It’s July 1st. There are reasons to be excited today. It’s the day many Major Leaguers are reporting for Summer Camp. It’s opening night for the Coastal Plain League’s Savannah Bananas, and I’ve signed up for Bananas Insiders to be able to watch their games live. So, why is my mood subdued and dampened? Yesterday, the expected became official. There will not be Minor League Baseball in 2020.
Minor League Baseball means so much to me that it’s difficult to explain with black words on a white backdrop. I’ll give it a go anyways. In 2016, I was at the lowest point of my life. I had, in many ways, given up. I was floating through life emotionless. I had no need for ambition or motivation. It was a dark place to be, but I was there, and I was allowing the darkness to take me in. In August of that year, a trip to Durham Bulls Athletic Park with my family sparked a change. That moment, the sun, the sights and sounds of the ballpark, started my ascension. Since that day, the ballpark has been my church. Every Spring marks the return to my favorite 5 months of the year. My excursions to Minor League ballparks represent some of my happiest memories.
In the Summer of 2018, I started attending Johnson City Cardinals games on a regular basis because I was dating someone who lived in Johnson City. In September of that year, I moved in with her. For the first time, I had a home team! I had grown up in the heart of the Appalachian League but had never lived in the same town as a team. I have to admit, my roadtrips to attend games were great, but it was really nice to be able to drive across town to go to the ballpark. As you can imagine, the news that most of the teams in the Appalachian League were potentially going away hit me pretty hard, much like yesterday’s announcement that COVID-19 has claimed the 2020 MiLB season did.
The news was certainly not unexpected. I think all of us in and around Minor League Baseball saw the writing on the wall. I guess, in a way, it’s nice to finally know, beyond a shadow of a doubt. That doesn’t take away the hurt. Many people working in baseball have already been furloughed or let go altogether. I can’t imagine the uncertainty felt by many others after yesterday’s announcement. Mix in the increasing COVID-19 numbers and the general unrest amidst Black Lives Matter protests, and these are truly dark days. These are typically the times where, at least for me, baseball is an escape. The ballpark, the green grass, the brown dirt, a hot dog, and a cold beer eliminate the idea of “strangers.” The quirky, creative team identities and wacky promotions bring us together like nothing else can. While the health and safety of everyone in this country is of the utmost importance, we could all use a little baseball right now.
So, how do we feel the void? I don’t know that there’s a good answer, really. I’ve already been struggling with the inability to celebrate my favorite time of the year. No ballpark trips. No new caps to add to the wall in my office, signifying another stamp on my Minor League passport. I’ll fill some of the void with baseball on TV. I’m grateful for the chance to watch the Bananas and my beloved Dodgers, but that still can’t replace the feeling of walking off the concourse and out into the great outdoors. I won’t feel the cool breeze or the warm sun on my face sitting on my couch watching baseball on TV. I can drink beer and eat a hot dog, but the taste won’t be the same. Not even close.
Over the last 24 hours or so, I’ve been encouraged to see everyone associated with Minor League Baseball create a support system for one another. It’s been uplifting to read the connections so many people have to MiLB. It means so much to so many. I’ve seen it dubbed “the land of opportunity” for those seeking a career in sports. It’s a rare place as a first job for teenagers and college graduates as well as a final job for retirees. For the players on the field, it represents the promise of realizing a childhood dream. Those players are just steps away from Major League Baseball. If that isn’t enough to grab you and pull you in close, Minor League Baseball is also the ultimate fan and family friendly experience at a cost affordable for anyone. All that energy combines on gameday to create something so special and unique that words can’t convey it properly. You have to feel it on your own to become a believer.
In conclusion, I am not sure how I’ll fill the void left by Minor League Baseball. I’m sure I’ll continue to watch any baseball available to me on streaming platforms. Here’s what I do know for sure: opening day 2021 will be nothing short of magical. I’ve already started plotting where I will be to enjoy that wonderful day when the clouds will part, the fog will rise, and the darkness will return to light. Minor League Baseball is made up of the most positive, resilient individuals I have encountered in my 34 years of life. I look forward to sitting down with a hot dog and a beer to experience the game and once again appreciate what those peoples’ exhaustive work creates. What a joyous, magnificent day that will be.
