Saturday, May 31, 2008

NASA provides fireworks down south; Altoona puts off what it can

Brevard County will get a free fireworks show of sorts before tonight’s game. Daytona will augment the pre-game show with a post-game offering of its own.

The space shuttle will be visible from both ballparks when it lifts off this evening. Though the 5 p.m. scheduled blastoff isn’t the ideal viewing time, it’s still pretty cool to be that close. Fans at Space Coast Stadium are close enough to hear the booster engines roar.

If there is any sort of delay, which is pretty common, the launch could be pushed back into the twilight hours or even night – firing the amazing into the spectacular.

It’s worth a look.

They may or may not get to it: Altoona actually took the time to issue a press release on Wednesday declaring that their Salute to Procrastination Night has been moved to an unknown date in the future.

A quick check of the Altoona calendar didn’t show that the night was ever formally scheduled. The Dugout is not sure the Curve will ever actually hold a procrastination night, which makes the issuance of the release that much funnier. Someone actually went to the trouble of writing a release for something that won’t happen.

Gotta love minor league baseball.

Here is the release in full:

*This press release was started on April 28, but not completed until May 28 due to the procrastination of the author.

Club's Ode to Those Who Put Off Until a Later Date Being Put Off Until Later Date

ALTOONA- The Altoona Curve, Minor League Baseball's champions of fun, light-hearted ballpark theme nights announced this spring that it was planning a "Salute to Procrastination Night" at Blair County Ballpark, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates' Double-A club.

Today, the team is announcing that the promotion is still planned for sometime before September 1st, but that meetings to discuss the details of the event have been repeatedly put off until a later date.

"We've admittedly hit the snooze button several times when it comes to planning the details of our Salute to Procrastination Night, but we'll get to it soon enough." said Curve General Manager Todd “Parney” Parnell. "When we finally sit down to sketch out this promotion you can bet it will be worth the wait."

The Curve's summer college interns, the club's resident experts in putting off projects until a later date, will be very involved in the planning process for the promotion, but the group has asked for more time to work on the details, thus illustrating a popular form of procrastination known as "Student Syndrome".

The club will continue to provide updates on the status of “Salute to Procrastination Night”, assuming continued attempts to meet about the promotion’s details take place.

One fun theme night which has been planned since the off-season and will be held next Tuesday, June 3rd at Blair County Ballpark is "Salute to Quitters Night". Among those in the crosshairs for this self-explanatory promotion will be famous quitters such as boxer Roberto “No Mas!” Duran, and coaches Bobby Knight and Bobby Petrino. In honor of Petrino, who abruptly quit his post as Atlanta Falcons' head coach with three games remaining in the 2007 NFL season, the Curve will also make one (1) lucky fan in attendance the winner of a “back door”, which the fan will be encouraged to utilize to leave the ballpark before the game becomes official.For tickets to any remaining 2008 Altoona Curve home game fans can call toll-free (877) 99-CURVE or order on-line at

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Did Price really outpitch Pedro?

A couple of weeks ago no one would have considered Port St. Lucie, Fl. the center of the baseball universe. It was arguably exactly the nexus last night.

The Dugout was lucky enough to watch last night’s duel between future hall-of-famer Pedro Martinez and phenom David Price (photo) at Tradition Field. At least nine other media members were in attendance – by far the biggest turnout since the Mets headed back to the crumbing infrastructure that is their home.

Setting aside the chaos that is New York, let's look at Price’s performance. Bloggers, news sources and fans alike have been quick to proclaim that Price got the better of Martinez. Looking strictly at the numbers, he did.

Both pitched six innings. Price, the top pick in last year’s draft, didn’t allow a run and earned the win after his Vero Beach Devil Rays touched Martinez for two fourth-inning runs – the only runs of the game. Price fanned nine, three more than Martinez.

The number comparison isn’t completely fair, though, since the pitchers were working toward different purposes. Price pitched to win the game and to hopefully advance within the organization. Martinez’s goal was to get his arm ready to return to the bigs.

Martinez estimated that 90 percent of his 82 pitches were fastballs. He said he threw six cutters, only one of which did a Vero batter even manage to put into play. He would have liked to give St. Lucie a win – as the team with the worst record in baseball, they really could have used it – but getting out of the game healthy and comfortable was the biggest priority.

That being said, Martinez had plenty of good things to say about Price’s performance:

He’s amazing that kid. He’s very mature for his time in professional baseball, very talented. Oh, my God. God bless him and keep him healthy.

