Tagged: mascots

Thanks for the Memories

Writing a pre-Thanksgiving post on “what I am thankful for” has the whiff of an obligatory elementary school essay assignment, but I want to get something up on this slice of the internet before it all goes (mercifully) dark for the holidays.

And you know what I’m thankful for? That I have a job that puts me in absurd situations on a regular basis. Some highlights from the 2011 season.

Racing as a Taco Bell Hot Sauce packet in Lancaster:

If you can't take the heat...

Winning the “Molar Race” in Inland Empire:

Winning a burrito-eating contest in Fort Wayne:

Emptying an entire Kleenex box in Lake County, in less than a minute:

Pied atop the dugout in Akron:

Exhibiting proper Pickle Dog-eating technique in Charleston:

Manning an HD camera in Durham:

Refereeing a flip cup contest in Williamsport:

Losing a sumo match in Bowie:

And, of course — Rally Banana-ing in Delmarva:

The point of this unbridled exercise in Holiday week narcissism is…well…I guess there is no point. But I do want to issue a sincere THANK YOU to everyone who has supported these absurd endeavors of mine. And it’s never too early to start thinking about the 2012 season — please, get in touch if you have any suggestions regarding Minor League places to go and things to do.  I really do try to say “yes” as much as possible.

Finally, two stories are up today that I’d really appreciate if you checked out. First up is my story on Greg Halman, who was stabbed to death earlier this week. I talked to people who knew him at all stops on his Minor League journey, and did the best I could to write something that went beyond “I’m shocked that his happened” quotes.

Elsewhere, I have a guest column up on Baseball Propectus. It’s a pretty through overview of the Minor League mindset, and I sincerely hope it brings a few new converts into the fold.

Thanks again,



Moving Right Along

I didn’t do a blog post yesterday because I was lacking a proper lead story to give it that necessary “oomph” right on out of the gate.

I’m still lacking one. But since silence equals death in the blogging game, carry on I must. So how about a late-arriving introspective mascot pic to start things off? This one features Rascal of the Harrisburg Senators, sharing a heartfelt moment with the team’s director of stadium operations.

The offseason is a particularly good time in which to engage in such idle contemplation, but not if you’re a sentient piece of commemorative bronze. As documented in a two-part blog post, “Millsy” the Carolina League Championship Trophy has been feverishly taking in the sights of Frederick (home of the Keys, 2011 Carolina League victors).

“Although I have come back to the town that I have enjoyed so much, it has been lonely sitting in the office since September 16th, when the Keys won the title,” writes Millsy, perhaps the world’s only literate trophy. “I took it upon myself to escape the inner sanctums of the Keys front office to go on adventures of my own around Frederick and now you get the chance to see them!”

Thus far, the highlight of Millsy’s adventures has been a pilgrimage to the final resting place of Francis Scott Key.

A more traditional way to pass the time during the offseason is to create an Office-influenced offseason video series called — wait for it — The Offseason. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers were the first to launch such an endeavor, and the most recent to follow suit are the State College Spikes. Episode One, commence!

While the aforementioned Timber Rattlers have retired their version of The Offseason, the team continues to break ground in the lucrative field of recurring Minor League offseason videos. As previously noted, this year’s initiative is a series of “Spot the Difference” videos. On this, the latest installment, I was able to spot exactly one difference. A truly pathetic showing.

Meanwhile, we are just a few short hours away from the unveiling of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos logo — what will almost certainly be the most notable and attention getting mark of the offseason. While awaiting this momentous occasion, may I suggest that you pass the time with a bit of “Mascot Donkey Basketball?”

I’ll see you on Monday, the first weekday of the “Wahoo Cool” era of Minor League Baseball.



From Boats to Floats

It’s a strange state of affairs when Major League logo unveilings are outpacing those from the far more pliable Minors, but what is life if not strange?

For in the past week we’ve seen new looks for the San Diego Padres and (more significantly) the Miami Marlins, while the only fresh identity to be unleashed in the Minors for 2012 remains the defiantly exuberant surfin’ Cubs of Daytona. This will soon change, as the Pensacola Blue Wahoos are scheduled to emerge from the tropical depths this Friday (for more on Pensacola, check out my MiLB.com piece that ran on Friday).

