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.
I’ve been spending a lot of time recently looking at Minor League Baseball promotional schedules, as it is imperative that I know what’s going on once the season is underway. And if there’s one that I can say about Minor League Baseball promotional schedules, it’s this: They are not created equal. This post is dedicated to sharing the highlights off of some of the best 2015 promotional schedules I have perused thus far.
Fresno’s Pacific Coast League club, entering the first season of its “Growlifornia” marketing campaign, is calling this “the most comprehensive and diverse promotional schedule in the history of the club.” The Grizzly details:
Highlights include the Fresno Philharmonic Brass Quintet playing Star Wars music on Star Wars Night, the social experiment that is “Pay What You Want Night” and, most crucially, a Biz Markie “Sing-A-Long” during which the eccentric hip hop icon will lead the crowd in a stadium-wide rendition of “Just A Friend.” (Here’s hoping there will also be time for the Biz to do his version of “Bennie and the Jets.” Because I need to prove how cool I am, I’d like to note that I have a Biz Markie “Bennie and the Jets” flexi-disc 7″ that was included within the second issue of the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal magazine.)
And as if all of the above wasn’t enough — and isn’t it? — on Monday the Grizzlies unveiled their March Madness-style “Fresno Famous” bobblehead tourney. This is a great initiative, and clearly a lot of work was involved in order to make this a “thing.”
After careful perusal of the bracket, I have decided to endorse the “Waving Lady on 41” as my choice for the Fresno Famous bobblehead. Read all about her.
Remember last season when Myrtle Beach Pelicans general manager Andy Milovich sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while undergoing a prostate exam?
Milovich’s stunt garnered national attention and kickstarted an “Ice Bucket Challenge”-style in-game prostate exam trend within the industry. And now, on June 21st, the Pelicans are giving away this Father’s Day “Bobblefinger.” Note the sponsor:
Perhaps the Lehigh Valley IronPigs should be credited with an assist on this one, as the club has already established a tradition of giving away foam fingers on “Prostate Exam Awareness Night.”
Another highlight of the Pelicans’ promo schedule is July 26’s “Christmas Vacation in July.” The first 1000 fans receive a “Cousin Eddie-style alpine hat,” and the team will be wearing these Griswold-inspired jerseys.
Hey, Pelicans, you play in a tourism-centric town. As part of this promo, you should offer special discounts to fans visiting from Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Meanwhile, in Altoona, the always-innovative Curve have unleashed an array of superbly creative bobbleheads modeled after some of their most distinguished recent alumni.
Tony “Elementary” Watson:
.@AltoonaCurve promo sked also includes Punxatawney Phil bobblehead, complete w/ rare non-Groundhog’s Day appearance by the creature himself
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) February 23, 2015
Yeah, yeah. I know:
I spelled “Punxsutawney” wrong in my last tweet. I seem to do that over and over again, as if trapped within an endlessly repeating reality.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) February 23, 2015
While individual visuals are not available, I would also like to nod in the general direction of the Potomac Nationals. Their promo schedule is spectacular:
The P-Nats’ exceedingly verbose press release includes this passage on bobbleheads:
[Giveaways include] a Steven Souza Jr. “The Catch” figurine commemorating his no-hitter clinching web gem behind Washington Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann on the final day of the 2014 regular season (Saturday, June 13th), a Michael Taylor “Flattop” Major League Debut bobblehead with faux hair (Saturday, June 20th), a Wilson Ramos hybrid half-man, half-buffalo “Buff-A-rine” (Sunday, July 5th), The Goonies 30th Anniversary “One-Eyed Willie” bobblehead (Saturday, August 1st).
That Goonies promo is sure to be one of the most ballyhooed theme nights of the year. As you can see in the top left corner of the above graphic, Corey Feldman (who has probably aged a bit since that photo was taken) will be in attendance. There will also be the aforementioned “One-Eyed Willie” bobblehead, as well as theme jerseys and a post-game screening of the film.
And, not to be lost in the (truffle) shuffle, there’s this:
The P-Nats will also be hosting tentative “body improvement” nights including Hair Removal Night, Tattoo Appreciation Night, and Skin Tag Removal Night.
I’ll end this post with a Trigger warning: On June 18, the Round Rock Express are giving away this awesome bobblehead featuring Willie Nelson and his guitar:
It took me more than five months to get around to it, but please don’t mistake tardiness for a lack of interest. Today’s post looks back at one of 2014’s most notable Minor League promotions. It is mandatory that you read it:
Major League Baseball has long been concerned with the issue of parity, working to insure that there is a level competitive playing field across the sport. Minor League Baseball, meanwhile, is more concerned with the issue of parody. At no time was this more apparent than this past August 27, when the Altoona Curve staged a night in honor of consummate pop parodist (and one of my personal heroes) “Weird Al” Yankovic.
