The reasons that I write this blog are multifaceted, and hopefully you read it for multifaceted reasons as well. But, since the beginning, one of the primary reasons for its existence has been to highlight new ideas within the world of Minor League Baseball. Therefore, I’d like to share a very cool new idea with you:
The Stockton Ports have a new page on their website that allows fans to browse through an assortment of game day programs and scorecards from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. Currently 12 such historical documents have been uploaded, using a digital publishing platform called Issuu. Click on the above link for access to all 12 documents; what follows is my attempt to embed a game day program from 1969. Wish me luck!
I am now operating under the assumption that the above embed was successful. (I won’t know for sure until I hit “publish.”) Regardless, please know that page eight of the game day program which you may or may not see above contains a picture of Ron Shelton when he was a member of the Ports. Shelton has gone on to a successful career as a movie director, and, surely, his time in Stockton must have had some influence on his 1988 classic Bull Durham.
And surely, the Ports’ decision to share historic team publications in an easy-to-access manner will have a wide influence on the world of Minor League Baseball. Those things are really fun to look at, and the ads alone are worth the price of admission.
Note: I am now aware that my embed attempt was unsuccessful. Please know that I tried, and please click on the above link.
My segue game is weak today, but here goes: while the above Ports’ initiative involves that which occurred a long time ago, the below photo involves something THAT NEVER HAPPENED AT ALL.
— Alex Freedman (@azfreedman) February 19, 2014
Mr. Freedman, a long-time contributor to my criminally overlooked “Crooked Numbers” column, tweeted the above picture because the Toledo Mud Hens were in fact the losers of the 2006 Championship Showdown. (As all sports fans know, the Tucson Sidewinders beat Toledo by a score of 4-2.) This makes that t-shirt the Minor League Baseball equivalent of Chicago Bears Super Bowl XLI Champions apparel, which is almost certainly being worn somewhere in Africa as I type this.
My segue game is now non-existent. In fact:
Finally, here’s a link to an interview I did recently. I never say no to interview requests, so get in touch if you’re into that sort of thing.
During last month’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla, I got the chance to interview Bull Durham director Ron Shelton regarding the adaptation of that film into a musical. My article on that can be read HERE, but in today’s post I’d like to focus on one of the interview “outtakes.”
As my final question, I asked Shelton the following:
Considering the success of Bull Durham, have you ever considered re-visiting Minor League Baseball in the 21st century? Are there any new stories to tell?
It’s gone so corporate that it’s sort of become uninteresting. It’s great still for the players; it’s as unromantic and shaggy dog if you’re living in that world now. But the front offices of the Minor Leagues used to be as shaggy as the game on the field, but now that’s very different. It’s here [the Baseball Winter Meetings]. You can see it.
I remember a team that was owned by a guy who owned a local bread company in Stockton. That was the year we did 10,000 [fans] for the season. He only invested a few grand and lost every nickel of it, and was looking for someone to bail him out. That was the way it used to be.
Now it’s part of a big thing, but if you go to the games, it’s the same. Players, they don’t make any money, the dreams, trying to get dates with the local girls and not get in trouble if the local girl’s dad was the cop. That is exactly the same. And the fear factor, you know – you’re a star and you sign out of high school or [junior college] or college, then get to the Minor Leagues and realize it’s a nasty, brutal, tough world. An injury, or one bad season, and the number one pick, even if he’s just as good as you, he’s going to be given five years to fail while you’ve got one.
All that has not changed and never will, which is glorious.
I think that Shelton’s take on the current state of the industry is indicative of a larger issue, in that success is generally not very interesting from a story-telling perspective. And to a large extent, I share that perspective when it comes to my own writing. (For example, exploring the ramshackle absurdity of Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Stadium is far more interesting to me than wandering around the gleaming concourse of Birmingham’s $64 million downtown ballpark amid long lines of screaming kids).
But Shelton is also romanticizing a failed business model, as well as his own memories of competing in the Minor Leagues (he played in the Orioles farm system from 1967-71, including several seasons with the bread company-backed Stockton team referenced in the interview). I believe that the Minor Leagues’ gradual rise from 1960’s obsolescence is a story worth telling, and even within today’s more “corporate” front office environs there are “shaggy dog” stories aplenty. The aforementioned Bakersfield Blaze, sure, but also everything from volunteer-run Appy League teams to down-on-their-luck Triple-A franchises to lame duck Southern League entities. Not to mention the irreverent promotional strategies that are still employed at all levels of the Minors, with various levels of enthusiasm and results.
Shelton could very well be right that the Minor League front offices of today aren’t as compelling or quirky as those that could be found some 40 or 50 years ago. But if that’s the price you’ve gotta pay for success, then so be it. If teams were still run by a motley collection of in-debt-to-their-eyeballs local merchants, then I wouldn’t have a job. And, if you work in baseball, chances are that you wouldn’t either. As many a team exec has told me: “If we only marketed to the purists, then we’d be out of business.”
