Sunday, January 29, 2012

Promotions I would like to see in 2012

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

Besides seeing the future of Major League Baseball, and besides the game’s casualness and coziness, one of best things about baseball in the Bus Leagues is promotions. Every year there are some great promotions throughout the Minors, from cannon-shot stuntmen to actors masquerading as former Mexican legends and of course dozens, if hundreds, of culinary exhibitions.

Although I won’t be attending any minor league games this year, there are a several promotions I would like to see happen. I’m far from a promotions expert, so some of these may have actually happened, but if so, then I would like for them to happen again, because I think they are great ideas.

Minor League Movie Day

This is an easy promotion I am surprised I have never seen done yet. There are a lot of movies out there that do with minor league baseball, from the great Bull Durham to the not-so-great Summer Catch. The team could hand out blank forms numbered 1-18 to every attendee and the PA announcer would say a quote from a minor league-based movie between each inning and asks the fans what movie the quote is from. The fan who fills in the most answers on their answer sheet wins free movie tickets to a local theater. The team could even bring in an actor or actress from one of the movies to throw out the first pitch. Seriously, what is Freddie Prinze, Jr doing these days?

Major League 3 Demolition Day

Major League 3 is by far the worst minor league baseball movie ever made. Whereas Major League is a classic in baseball cinema and Major League 2 is passable, Major League 3 is a scar upon our collective cinema consuming culture. Therefore it should be removed from public consciousness forever.

Taking a page from Disco Demolition Day and the Shaq-Fu Liberation Movement, I would like to see one team, or maybe more, promote a Major League 3 demolition day. Fans that bring in a copy of Major League 3 would get in for free and all the copies would be put in a giant garbage pail. During the seventh inning stretch, this garbage pail would be wheeled out to centerfield and all the Major League 3 copies would be smashed by a trash compactor. Of course, all the contents would be brought to the most convenient recycling facility.

Traveling Gnome Day

Like the Travelocity Gnome, gnomes are always popular. And people love taking pictures of them in different places. I even have one and will be taking it to Afghanistan with me.

From my little bit of research, I think the origin of the traveling gnome lies in a combination of the Swedish folklore of Tomte, a little man who looked over the home and protected the people from misfortune while they were away or asleep, and the Australian-derived practice of “liberating” (aka stealing) garden gnomes and taking them on trips. Perhaps the thieves believe that Tomte needs a vacation from house protecting.

Minor league teams can capitalize on this odd phenomenon by creating traveling (18in or so) gnomes emblazoned with the team’s logo. (They have them for Major League teams.) Teams can then encourage people to take their gnomes with them on trips and email the pictures to the team or post the pictures on Facebook and tag the team. Perhaps the best picture, or the fan who brought his or her gnome to the most or most exotic places can a sponsored trip through a local travel agency. Bonus points for taking pictures of the team’s traveling gnome at other stadiums.

Date a Mascot Day

Although the buzz on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette is not as high as they used to be, if they haven’t done so already, I think there is a lot of potential in having “mascot dating” shows. Teams could work with local modeling agencies, local Hooters, or other areas where people are trying to put themselves over and could use the publicity of “dating” a mascot.

First, fans could make videos on why they should date the mascot. Teams could have filming rooms at the ballpark and the fans could "star" in videos similar to those hilarious 1980s personals videos.

Then there could be vote to select the top candidates to"date" the mascot. Which opens a whole other world of possibilites.

Picture this: a romantic beach backdrop, a beautiful woman, a candlelit dinner, and slowly emerging from the dark, a big-nosed, goofy walking representative of your local minor league team. The youtube possibilities are endless. Teams could post the videos on their websites and have fans votes on the best “match”. It would also be great to see mascots be on their “best” behavior at the ballpark with their “date”.

Foursquare Season

Although the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs had a Foursquare special last season, I think Foursquare is completely undertapped as a promotional tool. Teams can incorporate Foursquare to raise the “buzz” of their games. Fans who “check in” the most in a month, half-season, or through the whole season can win a gift certificate or other exclusive prizes. Teams can post check-ins on their website or on a board at the ballpark. The check-in contest would add an element of competition to attendance.

Here is a list of all the stadiums on foursquare.

Star Wars Day (FSL only)

Although there have been Star Wars-themed days across Minor League and Major League Baseball, there has not yet been a Star Wars Day in the Florida State League. As a huge Star Wars fan, this bothers me greatly. I still get chills when I see Darth Vader and company and I really want to see them throw out the first pitch. I know there is an element of the 501st Battalion in the Sarasota area and I know they have done museum openings and pro wrestling shows in Florida. They might have even also done the Florida Marlins Star Wars Night last season. So there is no reason why a team of the Florida State League can’t make the call to a galaxy far, far away and host a Star Wars Night.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Flair, Faith, and the Zen of Zobrist

There are very few Rays players more fascinating than Ben Zobrist. We in the Rays community know his story: marginally successful utility player tinkers with his swing and becomes one of the most under the radar versatile all-round all-stars in baseball today. I’ve even written about Zobrist before in regards to his fan base.