I have long advocated for a Minor League promotion of this nature (see HERE), and previewed the Curve’s promotion this past August. While there is no wrong time to honor the work of Mr. Yankovic, “Weird Altoona Night” occurred during a particularly noteworthy time of his career. From the Curve press release:
His “Mandatory Fun” album reached #1 on the Billboard pop charts recently and he’s now being championed by his fans to be the entertainment at next year’s Super Bowl. So, the time is right for the Altoona Curve, Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, to celebrate the success of Weird Al Yankovic with “Weird Al(Toona) Night” on Wednesday, August 27. At the same time, the team’s rally mascot, Al Tuna, will play a starring role on the night when the Curve play the Richmond Flying Squirrels in a 7 p.m. game at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
(Note: Please take a moment to appreciate the fact that the Curve play at a stadium named “Peoples Natural Gas Field.”)
I am happy to report that, soon after this promotion took place, the Curve got in touch with photos and a recap. As a result of having recently enjoyed a five-month nap, I am just getting to it now.
Curve director of creative services Mark Milligan writes:
Please see the pictures attached for some of our staff dressed as Weird Al and some sponsor slides that makes me question if I need my college degree for this.
So here we go. Here’s Curve general manager “Weird” Rob Egan, who apparently did the best he could with the wigs that were available from the promo supply closet.
This staffer — who I believe might be ticket associate Luke Johnson — didn’t even wear a wig. Weird Al purists were appalled.
Milligan also sent along the team’s “Weird Al” playlist for the evening. These songs were used for between-inning contests tailored to the “Weird Al” theme. (My commentary on each song is in parentheses.)
— Seat Upgrade – ‘Such a Groovy Guy’
This, a deep cut off of Al’s eponymous 1983 debut album, is an original composition in which Al reveals that his idea of romance involves “pouring chocolate pudding down your pants.” Regardless of the specifics, it is clear that a seat upgrade would make any fan feel groovy.
— Sheetz Shuffle (Find the ball under the hat on the videoboard) – ‘Bob’
This Bob Dylan-themed stylistic parody, from 2003’s Poodle Hat, inspired a spot-on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” parody video. The lyrics consist entirely of palindromes, and yet still sound quintessentially Dylan in content. “God, a red nugget, a fat egg under a dog/Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog.”
— Sheetz Tags (a social media to screen promotion) – ‘Word Crimes’
A parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” which transformed 2013’s misogynistic ear worm into an impassioned screed against flagrant grammar and syntax transgressions. An all-time classic Weird Al track (and video), and for my money the best song on Mandatory Fun.
— Gift Card Giveaway – ‘Bedrock Anthem’
This song is a parody of Red Hot Chili Peppers “Give It Away,” which would of course be far more apropos as regards this contest. Al’s version is about The Flintstones. It’s fine for what it is, but a much better classic TV-themed parody within Al’s oeuvre is 1990’s “Isle Thing” (Tone Loc’s Wild Thing, with lyrics about Gilligan’s Island).
— Minute to Win It (Twinkie Weiner Sandwich eating contest) – ‘Eat It’
“Eat It,” Weird Al’s best-known parody, makes sense in this context. But, given the name of the contest, the Curve could also have opted to go with the nostalgic balladry of 1985’s “One More Minute.” (One of my greatest fourth grade coups was convincing the bus driver to play this song on the way to school). In any case, the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich employed in this between-inning endeavor is a nod to this scene from the 1990 cult classic film UHF:
— Budweiser Thirst Inning – ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ performed by Frankie Yankovic
The Curve took some liberties with this one. While Al and Frankie are both famous accordion-playing Yankovics, they are not related to one another.
— Burrito Scream (burrito coupons given away to screaming fans) – ‘Tacky’
“Tacky,” a parody of Pharrell’s “Happy,” was the first single released off Mandatory Fun. If the team wanted to go deep on this one, they could have chosen the scream-laden midsection of “Nature Trail to Hell in 3D” (the closing song on In 3D).
— Grounds Crew dragging the infield – ‘Handy’
Well, why not? Grounds crew members are the handiest people in the ballpark. This, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” is the leadoff track on Mandatory Fun. “Hardware Store,” one of the strongest tracks off of Poodle Hat, would also have been an acceptable choice.
— T-shirt Launch – ‘Bohemian Polka’
This, off of 1993’s “Alapalooza,” is Al’s polka-fied rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Carry on, carry on.
— Birthday Announcements – “Happy Birthday” played on the accordion
I mean, sure, that works. But I’m very disappointed that the Curve passed on the opportunity to play Al’s “Happy Birthday,” in which birthday wishes are offered amid a dsytopian landscape of poverty, famine and nuclear armageddon. “Well what’s the matter, little thing? You think this party is the pits? Enjoy it while you can, we’ll soon be blown to bits!”
— Eye Ball Race (Hamster ball race) – ‘Rye or the Kaiser’
In which “Eye of the Tiger” is reconfigured, describing a post-retirement Rocky and his new life as a deli proprietor. But given that this is a hamster ball race, it’s a shame that a “Harvey the Wonder Hamster” reference wasn’t worked in at some point.
— Kiss Cam — ‘If That Isn’t Love‘
An Al original off of 2011’s Alpocalypse, in which he extols his gentlemanly bonafides (“I’ll kiss you even if you have omelettes for breakfast, and I can’t stand omelettes.”)
— Sing for Dairy – ‘Amish Paradise’
This, off of 1996’s Bad Hair Day, is one of Al’s best known parodies. The Curve milked it for all that it was worth.
Mascot Race – ‘Another One Rides the Bus’
My favorite Weird Al song of all time is this, a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Y’know, in case you weren’t aware, Al has been doing his thing for quite a while now.
