On the Road: Providing the Grizzly Details in Fresno
This West Coast road trip began with Bakersfield and then continued on to Visalia before bringing me here, the largest and, arguably, most in-chargest city to be found in California’s Central Valley.
Welcome to Fresno, home of the Pacific Coast League’s Grizzlies, who play in the downtown facility that is Chukchansi Park. My day in Fresno actually began hours earlier, when I and two members of the team’s front office staff visited three of the region’s most venerated taco trucks (the Grizzlies, as you may know, host an annual “Taco Truck Throwdown” promotion that has become of their most popular nights of the year). These corn tortilla-inspired peregrinations will be detailed in full later this month, but today (and tomorrow’s) Fresno-based dispatch shall remain focused on this particular Monday evening at the ballpark.
An elevated view of Chukchansi’s environs:
The above views can be obtained from the upper level concourse, looking out from what would be the first base side of the stadium. But as is my general tendency, attention soon turned inward.
The outfield entrance of Chukchansi Park opens out into a pedestrian walkway that leads to a variety of Fulton Mall retail establishments (or the ghosts thereof), and one of those retail establishments was Luftenberg’s Bridal. While not located in the stadium proper, the Luftenberg’s signage in left field is a distinctive Chukchansi characteristic and it will be interesting to see what becomes of it now that the business in question has re-located (after more than 70 years occupying the building seen in the above picture).
Accompanying me for the bulk of my evening at Chuckchansi was media relations coordinator Chris Kutz, a Fresno native who was in his last week with the Grizzlies before moving on to a job within Kansas State’s sports information department. I was glad to have Chris around, as he was a wellspring of local knowledge in general and Grizzlies knowledge in particular. For instance, he told me with pride that Chukchansi Park boasts this, the slowest elevator in Minor League Baseball.
When it comes to that elevator all you can do is grin and bear it (sorry, but there’s a claws in my contract that gives me free reign to make such jokes). We made it down eventually, and soon discovered that the scene at ground level was just as beautiful as that which had existed above. It was a beautiful day in Fresno. Amid the beauty, some early arriving fans had taken it upon themselves to snag some Grizzly autographs.
But who cares about players when Parker’s around?
I had actually scored an interview with Parker soon after arriving at the ballpark, a journalist coup if there ever was one. We touched on a variety of topics, most of them having to do with his presumed supremacy over all other mascots, but due to rampant fluctuations between the first and third person our conversation was largely unusable. These are the hazards that come with interviewing a mascot, who aren’t accustomed to communicating within the realm of words, but nonetheless I thank Parker for his time.
While he wasn’t the only mascot at Chukchansi that evening, he was still atop the bill. Duck, you sucker!
It’s probably a good idea to duck when I’m on the mound, as ever since throwing a perfect strike in Great Lakes my ceremonial first pitch offerings have been atrocious. Similar to Bakersfield, I overcompensated for my fear of bouncing it by tossing an ineffectual airmailed lob.
All alone in failure:
Parker, gracious bear that he is, nonetheless gave me the thumbs up.
My first pitch segued into the National Anthem, which was to be sung by Joe Price. Joe is a professor of religious studies at Whittier College and, as you may recall, he took a sabbatical in 2011 so that he and his wife, Bonnie, could traverse the Minor League landscape in an RV. Joe sang the National Anthem at over 100 ballparks that season, which he dubbed “The Anthem Tour,” and I wrote an MiLB.com feature story about it HERE (the ongoing Anthem Tour blog, with dispatches from these ballparks, can be read HERE).
“I always love for people to join in, and for the anthem to be sung together regardless of political orientation,” said Joe, in my aforementioned 2011 feature story. “This can, potentially, be everyone’s national anthem. And as a result it can bridge the gap between the Tea Party and liberals, between hawks and doves. Because, even though it is a wartime song, it was written as a celebration of freedom. The preservation of our freedoms is what lies at the heart of it.”
Joe at the ready, as the fans sitting in the Dugout Club suites behind him engage in an amateur otolaryngological exam.
Given the depth and breadth of Joe’s National Anthem knowledge, the Grizzlies had agreed to allow him to sing the song’s fourth stanza as well as the first. (Read the lyrics HERE.) Unfortunately there was confusion in the Grizzlies PA booth regarding just what it was that Joe would be doing, and most fans were summarily confused by his double-length rendition. Nonetheless, it was cool to see this lesser known portion of the song get a public airing and I hope Joe gets the chance to do it again sometime.
With the game almost underway, Chris led me on a tour of Chukchansi’s labyrinthian corridors. The Grizzlies, a Giants affiliate, were playing the Albuquerque Isotopes, a Dodgers affiliate, and this would explain one of the first things we came across: a decimated prop from one of Parker’s recent skits.
Parker and a camouflage-adept accomplice, hastily departing from the scene of their Dodger-bashing crime.
Parker was able to escape to parts unknown, but he didn’t exactly disappear without a trace.
As for the rest of Parker’s belongings? They can be found here:
All sorts of sartorial wonders lurk within this room.
