Today I have two items of note for you, and they really couldn’t be any different in tone. On the serious end of the spectrum, the Mobile BayBears have announced that a seat at Hank Aaron stadium will remain permanently empty in honor of all American soldiers who never returned home.
Section 107, row 1, seat 1:
More, from the team:
The BayBears will hold a ceremony to unveil the seat at the home opener, Wednesday, April 10 during the pre-game festivities. Active military and veterans will be in attendance to help dedicate the seat to the over 92,000 missing American soldiers. The BayBears will be installing the seat next week.
The BayBears’ “Black Seat” initiative has garnered a lot of attention over the past 24 hours, thanks to a blog post on Yahoo’s Big League Stew blog that was then more or less re-written by a number of other outlets. There’s been an “every team ever should do this immediately if not sooner” tone to these posts, and it is almost certain that other teams will follow in the wake of the BayBears (and, moreso, the Lowell Spinners as they were the first team to do this). But such a gesture will seem profoundly empty unless it is accompanied by a season-long commitment to and engagement with the region’s military and veteran population. The BayBears, for instance, offer complimentary tickets for active duty personnel and will be staging promotions dedicated to each branch of the military throughout the season.
First things first.
And now, like a kid flipping through Mad Magazine until he sees a Dave Berg byline, we have reached the Lighter Side. I’m just going to rely on the press release for this one, courtesy of the Lake Elsinore Storm.
With the papal election process in full swing and a new Pope on the horizon, the Lake Elsinore Storm Professional Baseball Team feel they have the right candidate for the position.
He may not be global just yet, but locally a lovable dog is revered by all. That’s right, man’s best friend, who may become God’s best friend, is throwing his bone, or hat, into the papal ring. Storm mascot, Thunder, with inspiration from the likes of Saint Peter, the Apostle, and the 264 Popes that followed, is willing to leave the luxuries of The Diamond behind for the right to serve others as the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.
There have been many recommendations on who should be the successor of Pope Benedict XVI….Thunder, though, has a leg, or two, up on the competition.
He would be the first green Pope, already has his own Thunder/Pope mobile and children of all ages love him. As well, Thunder has been sermonizing and leading others as a beacon of Storm spirit for nearly a decade on the team’s annual Night of Fellowship (scheduled for July 12 this season).
Thunder’s youthful exuberance and connection with the younger generation should provide a groundswell of support through social media. His friends at @Storm_baseball have started a #Paws4Pope Twitter campaign that could go viral.
The echoing sounds of “Thunder,Thunder” is a well known cheer throughout the Inland Empire, and Popefully the people of Vatican City will be chanting in Italian “Tuono, Tuono” for years to come.
Now that I think about it, this blog post typifies Minor League Baseball: balancing the serious and the absurd on a season-to-season, month-to-month, homestand-to-homestand, game-to-game, inning-to-inning basis.
Tuesday’s post began with the Erie SeaWolves and their quest to name a nine-foot tall inflatable fish. But exercises in the assignation of aquatic monikers are certainly not exclusive to remote corners of the Keystone State.
In Pensacola, the fledgling Blue Wahoos are currently staging a “Name the Mascot” contest. I’m not sure if this mascot is himself a fish, but at the very least his silhouette looks a tad platypus-ian.
The six finalists are as follows: The six finalists are: Blu, Capt. Catch, Salty, Sinker, Ono (Hawaiian for Wahoo), Kazoo.
I’d advise against the name Ono, because then the mascot will immediately be blamed if the team stops functioning well as a group. (Although, the team could give away “Plastic Ono” figurines).
Moving on to another news item with aquatic undertones — Did you know that season 3 of the HBO show Eastbound and Down was filmed in Myrtle Beach, with baseball scenes taking place at Pelicans stadium? It’s true, and the Pelicans are capitalizing by selling “Myrtle Beach Mermen” merchandise (or “Mermerch,” as I like to call it).
Officially licensed “Mermerch” is also available at myrtlebeachmermenjerseys.com, a site that gets extra alliteration points for referring to Mr. Powers as “mercurial.” Visitors to the site are greeted with the following image, which looks like a hallucinating sailor’s interpretation of a ’70s era Seattle Mariners logo:
The show wrapped up filming for the third season just last month, and Pelicans broadcaster Joel Godett spent some time on the set as an extra:
Godett thoroughly recapped the experience on his blog, which can be seen HERE.
As you can see, the crowd was really into it:
While MB Mermen gear is all well and good, it’s another piece of MB clothing that really has caught my attention.
The Montgomery Biscuits are now offering this spiffy little number in adult sizes.
People are giving Bill Simmons flak because he didn’t wear a tie when he interviewed Obama, but it is my promise to you that if I ever snag a POTUS exclusive I will show up at the White House wearing the above item (also: a fanny pack, flip flops, Akron Aeros gym shorts, and a Reading Phillies’ Richie Ashburn-style fedora. I’ve got this all planned out).