Dessert in Curve, PA — ‘I Love Rocky Road‘
A perfect choice, of course. This, like “Another One Rides the Bus,” “Happy Birthday,” and “Such a Groovy Guy,” can be found on Al’s 1983 self-titled debut. It goes without saying that this album is an all-time classic, probably my favorite of all.
Fan Cam — “Polka Face”
Each Weird Al album includes a polka medley of (more or less) current Top 40 hits. This one, from 2011’s Alpocalypse, includes snippets from the likes of Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum and various other notable ladies (and gents).
Sweetfrog Selfie Winner – ‘Livin in the Fridge’
This is a parody of Aerosmith’s “Livin on the Edge.” I’m not sure what this song has to do with selfies, but I’ll trust the Curve’s judgement on this one.
Chili’s Delivery Dash – ‘Taco Grande’
This homage to Mexican food, from 1991’s Off the Deep End, is a perfect choice for a contest sponsored by Chili’s. “Taco Grande” is a Gerardo parody, not to be confused with Al’s Geraldo parody from the UHF film:
Angry Birds Ballpark – ‘I Can’t Watch This’
Another cut from Off the Deep End. This is a parody of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This,” in which Al rants against the banality of television.
When I started writing this blog post I really had no idea what I was that I was getting myself into, but I suppose that sentiment applies to most of life’s endeavors. At any rate, I hope that, in addition to illuminating my love for Weird Al, that this post illuminates how much detail must go into each and every Minor League Baseball promotion. I commend the Curve for the work they did on “Weird Altoona Night,” and hope that other teams follow suit in 2015 and beyond.
Until next time, I thank you for your continued support.
In all likelihood you haven’t yet digested — or even been aware of the existence of — yesterday’s full-to-bursting bouillabaisse post. But that’s not gonna stop me from delivering yet another heaping hodgepodge of worthwhile Minor League Baseball news, because that’s just the kind of guy I am: the kind of guy who cannot be stopped, or even contained, really. Lil B’s got nothing on me, for I am the #BouillabaissedGod!
The more perceptive among you may have noticed that yesterday’s post, full-to-bursting though it may have been, contained no videos. Today is not like yesterday, because it never is, and therefore today’s post will contain videos. Let’s get to them, starting with a significant bit of publicity for Lake Elsinore’s “World’s Fastest Squirrel.”
For more on the World’s Fastest Squirrel and the surreal world from which he emerged, kindly read my 2012 “Minoring in Business” article.
Another example of Minor League Baseball mascots in big-time roles can be found in “What the Phanatic Say?,” which features an impressive collection of Phillies-affiliated characters.
The above video, a parody of “What Does the Fox Say?”, is not to be confused with other such spoofs. THIS, for example, explains the fundamental tenets of Quakerism.
The Indianapolis Colts may have been eliminated from the playoffs, but that’s not going to stop me from sharing a video that was made before the postseason begun. This Christmas, Indianapolis Indians stalwart Matt Hague offered valuable sliding tutelage to his next door stadium neighbor Andrew Luck. Hilarity, or perhaps something bearing no small resemblance to hilarity, ensued.
If it’s outdated Indianapolis Indians comedic holiday content that you want, then it’s outdated Indianapolis Indians comedic holiday content that I’ve got!
And, let’s be honest here, if something’s funny then it has no expiration date. That’s my excuse for providing yet another piece of comedic holiday video content, this time courtesy of my old pals the Altoona Curve. Get psyched for The Pockster!
The “Pockster” is a parody of Conan O’Brien’s “Rublight” ad, which you absolutely must watch. There is no person who won’t find it funny. Or, if there is, I don’t want to know that person. And if I do know that person, then all ties are renounced effective immediately.
When it comes to Minor League Baseball blogging, I am the greatest of all time. But when it comes to the grapest Minor League entity of all time? That honor now belongs to the Reading Fightin Phils, whose mascot and star player competed against one another in a local grape-stomping competition because of course they did.
I’ve shared a lot of stupid videos with you today, resulting in more wonton absurdity then a surrealist painting of a Chinese restaurant. But I’m going to close this post with a video that is thoughtful, tasteful, personal, and passionate. I like it a lot, this heartfelt musical plea to preserve the former home of the Eugene Emeralds.
The fact that this song was written by one “Scoop McGuire” makes it that much better. Check out savecivicstadium.org for more info.
Over the last four months there has been plenty of content on this ol’ blog, from road trip retrospectives to Promo Seminar and Winter Meetings recaps to Job Seeker Journals to personal numerical milestones to re-branding round-ups to guest posts on attendance, Google stadium tours, and theoretical sports leagues. Just scroll through the archives! That, and much more, is all there for the (re)visiting.
But while I’ve continued to deliver the varied and indispensable content that one would expect from the Greatest Minor League Baseball Blog of All-Time (TM), one word has been missing from the conversation for nearly four months now. It is a word that is very dear to me, seeing as how it connotates an endlessly malleable approach to both topic and presentation.
