos Gatos,” which is Spanish for “Go Cats”).

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Buddy’s Grill serves the upstate New York specialty of salt potatoes (also available at Minor League stadiums in Buffalo and Syracuse), as well as the Binghamton-based treat that is the spiedie (marinated cubes of meat, served on bread).

033This is the view from “The Porch,” a seating area added in 2009 in place of the grandstand seating that had previously existed there.

036While in the Porch, I took the opportunity to get a little writing done. (Seriously, there is a line in my notebook which reads “I am working hard in the Porch. Seating area down RF line.)

037I had no problem gaining access to these special stadium seating areas, for the team had given me this (I haven’t taken it off since).

“We almost called it ‘Benjamin’s Button,'” said Ben.

035To my right stood one of the steepest berms in all of Minor League Baseball. Note that the right field foul pole is sponsored by DDperks.com, which is not to be confused with the Auburn Doubledays’ “Double D Booster Club.”

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On the other side of the concourse, there is a general admission Tiki Bar.

043 As batting practice took place on the field, ValleyCats pitcher Joe Musgrove could be found running on the stadium stairs.

041Musgrove wasn’t the only individual at The Joe exuding a profound passion for improvement. ValleyCats chef Jason Lecuyer, seen in the glutes-adverse video that leads this post, has overseen many additions to the ValleyCats’ culinary scene.

“Our goal it to create a dining experience,” he told me. “We use fresh ingredients as much as possible, because as an organization we want to be known for our food. We think we have the best food in the New York-Penn League. We want to take it to another level.”

One way in which Lecuyer has “taken it to another level” is via the addition of a brick pizza oven on the concourse. The oven was procured prior to this season from “a guy in Vermont,” and the team sometimes brings it to local food festivals and community events so that attendees can enjoy a “taste of the Joe.”

045I can’t eat pizza these days (on account of the glutes), but I can make it. First I donned some rubber gloves, utilizing the technique I had learned from my pal Dr. Peter Lund the previous Monday in Erie.

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Checking the temperature (the oven can reach temperatures as high as 900 degrees, but it is generally in the 700 degree range).

046Adding the sauce. (Not pictured: adding the cheese.)

053Ready to bring the heat.

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055Several minutes later.

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The finished product, boxed and sliced.

059I could not eat the finished product, of course. That’s what I have a designated eater for! (You know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

This evening’s designated eater was a gentleman by the name of Kyle Wirtz. He lives in Monroe, Connecticut, and works as a personal trainer. He attends ValleyCats games on a semi-regular basis, however, as his in-laws live in nearby Watervliet, New York.

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“I’m a trainer by trade, so I’m really going to have to work this one off,” said Kyle, a long-time reader, first-time designated eater. “My buddies will bust my chops. ‘You know what you do for a living, right?'”

Too late to turn back now, Kyle.

061“I’m coming from Connecticut, where New Haven is known as the pizza capital,” said Kyle. “But this is pretty good. You guys did a nice job.”

Kyle would end up accompanying me throughout the majority of the evening, and in this way he became more of a “designated fan” than simply a “designated eater.” This gave me an idea for the 2015 season: When visiting teams who have devised a full slate of activities for me, I may just recruit a “designated fan” to come along and participate in the entire experience.

Ben, Kyle and I traveled down the third base concourse to visit the “Top of the Hill Bar and Grill” in left field. Ben told me that, in honor of my visit, it had been unofficially renamed “Top of the Benjamin Hill Bar and Grill.” Okay, sure, I’ll take any ego boosts that I can get. It serves as fuel for the long, cold offseason.

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067The view of the playing field, from seats located directly beneath the scoreboard.

066In the above picture, you may have noticed that there is a TV installed into the back of the scoreboard. A closer look:

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Long-time Ben’s Biz Blog readers may recognize the individual shown on the screen above. That’s ValleyCats broadcaster Sam Sigal, who, in 2012, while working as an intern for the Trenton Thunder, picked me up at the Trenton train station while wearing a hot dog suit. It was raining at the time, making this image all the more memorable.

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While hanging out in the Top of the Hill area, Kyle and I enjoyed some Nine Pin cider. Nine Pin is a local company that uses New York apples. The resulting cider is crisp and tart, free of the cloying sweetness that can make ciders unappealing. I give it an enthusiastic bottoms up.

071The pregame festivities were about to get underway, so Kyle and I hopped into a Jeep and rode to the field in style.

072Riding in this vehicle, Kyle and I had a great view of Southpaw’s feet, as well as his oversized championship ring.

080 075Just look straight ahead, Kyle. Everything will be fine.

077Views from the road:

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Joe Tuschak smiles for the camera

After extricating ourselves from the vehicle, Kyle and I wandered around the playing field. A pig was there to greet us.

086I love this dude in the sunglasses and bucket hat, who seems to approach autograph collecting as if it were a furtive back alley transaction. As Zach Davis puts pen to paper, this dude is keeping both eyes peeled for the fuzz.

088An absurd number of ceremonial first pitches were thrown out on this balmy summer evening, most of them by purple-clad members of various University of Albany sports teams. Most, but not all.

Ben Hill 1st Pitch (2)Biz Blog history was then made, as Kyle became the first designated eater to ever throw out a first pitch. (It was a great year for designated eater milestones. The previous month Greg Hotopp became the first designated eater to receive his own media credential, courtesy of the Indianapolis Indians.)