And since I’m on the “MB” theme (I didn’t plan on this theme, it’s just that my mind cannot be stopped and is in fact threatening to eat me alive as if I was some sort of anthropomorphic biscuit), my latest Minoring in Business article appeared today on MiLB.com.
It’s on the Florida State League and Spring Training, and can be seen HERE.
Next week I plan to get a bit more substantive on the blog — as it’s 2012 planning time! As always, I look forward to your suggestions as to where I should go and why.
But, for now, I’ll close this blogging week by providing an happy update on a tragic situation from a few weeks back.
Reports the team:
Lake Elsinore Storm mascot Thunder is happy to have his quad back but it looks like it will need a little bit of help before he can come roaring out for game day festivities.
Last Wednesday, the team filed a police report with the local sheriff’s department that the mascot’s quad had been stolen.
After Director of Mascot Operations Patrick Gardenier retrieved the quad from the Riverside Sheriff’s station on Sunday it was found to be a bit more damaged than expected.
“They painted it all black and walked away with the ignition, the tail light, and the wheels are not aligned properly,” said Gardenier. “I hope we can get it fixed in time for the Major League exhibition game.”
In honor of this positive development, I would suggest that the Storm offer a special four-game “Quad Ticket Pack.” A portion of each sales will go to Thunder’s quad refurbishment.
And with that, another Minor League promo idea disappears into the Biz Blog vortex. Never to be spoken of again.
The unveiling of 2012 promotions has not yet reached a deluge, but it has far surpassed a trickle. And within this intermediate zone in which we currently reside, one of the most exciting (and sure-to-be-copied) new promotions is this:
But the above photo, while helpful, doesn’t really do the promotion justice. Per the team:
The River Bandits are proud to announce, for the first time ever in professional sports in the U.S., a photo jersey auction to benefit local cancer organizations. Small squares in the Bandits players’ numbers are available for purchase, $25 each, to feature a photograph of yourself or a loved one who has been affected by cancer. The jerseys, which will be worn during the game on Friday, August 10th, will be auctioned off during the game.
I’m sure I’ll be covering this one as it develops, but for now let’s stick with the “Quad” theme and check in on a most distressing development in Lake Elsinore.
Thunder, the mascot for the Lake Elsinore Storm, had his trusty quad stolen from a stadium storage shed! This sounds like it could be a joke, save for the legitimacy bestowed upon the situation by a local ABC news team.
The video is well worth viewing — check it out HERE.
My extensive reporting on the above topic led me to the Storm website, where I discovered the existence of the “Thunder Across Time” web series. How had I not known? This may turn out to be one of the greatest MiLB team video series of all time!
More creative use of video from the West Coast comes courtesy of the Fresno Grizzlies, who are conducting their annual National Anthem auditions in a most unique fashion.
If you think you have what it takes to sing in front of the best fans in Minor League Baseball at a 2012 Grizzlies home game, then upload your audition video to the Youtube between Wednesday, February 8th and Wednesday, March 14th. Winners will be chosen by the Grizzlies front office with the input of the number of video likes on YouTube.
We’re still a ways away from having a mascot sing the National Anthem, but boy oh boy can they ever dance. The latest (and therefore greatest) example of mascot rump shaking comes courtesy of Tulsa’s Hornsby. Or, as I like to call him, “Bull-yonce.”
Funny that the video is called “All the Single Hornsbys,” as in actuality there appear to be duplicates. But at least Hornsby is a known commodity. Up there in Michigan, the Great Lakes Loons are dealing with an extremely mysterious situation.
So who really does know what’s in the box? It could be anything. Or, maybe, there’s nothing at all. There would be some precedent for that, you know.
The final team on my “Hill in the Desert” road trip itinerary was the Lake Elsinore Storm, that irreverent crew of Cal League contrarians and trendsetters. My day started not at the ballpark, however, but “Annie’s” — a popular local breakfast and lunch spot. I had been invited there by George and Ryan Bethell, loyal members of the Storm booster club and readers of this blog ever since the latter was featured in a post on fish tossing.
Upon being introduced as a first-time Annie’s patron, I was greeted with a handshake from waitress Wendy. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a newbie!”, she yelled, and the entire restaurant broke out in applause. Then a lobster hat was placed atop my head. Standard operating procedure.
That gentleman in the background is Storm manager Carlos Lezcano. George and Ryan introduced him to me, a gesture that helped to facilitate my clubhouse interview attempts later that afternoon.
I then booked into the Storm’s team hotel, a refreshing change of pace from the generic string of interchangeable lodging houses I’d become accustomed to.
This place doesn’t have the greatest reputation among Cal League players and personnel (pitcher Dirk Hayhurst issued some strong condemnations in his “Bullpen Gospels” memoir), but it has been recently renovated and I found it to be completely acceptable (the excellent internet connection sure helped). But I wasn’t on the road to write about hotels (or to gamble) — I was there for baseball!
The Diamond sure is a great place to watch some.
