Road Trip number one of the 2012 season — and 11th (or so) of my MiLB.com career — kicked off on Friday. I flew out of Newark and into Tampa, then drove to Minor League Baseball’s headquarters in St. Petersburg (check out MiLB.com for more on that, as well as a future post) before making my way to Clearwater’s Bright House Field.
The first individual I met upon arriving at the facility was Threshers media relations assistant Joe Charlton, who reminded me that it was ’70s Night. I’m not sure that I would have known, otherwise.
Really, though, I needed no reminding. Going into my visit, I was struck by the number of people (both fans and front office employees) who emailed me something along the lines of “Awesome! It’s ’70s Night! Get ready for [a post-game concert by] Disco Inferno!” Decade-themed evenings are common across the Minors, of course, but this level of enthusiasm for such a promotion was new to me. (And, yes, when people email me they often bracket portions of their own quotes in anticipation of me quoting them later on. It’s hella meta-y, my dear Watson).
But we’ll return to “Me decade”-related ephemera in just a moment. Because at this juncture in the evening, food was the number one concern. After eating literally nothing all day (these road trips do a number on me, I tell ya) I was more than happy to be treated to an order of mini-corn dogs. They tasted great, even after I dropped the container and then had to pick them back up off of the floor. (Yes, ladies, I’m still single).
I enjoyed my mini-corn dogs in the solitude of the press box, which is equipped to handle the hordes of reporters who cover the Phillies here in Spring Training. But during the Florida State League season, the press box can be a lonely place.
One of the most unique things about the press box is this framed piece of “artwork” — it commemorates a dent made by a Ryan Howard foul ball during a 2009 Spring Training game. Howard signed it himself, with “W.O.B.” standing for “Watch out, bro.”
Watch out indeed! The wall is a good 20 feet behind the press box windows, meaning this had to have been one absolutely vicious line drive. Some perspective:
But this being Florida, the press box contained more than memorials to murderous foul balls. There was also this:
If you’re a member of the media who catches on fire, then you’re out of luck. But at least the team has your equipment covered.
But enough from the press box. I soon took to wandering Bright House’s 360 degree concourse, and along the way ran into many reminders that it was indeed ’70s night.
The above individual is Threshers GM John Timberlake, who in surveying the sparse crowd in the game’s early-going said “We’ll have people trickling in all night. There will even be some people who are only coming for Disco Inferno.” Phinley, like his GM, certainly wasn’t stressing it.
Phinley, in addition to giving me (and everyone around him) an enthusiastic thumbs-up, pointed at a sign that was hanging on a fence outside of the stadium. “What’s the deal with that?” he seemed to be asking.
An uprising appears to be in the works against the Threshers, whose operation is allegedly harmful to nearby amphibious life. I’ll be curious to see what comes of this nascent rebellion, as scuttlebutt obtained from confidential sources indicate that it should get interesting.
But putting the above accusations and innuendo aside, it’s clear that the Threshers do a lot of unequivocally good work within the community. For example, if a post-game concert by the Black Honkys isn’t going to make you aware of prostate cancer then I’m afraid that nothing will.
But many of the signs to be seen around Bright House on this special evening were — surprise! — 70s themed. Well, almost all of them.
More appropriate to the era was this:
Helen Reddy, you are woman! Meanwhile, a lot of fans were getting “reddy” for their Friday evening over at Frenchy’s Tiki Bar. The Tiki Bar is one of the signature aspects of the Threshers game day experience, and it attracts a robust crowd even when other portions of the stadium are sparsely populated.
The Tiki Bar is located in left field, and its tropical vibe sets the tone for the rest of the stadium.
Yes, Gulf Coast League action is close at hand. Just turn to the left:
Also close at hand from this vantage point are the home and visiting bullpens. They allow for ample fraternization between enemies.
The view from afar:
You’d think that mini corn dogs would be enough, but I was intrigued by the following concession stand:
610 is Philadelphia’s second-most authentic area code, so I felt compelled to get a cheesesteak. It was paired, as cheesesteaks often are, with a Yuengling draft.
My verdict would be a 7.0 — above average (especially for Florida), and the Amoroso rolls were a nice touch. But it was a little bland, and I like the onions to be a bit more on the sauteed side than these were. This concludes my amateur food criticism, so that we may return to my true passion:
Amateur photography coupled with amateur descriptions thereof.
The Threshers pulled out a 4-3 win in this ballgame, and I apologize that this post had even less baseball action than usual. Pressed for time and just plain overwhelmed at the start of yet another road trip, I went into full-on “wander mode” and ended up neglecting that aspect of the experience. I’ll do my best to be more well-rounded in the future.
Well-rounded like a tennis ball, gleaming in the Florida night as it sails toward a tire that had been arbitrarily rolled onto the field from home plate. Truly, nothing says “Minor League Baseball” like the images that result from post-game “Launch-a-ball.”
