Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Star Wars Day Shirts and the Power of Rays Fans

Ever since Star Wars Nights became a thing a long time ago in stadiums far, far away, I swore I would go to the first one in Florida. I am of course a huge baseball fan and have been a Star Wars fan since I was knee-high to a Jawa. So being at a Star Wars promotion at a ballpark near me was something I had to do. It was like Luke needing to go to Dagobah to visit Yoda before he died.

Alas, Star Wars Nights and Days have invaded Florida baseball stadiums quite often since late last season when the Marlins hosted the first Star Wars promotion in the state as part of the Stand Up to Cancer effort. Unfortunately, I was unable to make the game due to the fact that I had no money and nowhere to stay around Dolphins/Pro Player/Joe Robbie/Jimmy Buffet Stadium. So I missed out.

Going to Afghanistan this year I knew I was going to miss out on some great Rays baseball. I knew I was going to miss out on friends and fellow fans and some great times. But I never thought I would miss out on a Star Wars promotion at Tropicana Field. As Leia never considered that Luke might have been her brother when she kissed him, the thought of missing a Star Wars Day or Night never crossed my mind.

Needless to say, I was bummed out when I knew my odds of going to the game were lower than 3,720 to 1. As a matter of fact, I had a better chance of beating a Jedi in a mind reading contest than I had of making the game. So I did what any huge Star Wars and Rays fan would do, I started campaigning for some commemorative swag, specifically one of the Star Wars Day t-shirts featuring Darth Vader’s head and a Rays logo.

Once I realized these shirts were available, I took to twitter and began pestering @RaysBaseball. For a few days the week of the game I asked @RaysBaseball if they could send a shirt to me in Afghanistan. I was even more than willing to pay for it. Whatever it took, I wanted a shirt.

Yet there was no reply. Like C-3P0 wandering the sands of Tattooine, it appeared my cause was lost and missing out on Star Wars-themed baseball celebrations would be my lot in life. Then, out of the blue a rescue appeared. Fellow Rays fans and twitter friends @MandaGator, @Raynaadi, and @BayCrab3 asked me if I had heard from the team and if not, they would do what they had to so that a Star Wars Day shirt was shipped to me in Afghanistan. When I told them I hadn’t heard from anyone, @BayCrab3 said she would hook me up.

Fast-forward to early this week. A week after getting a box of Rays-related goodies from a few of my old co-workers, I received my box from @BayCrab3. Inside were bags of snacks, some Rays stickers, and my very own Rays Star Wars Day shirt!

(Note: I did eventually hear from Jonathan Gantt of the Rays a few days after I gave @BayCrab3 my mailing address. He told me he was on a hunt for a shirt for me. I politely told him that my fellow fans were already coming through.)

So thank you to @BayCrab3, @mandagator, @rayaandi, and all the other Rays fans who helped me in my epic quest to get a Star Wars Day shirt. May the Force Be With You Always!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Q&A: Dunedin Blue Jays Community Relations Coordinator Vincent Caffiero

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

A few weeks ago, I wrote about what I thought was one of the more interesting promotions in the Florida State League this year, the Dunedin Blue Jays "Turn Back the Clock Night". After writing the post, I decided to contact the Dunedin team and ask about the promotion, how it came to be, and how it went.

Big thanks to Craig Dunham for setting this up and many thanks to Vincent Caffiero for being so kind as to answer our questions.

Bus Leagues Baseball: How did the idea originate? Was it though the Dunedin Blue Jays, the Dunedin Historical Society, or a combination of both?

Vincent Caffiero: This idea came about through the Dunedin Blue Jays. Obviously throwback uniforms are something that everybody does. We just wanted to do our own twist on the promotion. The Dunedin Historical Society was asked later on in the process if they wanted to be involved. It was a no brainer, as the Historical Society already hosts vintage baseball games. Additionally, their director, Vinnie Luisi, is a big time baseball historian. He even wrote "New York Yankees: The First 25 Years" and "Baseball in Tampa Bay".

BLB: Was this the first turn back the clock night in Dunedin Blue Jays history? What was done to prepare for it?

VC: I’ve only been here since January, so I wasn’t sure if the Dunedin Blue Jays have done a throwback night before. They have been here since ’77 and have done many promotions! To prepare, I did some research through the historical society, and read up on the uniforms of the time. Some of the staff spent an entire week having fun with some of the slang of the period. You couldn’t go 15 minutes without hearing someone tell a “dame,” about being “the bee’s knees."

BLB: I am very curious as to why 1929, as there was no Dunedin team or Florida State League at the time, nor any Blue Jays.