Like all of the ballparks I visited on this trip, there was plenty of room to move on the inside and out.
Once inside, there is the feeling of being watched.
Those eyes are everywhere!
Even between elevator buttons
And lording over the restroom
The bathroom features induction lighting and waterless urinals, two of many eco-friendly elements to be found around the ballpark. The Storm have been leaders in this area, and are the originators of the “Going Green” promotional nights that have since become common around Minor League Baseball.
Green is one of many clothing colors available in the team store. The Storm have one of the best-selling logos in all of Minor League Baseball (read about it in my MiLB.com piece), and offer a dizzying number of eye-centric clothing choices.
Out of the store and into the open air, some shots from around the ballpark while waiting for the gates to open.
Concessions, where are concessions? Where do you need to be, if you want to eat? (sung to the tune of “Obsession” by Animotion).
Oh, here they are!
The Storm have a fully-operational restaurant on the premises — the Diamond Club. It was closed on on the day I was there due to the team’s “All-You-Can- Eat” Fat Tuesday promotion, but it’s a pretty swanky joint.
I was particularly interested in trying “The Homewrecker,” best explained via t-shirt.
Here’s concessions general manager Arjun Suresh pulling it out of the oven.
Team president Dave Oster, Suresh, and executive chef Steve Bearse marvel at their creation.
The four of us went to the vacant owner’s suite to give it a try. It was delicious! And since it can be easily shared, it’s a bit more justifiable than other recent over-sized items unveiled throughout the Minors.
But my homewrecking companions soon departed (to, you know, do their jobs). After an inning of solitary luxury in the owner’s suite, I went downstairs to watch a couple of innings with the Bethells. They sit just to the left of the screen behind home plate, providing fantastic views.
I had a tough time getting a good shot of it, but the Storm did indeed retire Wild Thing’s #99 as part of their recent “Sheen-Co De Mayo” promotion.
While with the Bethells, I witnessed two top-notch elements of the Storm game entertainment experience. First up was a skit featuring Thunder the mascot. He took the field in order to play fetch with the batboy, who decided to have a laugh at Thunder’s expense by faking a throw. This enraged Thunder, who stole the batboy’s shoe and ran into the dugout. The action then switched to the videoboard, where Thunder was seen abusing the shoe in a number of ways (slamming it in a locker, cooking it in a pot, attempting to flush it down the toilet, etc). Finally, the shoe was thrown out onto the playing field with the humbled batboy limping to get it.
I detailed all of the above because it was an excellent example of a team going above and beyond with their game operations. Even on a cold Tuesday night in a front of a sparse crowd, an effort was made to do something thoughtful, fun, and original. The little things go a long way.
My pictures of Thunder came out very poorly. Thankfully, George Bethell sent over this one. It is of Thunder and his Mom Thunderella:
Also courtesy of Bethell, here’s the Grounds Crew Gorilla.
On Tuesday, the Gorilla was upstaged in a dance contest by a younger, more nimble female gorilla (once again, my pictures were horrible). This enraged him, so he darted into the visiting dugout and then up the hilly berm area. At the top of the hill, he picked up a portion of the fence separating the berm from the concourse and threw it with all his might. The aftermath:
At this point I was thoroughly frozen (note to anyone visiting southern California in May: bring a jacket!), so I decided to visit announcer Sean McCall in his well-appointed play-by-play palace.
Most announcers don’t like to be bothered during games (and I can’t say I blame them), but McCall is uber-hospitable. “Soda, water, beer?” he’ll ask, gesturing to his fully-stocked refrigerator. “Make yourself at home.”
Two unexpected guests in the booth were the mother and aunt of pitcher Hayden Beard, watching him play in person for the first time since a disastrous outing in 2006.
Beard breezed through the eighth inning, to the relief of his extremely nervous family members. Afterwards, mom Vicki spoke with me about how she works as an official scorer in Australia. This is not uncommon, as women make up the majority of scorers in her country. “Men do the on-field stuff, women keep score,” she told me.
McCall is the dean of Cal League broadcasters, and extremely entertaining to listen to. He combines a polished and professional technique with deadpan, absurdist humor — the Harry Nilsson of Minor League broadcasters, perhaps. Sample banter, after a bit in which he shared notable sports moments that had occurred on May 17: “This day in history brought to you by me, reminding you to say please and thank you (pause) Thank you.”
The title of this post is also a McCall quote, uttered upon the conclusion of the ballgame (a 12-1 win over the no-longer voodoo-enhanced Inland Empire 66ers). It was indeed two hours and 43 minutes of bliss.
As for me, my time out west was approximately 190 hours of sleep deprivation and anxiety. But no complaints! It was an honor and a privilege and I thank everyone involved for their hospitality. I’m already plotting the next one.
But, for now, I am ecstatic to be back within NYC’s comforting embrace. And since my return, one of my cats has made a new friend.
Please get in touch, at any time and for any reason. Any reason at all.