Over on MiLB.com you can read my round-up of the 2014-15 Minor League re-branding season, featuring 11 new team names and/or logos. In conjunction with this, my latest journalistic masterwork, I decided to take a look around the Minor League landscape in order to subjectively determine the team from each league that is most in need of a makeover.
We’ll start at the top of the Minor League ladder and work our way down. Perhaps, come this time next year, some of these clubs will have opted to update their iconography. Whether you agree, disagree or couldn’t care less, feel free to tell me so in the comments or on Twitter (@bensbiz).
International League: Louisville Bats (current logo in use since 2002)
This logo is a little too reminiscent of Batman, so maybe it’s time that Louisville Gotham selves another one.
Pacific Coast League: Fresno Grizzlies (current logo in use since 2008)
The Grizzlies are actively embracing their post-San Francisco identity, but the orange and black color scheme still screams “Giants affiliation!”
Eastern League: Portland Sea Dogs (current logo in use since 2003)
Southern League: Mississippi Braves (current logo in use since 2005)
Texas League: Midland RockHounds (current logo in use since 1999)
California League: High Desert Mavericks (current logo in use since 1991)
Carolina League: Carolina Mudcats (current logo in use since 1991)
Florida State League: Tampa Yankees (current logo in use since 1994)
Midwest League: Lansing Lugnuts (current logo in use since 1996)
As was pointed out to me when I visited Lansing: That’s not a lugnut. It’s a bolt.
South Atlantic League: Kannapolis Intimidators (current logo in use since 2001)
New York-Penn League: Brooklyn Cyclones (current logo in use since 2001)
The Cyclones seem to do everything right, so I may as well give them a hard time for not updating the logo they came into existence with.
Northwest League: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (current logo in use since 1997)
Appalachian League: Johnson City Cardinals (current logo in use since 1995)
Pioneer League: Helena Brewers (current logo in use since 2011)
In closing, I’d like to offer a tip of the cap to Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net. It’s a great source of info.
In many parts of the country, the temperature is below freezing and ballparks are blanketed in snow. Images such as these are commonplace:
The thought of warm weather, freshly cut grass and nightly baseball games may seem remote at the moment but Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster (and author) Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is here to remind us Opening Day will soon be upon us.
In this guest post, Goldberg-Strassler channels his inner Ernest Thayer via this offseason-themed rendition of the classic baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.” I recommend that this be read aloud, whilst utilizing the most stentorian tone that can be mustered:
The skies were grim in Mudville, snow blanketing the ground.
The wind was fierce and wicked and the flu was going ‘round.
Elsewhere throughout the nation ’twas football tackling the day,
Mudvillians cared naught for this, nor for the NBA.
Just one sport could sway their hearts, on this they hung their reason,
The national pastime was still at rest, in the thick of the offseason.
But now Christmas had come and gone, a new year was at hand,
Hall of Fame debate dissipated; Opening Day was being planned.
They knew how last year finished, a reminiscence far from fond,
Mighty Casey choked the game away, leaving two ducks on the pond.
Yet here their hope bloomed anew, banishing all strife;
Last week a columnist reported: “He’s in the best shape of his life.”
Add to the new Nine roster the gigantic lefty Hill,
A first-rate fireballer costing over $200 mill.
The free agent haul continued with first baseman Steel Magliore,
Projecting 42 roundtrippers (not to mention solid WAR).
Good riddance to old Cooney, farewell to lulu Flynn,
Two traitors chasing paychecks; too bad they’ll never win.
“The Mudville Nine are flawless; ’twill be a special year,”
Mighty Casey modestly proclaimed, with no hint of a sneer.
“We’ve learned from any past mistakes, if you catch my drift —
And, no, I s’pose, I’m not opposed, should they act to ban the shift.”
These words did bring Mudvillians strength, all through a hailstorm night,
As if the ice were gopher balls, being blasted out of sight.
Now from the Twitter feed there rose a mighty tweet,
It swept through the school halls, it echoed in the street.
It caromed across Facebook, filt’ring into Instagram
One grandmother proudly printed it and shared it with her fam.
What was it? A picture of a sunset above the field of play,
And the words, modestly imposed, “65 days away.”
Thanks to Jesse Goldberg-Strassler for sharing his work, and thank you for reading it. Regular Ben’s Biz Blog programming will resume shortly.