DE 1st PitchKyle’s first pitch was expertly delivered, befitting his status as a former pitcher for Manhattan College. In 2005, he led the Manhattan Jaspers with 22 appearances, picking up one of his wins against my Dad’s alma mater of Lafayette.

Source: http://bit.ly/1wwKfBf

Kyle Wirtz, some eight years before achieving designated eating glory. (Source: http://bit.ly/1wwKfBf)

Kyle’s career didn’t progress beyond the collegiate ranks, but his roommate was former Minor League (and current indy ball) pitcher Chris Cody. His Jasper teammates also included future Cardinal farmhands Nick Derba and Mike Parisi (who pitched briefly in the Majors).

“I was the mediocre one of my group,” said Kyle. (He was also, through no fault of his own, the Wirtz one of the group.)

There were 14 ceremonial first pitches overall, a new ValleyCats record. Oh, the glory of it all!

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Some merely witness history. Others shape it.

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ValleyCats players were then introduced one-by-one as they took the field. Unlike Southpaw, this is not a team that runs out to battle with its tail between its legs.

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With the players in position, it was time to “Play Ball!” Take it away, tentative young girl!

More than three hours after I arrived at the ballpark — and, now, more than 2,000 words after I began this blog post — the game was underway.

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I said it once and I’ll say it again: It was a beautiful night. Not just for baseball, but for being alive.

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First pitch duties complete, Kyle resumed his designated eating duties. Here, after obtaining some Vamos Nachos, he formally introduces himself.

The nachos, ready for their close-up:

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“These are some of the better nachos I’ve had at a ballpark,” said Kyle, who preferred eating nachos to giving his opinion on nachos.

I agreed with him — all of the ingredients were fresh, and there was no artificially-processed cheese product goop to be found. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nachos are naturally gluten-free if you use the right chips and cheese, and they are delicious. BETTER NACHOS EQUAL A BETTER MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL EXPERIENCE.

That nacho soapbox is mine. I’ll get it off it now, so that this overstuffed narrative can move on. Up in the press box, I joined erstwhile rained-upon hot dog Sam Sigal for an inning on the radio broadcast.

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I also spent some time operating the team’s scoreboard, which, at 17″ by 36″ is the largest primary scoreboard in the New York-Penn League. Apparently, this cow is some sort of control room mascot.

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A near-sellout crowd had filtered into The Joe by this point.

111 Kyle and I soon returned to ground level, so that Ben Whitehead could assemble yet another round of concession stand offerings for us. A panoramic view from our picnic bench location:

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Ben soon returned with this smorgasbord: salt potatoes, apple nachos (apple slices topped with peanut butter, Craisins and chocolate chips), chicken Spiedies (sans bread) and a  Mexican-inspired salad that I unfortunately forget the name of.

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Both the salad and the apple nachos had been obtained at “The Healthy Zone.”

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Kyle praised the salt potatoes, saying that this upstate New York specialty was something that his Mom made every week.

“It’s a quality side,” he said. “A real staple for me when I was a kid.”

The spiedies and salad received high marks from both Kyle and me, but Kyle was most enthusiastic about the apple nachos.

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“I don’t know, maybe I’m straight edge,” said Kyle. “But these are really, really good. It can be tough to eat right in the summer, but these are outstanding. So simple, yet so good.”

119As Kyle enjoyed a heaping plate of apple nachos, a fine mist was wafting through the playing field. These two occurrences were not related.

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One aspect of the ValleyCats’ experience that is not to be mist is the nightly mascot pitting the mayors of Troy, Albany and Schenectady against one another. I was assigned the role of Schenectady city boss Gary R. McCarthy, and in this photo I’m standing alongside my bespectacled colleague mayor Lou Rosamilia of Troy.

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The two of us, along with Albany head honcho Kathy Sheehan, concluded our back room dealings and headed out into the New York night in order to mingle with our constituents.

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I just signed this baseball as “The Mayor,” reminding me of the time I was in Inland Empire dressed as a molar and signed baseballs as “Tooth.”

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I’m a large-craniumed representation of Gary R. McCarthy, and I approve this message.

132Here’s how the race went down. That whole “digging in the dirt” sequence is not a Peter Gabriel reference, but a nod to the Diamond Dig that was to be one of the evening’s post-game festivities.

The race was followed by even more mingling with the hoi polloi. At this point I was feeling kind of light-headed and out of breath, yet another reminder that if I’m going to continue to do this mascot racing stuff into middle age (and beyond?) then I really need to exercise more during the offseason.

140After changing out of my mayoral duds, Kyle (who had been hanging out with me ever since I made him a pre-game pizza) and I ran into Ben Whitehead in the office. He was dressed as his “Big Tex” alter-ego.

142The Big Tex origin story, in the words of Ben:

As an Astros affiliate, we thought it’d be a nice tribute to sing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” after our 7th inning stretch. Being that I have family in Texas and my wife is from the Houston area, I had all the necessities – Texas flag, cowboy hat, boots, “Everything is BIGGER in Texas shirt” and other Astros gear — so I decided to jump on top of the dugout dressed to the nines and sing. Instantly, it became a thing.

