This week I have been aware of a distinct shift in the tone and tenor of the national Minor League Baseball conversation. Valentine’s Day promos and borderline insane snow-related ticket deals are on the way out, as the primary focus is now on the 2015 season that soon will be. Promotion schedules are being released at a rapid clip, and as a result Opening Day know feels like a tangible thing as opposed to a vague abstraction.
What I’m trying to say here, as always, is that I have a bunch of random new Minor League promos to share with you. So share them, I will:
My prediction is that, by the end of 2015, we’ll be so sick of 30th anniversary Back to the Future celebrations that a future pop culture Terminator will go back in time in order to insure that the movie doesn’t get made at all. But for now, let’s celebrate this rising promotional trend. The Biscuits will be wearing these theme jerseys on June 27, for example:
— Montgomery Biscuits (@BiscuitBaseball) February 6, 2015
Meanwhile, the Charlotte Knights will have a Delorean on the premises.
While currently lacking a distinct visual to go along with it, the Bowie Baysox announced that, on July 19, they will be giving away a Babe Ruth bobblehead in which he is wearing the uniform of the 1914 (Minor League) Baltimore Orioles. This is, in a word, great.
(As for that “Touch a Truck” event, my hope is that the Baysox release a promotional “trailer.” For far more truck puns, courtesy of myself and several Minor League broadcasters, go HERE.)
Also lacking a distinct visual, but also great, is this August 6 eggs-travaganza in Toledo:
Bacon & Eggs Night
Fans will have a sizzlin’ good time at the first ever ‘Bacon and Eggs Night’ at Fifth Third Field. Things will heat up when the Hens take the field wearing egg-themed jerseys and hats against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who will be wearing their popular bacon-themed jerseys.
Thanks to a “last-minute” recruiting day commitment, the Bowling Green Hot Rods are pleased to announce that Ickey Woods will be visiting the ballpark on August 15. Per the team:
Woods will sign autographs, mingle with fans, and showcase his signature celebration….His appearance will be joined by specials on cold cuts, and Woods will lead Bowling Green Ballpark in an attempt to break the record for the most “Ickey Shuffles” done simultaneously in one location.
The Sacramento River Cats are capitalizing on on our nation’s apparently insatiable appetite for ’90s pop culture nostalgia via this “Legends of the Hidden Temple” theme jersey:
If the mere mention of the Shrine of the Silver Monkey brings up intense emotion, our ’90s Night jersey is for you. pic.twitter.com/au5UzLIrM8
— River Cats (@RiverCats) February 6, 2015
Speaking of ’90s nostalgia, you probably heard about this one already. The Brooklyn Cyclones are staging “Saved By the Bell Night” on June 24:
You’ll have to use your imagination for now, but the Richmond Flying Squirrels are giving away Joe Panik “Panik Buttons” on July 21.
Star Wars promotions have become an epidemic throughout Minor League Baseball. The Buffalo Bisons, one of many teams to tie a theme jersey into the evening’s attractions, will be wearing “Jedi Robes” on July 18.
In what is certainly one of the cruder promotions of the year, the Midland RockHounds are wearing these black gold-splattered duds during August’s “Oil Field Weekend.”
(For what it’s worth, I am a much bigger fan of locally-oriented theme jerseys such as that shown above. Pop culture jerseys have their place, but as a general rule I believe that clubs should give precedence to that which highlights the uniqueness of their own community. And, certainly, Midland is a unique baseball market.)
Finally, we have the Lakewood BlueClaws. On May 22, two days after David Letterman signs off from the airwaves, the team is staging a promotion in honor of the iconic late night host. If you’re wondering why they would do such a thing, then simply consult the BlueClaws’ Top 10 List.
This post represents a mere smattering (is there any other type of smattering?) of the notable promotions that will be staged in 2015. Stay tuned, as there will be (too) much more where this comes from.
Can Minor League Baseball be stopped? No, it cannot be stopped.
Over the past two weeks I have spent a heroic amount of time combing through the promotional schedules of Minor League full season teams, in search of the best, brightest, weirdest and wackiest innovations that will be on offer during the 2013 campaign.