Mascot wardrobe @fresnogrizzlieshttps://t.co/8BwQP62Dgs
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 6, 2013
And let it be known: in addition to having the slowest elevator in Minor League Baseball, the Grizzlies can also boast of having the largest number of non-functioning industrial kitchen appliances.
Appliance graveyard https://t.co/i0DkGoZCE9
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 6, 2013
Outside of the Grizzlies clubhouse, a series of motivational signs have been posted by the parent club. They are very well done, these signs.
Each sign features a player who exemplifies the characteristic in question. Here’s a closer look at “The Journey,” as personified by the long, unpredictable and ultimately triumphant career of Ryan Vogelsong.
But is that really the best quote they could come up with? Bochy’s syntax is exquisitely mangled: “Well, I’ve said so many times about Ryan is how impressive his perseverance has been through everything.”
After trying to process that tortured mouthful of inspirational managerial verbiage I needed a breath of fresh air.
And alright! A game was going on!
That’s my cue to end Part One of this blogging odyssey, and my promise is that Part Two will pick up exactly where Part One left off. Until then, thank you for putting up with me, reader. Well, I’ve said so many times about you is how impressive your perseverance has been through everything.
Asparagus: The Details
As this will be the last post of November, I may as well lead it off with the topic that always dominates this soon-to-be-expired stretch of the calendar: new logos. It was helpfully pointed out to me earlier this week that I had neglected this recent entry to the alternate logo canon. And what an entry it is:
This one’s courtesy of the Stockton Ports, who will sport this character on their cap during each and every Friday home game next season. The team explains thusly:
The Ports new logos honor Stockton’s heritage as the largest in-land port in California and the Asparagus Capital of the World. A new character, 5 O’clock Dock, is the centerpiece of the identity, brandishing his baseball tattoos and asparagus club.
My favorite line in the press release, however, is the one that notes that the Ports have become “the first professional sports team to use Asparagus green.” Congrats on that accomplishment, guys, but considering the team name and asparagus theme I am disappointed by the failure to incorporate an aromatic “P.”
In other California League headwear news, the Lake Elsinore Storm announced last month that they are now selling 20th anniversary throwback hats that commemorate the team’s original look.
The Storm’s current “eye” logo has long been one of the most popular marks in Minor League Baseball, and that logo can be traced back to designs such as the above. (The eyes used to be part of a larger “Storm” motif, see?) Perhaps that’s a lesson for other clubs — take a particularly striking element of your current logo, then isolate and amplify. Sometimes a minimalist approach can work wonders.
I’ve been posting less videos on this blog than I have in the past, partially because Twitter has become a good forum for that and partially because watching too many of them makes me feel as if my life is slipping away in slow motion right before my eyes.
But, that said, I wanted to single out this recent Fresno Grizzlies production because it is one of the best videos I have seen in quite some time. For one, it highlights a simple and memorable trick that should be part of every mascot playbook. For two, the production is great. (That is certainly not a given when it comes to team-released offseason videos.)
Was the fan who got his hat stolen planted there by the team? Almost certainly. Does it matter? Not at all.
And since I’m posting videos, how ’bout this? In Pensacola, the Blue Wahoos have transformed their ballpark into a so-called “Winter Wonderland.” That’s not easy to do in the Florida panhandle!
Skating rink, toboggan slide, jumbo board games, Santa Claus, and more:
Finally, I’ll close with the following: the basketball trick shot dudes of Dude Perfect visited Frisco’s Dr Pepper Ballpark because of course they did. All of human history has led us to this moment.
And that’s all I’ve got for today. I’ll see you in Nashville next week, should you be in Nashville next week.
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.
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.
Mutton Busting, Mystery, and More
I am currently working on what can only be described as a “very special” blog post, which will run Friday. But by no means should this prohibit me from posting something today. So post I shall.
First and foremost, I would like to direct everyone’s attention to the first-ever offseason edition of “Promotion Preview”. This column will run bi-weekly through the end of March, giving me an opportunity to highlight the many events taking place at Minor League stadiums across the country. As always, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to let me know what’s coming up/going on/already occurred (this is part of my long-term strategy to embrace the past, present, and future with equal enthusiasm).
Moving on…it’s taken me a little while to get around to mentioning this, but the Fresno Grizzlies are once again running weekly “I Hate the Offseason” video shorts. The club began doing this in 2008 as a way to engage the fans year-round, and I was certain that other teams would follow suit in ’09. Thus far this has not occurred, marking the first time ever that one of my unsubstantiated assumptions has turned out to be false.
Regardless, each episode of “I Hate the Offseason” revolves around Parker the mascot getting himself into some sort of outlandish situation. This week, Parker goes mutton-busting.
Finally, and apropos of nothing, I would like to point out the existence of a website called Mystery Google (which I came across while perusing a list of websites that for one reason or another have directed people to Ben’s Biz Blog). How it works is simple — you type in a search term, and the site then directs you to what the previous user searched for. For example, I just went to the site and searched for “Taco in a Helmet“, and what came up were the search results for “no not soul mates :(”
This is the kind of thing I could mess around with all day. And since it’s the offseason, that’s exactly what I’ll do (addendum: I did not do this all day, due to some definitively “NSFW” search results. I hope I do not get fired as a result of Mystery Google).
