It’s important to stay grounded, but nonetheless it’s become apparent to me that this blog is over-reliant on terrestrial perspectives. In order to shake things up, then, today’s post will feature some aerial views before returning to Earth.
We’ll start things off in flyover country, as the Indianapolis Indians recently staged a pre-game stunt that was (almost) out of this world. A squadron of Navy “Leap Frogs” parachuted into Victory Field prior to August 16’s ballgame, with Rear Admiral Scott T. Craig throwing out the first pitch. What follows is the video of their practice run that afternoon, giving us a bird’s eye view of the arduous journey from air to ground.
Not quite as high-flying, but airborne nonetheless, are our fine feathered friends the Great Lakes Loons. The team staged their annual “Raining Money” promotion on August 5, in which $2000 in one dollar bills was dropped onto the field from a helicopter. This year, the mad cash scramble was preceded by an excellently-produced short film entitled “The Sleepover,” which segued flawlessly into the promotion itself.
Seeking to retain this elevated position for as long as possible, we now travel to Lakewood, NJ. On August 20 the BlueClaws held their annual blood drive, an event preceded by an awareness-raising stint of roof-living by the appropriately-named “Roofman.”
“Roofman” is also known as “Ryan Ragan,” COO of the Central Jersey Blood Center. He spent five days on the roof prior to the drive, which resulted in a prolonged period of local radio and TV news attention. Here he is, in quieter times.
91 people ended up giving blood at the BlueClaws’ drive; meaning that the Roofman’s efforts were simultaneously not in vain and “in vein.” Life sure can be funny sometymes. And, yes, that was an intentional spelling error in the previous sentence. In the spirit of the blood drive I was attempting to be “typo positive.”
We’ll conclude by focusing on a team whose spacebound aspirations may soon come to an end: the Akron Aeros. This traditionally aerodynamic entity is currently staging an online “re-branding contest,” with voting continuing through September 1.
While the option remains to keep the “Aeros” name, other possibilities include Gum Dippers, RubberDucks, Tire Jacks, and Vulcans. All of these names allude to Akron’s industrial past, primarily its status as a leading producer of rubber.
While I generally like team names that incorporate local history, it is my opinion that the alliterative pizazz of Akron Aeros remains superior to the new contenders. Will the voting public agree? Do you?
For now, things remain up in the air.
New York-Penn League games are rarely played in the presence of Hall of Famers, but that was the case in Norwich, CT on Monday. None other than Al Kaline visited Dodd Stadium, and he had good reason to do so.
His grandson, Colin, plays second base for the hometown Connecticut Tigers.
Putting a new twist on the term “Al Kaline Battery,” Al threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch. Colin was on the receiving end.
Prior to this high-arced ceremonial offering (a perfect strike, by all accounts), Al set up shop on the concourse and signed just about everything placed in front of him.
His signature graced the playing field as well, though I don’t think a blue sharpie was the instrument of choice.
In a press release issued yesterday, the C-Tigers reported that the night was a “booming success.” Sez the team:
Al Kaline had the opportunity to watch his grandson reach base twice and score twice as part of the Tigers 10-0 drubbing of the Lowell Spinners. So, by the end of the night, the lucky fans in the building not only had a chance to see a living legend in person, but also got to see a big Tigers win.
That’s all well and good, but I’ve got to take issue with the press release’s use of the word “booming.” When you’re the Tigers, all your successes should be categorized as “roaring.””Booming” successes are better suited to the Lake Elsinore Storm, Trenton Thunder, and, of course, Nashville Sounds.
Al Kaline Night happened two nights ago, but now I’d like to transition to an “udderly” successful event that was held two months ago: The Visalia Rawhide’s annual pre-game Cow Milking Contest.