For the past six months, the material on this blog has been almost entirely devoted to “On the Road” stadium visit recaps. I hope that you enjoyed reading these posts, and if you haven’t read them then I hope that you might soon take the time to do so. But now it’s time to move on, psychically unencumbered, to something that I haven’t done for a while: a full-to-bursting Ben’s Biz Blog bouillabaisse!
This will be the first in a randomly occurring series of posts in which I dig into my email vault of blog-worthy items from the season that was. Let the randomness begin! Randomness such as, oh, I don’t know, a Durham Bulls fan tweeting in the guise of a Game of Thrones character.
Single drives Belnome home! Ump calls him out! Hound leaps out and kills ump! Mass chaos! King screams for order! 2 outs. #sansaball
— Mur Lafferty (@mightymur) September 13, 2014
Some context regarding the above Twitter outburst, courtesy of the Durham Bulls’ “Hit Bull Win Blog.”
Mur Lafferty, or @mightymur as she is known on Twitter, is a Campbell Award winning author who covers games from a very unique perspective — through the eyes of Game Of Thrones character Sansa Stark. She calls it #Sansaball and being the nerds that we are (see Star Wars Night jerseys), we look forward to this every time she’s in the building.
She seemed to be in the building a lot during the 2014 season, as evidenced by tweets containing the #Sansaball hashtag. Tweets such as these, and so on and so forth:
Ser Christian home run! 4-1 House Durham! Priests of R’hllor work their magic to make our large Bull statue flame and smoke! #sansaball
— Mur Lafferty (@mightymur) September 1, 2014
Minor League front office types often boast that they are in the “memory-making business,” and, well, images like this sure make for a great memory:
That picture was taken way back on Opening Day, as Richmond Flying Squirrels mascot Nutzy entered the building in a most memorable fashion.
The evening also ended memorably. Flying Squirrels team president Todd “Parney” Parnell did his best Johnny Cash impersonation by jumping through a ring of fire.
Moving on from Johnny Cash to the Beatles, it’s now time to take a look at “A Day in the Life” of a Minor League employee. This video was made by Greg Monahan, the Lansing Lugnuts on-field host and a graduate student at Michigan State. It was made as part of a school project, and it is well worth your time.
And that will be it for today. Now that I’m back from vacation and all of my road trip content is in the rear view, this blog is officially in offseason mode. I’ve got plenty of material to share, but am always looking for more. If there’s something that you’d like to see covered, or if you are interested in potentially writing a guest post on a relevant Minor League topic of your choice, then please get in touch. Like Richard Marx, I will be right here waiting for you.
Opening Day is upon us! Long-time readers of this blog know that my sentiments regarding a new baseball season can be summed up in four words.
I’ve got plenty to share with you over the coming weeks — a couple of “Return to the Road” posts, a couple of “Why I Love…” guest posts, and, of course, the reveal of my 2014 road trip itinerary (I’m going on four trips in 2014, with the first one kicking off HERE on April 28).
But it’s Opening Day! What better way to start the season than with a good old fashioned full-to-bursting bouillabaisse post? Doesn’t the mere thought of that make you want to dance?
In Lansing, meanwhile, the Lugnuts are asking “Guess What Day It Is?” They do not mean Opening Day, however.
The Lugnuts, in their own words:
Every Wednesday home game at Cooley Law School Stadium is Hump Day, with half-off drinks from 7 to 8 p.m. and a special appearance from Humphrey, a live camel!
Humphrey’s night will begin by delivering the first pitch baseballs out to the field. Afterward, he’ll saunter over to the west gate for pictures and petting. Lugnuts fans will also have the opportunity to win a camel-ride.
Other activities include a Hump Day t-shirt toss and a special “On the Hump” trivia segment featuring Lugs pitchers.
Limited-edition Lugnuts Hump Day merchandise is currently available at the Nuts and Bolts store.
I just hope that Humphrey the camel toes the line when he’s on the field. Any untoward protrusions could be embarrassing.
Prior to first pitch deliveries, be they camel-related or otherwise, the playing field will be bustling with batting practice activity. When such activity concludes, time is of the essence. Think any Minor League teams will be able to operate at a greater speed than that displayed by the University of Tennessee?