For now, however, those needing a Minor League logo fix will have to make due with this Lake County Captains 10-Year Anniversary insignia:

The press release announcing the new mark notes that The logo will be featured on limited edition merchandise available at the Cargo Hold gift store at Classic Park as well as on-line at http://www.CaptainsBaseball.com. Merchandise featuring the special logo is currently arriving now in time for the holiday shopping season. The logo will also be seen on all team-issued print materials produced for the 2012 season.

And, as you may recall, it was just last season that the Captains unveiled their new primary logo.  That came amidst a month which I now refer to as Logo-vember 2010, as it also included unveilings from Asheville, Kinston, Wisconsin, Omaha, New Hampshire, Kannapolis, and Altoona (among others).  What a memorable — nay, magical! — time that was.

But even pre-existing logos need publicity, and the Carolina Mudcats got a nice boost last week when a new character on the Fox show Bones sported a team cap. Apparently this fella was named “Finn.”

Another team due for some increased exposure via the star-making machinations of the entertainment industry are the Fresno Grizzlies. This past August scenes from an upcoming Billy Crystal vehicle entitled “Parental Guidance” were shot at Chukchansi Park.  And apparently the filmmakers were so enraptured with mascot Parker that he was recently flown down to Atlanta in order to do some follow-up shots. For more, check out this interview with Parker in the team’s “Yardwork” blog.

The Talent (Photo: Cody Turner)

But a mascot’s true place is close to home, of course, especially with the holiday season approaching. This is a most busy time of year, as amply illustrated by today’s announcement by the Delmarva Shorebirds that Sherman will be appearing in a whopping SIX parades. Can anyone top that?

And in perhaps even more exhilarating mascot parade news, the R-Phils mascot band has announced their first “in-motion” gig: atop a float at the Reading Christmas parade.

Quack the Duck is psyched:

I have no doubt that he’ll be the top “billed” performer.



Fish Mysteries and Amphibian Ambiguity

To paraphrase a line from Moby Dick, Ben’s Biz Blog is “unbent from the vast corpulence of human dignity.” In other words, I can report on just about anything, no matter how ridiculous, and somehow not feel shame.

It’s a gift and a curse.

So let’s start with a strange and tragic tale out of Beloit. Yesterday evening, at approximately 6 p.m. ET, the Snappers posted the following Facebook update and picture.

Frack and Blaze have to easily be the two biggest fish in Minor League baseball. Little guy on the right is one of the “Wiggles,” there are three total. 

That was the team’s last post of the day. And then the first post Thursday morning was this:

Well, we got to the office this morning and found that one of our fish, Blaze somehow made his way out of the tank. R.I.P. Blaze, you had a good run.

Does this seem fishy to anyone else? That Blaze would meet his untimely demise just hours after being highlighted on the Snappers’ Facebook page? Did he have enemies, who might have resented the attention being showered upon him?

Or maybe it was a desperate bid for freedom, an ill-advised leap toward the kind of life that fellow Minor League fish Al Tuna (of the Altoona Curve, natch) has carved out for himself. This globe-trotting aquatic vertebrae has appeared in all sorts of places lately, with the photographic evidence appearing on the team’s Facebook page.

St. Mark’s Basilica

A London Train Station

And even a taping of Conan in New York City.

Moving from fish to amphibians, you may remember that back in September I attended the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar in Myrtle Beach. At the event’s trade show, the following mascot was available to the highest bidder:

Multiple sources have informed me which team he will be with in 2011, but I’ll hold off from making the reveal (hint: the team’s name is itself aquatic). But if this was YOUR team, what would you name this guy? And how would you use him?

Think about that for a while… 

And now for a patented Ben’s Biz Blog tonal shift!

My new “Offseasoning” piece on Toronto Blue Jays prospect Bryan Kervin is now on MiLB.com. He missed the 2010 season after a life-threatening battle with ulcerative colitis, and is now on the comeback trail while also devoting himself to his Rise and Conquer charitable foundation.

A very interesting Minor League tale, and worth checking out.

Thanks, as always, for your time.



Passing the Time in the Absence of Our Pastime

Yesterday’s post served as this year’s Halloween content clearinghouse, but as usual a few things slipped through the cracks. And when something falls through the cracks, it’s best to save it from such a nefarious fate by belatedly bringing it back into the light.

