Turn the Page, Part One
Have you ever tried to monitor the actions of 160 entities on a daily basis? That’s basically what my job is here at MiLB.com, and please believe me when I say that it can be overwhelming! Keeping track of a such a vast industry exacerbates my already quite pronounced OCD-tendencies, and leads to notebook pages such as the following:
All of this is to say — it’s time to turn the page! But before doing so, please enjoy this bouillabaisse blog post consisting entirely of news items seen on the above notebook page. Y’know, topics that I’ve kept meaning to get around to but never did (or at least never did outside of the Twitter realm).
So here you go — no segues, just news news news!
Would you believe that the Hudson Valley Renegades have not one but TWO former MLB pitchers on their front office staff? Joe Ausiano (1994-95 Yankees) has long been with the team, and he has now been joined by Rob Bell (who played for four teams over seven big league seasons). Bell, now 36, will serve as a sales account executive.
Hudson Valley: home of Minor League Baseball’s best front office softball team?
The Iowa Cubs have long prided themselves on conducting the most irreverent website polls in MiLB, but decided not to continue with the practice after their site underwent an extensive re-design (as nearly all team sites have done of late, courtesy of the tech wizards here at MLBAM).
But, rest assured, they went out on top of their poll game!
You may recall my recent post on Minor League Front Office Cliches, in which one of the cliches mentioned was “We wear a lot of hats.” This prompted @Interstate19Cap to reply, via Twitter: “I wear a lot of hats. Haha! I should work in MiLB.”
He also attached a picture of his formidable hat wall. Not quite at a St. Pete level, but close!
You may or may not be aware of my most recent “Ben’s Bookshelf” column, which had a Black History Month angle.
I recommend all six of the titles shown above (read the article, linked to above), but there’s far more where that came from. Check out this bookshelf pic, sent to me via Twitter by @BeesGal_SLC, and marvel at its thoroughness.
That reminds me — I really should read Curt Flood’s book!
On the promotion front — this, from the Altoona Curve, is worthy of attention. April 11 will be BOpening Night, a tribute to batboy Bo Forney who passed away earlier this month at the age of 21.
From the team:
Bo has been an inspiration to many with the way he lived,” said Curve General Manager Rob Egan. “He had the rare ability to make anybody who came in contact with him feel better. Bo was such a positive person, loved life, and truly enjoyed people. We miss him deeply and look forward to celebrating his life on ‘BOpening Night’ and throughout the season.”
A silent auction will take place during BOpening Night with all proceeds from the auction benefitting the American Heart Association. The auction will consist of game-used items from the Pirates-Curve Exhibition game and will include, in addition to other items, 14-game used jerseys that have been signed by former Curve players /current Pirates players.
To commemorate the life of Forney, a patch with Bo’s cartoon likeness will be affixed to all bat boys uniforms throughout the 2013 season. The Forney family will also be in attendance for BOpening Night and will throw out ceremonial first pitches prior to the game. A moment of silence will be held in Bo’s honor prior to the game as well.
This reminds me of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who last season held a ballpark service for vendor Brock Calmes. Events like these help to illustrate the deep bonds that form within Minor League Baseball ballparks, and just how meaningful the presence of Minor League Baseball within a community can be.
Last week, the Tacoma Rainiers let it be known that anyone willing to purchase 350 Opening Weekend ticket deals would receive this pyramid of Dustin Ackley bobbleheads. I don’t think that anyone took them up on it.
Next I’d like to give a shoutout to Spikes, intrepid mascot for your (or at least someone’s) Rochester Red Wings. He joins Rocky of the Wilmington Blue Rocks as the only mascots (that I am aware of) to take part in a Polar Plunge for charity.
During all 10 of their Friday night home games this season, the Charlotte Knights will be wearing 1990 throwback uniforms. Luxuriate in this image!
