This is me, in Inland Empire, dressed as a Molar Racer.
The reason I’m showing this picture is because it features my Sony Webbie camera, which has accompanied me on all road trips that I’ve ever undertaken while under the employ of MiLB.com.
We’ve been through a lot, Webbie and I, but I’m now ready to end our relationship. I have become increasingly disheartened with the quality of the photos, especially if movement and/or low lighting is involved. It’s time for an upgrade, but to what?
Does anyone out there have any recommendations? I need something lightweight, easy-to-use, durable, (relatively) cheap, and capable of taking photos worthy of appearing on the number one Minor League Baseball promotions/game operations/travel blog on the internet (I mean, if it’d be good enough for them then it would be good enough for Ben’s Biz Blog.)
I know that many of my readers are far more tech-savvy than I, so let’s hear it! What should be the next Ben’s Biz Blog camera of choice?
Technologically-minded endeavors certainly have their place, but it’s the simple pleasures that what make life worth living. And pleasures don’t get much simpler than that which was covered in Monday’s post: armadillo racing.
Upon seeing said post, one of my embedded contacts within the Tulsa Drillers front office sent the following photos. Apparently, Sparky Sparks and his team of racing armadillos are regular ballpark visitors.
Armadillo racing is undoubtedly thrilling, but not quite as thrilling as stuntman Ted Batchelor. The last time that Batchelor appeared at a Minor League ballpark was 2009, when he ran the bases while on fire following a Savannah Sand Gnats game.
Batchelor, who recently set a Guinness World Record for longest “on fire run” (492 feet), wrote me to report that he has one team booked in 2012 (I’ll let that team make the announcement) but that he “needs many more!” (This is, after all, a man with a stated goal of getting lit on fire in all 50 states.) Check out his website for more info.
But while lighting a man on fire is still a relatively rare occurrence in the Minor Leagues, fireworks are about as common as it gets. And what better way to promote an increased fireworks slate than with a parody of the song “Fireworks”? Take it away, Akron Aeros!
Perry-dy is more like it!
Let’s start this blogging week where the last one ended — in Kane County IL, home of the Cougars.
The team staged a fireworks show following Saturday’s game, which in and of itself is of course nothing new. But what set this particular show apart was that it was accompanied by the music of local alt-country heroes Wilco. Cougars director of public relations Shawn Touney, who estimates that he’s seen over 200 fireworks shows during his time with the team, writes that Saturday’s show was “real, authentic Americana at its finest.”
It’s easy to say “Who cares? Fireworks are fireworks,” but that’s missing the point. The Wilco-themed show generated local and national press (yes, I just linked to myself), and the band promoted it to their 400,000+ fans on Facebook. Wilco also sent over shirts and tote bags to be distributed at the ballpark. Writes Touney: “[W]e asked fans walking by our Customer Service Booth if they had heard of Wilco. Many had not and gave us a quizzical look….The ones who were enthused at the mere mention? They got a free t-shirt and/or reusable grocery bag.”
The endless variety of music available on the internet, and the ease with which it can be obtained, has led to an unprecedentedly fragmented pop landscape. As such, there are many bands (like Wilco) who have built up large followings without quite becoming household names. The Cougars’ success with their Wilco show will hopefully inspire other teams to think beyond “Popular” and “Patriotic” soundtracks, instead recognizing artists that can be easy to overlook in a mainstream sports context. Music fans are nothing if not passionate — why not tap into that passion and establish some “indie cred” in the process? (Just keep it family-friendly, of course. Maryland has a rich doom metal history, but I don’t think we’re going to see a “Salute to Spirit Caravan” night at a Bowie Baysox game anytime soon.)
Perhaps the ultimate in fan-friendly is Myrtle Beach Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman, who has made a habit in recent years of serenading fans with his signature ballpark tune.
It is called, appropriately enough, “The Loyal Fan”. Here he is in Myrtle Beach last week, backed up by an easily-distracted cadre of players. Great stuff!
Fireworks displays are a tried and true Minor League Baseball entertainment staple and an absolutely crucial component of most promotional schedules. Nonetheless, I don’t write about them often because there quite simply isn’t much to say.
Still, I have to note the following: The Toledo Mud Hens will be staging 31 (!!!) fireworks shows this season — Starting May 6, the team will launch pyrotechnics after every weekend night game as well as a midweek display on June 22.