VC: 1929 was chosen because it’s smack-daddy in the middle of some of the biggest moments in professional baseball history. We wanted to pay homage to the golden era of baseball. I wanted to pick a year where Ty Cobb and the dead-ball era were still relevant, but on their way out. I wanted a year where the greats of the golden age like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were still relevant. Finally, I felt it important to include a year in which the Negro Leagues were really gaining ground. The whole point of this night was to get people talking about baseball history, so I wanted a year that was inclusive.

It was less important to include the professional baseball history of the city of Dunedin, because there wasn’t any. Another factor, was that the Tampa Bay Rays have done a very good job of “throwing back,” to a lot of the great minor league teams in the Tampa Bay area. That approach has been tapped out. Also, on a practical level, it is much more difficult to get the license of actual teams of the period. It is a process that we wanted to avoid, in exchange for artistic and logistical freedom.

BLB: What did the Dunedin Blue Jays staff change to fit in to the theme of the night? Was anything done differently?

VC: Luckily for us, in 1929 baseball parks were using PA Systems, so we didn’t have to cut out the Public Address announcer. We changed all of the music, and even gave the players walk up songs from the likes of Cab Calloway and the Piccadilly Players. We had 25 cent Crack Jack, which is probably a bit expensive for 1929, but we did have to take some artistic liberties! Fans also played Bingo which was actually invented in 1929. The staff also dressed in period attire. We had a lot of fun with this night, and it showed!

BLB: Who made the uniforms? What were the influences used?

VC: I designed the uniforms to look much like those of the period. This meant simple and elegant. We opted to remove the piping from the sleeves and had just royal piping down the buttons. The hat had a white crown and blue bill to fit the look of a 1929 uniform. I used the 1930’s Homestead Grays as one of our biggest uniform inspirations. I knew that the uniforms couldn’t be authentically wool or flannel because of the heat, so we went with a normal modern material. Uniform Express produced the uniforms, and they did a great job!

BLB: I saw pictures of the staff in 1920s era clothing. Was that found locally or through the same provider of the uniforms?

VC: These clothes were a hodgepodge of thrift store and modern store finds. Men’s fashion has not changed much in 100 years. The main difference is that in 1929 a man was expected to where a hat and suite almost everyone he went- including the baseball park. Southern summers were so hot, that men would often ditch the coat and wear knickerbockers instead of full pants. Nonetheless, long sleeves and high socks still covered almost all exposed skin.

BLB: Who designed the flyer? That was very impressive.

VC: Thank you! I happened to be the one behind the flyer. I took an actual 20’s baseball postcard/advertisement and fit in all of our relevant information. It was fun to make and really turned out nice. It wasn’t your typical stiff, impact lettering over a bright background-type of modern baseball flyer. I hate those.

BLB: Did you contact any other teams who have done turn back the clock nights? Did they provide any advice?

VC: I did use other throwback nights as inspiration, but did not specifically contact any of them. The Tampa Bay Rays are a great example of marketing that always keeps their “Turn Back The Clock Nights,” fresh and unique. I was lucky enough to be working with their organization last year during their “Tampa Smokers” night.

BLB: Do you see the Dunedin Blue Jays making more trips to the past in the future?

VC: Unfortunately the team lost the game that night. I can’t imagine the players and staff being on board for another 1929 night, as I imagine the uniforms were a source of blame. Baseball has got to be the most superstitious games on the planet. However, I can see the Dunedin Blue Jays having fun with alternate uniforms honoring baseball’s rich history in future seasons. Fans were able to take home some really neat autographed jerseys, while raising over $2,500 for the Dunedin Historical Society. The night was a success, so I’m sure we’d like to do this again!

(Photo from the Dunedin Blue Jays Facebook page taken by Charles Gehring.)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dunedin Blue Jays use RBI Baseball to Promote Playoffs

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

Any baseball fan who lived through the early days of the Nintendo generation holds a special place in their heart for RBI Baseball. Of course, with the passage of time and the retirement of every player in the game (can you believe Julio Franco actually played 20 seasons after the game was released?), RBI Baseball became a distant memory, replaced by more high-fangled and less-cartoonish MLB video games.

Fortunately, some artistic video folks have taken to recreating recent baseball moments using the 8-bit graphics of RBI Baseball. There have been recreations of the White Sox 2005 World Series win, the Dodgers win in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, and the Mets win in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, for example. But as far as I can tell, these were done for fun by amateur video makers waxing nostalgic about past celebrations. To my knowledge, no team has ever utilized RBI Baseball to create excitement for an upcoming game.