From the NYPL to nipples, here we go:
(credit for all cow milking photos: Chris Henstra/Visalia Rawhide)
The team issued an excellent press release synopsis of the event, packed with photos and descriptive detail. (My apologies for taking so long to get around to it. Better late than never, right?) Sez the team:
The cow milking event started out as a normal tag-team contest among Rawhide players: the “Latin Mafia” team (made up of Christian Beltre, Yonata Ortega, Diogenes Rosario, Victor Capellan, and California League All-Star catcher Rossmel Perez) vs. the “Bovine Bombers” (formed by Ryan LaPensee, Brian Budrow, Kevin Munson, Raul Torrez, and California League All-Star outfielder Adam Eaton).
The Bovine Bombers did their homework, and admitted to researching cow milking techniques to prepare for the competition, but they were still no match for the Latin Mafia.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
Upon the conclusion of the Rawhide team’s competition, two Bakersfield Blaze players (Frank Pfister and Curtis Partch) sauntered out of the dugout in old west chaps, and challenged the Latin Mafia to a milk-off.
Thus closed another fine milk-off battle in Wild West Visalia.
And thus closes this, the latest and therefore greatest installment of the never-ending Biz Blog saga. Thanks, as always, for reading. And please — tell a friend.
So much has been experienced this week in Ohio, and there is still much more to come. I’m in Mahoning Valley right now, fresh off an epic night with the Lake County Captains that will be a lot of fun to document. Saturday finds me in Akron, and then on Sunday I can finally return to NYC’s comforting embrace.
But thoughts of the Big Apple need to be set aside in favor of documenting my time in the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed.
I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in this fine metropolis, with the former evening being among the most exhausting and memorable that I have ever spent in a Minor League ballpark. It was a military appreciation night doubleheader, and the team went out of their way to offer an all-encompassing ballpark experience.
An extensive write-up of the evening is available RIGHT NOW at MiLB.com, featuring a photo gallery and video links. I’ll link to the videos from here as well.
After a practice session with the Bad Apple Dance Crew (in preparation for an in-game infield dragging performance), I hustled up to the broadcast booth and spent the second and third innings on the air with broadcaster and blogger extraordinaire Dan Watson.
We did the second inning on radio and the third on television (the TinCaps broadcast all of their home games on local cable). Watson, to his credit (or detriment) often picks up on the pop culture references I scatter around this blog and as such gave me ample room to riff on important topics such as the impending release of Weird Al’s “Al-Pacalypse.”
I was also a guest on Watson’s podcast, a discussion that allowed me to pontificate on who I am, what I do, and why I do it. This is often hard to explain (the evolution of my entire career can perhaps best be summarized as “making it up as I go along”) and opportunities to do so are appreciated. You can check out the podcast HERE.
Immediately thereafter I was hustled to a table on the concourse in center field for the Qdoba Burrito Eating contest. Myself, Private Griffith and Caleb had one minute in which to eat as much of a chicken burrito as we could. I totally eviscerated the thing and made a mess, but was declared the winner.
I was paired with a season ticket-holder named Michelle soon thereafter, and the two of us were tasked with catching foot-long sandwiches atop a Subway banner. The sandwiches (in actuality a pair of t-shirts inside a Subway wrapper), were shot across the outfield from a t-shirt gun.
Michelle and I went 0-for-3 at our assigned task.
Between games of the doubleheader, there was a National Guard swearing-in ceremony.
Shortly thereafter, I was one of a seemingly endless string of first-pitch participants. No pictures seem to exist of my ceremonial offering, but let me assure you that it was a strike.
This segued into the main event, an infield-dragging dance performance as a member of the Bad Apple Dancers. We shook our proverbial moneymakers to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.”
Afterward, we posed for the following photo.
Next up was a “Guess the Attendance” contest, in which I stood atop the dugout with on-field host Brad Shank (seen in the above pic on the far right) and failed to guess the evening’s correct attendance. I was then whisked outside the stadium into the outfield groundskeeping area to participate in a “Hamster Ball” race.
These things are bizarre — you enter into them while they are still deflated, and then a leaf blower is inserted. Soon you find yourself in a disconcerting spherical plastic echo chamber, propelling yourself down the third base line with the single-minded intensity of a domestic rodent.
By the time the second game ended, it was past 11:30 p.m. But was it time to shut things down? Of course not!
The TinCaps first staged the standard “Launch-A-Ball” contest. Activate your hula hoops!