That’s a convoluted way of saying that I stumbled across a ridiculous photo I wanted to share. It was taken at the State College Spikes Spookfest and features mascot Ike the Spike idly observing a werewolf being wheeled on a stretcher by a witch who appears to have Frankenstein in a headlock.

Just another day in the Minor Leagues.

Further PA-based Halloween content has emerged from Reading, as the R-Phils have announced the winners of this year’s pumpkin carving contest. This is a seriously impressive triumvirate of illuminated gourds:

But would you expect anything less from the Reading faithful? This is a fan base that has proven carving abilities.

At any rate, November is probably the slowest month when it comes to Minor League Baseball news. (December has the Winter Meetings, at least, and once the new year hits there is an abundance of info related to the upcoming season.) But we all get through it together, and there are many productive ways to pass the time.

For starters, Visalia Rawhide broadcaster Donny Baarns has launched a new podcast called “Candid Voices,” in which he “chats with the best sports broadcasters about their careers, their stories, and anything else they feel like talking about.” The first episode’s guest is Mariners broadcaster/veteran TV writer Ken Levine, and can be heard HERE.

Meanwhile, the always exemplary Great Lakes Loons blog “From the Nest” has a post called “25 Ways to Keep Baseball In-Season This Offseason.”

Lots of great stuff is contained therein, and the post follows a template that can (and should) be copied by other Minor League teams. Check it out.

A more “inside baseball” (so to speak) offseason perspective can be found over at gameops.com, as always astute industry veteran Scott Carter’s has filed a column featuring a veritable treasure trove of ways that teams can engage with fans when there are no games being played. This is required reading for those seeking to understand how and why teams need to function as interactive year-round entities.

And then, of course, there are videos. Always, there are videos. Some of them have malevolent undertones….

while others mine humor out of mascot misfortune.

And finally there’s our old pal Ike the Spike, who apparently snapped out of his werewolf-observing reverie long enough to lead a “Thriller” flash mob. Check it out HERE.

As always, thanks for checking this blog out. Your patronage helps to validate my professional existence.



All Hallow’s Eve, All the Time

This post is being composed during the afternoon of 10/31/11 — what else can I write about but Halloween? This commemoration of the macabre is being celebrated throughout America, so ipso facto its being celebrated throughout the Minors as well.

The usual array of teams (Williamsport, Lake Elsinore, Bowie, et al) have turned their ballparks into haunted houses, but in some cases such an extensive effort isn’t necessary. As the Great Lakes Loons prove with this video, sometimes all you need is a mascot dressed as a ghost, holding an air gun.

But Halloween isn’t just about cheap thrills. In Lehigh Valley, the IronPigs held their fourth annual “Suites and Treats” event for underprivileged and special needs children. This is a cool concept, and to my knowledge the IronPigs are the only ones who do it. From the team’s website:

The event took place on the Club Level with the support of the IronPigs’ suite holders, who took advantage of the opportunity to decorate their suite so the children could go “door-to-door” for a unique “trick-or-treating” experience. In total, all 20 suites along with the outdoor PenTeleData party porches were decorated for Suites-n-Treats.

A few examples, from the team’s Facebook photo gallery:

One of the benefits of staging in-season promotions dedicated to offseason holidays is that said promotion can result in content that can then be used during the holiday in question. Make sense? No?

That’s okay. All I’m really trying to say is that the Fort Wayne TinCaps staged a Halfway to Halloween promotion and aired the following video during the game. And — bonus! — the video is once again fit for public consumption.

Meanwhile, in Trenton, the team’s concern regarding the dangers of trick-or-treating has manifested itself in a somewhat ridiculous public awareness campaign.

These guys have made a video. Click HERE to watch it.

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have made a new video as well. It’s not related to Halloween in any way, really, but notable nonetheless. Like life itself, this effort is an interactive game of skill:

Nice work on that one by the T-Rattlers. Similar efforts will help prevent offseason mental atrophy, the effects of which have already begun to be felt.



10 From ’11

I’m as forward-looking as the next guy (whoever that may be), but nonetheless a longing backward gaze never hurt anyone. Right? RIGHT?

I sure hope so, because recent retrospective tendencies are continuing unabated with this: a look at some of the funniest/strangest/most evocative photos to have appeared on this blog during the 2011 season. It’s a feast for the eyes, so lather up those retinas and dive right in to the unparalleled visual extravaganza that is this post.