But while this was going on, Phinley and all his pals were streaming toward left field for Disco Inferno. (Just go with me on this one)
Ladies and gentlemen: Florida’s #1 Disco tribute band.
Okay, so here’s the thing about Disco Inferno, and the Threshers’ 70s Night in general: people were really into it. A lot of fans were dressed up on their own accord, and I was told that some of these fans won’t be seen again until ’70s Night 2013. In my own experience this was the most enthusiastic response to a post-game concert that I’d ever seen, and there was a pervasive spirit of fun and celebration in the air.
Truthfully, I needed it. These road trips are great, but they stress me out more than anything else I’ve ever done on a professional level, ever. I’m a one-man show, making it up as I go along, and there are seemingly infinite logistical things to take care of at all times. I have a hard time escaping the feeling that I’m just not doing it right (whatever “right” is, in this case). So, when the show started, I was like “I’ll see a song or two, then jet back to the hotel to start writing.” But a couple of people handed me a couple of beers, and I relaxed a little, and pretty soon I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face. Watching a multi-generational group of people having an unabashed (and totally unselfconscious) good time at a ballpark on a Friday night was just wonderful to see.
Clearwater parties into the night:
The combined caloric content of the food items that I have posted on this blog would add up to a truly colossal total, enough to send even the hardiest of individuals into eternal slumber. I have no plans to stop posting this sort of material (as the recent “Inside-Out Burger” update should make clear), but sometimes I feel slight pangs of regret for contributing to the downfall of mankind in such blatant fashion.
As an antidote, take a look at this recent concession addition to Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field: The Healthy Zone
As the corporate insignia on the sign makes clear, “The Healthy Zone” was created in conjunction with BlueCross BlueShield as part of the company’s “Healthy Changes Everything” initiative. Gretchen Fierle, vice president and chief communications officer of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, reports that “the goal is to help people take small steps to living healthier lives – from the activities they do to the food they eat, [BlueCross BlueShield] is creating and bringing healthier options to the community.”
The stand was created out of a desire to provide a one-stop shop for healthy cuisine (as opposed to options scattered throughout the ballpark), and the menu includes:
- Turkey and veggie burgers with lettuce, tomato and either garlic or roasted red pepper hummus on a whole grain roll
- Chicken sausage with spinach and feta on a hot dog roll
- Yogurt fruit parfait
- A selection of bottle water, diet soda and light beer
The Bisons are certainly not the only team to have instituted such an endeavor (as this 2009 piece of mine would illustrate), but it’s certainly one of the more ambitious. Feel free to get in touch with other examples, or to provide a counterpoint to this counterpoint by updating me on your plans to create a hot dog placed inside of six donuts and then deep fried and slathered with caramel icing and black cherry Gummi worms.
It takes all kinds.
It all feels a bit distant now, but TOMORROW I will depart on my first road trip of the season. It all starts with this Clearwater Threshers game:
There’s plenty more where that came from, as the Threshers consistently produce some of the best commercials in MiLB:
Look for the first blog posts and articles from the trip to appear early next week, and they’ll no doubt continue well into the next. In the meantime, keep getting in touch with all manner of interesting MiLB news. Too much is never enough, except for when it always is. Along those lines, here, once again, is my road trip itinerary:
April 27: Clearwater Threshers
April 28: Fort Myers Miracle
April 29: Charlotte Stone Crabs
April 30: Lakeland Flying Tigers
May 1: Daytona Cubs
May 2: travel (but hopefully I can take in the 10:30 a.m. D-Cubs game in “fan” mode)
May 3-4: Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Finally, I’d like to give a sincere thank you to everyone who supports what it is I do. I hope that that gratitude is apparent in everything I write, but it doesn’t hurt to say it once in a while.
For mascots, there’s no escaping the spotlight. These mute yet endlessly expressive characters are the center of attention everywhere they go, and as a result they always need to be “on.” Pictures are requested, high fives demanded, and antics expected. It’s an exhilarating existence, to be sure, but not at all conducive to moments of quiet reflection and self-analysis.
Yet such moments, while rare, do occur. To capture them on camera is an exhilarating feeling, akin to a landlocked bird watcher getting an glimpse of the elusive Red Phalarope. This is how I felt during a June trip to Lake County, when I was able to capture Captains mascot Skipper in a moment of introspection.
Feeling inspired by this rare bit of photographic luck, I asked readers to please send in introspective mascot photos of their own. This request was met with an enthusiastic response, and the results are contained in this post.
What follows is the most impressive collection of introspective mascot photos that the world has ever seen.
The above individual is Louie of the Great Lakes Loons, whose powers of introspection are far greater than the average bird. Soon after abandoning his dugout perch, he went into the stands and got the fans to join him in a moment of quiet contemplation.
Another city boasting thoughtful birds amongst its citizenry is Toledo. Muddy the Mud Hen is a voracious reader, and can sometimes be spotted at the local library with his beak buried in a good book.
Muddy’s literary endeavors have increased his powers of imagination. Back at the ballpark, he sometimes gets lost in thought while resting his left arm on a railing that doesn’t even exist.