143Unfortunately I missed Ben’s routine. After he left the office I parted ways with Kyle as well, who had to leave due to familial obligations. Thanks, Kyle, for your exemplary work as not just a designated eater but a designated fan. We’ll always have the memories!

Changing the pace considerably, my next task was to head back out into the stands meet my girlfriend’s parents for the first time. It would have been awkward to document this portion of the evening, but it was nice to meet them! They live in Troy, where my girlfriend, Rebekah, grew up, and more detail on the personal-professional confluence can be found in this blog post featuring my city of Troy-based explorations.

So, yeah, in a nutshell: This was turning out to be a very long night in the midst of a very long road trip, and at this late juncture I was beginning to lose a little steam. Like, what’s even going on here? A hot dog on a bike is being pursued by a hot dog in a car? It’s all a bit blurry.

147I went back to the Top of the (Benjamin) Hill Grill to collect my thoughts.

153No thanks, guys, this time a ride will not be necessary. I’ll walk.

148I spent the final inning of the ballgame with the “Vamos Gatos” fan group, a contingent of enthusiastic ValleyCats supporters located behind home plate (the “Vamos Gatos” crew includes none other than Santa Claus, who apparently spends his summers in upstate New York). Follow them on Twitter @VamosGatosCrew.

The Vamos Gatos crew had much to cheer about, as the home team emerged with a 3-2 win.

156But a night at the ballpark does not conclude with the cessation of on-field play. That’s just not how it works in the world of Minor League Baseball, especially on a Friday night. Next up was a post-game Diamond Dig, in which female fans were given wooden spoons and invited onto the field so that they could hunt for a valuable piece of dirt-submerged jewelry.

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And they’re off!

159Try as I might, my Diamond Dig photographic efforts paled in comparison to my 2012 efforts in Little Rock, Arkansas. But, still, these are always fun to watch. Several minutes (and many increasingly obvious emcee clues) later, this woman emerged with the diamond.

162An acceptance speech soon followed.

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Launch-A-Ball was the next item on the agenda. A popular pastime among the front office staff gathered on the field was to pelt tennis balls at this hapless inflatable referee.

165Meanwhile, I logged some quality time with Chef Lupos, New York’s preeminent spiedie marinade purveyor.

167Finally, there were fireworks. Or, if my photos are to be believed, intimations of fireworks.

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Racing to fertilize the egg?

Finally, after this action-packed slate of post-game programming had concluded, I got the chance to meet with fellow baseball writer Steven Cook.

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Steven writes the Greatest 21 Days blog, an ongoing attempt to profile all of the Minor League players featured in the 1990 CMC card set. It’s a quirky, obsessive and illuminating writing project, and I recommend it. Steven took photos of Brooklyn Cyclones coach Tom Gamboa during the ballgame, in preparation for an interview that occurred the next month. (The full list players he has interviewed can be found along the right side of the blog.)

Upon saying goodbye to Steven, I headed out of the ballpark (some seven hours after I had entered it). Thanks to the ValleyCats for their prodigious hospitality, as this was a truly memorable evening.

That’s all folks! Pig out.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: New York State of Mind, Part Four

(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! More articles are being added by the day.)

Part one in this series detailed my non-ballpark explorations (or lack thereof) in Batavia, Rochester and Jamestown. Part two covered Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York. while part three began on August 27th in Syracuse and ended on the 29th as I left Syracuse for Troy (one of the three cities referenced in the Tri-City ValleyCats name).

And now, we’ve arrived at the (perhaps not-so) grand finale of this series of “New York State of Mind” blog posts: Part four.

You know the drill: Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

August 30 — Troy, New York (home of the Tri-City ValleyCats)

I attended August 29’s game between the ValleyCats and visiting Brooklyn Cyclones, and the following afternoon I had a little time to poke around the city of Troy, New York, before heading on to Hudson Valley.

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I had never been to Troy before, and was fortunate to have a Troy native for a tour guide: my girlfriend, Rebekah. Rebekah attended the previous night’s  ValleyCats game, along with her parents, whom I had never met. I made their acquaintance shortly after running in the team’s nightly Mayor Race (which pits the mayors of Troy, Albany, and Schenectady against one another).

Rebekah was adopted from Korea, and in this photo she’s posing in front of the courthouse where she was naturalized on St. Patrick’s Day 1983.

004We didn’t have a specific agenda while wandering around Troy, we just parked the car and started walking. One of the first things of interest that we came across was this, the original Bruegger’s Bagels. Apparently Bruegger’s is such a known commodity in Troy that having a tree block their front window signage is no problem at all.

Trees > Signs.

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Down the street from the Original Brueggers (the “OB,” for those in the know) is noted dive bar “The Ruck.” This place’s website is www.getrucked.com, which may or may not be regularly visited by people interested in learning more about General Electric’s fleet of delivery and maintenance vehicles.

Before taking this picture, I channeled the spirit of someone who had perhaps had a few too many beverages at the Ruck. Otherwise, including a poorly framed and blurry photo on this blog would be unthinkable.

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Fun fact: The Ruck used to be known as “Sutter’s,” where Jeff Vervlied, the first designated eater in Biz Blog history, used to work as a bouncer. How long will this blog be able to continue before it collapses upon itself?

