Results tagged ‘ Wisconsin Timber Rattlers ’

The Sun Will Come Out…Eventually

Yesterday was Opening Day, except when it wasn’t.

As is common at this time of year, there were a range of weather woes across the Minor League landscape. Seven of the 58 scheduled games were rained out, with the most dramatic example coming courtesy of the Frisco RoughRiders.

Today isn’t looking much better. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who played in frigid conditions on Thursdays, have already announced a postponement. In Toledo, meanwhile, the visiting Louisville Bats are worried about the viability of their game against the Mud Hens…

And — WHOA! — things are looking severe out by Sevierville. Click on THIS and then come back to me. I’ll be waiting….

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Okay, cool, thanks for re-joining me. All of this meteorological mayhem got me thinking about a guest post that ran on this blog last year, in which Pete Golkin advocated for the creation of an industry-wide Universal Rain Check. The idea is simple: when a game gets rained out, the team in question issues a rain check that can be redeemed at any Minor League ballpark. Wrote Golkin at the time:

Remember, we’re talking about Minor League Baseball tickets. They’re not supposed to break the bank or become scarce–which is why you’ll never see a scalper in the parking lots at Danville, Greensboro or Richmond.

To work out the details, I suggest calling in the same accountants who said my old sliced cheese wrapper meant two-for-one admission anywhere on a Tuesday. And if I have to prove I’m an out-of-towner to get a rain check with “range,” I’ll gladly show a driver’s license. Simple stuff.

So on behalf of baseball pilgrims everywhere—at least the ones not bound for Fenway in an SUV limo–give the Universal Rain Check a shot, MiLB. It can only mean more fans up and down the road.

That post was met with one of the most robust comment sections in Ben’s Biz Blog history. But, alas, it was met with silence from those in a position to actually implement the program.

UNTIL NOW.

On Tuesday, the Dunedin Blue Jays issued a press release, and the press release contained the following information:

The Dunedin Blue Jays…are proud to announce the Raincheck Baseball Initiative (R.B.I.) program for the 2014 Florida State League season.

This unique program will allow fans to redeem a ticket from any rained out game from another team in Minor League Baseball for a Dunedin Blue Jays game….The R.B.I. program is believed to be the first of its kind in professional baseball.

“Basically, it’s a universal rain check,” said Nate Kurant, the new Director of Marketing and Social Media for the D-Jays. “A friend and I did a baseball road trip across the Southeast last season and each day had at least a 70% chance of rain. If any of those days had been rained out, we never would have made use of a rain check.”

“I know a lot of people love Minor League Baseball and take trips throughout the season to visit different parks. Essentially, I wanted to develop something that would meet a need for MiLB fans and help set us apart in Dunedin,” said Kurant. “It’s a beautiful city and hopefully this will give baseball fans more incentive to visit us throughout the year.”

Fair-weather fans that present a ticket from a different MiLB team’s rained out game not only will receive admission to a D-Jays game, but also take home a “Rainy Day Blue Jays” pack including a Blue Jays rain poncho. They will also have the option to participate in one of the numerous in-game promotions.

“It’s a nationwide, international MiLB promotion that is open to everyone from our fellow Jays affiliate in Vancouver all the way to our Florida State League friends in Palm Beach County.”

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“Come see us using a ticket stub from a rained-out Minor League game,” said the Dunedin Blue Jays in unison.

One team down, 159 to go. Do YOU think the universal raincheck is a good/viable idea? Would you take advantage of such a program? Are you tired of me asking obscure questions, as you would rather see a picture of a giant hamburger?

Okay, fine, here you go:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Tis the Season of Transition

Minor League Baseball, a topic I  find myself writing about on a regular basis for whatever reason, has been in the throes of the offseason for nigh on several months now. But the throes of the offseason will soon give way to the throws of pitcher to catcher, shortstop to first baseman, and outfielder to designated cutoff man. Yes, the season is nigh, and signs of its imminence have been appearing at a disconcertingly rapid rate.

In Appleton, Wisconsin, the Timber Rattlers have released a series of cinematic videos in order to convey the simple message that, yes, the season is coming. No longer can, or should, you avoid it.

Another sure sign of Spring is the release of the promo schedule, an event which has been happening at a fast and furious clip throughout the world of Minor League Baseball. Promo schedule announcements usually come in the form of a press release, but this season the Myrtle Beach Pelicans took a different route and the world is better for it.

Since the release of that absurdist short film masterpiece, the Pelicans have added yet another initiative to their promo schedule.  This is definitely the first press release to have been written with the aid of a “Travoltify Your Name” widget:

MARLEY BORFES, S.C. (MARCH 4, 2014) – In honor of John Travolta’s mumbled introduction of “Adele Dazeem” on Sunday at the Oscars, the Marley Borfes Nicholas are electrified to announce that Thursday, April 17 will be Travolta Tribute Night at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark when the Nicholas host the Dominic Warshington.

Or, the translated version, if you prefer:

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (MARCH 4, 2014) – In honor of John Travolta’s mumbled introduction of “Adele Dazeem” on Sunday at the Oscars, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans are electrified to announce that Thursday, April 17 will be Travolta Tribute Night at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark when the Pelicans host the Potomac Nationals.

The rapidly-encroaching 2014 campaign is also forcing grounds crews to get creative. Unremittingly harsh wintry weather continues to do damage on playing fields across the land, but the Toledo Mud Hens have come up with a solution.

photo: Andrew Weber

photo: Andrew Weber

So what’s going on here? The Mud Hens were kind of enough to explain:

The ‘big thaw’ is underway at Fifth Third Field, to help prepare the playing surface for Mud Hens Opening Day on April 4. Because of mother nature’s wintry wrath there’s a layer of ice roughly 16 inches deep on the field, and Sports Turf Manager Jake Tyler is taking an unusual step to try to get that ice melted away.