Yep, today’s post is gonna be a bouillabaisse, a hodgepodge of Minor League news and notes that have been simmering together for quite some time on the pilot light that is my “blog topics” notebook page. As always, let’s hope that the sum is greater than its parts and, more importantly, that the remainder of this post (#1034 in Ben’s Biz history, for those keeping track at home) is less meandering and inconsequential than the intro. Not likely!
Let’s start at the top of the alphabet, as the always-reliable Altoona Curve have become the latest team to turn the oft-lackluster slugfest that is the All-Star Game Home Run Derby into something else entirely (see Quad Cities River Bandits, Reading Phillies, Charleston RiverDogs). Last month, the team announced “The Ghost Man Games Challenge.”
Ask almost anyone from any generation about a “ghost man” and it will conjure up childhood memories of playing baseball with imaginary base runners. The Altoona Curve (AA, Pirates) plan on bringing those ghost men to life as part of the 2014Eastern League All-Star Stop in Curve, Pa. on Tuesday, July 15. “The Curve, Pa. Ghost Man Games and Hitting Challenge” will cap an evening’s worth of activities at Peoples Natural Gas Field the day before the league’s annual All-Star Game.
Each division (Eastern vs. Western) will receive six ghost men and have the opportunity to earn up to 15 extra ghost men in five games leading up to the hitting challenge. The games include: Bubble Gum Blowing Challenge, Closest-to-the-Pin Flying Disc Toss, Mascot Mouth Accuracy Challenge, T-Shirt Cannon Catch, and Mascot Dodgeball Challenge. Each game will have three ghost men up for grabs.
Following the five, fast-paced games, three hitters for each division will take their hacks trying to hit home runs and doubles (anything that reaches the warning track on the fly). The trick will be how each division employs their ghost men ahead of home runs or doubles hit by the sluggers in order to score the most runs. Each hitter will get five outs before their turn or “inning” is finished. The divisions will take turns and play a three-inning contest.
You know what the above picture means? No segue!
Let’s move straight to the next item, which is this: the Nashville Sounds are playing their final season at Greer Stadium in 2014, and are commemorating it with this nifty logo:
It should read “37 seasons of hits,” if you want to get technical about it, but still: a cool logo. (And, with any luck, I’m hoping that 1978-2014 are not the dates that end up on my tombstone. Fingers crossed).
Meanwhile, on the other end of the birth-death continuum upon which we all reside, 2014 marks the Charlotte Knights’ first season in a brand-new downtown facility. This, too, has been commemorated in logo form, and it looks great. Joust great.
The Omaha Storm Chasers already have three mascots, a fact that, in the past, has been known to rile up ornery snarkhounds. Well, those of the curmudgeonly persuasion are going to go full-bore apoplectic once they hear of the team’s latest endeavor, as the Storm Chasers are adding three more mascots to the fold for 2014. These mascots are currently only identified via their silhouettes, such as this guy (who, if you read his character description, is clearly a piece of corn).
Each of these three characters needs a name, so click on the above link if you want to register your opinion. My three choices are Kernel Cobb, Cap-Tin, and Tony Bone.
A number of Minor League entities have dance teams that perform routines between innings, but this is even better: in 2014, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are going to have a drumline. It’s about time!
This 15-member drumline will be a featured act at 15 home games throughout the season. The Designated Hitters will welcome crowds in the parking lot at Coca-Cola Park before games, participate in player introductions and perform Drum Battles atop the dugouts after select innings later this season.
And for an example of even more unorthodox between-inning entertainment, please consider this from the IronPigs’ fellow PA denizens the Erie SeaWolves:
It might be cold out, but the Retirement Village People always keep it hot! Coming to a dugout top near you soon! pic.twitter.com/APcnk5U6Ck
— Erie SeaWolves (@erie_seawolves) January 6, 2014
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.)
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?
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:
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.
Speaking of theme jerseys, check out what the Omaha Storm Chasers wore during their Star Wars promo.
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.
Part one of this blogging odyssey, detailing Saturday’s packed-to-the-gills Altoona Curve vs. Pittsburgh Pirates exhibition game, was comprised of 1645 words and 39 photos. And, yet, by the time it ended I STILL hadn’t made it to the game’s first pitch.
It was just that kind of afternoon — so much was going on that it was hard to keep track of it all. A franchise record 10, 166 fans were in attendance, and the Curve used the occasion to announce a four-year extension of their affiliation with the Pirates and also let it drop that they would be hosting the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game. (I got tired just writing that sentence.)
But as for the action on the field, a casual “Go Everybody! (Just don’t get hurt!”) vibe prevailed. This sign on the concourse sums it up perfectly:
As for those fans that were welcomed back — there sure were a lot of them. As the game got underway, I took a lap around the grounds of People’s Natural Gas Field in order to get a sense of what the largest crowd in franchise history looked like. 10,166 Altoona Curve fans can’t be wrong.
I saw much during my wanderings, but perhaps my favorite example of creative sponsorship was this: signs such as the one below could be found at many staircases, reminding fans that they could burn (as many as 25) calories simply by walking up and down them.
Interesting signage abounds. The team has branded the ballpark as its own standalone town, Curve PA, which is represented in a consistently cartoonish fashion courtesy of resident artist/director of mascot and brand development Bill Bettwy.
First, for context’s sake, Curve PA’s immediate surroundings:
The GM recommends:
There is also the “Curverogie” — Ham, Pierogies, Onions, Cheese, and, crucially, more Ham.