As evidenced by the picture of Skipper at the top of this post, ballpark tunnels represent a good place for a mascot to temporarily escape from the madding crowd. Here’s Phinley of the Clearwater Threshers, patriotically pontificating.
Meanwhile, in Winston-Salem, Bolt takes a moment to reflect before instigating some between-inning hula-baloo.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but I was able to get a shot of Bolt during my visit to Winston-Salem this past July. This one is perhaps less “introspective” than “fatigued.”
While in Winston-Salem, I spent time with not one but TWO blog readers who went on to email me introspective mascot photos. Matt “Possum” Campbell solicited this shot of the Danville Braves’ “Blooper,” who does his best thinking with left hand planted firmly on stomach.
Meanwhile, veteran Minor League wanderer Rex Doane sent in pictures from various far-flung locales. Our journey with Rex begins in Norfolk, where Rip Tide sometimes assumes a near-beatific demeanor.
Then we fly over to flyover country, with this behind-the-back view of Swoop of the South Bend Silver Hawks.
And, finally, we arrive in the modest environs of the Modesto Nuts’ dugout. That’s where Al Almond sometimes goes in order to escape from the nuttiness surrounding him.
Another thoughtful dugout denizen is Fort Wayne’s Johnny TinCap, whose demeanor is never crotchety even if his hobbies sometimes are.
Of course, one doesn’t need to be solitary to be introspective. Over the three seasons that the team has been in existence, Chopper of the Gwinnett Braves has established himself as one of the most empathetic woodchucks in the Minors. Here he is having an on-field heart-to-heart.
Chopper’s upright demeanor is in stark contrast to Millie of the Lowell Spinners. On the last day of the season, this canal-dwelling alligator went deep into her own headspace while sitting on a stadium bench.
Allie’s daughter, Millie, simply curled up in the fetal position in order to think long and hard about the season that had just transpired.
With this concept on the verge of collapse, it seems that I’ll have to call it a day. Of course, keeping sending those introspective mascot photos in. I am totally amenable to there being a second, third, fourth, and even fifth installment of this series.
There will be no sixth installment.
Two blatantly “attention-getting” Minor League promos were announced yesterday, but only one thus far has gotten any real attention (this blog doesn’t count, attention from me is the equivalent of your mother telling you you’re the most handsome guy at school).
First, the Fort Myers Miracle announced that June 6 would be “Rest the Vest Night,” in honor of recently-ousted Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel. That it was the Miracle who have planned such a thing should come as no surprise. This is, after all, a team that has previously set its sights on Billy Donovan, Tim Tebow, and Craig Sager (among many other easily-satirized sports world luminaries).
Some pertinent details:
The new coach of the Buckeyes presumably will not wear sweater vests on the sidelines; so it’s time to retire them. Fans are encouraged to bring their sweater vest and place it in the retirement bin near the front gate of Hammond Stadium….The Miracle want everyone to enjoy the “Rest the Vest” Night and even though you might not have a favorite sweater vest, if you have a tattoo then you also benefit.
Just by showing a tattoo, Ohio State or non-related, fans will receive a piece of Miracle memorabilia to keep or sell.
And speaking of tattoos, the Brooklyn Cyclones announced what I believe is the Minors’ first “Hangover”-related promotion. It takes place June 22, and fans interested in attending may wish to purchase the “Wolfpack Ticket Plan.” The evening includes the following innovations:
- In-Game Baby Bjorn Olympics – Contestants will be put through an obstacle course while carrying “Carlos” in a baby carrier.
- Memory Games w/Prizes – If fans can “Remember What Happened Last Night” in the Cyclones’ previous game, prizes will be awarded.
- The Tooth Fairy – Kids get a dollar off their ticket for each tooth they are missing.
- Tattoo You! – Temporary face tattoos will be available on the concourse.
- Beard Bash – Best beard contest in honor of Alan (played by Zach Galifanakis).
And still speaking of tattoos, tonight the Clearwater Threshers are holding their second annual “Tattoo Night” promotion. 30 fans will go under the needle (the team is limiting the number after a nearly unmanageable 54 got inked last season) and receive a Threshers tattoo in return for lifetime admission to the ballpark. Like this guy:
That’s all I’ve got that’s tattoo-related (it wasn’t even my intent to write about tattoos when I started this post), but in an attempt to stay alliterative here’s some toast news from Toledo.
As you may be able to discern from the above photo, that’s some Mud Hen logo toast. And it can be enjoyed in the privacy of your own home with the purchase of the following toaster:
Are any other teams selling one of these? I’ve seen them at the Major League level, but not within the Minors.
But for those seeking heartier dining options, I’d suggest checking out the new website postgamespread.com It’s bare-bones in terms of design, but excellent in content: a fully searchable database of dining options in all Minor League markets that includes directions from the ballpark as well as team hotel. I might use it myself during my next road trip — details on that coming soon, I hope.