Today is Groundhog Day. As a strong proponent of doing the same thing again and again, I thought I’d go ahead and write a blog post dedicated to how the world of Minor League Baseball is celebrating this most hallowed of rodent weather prediction holidays.
We’ll start in Pennsylvania, of course, as the Keystone State has long served as the spiritual center of Groundhog Day. In State College, located 75 miles east of Punxsutawney, the Spikes have announced the following initiative:
The offer of bonus vouchers on McDonald’s Flex Books are a superfluous tie-in; the justification is that they give “fans multiple ways to enjoy Groundhog Day over and over again.”
More relevant is the offer of free admission to people named “Phil” on August 2. The Spikes mention that this offer extends to “Phil Collins, Phil Mickelson, Phil Jackson, Phil Simms and Dr. Phil”, but that “no current or former members of the Philadelphia Phillies will be allowed in free that night.”
I think some former Phillies should question this policy. Like, if Desi Relaford showed up and was like “Hey, give me a free ticket” I bet the Spikes would oblige.
The Altoona Curve are located even closer to Punxsatawney than are the Spikes. Last season, they even gave away a Groundhog Day bobblehead and had Phil out to the ballpark.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) February 2, 2016
They also released a new commercial:
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) February 2, 2016
Frisco RoughRiders vice-president Jason Dambach is a Punxsutawney native and former Curve and Spikes employee. So I’m going to go ahead and check in on the RoughRiders to see if they are celebrating the day in a notable way.
Well…this is notable, I suppose.
— Frisco RoughRiders (@RidersBaseball) February 2, 2016
Another team I think of when the search engine that is my brain conjures up “Groundhog Day Minor League Baseball” are the Charleston RiverDogs. Team co-owner Bill Murray was the star of Groundhog’s Day, as you may recall. Let’s see what they RiverDogs are doing.
Okay, so here’s a tweet.
— Charleston RiverDogs (@ChasRiverDogs) February 2, 2016
That’s all I’ve got, but in the interest of total thoroughness I’ll do a quick run through my Twitter feed to see if I missed anything….
Update: I didn’t really miss anything, save for this.
If any teams were omitted from this post, please know it is because I did so intentionally and in fact don’t like your team and will never visit.
In closing, here’s a scorching track from underrated ’70s rockers Groundhogs.
Hello everyone. The italicized text you are currently reading is courtesy of I, Ben Hill, proprietor of the eponymous “Biz Blog.” Though I have run many “guest posts” on this blog through the years, what you are about to read is something a little bit different. Ashley Marshall, who has been writing for MiLB.com since the 2010 season, has agreed to become a regular contributor to this blog as well as some of my regularly occurring MiLB.com content (such as the long-running “Promo Preview”).
Therefore, when I am on the road, Ashley can keep you abreast of Minor League Baseball business and promotional happenings that I otherwise might not have had the time or sanity to write about properly. I’m considering this a win-win-win situation: I have a little bit less on my proverbial plate and can produce my “On the Road” material in a timelier fashion. Ashley, a Minor League Baseball renaissance man, gets to write more about an area of the industry that he is interested in. And you, the presumably loyal reader, get more of the material you have come to know and, yes, love.
So who is Ashley Marshall? No one knows the answer to that question better than Ashley Marshall himself. The floor is now ceded to him, so that he may introduce himself and then, as the title of this post implies, take you on a Pac-Man inspired tour of the Minor League landscape.
Hello and welcome to
Ash’s Ben’s Biz Blog. My name is Ashley and I’m entering my sixth season as an editorial producer at MiLB.com. You’ll see my name popping up from time to time in this blog as I contribute to the site and help Minor League Baseball’s chronicler of promotions during his road trips.
You’ve probably spotted my byline atop game recaps, prospect primers, league previews and Q&A’s over the past few years. Now you’ll see me pinch-hitting on the top pro Minor League blog on the Internet. Fortunately for Ben’s loyal readers, I share a number of interests with the master of puns himself. We both love viral content, thought-provoking analysis, eye-catching designs and curated information exploring the business side of baseball.