Jake and his grounds crew have created a temporary ‘hot zone dome’ by using the rain tarp, putting snow around the edges and then using heaters to pump heat underneath the tarp. The heaters are pumping an estimated one million BTU’s inside the temporary dome, which is cranking up the heat to around 70-72 degrees inside. The focus, initially, is on the infield portion of the field, but the dome will be moved to other portions of the field over the next week.

Under the dome:

photo: Andrew Weber

photo: Andrew Weber

Thanks for your continued support of Blaine Boofd Blog.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Odds and Ends from Southernmost Wisconsin

My previous “Return to the Road” post, dedicated to all that was seen and done during an afternoon in Appleton, was a bit of an anomaly. Appleton was the only city on this late June Midwest League road trip in which I attended two ballgames, and therefore I had more time to explore. For the remainder of the trip time was much more of an issue, so I was unfortunately unable to immerse myself in the local sights and sounds to the extent that I did in Appleton.

But do not despair, banal rhyming fans, as I’ve still got more to share! I woke up on Sunday, June 22, in Appleton, and my last order of business in that fine city was to post a Road Trip Hotel Room Review on Vine. It was then time to drive south to Beloit, so that I could attend that afternoon’s Snappers game at Pohlman Field.

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My post on the Beloit Snappers experience can be read HERE, and over on MiLB.com I wrote an article on centenarian mainstay Grace Phillips as well as one on the incredible phenomenon that was the “Whitewall Ninja” (part two of my shoulda-been-award-winning “Bullpen Trilogy,” which began with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and later continued on the Lansing Lugnuts).

I spent Sunday evening across the state line, in South Beloit, Illinois, but traversed back into Wisconsin on Monday afternoon in order to visit Midwest League headquarters in downtown Beloit. Long-time president George Spelius works out of a nondescript office located next door to a local insurance provider, across the street from the flower shop that he runs with his wife and daughter. (I wrote a story about the Speliuses, which can be read HERE.)

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001Unfortunately my camera had some sort of conniption when I tried to photograph Spelius in his office. This here is the best I’ve got.

002After my brief visit with the Spelius clan I drove over to the Rodeway Inn, which I had been told is one of the more “colorful” team hotels in the Midwest League. While I didn’t get to stay there this time around, I paid my respects and got a meal at the attached “Road Dawg” restaurant.

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This seemed to be the sort of thing one orders while dining at such an establishment:

006Snappers baseball, as promoted via a Rodeway Inn urinal ad. (Side note: please send me any and all photos you may have of Minor League Baseball urinal ads).

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Adjacent to the Rodeway Inn was the Cornellier Superstore, the sort of roadside tourist trap that I can never resist visiting.

009 The back side of the superstore featured this amazing confluence of signage, which sums up Wisconsin pretty well.

008While I didn’t procure any cheese, I did buy this assortment of fortifications for the road.

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It was now time to make the long drive to Midland, MI, but not before one final attempt at documenting parking lot quirkiness.

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Goodbye, Beloit — I hardly knew ye!

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The rest of this pleasant summer Monday in late June was spent driving to Midland, a drive made more enjoyable once I was able to pick up the broadcast of that evening’s West Michigan Whitecaps game. Once in Midland I met up with writer Matt LaWell, who shadowed me for the rest of the trip as part of his book on the sexiest individuals working in Minor League Baseball (or at least that’s what I hope the book is about). We watched the tail-end of the Stanley Cup finals, got a late dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings (plenty of gluten-free options!) and made plans to meet early the next afternoon so that we could tour the city of Midland.

And, yes, that’s what the next post in this rollicking saga will be about. It will be a fair to Midland effort.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Ample Opportunities in Appleton

With that recent spate of bouillabaisse posts now complete, I can now return with an unencumbered mind to my favorite of all blogging topics: the road.

I went on three Minor League Baseball road trips during the 2013 season, during which I documented the ballpark experience as thoroughly as I was able. But, of course, the beauty of a Minor League Baseball road trip is that it gives one the opportunity to explore not just the ballpark, but the city itself. And that’s simply what these “Return to the Road” posts are — an offseason opportunity for me to re-visit my 2013 road trips by highlighting that which was seen and experienced outside of the ballpark.

In November I wrote three “Return to the Road” posts, covering May’s “Southern Swing’ trip. The next series of posts will cover late June’s Midwest League meanderings, which began on June 21 in Appleton, Wis. and ended one week later in South Bend.

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On Friday, June 21, I attended a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game and wrote about it profusely in a two-part blog post (Part One) (Part Two) as well as an indispensable MiLB.com piece that turned out to be part one of the much-lauded “Bullpen Trilogy.” I spend the entirety of Saturday, June 22, in Appleton as well, meaning that I had plenty of time to explore the city before heading back to what is now “Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium.”

As everyone knows, the best way to explore a new city is with the assistance of a trusted local. For me, that individual was Brew Crew Ball proprietor Kyle Lobner, who picked me up at the hotel bright and early (by my standards) Saturday morning. First up was a visit to Appleton’s weekly Farm Market. The Farm Market runs from June through October, and gray skies did not deter our journey.

“In Wisconsin you eat fresh while you can, because the growing season is not very long,” said Loebner, who, in addition to writing about the Brewers, serves as an alderman.

