Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Barr twins share American Association airwaves, Meola attempts 48-hour broadcast

Eyes open or closed, fans that listening to Grand Prairie's American Association game against El Paso on July 23rd heard double.

Alan Barr, voice of the AirHogs, and his identical-twin Jon, voice of the Diablos, combined to produce a duel game broadcast heard in both team’s home towns (photo, Alan on right).

Jon handled the play-by-play in the first, second, fifth and sixth innings, switching to analyst when Alan took over play calling duties. The twins agreed play-calling duties in the ninth would go to whichever broadcaster’s team was leading. That turned out to be Jon’s Diablos.

At times the brothers acted like brothers, quickly refuting statistics with a number that shed their team in a more positive light. They also offered a trivia question: Which team won the World Series with the least amount of wins.

They answer? The Minnesota Twins, of course.

Long weekend: Sticking with the minor league baseball announcer theme, Sioux Fall’s Matt Meola can put in for some serious overtime. Beginning July 18th the Canaries offered 48 hours of continuous baseball.

The weekend included three Sioux Falls games, several local amateur contests, and pickup games during dead times. Despite their efforts, the Canaries were technically unable to complete their 48-hour goal. Rain twice interrupted events, affording Meola a chance to sneak a nap.

Meola also received a surprise break Sunday morning when a local church asked him to take an hour off so that they could use the frequency to broadcast their service.

“I figured, alright, I’m not going to mess with God,” Meola said.

Meola killed some time by interviewing American Association Commissioner Mile Wolff, former Minnesota Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven and other people affiliated with professional baseball.

Will he ever try it again?

“I think it’s a one-time deal,” Meola said. “It was real taxing and real long. It was fun to be able to say I did it, but I don’t really know that there’s a benefit to doing it again.”

MinorLeagueDugout.com salutes the effort.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Plumbers and mustaches all in one night

Fans that enjoy bizarre minor league promotions had a pretty good day on Wednesday when Bowie's Gorgeous Grandma Night grabbed MinorLeagueDugout.com's Promotion of the Day award over some pretty stiff competition.

South Bend combined two odd promos into one, offering Mustache Appreciation Night and Hug Your Plumber Night. Thanks to New York’s Jason Giambi mustache-induced offensive tear, mustaches have become popular promo fodder across the minor leagues. South Bend starting pitcher Josh Collmenter (photo) is having similar success since he grew a mustache.

In an effort to mimic Collmenter’s success, several other members of the Silver Hawks stopped shaving their upper lips. Fans then judged which of those players grew the best mustache.

Any fan that came to the ballpark that night sporting a mustache received a free ticket. Those without growth received stick-on mustaches as they entered the park. The whole night received the approval of the American Mustache Institute – which apparently really exists and has a theme song. They sent a video endorsement that was played on the video board.

Incidentally, Reno is also holding a mustache contest, only theirs involves fans. The contest started July 1 and ends July 31.

Back in South Bend, the Silver Hawks gave plungers to the first 1,000 fans to kick off the Plumber portion of the night. Fans also had the opportunity to pay a dollar to hug a plumber. And there were plenty of toilet-related songs played between innings.

Over in St. Paul, the Saints celebrated the 25th anniversary of George Brett’s pine tar incident on Wednesday by holding Major Meltdown Night. St. Paul gave away bats that already had too much pine tar on them and one local anger management clinic gave away a free pass to one of their seminars.

The Saints didn’t stop at Brett’s breakdown. They highlighted Robbie Alomar’s excellence in expectorating with a between-inning seed-spitting contest and offered a Bobby Knight chair-tossing contest.

The PA announcer even offered a meltdown of his own.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Florida Minor Leaguer Jeff Allison's comeback worthy of attention

The original plan was to run the Jeff Allison story later in the year. The Dugout wanted to let Allison get through an entire season and talk about those experiences, along with upcoming expectations.

Josh Hamilton’s Ruthian first half, followed by a Home Run Derby display that left NASCAR wondering whether it could harness his power, sped up the timeline for the story.

Hamilton’s success focused a spotlight back on Allison, who’d been quietly working through his first Florida State League season in Jupiter. Peter Gammons explained during the Derby telecast that, like Hamilton, Allison was trying to overcome drug addiction.

Gammons actually called Allison following the All-Star Game to ask if it was OK to pass his number along to Hamilton. Still don’t know whether they talked, but should have an update on that in the coming days.

One surprising aspect of the story has been the slow but steady criticism of the overwhelmingly positive coverage of Hamilton’s ordeal. Critics point out that unlike various players who’ve overcome cancer or political strife, Hamilton made his own problem.

That’s, well, true.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Hamilton’s ability to overcome drug addiction can’t inspire others. Allison, who lost the three of the last four years to drug addiction and prison time, says he’s feeding off Hamilton’s success.

