Results tagged ‘ Visalia Rawhide ’

Return to the Road: Visalia, Modesto, and Fresno In-Between

Welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I re-trace my steps during my third and final road trip of the 2013 campaign in order to bring you all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print. The previous post in the series began in amid the vast expanse of Bakersfield and ended at Visalia’s Lamp Liter Inn, surely one of the quaintest team-affiliated hotels in all of Minor League baseball.

The Lamp Liter still issues honest-to-God keys, and the room signage was a definite blast from the past.

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The on-site diner was similarly retro:

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Before leaving Visalia I headed downtown and took a stroll. Most of the Central Valley California towns I visited on this trip were rough-around-the-edges and possessed an air of general economic despair, but the core of Visalia I found to be surprisingly vibrant. A brief photo tour, starting with a record store that was, unfortunately, closed on Mondays (marking the second day in a row my attempts to visit a local record store were thwarted).

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I was very taken with Visalia, but my momentary illusion that it was some sort of small town utopia quickly received a reality check.

016 Finally, a bit of history, delivered via the time honored method of plaque-on-boulder.

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I didn’t get any lunch in Visalia. My next stop was Fresno, and in that city my first order of business was to go on a brief tour of notable area taco trucks. This tour, arranged by members of the Fresno Grizzlies front office, was covered extensively on MiLB.com. In brief, I had a really good time!

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My time at that evening’s Fresno Grizzlies game has also been extensively documented. Among many highlights of my time at the ballpark was my encounter with this particularly committed “designated eater” (ie, the individual recruited at each ballpark to consume the gluten-free cuisine that my celiac disease prohibits).

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The next day I made a pit stop at E. Olive Street in Fresno.

003The motivation for this pit stop was the same as so many other pit stops that I make while on these road trips: I had been tipped to the existence of an independent record store.

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This particular record store was called Spinners. Welcome!

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I picked up a few moderately-priced used classic rock LPs (Michael Nesmith, Humble Pie, Black Oak Arkansas), bantered with the friendly clerks for a bit, and then was on my way out of Fresno.

Next stop: Modesto, home of the Nuts. As is my standard operating procedure on these trips, I entered the ballpark while waving to my fans while riding atop a ’59 Corvette.

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You can read all about my evening with the Nuts HERE. Part three of this series will pick up with my wanderings the next day in Modesto. A visit to a record store may have been involved.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: In-N-Out of Bakersfield and on to Visalia

The 2014 season is almost upon us, and my recent realization of its imminence quickly led to another, related, realization: I had better finish writing about my 2013 road trips!

As you probably know, I went on three road trips during the 2013 campaign: A Southern Swing, some Midwest League Meandering, and, finally, a little bit of West Coast Wandering. Every last ounce of material from those first two trips has been wrung dry, but, today, it’s time to “Return to the Road” for the third and final time this season. I have odds and ends from the West Coast to share!

This particular trip took place in August, beginning in Bakersfield, Calif. and concluding in Hillsboro, Ore. I arrived in Bakersfield at about 3:30 on Saturday morning, after driving in from LAX, and following a good night’s sleep I pulled back the hotel room curtain to reveal this landscape.

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Just across this vast expanse of asphalt was a water park, an appropriate entertainment destination for those residing within this arid atmosphere.

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After sleeping late and doing a little bit of writing, there wasn’t much time to explore Bakersfield before heading to that evening’s Blaze game. So, rather unambitiously, I set my GPS coordinates toward a local In-N-Out Burger.

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While I find the slavish devotion of its chief adherents to be a bit comical, there is no doubt that In-N-Out Burger is an above-average fast food establishment. I’ve made a point to eat there whenever I’m on the west coast, but this time around my patronage was strategic as well. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, and since then good gluten-free fast food options have been hard to come by. In-N-Out Burger, with its minimal, fresh menu, provides an easy option: protein style, in which lettuce is used as a bun (yes, I promise that there is a burger somewhere in there). The fries are “animal style,” with a thousand island-esque dipping sauce.

2916I spent that evening at Sam Lynn Stadium, home of the Blaze, which resulted in some of my best writing of the season (if I do say so myself, which I just did). The next morning I checked out of the Marriott — watch the Vine! — and spent an hour or so exploring downtown Bakersfield. Here’s “Lyles College of Beauty,” which I drove past while en route to World Records.

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World Records was closed.