But, of course, there are going to be times when no games are going on and the playing field is entirely deserted. During these occasions, unwanted nocturnal guests may see fit to make a visit. But not in Fort Wayne, who have a coyote on the case.
— Fort Wayne TinCaps (@TinCaps) March 11, 2014
Another way to ward of unwanted guests: continuous on-field aerial surveillance!
Ballpark opponents aren’t necessarily unwanted guests, as their presence is a necessary component of the competitive experience. Last season I wrote about the Harrisburg Senators, who allow male fans to express their disdain for the visiting team via the time-honored act of urinating on the logo. I happy to report that, in 2014, the Senators have combined all of their Eastern League opponents, putting them all on blast via one urinal cake.
Pee on them all indiscriminately!
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) April 1, 2014
As we embark on yet another Minor League Baseball season, please remember: I remain the greatest of all time.
Thus far, this ongoing “Return to the Road” series has highlighted outside-of-the-ballpark trip highlights from Appleton, WI to Beloit, WI (but barely) to Midland, MI. Midland is where we are going to remain, as we begin today’s fourth and final post in the series.
I awoke in Midland on Wednesday, June 26, and had a little bit of time to explore after checking out of the hotel. After all, that evening’s destination of Lansing (home of the Lugnuts) was just a short drive away. My partner in these explorations was writer Matt LaWell, who shadowed me during this trip as part of a book he is writing on Minor League Baseball. We began in downtown Midland, which included the periodic table-influenced “H Hotel” and its attendant eateries “Table restaurant” and the “Zinc Cafe.”
The heart of downtown Midland, and certainly its most recognizable landmark, is “The Tridge,”
The Tridge, built in 1981, is what its name implies: a three-way bridge (built at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa Rivers). A Farmer’s Market is located nearby (it wasn’t open on the day I visited), and a variety of cultural events are held in and around this area as well. It’s all very scenic and well-maintained, and we were fortunate enough to have visited on a beautiful day.
This statue, simply title “Couple,” features its titular individuals gazing upon the Tridge in perpetuity.
After a little bit of wandering, we came upon the similarly-titled “Family.”
Unfortunately, a certain subset of Midland’s public statue-viewing public can’t keep their hands to themselves.
A little bit of local history, courtesy of a rock.
These idyllic early afternoon wandering were much enjoyed, but soon enough it was time to depart not just the Tridge but Midland itself. Farewell county courthouse, I hardly knew ye!
From here on out, my outside-of-the-ballpark content from this week-long Midwest League excursion is exceedingly minimal. As previously mentioned, I attended that night’s Lansing Lugnuts game (and wrote about it HERE and HERE and HERE). Unfortunately, there was no time to explore Lansing proper, as I had to get up bright and early the next morning in order to appear on Grand Rapids radio. That was the first act in what turned out to be a full-to-bursting West Michigan Whitecaps experience, which was chronicled HERE and HERE and, yes, even HERE. My time with the Whitecaps turned out to be so full-to-bursting that I didn’t get any real chance to explore Grand Rapids, either, although on the way out of the city Matt LaWell and I stopped at an eatery recommended by then-Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Slavko Bekovic.
This eatery was called “The Winchester.” As a Brooklyn resident, I am quite familiar with this sort of establishment: a locally-sourced nouveau American bistro with self-consciously hip sensibilities.
Here’s a picture of Matt LaWell at the bar. I only wish his well-manicured mustache was visible, as well-manicured mustaches are just the sort of thing one would expect to see at such an establishment.
If you’ve got $40 to spend on a hamburger, then you’re everything that is wrong with America. But if this is wrong, maybe you don’t want to be right….
All in all the Winchester had a very impressive menu, and “GF” designations are always much appreciated by celiac disease-afflicted individuals such as myself.
An order of chicken wings and polenta fries turned out to be way more food that I bargained for.
Sorry for the anti-climax, but this is all I’ve got and my Midwest League 2013 content well is now officially dry. (From Grand Rapids it was on to South Bend and my time visiting the Silver Hawks was chronicled HERE and HERE. Unfortunately, time constraints were such that no explorations of South Bend proper were able to take place.)
Therefore, this particular “Return to the Road” series is going to end with a picture of chicken wings and polenta fries. Isn’t that always the case?
In any case — I’ll “Return to the Road” again before the offseason is through, in order to cover August’s trip to the West Coast. Gotta milk the material for all it’s worth!