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Before eating pork roll sandwiches in Trenton, this man worked at Sutters

Rebekah is a fan of many things, posing among them. Here, she poses in front of a statue of Emma Hart Willard, educator and founder of the school that now bears her name. This statue is located on the bucolic commons of Russel Sage College.

006The plaque beneath the statue reads “In honor of EMMA HART WILLARD who on this spot established AD 1821 the first permanent seminary in America for the advanced education of women….Her most enduring monument the gratitude of educated women.”

And here’s the entryway to Russell Sage College, a women’s college instituted by Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage and named after her husband.

008 (2)Now, we approach River Street, where several commercial establishments are located.

009 (2)On River Street, one finds the River Street Beat Shop. Records are sold there.

011 (2)Even better, there was a free outdoor show taking place outside of the record store.

The band playing was Yoma, who were celebrating a split cassette release with We Are Oceans. I was digging it, and would have been happy to spend the entire afternoon at River Street Beat Shop. The proprietor, from whom I bought a copy of this, raved to me about a band that had played earlier in the afternoon. They were called Twin Speak, and he said that “he’d never heard anything like it.” I’m listening to Twin Speak now, and the first band that comes to mind for me, as a reference point, is SubArachnoid Space.

River Street leads right into Monument Square. This Soldiers and Sailors memorial pays tribute to area veterans who served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the Civil War.

013 (2)Did you know? Troy is the birthplace of Uncle Sam.

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Uncle Sam’s origin story is kind of murky, similar to the origins of baseball, in which fiction becomes fact simply as a result of it having been repeated so many times (incidentally, that’s how Ben’s Biz came to be known as the “greatest Minor League Baseball blog of all time”).

Here’s the standard Uncle Sam explanation, per “The Straight Dope” website:

A widely held belief, reported as fact in supposedly reliable reference books, is that the original Uncle Sam was one Sam Wilson, a meat packer in Troy, New York, who supplied rations to the U.S. military during the War of 1812. Wilson was a subcontractor to one Elbert Anderson, and the letters “E.A. — U.S.” were stamped on all the pair’s army-bound grub. On being asked what the letters stood for (the abbreviation U.S. supposedly was unfamiliar at the time), one of Sam’s workers joshed that it stood for “Elbert Anderson and Uncle Sam,” meaning the jovial Wilson himself.

The joke was quickly picked up by Wilson’s other employees. Many of these men later served in the army during the war, and the story spread from there. This tale appears to have first found its way into print in 1842.

The above statue is part of Troy’s “Uncle Sam Project,” in which 30 fiberglass Uncle Sam statues were installed around the town. But Uncle Sam imagery and references are everywhere in Troy. This, for instance, is the Uncle Sam Parking Garage. They want YOU to temporarily place your automobile within the confines of their establishment.

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Rebekah sez “Troy is visitor friendly!” (direct quote)

018 (2)And so the visit continued, with a pit stop at Market Block Books.

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Next up was The Grocery, which offers a well-curated selection of meats, cheese, beer and other such comestibles. Such a business would not be out of place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, though a proprietor in Park Slope would probably incorporate the unbearably pretentious word “provisions” somewhere on the signage.

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The Grocery is owned by the husband and wife team of Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine. Both used to work for the ValleyCats, and I used to be in frequent contact with Vic back when he was the team’s assistant general  manager. Here’s a picture of Vic during his baseball days:

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I would have loved to hang out here for a bit and catch up with Vic, but my arrival was unannounced and he wasn’t around and time was at a premium. So, next time.

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In the meantime, just look at this meat.

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Adjacent to The Grocery (and connected via a patio) is another business owned by Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine: The Lucas Confectionery. It was not yet open, early on this Saturday afternoon, but here’s the exterior. Folks on Yelp seem to love this place.

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Next up on this pedestrian (in both senses of the word?) journey was the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

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This mural, on the side of the venue, hints at the splendor that can be found therein.

029The venue’s 2014-15 concert season is definitely geared toward the Baby Boomer crowd. Anyone want to go see Bruce Hornsby on November 1? Just keep in mind that, like Derek Jeter during the back half of his career, he lacks The Range he used to have.

This is a frat house, inhabited by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) students. I was disappointed that they didn’t invite us in for tea and civilized discourse.

032 (2) And, finally, we have a picture of Jimmy’s Lunch. How can you not be charmed by an exterior like that?

034 (2)I am very well aware that, as with all of my city visits of this nature, I have barely scratched the surface. I mean, this post was about Troy but it didn’t even have any tiny hot dogs in it!

But time was up. I had to hit the road and move on toward Hudson Valley, the penultimate stop on 2014’s ultimate ballpark tour.

Cruisin USA, needing a shave

Cruisin USA, needing a shave

I attended August 30’s Renegades game at Dutchess Stadium, immediately driving to Scranton upon its conclusion. I spent that night in a Scranton Econo-Lodge — not the team hotel — whose hallways smelled like a pungent combination of excrement and marijuana. On the afternoon of August 31 I witnessed a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders game and that, as they say, was that. On the night of August 31 I arrived back in NYC, where a couple of lazy jerks were waiting for me. I had missed these lazy jerks.