Talk with Allison about baseball and the excitement for the game is clearly evident. Turn the conversation to his past transgressions and that excitement quickly turns to embarrassment. To Allison’s credit, though, he does talk. He offers glimpses of a world that most people are glad they don’t know and hope they will never experience.

He’s personable, even when irritated. In short, he makes people want to route for him. Allison isn’t showing the 97 mph fastball that caused the Marlins to choose him with the 16th overall pick in the 2003 draft, but he is giving Florida reason to believe he can contribute at the major league level in a few years.

Still, as well as Allison does this season, his biggest challenge way come when the season ends. Returning to his Peabody, Mass. home with all that free time will undoubtedly lead to temptation and opportunity.

Yet Allison is no more concerned about returning to Peabody than he is getting through one more day at Jupiter.

“I started using drugs in Massachusetts in the town where I grew up and I stopped using drugs in Massachusetts where I grew up,” Allison said. “Going back there is just going to a different spot. At the end of the day, I’m my biggest problem. If I’m going to use, it’s on me to do it. Every place in the world has drugs. It’s a matter of whether I’m going to do it or not. Right now, right this second, I’m not.”

Allison admits he created his own problem. Hopefully he can beat it. And if he needs the help of someone like Hamilton or a teammate or fan, what’s wrong with that?

Friday, July 18, 2008

They weren't Promo of the Day, but they were still pretty good...

This was a good week for minor league baseball promotions. Wanted to take some time to point out some of good ones that just missed being MinorLeagueDugout.com's Promotion of the Day.

Start with Newark, where the Atlantic League’s Bears are celebrating Michael Jackson’s 50th birthday tonight. Needless to say, the Bears are bringing a Jackson impersonator to the park. They actually hired this guy last year, too, and the video is from that night.

Along with the impersonator Newark feature a countdown of their favorite “Wacko Jacko” moments, a trivia contest about 1958 (Jackson’s birth year) and a Don’t Forget the Lyrics contest. The most visually interesting on-field contest, however, will likely be musical chairs, where contestants will have to circle the chairs while moonwalking.

A little further up the eastern seaboard from Newark, Lowell is hosting Superstition Night. To kick the night off, the Spinners age giving away Wade Boggs bobbleheads. In honor of Boggs’ traditional pre-game meal, Lowell is converting its between inning sandwich-eating contest to a fried chicken-eating contest. Instead of trying to throw a ball into a bucket, like a contestant would do on a normal night’s contest, tonight’s contestants will try to throw balls that will break mirrors. All contestants will enter the field by walking under a ladder and the 13th fan to enter the ballpark wins a special prize.

St. Paul offered another bizarre promo on Thursday night. As part of their A Monkey Could Do It Night, the Saints brought in a couple of live monkeys, Mr. Monk and Mindy Monk, and asked them to perform a couple common ballpark jobs. The monkeys tried their paws at ticket taking, ushering and broadcasting, among other things. Just sent St. Paul a note to see whether there were any final stats on monkey success.

Update: Just got this note from Saints broadcast and media relations guy Sean Aronson:
Other than appearing on the broadcast with me, where he sat there and held my finger and rested his head on my finger I’m not sure what else he did because I WAS BROADCASTING. He did a good job taking tickets I saw that. Other than that I’m not sure.

On Wednesday Grand Prairie held Pickup Truck Night. All pickups parked for free and any pickup carrying 10 or more fans qualified for the group discount. There are other interesting things going on in Grand Prairie, but those are being saved for the next blog entry.

Monday, July 14, 2008

All Christmas, all the time

Here's the math: At least 30 different minor league clubs are hosting a Christmas in July promotion this month. Five minor league teams have the promotion planned for July 25 and Christmas can be found in at least one ballpark on 17 of the July's 31 days. Class AAA Iowa was the first down the chimney on July 2. Class AA Tulsa wraps it up on July 31.

Friday night was the St. Lucie’s turn. Fans that brought an unwrapped toy to the park saw the game for free. Santa tossed the first pitch and posed for pictures. And there was Christmas music. Tons of it, starting an hour before the game. Drove those in the press box nuts. The Dugout doesn’t like Christmas music to begin with. They only time it should be played is on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. To hear it in the sweltering South Florida July heat approached torture. In fact, didn’t our troops blare Christmas music at the Iraqi palace until they surrendered? And there must be plenty of rockin’ Christmas tunes at Gitmo.

Just out of curiosity, why don’t any teams offer Hanukkah in July?

The upside of the night was Orlando Hernandez’s rehab start for the Mets. Making his first start for the Florida State League’s Mets since opening day, and only his third overall in the minors this season, Hernandez threw 77 pitches in 5 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits while striking out five.

The righthander still sports the high leg kick, but the 90-plus mph fastball appears long gone. Hernandez touched 86 on the gun, but most fastballs barely cracked 80. He even offered a few sub-60 mph curveballs.