As always, this was a LOT of information to digest, especially since there are many teams that schedule multiple promotions for each and every contest. Such promo overload is the inevitable result of the industry’s never-ending quest to be all things to all people, and as an added bonus it sometimes provides unintentional comedy fodder. (The best example of this comes courtesy of an Eastern League club that shall remain anonymous, who in 2011 scheduled “Tribute to Michael Jackson” on the same evening as “Boy Scout Sleepover Night.”)
What follows is a brief list of absurd and/or incongruous promo combinations scheduled for the 2013 season. Maybe one of them will be incongruously taking place at a ballpark near you! (And, of course, if you have further examples then please send ’em my way.)
Akron Aeros — International Juggler’s Day/Thirsty Thursday
This can’t end well.
Kannapolis Intimidators — $2 16 oz Budweiser drafts/Operation Family Time (May 17)
Spending time with the family can be stressful, but the Intimidators are offering a way to take the edge off.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans — Hangover Night/Thirsty Thursday (May 23)
Seems like “Hangover Night” would make more sense on May 24th…
Omaha Storm Chasers — Superhero Cape Giveaway/Diaper Derby (June 8)
Perhaps unprepared Diaper Derby participants could just use the cape?
Lakewood BlueClaws — Cecil Fielder Appearance/Wing Fling (June 12)
While perhaps not quite as rotund as his immodestly-named son, Tigers slugger Prince, there’s no denying that Cecil Fielder was one of the largest individuals to ever don a Major League uniform. He’s scheduled to sign autographs at Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park on June 12, during which the BlueClaws will also be staging a “Wing Fling.” Local restaurateurs will compete in a “best wing” contest, and it seems to me that Cecil would be the perfect judge. And if he’s moved to participate in the scheduled “wing-eating contest”? Forget about it…
Quad Cities River Bandits — “Ghost Rider” Cowboy Monkeys/John Deere Night (June 15)
The Cowboy Monkeys usually ride border collies, but perhaps on this special evening they could ride a tractor instead.
Frederick Keys — Meet the Team/Pajama Night (June 23)
Finally — a socially acceptable way to mingle with professional athletes in an outdoor setting while wearing a bathrobe.
Frederick Keys — Military and Civilians Night (July 31st)
Or, as I like to call it — “Everybody Night.”
Hickory Crawdads — Kids Run the Show/Unemployment Night (August 7)
Well, yeah — when kids are running the show then the adults are out of a job!
I’ve got plenty more where this came from, and I’m sorry if that sounds like a threat.
Minor League staffing changes don’t necessarily make for the most compelling content, but in recent weeks there have been some notable proclamations which are deserving of wider dissemination.
In Lakewood, it was recently announced that the BlueClaws will be losing the only general manager they’ve ever known. Geoff Brown had served in that role since November of 1999 (17 months before the team played their first game), but he’ll soon be taking a new position within the Rutgers University athletic department.
For those who like their news in simplified visual form:
Per the team:
“This is a bittersweet day for me,” said Brown. “For 13 years, this has been my home and my second family. Leaving Lakewood and the BlueClaws was certainly a difficult decision, but the opportunity to work for Tim Pernetti [Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics] in this new position as they join the Big Ten was something that I could not pass up.”
Under Brown’s stewardship, the BlueClaws have led the South Atlantic League in attendance in all 12 years of their existence. He has won the league’s General Manager of the Year Award on four occasions and the BlueClaws have received the league’s Club Merit Award for excellence in overall operations three times.
And — bam! — right before this post went to “press” the news broke that the BlueClaws have named Brown’s replacement: former assistant GM Brandon Marano. A relative BlueClaws newbie — he was hired “only” seven months before the team played its first game — Marano is a graduate of Rutgers. See how everything comes full circle?
Welcome to the GM clique, Mr. Marano. You will be receiving a key to the executive washroom shortly.
And speaking of the BlueClaws, you may recall that I featured their “Restore the Shore” initiative in a recent post. Well, now that initiative has a notable new component in the form of “Sandy Ovations.”
The BlueClaws, at all 70 home games in 2013, will honor one company, individual, or charitable organization that contributed to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, the team announced, unveiling a new 70 Sandy Ovations program.
Organizations will be randomly selected among those that apply or are nominated by others.
“There are so many people that deserve an ovation for their efforts in the aftermath of Sandy, and recognizing them will make for an ovation-worthy moment at every one of our games this year,” said Brown.