And we’ll start with one of my favorite recurring topics: Centenarian Ceremonial First Pitches! On April 7, Violet Smith celebrated her 109th birthday with the Great Lakes Loons. 109! I still can’t get over it. This woman was in high school when the U.S. entered WWI, and has lived long enough to see Franz Ferdinand re-incarnated as a British rock group.

Take Me Out…to the Ballgame!

DOB: April 7, 1902

Segueing once again from centenarians to sky-diving bulls, this picture of the Tulsa Drillers’ Hornsby remains my favorite mascot picture of all time.

The month of May provided what was probably the most famous picture to emanate from the Minor League landscape all year. Mark Gormus of the Richmond-Times Dispatch should be commended for this one, a thrilling snapshot of “Supermom” in action at a Flying Squirrels game.

Credit: Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch

He’s not on the same level of heroism as “Supermom,” but who can forget Michael Restovich’s stint as “Cupman”?

Meanwhile, in Visalia, the Rawhide established themselves as the Cal League’s preeminent practitioners of age-based beauty contests. The winner of their “Belle of the Ballpark” competition was 96 years young, and very happy to have emerged victorious.

Photo Credit: Ken Weisenberger

The Rawhide’s Cal League cohorts in Lake Elsinore capitalized on the planking craze in memorable fashion. Here, the inimitable Grounds Crew Gorilla lays it all out atop an oven.

I don’t mean to pry, mate, but how’d you get up there?

Similar posture was utilized by David “The Human Cannonball” Smith when he was shot over the outfield fence at a Lowell Spinners game.

Have You Ever Been Suspended in Air? (Photo Credit: Jon Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

While it would be inconceivable for a player to be shot out of a cannon (at least in affiliated ball), sometimes they do find a way to participate in the promotions. One of the most enthusiastic was Frank Pfister of the Bakersfield Blaze, who gamely chugged away after losing a pre-game “Milk-Off” to members of the aforementioned Visalia Rawhide.

Photo credit: Chris Henstra/Visalia Rawhide

But humor can be milked from any situation. After the Boise Hawks misplaced their helmets prior to a late August ballgame, the team’s hitters were forced to borrow from the opposing Spokane Indians.

I’ll close this post with what may very well be the best photo ever taken of me, the world’s most self-loathing GREATEST Minor League blogger/itinerant solo traveler. Getting pied in the face atop a dugout while Mexican wrestling-enamored interns look on was a definite career highlight. The experience made me glad to be alive; thanks to the Akron Aeros for making it happen.

Minor League Baseball can be a beautiful thing sometimes.



Musing Mascots in Costumed Contemplation

For mascots, there’s no escaping the spotlight. These mute yet endlessly expressive characters are  the center of attention everywhere they go, and as a result they always need to be “on.”  Pictures are requested, high fives demanded, and antics expected. It’s an exhilarating existence, to be sure, but not at all conducive to moments of quiet reflection and self-analysis.

Yet such moments, while rare, do occur. To capture them on camera is an exhilarating feeling, akin to a landlocked bird watcher getting an glimpse of the elusive Red Phalarope. This is how I felt during a June trip to Lake County, when I was able to capture Captains mascot Skipper in a moment of introspection.

Feeling inspired by this rare bit of photographic luck, I asked readers to please send in introspective mascot photos of their own. This request was met with an enthusiastic response, and the results are contained in this post.

What follows is the most impressive collection of introspective mascot photos that the world has ever seen.

The above individual is Louie of the Great Lakes Loons, whose powers of introspection are far greater than the average bird. Soon after abandoning his dugout perch, he went into the stands and got the fans to join him in a moment of quiet contemplation.

Another city boasting thoughtful birds amongst its citizenry is Toledo. Muddy the Mud Hen is a voracious reader, and can sometimes be spotted at the local library with his beak buried in a good book.

Muddy’s literary endeavors have increased his powers of imagination. Back at the ballpark, he sometimes gets lost in thought while resting his left arm on a railing that doesn’t even exist.

As evidenced by the picture of Skipper at the top of this post, ballpark tunnels represent a good place for a mascot to temporarily escape from the madding crowd. Here’s Phinley of the Clearwater Threshers, patriotically pontificating.

Meanwhile, in Winston-Salem, Bolt takes a moment to reflect before instigating some between-inning hula-baloo.