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As many of you know, a 2012 celiac disease diagnosis forced me to convert to a gluten-free diet. Well, one thing I learned during this meandering Saturday is that Appleton accommodates gluten-free diets to a degree rarely seen in Minor League markets. Gluten-free or not I’m generally not one for sweets, but when in Rome…

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Lobner was a strong proponent of the Kangaroostaurant, a “cookery on wheels.” In addition to being popular with Milwaukee-centric baseball bloggers such as  Lobner, the Kangaroostaurant is also patronized by pregnant women and young outdoorsy beardos.

008 It is also enjoyed by me! Gluten-free breakfast sandwich!

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Downtown Appleton was a pleasant place to be, and after getting breakfast Lobner and I strolled around for a bit. While I don’t have a picture of Appleton City Hall, I was informed that it is located in the top floor of an old department store building. That’s not quite as cool as Appleton’s History Museum, which is located in a castle.

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And this is not just any castle-cum-history museum, mind you. It is a non-perishable castle-cum-history museum.

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Some random items from my notebook, most likely gleaned through conversations with Lobner but possibly the result of gluten-free breakfast sandwich fever dreams:

– Appleton was the first city with hydroelectric power.

– Fox River is the largest north-flowing river in the United States.

– Former MLB reliever Jack Taschner is now a member of the Appleton police force.

And, for the records, downtown Appleton now boasts a store specializing in vinyl. It’s called Top Spins, and at the time I visited it had only been open for about a month.

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I went ahead and picked up a couple LPs, including one featuring Pete Seeger. (RIP) I was inspired to buy the Bobby Bare record after greatly enjoying his double LP of Shel Silverstein-penned compositions. (Rosalie’s Good Eats Cafe is one of my favorite songs ever.)

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Lobner and I then made a brief detour to Goodland Field, home of the Appleton Foxes from 1958-1994 (the team moved to its current home the following season and changed its name to the Timber Rattlers). Goodland Field is now run by the Appleton School District, and while it is a perfectly acceptable amateur facility I found it hard to believe that just 20 years ago it hosted Class A professional baseball. It now hosts TERROR BASEBALL.

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A few more peeks through the chain link:

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On the way back to the hotel there were a few photo opportunities to be found, because when aren’t there?

The Lawrence University campus is situated along the Fox River…

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The Appleton-area paper industry is not nearly as robust as it once was — at one point, the city’s Minor League team was called “The Papermakers” — and this particular mills have been re-purposed for residential uses.

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Rocky Bleier, a wounded Vietnam veteran who overcame his injuries and won four Super Bowl rings as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was born in Appleton.

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Many thanks to Lobner for taking the time to show me around (as well as serving as my “Designated Eater” the night before). He dropped me back off at the hotel in the early afternoon, but I barely had time to catch my breath before my next social engagement. This one requires a little bit of backstory…

Back in the summer of 2012, in the wake of my aforementioned celiac disease diagnosis, I received an email from Timber Rattlers production assistant Peter DeRuyter. He mentioned that his sister, Nicole, had a gluten intolerance and soon enough Nicole got in touch with a wealth of information and advice for the newly gluten free. That was kind enough as it was, but she followed that up by sending me a “Welcome to Gluten Freedom” package of various GF foods. It was great!

So, anyway, now that I was in Appleton I finally had the chance to meet Nicole and Peter!

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Yes, we got lunch, but let’s back up a bit in this narrative (you’re all riveted, right?) Upon departing from the hotel, Nicole informed me of the following:

“Alright, here’s the game plan. We’re going to get dessert first. Happy Belly’s, and it’s aptly named. It’s gonna feel like I’m taking you to the back room of some place, because I am taking you to the back room of some place.”

Awesome! I’ve always loved the back rooms of some places. We returned to the by-now-kind-of-familiar streets of downtown Appleton, which were remarkably deserted considering that the Farm Market had taken place a few short hours ago.

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The front entrance of this place was adorned with a complimentary bath tub.

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And, yes, here’s the back room gluten-free friendly bake shop. See, this is why it’s always good to hang out with the locals!

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I got some cupcakes, because, again: When in Rome.

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Back outside, I happened to notice this sign. In Appleton, even the sub shops are gluten-free!

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The DeRuyters and I then took a scenic walk to a nearby restaurant because, clearly, what was needed at this juncture was more food. One of the views along the way:

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Our destination was the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

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Which, of course, had a gluten-free menu.

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This being Wisconsin and all, a cheese plate was mandatory.

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This was followed by a Reuben, which comes in at #1 on my list of “things I miss ordering at a diner in the wake of being diagnosed with celiac disease.”

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Once again, Nicole and Peter DeRuyter. Their generosity on this idyllic Saturday afternoon was much appreciated.

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Even more Appleton vantage points, taken during the walk back to downtown proper.

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I can say, without hyperbole, that this is the best-named business of all time.

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Oh, and in addition to castle-cum-history museums, Appleton now boasts the Houdini Plaza in honor of one of its most well-known native sons. But, when I was there, it was under construction.

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Finally, some wise words from former president Benjamin Harrison (a man preceded and followed in office by Grover Cleveland).

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After all that, I attended Saturday evening’s Timber Rattler game — “Salute to Outdoors Night”! — and wrote about that HERE. Thanks for everything, Appleton! No Minor League city has ever provided me with so much to write about.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: A Blogging Ouroboros in Wisconsin

Like a snake eating its own tail, this series of Midwest League “On the Road” posts shall end where it began: in Appleton, WI, home of a snake entity that avoids tail devourance whenever possible. That entity is the Timber Rattlers and, as you may recall, I spent two nights with the team but only documented one of them (in two parts) before moving on to other stops on my itinerary. Today, we document night two, in one part.

This all makes sense. Just believe.