If you follow me on Twitter — and if you don’t, then you really should rectify that right now — you will know that I love anything made from a part of a pig, as well as photography, themed jerseys and all things British. If I could take pictures of a team playing in uniforms depicting the Queen of England eating bacon on a stick, I’d die a happy man. I think a lot of other people would get a kick out of that, too. Lehigh Valley, I’m looking at you.
For my first post, however, I wanted to share something that recently caught my eye, because one Easter egg that didn’t go unnoticed over the weekend was the gem brought to you by Google Maps and Pac-Man.
The concept was simple, the execution flawless. Take existing Google Maps, turn the screen into a playable maze, transform roads and paths into a grid of Pac-dots and guide Namco’s most famous two-dimensional character to glory.
Productivity nationwide took a hit when the browser game went viral. Now it’s about the take another hit. What’s better than helping Pac-Man evade Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde in your neighborhood? How about zig-zagging your way around your favorite Minor League ballparks?
I’ll take you on a virtual tour of Pawtucket, Jupiter, Albuquerque, Great Lakes and Staten Island, while inviting you to find other maps that appeal to your baseball and gaming sensibilities.
1) Guide Pac-Man down S. Bend St, and along Division St. to help him beat the McCoy Stadium level. The running track to the northeast of the stadium presents just one way in and one way out, so make sure you bring a solid gameplan to this Rhode Island task. Red Sox Nation can’t help you here, so you’re all alone at the plate. See Blinky, hit Blinky.
2) Roger Dean Stadium is bordered by back fields to the north, Florida Atlantic University to the south and Abacoa Golf Club to the west. The key to winning this map on Florida’s east coast is successfully navigating the traffic circle joining Central Blvd, Main St and Scripps Way. The Hammerheads may share the ballpark with the Palm Beach Cardinals, but you have this course all to yourself.
3) Albuquerque’s Isotopes Park sits in the heart of Central New Mexico Community College’s campus. University Blvd SE runs north-south and Avenida Cesar Chavez SE goes east-west, but the intricate combination of adjoining streets make it hard to pass this midterm exam. You’ll be going up and down more often than Joe Girardi in the eighth inning of a one-run game.
4) Located two hours north of Detroit between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Dow Diamond is surrounded by roads of every side that dissect Fournie Park and lead to the Tittabawassee River. Fortunately for Loons fans, you get to avoid Rt. 20 and instead stay on Buttles and State Streets. There are no season-ending trips to the DL in this map.
5) Richmond County Bank Ballpark sits at the north-eastern tip of Staten Island, a stone’s throw from the Hudson River and New York Bay. The four enemies start at the corner of Hamilton Ave. and St. Mark’s Place, giving Baby Bombers fans the chance to gobble up the pellets along the waterfront before Inky and Pinky catch you in a rundown.
Now you’ve checked out a few of my favorite MiLB mazes, why not spend a couple minutes finding your own team on Google Maps and seeing if you can get the cherries before your three lives run out. Reach out to me on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB or via email and share a screenshot of a map you enjoyed playing.
It’s a word if you’re a Simpsons fan, at least. The motto of Springfield, bestowed upon it by town founder Jebediah Springfield, is “A Noble Spirit Embiggens the Smallest Man.”
The Albuquerque Isotopes are most definitely the biggest Simpsons fans in Minor League Baseball, as the team name is a direct reference to an episode of the show in which Springfield’s Minor League team almost moves to Albuquerque. I, like many of my generation, am a huge Simpsons fan, so I was psyched to begin my 2014 Minor League Baseball travels in a ballpark with such a direct tie-in to my youthful (and now, manchild) obsessions.
Welcome to Isotopes Field, home of the — wait for it — the Albuqerque Isotopes.
Upon entering the ballpark, this is the first person that greets you.
I went on to write a detailed story about the origin of the team name as well as the Simpsons family statues that can be found throughout the concourse. I suggest that you read it, and if I was able demand such a thing then a demand it would be.