The Curve are also well-known for their Curve Burgers, with several people telling me via Twitter last week that I needed to procure one. But here’s the thing, guys: I was diagnosed with celiac disease last year, and have been following a gluten-free diet for the last 10 months. This has severely limited my ballpark food options, a limitation I hope to overcome my recruiting a “designated eater” at each ballpark I visit.
But this trip to Altoona was Spring Training for me as well, and I wasn’t as prepared on the concessions front as I should have been. A designated eater had not been found, so no Curve Burgers were had. Instead, I ordered some BBQ Pork Nachos. (Which, in retrospect, were almost certainly not gluten-free. I really was off of my game.)
These nachos were great, as nachos by definition are great. (A quick aside: Standalone “Nacho Bar” concession areas are something I would love to see more teams do, as with a little thought they can accommodate gluten-free and vegetarian diets without seeming like some sort of sad consolation prize for those with restrictions.)
So, anyway, yeah — I did not get a Curve Burger, nor do I have any pictures of the Curve Burger. Someone please send me some pictures, and I will gladly post them along with your commentary regarding how good Curve Burgers are.
All of this culinary hand-wringing led me to seek refuge in the press box for a bit, as I cleared my head and plotted my next move.
And the next move was obvious: “Quit feeling sorry for yourself and get back out there!”
Earlier in the day I had been informed that an on-field “Mascot Mayhem” race would be taking place on the field after the fourth inning, involving characters from both the Curve and Pirates’ costumed character universe. I descended into the bowels of the stadium in order to find the mascots who would be participating, and knew I was on the right trail once I came across this “Only in Minor League Baseball” tableau.
It is not often that one sees Pierogies in their natural habitat!
I briefly caught a glimpse of the Pittsburgh Parrot as well…
Perhaps inevitably, I was soon recruited to be a “Mascot Mayhem” direct participant. I might not be able to eat hot dogs in this gluten-free reality (at least not with the bun), but I can damn sure dress up as them. It was really hard to document anything once I was in the costume, but I did manage this hot dog selfie:
A Hot Dog eye view of the game action:
As for the “Mayhem” itself, I have no idea what happened. I just tried to avoid Steamer, Tenacious, the Pirate Parrot and everyone else in the cavalcade of pierogies, sumo wrestlers, and jousters streaming past me. I was winded afterwards, and keenly aware of my need to get in shape for the oncoming mascot race season. Anyone have a workout plan to recommend?
Still panting, and with the hot dog costume removed (physically, if not psychically), I made it back to the concourse just in time to see Curve GM Rob Egan, Eastern League president Joe McEacharn and Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner take the field to make a VERY SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT.
Down in front!
What this esteemed troika of Minor League personnel was on the field to announce was this: The Curve will host the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game.
Perhaps the Eastern League All-Star Game is out for vengeance? The last time the Curve hosted the event, in 2006, they set a franchise record by drawing 9,308 fans and this record was broken during Saturday’s exhibition game. Will the 2014 version of the contest set the record anew?
“To announce [the All-Star Game] on a very special day like this reinforces the commitment this franchise has made to the community,” said McEacharn, and his sentiments summed up the spirit of the afternoon. Between the All-Star Game announcement and the announcement made earlier in the day that the Curve and Pirates affiliation had been extended until 2018, Saturday was all about celebrating and re-affirming what the Curve have accomplished throughout their 15 seasons of existence.
I’d write more on all of this, but, man, it just smells so good around here. It’s the nuts!
Seriously, these things are just fantastic. Seeing them there in the roasting pan, glistening in their own juices, almost brought a tear to my (metaphorically) jaundiced eye.
Less successful was the edible sand being sold down by the kid’s Fun Zone, but I have faith that, over time, the fans will come to see the brilliance of this innovative product. Why go against the grain?
Or maybe at this point there was simply too much dessert going around. Here’s Steamer throwing Kit Kats into the crowd at the conclusion of the seventh inning.
The Curve put the finishing touches on their 8-6 victory over Pittsburgh just a few innings later, providing incredulous joke fodder for days to come. “The Pirates can’t even beat their own Minor League team?”
But, on this afternoon, it didn’t matter to anyone who won or lost. All that mattered is that they played the game.
March 30’s exhibition game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and their Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve was, in one sense, meaningless. The Curve won 8-6, and would have won by more if Tony Watson hadn’t surrendered a second-inning grand slam to Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte. Watson pitched for the Curve in the ballgame even though he is actually on the Pirates, but it was a uniform that was familiar to him. He last suited up for the Curve in 2010, one year before — drumroll, please — Starling Marte.
Such absurdities are common in exhibition contests that pit MLB team vs. affiliate — everybody knows everybody, the uniforms often seem interchangeable, and the main objective for those on the field is not to get hurt. After all, “real” baseball is right around the corner.