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And with that, this series of “New York State of Mind” posts have concluded. Next up on the blog: a full-to-bursting post dedicated to each of the 10 teams I visited on this trip: Batavia Muckdogs, Rochester Red Wings, Jamestown Jammers, Erie SeaWolves, Buffalo Bisons, Syracuse Chiefs, Auburn Doubledays, Tri-City ValleyCats, Hudson Valley Renegades and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

The content never ends, nor does my discontent regarding how much more I still have to write. Thanks for reading thus far, and stay tuned for much, much more.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Show, Meet Road. Road, Meet Show.

A very short time ago, within the same galaxy that I am currently communicating from, I wrote about the Tri-City ValleyCats’ exemplary “Show on the Road” promotion. Read all about it simply by clicking on the link provided, but if time and/or battery life and/or attention span is at a premium and you are unable to do then here’s a synopsis:

For “Show on the Road,” the ValleyCats brought their Minor League game day experience to a local youth field, complete with on-field introductions, mascot races, between-inning contests, and, of course, more.  Commence image placement:

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Soon after I my post about “Show on the Road” I received the following email from Round Rock Express director of communications Jill Cacic (because remember, you can’t spell “director of communications” without “Cacic”):

We actually put on a very similar event this year in a partnership with RBI [Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities] Austin called “Triple-A for a Day.”  We brought out our entire promotional crew, mascot, PA announcer, [on-field emcee] Ballpark Rob, the grounds crew and the hot dog vendor (can’t leave Dell Diamond without him!) down to Downs Mabson Field for the RBI Austin Kid Pitch Championship to turn their field into Dell Diamond. Former MLB pitcher and University of Texas legend Greg Swindell threw out the ceremonial first pitch….It was a really great event and made these kids’ year. There were over 200 people in the stands to watch this game when they said they normally have maybe 30-35. It’s an event that we’re looking to turn into a yearly partnership with RBI Austin.

Here are a few choice photos from the team’s Facebook photo album chronicling the event:

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Or, if moving pictures are more your thing, there’s this Reckless-ly enjoyable recap video:

In a similar vein, this past June the Beloit Snappers invited fans out to the ballpark for a “mystery event” at Pohlman Field.

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Per the team:

All those in attendance will get the chance to meet Snappers players and coaches and they’ll receive a free ticket to the Snappers sixth fireworks show of the season on June 29th. A free hot dog and soda will also be given to everyone who shows up for this secretive happening. All other information about the event is considered highly classified.

This “mystery event” turned out to be a flash mob of sorts, as the 200 or so participants headed to a nearby youth field in order to, yes, bring the Minor League game day experience to a non-traditional environment. Once again, a few photos from the team’s Facebook photo album:

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And so it went, and so it goes. I am fully expecting “Show on the Road” style events to proliferate in the year of our Lord 2014. Don’t let me down, industry. Don’t let me down.

Ben’s Biz Blog post #993 shall now cease to function.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Hey Hey My My the 2013 Season Will Never Die

On Tuesday night the Omaha Storm Chasers emerged triumphant in the Triple-A Championship Game and the Idaho Falls Chukars won the Pioneer League title. And that, folks is all she wrote. There are no more Minor League Baseball games until April 3, 2014 and April 3, 2014 is a somewhat imposing 197 days away.

It is now the offseason, then, but with one exception: this blog! This post, like the last one and like the next one and like the one after that, will be devoted to material that I wasn’t able to get to during the season due to my peripatetic lifestyle. It’ll be random, but it will be educational, and it will be fun. I insist.

Let’s start with a community-minded initiative that, in my opinion, every team should do a variation of. On June 8 the Tri-City ValleyCats staged “Show on the Road,” in which they brought the Minor League Baseball game day experience to a local youth field. The ValleyCats, in partnership with Hannaford supermarkets, picked a league that “exemplifies sportsmanship” and that league turned out to be the not-so-pithily named East Greenbush-Castleton Youth Baseball League.

Per the team’s ‘Cats Corner blog, the event “featured pregame entertainment, live team introductions, a live performance of the national anthem, and in-game promotions including fan favorites such as the Mayors’ Race, T-Shirt Tosses, Pony Hops and more.”

A few pics from that post:

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Ceremonial introductions

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T-Shirt Toss

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A triumvirate of racing mayors

And so it went. I’m going to momentarily assume that I have any sort of influence in this industry and once again insist that all teams do this in 2014 and beyond.

And now for something completely random: this article (and video), which my Mom brought to my attention, profiles veteran Ocean City (New Jersey)  PR man Mark Soifer. Soifer’s irreverent, absurd and always family-friendly promotional philosophies should resonate with anyone who works within Minor League Baseball.  For example: He once staged a wet t-shirt contest, in which participants competed to see who could throw a wet t-shirt the farthest.

Moving on, here’s a Tweet that is both self-explanatory and awesome.

Finally, back in June I received an email from David Perahia of BobblesGalore. It read, in part: 

I thought this may be a bobble that your readers would get a kick out of. We just came out with this item, only 90 were produced and each one is serial numbered.

It is the first bobblehead ever produced with 5 Mascots on one base, it is also the first bobblehead produced of the Washington Nationals new racing president – William Howard Taft.