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but I was able to get a shot of Bolt during my visit to Winston-Salem this past July. This one is perhaps less “introspective” than “fatigued.”

While in Winston-Salem, I spent time with not one but TWO blog readers who went on to email me introspective mascot photos. Matt “Possum” Campbell solicited this shot of the Danville Braves’ “Blooper,” who does his best thinking with left hand planted firmly on stomach.

Meanwhile, veteran Minor League wanderer Rex Doane sent in pictures from various far-flung locales. Our journey with Rex begins in Norfolk, where Rip Tide sometimes assumes a near-beatific demeanor.

Then we fly over to flyover country, with this behind-the-back view of Swoop of the South Bend Silver Hawks.

And, finally, we arrive in the modest environs of the Modesto Nuts’ dugout. That’s where Al Almond sometimes goes in order to escape from the nuttiness surrounding him.

Another thoughtful dugout denizen is Fort Wayne’s Johnny TinCap, whose demeanor is never crotchety even if his hobbies sometimes are.

Of course, one doesn’t need to be solitary to be introspective. Over the three seasons that the team has been in existence, Chopper of the Gwinnett Braves has established himself as one of the most empathetic woodchucks in the Minors. Here he is having an on-field heart-to-heart.

Chopper’s upright demeanor is in stark contrast to Millie of the Lowell Spinners. On the last day of the season, this canal-dwelling alligator went deep into her own headspace while sitting on a stadium bench.

Allie’s daughter, Millie, simply curled up in the fetal position in order to think long and hard about the season that had just transpired.

With this concept on the verge of collapse, it seems that I’ll have to call it a day. Of course, keeping sending those introspective mascot photos in. I am totally amenable to there being a second, third, fourth, and even fifth installment of this series.

There will be no sixth installment.



Answer Me This

Over the weekend I received an email from a reader named Robert, a self-described “non-traditional student” who is currently enrolled in a sports economic class and working on a term paper.

Robert asks a question that, in various forms, I myself have often wondered. He writes:

[Is there] any current information, research or ideas of where to look for information concerning attendance numbers as possibly influenced by promotions and/or a winning team on the field?

My reply was, essentially, “no.” But what I’d like to know from Minor League Baseball employees who read this blog is this:

— What promotions were your most demonstrably successful, in that attendance was significantly higher than on a comparable date on the calendar?

— What, if any, correlation have you found between a winning team and attendance?

I realize that these questions can be hard to answer, because there are so many variables at play (weather, the day of the week, competing entertainment options, etc). But to the extent that a particular promotion’s efficacy can be analyzed, I’d like to hear about it. What worked, and why?

And as for that second query, one of the defining characteristics of Minor League Baseball is that an affordable family-friendly entertainment experience trumps the product on the field. But the extent to which this is true varies by market, and I’d like to hear instances in which the team’s success truly mattered at the box office. Anecdotally speaking, I haven’t visited too many teams in which the crowd was significantly invested in the final outcome.

So, please, take a little of that precious Offseason Down Time (TM) and send me an email with your thoughts and observations. As always, I can be reached at benjamin.hill@mlb.com

And speaking of the offseason, the premier edition of my bi-weekly “Minoring in Business” feature ran on Friday. It’s an interview with veteran mascot Brad Collins (currently with the Kansas City Royals), who has some strong opinions on what teams can and should do with their mascot programs.

Infiltrate and overtake

And on a similar topic, my “Offseasoning” feature will make its 2011-12 debut soon. This bi-weekly MiLB.com offering profiles how players spend their offseasons, with an emphasis on unusual jobs and hobbies. Know a player who should be featured? Then get in touch!

Coming Soon

I’ll close with an item from the always reliable “apropos of nothing” category. Is this the best corn maze in all of Minor League Baseball? I would say “Yes. Yes it is.”

The Tigers and the Mud Hens: Celebrating 25 years of mutual dependence.

The above maize-terpiece is Farmer Charley’s latest creation; fans of the genre are advised to travel immediately to Monroe, MI in order to see it in person.

And that’ll be it for me on this Monday evening. Apologies for the slow blogging pace as of late, but stay tuned for long-awaited posts such as “2011’s Best Photos” and the long-delayed “Introspective Mascots, Vol. 1.” Your patience shall be rewarded a thousandfold.