But, yet, one could also make the case that this Saturday afternoon contest — played in almost impossibly idyllic Spring conditions, especially considering that Altoona received six inches of snow earlier in the week — was one of the most meaningful in the Curve’s 15-year history. A franchise-record 10,166 fans packed People’s Natural Gas Ballpark (formerly known as Blair County Ballpark), eager to see their Major League heroes compete within intimate Minor League environs. And, yes, while it is essentially a central Pennsylvania metropolis there can be no doubt that Altoona’s sporting loyalties lie with their far-west Steel City brethren. This is a region that roots for Pittsburgh through and through, taking no small amount of pride in seeing its hometown Curve players (Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Marte, Josh Harrison and many more) elevate themselves to positions of PNC Park prominence.
Saturday, then, was a triumphant homecoming as well as a chance to celebrate and — spoiler alert! — extend a long-running symbiotic relationship. Altoona made the most of it.
I arrived in Altoona at noon, after a Starbucks and bad radio-fueled drive from the Philadelphia area that included a rest stop nap as well as a shocking toll charge of $19.55 for the privilege of driving on the Pennsylvania turnpike. Although the first pitch was still more than two hours away upon my arrival, the fans were already out in full force.
I unfortunately arrived too late for the designated clubhouse media sessions with the Pirates players, in which I invariably would have asked Curve alumni for thoughts on their (presumably triumphant) return to Altoona. But, for that kind of content, I kindly refer you to the team website. Take it away, Jared Hughes! And you too, Pedro Alvarez!
Being “media,” I was able to bypass the long lines seen above. But, upon walking by the hoi polloi, I did witness a security guard prevent a man from bringing an empty water bottle into the stadium. “You mean I can’t have my spitter?” the man said incredulously.
I don’t know what I was expectorating, but the scene upon entering the ballpark was truly beautiful. The sun was shining, the grass was green, and U2’s “Beautiful Day” was playing on the PA. I’m generally not a fan of Bono’s brand of messianic uplift, but it was most apropos: “Beautiful Day” over the p.a., beautiful day in PA!
Josh Harrison, who spent the entirety of 2010 with the Curve, was particularly accessible.
During his time with the Curve, Harrison used a rap song written by his brother as his walk-up music. The song, entitled “I’m the Man,” was played for Harrison’s at-bats during the exhibition as well.
While on the field I ran into Adam Erikson, an Altoona radio DJ who will be working as an on-field emcee for the Curve this season.
I hadn’t seen Adam in four years, but we will always bonded by a common semi-traumatic experience. In 2009 we were both contestants in the Curve’s “Outstanding Fan Competition” which involved determining who could continuously touch a life-size bobblehead mascot for the longest amount of time. That’s Erikson, touching Steamer, on the top right.
Me, far left, among those touching Diesel Dawg (my foot was on the base of the statue, promise).
I spent a few moments reminiscing about days past whilst looking longingly into the middle distance, but was broken out of this midday reverie after noticing that players from both teams were trudging toward the outfield. It was picture time!
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle also proved himself adept at the middle distance gaze.
This dude from “Moments Photography” was all business when it came to setting up the shot. Like a Wall Street dominatrix, he had no problem ordering millionaires around.
After lining up a bunch of Curve players and getting them to sit Indian-style, he then proceeded to assemble a row of Pirates.
Mr. Moments Photography kept yelling “Knees, knees, knees, knees, knees” at the Pirate players in the second row, so that they would, you know, kneel. This prompted one player to respond with “That’s what she said!” before retracting the joke in confusion.
From chaos, order:
In which the takers become the taken:
Smile! Or not.
Now here’s where you’ve really got to appreciate good game-day planning. The players’ walk from the outfield back to their respective dugouts was routed down the right field line, where a contingent of local Miracle League players was waiting to high-five them, followed by a quartet of disconcertingly fresh-faced servicemen (who later presented the colors during the National Anthem).
Players high-five, mascots hug. Mascots win.
Pretty much apropos of nothing, but while walking back along the perimeter of the playing field I passed the Pirates (read: visitors) dugout and was very much impressed, both aesthetically and practically speaking, with this trainer’s medicine chest that was propped open on the bench.
Hopefully coming soon(ish) to an obsessive-compulsive Minor League Baseball blog near you: a post detailing the anatomy of a trainer’s medicine chest.
Coming now: a photo of a man with a neck tattoo signing an autograph for a child with a mohawk. Norman Rockwell, 21st century-style!
But A.J. Burnett wasn’t the biggest name to be found at People’s Natural Gas Field. Have you guys ever heard of, oh, I don’t know, Jay Leno?
Actually, that’s Curve mascot Tenacious (the Curve have a lot of mascots), who soon decided to photo-bomb me with his prodigious gut.
Prodigious guts aside, you may have noticed that there is a roller coaster beyond the outfield fence. It is called “The Skyliner,” and is part of an independently-run amusement area called Lakemont Park which also boasts THE OLDEST ROLLER COASTER IN THE WORLD.
Why the Curve don’t have a concession item called “The Skyliner” is a question for another day. A question for now: what Curve-turned-Pirate did broadcaster Mike Passanissi interview during his on-field pre-game show?
That would be Jeff Locke, who during his time with the Curve had a promotion staged in his honor that dealt explicitly with his Lost fandom. Also, he had his intro music chosen by fans via Twitter so that he would never again feel the taint of Lil Jon.
Jeff Locke, ladies and gentleman! Or, to be more specific: Jeff Locke upon being paid a visit by his favorite Curve mascot Al Tuna.