In the meantime, I will continue to write about the inspiring people that are a part of the game. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to stay up to date on new articles. Thanks for reading!
(photo courtesy of bostonherald.com)
‘Family’ is a word that has always been closely associated with baseball. Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball offers something for every member of every family in America. In the case of Emma Tiedemann, current Director of Broadcasting for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, the role of broadcaster came with similar family ties. Emma’s grandfather, Bill Mercer, was the first play-by-play voice of the Texas Rangers in 1972. He is known for covering a wide array of sports, including professional wrestling, is a Texas Radio Hall-of-Famer, and even covered the JFK assasination. When Emma was 15, she joined her grandfather on a college basketball broadcast, and from that moment on, she knew she wanted to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and pursue a career behind the mic.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Growing up just North of Dallas, Texas, Emma loved competition and played many sports. She recalls attending Frisco Roughriders games and credits the intimate setting and atmosphere of the minors with attracting her to baseball. From the moment she found her passion for broadcasting, Emma worked as much as she could, holding multiple play-by-play positions during her time at The University of Missouri-Columbia, where she acquired her bachelors degree.
Wanting to work year-round and acknowledging that baseball was her weakest sport in terms of play-by-play, Emma spent a Summer in Palmer, Alaska as the voice of the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska Baseball League. The goal was to immerse herself in baseball for an entire season. Thanks to a highly competitive team that included players that would go on to professional careers, including major-leaguer Nick Senzel, Emma’s goal became a reality.
By the time Emma graduated college, she had realized that she wanted to focus on a career in baseball. This led her to a position with the Medford Rogues, another collegiate Summer club. It was during her time in Medford, Oregon that Emma developed professionally away from the microphone the most. This was her first foray into press releases, social media, and corporate sales. She knew these were attributes that would help her advance into and within affiliated baseball.
From there, Emma gained a one season education in how to produce a great product while having fun by joining the famous St. Paul Saints. The atmosphere surrounding the Saints exudes fun, from the players, to the fans, all the way up to the front office. While calling games for sold out crowds every night, Emma realized this was a unique environment, the likes of which she may never experience again. Mike Veeck and the rest of the Saints’ ownership group nurtures said environment by promoting a courage to fail, empowering the team’s employees to take risks and bring unconventional ideas to the table. Emma recalls Veeck telling stories of his own past failures while laughing and viewing them as positive learning experiences.
After attending the Minor League Baseball Winter meetings, Emma was able to land her first position within affiliated baseball with the Single-A Lexington Legends. In the midst of moving to a new city and preparing for the challenge of her new job, Emma was tasked with writing and sending out the press release that announced her as only the second female broadcaster in Minor League Baseball. She describes her first few weeks in Lexington as a whirlwind. Emma spent 2 seasons with the Legends, knowing that her goal was to make it to a Major League broadcast booth. While preparing for her third season in Lexington, she caught wind of an opportunity to climb the ladder, an opening with a Double-A club.
Throughout the interview process with the Portland Sea Dogs, Emma fell in love with the ballpark and community in Portland, Maine. She was ready to take the next step towards her goal but had an interesting first day on the job.
“So, I moved here in mid-March, and my first day in the office, we had a meeting at 8:45 that morning, and we were told to go home. We worked from home for the next 36 or 37 days. So, it was definitely a non-traditional start to a job.”
Going through this time of year without baseball has been surreal for Emma, but she appreciates the opportunity to become better acquainted with her new city, team, and coworkers. She admits that she has yet to adjust to the feeling of leaving the ballpark at 5 with no games or bus trips. Like many other teams, the Sea Dogs have found other creative ways to engage their fans and community, including a curbside pickup that allows the people of Portland to enjoy their favorite ballpark meals while they wait for the return of games.