Each honoree will receive tickets to that night’s BlueClaws game, a ceremonial first pitch for one representative, recognition on the field between innings, a table on the concourse, a photo with a BlueClaws player, and an interview on the BlueClaws radio broadcast.
But getting back to the topic at hand — Geoff isn’t the only GM with the last name of Brown to be vacating his or her position. Three hours before the BlueClaws made their announcement, the Quad Cities River Bandits let loose with the unfortunate news that Stefanie Brown would be stepping down from her position due to “urgent family responsibilities.”
2012 marked Brown’s fifth year with the River Bandits and first as GM, and ownership made it clear that she will have a role with the team as long as she desires one:
“Stefanie Brown is an incredibly valuable part of the River Bandits and the Quad Cities community, and one of my favorite people,” said team owner Dave Heller. “She is immensely talented and will have as much of a role with the River Bandits organization as she wants, for as long as she wants.”
Meanwhile, the River Bandits are in the midst of searching for Brown’s replacement.
Finally, the Hagerstown Suns have made a unique hire in the form of ex-city mayor Robert Bruchey. The politician, who had been in support of building a new downtown stadium for the team while he was in office, will serve as the Suns’ director of sales, marketing and community affairs. You can read more in this Herald-Mail article, which also includes this file photo of hizzoner.
It goes without saying that Bruchey is an anomalous hire in the world of Minor League Baseball. Given his municipal connections and prior team support, it seems like he might be a beneficial guy to have in the front office…
And on that needlessly elliptical note, I’ll sign off for today. But since this was a pretty sober-minded, let me try to briefly rectify that by posting this awesome action shot that the Trenton Thunder shared on Facebook last month (along with the caption of “Yeah, this kid nailed it!”)
Karate Kid is officially the second-coolest youngster to ever attend a Thunder game. For those who may have forgotten, the number one spot is forever held down by the Confident Kid:
Approximately two and a half months have passed since the advent of superstorm Sandy, and the areas most affected by this meteorological calamity are still in the beginning stages of what has been and will continue to be a long and arduous clean-up process.
With the long view in mind, I wanted to dedicate (the bulk of) today’s post to informing you of/reminding you about a forward-thinking Lakewood BlueClaws initiative: Restore the Shore.
“Restore the Shore” is a multi-faceted and long-running program, which the BlueClaws are running in conjunction with several local businesses. It all starts with the purchase of a “Restore the Shore” t-shirt, which can be obtained HERE.
Per the team:
– Each Friday until Memorial Day, staff members (or families) wear the t-shirts and each person makes a donation every Friday.
Businesses that participate will be honored in a ceremony at a 2013 BlueClaws game.
And then there’s this all-important question: Where does the money go?
More from the team:
The BlueClaws and Atlantic Physical Therapy Center are committed to supporting families impacted by Hurricane Sandy. In early 2013, those impacted will be able to fill out an application and donations will be made to as many families as possible.
The BlueClaws staff has been wearing their Restore the Shore shirts each and every Friday since the initiative started (I even spotted them doing so at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville), and since then the movement has spread to other Minor League markets as well. Behold, the Lexington Legends.
Minor League Baseball charities has donated $10,000 to the program, thus far the largest single contribution received.
Kudos to the BlueClaws for taking the lead in such a long-running and impactful charitable initiative. I’ll continue to publicize and provide updates on these efforts as we move closer to Opening Day.
In (far) less notable news, remember last week when I gave some publicity to the retro baseball-card inspired staff bios of the State College Spikes?
Well, as a reward for my positive PR the team sent along my very own retro baseball card. I am honored.
The above pic was a self-portrait taken during one of my “On the Road” stadium visits last season. The first person to identify in the comments where I was in that picture shall receive a random assortment of Minor League swag that I have lying in a box under my desk.
Good luck, and for (far) more 1987 Topps content click HERE to check out last year’s multi-part series on players included in that set who have gone on to Minor League coaching careers. It won me a Pulitzer.
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
Metro Bank Park, home of the Harrisburg Senators, is located on City Island and surrounded by the Susquehanna River.
One of the perpetual perils of such an aquatic location is flooding, and last week the stadium got hit and hit hard. This aerial view is truly breathtaking:
The most unfortunate thing about the flooding was the timing of it all — it occurred in tandem with the Eastern League semi-finals, forcing the Senators and opposing Richmond Flying Squirrels to play the entire series in Richmond (the Senators were promptly swept in three games, scoring three runs total).