My second evening in Appleton was “Salute to Outdoors Night,” and the outdoors were saluted thusly:

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Flaunt that cash

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Still flauntin’

 The team wore these theme jerseys, and fans had the opportunity to bid on them. I wonder how many bucks they ended up going for?

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And if exotic jerky is your thing, then you were in luck.

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My work day began with an interview, as I talked to this triumvirate of bullpen denizens about their money-making “Quarter Game” scheme that I had observed the evening before.

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That’s Jonathan Marmold, thee Mike Strong, and Taylor Wall, a good humored group of guys. My interview with them became part one of the Midwest League bullpen trilogy, which will almost certainly net me a Pulitzer or at the very least recognition from the sports media world at large. (Hi guys!) If you haven’t read it then please do so! 

Timber Rattlers broadcaster Chris Mehring arranged the above interview, and I then turned the table by interviewing him. Chris is the dean of the Midwest League and a storehouse of pop culture ephemera, truly one of the most interesting people in Minor League Baseball. It was he who suggested the word “ouroboros” to describe this blog post, and it was he who closed the interview with a pitch-perfect Sledge Hammer! reference. 

Chris is too elusive to be photographed, but the Timber Rattlers players were easy to capture. This is why I went to Wisconsin in the first place, because so many people extolled the virtues of the dairy air.

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I was in the dugout at the time the game started because I had been recruited to be a contestant in the nightly “Super Ropes Super Pull” contest. This is me and my opponent, whose name I unfortunately I cannot recall.

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Show time!

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This game is intense! I’m still kind of sore from it.

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Did any of this make sense to you? Me neither! Perhaps this video will help:

Yes, I lost. It was something I needed to get used to, because after the Super Rope Super Pull I remained in the dugout in order to compete in yet another on-field contest. In this one I was pitted against Timber Rattlers hitting coach Dusty Rhodes in a duck calling contest. This gave us a chance to utilize the, yes, duck calls that were given to fans as they entered the stadium on this fine evening of outdoors salutation.

I’ve never gone hunting before. I had no idea what I was doing, and ended up looking like a duck call was perhaps something one smoked out of.

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This was a set-up, as Dusty Rhodes turned out to be some sort of duck calling virtuoso. I wish that I had video, because he had sounds coming out of that thing that I wouldn’t have thought possible.

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Fang and I, we were not worthy.

Nice appendages, snake.

Nice appendages, snake.

But don’t worry, there were still plenty more opportunities for humiliation. As soon as my duck calling stint was over, I was ushered over to a storage area beyond the outfield so that I could suit up as a contestant in the nightly Merkts cheese race.

I was sharp cheddar.

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080One of my competitors.

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While waiting for our moment in the spotlight, I made some friends.

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Off to the races!

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Once again, the video shall tell the tale.

As you can see in the video, Timber Rattlers evil mascot Gnaf made a rare appearance. If you’re a fan of inane wordplay, anemic putdowns, and exaggerated self-confidence as a means to disguise intense self-loathing then make sure to follow Gnaf on Twitter! 

The Timber Rattlers had much more “Outdoors Night” shenanigans going on throughout the evening, as this photo that appeared on the team’s Facebook page illustrates.

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But for me it was time for a change of pace. The day before myself and an affable designated eating duo had spent a lot of time sampling the team’s concession offerings, but little did I know that there was WAY more where that came from. Fox Cities Stadium underwent a lot of renovations over the past year, and one of the most notable additions was an upstairs club level featuring “upscale” ballpark food (as in you eat it, and then the numbers on the scale go up!)

Here’s the menu, created under the expert guidance of chef Timothy Hansen.

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I sat down at a table and was soon rendered speechless as Hansen and co. brought out a dizzying array of dishes. Some were from the menu above and some are only available when the team hosts private events such as wedding receptions, but all looked delicious.

And many of these dishes were gluten-free. I was starting to get excited!

The above items soon had many companions.

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The centerpiece there is a “shrimp ceviche martini,” excellently prepared with a citrus-y salsa-style sauce. To the left of that is sesame tuna on endive with pineapple salsa (!) and then, moving clockwise: a BLT wedge salad (romaine lettuce, peppercorn ranch dressing, chopped pepper bacon, tomatoes and scallions), Caribbean jerk wings (gluten free ingredients!), Philly cheese cake (sredded ribeye, peppers, onions and nacho cheese on an Amoroso roll, and a crab cake sandwich with a side of remoulade.

Oh, and soon this Caesar salad with blackened salmon appeared! Just so we’re clear, all of this was prepared onsite at a Class A Minor League Baseball stadium.

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I couldn’t help but nibble on the many exemplary gluten-free offerings, but I kept in control.

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I was waiting for my designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits. In this case this individual was one Jim Meulendyke, who worked for the team in 2011 and 2012 (as an intern and then in group sales). Jim now lives in Minnesota (“I left Minor League Baseball for a girl,” he told me) and was in town for a visit.

Jim was making the most of this visit — when I was waiting for him upstairs, he was on the field taking part in a dancing grounds crew routine. I watched it on TV:

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 That’s Jim on the left:

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And — hey! — here he is, just after taking a big bite of crab cake.

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Jim was really enthusiastic about the food, and also one of the most articulate designated eaters I’ve worked with so far.

“You can taste the crab but its not overpowering,” he said. “But the sauce, the sauce is so good. The bun is really good but it’s the sauce that wins me over. It’s got a little kick to it, and complements the crab so well.”

Next was the cheesesteak.

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“Holy [Schmidt] that’s tasty! Oh that cheese is so good and this is melt in your mouth steak!” exclaimed Jim. “Sometimes Philly steak is too chewy and you find yourself battling it but with this all the flavors are simultaneous, and with that little bit of pepper and onion it is just perfect. Oh, crap, that is good. This is like heaven.”