You’d think that all this would have given me more than my fill of the TinCaps experience, and you’d be correct. Nonetheless, I returned the next day and spent the majority of the ballgame on a extensive food tour with culinary director Scott Kammerer. An article all about it has already appeared on MiLB.com. Read it!
I indeed sampled everything pictured. Clockwise from bottom left: Apple Dumpling, Cincinnati Chili Dog, Brisket Sandwich, Philly Cheesesteak, Turkey Leg. It was uniformly delicious, but Brisket Sandwich with Apple Dumpling for dessert would be my recommended pairing.
As the game was winding down I got a chance to catch up with Tug Haines. A New Jersey native, Haines is spending the entire season on the Minor League trail and documenting it on his website Casual Fan. This is an endeavor well worth supporting.
Video links should be added to this post shortly, and some further Fort Wayne odds and ends may appear throughout the next week. But, for now, I must humbly sign off.
This is part 1 of 2 posts from Toledo. Check the blog and MiLB.com throughout the week for a wide array of “On the Road” content.
Call it what you will — Midwest Meanderings? Ohioan Oscillations? Buckeye Bandying About? — but my latest road trip has officially begun. It all kicked off Monday at Toledo’s Fifth Third Field, although I must admit I considered working remotely as this was the view from my hotel room.
But my last vestiges of professionalism soon got the best of me, and I dutifully went exploring. Fifth Third Field, home of International League stalwarts the Toledo Mud Hens, is a downtown ballpark that is completely incorporated into its downtown surroundings.
Moses Fleetwood Walker Square, named in honor of the first black player in Major League history (and a guy with a seriously fascinating life story).
Outfield sculpture paying homage to the halcyon days of yore.
A branch of the iconic Tony Packo’s is located across from the stadium. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit before departing.
But going to a hot dog joint prior to the ballgame would have been seriously redundant, especially considering what the Mud Hens had in store for me inside.
Food fit for a ballpark-visiting king! From left to right, that’s Greek Nachos (gyro meat and pita chips), Pulled Pork Nachos, and Bases Loaded Fries.
This triumvirate was soon joined by the Muddy Dog (topped with chili, cheese, and onions).
And Bloomin’ Bacon Burger! (1/3 lb. grilled Black Angus beef burger topped with crispy strips of bacon, deep fried onion rings, American cheese, and bistro sauce on a fresh Kaiser bun).
This array was presided over by concessions manager Corey Pleasant, Fifth Third’s food guru since 2002.
This was enough food for a party of five, so I felt a bit ridiculous sitting in front of this feast by my lonesome. I did my best.
You definitely can’t go wrong with any of the above items. I’d say that the pulled pork nachos were my favorite simply because they were pulled pork nachos. I mean, c’mon — Pulled Pork Nachos!
The copious leftovers from my feast were summarily fed to the press box wolves (in greater number on this particular evening due to a Japanese contingent tracking the every move of rehabbing Rochester Red Wing Tsuyoshi Nishioka). To those planning a Toledo baseball pilgrimage of their own, the above items are available throughout the stadium at locations such as this.
The Mud Hens do a great job promoting their concessions on the team web page, a full ballpark map can be found HERE. But I unfortunately wasn’t able to partake in a leisurely meal. The team’s pre-game festivities were starting in earnest downstairs, including the requisite array of ceremonial first pitches.
This was to be followed by an event not seen often enough at your local professional ballpark — a Naturalization Ceremony! Look for an article about that on MiLB.com; it will certainly be covered in a follow-up blog post as well.
Much more to come from Toledo, in other words, but for now I’ve got to shut down, check out, grab lunch at Tony Packo’s, and get over to Fort Wayne. A sure-to-be-ridiculous evening with the TinCaps awaits.
Monday’s game between the Inland Empire 66ers and visiting Visalia Rawhide didn’t start until 7 p.m., but I made it to the ballpark nearly four hours early.