Now that you’ve read that particular piece, let’s move on to a little tour of the ballpark. With the players warming up on the field, Isotopes broadcaster Josh Suchon led me on a 360-degree walk of the facility.
First things first, the team had a new videoboard installed prior to the season. That’s the new one on the left, complementing the old board on the right.
I asked Suchon whether the Isotopes were making any claims regarding it being the biggest/tallest/widest board in Minor League Baseball, because those are the sort of things that Minor League Baseball teams do. His reply was that “It’s bigger than El Paso and that’s the most important thing. Everything is a rivalry with El Paso now.”
I was going to respond that “Well, yeah, it’s easier to be bigger than a Chihuahua,” but then realized that no team in professional sports history has ever named themselves after something smaller than an isotope.
There’s plenty of room to move at Isotopes Park, which opened in 2003. Multi-tiered berm seating is not something you see every day, unless you work in a park that has multi-tiered berm seating.
Remember when you read that story I linked to, which explained that the Isotopes acquired their Simpsons statues at a Los Angeles junk store run by the inimitable Nick Metropolis? Well, the team also acquired this Hollywood sign from Mr. Metropolis. It is a reference to Albuquerque being, as Suchon put it, “the Minor Leagues of Hollywood.” The city provides tax breaks to film companies who work in the region, and the fact that Breaking Bad took place there certainly raised the region’s profile in the industry (and America) at large.
This Captain Morgan statue was also obtained via Nick Metropolis and his impressive junk world connections.
We soon made our way back on the concourse and — look — here’s Lisa.
It seems fitting that Bart is below an advertisement for “pest management.”
Isotopes Park was built where its predecessor once stood — Albuquerque Sports Stadium (or A.S.S., as I prefer to call it). At that facility, fans could park beyond the outfield wall and watch the game from their cars.
But these days, fans watch the game from their eyes, man. From their eyes!
Isotopes Park is one of several sports facilities in the immediate area. This, as viewed from outside the suite entrances, is the home of University of New Mexico basketball and it is called “The Pit.”
Meanwhile, over here, you’re apt to see the pigskin get tossed around.
Turning my camera in the other direction resulted in a view of a facility that hosts baseball — Isotopes Park, home of the Albuquerque Isotopes. (I almost forgot where I was there for a second).
I neglected to ask why the Isotopes took a multi-hued approach to their glass panel installation. It’s pretty cool, though.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) April 28, 2014
Finally, I spotted Marge. In a decidedly uncharacteristic move, she had Coke up her nose.
At this point, you’re probably asking the same question I was.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) April 28, 2014
It was around this time that I met Isotopes general manager John Traub, who told me the Simpsons stories that ended up in the MiLB.com article that you already read. But one more thing that I didn’t mention is that Traub is the (once) proud owner of an Alex Rodriguez signed bat. Traub was formerly the general manager of the Calgary Cannons (the team that moved to Albuquerque in 2003), and got that bat when A-Rod was in Calgary in 1994.
After speaking with Traub, I went down to field level in time for the National Anthem. And look who I ran into — Mr. Clint Belau! Regular readers of this blog (I hope that you are one of them), will recognize Clint as one of 2012’s Winter Meetings Job Seeker Journalists. That employment seeking effort eventually landed him a job in Albuquerque, and he is now in his second season with the Isotopes and his first as an assistant groundskeeper. Clint remains as I described him back in 2012: irrepressibly optimistic. Dude just loves working in baseball, and was so committed to breaking into the industry that he moved to Albuquerque at the age of 35 to be a stadium operations intern.
Clint had also recruited my designated eater for the evening. You know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits. Today’s eater would be Megan Black, an Oregon native and girlfriend of Isotopes groundskeeper Casey Griffin. In the above photo, Megan is mid-bite on a Lasorda Dog: two hot dogs, deep-fried jalapenos, bacon, sour cream, and cheese in a flour tortilla. “The bacon’s really good with it, though I guess it’s a little fatty if you want to get technical,” said Megan. “This thing, it’s got a good kick to it.”