And with that, Jim Meulendyke is a strong contender to win the coveted honor of “best designated eating quote of 2013.”

Oh, and how ’bout some Caribbean wings?

Already devoured

Already devoured

“At first it tastes good, but I was thinking that if you’re going to go Caribbean then you’ve got to have more kick to it,” said Jim. “But as I set the bone down and was going for wing number two, it started to feel like a sauna in my mouth. It’s an awesome taste, that straight jerk style, it settles in and makes a home.”

The Jim Meulendyke power rankings:

After bidding goodbye to Jim and chef Hansen (who clearly does excellent work), I had just enough time to utilize the duck call.

As the desultory sounds of faux duck echoed through the stands, the visitors emerged with a victory.

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There was a post-game concert in the club level, so I unwound from yet another action-packed evening with a (very generously poured) Jameson on the rocks (sponsor me, Jameson!) and listened to the music.

112 Outdoors Night was a success.

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Also a success was this Midwest League road trip, which provided me with more and better content than any trip I’ve ever gone on. Ever. Thanks to all involved for making it so action-packed and enjoyable, and stay tuned for the next trip!

August 3 – Bakersfield Blaze

August 4 — Visalia Rawhide

August 5 – Fresno Grizzlies

August 6 – Modesto Nuts

August 7 – Stockton Ports

August 8 – Reno Aces

August 9 — Travel — (Crater Lake!)

August 10 and 11 — Hillsboro Hops

This one’s going to be epic, I think. Get in touch with any all suggestions regarding how I should spend my time while out West.

But until then, THIS CANNOT BE LOUD ENOUGH!!! IT CAN NEVER BE LOUD ENOUGH!!!

Mugstar are the best band ever to emerge from Liverpool and their music sounds like my brain.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Just Another Friday Night in Appleton, Wisconsin

Part One of my “On the Road” Wisconsin Timber Rattlers blog post ended as my “On the Road” blog posts so often do — with a toilet paper first pitch.

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Please note that my toilet paper first pitch (part of a much larger “Salute to Paper” promotion) was delivered in proper overhand fashion. As soon as it reached its intended destination, I hustled up to the concourse in order to start a prolonged food and beverage portion of the evening, as that’s just what it is that I was put on this planet to do. I guess.

I started things off with my first-ever #Cupdate, a new ballpark initiative spurred on by Pedro Golkin’s eloquent pleading in a recent guest blog post. I’m new to the #Cupdate game, and as of yet I’m failing to provide the cup stats and folklore that some enthusiasts demand. But I can tell you upfront that the Timber Rattlers are a cup force to be reckoned with as this is one uber-collectible piece of drinkware.

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This offering features photos of the three former Timber Rattlers who made their MLB debuts in 2012. If you can name this triumvirate of former T-Rats before scrolling down, then your brain (like mine) is filled with useless knowledge that probably gets in the way of forming meaningful relationships.

But, anyway: the three players featured are the alternate reality law firm of Thornburg, Peralta and Henderson.

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As I awoke from this cup reverie, I looked to my right and there before me were a pair of wildly gesticulating gentlemen.

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These two individuals were the evening’s “Designated Eaters,” who are recruited at every ballpark I visit to sample the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. That’s Kyle Lobner on the left, who, in addition to running the exemplary Milwaukee Brewers-focused “Brew Crew Ball” blog, serves as an alderman for Appleton’s 13th district. On the right is Kevin Kimmes, an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 finalist, “Cream City Cables” blogger, and PA announcer for the Green Bay Bullfrogs of the summer collegiate Northwoods League.

These guys had credentials, and, also, they had food.

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Front and center is the Fang Burger, named after the Timber Rattlers’ anatomically incorrect snake mascot and featuring jalapenos, cajun mayo, cajun seasoning and pepper jack cheese. On the top right is mac and cheese on a brat, which is itself on a pretzel bun. And then, lest we forget we’re in Wisconsin, there are deep fried cheese curds.

Have at it guys!

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Kyle was enamored with, but not blown away by, his mac and cheese-topped selection. He called it “good” and praised the “strong flavor” of the brat, but keep in mind that in addition to his local politicking and professional blogging Kyle runs a macaroni and cheese-centric blog. He is a 21st century renaissance man, and really knows his stuff.

I apologize for my inadequate photographic representation of the Fang Burger, but Kimmes was able to paint a picture with his words.

“There are two huge beef patties in here, and you have to unhinge your jaw like a snake to eat it,” he said. “For me, it’s not totally over the top but the average person? It packs a serious bite. And I love the brininess of the pickled jalapenos.”

As for me? Hey, thanks for asking. While I had to go sans-bun, the Cher-Make brand brats are indeed gluten free.

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Look, you can keep the bun. That brat was so good that the only way I can think to describe it is by unhinging my jaw while banging wildly on the key board

dsgkbgfsgjnfkjnkglkkj!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If I could make like Cher I’d turn back time and eat a whole lot more Cher-Make brats!

Yes, I am the greatest of all time and, yes, I have much more to write about. As Kyle, Kevin and I were waxing rhapsodic about foodstuffs intern Shaun Marshall — who got stuck with blogger-wrangling duties for the two days in which I was in town and did a fantastic job — dutifully informed me that my presence was soon needed on the field.

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I was a contestant in a between-inning contest and, well, I’ll let you decide what was going on here.

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Obviously, I was blindfolded with toilet paper and tasked to find a stash of toilet paper on the field via the crowd’s “Warmer/Colder” exhortations. I failed miserably.

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Fang was all like “It was right there, bro” and then I was like “Yeah, whatever, like a snake with four limbs is going to make me feel bad about myself.”