Why? Because I had been tipped off that an exorcism was going to take place. The 66ers have been playing miserably in the month of May, with the low point being the previous day’s 17-2 loss. So the team decided to burn their struggles away, via a soul-cleansing trash-can fire in the groundskeeper’s area beyond center field.
I went out there around 3:30, and came across a plastic bin full of sacrificial baseball detritus.
One of the most prominent items contained therein was one of first baseman Casey Haerther’s rejected pieces of lumber.
Soon the players emerged from the dugout and somberly trudged toward the ceremonial grounds.
The plastic bin was emptied into a trash can, and a copious amount of lighter fluid was poured on top.
Before lighting this mess ablaze, veteran southpaw Harold Williams gave a speech about how this fire symbolized a fresh start. It was a surprisingly somber and serious affair (to me, at least), but losing is no fun so I can appreciate how miserable these guys had been recently.
Burn, burn, yes you’re gonna burn!
But not for long.
And wouldn’t you know it? The 66ers went out on Monday night and scored five runs in the first inning, highlighted by back-to-back-to-back home runs by Michael Wing, the aforementioned Cody Haerther, and Kole Calhoun. Meanwhile, a trio of pitchers kept the Rawhide offense in check, and the 66ers rolled to a 7-1 win.
I have a newfound faith in the power of baseball voodoo. If this works for writers, then when I get home I’m going to set fire to a trashcan filled with a laptop, old notebooks, broken pens, rejection letters, and business cards.
Read more about the 66ers’ ceremony over at MiLB.com, please. But it’s now time for us to turn our attention toward the usual blogging shenanigans. For example, I soon noticed that one of the outfield billboards featured the world’s most voluptuous peach.
Viewing that image got me all worked up. In order to restore a sense of calm to my harried brain I hung out for a bit in the air-conditioned comfort of the 66ers’ front office. Director of Ticket Operations Joey Seymour filled me in on the team’s “Road to the Show” ticket package, marketed to nearby Angels fans and featuring home games taking place when that team is out of town.
Good idea, right?
Seymour also removed the perforation from tickets this year, in order to make them more of a souvenir item. Keeping with that philosophy, the season tickets are jumbo-sized and perfect for player — or mascot — autographs.
The man in the suit seen above is Douglas Maiden, in his first season as Bernie but with 12 seasons of mascot experience.
An interesting aspect of the Bernie character is that he often emits a high-pitched “Wooooo!” catchphrase. All through the evening, this noise could be heard (from Bernie as well as from fans trying to get his attention).
At one point in the evening, I heard a one-second sound clip come on over the PA, simply the word “Bernie.” My ears perked up immediately — this solitary word had been taken from Weird Al’s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” (!!!) This is one of my favorite Weird Al songs of all-time — a loving celebration of aburdist Americana that pretty much encapsulates everything that is great about this country. Upon graduating college, I embarked on a road trip to the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, located in Darwin, MN. I want this song played at my funeral.
But I digress…
My next stop was the home dugout in order to do a few player interviews (I ended up speaking with Jean Segura, Mike “No, Not that Mike Piazza” Piazza, and Harold Williams). Also milling about was a contingent of local bloggers. The team had invited them on “Ode to Bloggers” Night, part of their series of “Social Media Monday” promotions.
And — hey! — I blog as well. Perhaps this is why I was asked to throw out the first pitch.
First pitch friends for life!
The evening’s contingent of bloggers spent the evening in a suite owned by 66ers consultant Byron Marquez. It was swanky.
But my peripatetic tendencies are too strong, so I commenced to wandering.
The 66ers, like virtually all teams, claim to have one of the largest scoreboards in Minor League Baseball. It certainly is beautiful.
Arrowhead Credit Union Stadium doesn’t offer an open concourse, but at least there’s plenty of room to move back there.
By this point you may be saying to yourself, “This place reminds me of Lancaster’s stadium.” Well, that’s because they’re virtually identical (designed by the same architect, built around the same time. But in Inland Empire, the builders at least remembered to include player clubhouses. This was overlooked in Lancaster, resulting in extraneous buildings in far right and left field).