002It was late on a Sunday morning, and downtown was so silent as to be a little eerie. What few sounds there were (a car passing by, the cough of a pedestrian) seemed magnified, momentarily overtaking my entire aural landscape. The scene, as I recorded it.

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The Prospect Lounge — where Bakersfield’s Minor League elite go to eat?

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Amid this desultory wandering I located another record store and this, too, was closed.

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Did anybody go to this show? If so, I’d be happy to publish your review on this blog.

Since there didn’t seem to be too many lunch options in downtown Bakersfield proper, I instead went, once again, to In-N-Out Burger. Different location, but the meal remained the same. (Perhaps also worth noting is that, according to my notes, Bakersfield’s 89.7 is a “great radio station.” Further investigation reveals that to be KSVG “Savage Radio,” a community-owned non-profit.)

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The evening before, while attending the Blaze game, assistant general manager Philip Guiry told me about a vintage store called “Hidden Treasures” that he was a fan of. It sounded like an offbeat place, the kind of spot you go to if you’re trying to make a doll head necklace, so I decided to try and check it out.

My “Hidden Treasures” internet research brought me to, well, I don’t know where I was. All I know is that I couldn’t find a place called “Hidden Treasures.”

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Since I wasn’t in the market for a 420 evaluation, I reluctantly left the Bakersfield area for good. Visalia, home of the Rawhide, was next up on the agenda, and my first impression of Visalia was distinctly positive. Welcome to the Lamp Liter Inn, one of the quaintest team hotels one can find in the world of Minor League Baseball.

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That Sunday evening I attended the Visalia Rawhide game, writing about alligator hexes and giant pretzels and whatnot. The next morning began at the Lamp Liter Inn, and that’s where tomorrow’s post shall begin as well. Until then, I remain,

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Don’t Have a Cow, Man

“It wasn’t something that I was planning on, it just sort of happened.”

Those words can be applied to many life situations, from the momentous to the exceedingly trivial, and those words certainly applied to how I spent last Friday afternoon. Taking place firmly within the realm of the exceedingly trivial, I found myself embroiled in a Twitter beef — a literal beef, as it were — with Visalia Rawhide mascot Tipper T. Bull. It all started innocently, with this tweet from the Rawhide:

Because I have a distinct propensity for indulging in bad jokes whenever possible, I replied with the following:

Tipper was less than impressed with this remark, and expressed his disdain thusly:

OKAY, IT’S ON!

At this point I kind of wanted to end it, as Tipper’s tweet was written so definitively. But then I thought, to myself: “You’re 35 years old, an ostensible professional and nominally an adult, and you’re going to let a Class A Advanced bovine mascot have the last word in a Twitter battle? That’s not the kind of man you were raised to be.”

And that’s where it ended. While me vs. Tipper might not have been Aces vs. RiverCats in the MiLB Twitter fight pantheon, it did provide a pleasant diversion throughout the course of an offseason afternoon. And as for Tipper, I’m just going to assume that we’re friends again. The beef has already been squashed.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: On Top of the Action in Visalia

Part one of this current mini-saga was good for what Visalia, as it detailed the charming quirks, historical markers and reptilian wrath appeasement efforts to be found throughout Rawhide Ballpark. We now pick up where we left off, with the game having just begun.

A modest Sunday evening crowd had filtered in, many of them settling atop the gunite slab of a grandstand (Rawhide Ballpark has just fewer than 2000 fixed seats, the smallest total in affiliated professional baseball).

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The ballpark features minuscule amounts of foul territory, meaning that concourse vantage points are very close to the action. And the dugout view is particularly unique, in that you can look straight down on the players below.

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As for looking down into the dugouts, this Vine video should illustrate my point. (Also, I like that it captures an audio snippet of someone saying “Colt 45.” I have no idea what this was a reference to as neither guns nor malt liquor are sold at the ballpark.)

The up close and personal nature of the ballpark also means that you can hear just about everything that is said. While I was standing here Rancho Cucamonga hitting coach Johnny Washington, who was coaching first base at the time, ambled over to the dugout and said something to the effect of “Did you check the [expletive deleted] outfield? That’s a [expletive deleted] horse [expletive deleted] lead. That’s [expletive deleted] terrible! C’mon!”

Kids, take it from me: if you want to take your profanity game to the next level,  then hang out near the dugout at Rawhide Ballpark when the Quakes are in town.

But let’s take things back in to the realm of the family-friendly. Here’s Tipper, the Rawhide mascot (I’m kicking myself now, for neglecting to include him in one of my boVine videos).

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A local cheerleading squad was on hand, performing before the game as well as several times during it. Between routines they practiced on the Pasture, which increased the evening’s “charming Americana” factor by 1.5.

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A photo collage along the front entrance gates features this absolutely classic moment, from the Rawhide’s absolutely classic “Belle of the Ballpark” promo. (I wrote about the 2011 iteration HERE).

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The above photo is across the way from, yes, the best gunite-coated dirt slab to be found in all of Minor League Baseball. Here’s yet another look at it:

080But back to the concourse, because I’m not quite sure how I got away from there in the first place. Looking across the way toward the home dugout, I was intrigued by what looked like a painted white cross on the wall. While trying to land a picture of the cross, I instead got this image of crotch-grabbing in action.

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And, yes, that is a large white cross painted on the dugout wall. I forgot to get the background story on why it’s there, but it seems out of place within the ostensibly secular confines of the ballpark. (This picture also gives a good indication of the extent to which the concourse is literally atop the dugouts.)

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Perhaps the most famous denizen to be found within the home dugout is batboy Les Kissick. He’s held the job for 14 years, and when I first posted the following Vine video it was met with a stream of responses from Visalia diehards along the lines of “Les!!! He’s the best!!!”

Meanwhile, one could find guest emcee Chad Stafford, a DJ on Visalia country station KJUG, patrolling the concourse.

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Chad had another duty to perform on this particular evening, as the Rawhide had recruited him to serve as the designated eater. (You know, the individual who consumes and critiques the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits.) He and I soon adjourned to the Hall of Fame Club, where food and beverage director Chris Lukasiewicz was waiting with an array of items.

Welcome Chad and, yes,  welcome giant pretzel.

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That’s the Texas Twist, a 24 ounce monster whose holes are filled with warm cups of nacho cheese. Chad gave it a try and reported that “it might be a little too salty, but it’s soft on the inside. For one person it’s a bit excessive, but it’s great for a lot of people to share.”

There’s no doubt that this would be way too much pretzel for one person, but nonetheless the Rawhide have devised a “Texas Twist Challenge” that is open to all fans. Lukasiewicz carved out six seconds of his life in order to offer the following explanation:

Meanwhile, I was presented with this off-menu offering, which Lukasiewicz often prepares for the gluten-free girlfriend of a Rawhide front office staffer.

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That’s a “Fajita Dog” bratwurst with garlic aioli sauce atop a bed of peppers, onions, melted Montery Jack cheese and fries which have themselves been tossed in fresh minced garlic.

I approve!

Chad, meanwhile, approved of the burger that had just been presented to him.

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That’s the “Cowboy Burger,” to be exact, topped with Kinder’s BBQ sauce, cheese, three slices of Applewood bacon and two onion rings.

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Chad, a BBQ aficionado, said that he liked the Cowboy Burger because “the onion rings are great and whatever cheese they use is perfect for it.”

But as for what cheese that is, I neglected to find out. It shall always remain a mystery.

Less of a mystery is this, the final item to be highlighted:

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Those nachos are of the “loaded asada” variety: nacho cheese, shredded cheese, salsa, dried onion, jalapenos and your choice of meat.

“The salsa, that’s the kicker,” said Chad, who’s been a presence on the Visalia airwaves over the last eight years. “And it’s all covered, which is just how I like it.”

Also all covered is the food portion of the evening. Thanks to Lukasiewicz and thanks, of course, to Chad.

Out on the concourse I struck up a conversation with Rawhide community relations manager/Hispanic marketing manager/on-field emcee Jesus Romero (he of the gluten-free girlfriend). As you can see, Jesus is loyal to his employer.

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With the game in its final third, I slowed my pace and did a final lap around the ballpark.

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I then settled into a seat in Row M, the highest vantage point available at Rawhide Ballpark (save for the skyboxes).

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Or, if awkwardly conceived panoramas are more your thing:

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The ballgame was tied entering the bottom of the ninth inning, meaning that it time for a visit from Jesus Romero and the Rally Squad.

The Rally Squad are great at their jobs, as in the bottom of the ninth inning this place was rocking! Visalia fans know how to support the hometown team.

And with the place a rocking the Rawhide offense came a knockin,’ as Tom Belza singled to lead off the inning and, two batters later, scored on a Sean Jamieson single. It was a good day to be a Rawhide fan and, thus, a good day for me to have visited.