One thing that Shelton made clear is that, regardless of shifts in industry operating methods, there will always be worthwhile Minor League stories to tell. At its core it always has been and always will be a brutally competitive world. Most of its participants will fall short of their goals, and the constant threat of failure makes for a compelling story.
What are your thoughts on this apropos of nothing mid-January discussion topic? Feel free to contact me via Twitter or through my corporate email address.
From my perspective, one of the best things about downtown stadiums is the increased likelihood of staying in a downtown hotel. This means that I can walk to the stadium — a perk that is generally indicative of a team’s proximity to complementary entertainment and historical destinations.
And if you find yourself in downtown Durham and are looking for Durham Bulls Athletic Park — well, just walk toward the bull.
The stadium is located in Durham’s “American Tobacco Historic District,” amidst a flotilla of industrial brick buildings that once served as the base of operations for the city’s tobacco industry. DPAB, built in 1995, has helped to rejuvenate and recontextualize this previously desolate area.
Not sure if it’s the “wrong” side of the tracks, but the Bulls play across them (note the iconic “Roll Your Own” Bull Durham sign on the building).
But what were once factories and warehouses are now office buildings and condos (it reminded of what Lowell has done with its mills). How’s this for a unique place to live?
Say what you will about the actual product, but Lucky Strike remains one of the coolest names and logos ever.
The ballpark fits right in to these brick-laden surroundings.
After a spirited round of dugout interviews with an illustrious group of players — uber-prospect Matt Moore! best-selling author Dirk Hayhurst! All-Star Game MVP Russ Canzler! — then I did what I always do. I commenced to wandering. There is plenty of room to move here, as the latest round of renovations have resulted in a multi-level 360-degree concourse.
Hooters girls were stationed in the outfield, handing out foam hats to all who desired one.
I was not desirous of a foam hat, but a particularly go-getting company representative tracked me down and placed one atop my head. It turned out to be a pretty good look for me, and I haven’t taken it off since.
Such headgear was nowhere to be found at Tobacco Road, a restaurant located along the left field concourse with game-accessible outdoor seating.
There’s also a group seating area located amidst the famous “Snorting Bull” sign. Fans can sit in front of the bull and take in the action…
or hang out in front of his somewhat intimidating visage.
My wandering soon came to an end, as it was time for the next portion of the evening. I had been invited to take part in the innovative Explorer Post 50 program, which gives students ages 14-20 hands-on experience with nearly every aspect of the team’s HD game broadcasts (we’ll overlook the fact that I’m maybe a few years beyond my 20th birthday).
I wrote about the program (and my experience) in much greater detail over at MiLB.com. Please check it out, as I have an existence to justify! But within this particular forum, I’ll concentrate on depicting things pictorially. The six monitors on the left show the live feeds of all six cameras, all of them manned (or wo-manned) by program participants. Executive producer Chase McKinney directs the broadcast, choosing all shots while issuing instructions via wireless headset.
The view through the HD cameras — the larger box displays the picture as seen on an HD broadcast, with the smaller one representing non-HD. The strip of tape denotes where the “Fox Box” will be on the game broadcast — that ubiquitous graphic displaying score, inning and game situation. That area of one’s shot should always be left open.
In the instant replay room, volunteer adviser Ken Bland does his best to make sure things go smoothly.
I spent two innings manning “instant replay B”, a task that I tried my best to explain in the MiLB.com piece. It involved intent game watching combined with synchronized button pushing.
From there I accompanied Bland to the visiting dugout, in order to take over duties on the third base camera.
This was a unique, stressful and very educational experience — I don’t think I’ll ever watch baseball quite the same way again! And what a great program Explorer Post 50 is. While I realize most teams don’t possess this level of technological capability, I’d love to see it emulated in other markets. These kids are obtaining invaluable real-world job skills.
When they’re not selling rubber ducks on the concourse, that is (for a post-season fundraiser).
It was nigh on the eighth inning when I finished my camera duties, and the concession areas were on the verge of shutting down. My frantic run through the concourse in search of the elusive “Bulldog” (bacon and cheese-topped hot dog, wrapped in a pretzel) proved unsuccessful, so after quickly weighing my remaining options I settled for a Doritos-brand “Walking Taco.”
I then said a quick hello to Biz Blog reader Dustin Kilpatrick, who visits North Carolina Minor League ballparks on behalf of the North Carolina Education lottery. Thanks for the shirt!
From there I sat down for the first time all game, taking in a spirited rendition of the YMCA…
a post-game canine victory dash…
and an on-field interview punctuated by multiple rubbings of Ken Tanner’s lucky belly (photos of said rubbing came out unsuccessfully, not that this one is much better).
What it all amounted to was a first-class evening with a first-class team in a first-class facility. My only complaint would be that the team store left a lot to be desired.
Nah, I’m just kiddin.
‘That was actually the “store” at the nearby Marriot where I spent the night. I don’t mean to knock it — I was in dire need of a dress shirt and and a pair of pantyhose, and that place really came through for me.