Emma was very transparent in telling me that she never really viewed herself differently than her male counterparts. She believes that the culture is changing within baseball, and there is a newfound awareness that females are capable of excelling in careers in the game. Although she has been told multiple times by teams that they simply would not hire her because she is a woman, Emma is confident that we will see more women in baseball broadcast booths in the future. She also thinks that a women’s baseball league would be extremely beneficial to young girls growing up watching games. Representation is important to Emma, and she recalls seeing Kirsten Karbach become the first full-time female play-by-play announcer in Minor League Baseball and how that helped her believe she could achieve her own dream. Emma was also very complimentary of the WNBA’s work to showcase their players’ personalities in order to create stars and role models for young girls and women. Whether she realizes it or not, I think Emma Tiedemann is a fantastic role model for any young lady who hears her voice on a baseball broadcast.
You can follow Emma on Twitter @emmatieds. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to be the first to know when I post new articles. Thanks for reading!
The name of this blog is more than a catchy title to grab people’s attention. It was born of my connection with baseball that inspires and fuels all facets of my life. The story of Emily Wolfson and Unforgettaballs embodies the message of Baseball is my Muse more than any I have encountered thus far. Emily viewed a white baseball as a blank canvas, perfect for her focus on miniaturization in her artwork, before she even considered herself a fan of the game. Through painting baseballs, she found her love and passion for the pastime, and that exemplifies Baseball is my Muse in its purest form.
As a youngster in New Jersey, Emily Wolfson was surrounded by sports fans. Although her grandfather was passionate about the game of baseball, following all players and teams within the sport, Emily’s father was more a fan of attending games live than he was watching them on television. Without a baseball team in New Jersey, football took precedent.
In college, Emily began as a graphic design major but ultimately graduated with a degree in architecture. She believes that many factors converged to inspire Unforgettaballs.
“I think baseball was such a natural fit in so many ways. I should’ve seen it coming.”
Emily first painted on a baseball as a gift for her now husband. She appreciated the yin and yang of a baseball being split into 2 parts. She painted the field of blue and white stars of the American flag on one piece, while painting the red and white stripes on the other. This led to other ideas including the inside and outside of a watermelon and a dollar bill design. After selling her baseballs at some craft shows, Emily realized that there was much more potential in her new medium. People were showing interest in the balls, and Emily wanted to start creating pieces specifically for fans of the game of baseball. Her architecture background would soon become useful.
“I was really looking for something that was gonna resonate with people who were baseball fans who weren’t just people looking for logos. Not only was I not licensed, but that was already out there. So, I was trying to look for something else, and I think that’s why I came to this concept. You’re looking at this little world, this baseball in the palm of your hand, and you turn it around, and you should be able to see all these aspects of this thing you love.”
When Emily began painting ballparks on baseballs 25 years ago, photos and information about the stadiums were not nearly as prevalent as today. She had to rely on photos taken by fans who had attended games at the ballpark she was painting, but she saw this as an opportunity to connect with people who loved the sport and to see their perspective and understand what memories from the ballpark meant to them. From there, Emily dove into baseball history headfirst.
Baseball movies were another gateway for Emily into baseball fandom. She says she’s always been moved by the life lessons portrayed with baseball as the backdrop in such films as Bull Durham and The Sandlot. Baseball gives us a deep connection to each other and also to generations before us. Through her art, Emily was beginning to feel that connection more strongly.
“It’s sort of hard not to love baseball. There’s such a romanticism about it. It kind of grips you in that way.”
To date, Emily has produced over 150 designs for Unforgettaballs. Beyond ballparks, celebrated moments, and baseball movie tributes, Emily has also created World Series balls, commemorating a team’s path to a championship celebration. Each year, according to Emily, offers a unique snapshot of a team’s place in pop culture and of what the moments specific to each season mean to players, coaches, and fans of a championship team. Emily’s pieces offer much more than just a logo, something she is very proud of. She has never regretted the direction she took at the outset and has followed ever since. Among her favorite balls she’s painted are iconic ballparks like Old Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, which Emily described as an interesting piece to paint. She also mentions her ball commemorating the presidential first pitch because of the detail that went into the research and creation of that particular painting. I, of course, am partial to her Dodger Stadium ball. I found that it truly captured the personality of Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and their historic home ballpark.