The previous post to have been published right here on this little slice of the internet that I call my professional home featured a bevy of ostensibly quality videos from the 2013 campaign.
[cue sound of a needle scratching across a record]
What a needlessly convoluted sentence that was! What I meant to say is: let’s start this post with some more videos.
Specifically, I’d like to highlight this A+ effort out of Daytona. The weather in that city can be quite intense, to say the least, turning tarp pulls into a harrowing battle with the elements. This preview is rated MM for “meteorological mayhem:”
The intro to the above video shows clips of several notable “tarpocalypse” videos from seasons past (at least one of which was featured on this blog). Well, this one outta Ogden can now be added to the ranks:
Oh. but calamity can befall ballpark denizens in a multitude of ways. This season Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler emerged as the nation’s pre-eminent chronicler of press box laptop foul ball casualties. To wit:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 2, 2013
Let’s take a closer look. First up is L. Tyler Murray of the Dunedin Blue Jays.
— L. Tyler Murray (@LTylerMurray) August 2, 2013
Next, we have a MUST-READ ACCOUNT of foul ball laptop terror (complete with an absolutely uncanny audio clip), courtesy of Winston-Salem’s Brian Boesch.
For the record, Winston-Salem’s aforementioned “The Dash Board Blog” is easily among the best team blogs in all of Minor League Baseball. Broadcasters looking to raise their writing game would do well to scroll through its ample archives.
And then there’s Goldberg-Strassler’s 2013 broadcast partner, the inimitable and on-the-rise Slavko Bekovic.
— Slavko Bekovic (@SBekovic) May 11, 2013
And wait, what’s this? Yet another example of foul ball lap top destruction? Yes, it’s true, and this one is live and direct from Great Lakes.
— Great Lakes Loons (@greatlakesloons) August 31, 2013
Speaking of Mr. Goldberg-Strassler, during the season he anchored a weekly podcast called “Around the Nest.” In this podcast he talked to every broadcaster within the Blue Jays farm system (himself and Bekovic included), so that they could share their expertise regarding that particular team. The end result was a thorough farm system overview, all in the course of a single broadcast.
A replicable idea, no?
This has been Ben’s Biz Blog post #992. Ben’s Biz over and out.
Remember that last post I wrote, all of two days ago? It was about the Lansing Lugnuts, and while it featured dozens of photos and 1300+ words it still ended before the ballgame even started.
So, today, let’s pick things up with the ballgame about to start. In Lansing, you KNOW you’re close to that cry of “Play Ball!” when you see this.
Yep! The team’s relief corps was en route to the bullpen, playing “Follow the Leader” the whole way. Here’s a six second excerpt:
Follow the leader https://t.co/Mlm1opEuyu
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 26, 2013
Of course, for FAR more “Follow the Leader” content, you can read my eminently worthwhile MiLB.com piece.
With the game about to begin, I ducked out of the stadium itself in order to document its immediate downtown surroundings. I hadn’t had time to do that previously, and adherence to routine and previously established protocol is crucial to the well-being of my perpetually ramshackle operation.
This was actually taken from outside the stadium, as I did a lap around the premises.
The Lugnuts’ stadium used to be called “Oldsmobile Park,” a fitting moniker for a stadium in a city where Oldsmobiles were actually produced (over 14 million were made in Lansing, per Wikipedia). But GM stopped producing Oldsmobiles in the midst of the crippling 21st-century economic downturn, and, correspondingly, they also stopped paying for stadium naming rights.
The ballpark is now known as Cooley Law School Stadium…
but the playing surface has been named “Jackson Field.”
But the facility is NOT referred to as “Jackson Field at Cooley Law School Stadium,” as these two sponsoring entities must be mentioned independently of one another (violations of this policy are punishable by death).
This all seems a little confusing, and I asked Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler if he agreed.
“I don’t think people are confused,” he replied. “I think they just say ‘Let’s go to a Lugnuts game!'”
My outside wanderings complete, I re-entered Jackson Field at the Facility Formerly Known as Oldsmobile Park that is Now Referred to as Cooley Law School Stadium and — yes! — baseball was indeed taking place.
Let’s go to a Lugnuts game!
Well, heck. Since I’m already up and about and on my feet and all I may as well do some internal wandering as well.