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Five presidential mascots, one bobblehead base. Some of the greatest achievements in human history are taking place right before our eyes, and we should never forget that.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

In the Year 2013…

My current “making do with what I’ve got” logo stance continues unabated with today’s post, as the lead item is this:

For those who need things spelled out for them — this is the logo for the 2013 Triple-A All-Star Game, an annual contest which pits two historically rich but misleadingly-named leagues against one another (International vs. Pacific Coast). As you can see, the 2013 edition will be taking place in Reno. The “biggest little city in the world” is home to the Aces, who played their inaugural season in 2009.

The lines orbiting the baseball in the above logo directly reference the sculpture that greets fans upon arriving at Aces ballpark:

Photo: DAVID CALVERT/RENO ACES

The logo was designed by Brandiose, who once upon a time in a faraway and distant land were known as Plan B Branding. Those looking for more insight into the company’s philosophy and history would do well to read this supremely simile-laden interview with co-founder Jason Klein on apennysworth.com

A sample:

Q: Logo designers sometimes fight disparaging perceptions ranging from proverbial snake oil salesmen to glorified finger painters. How do you persuade clients of the tangible benefits of identity design?

A: We measure brand success several ways: retail profit, how creatively empowered the staff becomes, staff productivity, attendance, loyalty to the brand, and fame and notoriety. Alex Bogusky once said, “If nobody’s talking about your brand, it’s dead.” This plays a very important role in our process and how we measure success.

Let’s move away from eloquent analogy and distant 2013 talk and back toward the present. Or, more accurately, the recent past. Whatever. Writing 500+ segues a year is exhausting.

Have you ever wanted an expedient tour of a Major League team’s offseason publicity event? The Frederick Keys have you covered, and then some:

And how about something that could be happening in the near future. On Monday, the Tri-City ValleyCats put out the following on Facebook:

We are thinking about a Jimmy Fallon bobblehead this year at “The Joe!” He has ties to the area attending the College of Saint Rose and is a huge hit on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Would you come for a Fallon bobblehead?

“Artists” rendering of said bobblehead:

As I remarked on Twitter: “Hopefully this idea doesn’t Fallon deaf ears!”

See, there’s a reason I get paid the big bucks. But if it’s small bucks you’re into, let it be known that the State College Spikes are desirous of a new Ike!

Guess that gives new meaning to the term “deer hunting season.”

Blogger…OUT!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

A Compelling Compendium

It’s the first Friday of 2012, and what better way to celebrate than by doing the same sort of thing I’ve always done? That’s right — it’s time for another rollicking blog bouillabaisse! This particular bouillabaisse will take the form of the third edition of the Ben’s Biz Twitter Top 10!

The purpose of such an endeavor is to provide a compendium of the most intriguing @BensBiz tweets and re-tweets of the past week (or three weeks, in this case). The tweets, as they appeared on Twitter, are italicized. Let’s do this!

Follow this guy on Twitter: @BensBiz

10. Gum included

For those living in NYC, let it be known that @EconomyCandy in Lower East Side sells wax packs of ’87 and ’89 Topps for .75 cents.

My ’87 Topps-themed post from earlier this week was met with much enthusiasm, and I was very gratified to read the various emails, Tweets, and Facebook and blog comments that were issued in response. If the post got you feeling nostalgic for that era of baseball cards AND you live in NYC, then head over to Economy Candy in the Lower East Side. It is a truly wonderful establishment.

9. And speaking of ’87 Topps and how it relates to Minor League Baseball…

RT @blueclaws: @bensbiz did feature on ’87 Topps set (25th anniversary) – Claws gave out these replicas in 2010: http://twitpic.com/83hxkk

8. Offseason drama

One of my favorite Tweets from a Minor League player, ever.

RT @murraywatts: Hey lady down the street yelling at me to get out of her yard…it’s cool, I brought a bag for the dog poop

Watts to lady: "It's cool."

7. They’ve got the Clapp!

Fans of Canadian baseball icons with hilarious names rejoice: Stubby Clapp returns as @ValleyCats mgr in 2012 http://bit.ly/AwtqiT

Hopefully, Stubby will find something to get riled up about during the 2012 season. This, from last year, was classic:

6. Dance Dance Revolution

Overlooked logo sub-genre! RT @shorebirds: Check out the new Shorebirds Dance Team Logo! http://twitpic.com/832cga

Yes, check it out:

5. The Original Odd Couple

The @RPhils Opening Day bobblehead features Ryan Howard and his best friend the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor: http://bit.ly/vZPr7y

4. What to wear while Googling “Santorum”

Tis the Season! NH @FisherCats offering “New Hampshire Primaries” merch http://bit.ly/zyUNnQ (“Primaries” was team’s original name)

3. A Most A-peel-ing Individual

This year’s best Hot Stove Banquet guest? @Crosscutters welcoming Dave “The Great Potato Caper” Bresnahan http://bit.ly/Ar5Ult

If you don’t know anything about the “Great Potato Caper,” then it’s really time to educate yourself. Click on the above link to start…

2. Christmas in July, in January

On 7/27, @LCCaptains staging 3rd annual “Christmas Story”-themed giveaway. Meet “The Pink Nightmare” http://yfrog.com/h4vd4cdj

 1. Local Hero
Speaking strictly as a fan, it’s likely that @IronPigs Jamie Moyer bobblehead (wearing HS uni) will be my favorite giveaway of 2012.
True story: Jamie Moyer’s sister was my fourth and fifth grade music teacher at Shady Grove Elementary. In fifth grade she kicked me out of chorus for chronic misbehavior, and I would now like to apologize: Ms. Moyer, I’m sorry.
benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

I apologize for last week’s blog hiatus, and can only hope that absence did indeed make the heart grow fonder (as opposed to withered and discolored). My brief time spent abroad was a truly memorable and meaningful experience, and one I hope to blog about when time allows. Among (many) highlights, I made my French television debut!