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Back in the relative safety of the concourse, I perchanced to notice the team’s nacho cart. As you may recall, the Timber Rattlers named this cart after soliciting fan votes on Facebook, and my Village People-inspired submission of “Nacho Nacho Stand” lost out to this:

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I should have gone with “Life’s a Chip and Then You Die.” (After all, you can’t spell “nachos” without Nas.)

But while nachos weren’t in my future, cheese curds were. The non-fried variety are gluten-free!

Meanwhile, Kevin and Kyle had re-located to the concession area down the third base line in order to, yes, consume more food.

Hey guys, welcome back!

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This dynamic duo had procured a “Triple Oinker” sandwich and cut it in half, giving each of them a 1.5 Oinker.

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For those keeping score at home, this sandwich consists of pork chop, bacon, pulled pork and nacho cheese. Double-K, as I had taken to calling them at this point, really enjoyed it:

“It could have been one-note, but there’s a great mix of flavors and it’s really delicious,” said Kimmes.

At this point in the narrative things get a little fuzzy, but soon I found myself out behind the stadium. There were ribs in the passenger seat of a van and I ate them furtively like a scared chipmunk.

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Attached to the van was a trailer and in the trailer was the Bratzooka. It is to bratwurst firing what t-shirt guns are to whatever it is that t-shirt guns do. As you can see, I really enjoyed myself!

(The three pictures below were taken by T-Rats creative director Ann Mollica, who does fantastic work with a camera that looks to be about the size of a Bratzooka.)

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And let me tell you — that thing can really launch brats! The technique is to basically shoot straight in the air with only a slight angle, as a direct brat hit in the face of an unwitting fan could be cataclysmic. (That’s how Maude Flanders died, almost.)

And that wasn’t the only vehicle to be found on the field during the evening. An inning or so later, this occurred:

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And then there’s this:

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Yep, a good old-fashioned bullpen cart, new this season. Relief pitchers have the option to ride in it to the mound, but I was told that, thus far, the peer pressure had been too severe for anyone to actually do it.

I was up for it, though!

This car brakes for dancing grounds crew:

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I would like to thank the T-Rats’ fluorescent outfield squadron of game day parking crew employees for their bullpen cart hospitality!

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Next to the bullpen cart is — wait for it — the bullpen. And in the bullpen the relievers were making money hand over fist via their innovative “Make a Quarter Get a Ball” initiative.

The next day I interviewed three denizens of the Timber Rattlers bullpen about this game, and the end result is this really funny (if I do say so myself) MiLB piece that YOU MUST READ.

While I wait for you to read the aforementioned MiLB.com piece, I’ll amuse myself with a few non sequiturs.

The sepulchral press box:

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Digital standings board:

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Get it? Digital standings board?

The aftermath of a promotion in which rolls upon rolls of toilet paper are given away:

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Oh, hey, look — there was a game going on and people were watching it.

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Nice arms, snake:

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And, finally, fireworks from the best seat in the house. I really nailed this shot, if I do say so myself.

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I was just kidding about “finally,” as after the post-game fireworks there were post-game run the bases. Why not!?

132 Finally, mercifully, the evening was now in the books.

But would you believe that I attended the next night’s Timber Rattlers game as well? And that it was just as action-packed as this one? It’s true! But in the interest of writerly sanity, I’m going to recap that game as the final post of this current road trip. So, yeah: Wisconsin, Beloit, Great Lakes, Lansing, West Michigan, South Bend and then back to Wisconsin.

I hope that makes sense and, until then, fear the snaki:

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Tailgating and Toilet Paper in Wisconsin

Sometimes when I visit a stadium, my interactions with the team in question don’t extend much beyond a curt hello and a cursory “let us know if you need anything.” Okay, that’s cool, you’re busy and understaffed, I get it.

But on the far other end of the hospitality continuum exist entities such as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who over the course of a two-day visit ran me ragged back and forth across Appleton’s Fox Cities Stadium while involving me in seemingly every aspect of their game-day entertainment. The end result was a blur of toilet paper, duck calls, air-blasted bratwurst, (evil) mascot antics, bullpen tomfoolery, tailgating, club level feasting, pyrotechnic viewing and, of course, cheese curds. This is Wisconsin, after all.

And on top of all that I even landed an interview with the Dean of the Midwest League himself, enigmatic Timber Rattlers announcer Chris Mehring! What a journalistic coup, what a whirlwind couple of days, and don’t even get me started on my time away from the ballpark  (in which uber-hospitable Appletonians, working in shifts, gave me a tour of the sights, sounds and, of course, the food of their beloved hometown. Appletonians love their food, I’ve learned).

I’m not sure how to best present all of this material, all I know is that it’s going to be spread out across several platforms and that it’s going to take awhile. So — deep breath! — let’s just do the most sensible thing and start at the beginning. The rest — from Appleton as well as the ensuing five cities on this trip — will follow.

Friday, June 21. 5:30 p.m.

I arrived at Fox Cities Stadium 90 minutes before game time, and already there was a phalanx of fluorescent parking attendants directing a steady stream of cars.

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Many of these early birds were here to tailgate, an activity rarely associated with Minor League Baseball. But in Wisconsin, it’s simply standard operating procedure for all professional sports events.

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“[Tailgating] is just part of the culture here,” Timber Rattlers president Rob Zerjav told me. “Packers, Brewers, Timber Rattlers, it doesn’t matter.”

Therefore, the Timber Rattlers are just fine with their ballpark’s location. “Downtown revitalization” is an industry catch phrase and current most common justification for a new stadium, but Zerjav remarked that “we wouldn’t want to be downtown. We’d lose the tailgating.”