The problem with Zobrist is that he has a low “gut factor”, a term coined this week by acclaimed Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski. Gut factor is the feel fans have for a player. In Posnanski’s article, new Hall of Famer Barry Larkin is said to have had a low “gut factor” in that he didn’t “feel” like a Hall of Famer while he was playing, but upon further look, Larkin’s career belongs in the class with other Hall of Fame shortstops.

Ben Zobrist suffers from low gut factor in the same way Larkin did. He doesn’t “look” like one of the best players in the American League, but upon further look, he definitely is. Interestingly enough as well, after their first three full seasons, Ben Zobrist actually had a higher Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Barry Larkin did.


Zobrist (2009-2011): 15.2

Larkin (1988-1990): 14.8

(True, Ben Zobrist was three years older than Larkin when he had his first three seasons. I’m definitely not saying Zobrist will continue to have a better career than Barry Larkin. The odds that Zobrist keeps up 10 more years of consistently high WAR as Larkin did are quite low.)

This past weekend, I watched the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Denver Broncos. I haven’t watched much football this season and when I have turned it on, it always seems the Bucs are down 35 to 0. But I watched this weekend’s playoff games. Which means I watched Tim Tebow. Although the Nole fan in me can’t root for Tim Tebow, I do understand he has done some pretty amazing things as a quarterback in the NFL.

What I don’t understand however, is the hype that surrounds Tebow. People cannot stop talking about him. Yes, he has made some great plays, to include the game-ending completion in overtime to defeat the Steelers. But most Tebow talk is based on more than just his on-the-field accomplishments. Most of the Tebow talk, whether on twitter, where his was the most tweeted name of the weekend, or on Late Night Talk Shows, includes some comment or observation of his faith. Perhaps the jokes are supposed to be the typical “knock the elite down a peg” fare and instead of attacking fame or fortune, they are poking fun at faith.

Observing the hype and discussions surrounding Tebow made me think of how we look at Ben Zobrist. There is no doubt Ben Zobrist is a Christian man. He has done interviews talking about his faith, combined baseball and ministry in Central America, and his wife is recorded Christian singer. But people don’t talk about Zobrist’s faith as they do Tebow’s. I doubt Tebow is any more pious than Zobrist, or that Zobrist is less Christian than Tebow. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there is a way to measure piousness anyway.

Is the Tebow faith talk a subliminal backlash against the hype Tebow has carried with him through his NFL career and through most of his collegiate career at University of Florida? Zobrist surely didn’t come to the Rays with much hype at all. As a matter of fact, he was practically a throw-in in the Aubrey Huff to Houston trade in 2007. There was no expectation that Zobrist would contribute more than just a utility glove. He wasn’t a highly recruited national phenomenon as Tebow was. There was no talk that the then-Devil Rays acquired a “Christian” utility infielder, just an infielder with a funny last name.

Then last May, Ben Zobrist had a monster double header in Minnesota, driving home 10 in two games. Baseball people around the country put Zobrist’s name in the headlines as the key part of the Rays sweep of the Twins. But nowhere was even one mention of Zobrist’s faith. The stories stayed focused on Zobrist’s on-the-field accomplishments.

There are few baseball players who ever carry the amount of hype of a premier college football player, especially one who succeeds in the NFL. Perhaps a top round draft pick such as Bryce Harper on Stephen Strasburg might carry such pressure, but they both have had the opportunity to hone their craft in semi-anonymity in the minor leagues. Tebow has gone from the beaming spotlight of college to the even brighter spotlight of the NFL.

Some people have pointed out that perhaps Tebow’s now-famous prayer gesture is the fuel that keeps the faith-based commentary alive. But baseball players also gesture in big moments. Rafael Soriano, for example, did a glove-pounding arm raise when he saved a game and other players looks to the sky after a home run.  Tebow could also look to the sky, but instead he chooses to genuflect.

What if a baseball player genuflected as Tebow does? What if before an at-bat a player took a knee for a short prayer? Would that spark the public interest that it has for Tim Tebow?

I wonder what would happen if Zobrist was more outward in his faith. What if he genuflected during the game or said a short prayer before an at-bat? Would he be the recipient of increased popularity? Would more people appreciate Zobrist’s on-the-field accomplishments if they knew him as the outwardly Christian baseball player? Would his “gut factor” be higher?