While I had Emily on the phone, I wanted her unique perspective on the state of women in the game of baseball. Although she considers herself more of an historian than someone with her finger on the pulse of today’s baseball landscape, Emily did remark that when she attends Phillies games, there are as many women in the crowd as there are men. She believes that there should be more of a spotlight on the women playing baseball in this country, and believes that a women’s league could offer said spotlight.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, Emily is waiting and hoping for Major League Baseball’s return. She was intrigued by the possibility of a realigned league, pitting teams against each other that normally wouldn’t play on a regular basis. I have to imagine there are more great Unforgettaballs designs in the works. As a matter of fact, in the course of our conversation, Emily took a note about a historical event that came up that she would like to commemorate with a painted baseball.
You can follow Emily on Twitter @unforgettaballs, and I urge you to check out her online shop at unforgettaballs.com. I will be doing some shopping there myself, so be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to see how I display my Unforgettaballs once they arrive! Thanks for reading!
(photo courtesy of city pages.com)
The St. Paul Saints are synonymous with independent baseball. They have built a great reputation since their inception in 1993 as one of the premier teams not affiliated with Major League Baseball. What is it that makes the Saints so special? How have they built this reputation? I gained some insight on this matter when I spoke to Sierra Bailey, the team’s current Marketing and Promotions Director.
Growing up, Sierra played many sports, focusing on basketball and volleyball by the time she was in high school. Her father coached her in basketball and coached her brother in baseball, so her family was constantly at games and tournaments. Sierra decided to attend the University of Minnesota to gain a degree in physical therapy, but she changed course to sport management as a sophomore. She was interested in the business side of sports, and her dream was to one day work for her beloved Minnesota Twins. Needing to pad her resume, she took an internship with the St. Paul Saints while she was completing her studies.
“It was the first time I had ever had the Saints experience and just completely fell in love with the whole aspect of the entertainment side. It’s not just about the baseball. It’s about all the other fun stuff that goes on during a game.”
Sierra was able to live out her dream of working for the Twins as an intern in 2010, the team’s first year at Target Field. From there she was able to land internships with the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA and the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA. She appreciated that baseball provided a more laid back environment than basketball and that, outside of the MLB, baseball games are largely the most affordable live entertainment experience in a given community. After completing her 4th internship, Sierra received a call from Scott Bush, the St. Paul Saints’ Assistant General Manager at the time, asking if she was interested in running promotions for the team that Summer. Sierra knew that she wanted to return to a job in game entertainment and had been waiting for an opportunity she was passionate about. So, she saw this as a good fit. She took a full-time role with the Saints in 2015 and has been with the team ever since.
According to Sierra, the Saints strong brand and reputation has been built from the top. Team owners, The Goldklang Group and Mike Veeck, bring experience and leadership to the team, and that trickles down to a staff that feels like a family. There is care and consideration displayed in every aspect of the team. Sierra claims that the Saints staff does not compete with other teams. They compete with themselves, attempting to learn and improve every season. The Saints mission is to never get bored or complacent with what the experience they are providing for their fans.
“The people are #1. It’s not the entertainment. It’s not the promotions. If you make them feel like they’re important to your organization, then they are the ones who are going to support you. If we don’t have fans, what’s the point of having games?”
The fans aren’t the only ones who are invested in the St. Paul Saints experience. Sierra feels like a big part of the team’s decision making process and feels comfortable taking risks to improve the game experience. She has remained with the Saints for as long as she has because she loves the challenges that come with being a part of a small, tight-knit team that have to work together and get involved in every aspect of the club’s operations, from sales to pulling tarp and everything in between.
