After spending Friday evening at the Clearwater Threshers game, I awoke early on Saturday morning to meet Dave Deas (a.k.a. “Phinley”) for breakfast at the legendary Lenny’s. I then drove two hours south on 75 to Lee County, within which Fort Myers resides. After a relatively brief tour of JetBlue Park, new Spring Training home of the Boston Red Sox, I checked into La Quinta Inn (apparently one of the preferred hotels of the Florida State League) and geared myself up for the evening’s main event.
The Fort Myers Miracle.
The above baseball palace is Hammond Stadium, which in addition to hosting the Miracle serves as the Spring Training home of the Minnesota Twins. It really is quite beautiful:
I arrived at the ballpark at 4 o’clock, just in time for an unprecedented commitment in my professional career: speaking to a Cub Scout troop. The invitation to do so came courtesy of loyal reader/former Miracle blogger Ed Pelegrino, cubmaster of Troop 110. I didn’t have prepared remarks or anything, I just spoke about my background, what it is I do and what brought me to this current reality. The underlying message was that there are ways to make a living in baseball above and beyond being a player.
My spellbound audience:
This next pic will probably always put a smile on my face. Thanks, pack 110!
I then went in search of Miracle staff members, to be like, “Hey, I’m here. What indignities shall I suffer in the name of Minor League Baseball tonight?” The offices were largely deserted, but I did notice this hilarious piece of communication on the office door of promotions director Gary Sharp.
I caught up with Sharp and crew on the concourse, and soon departed in the clubhouse to interview Miracle manager Jake “Yes, Joe’s Brother” Mauer. (A nicer guy, both within and without of the world of baseball, would be hard to find. Look for a video as soon as I am in possession of an internet signal strong enough to allow me to upload one.)
Back on the concourse, I signed up as an “event seeker” as part of the Miracle’s “Be Your Own Fan” initiative. (There are eight categories of fan, and those who sign up receive special offers tailored to their specific category.) In this picture I think I’m explaining that I wish I wasn’t as old as I actually am.
And after talking with Sharp, I found out that he did indeed have many adventures planned for me. One look at the guy and you could tell he meant business.
Clearly, ample sustenance was needed before dealing with the likes of that guy. So I scanned the concession menu, and settled on the “Miracle Dog.” This is a DIY sort of a item, some assembly required.
That’s bacon, nacho cheese, and peppers. I put on the nacho cheese first, so that it would serve as a bacon adhesive. Then, for the coup de grace, I dumped on the peppers. An extremely well-thought out strategy, one that resulted in the masterpiece you see above. Confidence bolstered, I made my way down to the field to throw out one of the evening’s ceremonial first pitches.
Miss-A-Miracle was glad to see me, but then again she’s glad to see everyone.
The scene on the field was a colorful one, what with the orange and pink t-shirts, the Miracle’s yellow and teal throwback uniforms (they are worn every Friday and Saturday home game this season), and the green grass. It was like a rainbow down there, I tell ya. A rainbow.
The orange shirts were worn by individuals involved with the Dave Clark Foundation, which had staged a remarkable event that morning. The entire Miracle team and coaching staff joined 24 disabled children on the field, giving them one-on-one instruction and helping to stage a game. I interviewed Clark later in the evening, and his story is absolutely remarkable (he had polio as a child, and went on to pitch professionally while on crutches). I’m going to postpone my story on him and his Foundation and their work with the Miracle until after I return from the road, so that I can give it the full attention that it deserves.
In the meantime, here’s a picture of Dave Clark (sans five).
My story is far less inspiring, but it’s all I’ve got: my first first pitch of the season was a strike! Right down the middle! Take my word for it, while admiring the form:
With the game underway, my first task was to take on these two young gentleman in an onfield inflatable pony race. You’re going down, kids!
I may have been a bit older and larger than the my opponents, leading to a bit of resentment from the crowd. I did my best to embrace my temporary villain role…
…and with that, it was off to the races.
It was a close-fought contest, in which I honed the techniques I learned in Lake County last season, but in the end I lost. I usually do. Congratuations, kid #1.
Next up on the agenda was to use a slingshot to launch a beanbag onto a target placed on the outfield grass.( If memory serves, this was indeed the actual name of the game.) Would you believe that I was unsuccessful?
I prefer to do things in threes, and this certainly includes failed endeavors. So I wandered over to the speed pitch to try my hand at the Miracle’s latest (and therefore greatest) promotion:
The Miracle announced this last week, and it generated a lot of media attention. Here’s how: they tweeted the idea, I re-tweeted it, and a Baseball Prospectus writer saw my tweet and brought it to the attention of a Yahoo! blogger. Yahoo! did a blog post on it, which in turn led to a FoxSports article which in turn was basically re-written by USA Today. And so on and so forth.