Not that the T-Rats need a new stadium. Fox Cities Stadium was built in 1995, and underwent a $6.2 million renovation prior to this season. It’s doing just fine. As the gates opened at 5:30, there was already a formidable line to get inside.

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Okay, fine, the stadium is currently called “Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium.” But since this blogging platform charges me on a per-word basis, I’m going to just call it Fox Cities Stadium.

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Bring Your Boat to the Ballpark

Upon entering the ballpark, fans were presented with complimentary Kleenex product.

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The gratis facial tissue was part of a “Salute to Paper” promotion, staged annually in honor of Appleton’s paper industry The city is even home to the Paper Discovery Center, an institution which takes it upon itself to induct individuals into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame (PIIHOF which I pronounce phonetically as Pie Eye Hoff as that sounds like the name of a 19th century baseball player.)

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Sorry, I don’t have streaming video.

Further back on the concourse, one could find this surprising edifice.

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The Great Scott Pyramids

In the above photo, the Timber Rattlers’ 2012 Midwest League Championship banner is obscured by a two-ply toilet paper pyramid. Perhaps this can be seen as an unwitting metaphor for Minor League Baseball’s overall entertainment priorities, but, point is, the Timber Rattlers are coming off of a great season.

Their championship trophy is on display in the lobby of the newly renovated front office.

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The team also won Minor League Baseball’s Larry MacPhail Trophy, awarded annually in honor of overall promotional excellence. Talk about firing on all cylinders! (Perhaps this is why T-Rats staffers could be seen flaunting huge wads of cash at last December’s Baseball Winter Meetings.)

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 Zerjav gave me a tour of the new and improved front offices, but somehow the only pictures I managed to take involved the only in-house taxidermy studio in Minor League Baseball.

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Actually, the above montage was in preparation for the following day’s promotion. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Another major part of the renovations was this year-round club level area. It can fit approximately 250-300 people, and the Timber Rattlers are renting it out for events on non-game days (a wedding reception was held there recently, for example).

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It was turning out to be a beautiful evening, and as I was up there in the club level assistant director of food and beverage Chumley Hodgson displayed his superhuman strength by lifting up the glass panel windows and stacking them vertically off to the side.

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Let it slide

Hey, nice view!

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The renovations also included the addition of nine suites (there are now 12 total). The centerpiece of these new suites are sturdy and quintessentially Wisconsonian tables made of reclaimed barn boards that date back as far as the 1780s.

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I’ve gotten complaints that this blog has become too reclaimed barn board-centric, so let’s move back down to ground level. As part of the “Salute to Paper,” an endearing arts and crafts center had been set up down the third base line.

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Nearby, one could find the best seat in the house.

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Fox Cities Stadium doesn’t have a 360 degree concourse, but it’s getting there. Zerjav mentioned that that’s the ultimate goal, and that the team is expanding by degrees as time and money allows (the team, like the nearby Green Bay Packers, is community owned. That’s a tangent for a future blog or article, but let it be known that team shares can be had for $50). 

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A recent addition, and an unexpected one, can be found beyond the picnic area.

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Zerjav says that this sandy area was inspired by the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

“In Myrtle Beach you’d expect a beach, but by putting one out here we didn’t know what to expect,” said Zerjav. “Girls in bikinis? Turns out that the kids love it, and parents love it too because it looks like they’re watching their kids when they’re really watching the game.”

The view from the boondocks:

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With game time approaching, I traveled 180 degrees and onto the field. There was important business to attend to.

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Toilet paper first pitch!

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This next photo, taken by Timber Rattlers creative director/team photographer Ann Mollica, demonstrates my flawless toilet paper mechanics. And please believe, I totally threw a strike.

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Proudest moment of my life!

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Fang approved.

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But I wasn’t the only one throwing toilet paper. After the National Anthem, just before taking the field, the Timber Rattlers threw roll upon roll into the crowd.

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This calls for the first of MANY Vines that have been/will be produced on this road trip. (Follow me on Twitter and/or Vine to see them all, and please let me know your favorites and least favorites. I’m working toward becoming a Vine auteur.)

And I now call upon myself, in the interest of writerly sanity, to end this post. There will be much more to come from Appleton, and much more to come from the Midwest League. I guarantee it.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Ben’s Biz Backlogged Blog Bonanza, the Sequel!

Hey, remember that thing I did yesterday? Where I wrote a bouillabaisse blog post that included a bunch of Minor League items thrown together in haphazard fashion? Well, that’s happening again, so buckle up the brain belt and drive right in!

After an extended liaison with the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2013 marks the State College Spikes’ return to being a Cardinals affiliate. And, wouldn’t you know it? The team now has a resident cardinal. (They’ve named him Ozzie, as in Smith.)

cardinal
Minor League team stadium visitation by a species representing said team’s Major League affiliate are rare, though who among us can forget that time a crusty sailor took up residency at Clinton’s Ashford University Field after the LumberKings became a Mariners affiliate?

I’ll be visiting the West Michigan Whitecaps later this month — June 27th! — and if the ultra-spicy Squeeling Pig is available in gluten-free form then I’m definitely going to give it a try. Either way, it’s the only concession item I am aware of that requires a waiver.

In this video, some intrepid members of the team give it a try. No trips to the disabled list resulted.



I’ll also be visiting the Wisconsin Timber Rattler later this month — June 21 and 22! Think they’ll give me a ride in this sweet bullpen car?

bullpencar

I’ve written about Daytona super-fan Front Row Joe on several occasions, but little did I know that there is a Front Row Joe equivalent in good ol’ Curve PA. This Altoona Mirror article profiles Susan Mielnik, who has attended every Altoona Curve game since the franchise’s 1996 inception. Hats off to her!