Until tomorrow, I remain, email@example.com
I have no idea what it stands for, but I keep hearing people around the office say “TGIF”. Can anyone help me out here? My best guess is “Trees Grow In Forests”, but I don’t know why such an obvious statement of fact would be condensed into an acronym and repeated ad nauseam.
Ah, the mysteries of life. Perhaps some things are best left unexplained. Anyways, because I am grateful to a higher power for the fact that it is Friday, I will now end my blogging week with a compilation of news and notes from the world of the Minor Leagues.
Here They Go Again — Those front office folks in Quad Cities are downright irrepressible. Fresh on the heels of the innovative “Pick The Improvement Contest“, the club has announced a new interactive fan initiative. This time it’s the “Name the Promotion” contest. From the press release:
“The River Bandits are excited to welcome a large number of wide-ranging
ideas and have set no restrictions to ensure that fans can let their
creative juices flow freely. Promotional ideas could cover a single
game through a theme night or giveaway, take place during a half-inning
break with a game or contest or unfold over the course of the entire
season. The promotion could revolve around the baseball being played on
the field or it could involve concessions or ticketing. The
possibilities are endless.
The first phase of the contest begins on Friday. Fans have the
opportunity to submit their suggestion for next season’s great
promotion online by the River Bandits’ website at http://www.RiverBandits.com.
The open suggestion phase of the contest will last until Jan. 30. After
Modern Woodmen Bank and the River Bandits narrow down the suggestions
to a list of finalists, the second phase of the contest will begin on
Feb. 2 and allow fans to vote on the best promotional ideas through
This contest will undoubtedly result in a veritable boatload of promo ideas, running the gamut from brilliant to completely insane to both brilliant and completely insane. As has become my policy, I will refrain from making suggestions of my own.
Transactions — Moving on, I learned yesterday via this press release that longtime Altoona Curve broadcaster and media relations director Jason Dambach will be leaving the team. In addition to writing a veritable boatload of amusing promotional press releases over the past decade, Dambach had also established himself as one of the best play-by-play announcers in the Minors (a fact that was illuminated by his recent Top 10 finish in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ announcer search). I first met Jason during my 2007 field trip to “Awful Night”, and I wish him well in his new job with the Greenberg Sports Group.
Jumping the Shark, Literally — The Fresno Grizzlies have unveiled the 14th and final episode of their weekly “I Hate the Offseason” web series. For my money, this was the funniest installment yet. Check it out right here:
“I Hate the Offseason” turned out to be a fun and relatively simple way for the Grizzlies to stay in the public eye upon the conclusion of the season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many teams embark upon similar projects at the conclusion of the ’09 campaign.
And, speaking of conclusions, this post is now done. In closing, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you happen to know what TGIF stands for.
Showcasing the Showdown
On Saturday, August 16, a Mascot Showdown for the ages took place at Fresno’s Chukchansi Park, as the Grizzlies’ own Parker went head-to-head with the legendary Phillie Phanatic in a battle for costumed character supremacy.
In anticipation of this momentous event, I wrote a preview detailing what fans could expect from the evening. Now, it is time for the review.
Bradley Collins, the Grizzlies Director of Mascot Relations and Parker’s best friend, was kind enough to provide me with a recap of what took place. All photos contained therein are courtesy of Don Davis, whose work can be viewed at dadphoto.com.
Parker, then the Phanatic. The rest of pre-game was a great mix of improv,
messing with umpires, shining Andruw Jones’ head and the highlight may have
been when we did an ATV stare down near the centerfield gate (Parker and
Phanatic drove at each other full speed narrowly missing each
break followed by a Squirt Gun duel in End 3. Parker and the Phanatic started
off back to back, took 5 paces and then proceeded to squirt our on-field MC and
everyone near the dugout.”
and seduced the first base umpire to Alicia Keys’ “In and Out of Love”, then
Parker followed suit and seduced the umpire to “Let’s Get It On”. Apparently
the Phanatic was a bit more attractive in drag as the umpire wound up kissing
the Phanatic instead of Parker.“
had to cross the Balance Beam of Greatness to be awarded the title “Best Mascot
in Baseball”. While Olympic fanfare played over the speakers, the Phanatic
slowly but surely crossed the Balance Beam of Greatness. Then it was Parker’s
turn. Dressed in his tutu, Parker managed to make it half-way across the Balance
Beam of Greatness and was then distracted by the Phanatic, who flashed him. This caused Parker to fall and hit his groin on the Balance Beam, signaling the
crowd to sound out “OOOOhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”.
followed promptly by a round of boos from the hometown fans, so the
Phanatic graciously gave the award to Parker to cease the booing. So
technically the Phanatic retained the title, but Parker gave him a legitimate
run for his money.”
So there you have it, folks. The Phanatic remains the best mascot in all of baseball. BUT FOR HOW LONG? Parker is down, but certainly not out…