Some more images, courtesy of Sens GM Randy Whitaker. The lower the water level, the more recent the shot.
The Senators offices have re-opened and the phone lines restored, but access to the ballpark is still restricted. There is a LOT of cleaning up to do, but the good news is that structural damage is minimal. Metro Bank Park, which underwent a plethora of renovations prior to the 2010 campaign, was built to withstand such aquatic intrusions.
As you may recall from my visit last season, the stadium concourse is ringed with submarine-style doors. That women’s restroom was well-protected!
Since I’ve now got water on the brain, now seems as good a time to check in with your good friends and mine the Everett AquaSox. The team is recently began their weekly offseason “Meet the AquaSox” video series, a great example of simple and engaging offseason content.
Here’s the latest edition, featuring squirrel-emulating Aristocats fan Patrick Brady:
And speaking of the cinema, throughout this past season the Lakewood BlueClaws produced a series of movie-themed “Catch of the Day” game programs. Truly, some of the best graphic design to be found in the Minors.
Could someone please do a movie poster parody entitled “Aguirre, the Wrath of Blog” with my face superimposed over that of Klaus Kinski’s? I’d really appreciate it!
One of the things I love most about Minor League Baseball — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — is how much the atmosphere can vary from location to location. No matter the league or level of play, you never quite know what you’re going to get.
I spent Wednesday evening within the vast crustacean-crushing expanse of Aberdeen’s Cal Ripken Stadium, but Thursday was a far different story — a jump up in the level of play, but a step back in time in terms of the stadium environment.
Welcome to Municipal Stadium, the 80-year-old home of the Hagerstown Suns.
I was immediately reminded of Kinston’s Grainger Stadium — covered grandstand seating, bleachers down the right and left field lines, and a concourse located directly between the ticket booth and the stadium itself.
And see that grandiloquent spiral staircase up there? That is how one gains access to the rooftop press box.
From this vantage point, I was able to get a prime view of the pre-game dance team performance…
as well as the ballpark’s rustic surroundings.
Just don’t look down, as vertigo is the result.
The pressbox itself is decorated with a beautiful baseball-emblazoned carpet…
as well as holes in the ceiling made by actual baseballs.
It’s a pleasant albeit dilapidated environment, one certainly not built to accommodate the hordes of media who descended upon Hagerstown earlier this season to cover the likes of super-teen Bryce Harper and 20-something extraordinaire Stephen Strasburg. For more on that check out my piece on MiLB.com.
Before the game I did my usual array of Flipcam interviews, conducting these riveting conversations just outside of the home clubhouse.
And while it’s not visible in the shot, that red circle amidst the retired numbers reads “Adenhart” in honor of Hagerstown native Nick Adenhart. The team recently held “Nick Adenhart Night” at the stadium, featuring a memorabilia auction to benefit the charitable foundation established in his memory.
It was September 1, and even baseball players thoughts were turning to football.
While visiting Aberdeen caused me wax rhapsodic about endless expanses, the Hagerstown experience is all about the intimacy.
The dugouts here are indeed unique, the closest to home plate that I have ever seen. On the home side (first base), fans can plop down their concessions on the roof and watch from there (an area generally occupied by host families and booster club members). On the third base side there is the row of dugout seating seen above.
While the videoboard was on the fritz, the manually-operated scoreboard worked just fine.
And further along the wall is the visitor’s bullpen, looking for all the world like a piece of outfield signage.
It really is close quarters all around. The following picture shows the aftermath of a between-inning promotion, with the contestants sidestepping fans and their concessions as they leave the top of the dugout.
This has led the Suns’ front office to get creative with some of their promotions — in one memorable instance, rubber chickens were thrown off of the roof to contestants down on the field.
My camera’s number one adversary is movement of any kind, but I nonetheless did my best to document this most unique between-inning endeavor.
While back up on the roof I took in the view from the so-called “best seat in the house,” a wooden bench just to the right of the press box entrance.
It wasn’t quite as relaxing as I would have liked. As I was trying to prop my feet up in a pose of exaggerated comfort, a foul ball was hit in my direction and slammed off the press box facade with a disconcerting smack. Suns broadcaster Bryan Holland, a veteran of such ball-istic missiles, seemed to be unfazed.