As the crowd filed out I paid one last visit to team broadcaster/historian/reptile hex articulator Donny Baarns, whose computer screen displayed a list of dozens of ways to say “here’s the pitch.” Perhaps he should get a copy of The Baseball Thesaurus?

100As Donny took his listeners through the ups and downs of the ballgame, I watched the last “run the bases” straggler finally reach home plate.

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And that was all that she wrote (she being me, of course).

Gunite from Visalia!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Gunite for Greatness Amid Reptile Dysfunction in Visalia

“Structurally unique, I guess you’d call it.”

That’s how Visalia Rawhide broadcaster Donny Baarns summed up Rawhide Ballpark, his place of employment since 2008. And with Donny, I would agree. This place is structurally unique.

020At its core, the ballpark (known as “Recreation Park” for the majority of its existence) is as no-frills as they come. The current grandstand, built in 1963, is little more than a huge mound of dirt repurposed from Route 198 construction efforts poured over with concrete and gunite. I don’t know much about gunite (Baarns told me it was “all the rage in the ’60s, apparently”), but it appears to be a construction method in which concrete is shot out of a hose. Who Pneu?

The grand gunnite structure seen above faces outward toward this idyllic (at least at that moment) intersection.

021On the inside, there’s a whole lot more than just an outsized gunnite slab. A series of renovations over the years 2003-2011 has given the ballpark a second life and then some, with a 360 degree cavalcade of new wild west and/or dairy-themed additions.

Here we are in “The Pasture,” a grass seating area wrapping around the right field foul line.

022Behind that is the Toyota Terrace, Kids Corral, and Alliteration Alcove.

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024Within this area, one can secure a unique visitor’s bullpen vantage point. Or, as I like to call it, a VBVP.

025A vast expanse of grass, as seen through the chain link.

027Looking homeward, sans-link:

028There is a small parking lot behind the terrace, and a quite verdant lot at that, but vehicular occupation of this area will soon cease to be as the Rawhide are partnering with the local Rotary Club and turning it into a “Splash Pad” that will be open to the public on non-game days as well.

029This sign shows the distance from Visalia to other Diamondbacks affiliates as well as the distance to the parent club. Of course, the “Yakima” sign is no longer valid as that franchise has since moved to Hillsboro (the concluding  stop on this very road trip). Also, I find it interesting that there is a “Visalia 0″ sign. I mean, isn’t that implied? That when you are in a certain location then you are zero distance away from it? Right now, I am 0 miles away from writing this blog post although I was I wish I was .25 miles away playing pinball in my local laundromat.

Anyhow, signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs.

031The above sign shows the formidable distance to Cooperstown, but the Rawhide’s “Hall of Fame Club” is a much less daunting journey. It’s just a hop, skip, and and 100 foot jump away.

033That Kirby Puckett quote is in such a prominent position because Kirby is the lone Visalia player to have been enshrined in Cooperstown. He played the entire 1983 season as a member of the Visalia Oaks (his lone full Minor League campaign), and hit .314-9-97 and stole 48 bases over 138 games. A more recent assortment of notable Visalia alumni can be seen in this photo collage located to the right of the bar.

034Further historical perspective can be gleaned while watching the ballgame through the Hall of Fame Club windows, as the tabletops are adorned with a chronological array of press clippings.

038Or, if gunnite slab views are more your thing, you could take a seat here.

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Fans of chronology, gunnite, and the intersection of the two will really and truly love this ballpark. (I’m hoping that this appears as a pull quote in future Rawhide promotional materials)

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As will fans of history in general. Baarns (who, given his name, should really be working in Double-A), has worked hard to research and publicize the rich history of Visalia baseball. He gave a speech about just this at the 2011 Baseball Winter Meetings, which soon led to this impeccably written MiLB.com article.

For one final bit of history, we go to the Visalia Hall of Fame located along the concourse on the first base side.

060The Hall of Fame, established in 2009, features plaques created by a skilled local craftsman.

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The final plaque features not a player, but a team.

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Would you believe that even though the Cal League only has 10 teams, and that, currently, six of those teams make the playoffs every season, 1978 marks the last time that Visalia has won a championship? After some diligent research, the team was able to ascertain that this prolonged title drought (and a long string of bad luck in general) can be attributed to the vengeful ghost of Joe Charboneau’s pet alligator. His name was Chopper.

This curse is totally legit, as I discovered, and for far more please read my MiLB.com piece that is dedicated to this subject and this subject only. Those who are truly serious about appeasing this spiritually unsettled deceased reptile can buy these shirts in the team store.

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Meanwhile, this Chopper replica can sometimes be seen lurking about the Pasture.

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Rawhide GM Jennifer Pendergraft told me that she always wanted a pet alligator and, thus, wanted to get one for the ballpark. 

“But it turns out that they’re highly illegal in California,” she said. “And I didn’t want to have PETA coming after us.”

Those seeking refuge from alligators, or the ghosts of alligators, or whatever it is that’s going on right now, would do well to visit the Fan Dugout. Here, there is no afterlife turmoil to be found.

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The Rawhide have what just may be the least amount of foul territory in all of Minor League Baseball, and as such these seats might be closer to the action than anywhere else. (I know that the Asheville Tourists, among other clubs, would beg to differ). At any rate, these dugout seats are available for groups of 20-25 and Baarns noted that they are “great for softball or Little League teams.”

The view, obscured:

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Moving back to the concourse, one can visit the Watering Hole in order to satiate any lingering food and beverage needs.

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One of those food options is tacos, which, pictorially, look delicious.

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From there, our tour moves across the way to the Snakebite Saloon — because nothing says refreshment like dying a slow and agonizingly painful death as poisonous venom courses through your system! (The establishment’s slogan, if my notes are to be believed.)

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The prices at the Snakebite Saloon seemed reasonable enough to me, but either way they’ve got you over a barrel.

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 Take these broken wings and learn to fly because in the nearby Cold Zone they have misters, Mister.

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At this juncture of the evening the gates were open and it was nearing game time.

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Baarns and I headed up toward his press box abode, but not before one final tour stop. To once again paraphrase my favorite insufferable protest chant: this is what a Class A Advanced Skybox looks like:

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The view toward the field:

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And the views from behind:

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On the cusp of game time, I retreated to the Rawhide commissary and furtively ate some Buffalo Wild Wings (gluten-free!) like a scared chipmunk.

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And with that moment of dignity, I’ll conclude Part One of this Visalia blogging saga. Hopefully Part Two will be Gator than the sum of its parts.

068benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Ben’s Biz Backlogged Blog Bonanza

When I’m on the road I always have so much to write about, both here on the blog and over at MiLB.com. This content overload is a good thing, but one negative aspect of it is that I can’t devote enough of my attention to that which is taking place outside of the places I visit.

C’est la vie, as the French say (when they’re giving examples of the cliched French terms that Americans actually know).

But right now? Right now I’m not on the road, nor do I have any more “On the Road” content. Therefore, today will be the first in a short series of bouillabaisse posts, in which I jump haphazardly from item to item with startling rapidity. Commence organized chaos and — warning! — some of this material is rather dated. I’m working my way through this backlog in chronological fashion.

Apropos of nothing — is R.A. Coon the best front office name in Minor League Baseball, or does Lexington’s Ty Cobb retain that honor?

(Regardless, THIS is the best blog post written by a Minor League broadcaster about someone named R.A.)

You may have seen my recent MiLB.com article about the Jacksonville Suns’ Casey Challenge, in which team president Peter “Pedro” Bragan challenges area school students to memorize the poem.

Well, speaking of the Bragans, did you know that the Suns gave away a “talking bobblehead” of Pete Bragan, Sr., the iconic team owner who passed away last season?

It really talks. Listen!

(And speaking, as I was, of “Casey at the Bat” — my favorite rendition, by far, is Tug McGraw narrating the poem while backed by Peter Nero and Philadelphia Pops Orchestra. I have it on record, and if anyone would like to assist with the LP-to-computer uploading process then let me know because I need to share it with the world at large.)

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have long had an almost maniacal propensity for pig-related puns (the Pork Illustrated game program, for example, or a conference room for “Boar”d Meetings). These days, said puns are practically avant-garde.

The team has named its frozen yogurt bar the “Soo’eyte Spot.” You figure it out.

I have no idea how or why this happened (and it seems to have happened on multiple occasions), but the Erie SeaWolves are most likely the only team to have a Dr. Batboy.

I would like for there to be a band named “Dr. Batboy.”

Meanwhile, via Visalia broadcaster Donny Baarns, this photo of multi-generational intolerance:

And, that’s it for now. Much more where this came from, as soon as time allows.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Leaving On a Jet Plane

The most pressing thing that needs to be conveyed at this moment in space and time, from a blogging perspective, is this: next week there will be no new blog posts. This is because I’m taking a a week-long respite from Minor League Baseball, in the form of a vacation.

When I return, it will be nearly March. And if it’s nearly March it’ll nearly be baseball season. Therefore, it’ll be time for me to make some plans — where to go, who to see, and how to best cover this multifarious entity known as Minor League Baseball.

Suggestions welcome, and appreciated! Unique content is key, so please get in touch with any knowledge you may have about any particular corner of this Minor League universe.

I look forward to your reply. But, in the meantime, here’s a nice-sized portion of that typical Biz Blog content you’ve come to know and tolerate.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re in the midst of “promotion unveiling season.” One of the more interesting ones to come down the pike this week comes courtesy of the Memphis Redbirds, who have put an interesting spin on the increasingly prevalent “social media” sub-genre.

Reports the team:

The first 500 fans through the gates that use Twitter can write down their Twitter username, allowing the Redbirds to follow them. Prior to the game, a Twinterview will be held with one of the Memphis Redbirds players. Twitter handles from each player will also be included on their headshots on the Redbirds’ new video board.

Fans will be encouraged to take a photo from where they sit at the ballpark and share it on Facebook. Adding their seat location to the picture caption will give them a chance to win a social media themed prize during the game. One fan will also receive a prize pack that includes a bird watching book, a team-signed hashtag and a box of figurines containing 140 characters.

Not surprisingly, my favorite aspect of this promo is the “prize pack.” I look forward to seeing what a “team-signed hashtag” looks like, and, especially, what sort of figurine characters end up in the box.

My last post had a Valentine’s Day emphasis, but now that particular holiday is firmly in the rear-view mirror. Or, is it? In honor of the Red Sox’s new manager, the Lowell Spinners are hosting their own “Valentine’s Day” on July 14.

Ya gotta love it:

The first 1,000 fans through the gates will receive a pink Bobby Valentine’s Day Spinners’ baseball. Fans who do not receive a baseball will be rewarded with Valentine’s candies and cards so no fan is left lonely on Bobby Valentine’s Day.

 The concourse will feature a Valentine’s card swap area, with Valentine’s available for younger fans to give to each other, leave for their favorite Spinners players or, of course, leave for Bobby Valentine. The area will also have an abundance of Valentine’s Day favorites, including Hershey’s Kisses and NECCO Hearts.

Outside of Valentine’s Day, the Spinners will also salute Bobby Valentine by exploring some of their favorite Bobby V-isms. The concession stand will feature wrap sandwiches, in honor of their inventor, and the team will celebrate Bobby’s fabulous ballroom dancing moves, with a between innings dancing contest.

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier this week, a component that needs to be added to this stellar promo is a mustache giveaway. And all fans in disguise should get in free!

A reasonable question to ask at this juncture is “who cares about any of this stuff? The world is ending!” The Frederick Keys understand such apocalyptic angst, and are therefore staging “Six Months Until the End of the World Night” on June 21.

“We will be paying tribute to what is supposed to be the end of life on earth with our six months til the end of the world celebration. Enjoy survival of the fittest events, last meal eating contests, zombie interns and more!” reported the team. “Oh, and there will be Keys baseball too.”

If the above didn’t satiate your appetite for apocalyptic images, then perhaps this will.

Photo: Laura Brinkman

Yep, that’s Visalia Rawhide mascot Tipper with his ol’ buddy Newt Gingrich at Tuesday’s World Ag Expo.

“Newt Gingrich” sounds like a good name for a Zooperstars character. This beloved troupe of pun-obsessed inflatables are visiting Charlotte on May 26, with five of the characters confirmed. The team has launched a fan poll to determine the final two characters, with the choices as follows:

  1. Manatee Ramirez
  2. Yao Flamingo
  3. Jeff Gordog
  4. Centipete Rose
  5. Mackerel Jordan
  6. Nolan Rhino

A manatee, a clam, and a centipede walk onto a baseball field...

The triumvirate of above characters look like they could be gatekeepers to the afterlife, but fortunately we won’t have to deal with such matters for another six months. In the meantime, all you need is Like!

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are aiming for 10,000 new Facebook fans this month, and will donate $5000 to New Horizons soup kitchen and homeless if this goal is met. So CLICK HERE and like away!

 

And you know what? That’s going to do it for me. I’ll be back on the blog come 2/27, but in the meantime please meditate on what you like about this blog, what you don’t, and what you’d like to see from it in the future. I’d love to hear it.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Celebrating the Past, in the Present

I took a vacation day on Friday. It was a vacation that brought me all the way to my kitchen, which I cleaned.