Thought St. Lucie manager Tim Teufel summed up the performance pretty well: “He looked like El Duque out there, mixing it up. I thought he threw well. He kept everybody off balance. I know he’s pitching against A-ball, but no one really got a good swing against him.”

Bud-buy: Apparently it’s official. Belgium-based InBev bought Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion. Anheuser-Busch, most famous for brewing Budweiser beer, is a huge supporter of sports teams – baseball in particular. There’s no reason to believe InBev will discontinue that commitment, but anything can happen after the buyout is complete. Many ballpark managers are certainly nervous. There’s a lot of advertising money in play.

Bad day to be a baby: Wilmington barely missed out on grabbing the Promotion of the Day honors on the main site with its Celebrity Fall From Grace Night. Prior to the start of the ballgame the Blue Rocks will mock Brittany Spears by having a staffer dressed like her driving around the field with an infant doll on her lap. Later a staffer (who happens to be white) will offer his best Michael Jackson dance moves; then dangle a baby doll off a balcony. Apparently the O. J. Simpson look-a-like won’t be asked to slash a baby.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Watching fireworks in the rain

It's between games of a doubleheader at Roger Dean Stadium, but the start of the second game is being delayed by rain. That's nothing new here. It rains just about everyday in South Florida, usually for about an hour, then everything returns to normal.

This summer has been particularly wet, though, especially the last couple of weeks. This doubleheader, necessitated by Tuesday’s suspended game, was supposed to be played yesterday. Rain kept the second game form being played.

Today is one of the few scheduled fireworks shows at this ballpark, and they’ve announced it will happen rain or shine. Should be interesting to see the fireworks shot off in the rain.

The plan seems to be that they will shoot off the fireworks, then play the second game. Will be interesting to see if the rain delay is followed by a smoke delay. Might be more interesting to see how many fans stick around for the second game. Will likely be a friends and family game.

Meanwhile people wait. The press box, normally empty, is packed with scouts escaping the rain. Baseball people talking baseball. The Dugout can think of worse ways to spend a night.

Nice pics: As promised in a previous blog, those photos on the right were sent from St. Paul. The first couple are from Sasquatch’s birthday party. They invited other famous monsters and ghosts and set up a photo booth where fans could get their pictures taken with part of Bigfoot in the background. The other pictures are from Purple Night, when the Saints celebrated hometown artist Prince’s 50th birthday.

Odd trend: Lakeland’s 20-inning, 3-2 victory over Daytona on Sunday took six hours and six minutes. It was the 12th time a Florida State League game has lasted 20 innings including one in each of the last three seasons. Losing pitcher Jonathan Mota was 0-8 with five strikeouts as a third baseman before taking the mound in the 19th inning. An error by his replacement, Robinson Chirinos, allowed the winning run to score. Dontrelle Willis made his first FSL appearance, pitching relief. Both teams had the bases loaded in the 16th but couldn’t score.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Fitzgerald pulls Playing for Peanuts

If it seems impossible for find John Fitzgerald’s Playing for Peanuts, there’s a good reason: it is. Fitzgerald pulled the show off the air because of a dispute with SportsNet New York (SNY).

When Fitzgerald agreed to have SNY carry Peanuts, he said he did so with the stipulation that the network promote the show in the New York area. That was a natural, he figured, because of the Wally Backman factor. Backman, the manager of the South Georgia Peanuts, was a former infielder for the Mets.

Fitzgerald said SNY agreed initially, but then started hitting the pause button on the promos. After five episodes aired, Fitzgerald decided he could wait no longer. He basically told the network to promote it or lose it.

SNY said it doesn’t promote shows that aren’t its creation, so Fitzgerald pulled the show.

He hopes to find another network to air Peanuts, but that might be difficult this late in the summer. Still, The Dugout has to agree with Fitzgerald’s decision. Without SNY’s promotion, Fitzgerald was essentially giving away his product. And while there are artistic aspects to the creation of such a work, there are also financial obligations. Fitzgerald needs to – and deserves to – make money off his show. At the rate things were progressing, he wasn’t even going to be able to break even.

With teams folding, Backman’s turmoil and the league’s general financial troubles, the second half of the South Coast League’s lone season certainly promised plenty of oddball entertainment. It would be a loss to baseball fans and television enthusiasts everywhere if the final five episodes never reach the airwaves.

Oh, Canada: To all of you north of the border, happy Canada Day. Like American teams on the Fourth of July, most Canadian teams make a big deal out of July 1. The folks in Ottawa couldn’t wait. The Can-Am League’s Rapidz celebrated Canada Day Eve on Monday night.

The game featured jugglers, face-painters, and balloon animals. In front of a crowd clad in red and white – Canada’s national colors - the Rapidz gave away free mini Canadian flags and asked Canadian trivia between innings.

Another northern view: The Dugout received a whole slew of photos from St. Paul that show some of their more interesting promotions from the last few weeks. Toledo also sent some photos this way. Both sets will be on this blog in the next few days.