As you can see, it was a pretty sparse crowd on the Wednesday evening that I was in attendance. The team is averaging approximately 4400 fans a game this season, but Jesse said that this is merely the middle ground of Lansing’s all or nothing reality.
“We almost never draw 4400,” he said. “It’s either 10 or 11 thousand or one or two thousand.”
C’est la vie. One of the perks of attending a game on a sparse evening is that there is plenty of room for concourse wandering.
And it was here on the concourse that I met one Keirsh Cochran, a self-described “135 pounds of solid muscle” who, among other things, has inspired the composition of rapturous love songs.
When I posted my road trip itinerary this past April I put out a call for “Designated Eaters,” as in: individuals who can sample the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. Keirsh responded with both speed and enthusiasm:
I am the Marketing and Community Relations intern for the Fort Wayne TinCaps this season. I have been an avid reader for a little over a year. You are a professional hero of mine, so it would be a lifelong regret if I didn’t apply for the June 26th Designated eater spot. You will be in Lansing. The TinCaps will be in Lansing. I can easily make the trip from Fort Wayne to Lansing. You aren’t making the trip to FW this season, I see this as nothing short of destiny, and when destiny knocks at your door and presents an opportunity like this, you reach out and grab it.
Also as a built in incentive to pick me, I have a pooping cow keychain on my promo room key that I believe came from you.
Yes! The pooping cow! You may (but almost definitely don’t) recall my October 2010 post in which I wrote about visiting the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. During that visit I put 25 cents into this machine, received a pooping cow, and then offered to send this pooping cow to the first person who asked for it.
The Pooping Cow keychain ended up being sent to the TinCaps front office at the request of creative director Tony DesPlaines, who then bequeathed it to on-field promotions wizard Abby Naas, who then attached it to the key that unlocks the door to the promo supply room.
“So, if someone needs to get into the promo room they ask ‘Hey, can I get the pooping cow?'” explained Keirsh. “It’s one of the things that makes [Fort Wayne’s] Parkview Field Parkview Field.”
Sorry for this absurd tangent, but I love everything about this. The Pooping Cow was purchased in Vegas, brought back to New York, sent to Fort Wayne, and then anecdotally re-entered my life three years later via a professional excursion to Lansing.
Keirsh left the pooping cow back in Fort Wayne, but he didn’t travel to Lansing alone.
That’s his girlfriend Christie Burd. She currently works full-time at a salon, and is a big fan of the TinCaps as well. Of Keirsh, she says that “I fell in love with him at the ballpark.”
Of Christie and Keirsh, I will say that they are adorable. That’s not a word I use very often, and I hope it doesn’t sound condescending, but they are! Here’s Keirsh without his better half, ready for some serious concession stand indulgence. “I’m the Kobayashi of Minor League Baseball,” he claimed.
As mentioned in the previous post, Lansing serves as the base of operations for Professional Sports Catering (which currently handles concessions for 14 Minor League clubs). Food and Beverage director Brett Telder uses Cooley Law School Stadium as a proving ground of sorts, in that branded entities that are successful there might then expand to other stadiums who are PSC clients.
It was a slow night, and Telder was more than happy to give Keirsh (and Christie, and me, and basically anyone who wanted to talk enthusiastically about food) a thorough culinary tour. (As mentioned in the last post, this is a dude with the PSC logo tattooed on his forearm. He is very passionate about his job).
We began at Pies, a new pizza stand.
Telder explained that Pies is a reaction to the thoroughly mediocre pizza served at most Minor League ballparks. At Pies, thin-crust pizzas are baked at 550 degrees for 15 minutes. The result are piping hot, eminently crispy thin-crust creations. Keirsh got one of the day’s specials, a cheeseburger supreme pizza with bacon, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, onions, garlic-infused olive oil and even a ketchup and mustard base.
Now that I’m gluten-free pizza is obviously something that I can’t have, and in all honestly I wasn’t that much of an aficionado even before changing my diet. But this thing looked awesome! Keirsh reported that “When I closed my eyes, it felt like I was eating a bacon cheeseburger.”
We then ambled next door to another new addition for 2013, the Blue Olive.
If it was possible, Telder was even more excited about Blue Olive than he was about Pies.