On the Road: An A-Peel-Ing End to the Season in Delmarva

I was fortunate enough to go on four Minor League road trips this season, resulting in dozens of ballpark visits and (hopefully) a lot of memorable content for this blog as well as MiLB.com.

But it had to end sometime. Everything does. And this season my travels ended here:

In planning this trip, I really didn’t know what to expect from Delmarva. They are not a team I have regularly written about or communicated with in the past, and as a result I didn’t have much of a sense of the overall operation and experience.

Happily, it turned out to be an awesome night at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.

And I really mean that, above and beyond any professional obligations I may have to frame everything in a positive light. The team itself was terrible (55-85 overall, including a season-ending 14-game losing streak), but when it comes to the ballpark experience this is an organization firing on all cylinders.

I got to Salisbury in the early afternoon on Saturday, getting lunch and a quick tour of the area from GM Chris Bitters and director of broadcasting Bret Lasky (a bit more on that in a future post). Upon arriving back at the stadium, I took a lap around the grounds.

I'll choose the former

The Strike Out Hunger initiative referenced on this All-Star Game referencing water tower was very successful, with the 14 South Atlantic League cities combining to collect and distribute over 250,000 meals.

Prepping for the fireworks show...

The Open Road

The team’s front office is stocked with Cheerwine, now being distributed in Maryland. Guess it’s not just a North Carolina thing anymore…

Cheerwine in hand and outside reconnoitering complete, I then toured the Arthur W. Perdue stadium with Bitters. The stadium is named after the founder of Perdue Chicken, and was built largely thanks to the effort of his son Frank (more on this in my MiLB.com piece).

Frank (who died in 2005) loved to hang out in the press box, and now this bastion of scribes and broadcasters bears his name.

The upstairs area also includes six suites, a year-round “Executive Club”, and a covered open-air seating area.

From there we descended into the “guts” of the stadium, which reminded me somewhat of Crystal Cave and similar PA-area attractions that I visited as a kid.

Groundskeeping storage area and hang-out lair:

We then came across what Bitters called “the banner graveyard” — neglected outfield signage from season’s past that can still be used as tarps and leak-pluggers and what-have-you.

And speaking of outfield banners — you may have noticed that in the field shot featured above (scroll up six pictures), the left field fence is totally devoid of signage. This was because the banners were knocked down by hurricane tropical storm Irene (more on the team’s hurricane response on, yep, MiLB.com).

Moving past the banner graveyard, one comes across the batting cages…

and then a mascot costume and prop storage area that, trust me, is better seen than smelled.

How the sausage is made

A walk-in refrigerator housed the stadium’s beer supply, as well as a labyrinthian tube-based delivery system.

From there it was into the clubhouse and locker rooms, which I did not document outside of this shot of the trainer’s tools of the trade.

The stadium tour segued into Flipcam Interview Time (TM), that portion of the ballpark experience in which I badger young professional baseball players with questions regarding their chosen vocation. The victims this time around were Parker Bridwell, John Ruettinger, and David Walters (it can all be found HERE, the dedicated “On the Road with Ben Hill” multimedia page).

The interviews were conducted in the idyllic confines of the Shorebirds’ dugout.

Meanwhile, the visiting West Virginia Power were engaged in a very intense round of home-run derby batting practice. This was the last BP of the year (or so I assume, as the final two games were in the daytime), so they were having fun with it.

I still had plenty of time before the game was to start. So after taking the time to “Thank A Chicken” on the concourse I made my way over to the Eastern Shore Hall of Fame.

The EBHOFM is great — a volunteer-run museum dedicated to the region’s professional baseball history and notable natives. I should have more on this in a future post, but here’s a look at the inside.

How’s this for a great baseball name — Ducky Detweiler, who played for nearby Federalsburg in 1939 before moving on to a brief Major League career with the Boston Braves.

Meanwhile, the gates had opened and the crowd was filtering in. My plans to play a quick game of Flintstones pinball at the concourse arcade were thwarted, as the game was (happily) in use.

Keep pinball alive!

Instead, I amused myself by taking this most apropos picture of the N.L. East leaderboard…

and then watched the players warm up. Note that the Shorebirds were wearing purple “Relay for Life” cancer-awareness jerseys, auctioned off for charitable purposes after the game.

Pepper Games

Soon it was back to the field, as for the fifth (and final) time this season I was asked to throw a ceremonial first pitch. This picture leaves it to the imagination, but please believe me when I say that I fired a strike down the middle. Or don’t.