But what you’re really here for is to check out the team’s concession prices. Here you go:
Thank goodness the team didn’t offer Ben’s Biz Blog a Bernie’s Belly Buster Burger. So many “b”s involved, I would’ve broke out in hives.
Corporate Groups Manager David May spent much of the evening extolling the virtues of “Flavor Burst” ice cream. Perhaps the company can use the following photo in their promotional materials.
But out on the concourse, a game was going on. It was a cold gray Monday night, not exactly the kind of evening that packs ’em in. Still, a beautiful place to see some Class A Advanced baseball.
“Passing the Hat” after the 66ers’ first-inning tater triumvirate.
The scoreboard was often used as the focal point of between-inning games and contests, such as the “Dueling Banjo Cam.”
But soon it came time for me to compete in a between-inning promotion. May, website manager Robert Peters and I descended into the prop room…
And suited up as “racing molars.”
We had plenty of time to kill while waiting for the race, which was largely spent interacting with a gaggle of kids who descended upon us. I was asked for my autograph no less than six times, despite doing nothing more than gripping a pen in my fist and scrawling “TOOTH.” Kids are the best.
But it was all business once race time came, and I’m pleased to say that I emerged victorious.
But my on-field participation wasn’t quite over. Upon the conclusion of the eighth inning, I served as MC for the “Yodeler” contest (modeled after the popular “The Price is Right” game). I had to ask the contestant (who said his name was “Bruiser”) three 66ers trivia questions, and if his answers kept Bernie from falling off a cliff then he would win two tickets to an upcoming game.
I think I did alright, but it’s kind of nerve-wracking to hear your own voice echo through the stadium on a slight delay. I felt like I was talking too slow, and was so focused on not messing up that I didn’t add much personality to it. I guess this is to say that like anything else, being an on-field host is an acquired skill (and one I wouldn’t mind learning if ever given the opportunity).
But the night, like all things in life as well as life itself, soon came to an end. You know what tipped me off to this? Tennis balls on the field.
Last night my blogging efforts were felled by a staggeringly slow internet connection at the otherwise amenity-laden Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines. Adam Lambert had performed in the city that evening, so my theory is that the small army of fans staying at the hotel were hogging the bandwidth in their attempts to exhaustively document the performance of this American Idol superstar.
This is just a theory.
But here’s to new beginnings! Live and direct from the palatial confines of the West Burlington AmericInn, I now bring you a full recap of my night at Principal Park (for the MiLB.com story, click HERE).
The above picture was taken during a brief tour of the facility provided by uber-hospitable Scott Sailor, the I-Cubs’ director of logistics. He extolled the beautiful views that Principal Park offers, which include the waterfront scenery of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers as well as the gleaming Iowa State Capitol Building.
Shortly after 6:30, Sandberg dutifully emerged:
At this point, I was on the field in order to engage in a task I had never done before: the ceremonial first pitch! I hadn’t had time to practice, and simply hoped that whatever skills were left over from my long-ago playing days (ages 5-16) would once again manifest themselves.
They did, to a degree. While the pitch was a bit off the plate, it didn’t bounce and that was really my only goal. It wasn’t exactly a pretty sight:
I think I heard the PA announcer refer to me as an “award-winning” writer, although in reality my awards mantle remains as barren as the day I bought it (I really put the cart before the horse with that purchase). Still, I appreciate the sentiment!
I didn’t have time to rest, on my laurels or otherwise, as the evening’s next task was to suit up as “Hot Dog” in the nightly mascot race. My competitors were a pair of affable I-Cubs interns: Austin Strawhacker (chef) and Greg Mullen (Taquito).
The Chef and I:
“Feel free to push, kick, hurt us, whatever,” Strawhacker told me as we were suiting up, and indeed it turned out to be a very physical race.
We started out with a dizzy bat race:
And then it was to get sprintin’. The force of our on-field impact was so great that it damaged the following photos:
I’m not exactly sure what led to what, but Hot Dog ended up finishing last. Regardless, the race was very well-received by the fans. Even having had the experience of attending mascot camp, I was still caught off guard by the number of high fives and hugs I was asked to dole out afterwards (in addition to one autograph request, which was extremely difficult given the padded four-finger gloves).