“We make the hummus on site, drizzle it with olive oil and serve it with chips as well as bread so you can sop it all up at the end,” he said. “It’s about value, and good quality, and food made right before your eyes. It’s all about passion, and I get my satisfaction when I see you eating it because I know you’re going to love it.”
This latest bit of PSC proselytizing occurred as we walked over to his office with an array of Blue Olive platters. From left to right, here’s the hummus platter (for Christie), the gyro (for Keirsh) and the (gluten-free) Greek salad (for gluten-free me).
Have at it, Keirsh!
“That first bite, it’s great, you can really taste the spice in the meat,” he said.
Christie, meanwhile, remarked that “I’m not a huge hummus fan but I really love this, so that says something.”
As for me? I didn’t write down any of my quotes, so let’s assume that I said something along the lines of “I hereby declare this Greek Salad to be awesome, to the extent that it has assumed a near physiological primacy on my personal Maslow’s pyramid.”
I wrote down some of Tedler’s quotes, meanwhile, as he held court from behind his desk.
“You know you’ve made it when you get your own Slushee machine,” said Telder, which you can see there on the bottom right. He’s been a chef for 20 years, coming to the Lugnuts after a stint at Lansing’s now-defunct Cadillac Club. And, yes, as mentioned before he does indeed have a PSC tattoo.
“People ask me ‘Well, what if you get fired?’ And I tell them ‘I won’t get fired.’ I just don’t do that.”
(And, yes, as you can see I smudged up my camera lens at this juncture of the evening).
Christie and I were ready to call it a day on the food front, but the Kobayashi of Minor League Baseball was ready to keep on going. We walked past Burgertopia, where this was the special on offer…
and, oh, yeah, right, we also walked by a baseball game that was taking place…
but we ended up here at Franx, in which “x is substituted for the letter combination of “k-s.” This saves money on signage, as teams are often charged on a per-letter basis.
Keirsh and Christie didn’t even know I was taking this picture (and — look — another Matt LaWell sighting), but STILL they are being adorable. Keirsh has a big old grin as Christie wipes food debris off of his face.
But anyway, here are the Franx offeringx.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2013
“It tastes like I took a bite out of a hot dog and then scooped out a chunk of baked potato. It sounds weird, hearing that come out of my mouth,” said Keirsh.
“You’re a chef, you’re speaking my language!” replied Telder.
Meanwhile, the adorable train kept right on chugging along.
PAUSE! It’s time for a #Cupdate, in which I provide of a snapshot of collectible plastic drinkware so that a small but passionate subset of readers may obsess over it.
Beer on the left, soda on the right:
UNPAUSE! Keirsh and Christie had moved on to dessert.
They opted for a banana split.
As we sat down I perchanced to look up, and reacted with alacrity after noticing with alarm that ball was traveling toward us. This spheroid hurtling through the air had been hit by Fort Wayne’s Alberth Martinez, representing his sixth home run of the season. I retrieved it, I swear, but immediately tossed it to a kid. That’s why no documentation exists.
I do, however, have documentation of this:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2013
“It’s weird. This was our first baseball date because he’s always working,” said Christie.
“This was a really solid first baseball date,” replied Keirsh.
“I don’t think we’re gonna beat this one,” said Christie.
“I don’t think we will,” echoed Keirsh.
And with that they were gone, adorably disappearing into the night. Replacing them was this individual, who I suppose is adorable in his own right.
That’s Craig Wieczorkiewicz, aka “The Midwest League Traveler.” If you’ve enjoyed my Midwest League content so far then bookmark Craig’s blog and follow him on Twitter (@MWLTraveler), as he is a cornucopia of news, notes, and anecdotes related to this venerable Class A circuit. I interviewed Craig as well, but I’m having trouble locating the file and this post is hitting the 2000 word mark so that is unfortunately going to have to wait for another day.
And while all this was happening, the home team secured the victory.
Cue the theme song! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2013
It was almost time to leave, but not before one last goodbye to my pals Jesse, Slavko, and “Sugar.”
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2013
And, okay, that’s really all she wrote. Thanks to all involved for a capitol evening!
Due to the vagaries of my travel schedule, I didn’t get to spend much time in (what I presume to be) the fine city of Lansing. I arrived in the late afternoon and was gone the next morning, but in that short amount of time I experienced a lot here at Cooley Law School Stadium.
It’s a real CLaSS operation.