Responding to another question, he added:

That kid did a hell of a job at throwing first-pitch strikes, pounding the strike zone and challenging hitters. I was watching that. He did it like a big leaguer. Such command. Right there. [His approach was] I’m challenging you; I’m going to do what I have to do. He didn’t show any fear. That’s the kind if talent you like to see.

Pretty high praise from a guy who whose numbers suggest he knows what he’s talking about.

What’s in a name?: There was confusion in the press box as to whether Vero Beach followed its parent club’s lead and changed its nickname to Rays. Fear not friends of the devil, Vero is still the Devil Rays. To borrow from another song, the devil went down to Vero.
Suns shine in Rickwood: Jacksonville defeated Birmingham in the 13th annual Rickwood Classic last night. Birmingham plays one game a year at Rickwood, keeping it the oldest ballpark still in use by professional baseball. Rickwood has been around since 1910, two years longer than Fenway and four years longer than Wrigley.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bobble-foot kicks kazoo effort; Pedro up next

Give St. Paul credit. When someone messes up in their neck of the glacier, the Saints will mock them.

St. Paul earned Sunday's Promotion of the Day honors on the main site for their bobble-foot giveaway, which "honored" Larry Craig. The Idaho senator was arrested last summer for tapping his foot in a Minneapolis/St Paul airport bathroom stall in a manner commonly used to invite “companionship.”

The Saints chose Sunday for the giveaway because it was National Tap Dancing Day. Brilliant.

The bobble-foot (photo) gained national media attention, but there were outlets that refused to cover the story. The Palm Beach Post, for instance, declined to included the note in its ‘Only in the Minors” section because it was a little too risqué.

The Post did, however, cover Craig’s arrest when it happened. Which one is more risqué?

Up the Kazoo: The day before the bobble-foot giveaway, two separate clubs attempted to break the world record for simultaneous kazooing. Bowie and Connecticut both failed. The Baysox came up about 150 kazooers short of the more than 2,800 participants needed, despite an announced crowd of 6,105. A Bowie official said more fans likely participated, but only fans that registered count toward the total. The registration process likely kept the Baysox from breaking the record.

Connecticut was more perplexing. The Defenders’ front office boasted it had purchased 6,000 kazoos for the promotion. Inclement weather likely contributed to the small crowd – less than 3,000 on a Saturday night. The Defenders, however, didn’t even get 1,000 participants to play along.

The Dugout credits both clubs for the effort. The kazoo record is that seems destined to be broken. Connecticut still has more than enough kazoos to give it another shot real soon.

St. Lucie duel: The Dugout will spend Wednesday night in Port St. Lucie where the Mets, fueled by a Pedro Martinez rehab assignment will host Vero Beach. The Devil Rays will counter with 2007 No. 1 overall pick David Price. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

York's ballpark a winner even if the team isn't

York, Pa. - Referring to York's Sovereign Bank Ballpark as a ballpark was a bit of a stretch last season.

Atlantic League players' batting helmets doubled as hard hats. The construction site didn't offer locker rooms. Instead of tubs, players iced in large garbage cans. Only one concession stand was open and many of the seating areas weren’t complete.

"It was a tough situation being in trailers and stuff," York catcher Sandy Aracena said. "We we’re just trying to make the best of the situation."

A year later the Revolution still don’t have their permanent occupancy license – they need to finish the fire lanes – but the ballpark looks and feels complete.

York’s ballpark mixes old school charm and new school convenience. Located in the middle of downtown, the ballpark is shoehorned into a 10-acre piece of land. The small confines necessitated the Fenway-like leftfield wall (top photo), which is only 300 feet from the plate. New school marketing, however, necessitated that it be 38-feet tall, six inches higher than Boston’s Green Monster. The marketing ploy got the ballpark national play, including a mention in the Red Sox media guide.

Arch Ave. runs only a few feet beyond the wall, leading York staffers to dub the wall the “Arch Nemesis.” Will the name stick?

The upper level skyboxes, not available last year, are all sold out. The outfield merry-go-round stays busy throughout the night, and scoreboard operator Brad Daugherty may have had the best view of anyone in the ballpark (middle photo).

“I love this ballpark,” Aracena said. “You cant get any better than this.”

Despite the nicer amenities, York hasn’t played well this year. Their five-game losing streak prompted the front office to take action. There was no rain in the area, but the crew pulled the tarp before the game because the last game the Revolution won was delayed by rain.