Next up was the Tortilla Burger, available at the team’s “items with self-explanatory names” kiosk. Megan was a little taken aback, saying, “I don’t know, it’s a lot of meat….the fries are good.” Casey soon chipped in, adding that “it almost tastes like meat loaf. The meat’s real tender and good, but a little plain.”
Pizza’s not the most exciting item to photograph and write about, but the Isotopes offer Dion’s at the ballpark. Dion’s is a well-respected local chain, and, I’ve gotta say, it looked far better than your average slice of ballpark pizza. “Okay, it’s really good,” is all that Megan had to say about Dion’s. The view from our second-level location was really good as well. Finally, we went back inside for some Bananas Foster, which I don’t believe I had ever seen at a ballpark before. I’m not exactly sure what was in this Isotopes mini-helmet rendition, though it must have been some combination of bananas, ice cream, brown sugar, cinnamon, liqueur, and (of course) whipped cream. (In retrospect I should have walked down to the stand where these were being made, as there was some flambe action going on.) Megan and Casey were less than thrilled by this poorly lit “romantic” photo, but I can’t resist including it. Although I couldn’t immediately ascertain whether or not the Bananas Foster were gluten-free, I went ahead and gave it a try (when in doubt, I should NOT try something, but I guess I don’t always follow that rule). I’ve never liked bananas in any context, really, but that was a great dessert!
And with dessert concluded, it was time to say goodbye to Megan and Casey and move upward and onward — to the broadcast booth with Josh Suchon! After a pleasant inning on the air chatting with Josh about the start of another season of Minor League travel, I peeked my head into the control room. Everything was copacetic. For whatever reason, I seem to have a habit of visiting teams on “off” nights when it comes to attendance. This game took place on a Monday, and it was freezing! The temperature was in the low 40s once the sun went down, with winds whipping about at approximately 35 miles an hour. Hence, a pretty small crowd. I needed to move in order to stay warm, so I moved on down into the tunnel adjacent to the third base dugout. Clint had invited me to “help” drag the infield. I’ve dragged the infield a couple of times before — generally as part of a dance routine — but for whatever reason I still felt a little nervous prior to taking the field. But it was like riding a bike, in that once you get out there you just have to rely on muscle memory.
What form! What skill! What daintily-fitting tapered-leg jeans! I forget what led to what, and it’s barely documented, but I soon ended up in a mascot race dressed as “Green Chile.” I did not win. That bottle of salsa was, like, way ahead of me. Lost within the bowels of the stadium after the race, I happened upon this awesome painting. Dancin’ Homer! After getting situated again amid the general population, I opted for some dinner. One of the main concession stands had a promising (albeit) vague sign advertising a “gluten-free sandwich.” I got one. It was a turkey sandwich, apple, and a bag of chips. Good for what it was, I suppose, and certainly better than nothing. I appreciated that it was on offer in the first place. But, thinking long-term, my opinion is that gluten-free ballpark food should adhere as closely to food that people usually want at a ballpark. This might not be feasible in all situations, but with a little bit of effort regarding inventory and staff training it is possible to offer gluten-free hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, nachos, beer and more at the ballpark. Please, make it happen if you’re not making it happen already. My fellow celiacs will thank you, and even shake your hand so long as you are not made of wheat.
Off of my soapbox, for the time being, I did a lap around the stadium. It was the ninth inning, and it was cold and deserted throughout the park (save for a cluster of hardcore fans behind home plate). While I was wandering, the Isotopes plated a run in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game at 3-3. The game ended up going into extra innings, which I commemorated by wandering into the team store. Orbit says welcome. This is the team’s standard Simpsons-inspired logo. But the team also pays homage to Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston is a fan of the team, and while the show was filming in Albuquerque he helped organize celebrity softball tournaments. (Unfortunately, there was nary a Weird Al homage to be found in the team store. Nonetheless, Albuquerque remains one of the best songs he ever wrote!)