“I just feel really fulfilled with being able to walk in there everyday knowing that what I am doing matters.”
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Sierra has always felt comfortable and can speak of no issues regarding her gender when it comes to her career. She believes that the recent presence of women in player development roles is leading us towards more women on the field in professional baseball. Afterall, the first woman to pitch a professional baseball game against men, Ila Borders, was a member of the St. Paul Saints.
Sierra feels that she is busier right now than she would be if the season had started as scheduled. Everyday, news is coming in regarding the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and contingency plans are ever changing. The Saints are preparing for the possibility of games being played at CHS Field, but in the meantime, they are opening up the ballpark for youth baseball camps and are even turning the park into a restaurant.
“Whatever industries are open right now, we want to be a part of, so we can just open the gates. That’s all we want to do.”
It is clear that “the people are #1” is more than just an expression to Sierra Bailey and the St. Paul Saints. It is what they live and breathe.
You can follow Sierra on Twitter @Sierra_Bailey and the Saints @StPaulSaints. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the latest entries in this blog! Thanks for reading!
I think everyone who is passionate about baseball has a moment where something clicks, a point when they realize what the ballpark, all the sights and sounds surrounding the game, mean to them. For Emily Cole, co-owner and Director of Fun of the Savannah Bananas, that moment came as a part-time, gameday employee for the Eastern League’s Binghamton Mets in 2009. She had graduated from SUNY-Oneonta and was working a typical, 9 to 5 marketing job, sitting in a cubical all day.
“What I found is that I was dreading my 8 to 5, but then I was living for the 5 to 11. I came alive again, and I found my passion.”
Growing up in upstate New York, Emily had 3 younger brothers. So, sports was always a part of her life, but she had not considered a career in sports until her experience in Binghamton. After one season, Emily landed a full-time job with Ripken Baseball, owners of 3 minor league clubs. After some time in Aberdeen, Maryland with the Ironbirds, she saw an opportunity to move to Augusta, Georgia and help the Green Jackets reach their full potential. Aberdeen was already thriving under the Ripken Baseball umbrella, and the goal was to get Augusta up to that standard. Emily considers herself fortunate to have worked for Ripken Baseball at the young age of 22 because of the company’s serious approach to what they were trying to accomplish. She had not been exposed to the full-time, 365 day per year side of Minor League Baseball in Binghamton, and her short time with Ripken taught her what the industry was truly all about.
“That was a quick learning experience for me. Just in my few years with them, I would think that I learned more there than I could’ve in 10 years somewhere else.”
During her time with Ripken Baseball, Emily was also introduced to her now husband, Jesse Cole, in a bit of a peculiar way. Her boss at the time had seen Jesse speak at a conference. Upon leaving the conference, she called Emily and said, “I just met the guy you’re going to marry.” Despite Emily's lack of focus on marriage at the time, she developed a professional relationship with Jesse, communicating mostly through casual emails. While Emily was working for the Vermont Lake Monsters in 2011, she attended the Minor League Baseball Promo Seminar in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was there that she first felt a strong connection to Jesse. She remembers it like a scene from a movie. The two ended up talking and realizing that their passions and visions for their work were very similar. They both had the ability to see potential in struggling or failing baseball markets and the desire to help teams reach that untapped potential. Shortly after this cinematic conversation, Emily relocated to Gastonia, North Carolina to work with the Summer wood bat collegiate Gastonia Grizzlies, the team Jesse was running at the time. Together, Jesse and Emily built the team into something special in their community and began their life together.
Emily enjoyed the transition from affiliated baseball to a Summer collegiate team. She had worked in the industry long enough to be really comfortable in her role and felt hindered by the red tape associated with an entity largely controlled by a Major League franchise. She was discouraged when simple ideas she had such as players visiting schools and hospitals were denied. Creativity was stifled in Minor League Baseball more so than in the Summer collegiate Coastal Plain League.