My evening with the Lugnuts began with these guys, who, as you can see, are masters of facial expression variance.
From left to right, that’s Efrain Nieves, Arik Sikula, Justin Jackson, and Wil Browning, bullpen members all. I interviewed this relief quartet about their “Follow the Leader” ritual, in which they walk from the clubhouse to the bullpen while scrupulously mimicking the movements of that night’s “leader.”
The MiLB.com article that resulted from this interview — part three of my “Bullpen Trilogy,” for those keeping track at home — is a great read AND contains video so, really, you’ve got nothing to lose. Read it HERE or die trying.
The interview took place in the home dugout, as batting practice was winding down. As you can see, it was shaping up to be a beautiful evening in Lansing.
These early evening dalliances were under the direction of Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler.
You may remember Jesse from such MiLB.com pieces as “Goldberg-Strassler still paying tribute” (on his annual “re-creation” game broadcast; this year’s version scheduled for August 7), “Wordsmith crafts gem of baseball book” (on his Baseball Thesaurus, which he’s holding in the above picture), and “Hyphenated Last Names: Good in theory but patently unsustainable” (that one doesn’t actually exist).
En route to the press box, Goldberg-Strassler briefly introduced me to senior food and beverage director Brett Telder. Lugnuts owners Tom Dickson and Sherrie Myers also co-founded Professional Sports Catering (PSC), a MiLB-centric concessionaire, and, well, I guess you could say that Telder is passionate about the company that he works for.
Telder will appear in part two of this post (oh boy will he ever), but for now: let’s take a look at the stadium’s upper level and those who may reside therein. This suite-level lounge area is called the Clubhouse, an open-to-the-public seating area (tickets are $22.50).
That’s Matt LaWell on the left, who you may remember as the male half of the married couple who traveled around the country last season for their “A Minor League Season” project. Matt actually followed me around for most of this road trip, as I’ll be one of the featured characters in the “Minor League Season” book. You all want to read a detailed profile of Ben’s Biz, right? Right?! Then get psyched! (In all seriousness, and self-deprecating self-promotion aside, Matt is a skilled and conscientious writer and when the book appears it will be a must-read for Minor League aficionados and printed word junkies alike.)
As for Jesse, forthcoming book projects were of little concern to him at that moment. He had a gigantic Lugnut to point out!
Yes, that really is a giant lugnut installed atop a nearby smokestack, and its sheer size perhaps makes up for the fact that the Lugnuts’ logo depicts what is in actuality a bolt. Let’s go in for a closer look on this lugnut, while there’s still time:
In the other direction, one can find a baseball field. It’s amazing, really, these things one finds.
It might not be too apparent in the above picture, but Cooley Law School Stadium has some seriously odd dimensions. Its rampant eccentricities are mostly a result of having been shoehorned into a downtown location, but they are eccentricities nonetheless:
As you can see, it’s only 305 feet down the lines. However, these walls are 23 feet high and therefore not all that many home runs are hit at Cooley Law School Stadium. Jesse remarked that it is one of the hardest Minor League stadiums to hit home runs in but, conversely, one of the easiest in which to score runs.
And — full disclosure! — in the picture I included above in which Jesse was pointing, he clearly wasn’t pointing at the giant lugnut. As this Vine (filmed a bit later in the evening) shows, that would be impossible as the lugnut is located behind the stadium itself.
Literal Lansing Lugnut https://t.co/AldOqeU7aC
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 26, 2013
Meanwhile, back in the pressbox, I had a brief conversation with a Minor League Baseball rarity: the female PA announcer.
That’s Jennifer Swanchara, a student at Michigan State who is now in her first season with the Lugnuts. According to my calculations she is one of just two female PA currently working in Minor League Baseball, with Bowie’s Adrienne Roberson being the other (there is, of course, a female PA announcer in the Majors as well, San Francisco’s Renel Brooks Robinson).
[CORRECTION! The Mobile BayBears also have a female PA announcer, Christine LaPlante. Am I missing any others?]
Hey, Jennifer, how about a quick interview?
Ben’s Biz: What led you to the world of Minor League Baseball?
Jennifer Swanchara: I’m going into my junior year at MSU, right down the street. I found out about the position, it was right here in Lansing, and seemed like a perfect opportunity because it was in my field. I didn’t necessarily know if I wanted to go into baseball, but it led me here and I’m enjoying it.