Finally, one can buy a copy of a book that Traub co-authored, Dave Rosenfield’s Baseball: One Helluva Life.
Rosenfield has his own Simpsons connection, as the MiLB.com article that you already read made clear: “Dancin’ Homer,” the episode in which the Springfield Isotopes were first introduced, was written by former Norfolk Tides broadcaster Ken Levine. Levine drew on his experiences with the Tides in writing the episode, and Tides general manager Dave Rosenfield even makes a cameo (in name only) as the owner of the rival Capital City Capitals.
But anyway, for the first time all night I decided to just sit down and relax. When the Isotopes make the call to the bullpen, this bullpen cart is driven around the field. I don’t think any pitchers ever ride in it, though. Despite the fact that a game had been going on for almost four hours, Homer still had his sights oriented away from the field. The Salt Lakes Bees reminded me of a cartoon at this point, in that their infield was “drawn in.” The drawn-infield wasn’t able to prevent the run from scoring, as Jamie Romak hit a single to score Miguel Rojas with the winning run.
And that, my friends, was all she wrote. She being me, and this blog post being that which got wrote. I hope you found it to be more than a rote effort, and are excited (or at least mildly curious) about the dozens of “On the Road” posts that are still to come this season.
The next post in this “On the Road” blogging series will feature the El Paso Chihuahuas. It is scheduled to run on Smarch 16.
This post, the 748th in the the history of this blog, will be the last you ever hear from me…
But, of course, I will be back. For if there is someone out there who can resist the siren call of writing about the same subject in perpetuity at levels of increasing stagnation, that person is not I. With that being the case, let’s end the year on a high note….
It’s time for the second edition of the Ben’s Biz Twitter Top Ten! The purpose of such an endeavor is to provide a compendium of the most intriguing @BensBiz tweets and re-tweets of the past week (or three weeks, in this case). The tweets, as they appeared on Twitter, are italicized. Let’s get to it!
10. Please re-frame in the form of a question
Here’s how it went down:
9. You be the judge
8. Just sayin’ is all
Mike Cameron signs w/
@Nationals, but he’s no stranger to the area. Spent ’94 w/Prince William Cannons, where 17 of 116 hits were triples!
If he had maintained that triples rate in his Major League career, he’d currently have amassed 250 (good enough for fourth all time, just two behind Honus Wagner).
7. I really would frame this
6. This was in response to the question of “What MiLB theme nights would you like to see?”
Lehigh Valley IronWarPigs! RT
@andyshal: Black Sabbath night in Allentown! Bill Ward as home plate ump. Ozzy on PA. Concert after the game.
“IronManPigs” would also be acceptable.
5. Another One
Rides Waits For the Bus
Great idea: seats from Indianapolis’ Bush Stadium installed at city bus stops: http://indy.st/selEY9
4. Someone out there needs to stage “Free Eye Pad” night, advertising it heavily on the radio.
3. Use your doppel radar
Well, do you?
2. What does it mean?
1. Effect and Cause
I hope you enjoyed this most recent edition of the @BensBiz Twitter Top 10. I’m almost out of 2011 material, but not quite yet….
For what better way would there be to end the year than with a video of a mascot tackling a Christmas tree?
Actually, there’s one better way. For nothing says “holiday season” like a team-produced “Twas the Night Before Christmas” parody.
And that, as they say, will be that. Thanks for sticking with me throughout a (generally) action-packed 2011, and here’s to an ennui-free 2012!
Team president Alan Stein was listening to venerable sports radio duo Mike and Mike yesterday morning, and his ears perked up upon hearing…this:
After ESPN’s NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy kiddingly suggested that his
television crew should interview fans about their thoughts on the first
half of a game, Mike and Mike’s producers put together some staged
“interviews” with fans. Mike Golic suggested on the air that somebody
might like that idea and pilfer it.