True story.

Also on Friday, my latest “Minoring in Business” article appeared on MiLB.com. It was about using a team’s history as a promotional tool, and focused on an in-depth project undertaken by the Visalia Rawhide.

The article was inspired by broadcaster Visalia broadcaster Donny Baarns, who gave a speech at the Winter Meetings entitled “Learning From Orwell: How History Can Enhance Your Club’s Brand.” There are many advantages to a historically-minded marketing approach (read the article!) but one of Baarns’ more unexpected examples was this: re-connecting with old sponsors.

In 1952, Buckman-Mitchell Insurance had their name at the top of the club’s pocket schedules.

At some point along the way, Buckman-Mitchell stopped sponsoring Visalia’s professional baseball team. But upon being shown the schedule seen above, the company is now back on (bill)board.

Visalia’s efforts have been particularly impressive, but historically-minded promotions and displays can be found throughout Minor League Baseball. The  Rickwood Classic, in which the Birmingham Barons return to their former home for an afternoon of nostalgia, is a justly-celebrated annual tradition. I was lucky enough to attend in 2010.

Also in 2010, the Mobile BayBears opened the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum. In an unprecedented effort, they moved Hank Aaron’s childhood home to the grounds of the stadium, renovated it, and re-opened it as a museum.

I attended the opening, which was attended by luminaries even more luminous than myself.

Feller, Smith, Sutter, Jackson, Aaron, Henderson (Willie Mays not pictured, but he was there!)

And then there are the Delmarva Shorebirds, whose stadium hosts the “Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Finally, last week I took to Twitter in order to ask “In what ways do you promote your team’s history, at the ballpark and otherwise?”

I got a wide range of responses, including the following:

Bowie Baysox: Celebrating 20th anniversary this season. Articles on website recapping past seasons, and several events scheduled during season.

Connecticut Tigers: Pay tribute to Norwich’s previous franchise by staging “Navigator’s Night” promotions with throwback jerseys.

Hagerstown Suns: Put out a “Legends” baseball card set honoring players from throughout the past three decades.

Harrisburg Senators: All time roster on a board, and pictures of the ballpark going back 60 to 70 years.

High Desert Mavericks: Year-by-year Opening Day line-ups displayed on stadium pillars.

Inland Empire 66ers: 66ers celebrated 25 years last season. Had articles on team history, wore throwbacks every Tuesday and did themed giveaways.

The San Jose Giants went ahead a sent a few photos, of the hand-painted murals and timelines located throughout the ballpark.

Scooter Tucker's first appearance on this blog

And on and on it goes. This is the part of the blog where, without the slightest hint of disingenuosness, I ask YOU to get in touch.  In what ways is history celebrated and promoted by your favorite Minor League team? What else could be done?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

10 From ’11

I’m as forward-looking as the next guy (whoever that may be), but nonetheless a longing backward gaze never hurt anyone. Right? RIGHT?

I sure hope so, because recent retrospective tendencies are continuing unabated with this: a look at some of the funniest/strangest/most evocative photos to have appeared on this blog during the 2011 season. It’s a feast for the eyes, so lather up those retinas and dive right in to the unparalleled visual extravaganza that is this post.

And we’ll start with one of my favorite recurring topics: Centenarian Ceremonial First Pitches! On April 7, Violet Smith celebrated her 109th birthday with the Great Lakes Loons. 109! I still can’t get over it. This woman was in high school when the U.S. entered WWI, and has lived long enough to see Franz Ferdinand re-incarnated as a British rock group.

Take Me Out…to the Ballgame!

DOB: April 7, 1902

Segueing once again from centenarians to sky-diving bulls, this picture of the Tulsa Drillers’ Hornsby remains my favorite mascot picture of all time.

The month of May provided what was probably the most famous picture to emanate from the Minor League landscape all year. Mark Gormus of the Richmond-Times Dispatch should be commended for this one, a thrilling snapshot of “Supermom” in action at a Flying Squirrels game.

Credit: Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch

He’s not on the same level of heroism as “Supermom,” but who can forget Michael Restovich’s stint as “Cupman”?

Meanwhile, in Visalia, the Rawhide established themselves as the Cal League’s preeminent practitioners of age-based beauty contests. The winner of their “Belle of the Ballpark” competition was 96 years young, and very happy to have emerged victorious.