This initiative was inspired by the fact that 2013 will be the team’s last at Knights Stadium. 1990 was the first. Sez the team:
The jerseys, which were worn by the inaugural Knights Stadium Team in 1990, will now be worn by the current Knights team during the new “Flashback Fridays” series, which is set to commemorate 24 years of history at Knights Stadium.
To return to philanthropic endeavors, the Erie SeaWolves are now at the tail end of their “Drive to Five” initiative.
The most pertinent of the details:
Through February 28, the Erie SeaWolves will donate $25 to United Way for each new full-season ticket package purchased. If 100 new season ticket packages are purchased, the SeaWolves will double the contribution – raising $5,000 to help United Way achieve its goal to reduce poverty in our region.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys detailed analysis of industry-wide attendance figures, then you’re going to love the Number Tamer. Nobody does it better! (Or, if someone does, I’m certainly not aware of it).
As you may be aware, one of this year’s most ill-fated sporting ventures occurred in Williamsport, PA. The Federal Hockey League’s Outlaw franchise set up shop at outdoor Bowman Field (longtime home of the Crosscutters), an idea that may sound cool in theory but turned out to be a unmitigated financial disaster. The team pulled the plug on the season mid-way through, leaving everyone in the lurch, and once this happened the Crosscutters offered a quick response via this local newspaper ad:
This seems like a disaster waiting to happen, but nonetheless I encourage you like Lancaster JetHawks mascot KaBoom on Facebook. Here’s why:
Speaking of inadvisable mascot feats, here’s a picture of Lake County’s Skipper, immediately after “Tackling the Tower.”
“Tackling the Tower” isn’t some sort of euphemism, but an annual stair-climbing event with (of course) philanthropic intent. Good work, Skipper!
And, my goodness, this notebook page still has a lot of stuff on it. This post is gonna be a two-parter.
Everything I do, I do it for you.
On the Road: Soaring to Sweet and Saucy New Heights in Lancaster
The JetHawks got their name due to the prominence of the aerospace industry in Lancaster, CA. This connection is made abundantly clear immediately upon arriving at “The Hangar” (Clear Channel Stadium).
This very jet, and the stadium itself, was visible outside of my hotel room window. But what the following photo does not indicate, despite the twisted flag, is just how windy it was on Saturday evening (26 mph, blowing out to right). Lancaster has long had a reputation for windy conditions — the team used to have a ticket discount based on wind speed, and is giving away a “stadium dust globe” later this season — but I was nonetheless drastically under dressed for the occasion.
But the JetHawks’ approach is not to bemoan the elements, but to harness them. See that parking lot overhang in the above photo? Those are solar panels, new for this season, and they provide the majority of the stadium’s energy and are expected to save upwards of $50k in energy costs. The JetHawks are the first Cal League team to do this, but I doubt they will be the last.
And the elements weren’t going to keep the Lancaster faithful from attending a Saturday night ballgame. Motivated in part by a camo hat giveaway, fans were lined up outside the stadium well in advance of the gates opening at 6 p.m.
The camo hat in question, blending into its surroundings here at the Hampton Inn.
The hat giveaway was sponsored by the local Desert Christian school, who were heavily involved in the overstuffed but well-orchestrated pre-game festivities. This included cheerleading routines, a gymnastic performance (with the gymnasts shivering in the gusty 59 degree weather) and a marching band.
With the sun descending from beyond the third base line, the game began. Some stadium views:
The “Hawkettes Dance Team” often provide top-of-dugout entertainment.
Another prominent mover and shaker in the JetHawks universe is “Dancin’ Darrell,” an usher immortalized with his own “Hangar Hero” bobblehead last season.
While I missed Darrell’s performance on Saturday, I did get a chance to speak with him and snap the above photo. He and other aspects of the JetHawks experience will be incorporated into an upcoming MiLB.com piece dealing with my Cal League meanderings (Make like a Chattanooga mountain climber and be on the Lookout).