One supportive kid yelled “You tried your best, Hot Dog!” as I walked past. “And you failed!” quickly added another.
My final on-field appearance came in the fifth inning, throwing t-shirts out of the passenger seat of a golf cart while stadium operations manager Jeff Tilley manned the attached t-shirt gun.
No pictures exist of this half-inning adventure, but here’s a shot of Tilley doing what he does best (from the I-Cubs’ photostream):
It was now the bottom of the fifth inning, and the sun had long disappeared. Still, I felt obligated to take a photographically-minded walk around the outside of the stadium:
This boy and his dog were located beyond the outfield, but more statues could be found at the front entrance.
This statue is in honor of former I-Cubs owner Ken Grandquist, and reads “Like the seams of a baseball which never ends, Ken Grandquist’s lover for the game was neverending.”
Principal Park was built in 1992 and still feels fresh, so I was struck by how rustic this portion of the fence looked from the back.
Back inside the stadium, I decided it was time to hit up the concession stand. The lure of a Chicago Hot Dog was too great to ignore…
Featuring the most day-glo relish known to man!
I would never drink on the job, of course, but I still visited the “Beer Box” — a walk-in cooler featuring 20 different kinds of beer.
Fans can contemplate a crucial American right while enjoying their hot dog and beer.
This sign is courtesy of I-Cubs owner Michael Gartner, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who told me “I’d be in jail without the First Amendment.”
In addition to free speech, Principal Park fans take advantage of the freedom of assembly. Here are some shots from the stadium, where 9106 fans gathered on this slightly chilly Friday night:
The Iowa Cubs won this all-important game, 4-2, to open up a one-game lead over the visiting Memphis Redbirds with just three to play. It wasn’t easy, though, as the Redbirds brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the ninth inning. In such a tough situation, you need a man on the mound with nerves of steel and unhittable stuff.
Anyone but this guy, in other words.
Saturday, August 23rd, was a very special day in the world of baseball — and not just because it was Julio Franco’s 50th birthday. For it was on this day that the Huntsville Stars strolled into the hallowed pages of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Their accomplishment? Starting at 12:01 a.m. and ending right before that evening’s 7:05 p.m. contest against Carolina, a startling 11,689 first pitches were thrown from the mound of Joe Davis Stadium.
It may take a logical leap to accept the fact that each one of these pitches was a “first”, but this was nonetheless a very impressive accomplishment. The previous “First Pitch” record of 8,304 was set earlier this season by the Brevard County Manatees, and there is in fact a significant connection between these two franchises. Prior to re-locating to Huntsville this past offseason, Stars GM Buck Rogers served in the same capacity for the Manatees. It was Rogers, in fact, who instituted the first “World Record First Pitch” promotion in Brevard County.
Here’s an excerpt from a press release sent out by Rogers after the Stars broke the Manatees’ record.
“Gates opened at midnight and fans began throwing for the
record books one minute later. Stars Manager Don Money threw pitch number
10,715 and the game’s umpires were included in the final 25 pitches. Only two
of the umps could find the strike zone, but that’s no different than any other
day in baseball so why worry about it now?“
Further research on my part resulted in me finding this blog post, which alleges that these umpires took part in the promotion at approximately 4:30 in the morning, driving straight to Joe Davis Stadium after working a game in Mobile the night before. And still, they are ridiculed. Anyways, back to Rogers’ report:
“The youngest pitcher of the night was six-month old
Maddux Welch, son of Stars Pitcher David Welch. Huntsville Mayor Loretta
Spencer came out and helped the cause as well. The final pitch, the ultimate world record throw, was raffled off for the
Muscular Dystrophy Association Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.”
Bold Font Indicating a Change in Topic: Over the past month or so, more and more teams have been sending me photos and recaps from promotions that were staged this season. Keep ’em coming! I am a huge proponent of symbiotic relationships between Minor League franchise and blogger.
And let me reiterate the fact that I appreciate hearing from everyone who reads this blog, no matter who you are or what you have to say.