On the Road: Demon Chasing and Teeth Racing in Inland Empire

Monday’s game between the Inland Empire 66ers and visiting Visalia Rawhide didn’t start until 7 p.m., but I made it to the ballpark nearly four hours early.

Why? Because I had been tipped off that an exorcism was going to take place. The 66ers have been playing miserably in the month of May, with the low point being the previous day’s 17-2 loss. So the team decided to burn their struggles away, via a soul-cleansing trash-can fire in the groundskeeper’s area beyond center field.

I went out there around 3:30, and came across a plastic bin full of sacrificial baseball detritus.

One of the most prominent items contained therein was one of first baseman Casey Haerther’s rejected pieces of lumber.

Soon the players emerged from the dugout and somberly trudged toward the ceremonial grounds.

The plastic bin was emptied into a trash can, and a copious amount of lighter fluid was poured on top.

Before lighting this mess ablaze, veteran southpaw Harold Williams gave a speech about how this fire symbolized a fresh start. It was a surprisingly somber and serious affair (to me, at least), but losing is no fun so I can appreciate how miserable these guys had been recently.

Burn, burn, yes you’re gonna burn!

But not for long.

Groundskeeper Jason Hilderbrand Extinguishes the Flame

The Aftermath

And wouldn’t you know it? The 66ers went out on Monday night and scored five runs in the first inning, highlighted by back-to-back-to-back home runs by Michael Wing, the aforementioned Cody Haerther, and Kole Calhoun. Meanwhile, a trio of pitchers kept the Rawhide offense in check, and the 66ers rolled to a 7-1 win.

I have a newfound faith in the power of baseball voodoo. If this works for writers, then when I get home I’m going to set fire to a trashcan filled with a laptop, old notebooks, broken pens, rejection letters, and business cards.

Read more about the 66ers’ ceremony over at MiLB.com, please. But it’s now time for us to turn our attention toward the usual blogging shenanigans. For example, I soon noticed that one of the outfield billboards featured the world’s most voluptuous peach.

Viewing that image got me all worked up. In order to restore a sense of calm to my harried brain I hung out for a bit in the air-conditioned comfort of the 66ers’ front office. Director of Ticket Operations Joey Seymour filled me in on the team’s “Road to the Show” ticket package, marketed to nearby Angels fans and featuring home games taking place when that team is out of town.

Good idea, right?

Seymour also removed the perforation from tickets this year, in order to make them more of a souvenir item. Keeping with that philosophy, the season tickets are jumbo-sized and perfect for player — or mascot — autographs.

The man in the suit seen above is Douglas Maiden, in his first season as Bernie but with 12 seasons of mascot experience.

An interesting aspect of the Bernie character is that he often emits a high-pitched “Wooooo!” catchphrase. All through the evening, this noise could be heard (from Bernie as well as from fans trying to get his attention).

At one point in the evening, I heard a one-second sound clip come on over the PA, simply the word “Bernie.” My ears perked up immediately — this solitary word had been taken from Weird Al’s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” (!!!) This is one of my favorite Weird Al songs of all-time — a loving celebration of aburdist Americana that pretty much encapsulates everything that is great about this country. Upon graduating college, I embarked on a road trip to the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, located in Darwin, MN. I want this song played at my funeral.

But I digress…

My next stop was the home dugout in order to do a few player interviews (I ended up speaking with Jean Segura, Mike “No, Not that Mike Piazza” Piazza, and Harold Williams). Also milling about was a contingent of local bloggers. The team had invited them on “Ode to Bloggers” Night, part of their series of “Social Media Monday” promotions.

And — hey! — I blog as well. Perhaps this is why I was asked to throw out the first pitch.

Note the videoboard, displaying my signature first pitch leg kick.

First pitch friends for life!

66ers Pitcher John Hellweg, me, Bernie. I'm 5'8", they're 6'9"

The evening’s contingent of bloggers spent the evening in a suite owned by 66ers consultant Byron Marquez. It was swanky.

But my peripatetic tendencies are too strong, so I commenced to wandering.

The 66ers, like virtually all teams, claim to have one of the largest scoreboards in Minor League Baseball. It certainly is beautiful.

Arrowhead Credit Union Stadium doesn’t offer an open concourse, but at least there’s plenty of room to move back there.

By this point you may be saying to yourself, “This place reminds me of Lancaster’s stadium.” Well, that’s because they’re virtually identical (designed by the same architect, built around the same time. But in Inland Empire, the builders at least remembered to include player clubhouses. This was overlooked in Lancaster, resulting in extraneous buildings in far right and left field).

But what you’re really here for is to check out the team’s concession prices. Here you go:

Thank goodness the team didn’t offer Ben’s Biz Blog a Bernie’s Belly Buster Burger. So many “b”s involved, I would’ve broke out in hives.

Corporate Groups Manager David May spent much of the evening extolling the virtues of “Flavor Burst” ice cream. Perhaps the company can use the following photo in their promotional materials.

But out on the concourse, a game was going on. It was a cold gray Monday night, not exactly the kind of evening that packs ’em in. Still, a beautiful place to see some Class A Advanced baseball.

“Passing the Hat” after the 66ers’ first-inning tater triumvirate.

The scoreboard was often used as the focal point of between-inning games and contests, such as the “Dueling Banjo Cam.”

But soon it came time for me to compete in a between-inning promotion. May, website manager Robert Peters and I descended into the prop room…

And suited up as “racing molars.”

We had plenty of time to kill while waiting for the race, which was largely spent interacting with a gaggle of kids who descended upon us. I was asked for my autograph no less than six times, despite doing nothing more than gripping a pen in my fist and scrawling “TOOTH.” Kids are the best.

But it was all business once race time came, and I’m pleased to say that I emerged victorious.

But my on-field participation wasn’t quite over. Upon the conclusion of the eighth inning, I served as MC for the “Yodeler” contest (modeled after the popular “The Price is Right” game). I had to ask the contestant (who said his name was “Bruiser”) three 66ers trivia questions, and if his answers kept Bernie from falling off a cliff then he would win two tickets to an upcoming game.

I think I did alright, but it’s kind of nerve-wracking to hear your own voice echo through the stadium on a slight delay. I felt like I was talking too slow, and was so focused on not messing up that I didn’t add much personality to it. I guess this is to say that like anything else, being an on-field host is an acquired skill (and one I wouldn’t mind learning if ever given the opportunity).

But the night, like all things in life as well as life itself, soon came to an end. You know what tipped me off to this? Tennis balls on the field.




  1. Jordan

    Did Bernie take any pictures of you then run away with your brand new insta-matic? If so, at least you got your memories.

  2. Jordan

    Also, based on the screen, it looked like your first pitch was high. What do you think it was clocked at?

  3. Ryan Bethell

    Ben i am not sorry to tell you but the 66ers Voodoo is working agianst them they have put the Storm on a winning streak!

  4. BensBiz

    My first pitch was high, but at least my 6’9″ catcher didn’t have to leave his crouch. I imagine it traveled at about 50 miles an hour, but the more unsettling thing was how messed up my mechanics were (I’ve since seen the video).

    Bernie did not steal my brand-new instamatic, nor did he smell bad, nor did he even tell me his name was Bernie. I think it was a different guy.

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