Emily’s title, Director of Fun, was conceptualized in an organic conversation over dinner. She had moved to North Carolina, and she and Jesse had decided she would work for the Grizzlies. When Jesse asked Emily what she envisioned her role with the team being, she simply said that she just wanted to create fun for the fans. She wanted to direct fun, so to speak. Since then, all of the teams managed by Jesse and Emily’s company, Fans First Entertainment, have had a Director of Fun at the helm.
“I think there are too many managers in the world. There are too many people being bosses, and so we just wanted to bring some levity to our titles and positions and let the community know we were there to have a good time.”
During the last game of the season in Gastonia, the entire Grizzlies staff was on the field to be recognized. This is a custom with all of the Fans First teams, but this particular night would go a little differently. Emily was surprised when the proceedings turned into Jesse’s elaborate proposal of marriage. Emily, of course, said yes. Since the season had ended, Emily wanted to put forth the effort to give Jesse something in return. So, she planned a quick getaway to Savannah, Georgia. During their trip, Jesse and Emily visited Grayson Stadium to experience a Savannah Sand Gnats game. They were in awe of the lack of fans in attendance on a beautiful Saturday in August. They couldn’t believe that the beautiful ballpark was not packed. That night, they made a call to the commissioner of the CPL to convey their interest in putting a team in Savannah if the market were to become available. Little did they know that the team was in a battle with the city to build a new stadium. Shortly thereafter, the team relocated to Columbia, South Carolina, and Savannah was without baseball.
Convinced that their brand of baseball could work in Savannah’s party town atmosphere, Emily and Jesse began wooing the city in hopes of moving into Grayson Stadium. One employee of the city of Savannah, Joe Shearouse, became an advocate for the new team, and the city took a chance on Emily and Jesse’s vision.
The next step was naming the team, creating their identity. As is often the case when new teams move into town, Fans First held a “name the team” contest in which fans could suggest the new team’s moniker. They immediately threw out any ideas that were perceived as “normal.” After sifting through the boring and pedestrian, they received an entry from a nurse from Savannah: the Savannah Bananas. They knew immediately that was the winner. Initially, the locals in Savannah were resistant to the unorthodox mascot, but a storm was brewing on a national and international level. The unveiling of the Bananas identity overtook the #1 trend on Twitter from a Presidential debate. Merchandise quickly started flying off the shelves and into the hands of people all over the world. News outlets were anxious to talk to the team owners about the unique branding they had chosen. It didn’t take long for the people of Savannah to take pride in their new team that was making waves across the globe, and according to Emily, they have never looked back. Every Bananas game since has been sold out, a remarkable feat at any level of baseball, sports, and entertainment.
“We just built off of that. When you get energy, you’re able to give more.”
Emily has an inspiring viewpoint on what anyone passionate can bring to the table for her teams or any teams willing to give opportunities. She believes anyone can do anything, and the important elements of hiring a specific candidate have to do more with how a person was brought up and the unique aspects they bring to the table rather than a focus on sports management degrees or college degrees at all.
“If this is what you care about, you can do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re short or tall or black or white or male or female.”
Unlike most sports entities during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Savannah Bananas and the Coastal Plain League are preparing for their return to gamedays. While the fan-friendly Bananas are only able to operate at 50% capacity in Grayson Stadium, they are continuing to innovate with their plans to stream games online. They have hired an extensive video team and are preparing to mic up players and coaches and place cameras on catchers and umpires to give the fans watching at home a unique baseball experience. In addition, they plan to create original content to mix into game broadcasts, taking inspiration from the likes of Disney, WWE, and Netflix. Afterall, for Emily, Fans First, and the Savannah Bananas, it’s not a game, it’s a show.
“We’re just excited to push the envelope and be the leaders in the industry when a lot of people aren’t able to open up this year or to provide their fans with any fun. That’s not an option for us. If we don’t provide anything for our fans, then we’re not doing what our mission is. We might as well close up shop.”