So back down to the concourse I went, the land of vague PSAs and emotionally absent vending machines.
There were discounted hot dogs to be had at the main concession stand…
but duty compelled me to visit Hartle’s Fry Tent.
It was wing night (six for $3), so I opted for an order of those — with a side of beet eggs!
The wings weren’t very good. But beet eggs — hardboiled, peeled and pickled — were a definitely worthwhile $2 purchase. And, like a committed proponent of a classless egalitarian society, they are red all the way through.
The light meal left me feeling like I had to visit the leftfield light pole, which was knocked down during a harrowing July thunderstorm (only one game had to be canceled, remarkably enough).
Here’s the new light pole location, with the old clearly visible.
Meanwhile, Thirsty Thursday was in full swing. It was definitely a bit of a rougher crowd down there — bald heads and tattoos amidst a thick crowd of cigarette smoke.
While hanging out amidst the Thirsty Thursday crew, I happened to overhear the most obscene conversation I’ve ever been privy to at a Minor League ballpark. Details are confidential.
Not confidential is the ballgame’s final score — 10-1 in favor of the visiting Lakewood BlueClaws. Here’s the winning team engaging in ritualistic post-game celebrations, a fitting final image from an evening largely devoted to taking things in from an elevated vantage point.
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.
Last week I made the observation that the Tucson Padres’ new logo would be the last unveiled this offseason.
What I meant to say was that it would be the last primary logo unveiled this offseason. Because, of course, new logos cannot and will not be stopped. Not now and not ever. The latest to be unleashed upon an unsuspecting public is this:
And — what’s this? — the logo is NOT I repeat NOT the work of either Studio Simon or Plan B Branding. According to the press release: The logo was designed by Francis Santiquilani of FS Design. Santiquilani also designed the new River Bandits logos in 2007.
While I recover from this shocking news (a logo not designed by Plan B or Studio Simon? Is this even possible?), let me divert your attention with my new favorite photo in the always-entertaining category of “Bobblehead Honoree Posing With His Or Her Bobblehead.”
Let’s hear it for pitcher Mike Zagurski and the Lakewood BlueClaws!
But I digress…
February is nearly upon us, and you know what that means — Valentine’s Day! I’ll do a comprehensive post on Minor League V-Day initiatives in the near future, but for now I’d just like to share the most romantic desktop wallpaper ever created.
If that won’t put your special someone in the mood then I’m afraid nothing will.
We are in the midst of “Hot Stove Dinner” season, that time of year when teams stage gala banquets featuring distinguished celebrity speakers, memorabilia auctions, and awkward jokes from suit-wearing media relations directors pressed into MC duty.
I’ve already written about these dinners in the past, and an exhaustive rundown of that which has or will take place would exhaust the reader while making me feel run down. But in the interest of stirring up what passes for debate these days, I’d like to remark that the Richmond Flying Squirrels have put together what I believe is this year’s best Hot Stove Dinner line-up:
— Darryl Strawberry
— Billy Wagner
— Tommy John
— Javier Lopez (San Francisco Giants reliever)
— Eddie Kasko (Played for the International League’s Richmond Virginians, 1954-56)
— The entire Flying Squirrels 2011 field staff
— Pat O’Conner, president of Minor League Baseball
Remarkable, no? Would anyone care to dispute my assertion that this is the year’s best Hot Stove line-up? If so, put your disputation into email form and send to firstname.lastname@example.org
But let’s face it, Hot Stove Dinners are little more than a way to pass the time during the interminable offseason void. One indication that said void is on its way out is that teams have begun releasing 2011 promotional schedules. Observe:
— Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (favorite promo: Harry Kalas bobblehead, May 16)
— Lakewood BlueClaws (favorite promo: appearance by tag-team tandem of Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, June 11 )
— Inland Empire 66ers (favorite promo: Lucha Libre Mask Giveaway, July 22)
Also, in the “weekly promo” category, the Lake Elsinore Storm have announced the alliterative beauty that is “Wacky Weenie Wednesday.” All fans receive free hot dogs through the seventh inning.
There will be plenty more where all this came from, but like an opponent of the Iron Sheik or an empty beer keg I’m all tapped out for now. Well, except for this. It’s a video featuring Conrad the easily-distracted costumed crustacean: