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.
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.
The JetHawks got their name due to the prominence of the aerospace industry in Lancaster, CA. This connection is made abundantly clear immediately upon arriving at “The Hangar” (Clear Channel Stadium).
This very jet, and the stadium itself, was visible outside of my hotel room window. But what the following photo does not indicate, despite the twisted flag, is just how windy it was on Saturday evening (26 mph, blowing out to right). Lancaster has long had a reputation for windy conditions — the team used to have a ticket discount based on wind speed, and is giving away a “stadium dust globe” later this season — but I was nonetheless drastically under dressed for the occasion.
But the JetHawks’ approach is not to bemoan the elements, but to harness them. See that parking lot overhang in the above photo? Those are solar panels, new for this season, and they provide the majority of the stadium’s energy and are expected to save upwards of $50k in energy costs. The JetHawks are the first Cal League team to do this, but I doubt they will be the last.
And the elements weren’t going to keep the Lancaster faithful from attending a Saturday night ballgame. Motivated in part by a camo hat giveaway, fans were lined up outside the stadium well in advance of the gates opening at 6 p.m.
The camo hat in question, blending into its surroundings here at the Hampton Inn.
The hat giveaway was sponsored by the local Desert Christian school, who were heavily involved in the overstuffed but well-orchestrated pre-game festivities. This included cheerleading routines, a gymnastic performance (with the gymnasts shivering in the gusty 59 degree weather) and a marching band.
With the sun descending from beyond the third base line, the game began. Some stadium views:
The “Hawkettes Dance Team” often provide top-of-dugout entertainment.
Another prominent mover and shaker in the JetHawks universe is “Dancin’ Darrell,” an usher immortalized with his own “Hangar Hero” bobblehead last season.
While I missed Darrell’s performance on Saturday, I did get a chance to speak with him and snap the above photo. He and other aspects of the JetHawks experience will be incorporated into an upcoming MiLB.com piece dealing with my Cal League meanderings (Make like a Chattanooga mountain climber and be on the Lookout).
Another individual I spoke with (prior to the game) was second baseman Jose Altuve. He’s 5’5″, very friendly, very fast, and an excellent hitter. In other words, one of my new favorite Minor Leaguers. Here he is in the first inning after legging out a double (look for video interviews with Altuve, closer Kirk Clark and slugger Kody Hinze on MiLB.com).
Moving from Altuve to “A tooth, eh?”, you’ll notice the following bit of dental-themed advertising. If a player hits it during a game he receives a free teeth whitening.
Interesting signage abounds at Clear Channel, in fact.
One thing I’ve learned through my job is that Minor League Baseball teams consider movie theaters to be mortal enemies in their holy war for the almighty family entertainment dollar. This sign makes the animosity explicit.
This poster was hanging in the JetHawks front office. I want it!
And this, which I also want, was hanging in the team store.
And speaking of said store, they had a most impressive hat collection (you know, in case complimentary camo’s not your thing. Or, if you want to complement your complimentary camo).
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Minor League road trip if I wasn’t able to add to my list of “hallucinogenic-worthy things I have dressed up and raced as.” Add Taco Bell Fire Sauce Packet to the overall tally, please.
I raced against “Hot” (one of the Hawkettes, natch) and mascot Kaboom (who I somehow didn’t get a picture of tonight). Kaboom and I lost, after deciding to pose for a picture on field. Video of all this exists — look for it on this blog shortly and if you don’t see it, then demand it. I am responsive to your needs, so long as they are also mine.
Of course, racing as the human embodiment of a mass-produced condiment really works up the appetite. Fortunately, there are plenty of options (at least if you’re a carnivore).
And there are plenty of carnivores among the fanbase.
But one of the most popular additions to the menu are the “Sweet Po-Tater Tots,” which come with a side of syrup. I have experienced them in the past through the magic of Photoshop:
But on Saturday paranoid sideways stare became reality:
The verdict on these is “guilty of deliciousness.” Seriously an excellent combination. I struggled a bit with the “Stealth Burger”, however: a hamburger topped with pulled pork and onion rings. For one, I do not know how to properly depict this photographically:
The Stealth Burger (which is about as stealth as a radioactive elephant on jet-powered rollerskates) tasted fine, but it was difficult for me to combine the different flavors. Ultimately, it made me realize that I enjoy pulled pork significantly more than I do hamburger.
And speaking of hamburger, I was speaking with JetHawks food and beverage director Adam Fillenworth during the game and he mentioned that the JetHawks will soon debut “the smallest hamburger in Minor League Baseball” (the “anti-monster burger” if you will). Any ideas on what to name it? He’s open to suggestions.
At any rate, I enjoyed these creative concessions of colossal caloric content while ensconced in the Clear Channel control console, ably manned by PA announcer J.T. and his crew. Watching these guys in action really fosters an appreciation for just how much is going on at any given moment — sound effects, scoreboard updates, at-bat songs, between-inning contests, ad reads, etc. It’s a ton of work — involving constant communication both in the booth and via walkie-talkie — but everyone involved seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Soon after that, the ballgame came to an end. Contrary to the California League stereotypes harbored by East Coast types like myself, this game (which the JetHawks won over Lake Elsinore, 5-1) was played in a tidy two hours and 12 minutes. I was under the assumption that all contests in this circuit took 300 minutes to play and ended in scores of 33-18. (JetHawks broadcaster Jeff Lasky had done his best to disavow such misconceptions when he and I spoke earlier in the evening. Kudos, Jeff, and thanks for having me on the pre-game show.)
But no matter how long a game takes to play, it will always end with hula hoops and tennis balls strewn across the field. That’s how you know when to call it a night.
So, I’m calling it a night. Thanks to the JetHawks for their hospitality (especially uber-helpful media relations manager Will Thornhill). I hope I’ve been able to convey that Clear Channel is a worthwhile place to visit, resulting in the most positive association one could possibly make with corporate radio hegemony.