All staffers wore their hats inside-out to spark a rally. They even placed pieces of plywood around the ballpark, inviting fans to knock on wood for good luck. None of that worked, as Camden’s 2-1 victory dropped York to 8-20.

The Revolution didn’t use most of their in-game promotions on Saturday, devoting that time to a battle of the bands promotion. The Mark DeRose Band won the opportunity to open for Blues Traveler at a ballpark concert in June.

York did manage to make time for Stu-pendous and the Big Hitters, a dancing group that’s one part Rockettes and many parts Fred Flintstone (bottom photo). They danced to Soul Man, with Stu actually singing the song. Pretty impressive.

Prior to the game The Dugout caught up with Camden’s Brett Bonvechio, who has two stories in The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen: More than 100 crazy stories from minor league baseball. His latest story, which details odd man-icuring, will appear on this blog in the coming days. It’s worth waiting for.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wilmington combines Amish, celery and a purple thing

Wilmington, Del. - Wilmington made Frawley Stadium the centerpiece of its 1993 waterfront restoration. Fifteen years later, the redevelopment plan seems to be working.

Where dilapidated warehouses and unsafe urban houses once stood there are now restaurants, shops and a community events center. The city has embraced the Blue Rocks and, somewhat surprisingly, the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals were the Blue Rocks original parent club, but in 2005 Kansas City moved its High-A affiliate to the Carolina League. The Red Sox jumped into Wilmington, but the hardcore Wilmington fans missed the Royals.

Unhappy with their more to the west coast, Kansas City asked to return to Wilmington and last season Wilmington happily welcomed the Royals’ farmhands back.

Tonight is Amish Night at the ballpark, earning Wilmington “Promotion of the Day” honors on the main site. The night started with a pre-game shoo fly pie-eating contest (top photo). Somewhat fittingly, the guy with the Mohawk won the Amish contest.

Members of a local Amish community were in the ballpark overseeing the contestants (middle photo). They were supposed to selling some of their wares, but early in the game the only product they were pushing was quasi-health drink Mona-Vie. Maybe they stomped the fruit?

Traveling mascot act Reggie the Purple Party Dude (bottom photo) also came to the ballpark, but he seemed like waste of money. Reggie was only the third best mascot in the park. Rocky Bluewinkle, a blue moose that serves as the Blue Rocks main mascot, did a nice job of entertaining and kids cuddled up to the blue moose more willingly than the purple dude.

The Blue Rocks also feature one of the more bizarre acts in minor league ball. Every time they score a giant celery stalk runs onto the field, does a little dance, high fives some fans and runs back under the stands. Mr. Celery has been on the field eight times tonight, much to the delight of Wilmington’s fans.

There will be a feature story on the dancing stalk in the coming weeks on the main site.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lehigh Valley exceeds the hype

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Praise for Lehigh Valley's new ballpark reached The Dugout's ears well before tonight. But people almost always speak well of new parks. How good could Coca-Cola Park really be?

It's even better than reported (top photo).

Fans, many of whom cast aside the unseasonably cool – actually cold – temperatures to don their IronPigs gear, were into the game all night, nearly packing the park on a Thursday Night. And there doesn’t seem to be a bad seat.

Players, for the most part, rave about the field conditions and couldn’t be more comfortable in their clubhouse. In the first few games fielders were having trouble picking up the ball off the bat, losing them in the white stones behind home plate. The front office helped them by painting the stones green.

Among the ballpark niceties are indoor field-level “sky” boxes that allow fans to eat and schmooze inside, then walk outside to seats behind home plate (middle photo). There are multiple video boards and scoreboards, and a dancing grounds crew that stops to perform the zombie dance from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” while dragging the infield.

Even the bottle of Coke that sits atop the main scoreboard is functional. The red top pops open to allow fireworks to shoot out following big plays. It was only supposed to fire after IronPig homeruns, but there have been so few of those that the ballpark must be overstocked with explosives. Everything Must Blow!!!

The Dugout wasn’t a big fan of the IronPigs logo when it was unveiled, figuring Lehigh Valley planned to play up the “iron” portion of the name. That’s not the case. There are pigs and pig references throughout the park, and different – read: better – variations on the logo are scattered among the hats and shirts worn by fans, staffers and even players.

Lehigh Valley is the only minor league club that produces television broadcasts for all of is home games. The whole experience is pretty close to the major league feel. In fact, it’s better than many big league parks.