If there’s one thing that Minor League teams excel at, it’s pilfering ideas. So, you can see where this is going:
At each of the Omaha Royals’ 72 home games this season, the Royals
will use a half-inning break for a “Mike and Mike Fan Mic” – going into
the crowd at Rosenblatt Stadium and asking fans what they think about
the game, how cold their beer is, or whatever else they want to chat
As Golic suggested on air and as Stein recognizes, you should have
to pay for a good idea. So, the Royals are preparing to send a contract
to Mike and Mike at their ESPN home in Bristol, Connecticut offering to
pay them – as Stein termed it in his Kentucky drawl – “a dollar a
holler.” In other words, Mike and Mike’s producers earned them the tidy
sum of $72 this year.
$72 is nothing to sneeze at, because no one wants to handle money with mucus on it. But in all seriousness, I really like the idea of a daily “fan mic half-inning.” It will result in a virtual mountain of comedic moments, intentional and otherwise, and I’m hoping that the highlights of this experiment wind up on YouTube.
Along similar lines, I would like to suggest a recurring between-inning skit in which a front office member dresses up as Wendy Williams and dispenses relationship advice to the fans.
In other news…
— The Wall St. Journal ran an item today on the Peoria Chiefs’ new fantasy baseball initiative (the club is renting out O’Brien Field suites for the purpose of conducting fantasy drafts). Word on the street is that an unnamed influential Minor League “biz”-ness blogger helped facilitate the club’s national exposure…
— The Tacoma Rainiers have announced extensive renovation plans for Cheney Stadium. This will be the facility’s first major uplift in over fifty years, and will cost an estimated $30 million. The targeted completion date is Opening Day 2011.
— But when it comes to stadium improvements, it will be tough to top the Albuquerque Isotopes latest additions:
— February 27th was “National Pig Day”, and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs celebrated by putting single-game tickets on sale. Despite the poor weather, the Lehigh Valley faithful flocked to the event, with the first person in line arriving at 4 a.m.(!)
This was far better than my personal National Pig Day celebration, which consisted of eating bacon alone in a diner while listening to the man in the booth across from me break off his wedding engagement via cell phone.
I hope everyone enjoys their weekend. Don’t forget that Saturday is National Frozen Food Day, and that Sunday marks 77 years of Monopoly.
Also, you would have watched the “Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice!” that aired last night on Fox. In said special, there was a brief shot of Isotopes Park, home of the PCL’s Albuquerque Isotopes. The team’s name is inspired by The Simpsons, in particular the episode in which Homer stages a hunger strike in order to protest the Springfield Isotopes’ re-location to Albuquerque.
In my mind, this is the best team name backstory in all of Minor League Baseball. It also provides tremendous fodder for a documentary whose purpose is to explore the cultural impact of The Simpsons. But, alas, all viewers were treated to was one external shot of the stadium. This was disappointing, considering the fact that director Morgan Spurlock and his crew spent an entire August day at the ballpark interviewing fans and players. But that’s just the way these things go. Hopefully the club will get the recognition it deserves in 2020’s 30th Anniversary special.
In the interest of keeping things random, I’ll now move on to an entirely new topic: The Brooklyn Cyclones. The club will be celebrating its 10th season in 2010, and has just released a new logo commemorating this milestone. Observe, if you’re into that sort of thing:
The Cyclones’ always excellent blog has an interesting write-up on the logo, along with an exclusive look at those which did not make the final cut.
And speaking of logo design, I’d like to draw your attention to the just-launched Studo Simon blog. The Kentucky-based brand-identity firm has solidified itself as one of the top logo designers in all of Minor League Baseball, churning out crowd-pleasers such as THIS on a regular basis.
I shall close with yet one more nugget of random information: Chuck Smith has just been sworn in as mayor of Woodmere, Ohio. Smith pitched in the Minor Leagues for 15 seasons, and in 2008 served as pitching coach for the Lancaster JetHawks (he also spent time with the Florida Marlins in 2000 and 2001). Smith joins Yakima’s Dave Edler as the only mayor I can think of off the top of my head who had previously played professional baseball.
Who am I forgetting?