As mentioned in the previous post on the blog, I spent this past weekend at the 2011 Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar in Myrtle Beach.
The above photo encapsulates why it can be difficult to cover these sort of events: pictures of hotel conference rooms trade show mingling just aren’t very exciting. Nonetheless, it’s important for me to socialize with those in the industry, and to get a gauge on promotional techniques and concepts that may be popular in 2012 and beyond.
One of the topics touched upon is the Lake Elsinore Storm’s Grounds Crew Gorilla, winner of the 2011 “Golden Bobblehead” for “best in-game promotion.” The Gorilla made a cameo appearance at the seminar, attacking attendees with pool noodles and overturning the speaker’s table. My best attempt to document this chaotic moment:
Certainly, the Grounds Crew Gorilla was one of the highlights of my May visit to a Lake Elsinore Storm game.
Meanwhile, at the Trade Show, Trampolines USA was selling their “Pony Hops.” These things swept through the Minor League landscape last season, and I imagine that there will be even more teams using them in 2012.
The roster of the mighty Skillville Group was on display as well, bathed in beatific blue light.
But I think this mascot was my favorite part of the trade show, a costumed creature available to the highest bidder during Saturday night’s silent auction.
At the time I took this picture, the Danville Braves were the highest (and only) bidder. I’ll have to check to see if they won, because I’d love to see this dazed and confused character at an Appalachian League baseball game.
On Sunday night, there was an industry outing to Ripken Baseball’s Myrtle Beach Baseball complex. My lens was dirty in the following photo, but I like the effect.
This marks the second time this month I was at a Ripken Baseball youth complex, with my first outing taking place in conjunction with an Aberdeen IronBirds game.
According to my hastily-scribbled notes (the only kind of notes I’ve ever made), the Myrtle Beach complex is a 10-month a year operation and devoted almost exclusively to youth, high school and collegiate baseball tournaments. There are three regulation-sized diamonds and five youth size, all on synthetic turf.
Here’s Griffith Field, where an estimated 2500 games have been played over the past six years.
All synthetic everything, even the “dirt.”
A few more shots of the surroundings, some of them taken from the back of a moving golf cart.
From there the festivities moved on to Myrtle Beach’s BB&T Coastal Ballpark, home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. I had visited there in late July, but was happy to be back.
Upon entering, we were greeted with some very welcome sights.
1. Popcorn and boiled peanuts!
2. Beer, as poured through the Bottoms Up beer dispenser (yes, they fill from the bottom. Magnets are key). Needless to say this was good marketing, using this product in full view of curious (and endlessly thirsty) industry decision-makers.
You may recall that when I was in Myrtle Beach I interviewed noted groundskeeper Chris “Butter” Ball, during which he observed that he keeps “extreme banker’s hours” in the offseason.
Well, this offseason might be a little different:
A buffet-style meal was set up in the right field picnic area, while down the left field line attendees could play corn hole and test their arms at the speed pitch.
As is too often the case, the demands of attending and covering an event such as the seminar leaves little time for exploring the area. But I’d like to close with this shot, as it features a business that has found a way to carry on amidst Myrtle Beach’s proliferation of neon-hued dining palaces and soul-destroying theme bars.
Harry’s Breakfast Pancakes — RIP Harry!
Next time I got to Myrtle Beach, this will be first on my list of places to check out.
Sorry that it has taken me this long to get a blog post up this week, but please know that it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve been traveling through the great states of Pennsylvania and Maryland, taking impromptu naps in deserted Boscov’s parking lots and ordering scrapple at diners as part of a self-conscious attempt to display my Keystone State bona fides.
But who cares about any of that? What matters is the present, and at the present I’m writing to you from a budget-conscious place of lodging in the fine city of Aberdeen, MD. This evening I watched a baseball game, in which the hometown IronBirds lost to the Tri-City ValleyCats by a score of 16-1.
The game took place at Ripken Stadium, named after hometown hero (and team owner) Cal Ripken Jr.
I had never been to a game here, although I’ve passed the stadium on numerous occasions while driving to destinations since forgotten on I95.
But the view from the road did not prepare me for the reality of the situation, as Ripken Stadium is located on a vast expanse of land.
But the endless horizon of the parking lot doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Shortly after arriving at the ballpark, I visited the press box. Here’s the view from up there:
The view toward the press box:
And there’s plenty of room to move just outside of the press box as well.
Such Brobdingnagian proportions left this Lilliputian blogger feeling disoriented, so I traveled outside for some fresh air.
Beyond left field was the sprawling grounds of the Ripken Academy, a center for youth baseball training and tournaments.
And next to it was a Courtyard Marriot, its architecture influenced by the warehouse surroundings of Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
Clearly, this needed to be explored.So, you know, I did.
The Ripken Academy grounds are truly impressive, even without this bronzed Cal there to greet you.
Rules to live by:
Each of the seven fields are named after a big league stadium.
And, yes, this Wrigley in miniature features ivy on the outfield walls.
It’s just too bad that those outfield dimensions reference Manhattan’s area code; can’t the Second City ever escape the shadow of the Big Apple?
But the crown jewel of the youth baseball complex is “Senior’s Yard”, modeled after the aforementioned Camden Yard’s and named after Cal Ripken, Sr.
This was a true youth baseball palace, a fitting homebase for the annual Cal Ripken World Series (an international tournament of the Babe Ruth League’s 12-year-old division). This year’s series took place from August 12-21, running concurrently (but not in concert) with the Little League World Series in Williamsport (also a New York-Penn League city).
This overload of parenthetical asides makes me wish I could communicate in the manner of Cal, Sr: pithy yet poignant.
And speaking of the game of baseball, that’s what I was there to see! So back to Ripken Stadium I went. I checked out an upstairs museum display…
and witnessed some bullpen pillow talk…
and soon enough it was time for the game to begin:
It was also time for the eating to begin! All of the Picnic Pavillion and Party Deck tables were covered like this for a reason…
The team sells all-you-can-eat crab feast group seating tickets, but this delectable steamed crustacean can be purchased at the Crab Shack for $24/dozen (or $36/two dozen or $115/bushel).
A variety of other food options could be found on the concourse…
but as the night wore on I found myself feeling quite jealous of these folks, munchin’ in the gloamin’.
But eating a dozen crabs, by myself, next to all my blogging and journalistic accoutrements was an untenable proposition. I settled for this $7 crab pretzel, topped with cheese and coated with a liberal amount of Old Bay seasoning.
I smashed it with a mallet before eating, but it wasn’t the same. Still good, though — and a meal in and of itself!
As mentioned in my MiLB.com piece, the IronBirds are in the midst of a decade-long sell-out streak. This doesn’t mean that all the seats are necessarily full — just that they’ve been sold. And a big part of the reason they’ve been sold are a strong season ticket base. Many of the stadium’s chairs are marked as such:
And the crowd that was there thrilled to the several between-inning performances of the Bucket Boys, a quartet of premier plastic percussionists.
I had seen video of these guys before, but they were even better live. Amazing stickwork and artful choregoraphy, and very well-suited for two-minute inning breaks.
But as for on-field highlights, there were very few. As mentioned at the top of this post, the IronBirds lost by a score of 16-1. The ValleyCats were just too much to handle.
Also too much to handle — the task of keeping my eyes open. Sorry for the uninspired conclusion, but it’s time to go gently into that good night.