But now it’s time to get back into the proverbial swing of things, via an even more proverbial headfirst dive into the frigid deep end of Minor League Baseball’s Olympic-sized swimming pool. The primary issue that we’re all dealing with right now is that the season is, in fact, over (save for the waning days of the playoffs, of course).

And when something ends, the natural instinct is to take a look back on what has transpired. This translates to season postmortem highlight videos aplenty, in locales as diverse as Fresno, Brooklyn, and Tucson. But I’ll feature this one from the Binghamton Mets, who summarized not just the season but their entire franchise history in the span of 60 seconds.

But for a truly unique season wrap-up, let me direct you to this missive from the Tr-City Valleycats: Mayor’s Race Analytics. This post should do for regionally-specific mascot race analysis what Moneyball did for oversimplified and premature obituaries on the occupation of professional baseball scout.

Writes the team:

In recent years, sabermetrics have revolutionized the study of baseball and other sports. Many other fields have also been influenced by statistical analysis, including politics and elections, to name a couple. But somehow, one very important area has been overlooked by the emerging field of analytics: politicians racing at sporting events.

Click the above link for more. And, for the record, I’ll always publicize blog entries that include apropos references to the 1876 Presidential election. Keep that in mind when emailing me.

But no matter how one parses the numbers, one fact about the Minor League life is universal: You’ve got to keep entertaining until the end. Nowhere was this more clear than in Gwinnett County, as the G-Braves kept things moving even in the midst of what turned out to be a season-ending rain delay.

And what is it about the Gwinnett Braves and end-of-season waterworks? It was just last season, after all, that loyal readers of this blog were thrilling to THIS.

The G-Braves finished just out of postseason contention, robbing them of the chance to participate in that most time-honored of playoff rituals: Politician Bets!

The Eastern League Finals are currently taking place, with the Richmond Flying Squirrels and New Hampshire Fisher Cats in a 1-1 series tie. And so much is on the line! Take it away, press release!

RICHMOND, VA – Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and New Hampshire Governor John Lynch have agreed to a friendly wager on the Richmond Flying Squirrels vs. New Hampshire Fisher Cats Eastern League Championship Series. Governor Lynch has wagered that if Richmond wins, he will send Governor McDonnell a gallon of pure New Hampshire maple syrup. Should New Hampshire win, Governor McDonnell will send Governor Lynch a gift basket of Virginia Diner specialty peanuts, the official peanut of the Flying Squirrels.

Governor McDonnell, expressing his love of of peanuts to a rapt Skyler Stromsmoe

But even enemies must sometimes put aside their differences and work together, as evidenced by this hilarious photo sent to me by an embedded Northwest League contact.

Yes, that would be an in-game ensemble of Boise Hawks jersey and Spokane Indians helmet. Apparently the Hawks flat-out “forgot” where their helmets were just prior to a late August ballgame.  A search ensued, and in the meantime the hapless Boise batters were forced to go to the plate wearing the cranium-protecting duds of their avowed adversaries.

(And, pleasing only myself, I just included the phrase “In the Meantime” in a bit about helmets.)

I’ve got so much more to share, and of course I’ll be doing just that in the coming weeks/months/years/eternal re-incarnated existences. But for now I’ll close with this, which I wish I had known about in time to include in my final “Promotion Preview” column of the season.

2011’s first, best, and only transvestite bobblehead:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Home Field Advantage

This past Thursday, the Tri-City ValleyCats embarked upon their “4 in 24″ project. This ambitious and worthwhile involved the renovation of four local youth baseball fields over the span of 24 hours. Here’s a collage of “after” pictures, taken from an excellent blog post re-capping the event.

The project was spearheaded by the team, and done in coordination with an array of corporate sponsors and community volunteers. As the ValleyCats explain:

Part of our mission as the Capital Region’s professional baseball team is to act as a steward for the game. The 4 in 24 project was a great way to further this initiative by giving back to the community that has supported us since 2002…The biggest challenge that we faced was the sheer size of this project. The ValleyCats organization has renovated a number of fields over the years but completing four within twenty four hours required a well-coordinated effort and a lot of coffee. Each of the leagues and sponsors provided volunteers that were crucial in moving things along.

The field work included “cutting out the entire infield grass, raking and grading the dirt, leveling the playing surface, laying out brand new grass and rebuilding the entire pitchers mound and home plate areas.” The aforementioned blog post includes a plethora of “before and after” photos. Here are two:


An even more current example of MiLB altruism can be found in Durham, as the Bulls are collecting food and clothing for those victimized by the recent tornadoes in North Carolina. The team offered free tickets to Wednesday’s matinee contest for all fans donating five canned goods or a bag of clothing. Here’s the resultant scene on the concourse:

As is often the case in April, poor weather is wreaking havoc throughout the world of Minor League Baseball. Yesterday’s post included snow-filled photos and video from West Michigan, and today the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have postponed their ballgame due to an excess of the white stuff.