I wrote about the Fort Wayne TinCaps rather brilliant Social Media Night jerseys in this week’s Promo Preview, which of course you read already. But that’s indicative of the team’s larger approach, as the TinCaps have been taking theme jerseys to new levels of transcendence all season. Just check out these 50’s Night duds:

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TinCaps creative director Tony DesPlaines writes:

Designed in-house and produced by Wilson, these jerseys featured a beautiful green argyle design with a jukebox on one sleeve and the TinCaps logo on the opposite sleeve. The team thought they looked like golfers, but from the stands they looked great.

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Speaking of theme jerseys, check out what the Omaha Storm Chasers wore during their Star Wars promo.

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Force Hat

There’s more to this than meets the eye. Storm Chasers director of marketing and promotions Ben Hemmen explains:

May the FORCE be with you… The Omaha Force that is! It’s the second annual “What If… Night” presented by Autism Action Partnership featuring a unique Jersey auction…. Plus, it’s “Star Wars Night”! Dress up like your favorite Star Wars characters, help us find “Yoda” around the ballpark, hear Princess Leia sing the National Anthem, and meet Darth Vader. The force, Omaha & Jedi will definitely be strong at Werner Park Saturday night so it should not take a Jedi mind trick to tell you not to miss out on this special evening. What If… the Storm Chasers had been renamed the Omaha Force three years ago? Head out to Werner Park to find out!

More where all of this came from? Oh, you better believe it.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Some Shuck, No Jive

Last month’s Florida road trip was, all in all, an overwhelmingly positive experience. But one of the minor disappointments was the relative dearth of local seafood options at the ballparks — for whatever reason, the crab shacks and grouper sandwich spots that were prevalent in the area didn’t cross over into the stadium experience.

So kudos to the Daytona Cubs for taking a step toward rectifying this situation. On select nights through the remainder of the season, employees from nearby Riptides Bar and Grill will be shucking and serving oysters on the half shell!

This past Thursday was the debut of the D-Cubs oyster bar, and as you can tell from the pictures the weather was ominous and therefore the crowds sparse. But he introduction of oysters to the Minor League concession scene is a very positive development, in my opinion, and I am hoping that this idea is a success in Daytona and then spreads to all applicable markets with considerable haste!

I’m not sure of the proper way to dispose of oyster shells, but if this was in Durham I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls found a way to recycle them into t-shirt material. The team recently partnered with local collegiate clothing company Spring House to create a line of “Bull City” t-shirts made from 100% recyclable materials (including water bottles, plastic beer bottles and x-ray film).

From the press release:

The entire line is manufactured in Durham’s one and only garment factory, less than three miles away from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. School House, which designed and manufactured the line, sees  the Bull City collection as an example of the power of “Made in USA” products and local manufacturing.

At this point you’ve all surely thoroughly dissected my most recent Promotion Preview column over at MiLB.com, which leads with approximately 400 words on the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers “Salute to Cows” (yes, I’m just the only person these days who manages to consistently write about Wisconsin in an apolitical context).

The team sent along some photos to run with the piece, and I’d like to share a couple of them here. These are just fantastic, these images, especially because they remind me of a VHS video produced by a Wisconsin-based band that I watched approximately 1500 times in college.

And, finally, I draw your attention to THIS. It’s the State College Spikes’ take on the “Call Me Maybe” video, and they totally nail it. Watch it, definitely.

benjamin.hill@mlb

twitter.com/bensbiz

(Nacho) Typical Blog Post

The previous post on this blog ended with an anniversary logo (the Hickory Crawdads 20th, to be exact), so in the interest of seamless transitions let’s keep that particular train right on a-rollin':

Good natured ribbon

It should be self-explanatory, but the above mark commemorates the fact that 2012 will be the Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ fifth season. They played their first season way back in 2008, when George W. Bush was president, the price of a postage stamp was a mere 41 cents, and Ben’s Biz Blog was less than a year old.

But enough about bygone eras. Let’s celebrate the future! The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers announced that there will be a nacho stand at the ballpark in 2012,  and the team is currently conducting a Facebook poll to determine what the stand should be called. I am pleased to report that my submission of “Nacho, Nacho Stand” is one of the finalists.

I am not pleased to report that, as of this writing, my submission has received all of 16 votes. “Class A Nachos” is currently in first, and, really, that one is not nearly as good as  mine or fellow contender “Nachossss.” Biz Blog readers, now is the time to rectify this egregious wrong! Vote HERE! (If I win, I’ll donate my free full-size free nacho grande helmet to charity).

I've had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!

2012 will also be Season 1 for the new-look Swoop, mascot of the South Bend Silver Hawks. When Swoop last appeared in this blog, he was engaged in an intimate moment with a Miss America contest.

But those days of tongue-in-beak insouciance are over. For last week, the Silver Hawks gave Swoop a makeover:

Speaking of the Silver Hawks, they were, to my knowledge, the only MiLB team to run a local TV ad during the Super Bowl. That spot, cinematic in scope, can be viewed HERE.

Of course, a far more common Minor League approach is to engage in a spot of parody. The Frederick Keys did just this, putting their own spin on a FIAT ad (the original can be viewed HERE).

And speaking of the Super Bowl, you’ll no doubt recall that the last post on this blog started with info on the Lowell Spinners us-against-the-rest of the New York-Penn League big game bet.

It was a sizable gamble, and the Spinners lost. Therefore, mascot Canaligator is in for a summer of abject humiliation.

Even more so than usual:

As for me, I’ll be “writing a blog…all summer long.” Don’t you forget about me.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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