Al Tuna, like Wilmington’s Mr. Celery or State College’s Nookie Monster, is one of those elusive sort of mascots who only appear in-game when the home team scores. But, this being Curve vs. Pirates, he appeared on behalf of BOTH teams in this ballgame. Like a bluebanded goby, Al Tuna is a fish that can go both ways.
More sure of his allegiance is the Pittsburgh Parrot, seen here having a catch with a kid in the stands.
More specifically — a kid with a sweet pill-box hat and rigid follow-through on his throwing motion.
Also boasting an exemplary follow-through motion is Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner, who not only boasts first pitch-throwing prowess — he wears a leather jacket while doing it.
Donnie Iris — Pittsburgh rock legend, National Anthem singer, and consummate jacket-wearer — was impressed.
Donnie would soon have his moment to shine, but first — “World Series-style” team introductions!
But even after this well-calibrated hullabaloo, it still wasn’t Donnie’s time to shine. Curve GM Rob Egan took the field, flanked by a coterie of VIPs, in order to make the announcement that the Pirates and Curve had extended their affiliation another four years. It will now run until the fantastical-sounding year 2018 (during which I will turn 40).
The announcement was made by Curve owner Bob Lozinak, Curve General Manager Rob Egan, Pirates President Frank Coonelly and Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington ….Altoona, which at the end of its previous agreement would have already become the longest-standing Pirates affiliate in the modern era, will strengthen its hold on that mark having been affiliated with the Pirates for 20 consecutive seasons at the end of the newest agreement (1999-2018).
A standing-room only crowd is definitely the best time to make such an announcement. Here’s Coonelly thanking “the best fans” in Minor League Baseball (159 teams disagree, of course, but Curve fans are pretty impressive).
Donnie then sang to the fans, a fitting culmination to a series of touching moments.
That’s life-size bobblehead Diesel Dawg for ya — incessant cranial undulation, but otherwise inert. I missed the guy.
And, hopefully, you missed me writing blog entries such as this. It is now the season! Part Two from Altoona coming soon!
Have you ever tried to monitor the actions of 160 entities on a daily basis? That’s basically what my job is here at MiLB.com, and please believe me when I say that it can be overwhelming! Keeping track of a such a vast industry exacerbates my already quite pronounced OCD-tendencies, and leads to notebook pages such as the following:
All of this is to say — it’s time to turn the page! But before doing so, please enjoy this bouillabaisse blog post consisting entirely of news items seen on the above notebook page. Y’know, topics that I’ve kept meaning to get around to but never did (or at least never did outside of the Twitter realm).
So here you go — no segues, just news news news!
Would you believe that the Hudson Valley Renegades have not one but TWO former MLB pitchers on their front office staff? Joe Ausiano (1994-95 Yankees) has long been with the team, and he has now been joined by Rob Bell (who played for four teams over seven big league seasons). Bell, now 36, will serve as a sales account executive.
Hudson Valley: home of Minor League Baseball’s best front office softball team?
The Iowa Cubs have long prided themselves on conducting the most irreverent website polls in MiLB, but decided not to continue with the practice after their site underwent an extensive re-design (as nearly all team sites have done of late, courtesy of the tech wizards here at MLBAM).
But, rest assured, they went out on top of their poll game!
You may recall my recent post on Minor League Front Office Cliches, in which one of the cliches mentioned was “We wear a lot of hats.” This prompted @Interstate19Cap to reply, via Twitter: “I wear a lot of hats. Haha! I should work in MiLB.”
He also attached a picture of his formidable hat wall. Not quite at a St. Pete level, but close!
You may or may not be aware of my most recent “Ben’s Bookshelf” column, which had a Black History Month angle.
I recommend all six of the titles shown above (read the article, linked to above), but there’s far more where that came from. Check out this bookshelf pic, sent to me via Twitter by @BeesGal_SLC, and marvel at its thoroughness.
That reminds me — I really should read Curt Flood’s book!
On the promotion front — this, from the Altoona Curve, is worthy of attention. April 11 will be BOpening Night, a tribute to batboy Bo Forney who passed away earlier this month at the age of 21.
From the team:
Bo has been an inspiration to many with the way he lived,” said Curve General Manager Rob Egan. “He had the rare ability to make anybody who came in contact with him feel better. Bo was such a positive person, loved life, and truly enjoyed people. We miss him deeply and look forward to celebrating his life on ‘BOpening Night’ and throughout the season.”
A silent auction will take place during BOpening Night with all proceeds from the auction benefitting the American Heart Association. The auction will consist of game-used items from the Pirates-Curve Exhibition game and will include, in addition to other items, 14-game used jerseys that have been signed by former Curve players /current Pirates players.
To commemorate the life of Forney, a patch with Bo’s cartoon likeness will be affixed to all bat boys uniforms throughout the 2013 season. The Forney family will also be in attendance for BOpening Night and will throw out ceremonial first pitches prior to the game. A moment of silence will be held in Bo’s honor prior to the game as well.
This reminds me of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who last season held a ballpark service for vendor Brock Calmes. Events like these help to illustrate the deep bonds that form within Minor League Baseball ballparks, and just how meaningful the presence of Minor League Baseball within a community can be.