This picture appeared on announcer Chris Mehring’s “Rattler Radio” blog today.  It appears that the grounds crew workers may be preparing to pelt the broadcast booth with snowballs.

Meanwhile the Quad Cities River Bandits are currently playing a ballgame despite these conditions outside of the stadium (this photo originally appeared in the Peoria Chiefs “Playing in Peoria” blog).

Such is life when you play in a ballpark built on the banks of the Mississippi, but extensive renovations of recent vintage (including berm seating that doubles as a floodwall) have done much to mitigate the damage.

I’ve gotten through this post without a single joke attempt, a rarity in the world of Ben’s Biz Blog. It feels kind of good, actually, so I’ll end this before the urge to pun-tificate becomes unbearable. Thanks, as always, for reading.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Snowman Decimation Immortalized (and Other Seasonal Happenings)

If there’s one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that a lot of snow has fallen from the sky this week. For Minor League teams, it can be tough to capitalize on a weather phenomenon so antithetical to ideal baseball conditions. But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to try!

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are certainly capitalizing, as now is a most apropos time to unveil a snow-themed Opening Day bobblehead. 

It’s Scooter Vs. The Snowman!

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This truly unique item was inspired by the Rattlers’ Opening Day snowout this past season. With no game to play, the players took to the snow-covered field in order to let off some steam. And during this unsupervised free time, Scooter Gennett unleashed a brutal attack upon a hapless snowman.

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And now, that moment has been immortalized for all time! The “Scooter Vs. The Snowman” bobblehead will be given away to all fans attending Opening Day at Fox Cities Stadium on April 7. Hopefully it will inspire a “player vs. inanimate object” bobblehead subgenre.

Gennett’s snowman attack took place more than nine months ago, but fans of the now will be gratified to know that there are plenty of more recent snow-covered ballpark photos floating around the internet. My colleague Danny Wild has done the world a tremendous service by compiling many of them in an MiLB.com photo album, but it’s the ones from Spokane that really stand out.

Avista Stadium will be hosting an outdoor junior hockey league game this weekend, resulting in a fairly stunning ballpark transformation. 

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A far more informal winter sport conversion can be found at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, as Tri-City ValleyCats assistant general manager Matt Callahan recently took to the outfield slopes. Do not try this at home (assuming your home is a Minor League Baseball stadium).  

And then there’s snow-covered FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, a 60-year-old facility in the midst of an extensive $10 million renovation project.

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The snow has temporarily slowed down the pace of the project, giving stadium denizen Ryan Howard Garden Gnome a rare opportunity for wintertime solace and reflection.

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It’s like the old saying goes: There’s snow place like gnome!

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

Bull Hiring, Ball Handling, Bow Hunting, and Bob

Tomorrow’s post will be the last of 2010, and dedicated to holiday content. But that’s in the future. What’s in the present is the year’s final blog bouillabaisse — time to throw it all in a pot and stir it up real good!

To begin, I’d like to highlight an intriguing job opportunity: The Tulsa Drillers are currently searching for a full-time Mascot Coordinator and Performer. Do you have what it takes to be the next Hornsby?

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The Drillers are currently in the process of revamping Hornsby, and have hired “mascot doctor” Dave Raymond (the original Phillie Phanatic) to assist with the process. And while the club is listing the mascot coordinator position as an internship, they are also making it clear that the potential for full-time salaried employment exists for 2012.

It’s good to see mascots get this kind of respect. Having a talented and dedicated performer in the furry suit can help a team’s marketing efforts immeasurably and lead to far greater visibility within the community.

And speaking of talented performers, check out the latest dispatch from Slugger of the Tennessee Smokies:

But with all due respect to Slugger, others out there are displaying a little more ambition in their offseason endeavors. The Tri-City ValleyCats recently announced their “4 in 24 Project,” in which they’ll renovate four local youth fields in the span of just 24 hours (!!!)

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Sez the team:

The renovations will take place in early April of 2011, with work scheduled around the clock. In order to bring the selected fields to game ready conditions, each one will have new sod placed in their infield while also seeing their pitchers mound and homeplate areas re-built.

I’ll be keeping my eye on this one like a crossbow hunter keeps his eye on a deer. And — what a coincidence! — that leads me to my next topic: Hawkins Gebbers is the latest player to be featured in the “Offseason With the AquaSox” series. If you’ve never seen a Minor League player exhibit his crossbow skills before…well, that’s about to change:

Moving on to an issue of far greater import, the Altoona Curve have announced the five finalists in their “Name the Engineer” contest.
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Your choices are Tenacious, Casey, Buster, Loco, and Choo Choo Charlie. Vote HERE, and make sure to choo-choose wisely.

Finally, the passing of Bob Feller last week got me thinking about how I had interviewed him just eight months prior. The occasion was the grand opening of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum in Mobile, and Feller was one of the Hall of Famers on the star-studded guest list.
This brief clip shows just how sharp Feller was, getting the most out of life at the age of 91. And while it didn’t seem like much at the time, I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to speak with a true legend of the game.
benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz
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