The moral of the story is that I am the greatest of all time. And, also, that my fastball is apparently 44 miles an hour.
MLB.com’s Adam Berry happened to be visiting in order to write an article on the Miracle’s Moyer phenomenon (which, in actuality, amounts to two goofy flyers taped to an inflatable speed pitch game). Here he is throwing about as “fast” as I did, and his story can be found HERE.
My final on-field appearance was atop the third base dugout, as part of a “sing-off” against the third base side. Basically, it amounted to me singing “Born to be wiiiilllllld” at an appropriate moment.
After the Miracle Dog, did I need more food? No, I did not. But a stop at the Char Bar happened nonetheless.
There was no way I’d of been able to handle the “Richard Simmons Burger” at that point, but out of a sense of obligation to you, my reader(s), I went with the next strangest:
The mac and cheese burger (which tasted exactly like macaroni and cheese atop a hamburger) accompanied me to the press box. The next order of business was to serve as the official scorer for the top of the sixth inning. The usual guy, Scott Pedersen, was more than happy to oblige. “I like it up here, but I sure could do without the scorekeeping,” he said. “I don’t breathe until each team gets a hit every night.”
My “decisions” were as follows: F7, K, K. No fuss, no muss.! Slightly dicier was handling PA announcing duties, as nearly every batter I announced was of Latin origin and therefore possessing a name with silent letters and, to me, unknown syllabic emphasis. But I got through it alright, and even aced a Wells Fargo ad read during a pitching change.
Finally, I joined announcer Brice Zimmerman in the announcing booth for a long and exceedingly sloppy seventh inning. He let me attempt play-by-play on several occasions, and it was pretty brutal. This was an inning with rundowns, errors, suicide squeezes and more – a lot of crazy stuff happening in a short period. I was reduced to descriptions like “The ball is hit. Uh-oh! (long pause) Wow!” Stay tuned for the audio.
But I did enjoy speaking with Zimmerman: explaining what it is I do, the specifics of this current road trip, and how dignity is optional when I’m at the ballpark. Thanks for having me on!
There wasn’t much left for me to do at this point, so I reverted to taking pictures while inside the men’s room. I thought it was funny how, instead of mirrors, the team installed framed pictures of orange bricks.
Oh, and how could I forget? It was during this late juncture that I interviewed Dave Clark (again, I’ll write a feature on him upon my hopefully triumphant return to NYC. And, again, it’s a great story). Here he is with daughter Elecia:
Soon after I was done speaking with Clark, the visiting St. Lucie Mets emerged triumphant in the ballgame. That left one thing left to do, and one thing only: Launch-A-Ball!
Goodnight, Fort Myers, and thanks for the hospitality.
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.
It’s the first Friday of 2012, and what better way to celebrate than by doing the same sort of thing I’ve always done? That’s right — it’s time for another rollicking blog bouillabaisse! This particular bouillabaisse will take the form of the third edition of the Ben’s Biz Twitter Top 10!
The purpose of such an endeavor is to provide a compendium of the most intriguing @BensBiz tweets and re-tweets of the past week (or three weeks, in this case). The tweets, as they appeared on Twitter, are italicized. Let’s do this!
10. Gum included
For those living in NYC, let it be known that
@EconomyCandy in Lower East Side sells wax packs of ’87 and ’89 Topps for .75 cents.
My ’87 Topps-themed post from earlier this week was met with much enthusiasm, and I was very gratified to read the various emails, Tweets, and Facebook and blog comments that were issued in response. If the post got you feeling nostalgic for that era of baseball cards AND you live in NYC, then head over to Economy Candy in the Lower East Side. It is a truly wonderful establishment.
9. And speaking of ’87 Topps and how it relates to Minor League Baseball…
8. Offseason drama
One of my favorite Tweets from a Minor League player, ever.
@murraywatts: Hey lady down the street yelling at me to get out of her yard…it’s cool, I brought a bag for the dog poop
7. They’ve got the Clapp!
Hopefully, Stubby will find something to get riled up about during the 2012 season. This, from last year, was classic:
6. Dance Dance Revolution
Yes, check it out:
4. What to wear while Googling “Santorum”
3. A Most A-peel-ing Individual
If you don’t know anything about the “Great Potato Caper,” then it’s really time to educate yourself. Click on the above link to start…
2. Christmas in July, in January