Can any team top this total? The runner-up, so far as I can tell, is the Reading Phillies with 29 shows.
Keeping with the topic of fireworks, the Kane County Cougars (employers of “Mr. Kaboom”) recently unveiled their Fireworks Theme Night Music for the entire 2011 season. In addition to generic entries such as “patriotic” and “popular”, the team will also be staging explosive tributes to Star Trek, Harry Potter, Wilco, Coldplay, and Star Wars. But my favorite fireworks theme night that I’ve come across hails all the way from Jupiter, as the Hammerheads will be cranking out the AC/DC on July 2. If any other teams have released such info then make sure to send it my way.
And speaking of fire, I’d like to note that stuntman Ted Batchelor will be taking his act to Myrtle Beach on April 9. As you’ll no doubt recall, Batchelor is the peerless individual who ran the bases while on fire in Savannah last season. I have it on good authority that Myrtle Beach won’t be the only ballpark in which he appears this season, but don’t want to steal the thunder from any teams who have yet to announce an imminent Batchelor appearance.
Myrtle Beach has a few other noteworthy promos on the schedule — notably the first-ever “Eastbound and Down” theme night as well as a “Salute to Rec Specs” celebration. Hopefully this image will make its way on to the scoreboard that evening:
My Midwest meanderings concluded yesterday, as did the 2010 regular season. Empty dugouts are going to be the norm from here on out. Get used to it.
Before saying goodbye, I spent an intermittently rainy Labor Day afternoon at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva, IL. The Kane County Cougars reside therein.
The players were clearly in a hurry to bring things to a close, as the game was played in just two hours and five minutes (with visiting Wisconsin cruising to a 7-0 win). But it was an action-packed two hours and five minutes, filled with many memorable moments.
For starters, I got to meet Jack “Mr. Kaboom” Phelan. For the last 10 years, this one-time usher has been responsible for shooting off in-game fireworks. He resides on a small platform next to the right field picnic area, launching pyrotechnics during the National Anthem, Seventh Inning Stretch, and after every Cougar home run (read more about “Mr. Kaboom” on MiLB.com, coming soon).
During the seventh-inning stretch, Mr. Kaboom gave me the honors of launching the fireworks. I was psyched.
All I had to do was flip three switches in quick succession on the trusty ol’ Delcor-MP20 control board.
The Delcor MP-20 is connected via cable to a blue wooden box approximately 150 feet away. In this box, fireworks can be found:
My meeting with Mr. Kaboom was arranged by Cougars media relations director Shawn Touney, who was a gracious host throughout my Kane County cameo. Touney coordinates between-inning games and contests throughout the game, and brought me onto the field for a closer look at the action.
Here, contestants are briefed for the upcoming shopping cart race as a member of the Timber Rattlers looks on.
The racers in action:
An even more unique between-inning race involved these, parked directly beside the third base dugout.
The Bed Race involves two teams of racing families navigating this unwieldy piece of furniture across the outfield, stopping along the way to don bedclothes. It’s a bit chaotic, but I tried my best to capture the action:
And what do you know? I succeeded at an honest-to-God action shot:
The spacious interior of the “Super Suite”, which seats 200 and hosts events year-round.
Views from the top:
Of course, I also did my best to document the scene from down below.
You can wash down concessions with a regional beer whose name I can’t pronounce:
The grass berm down the third base line slopes down to the home bullpen:
One of the most striking aspects of Elfstrom Stadium is how much land the team has to work with. The facility is located within the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, and named after one of the preserve’s former presidents.
The sheer acreage is apparent almost right away. Here’s a parking lot view:
Walking past the third base line, beyond the stadium, one truly gets a sense of how large the stadium grounds really are. How many other teams would need to display a map of the area?
There’s plenty of room for group outings.
The most scenic play area in the Minors?
This wilderness adventure offered a welcome respite, but soon it was time to return to the field for the final post-game “Run the Bases” of the season. The Cougars allow all fans to run the bases, after every game, and many took advantage of the opportunity. Fans enter the stadium from center field, and the line snaked from there all the way to the basepaths.
Another action shot!
Doing my part to enforce the rules:
After the last runners had crossed home plate, the b
eds were wheeled into storage and a silence descended upon the stadium.
Rest in peace, 2010 Minor League Baseball season.
It was fun while it lasted.