The $50-million ballpark felt even more big league tonight thanks to an appearance from the Philly Phanatic (bottom photo), who sat on fans, threw popcorn and “made friendly” with the Iron Pigs female mascot.

The Iron Pigs, who started the season losing their first 11 games, jumped to a 5-0 lead tonight en route to a 7-2 victory over Charlotte, pushing their record to 14-34. They are pulling away from St. Lucie, which lost 9-1 on Thursday to fall to 9-38, in the battle to avoid the worst record in affiliated baseball.

Look for a story comparing the two teams on the main site in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lakewood recharges fans with an Aussie battery and racing pork roll

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - It's a Wednesday and there are five day-games in the South Atlantic League. The Dugout is sitting in the press box of the Sally League's northernmost city, Lakewood, where the Blue Claws are on their way to a 3-2 win.

The ballpark is sold out. Attendance was just announced at more than 7,000. There are kids running through concourse, sunning themselves on the outfield berm and standing in long lines waiting for ice cream.

Lakewood has been a Philadelphia affiliate since its inaugural 2001 season. In recent years the Phillies have placed and emphasis on having their farm clubs close to home base. Four of their six farm clubs, including Lakewood, are within a two-hour drive from Philly. Only Clearwater and the GCL Phillies, both of which play at the club’s Florida spring training site, require flights.

The BlueClaws have the kinds of amenities that are expected at the modern minor league ballpark. Playing off the local attractions, there is a Jersey Shore inspired arcade down the rightfield line, complete with skee ball. There are lifeguard chairs beyond the outfield walls. Funnel cakes are everywhere.

The concession stands offer a belly buster sandwich (1/2 pound of pulled pork, ½ pound of brisket, cole slaw, onion rings and a t-shirt – not on the sandwich – for $9) and the pork roll egg and cheese sandwich. Neither of which were offered today, likely because the BlueClaws gave all students in attendance a coupon for a free hotdog meal.

Did get to see Lakewood’s newest attraction: the pork roll, egg and cheese race (top photo). The Blueclaws figure the PE&C is the Jersey state sandwich. This is their answer to Milwaukee’s sausage race. The lower photo is a view from behind the plate.

This afternoon also featured an international flair. Drew Naylor and Joel Naughton, the starting battery for Lakewood, both hail from Australia. Naylor picked up the win, allowing six hits and two runs while striking out six. Naughton called a solid game behind the plate, but went hitless in four at-bats. Look for a story featuring these guys on the main site in the near future.
Day one is done. Tomorrow brings a visit to Lehigh Valley – the Phillies Triple-A club. By all accounts, their new ballpark is quite a site. Until then…

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How to annoy Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss hung up on The Dugout. Well, it wasn't actually Ted Geisel - who died in 1991. It was the media relations woman at Dr. Seuss Enterprises, who didn't give her name.

Still, it imparted a strangely dirty feeling for the remainder of the day - like The Dugout had somehow managed to anger the happiest guy in the world. It didn't matter that Geisel was a notoriously cantankerous fellow, being hung-up on by his minions was shocking.

The Dugout understands the need for copyright and trademark law, and the need to protect ones image. But it appears Dr. Seuss Enterprises significantly overreacted when it forced Lake Elsinore to cancel the popular Dr. Seuss Night. At worst Dr. Seuss enterprises could have worked with the Storm as part of the reading program. At best they could have let it slide.

That is not in their nature. A web search produces dozens of web sites that have been closed down by Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

Lake Elsinore General Manager Chris Jones wanted to fight the order, but eventually the Storm decided it wasn’t worth the effort. That’s a shame. Entering its fourth year, the promotion was more than a fan favorite. The players looked forward to it, too.

“I think the best way we got back at them was the rhyme press release,” said Jones, who provided the above photo. “We wanted to have some fun with it. We didn’t want to take it as seriously as they were taking it.”

Here is that press release:

Storm Denied the Right to Promote Dr. Seuss Night

Lake Elsinore, CA, May 1, 2008 –

The Padres affiliate, the Lake Elsinore Storm
Tried to put on a promotion that wasn’t the Norm
We called it Dr. Seuss Night on our website
But something about that didn’t seem right

Dr. Seuss Enterprises didn’t see it as funny
They said we could do it but we didn’t have the money
They didn’t appreciate our publicity ploys
So we have to inform all the sad girls and boys

Through the face of it all we thought we’d persist
Until we were served with a cease and desist
The theme has been cancelled but the game will go on
Perhaps it wouldn’t matter if we were in Taiwan

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Even bad baseball is worth a night at the ballpark

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – The Dugout is currently enjoying watching the worst team in minor league baseball struggle through another tight contest.