Enter the geniuses behind the scenes for the Dunedin Blue Jays. Try to watch the below video and not get geeked about the upcoming Florida State League playoffs.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Problem with the Fox Sports Florida Girls

In late 2011, in an attempt to “bring a fresh look and feel in the delivery of content on TV and the digital platforms”, Fox Sports Florida took a page out of Maxim Magazine and created the “Fox Sports Girls”, a marketing device geared towards the 18-35 male demographic. These two 20-something attractive women joined the network to “guide viewers through the outstanding lineup of live games and programming”.

They might be amazingly nice, sweet, intelligence women off the air and away from Fox Sports Florida, but the Fox Sports Girls are a slap in the face to female sports fans everywhere. In a time where we have more female athletes than male athletes representing our country in the Olympics, for a major sports network to stoop to horrible female sports fan clichés to attract more male viewers and page views sets female fandom back at least 30 years. I would expect that from some of the sports blogs out there or perhaps an alcohol promoter, but not a regional sports network.

According to recent statistics, women make up 46% of baseball fans. For you non-math majors, that’s almost half. They are buying tickets, merchandise, and equipment. They are a growing part of the game at every level, from the playing to watching to reporting. They are no longer outsiders. To quote Wendy Thrum of SBNation,
“Some keep score at the game, while listening to the radio broadcast in their ears. Some have favorite players instead of favorite teams. Some can name every member of her team’s 40-man roster. Some can’t even name the starting rotation. Some love the Victoria’s Secret-inspired team gear. Some wouldn’t be caught dead in it, or in any gear that’s pink or sparkly.”

They are fans. And they come in all shapes, sizes, and interest levels.

But I can almost guarantee the Fox Sports Girls aren’t there to appeal to the female fan base. They are for the eyes of the other half of baseball fans. The ones who have been playing the sport for years, the ones who it has been socially acceptable to like baseball since the day they were born, the ones who stereotypically need no introduction or motivation to watch more sports. The ones with penises.

This is how Fox Sports Florida looks for “new and unique ways to create a deeper connection with our loyal and passionate fans”? By showcasing women on their website and asking them “What is the most important quality you look for in a man?”, “The celebrity or athlete you would most like to go out on a date with?”, and “What is more romantic flowers or chocolates?”. With so many women in the Florida sports fanbase, this line of questioning is completely embarrassing and uncalled for.

The coup de grace of chauvinistic shilling and in a move that I am surprised didn’t completely isolate their female viewers, in March of this year, Fox Sports Florida held a “Go to the HEAT Game with the FOX Sports Florida Girls Sweepstakes”. Yes, because that is exactly what female fans want to do: go to a basketball game with two girls known for being network eye candy.

What I find particularly insulting is that Fox Sports passed over so many great Florida-based female sports voices for women they only use for appearances and photo shoots. There are women out there that speak well on camera, do radio shows, write well, and know as much about sports as any man. In Tampa alone there are women such as Jenna Laine, Sarah Tyson, Roxanne Wilder, and Lynne Austin. Those are just off the top of my head. There are also dozens, if not hundreds, of women active on twitter and facebook contributing to sports conversations.

Florida in general has been an extraordinary launching pad for women to achieve success in sports media. Erin Andrews started in Florida; Pam Oliver went to Florida A&M; Tiffany Simons, current broadcast reporter for the New York Mets, sat next to me in class at Florida State; Jenn Sterger also went to FSU; MLB Social Media Coordinator Whitney Holtzman went to the University of Florida and worked as an intern with the Rays before getting her current gig; and of course, Laura McKeeman is the current broadcast reporter for the Rays and other Florida sports on none other than Fox Sports Florida. And there and have been many other women who have hosted radio shows or worked other jobs behind the scenes to foster the great Florida sports scene we hold dear.

(By the way, contrast the usage of the Fox Sports Florida Girls and McKeeman’s thoughts on her looks and her profession in this article. I’d like to ask McKeeman what she thinks of how her fellow sports media women are being used strictly for their appearance. Notice there are no questions on McKeeman’s Fox Sports page about her ideal man or whether she likes chocolate or not.)

I don’t know where Fox Sports Florida found Jordana and Annile. Like I said, they might be amazing women and great people, but I don’t think they are doing right by women by subjecting themselves to the whims of an obviously antiquated view of female sports fans. Optimally, I would like to see all women (and guys who support the cause) boycott Fox Sports Florida until they replace the Fox Sports Girls concept with women who are more than just glorified network mascots. Women who know sports and can talk about sports in more than just clichés and general questions.

Women who at least know how to hold a bat.