Another individual I spoke with (prior to the game) was second baseman Jose Altuve. He’s 5’5″, very friendly, very fast, and an excellent hitter. In other words, one of my new favorite Minor Leaguers. Here he is in the first inning after legging out a double (look for video interviews with Altuve, closer Kirk Clark and slugger Kody Hinze on MiLB.com).
Moving from Altuve to “A tooth, eh?”, you’ll notice the following bit of dental-themed advertising. If a player hits it during a game he receives a free teeth whitening.
Interesting signage abounds at Clear Channel, in fact.
One thing I’ve learned through my job is that Minor League Baseball teams consider movie theaters to be mortal enemies in their holy war for the almighty family entertainment dollar. This sign makes the animosity explicit.
This poster was hanging in the JetHawks front office. I want it!
And this, which I also want, was hanging in the team store.
And speaking of said store, they had a most impressive hat collection (you know, in case complimentary camo’s not your thing. Or, if you want to complement your complimentary camo).
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Minor League road trip if I wasn’t able to add to my list of “hallucinogenic-worthy things I have dressed up and raced as.” Add Taco Bell Fire Sauce Packet to the overall tally, please.
I raced against “Hot” (one of the Hawkettes, natch) and mascot Kaboom (who I somehow didn’t get a picture of tonight). Kaboom and I lost, after deciding to pose for a picture on field. Video of all this exists — look for it on this blog shortly and if you don’t see it, then demand it. I am responsive to your needs, so long as they are also mine.
Of course, racing as the human embodiment of a mass-produced condiment really works up the appetite. Fortunately, there are plenty of options (at least if you’re a carnivore).
And there are plenty of carnivores among the fanbase.
But one of the most popular additions to the menu are the “Sweet Po-Tater Tots,” which come with a side of syrup. I have experienced them in the past through the magic of Photoshop:
But on Saturday paranoid sideways stare became reality:
The verdict on these is “guilty of deliciousness.” Seriously an excellent combination. I struggled a bit with the “Stealth Burger”, however: a hamburger topped with pulled pork and onion rings. For one, I do not know how to properly depict this photographically:
The Stealth Burger (which is about as stealth as a radioactive elephant on jet-powered rollerskates) tasted fine, but it was difficult for me to combine the different flavors. Ultimately, it made me realize that I enjoy pulled pork significantly more than I do hamburger.
And speaking of hamburger, I was speaking with JetHawks food and beverage director Adam Fillenworth during the game and he mentioned that the JetHawks will soon debut “the smallest hamburger in Minor League Baseball” (the “anti-monster burger” if you will). Any ideas on what to name it? He’s open to suggestions.
At any rate, I enjoyed these creative concessions of colossal caloric content while ensconced in the Clear Channel control console, ably manned by PA announcer J.T. and his crew. Watching these guys in action really fosters an appreciation for just how much is going on at any given moment — sound effects, scoreboard updates, at-bat songs, between-inning contests, ad reads, etc. It’s a ton of work — involving constant communication both in the booth and via walkie-talkie — but everyone involved seemed to be enjoying themselves.
I made it back down to the seating bowl in time to capture an seemingly endless stream of kids chase Kaboom through the outfield (Kaboom not pictured, of course).
Soon after that, the ballgame came to an end. Contrary to the California League stereotypes harbored by East Coast types like myself, this game (which the JetHawks won over Lake Elsinore, 5-1) was played in a tidy two hours and 12 minutes. I was under the assumption that all contests in this circuit took 300 minutes to play and ended in scores of 33-18. (JetHawks broadcaster Jeff Lasky had done his best to disavow such misconceptions when he and I spoke earlier in the evening. Kudos, Jeff, and thanks for having me on the pre-game show.)
But no matter how long a game takes to play, it will always end with hula hoops and tennis balls strewn across the field. That’s how you know when to call it a night.
So, I’m calling it a night. Thanks to the JetHawks for their hospitality (especially uber-helpful media relations manager Will Thornhill). I hope I’ve been able to convey that Clear Channel is a worthwhile place to visit, resulting in the most positive association one could possibly make with corporate radio hegemony.