The Florida State League’s St. Lucie Mets have lost nine straight, and tonight’s game against Daytona closes out a 14-game home stand that has produced just one victory. Pitching had been the Mets problem – a month into the season they posted the worst team ERA in baseball. At 5.19, their current team ERA has improved, but it won’t be winning any titles soon.

Lately hitting has been a bigger problem. In their 12 losses on this home stand, the Mets have scored more than two runs just four times.

Despite an 8-33 record the Mets have a pretty decent crowd tonight. The bottom of the third inning is currently being delayed by one of the Zooperstars! routines, so that probably helped attendance.

It’s also 70s night here. All the staffers are dressed in leisure suits and the like, but aside from a few KISS fans, the crowd doesn’t seem to have bought into the theme.

For much of the season St. Lucie was locked in battle-stinkale with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs for the worst record in baseball. The Iron Pigs are on a bit of a hot streak lately, winning six of seven before last night’s loss. The Dugout will be in Lehigh Valley next weekend as part of a four-city trip. Can’t wait to compare.

Independent Update: The Northern League, United League and American Association – all independent leagues – started their seasons within the last week. The Frontier League begins on Sunday. The Can-Am and Golden leagues throw their first pitches on Thursday, May 22, while the four-team Continental League waits until Friday.

After that, fans hunting for opening day festivities will need to wait until the middle of June for the start of short-season leagues.

Egg-cellent: Hagerstown is hosting the fourth annual National Egg Toss Championship tomorrow (Sunday, May 18). The winning team last year successfully tossed (and caught) their egg 44 feet, 8 inches. Anyone at the ballpark is invited to compete. There is no entry fee. The winner receives a prize package from the Maryland Egg Council.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Every day is Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo may translate into May 5, but for minor league baseball, the spirit of Cinco de Mayo runs all week. The Columbus Catfish held Dos de Mayo on Friday. Augusta hosts Ocho de Mayo on Thursday.

The Dugout particularly enjoyed Somerset's odd combo. The Patriots invited the Jewish Community to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel becoming a state. The official Israel Independence Day is May 8, but the Jewish Community decided the best date to celebrate was Monday.

So the ever-accommodating Patriots invited the Jewish Community to come celebrate Independence on May 5. Yep. It was a combo promo of Cinco de Mayo and Jewish pride. Insert Corona and Matzo joke here.

Fear this: The folks in Camden held a Fear Factor night on April 30. The Riversharks tested six competitors by having them walk on ice and marbles, eat a pig’s tongue and search through dog food for a key to unlock their handcuffs.

The winner got a suite for up to 25 people at an upcoming game.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Skunks, horny old folks part of Rogers' beautification project

The Dugout made its first phone call of the season - and possibly ever - to Huntsville, new home of Buck Rogers. One of the masters of baseball promotion is quickly making his mark in the Huntsville area.

One of the first things he wanted to do in Huntsville was refurbish the ballpark. Last month he invited any fans that wanted to help to the ballpark. Rogers expected a few fans. He got 144 people to help paint, rework the landscaping and generally beautify the place.

Rogers is a master at building a fan base. He spent the last few seasons at Brevard County, which is one of the toughest sells in baseball. It sounds like he has the ownership and the city of Huntsville behind him, which means that the Stars, who’ve never been known as anything but a farm club, could become one of the most entertaining minor league teams.

Rogers said ticket sales are up 50 percent over this point last season despite an inclement April. Overall revenue has also increased significantly. Rogers was elated that the new shipment of cowbells just arrived. They will go well with the horns that now populate the ballpark.

Apparently the senior citizens have really taken to horn blowing during ballgames. They make Section E the loudest area in the park. According to Rogers, these senior citizens have given themselves a nickname: The Horn E section. The Dugout doesn’t know whether to laugh or cringe at that thought.

Then there are the skunks. Apparently a family of skunks lives in the ballpark and has been known to take in the action. Several games have been delayed while the skunks migrate across the field.

Rogers said one skunk was hanging out in the concourse the other night, right next to the beer line. Fans sipped their beers while keeping their eyes on the little fellas. After a few minutes the skunk went about its business and the fans wandered back to their seats.
Just another day in a Buck Rogers-fueled ballpark.