Last week, the Tacoma Rainiers let it be known that anyone willing to purchase 350 Opening Weekend ticket deals would receive this pyramid of Dustin Ackley bobbleheads. I don’t think that anyone took them up on it.
Next I’d like to give a shoutout to Spikes, intrepid mascot for your (or at least someone’s) Rochester Red Wings. He joins Rocky of the Wilmington Blue Rocks as the only mascots (that I am aware of) to take part in a Polar Plunge for charity.
During all 10 of their Friday night home games this season, the Charlotte Knights will be wearing 1990 throwback uniforms. Luxuriate in this image!
This initiative was inspired by the fact that 2013 will be the team’s last at Knights Stadium. 1990 was the first. Sez the team:
The jerseys, which were worn by the inaugural Knights Stadium Team in 1990, will now be worn by the current Knights team during the new “Flashback Fridays” series, which is set to commemorate 24 years of history at Knights Stadium.
To return to philanthropic endeavors, the Erie SeaWolves are now at the tail end of their “Drive to Five” initiative.
The most pertinent of the details:
Through February 28, the Erie SeaWolves will donate $25 to United Way for each new full-season ticket package purchased. If 100 new season ticket packages are purchased, the SeaWolves will double the contribution – raising $5,000 to help United Way achieve its goal to reduce poverty in our region.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys detailed analysis of industry-wide attendance figures, then you’re going to love the Number Tamer. Nobody does it better! (Or, if someone does, I’m certainly not aware of it).
As you may be aware, one of this year’s most ill-fated sporting ventures occurred in Williamsport, PA. The Federal Hockey League’s Outlaw franchise set up shop at outdoor Bowman Field (longtime home of the Crosscutters), an idea that may sound cool in theory but turned out to be a unmitigated financial disaster. The team pulled the plug on the season mid-way through, leaving everyone in the lurch, and once this happened the Crosscutters offered a quick response via this local newspaper ad:
This seems like a disaster waiting to happen, but nonetheless I encourage you like Lancaster JetHawks mascot KaBoom on Facebook. Here’s why:
Speaking of inadvisable mascot feats, here’s a picture of Lake County’s Skipper, immediately after “Tackling the Tower.”
“Tackling the Tower” isn’t some sort of euphemism, but an annual stair-climbing event with (of course) philanthropic intent. Good work, Skipper!
And, my goodness, this notebook page still has a lot of stuff on it. This post is gonna be a two-parter.
Everything I do, I do it for you.
I’m a big Jamie Moyer fan, and even write about him from time to time. He was born fairly close to my Pennsylvania hometown, for starters, and his sister was my music teacher in fourth and fifth grade. (I ditched safety patrol in fifth grade to get his autograph, and wish that I still had that particular piece of paper. It said “To Ben — Best Wishes.”) That he went on to play for the Phillies, whom I rooted for growing up, was an added bonus.
So all of this is to say that I’m in total support of a Pennsylvania team staging a promotion in honor of the 49-year-old’s latest (and therefore greatest) accomplishment. Tonight, this is going down in Altoona:
Nothing like quoting from a press release on a fine April morning. I’m gonna do so extensively:
The magic number through Moyer’s pursuit of history has been his age, 49, one tick below his jersey number 50. Paying homage to the ageless southpaw, the Curve will offer $4.90 individual Diamond Club seats and a pair of Grandstand seats for the same price on Thursday night.
Additionally, any Curve fans in attendance wearing 49ers gear of any team-from San Francisco’s NFL team to UNC Charlotte to Long Beach State-will get into the series opener with Richmond for free, as will fans wearing any jersey from one of Moyer’s eight MLB clubs over his 25-year career….anyone from America’s 49th state, Alaska, which achieved statehood just three years and ten months before Moyer’s birth, and any fan rocking stirrups emulating the lefty’s notable leg wear of choice.
In tribute to the beginnings of this baseball legend, the Curve will offer free Thursday night admission to anyone named Jamie or Moyer, anyone hailing from Souderton or Sellersville, and anyone with a Saint Joseph’s University ID card….Thursday night, the Curve will hold a special postgame Ball Launch with all money raised for the event going to the Jamie Moyer Foundation.
“This is a truly remarkable achievement for Jamie Moyer,” said Curve General Manager Rob Egan. “If we can celebrate it, have fun with it, and raise some funds and awareness for the Moyer Foundation, so much the better. I’m just a little worried we might giveaway all of our tickets to people in the northern part of Cambria County as the name Moyer is like Smith in that part of our region.”
Among other notable facts and figures in the remarkably loquacious release is this: Curve manager P.J. Forbes went 0-for-3 against Moyer in 1998, when the former was a 30-year-old Oriole rookie and the latter a 36-year-old Mariner. Being a nerd about this kind of thing, I took it upon myself to find the game in question. It was July 26, and Jamie earned the win after allowing four runs over seven innings of work. And not only did P.J. go 0-for-3, but these were the first at-bats of his Major League career! He finally got his first hit on July 31, collecting an RBI single against Jose Rosado of the Royals.
14 years later, Jamie is still pitching while P.J. is a Double-A manager and subject of an MiLB.com “Photo of the Year.”
So, anyway, it’s 565 words later and here we are. In my next post it’ll be brevity or bust, promise.