I stayed on the field for the National Anthem.

Definitely, Sherman the mascot looks better when inhabited by a human body.

Shortly after the game started, I was introduced to one of the Shorebirds’ most notable fans. Believe it or not, this is the aforementioned Ducky Detweiler! Now 92, he often comes to games with Jean, his wife of 67 years.

What a wonderful couple, and what an honor to meet them. Ducky met Jean while playing for the Federalsburg baseball club, and here they are nearly 70 years later regularly taking in some South Atlantic League action (more on Ducky can be found — where else? — on MiLB.com).

I’d already done a fair amount of ballpark wandering at this point, but how about a little more? You’ll note that, like Bowie, the Shorebirds have their own carousel.

As it turns out,  the Shorebirds, Baysox and Frederick Keys all used to be under the same ownership group. All three teams have a carousel, which were perhaps bought as part of a “Buy two, get one free” promotion.

It was a light crowd at first, but really filled up as the game went along (fireworks seems to inspire tardy arrivals). I was really impressed with the fans and how much they contributed to the atmosphere — the mood was engaged and jovial throughout.

Eventually I decided to head up to the press box, in order to see how my credentials were fairing in my absence.

Everything was copacetic, so I headed over to the sectioned off broadcaster’s lair occupied by Lasky and did a most-enjoyable half-inning on the radio.

While on the air, the following concessions trifecta was delivered to me (to Lasky’s jealousy-tinged amusement).

That would be be a “Chessie Dog” (half-pound frank with cheese, onions, peppers), “Crab Dip” (with three bread dipping sticks) and — would you believe it?– A scrapple sandwich (!!!)

Scrapple, an “offal” nice treat, is pretty much indigenous to Pennsylvania, Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, and I’d never had it at a ballpark before. The Shorebirds actually hold the unofficial record for “Most People Eating Scrapple Simultaneously” — 990 fans once indulged prior to a game.

I ate the scrapple as well as one-third of the crab dip and a small portion of the Chessie Dog (leaving the rest to the denizens of the press box). After all, there was still dessert:

The Sherman Gelati — orange sorbet and vanilla soft serve ice cream, probably the best dessert I had at a Minor League game this season. Bitters, who is from California, expressed amazement (and appreciation) for just how popular ice cream is among Shorebirds fans. “It’s up there with the most popular sellers,” he said. “Right there with hot dogs, soda, and beer.”

While down behind home plate I took in the “Chicken Dance”, a most fitting ritual to take place in a stadium named after Arthur Perdue. Here’s Marcellus the on-field host clucking away.

Marcellus (sorry, not sure of the last name) had the endearing habit of introducing each between-inning contestant and then telling the crowd to say “Hi!” to said contestant. It was a great technique, and added to the neighborly and thoroughly friendly atmosphere that prevailed all evening.

But while things were going smoothly in the stands, the team on the field needed some help. Entering the bottom of the ninth, the scored was tied at 3-3.

Clearly, it was time for the RALLY BANANA!

My job was to enter the field from the third base side, put a hex on the opposing team, high five with everyone who put their hand out, and generally act like a raving idiot. Mission accomplished.

The Shorebirds loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but despite being imbued with Rally Banana’s rallying power the opportunity potassium by. The Power then scored two in the 10th and that’s how it ended — 5-3, West Virginia.

But in victory or defeat, the show must go on.

The Shorebirds gathered down the third base line and gave fans the shirt off their backs (the winning bidders in the Relay for Life jersey action). Manger Ryan Minor’s jersey went for $850!

And soon after the players disrobed and dispersed, the fireworks began. Normally fireworks shows are too commonplace to say much about, and it’s hard to get good photos of them to boot.

But check THIS out — the most ferocious opening display I’d ever seen.

And this went on for a good eight minutes! When the dust had settled and the smoke had cleared, there was only one thing left to do.

Launch-a-ball! For the first time, I captured this nightly ritual from an on-field vantage point.

$500 target

The flurry of fuzzy spheroids slowed and then stopped altogether, leaving me with this, the final “On the Road” image of the year.

Come 2012, we’ll get the ball rolling again! Thanks to everyone who’s helped me to justify my professional existence thus far, it means more than I can express to have gotten so much support from so many people.

It takes a tough man to write a tender blog post,