I’ve done work as an analyst before, and DJed, all that kind of stuff, so it’s been fun to take a behind-the-scenes role where you’re adding to the atmosphere of the ballpark.
Ben’s Biz: Was it a challenge at first? Being a PA announcer, it seems like there are so many small details to keep track of.
Swanchara: I was lucky to have some bad weather in the beginning (laughs). It’s been a struggle, but now that we’re halfway through the season I feel in a groove where I’m happy with where I’m at and enjoying the job. At first it was stressful, where I was always thinking about how I had to do this, this and this. I was always worried about the next thing.
Ben’s Biz: What are your thoughts on being one of just
two three female announcers in the Minors?
Swanchara: I was aware of it, but I don’t think about it anymore. Before I came in it was definitely like “Wow, that’s a big deal” but now that I’m here I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. When I’m on the loudspeakers, it’s not like I’ve heard any loud gasps in the crowd. I don’t think it’s that big of a shocker, that women are getting in the industry.
Ben’s Biz: It’s a rarity now, but who knows?
Swanchara: Maybe I’m lighting the way for some women. Maybe. Hopefully (laughs). I’d like to be one of those.
Jennifer is one of two new “voices” on the Lugnuts staff this season. The other is Jesse’s broadcast partner, one Slavko Bekovic.
No, not you Jesse. I’m talking about Slavko now. The guy on your right. Please look in his direction.
Slavko has an interesting background, in that he is a Chicago native of Serbian descent. Serbian was his first language, and he is the first member of his family to have been born in the U.S.
This leads me to what may be a Vine first: Serbian station ID!
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 26, 2013
Goldberg-Strassler and Bekovic — definitely one of the more unique broadcasting pairings in MiLB, and definitely worth listening to. Meanwhile, next door, one could find Mr. Mike Couzens holding it down in the visitor’s booth.
Regarding the sign above the door, I’m not exactly sure why Couzens had an olive branch extended to him. But I do know why he’s called “Sugar” and it’s a story that involves my favorite of all story subjects: mistaken identity. Read all about it HERE.
But as for what you’re reading right here, on Ben’s Biz Blog? It’s coming to an end, right now. Stay tuned for Part 2 from Lansing, featuring some of the most heroic, adorable, adorably heroic, and heroically adorable designated eating ever recorded.
To the itinerary!
9/2 — Omaha Royals (their last-ever game in Rosenblatt Stadium!)
9/3 — Iowa Cubs
9/4 — Burlington Bees
9/5 — Quad Cities River Bandits
9/6 — Kane County Cougars
Feel free to get in touch with any content suggestions or inside tips regarding the teams/cities in question. And if you’ll be at any of these games, please say hello. As always, I’ll be the guy in the shirt.
And not only will tomorrow be the Omaha Royals’ last game at Rosenblatt Stadium — it may be their last home game as the “Omaha Royals.” In conjunction with their 2011 move to nearby Sarpy County, the organization is currently staging a “Name the Team” contest. Over 400 names have been suggested thus far, let’s go to the press release:
Names relating to the weather and to the military have been leading the way so far. Some of those suggestions include Storm, Hail, Heat, Blizzard, Twisters, Bombers and Commanders. Some fans have just tweaked the name to vary slightly from Royals, suggesting Monarchs and Kings. Other fans, no doubt sad to see the demise of Rosenblatt Stadium following the 2010 season, have submitted the team name Blatts for
I would like to suggest a return to the moniker employed by the city’s long-defunct Western Association franchise: the Omahogs.
And while I am excited to be visiting the Iowa Cubs on September 3, I’m disappointed that I will not be in attendance for September 5’s giveaway: the Player to Be Named Later Bobblehead.
Finally, one of the sport’s most unsung characters gets his due:
A parody video in which a G-Funk classic is repurposed as a celebration of a California League baseball team. It’s Bo’z N Da Hood with “Nothin But A Storm Thang”:
The lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” are incorporated into one of the verses in the above video, but for a truly unique interpretation check out this adorable dispatch from Lansing.
It’s a good thing that Ryan was in Lansing and not West Michigan, because he would probably have been terrified by first pitch honoree Ronald McDonald:
(photo credit: Emily Jones)
Sweet dreams! I’ll be sending out dispatches from the Midwest as soon as I can.