Photo Credit: Ken Weisenberger

The Rawhide’s Cal League cohorts in Lake Elsinore capitalized on the planking craze in memorable fashion. Here, the inimitable Grounds Crew Gorilla lays it all out atop an oven.

I don’t mean to pry, mate, but how’d you get up there?

Similar posture was utilized by David “The Human Cannonball” Smith when he was shot over the outfield fence at a Lowell Spinners game.

Have You Ever Been Suspended in Air? (Photo Credit: Jon Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

While it would be inconceivable for a player to be shot out of a cannon (at least in affiliated ball), sometimes they do find a way to participate in the promotions. One of the most enthusiastic was Frank Pfister of the Bakersfield Blaze, who gamely chugged away after losing a pre-game “Milk-Off” to members of the aforementioned Visalia Rawhide.

Photo credit: Chris Henstra/Visalia Rawhide

But humor can be milked from any situation. After the Boise Hawks misplaced their helmets prior to a late August ballgame, the team’s hitters were forced to borrow from the opposing Spokane Indians.

I’ll close this post with what may very well be the best photo ever taken of me, the world’s most self-loathing GREATEST Minor League blogger/itinerant solo traveler. Getting pied in the face atop a dugout while Mexican wrestling-enamored interns look on was a definite career highlight. The experience made me glad to be alive; thanks to the Akron Aeros for making it happen.

Minor League Baseball can be a beautiful thing sometimes.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Showcasing Al, Then Having A Cow

New York-Penn League games are rarely played in the presence of Hall of Famers, but that was the case in Norwich, CT on Monday. None other than Al Kaline visited Dodd Stadium, and he had good reason to do so.

His grandson, Colin, plays second base for the hometown Connecticut Tigers.

Putting a new twist on the term “Al Kaline Battery,” Al threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch. Colin was on the receiving end.

Prior to this high-arced ceremonial offering (a perfect strike, by all accounts), Al set up shop on the concourse and signed just about everything placed in front of him.

His signature graced the playing field as well, though I don’t think a blue sharpie was the instrument of choice.

In a press release issued yesterday, the C-Tigers reported that the night was a “booming success.” Sez the team:

Al Kaline had the opportunity to watch his grandson reach base twice and score twice as part of the Tigers 10-0 drubbing of the Lowell Spinners. So, by the end of the night, the lucky fans in the building not only had a chance to see a living legend in person, but also got to see a big Tigers win.

That’s all well and good, but I’ve got to take issue with the press release’s use of the word “booming.” When you’re the Tigers, all your successes should be categorized as “roaring.””Booming” successes are better suited to the Lake Elsinore Storm, Trenton Thunder, and, of course, Nashville Sounds.

Al Kaline Night happened two nights ago, but now I’d like to transition to an “udderly” successful event that was held two months ago: The Visalia Rawhide’s annual pre-game Cow Milking Contest.

From the NYPL to nipples, here we go:

(credit for all cow milking photos: Chris Henstra/Visalia Rawhide)

Adam Eaton of the Bovine Bombers executes a squeeze play

The team issued an excellent press release synopsis of the event, packed with photos and descriptive detail. (My apologies for taking so long to get around to it. Better late than never, right?) Sez the team:

The cow milking event started out as a normal tag-team contest among Rawhide players: the “Latin Mafia” team (made up of Christian Beltre, Yonata Ortega, Diogenes Rosario, Victor Capellan, and California League All-Star catcher Rossmel Perez) vs. the “Bovine Bombers” (formed by Ryan LaPensee, Brian Budrow, Kevin Munson, Raul Torrez, and California League All-Star outfielder Adam Eaton).

The Bovine Bombers did their homework, and admitted to researching cow milking techniques to prepare for the competition, but they were still no match for the Latin Mafia.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

Upon the conclusion of the Rawhide team’s competition, two Bakersfield Blaze players (Frank Pfister and Curtis Partch) sauntered out of the dugout in old west chaps, and challenged the Latin Mafia to a milk-off.

Frank Pfister and Curtis Partch, two old chaps


It was a good showdown, but again the Latin Mafia prevailed, forcing their challengers to drink the warm milk only minutes before game time.

Credit for this, and all, cow milking photos: Chris Henstra/Visalia Rawhide

Thus closed another fine milk-off battle in Wild West Visalia.

And thus closes this, the latest and therefore greatest installment of the never-ending Biz Blog saga. Thanks, as always, for reading. And please — tell a friend.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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