I don’t dare say that a player should use the illusion of faith to higher fame. If it were found that a player was faking the faith, that would surely have a negative effect and would probably lead to league decisions on any faith-based action. Remember, one bad apple spoils the bunch, or something like that.

I think the Tebow phenomenon is amazing. One might hope that little kids see past the sarcasm and use Tim Tebow as a role model. He seems to be a good enough guy.  But in case parents want to find a low-key role model who lives his Christian faith without the hoopla, they could do far worse than Ben Zobrist.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review of my Rays Predictions

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

Before the 2011 minor league baseball season began, asked several Rays bloggers and Minor League bloggers their thoughts on players in the Rays system. As a writer here and at, I was honored to be part of the collective.

After the season, Kevin of RaysProspects reviewed everyone's picks and talked about how they did. Here are my picks and Kevin's responses to how I did:

Upper-Level Breakout:

Mike Lortz (of Bus Leagues Baseball) both hit and missed on Tim Beckham. Hit: "I also think this is year he breaks double digits in homeruns (12-15?)" (A late-season surge got him to 12) Miss: "I think he will be an all-star at Montgomery, and among the leaders in walks and OBP. He’ll also probably hit around .300." (Walk rate took a step back; hit .271).

Lower-Level Breakout:

Mike Lortz also went with Josh Sale, getting things backwards. He thought Sale would struggle with plate discipline but otherwise live up the hype, but Sale drew a decent number of walks.

Wildcard Prediction:

Mike Lortz: This is going to my leanings, where we celebrate the minor league experience: On Monday, July 4th a young father with take his son or daughter to their first ever baseball game at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery. They’ll see Matt Moore strike out 10 Tennessee Smokies; Tim Beckham go 1 for 3, with a double, a walk, and a run scored; and the Biscuits win 5-2. The kid will be given a foul ball caught by a nearby fan, stay for the fireworks, and become a fan for life.


The Biscuits won 10-1 on July 4 thanks to a strong start from Jim Paduch, who fanned 9. Tim Beckham was 0-3 though he did walk and score. No word on foul balls.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Afghanistan-bound until 2013

Dear fellow Rays fans,

I am very sad to say that I won’t be joining you at Tropicana Field this season. I recently got a job working with the military and am going to Afghanistan in late January or early February.

For sure, a year is a long time to be gone. I’ll definitely miss going to see the Rays, watching them on TV, or listening to them on the radio. I’ve averaged going to 20 games a season for the last few years and now I’ll have to wait until 2013 to see live baseball again. For a year there will be no Longoria homers, no Price strikeouts, or no seeing BJ race into the gap for a flyball. There will be no Maddon ejections, no Jennings electricity, or no Shields mastery. No Raymond, no promo videos featuring Network and Rocky 2, and no getting dinner at the Boars Head Spaghetti Bar on the fourth floor.

Most importantly of all, however, and probably what I will miss the most, is the inability to be with other fans for a year. There will be no seeing the friends I go to games with, no seeing the friends I’ve made at the ballpark, and no chatting with other fans through twitter. There will be no meeting new people at Fergs, in the parking lot, or in the stands. No frolicking about with a three-foot afro on my head.

Way back in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing Roger Maris’s single-season home run record, I was deployed to Bosnia. News of who homered when was a common conversation between baseball fans and even non-baseball fans as it was THE news story and news stories of home are great ways to pass the time. I’m sure following the Rays will serve the same purpose. Two weeks after I leave, by the time I get acquainted to my new environment, pitchers and catchers will be reporting. Two months after I arrive, the season will start and following baseball will carry me through the summer and into the fall.

Bart Giamatti once wrote that the end of the baseball season “leaves you to face the fall alone” and “when you need it most, it stops”. In 2012, however, I will use baseball to serve the complete opposite purpose. The season’s passage will mean I am that much closer to coming home. Baseball will be my way to pass the summer and when the 2012 World Series Champion is crowned, my tour will be on its downhill path. And if by chance the Rays are the team to hoist the trophy, I’m sure the glow of being a fan of a championship team will carry me a few weeks further.

As for my contributions to Rays Index, I’m not sure I’ll be able to blog when I am in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, I am not sure how frequent or infrequent I will be able to get on the Internet. Perhaps I will be able to email Cork posts that he could post here. Perhaps I will be able to tell you what it is like to try to follow the Rays from across the world. In a best case scenario, perhaps I’ll be able to keep up with the team and blog here as normal, just from miles away. If I can’t find a way to blog or get something posted here, I’m really going to miss that.

All that said, I’m not leaving for a few weeks and I hope to have a post or two up before I leave. I just wanted to let folks know my big news for the upcoming year.