The CPL season is set to begin on July 1st, and you can get more info about the new Bananas Insiders here. Be sure to follow the Bananas on Twitter @TheSavBananas. Also, check me out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for updates on new articles as soon as they are posted! Thanks for reading!
Today, I just want to show some love. I think I'm going to make this a semi-regular practice on the blog, but today I want to focus on podcasts I've been listening to and enjoying. Some of them I have already written about. Some I have plans to profile in the near future. More than anything, I just want to take a moment to talk about each show briefly and explain why you should check them out! Without further adieu, let's get started
No Crying in Baseball
Patti and her friend Pottymouth are two women who have strong ties to baseball that date back to their early life. They have each raised families with heavy baseball influence (Patti's daughter is named after Camden Yards!). They got started podcasting because a friend noticed their banter while watching games was wildly entertaining. Now, they talk all things baseball on No Crying in Baseball. They clearly do their research, especially when it comes to picking out their "baseball boyfriends." If you want to learn a little more, check out my write-up on the show here. You can also visit the No Crying in Baseball website here.
The Pulling Tarp Podcast
Bobby Coon worked for 3 different Minor League Baseball teams over an 8-year span. Now, he has found the time to do something he's wanted to do for a while, start a podcast in which he talks to people that work in and around MiLB about their experiences and unique stories. For instance, he recently spoke to Curt Bloom, the voice of the Birmingham Barons. Curt was in Birmingham when Michael Jordan played MiLB there for a season, and that episode of the Pulling Tarp Podcast offers a great companion piece to the recent Last Dance documentary series. Bobby speaks to his guests about their favorite walk-up songs and their experience with tarp. Because, everyone who has worked in the minors has pulled a little tarp. Click here to read the full article I did on Bobby and the Pulling Tarp Podcast, and make sure to check out the show wherever you listen to podcasts!
Two Strike Noise
I'm.a relatively new listener to Two Strike Noise, but I immediately became a fan! Jeff and Mark offer great historical facts and figures each week, celebrating notable Major League debuts that coincide with the day each episode premieres. In addition, the duo bring on some fascinating guests, including former Major League hurler Sean Lowe, who recently did a two-part interview on Two Strike Noise. Maybe the most entertaining segment on the show is the Wax Pack Heroes, where Mark and Jeff break open old vintage wax packs of baseball cards and score the cards they pull based on many factors, some unorthodox. It's a fun, easy listen, and I am looking forward to speaking with Mark and Jeff in order to do a full write-up about Two Strike Noise. In the meantime, go get caught up by listening wherever you enjoy podcasts!
USA Baseball's Covering the Bases
Daron Vaught, the voice of USA Baseball, does a superb job interviewing various guests with ties to the national team program on Covering the Bases. Once a month, Daron has a chat with a notable figure or alum of USA Baseball. He's had the likes of Chipper Jones, Michael Cuddyer, and Jeff Francoeur. In the second of Covering the Bases' two monthly episodes, Daron interviews an up-and-coming prospect from USA Baseball's collegiate national or youth teams. Daron is a. very talented interviewer and offers a laid back, relatable conversation with his guests. I may be a little biased, though, since Daron is my little brother. I wrote a really fun article about Daron here. You can listen to all past episodes of Covering the Bases on your podcast app of choice!
Off the Air with Joe and Orel
The bias continues with Off the Air, a podcast started by Joe Davis and Orel Hershiser since the cancellation of Dodgers games during the pandemic. Each week, Joe and Orel talk with Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts as well as other great Dodger-centric guests. This past week, Joe, Orel, and Roberts discussed the recent protests in response to the killing of George Floyd. It was a real, at times difficult, conversation, but it offers a light at the end of the tunnel. I thought it addressed the current state of affairs in the best way possible. Under normal circumstances, the trio talks about the best thing they saw each week, the thing they're looking forward to in the coming week, and pick a top 4 topic each episode. I highly recommend Off the Air for all baseball fans, Dodger or otherwise.
Thanks for reading about my current favorite podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to be the first to know when I post new articles!
(photo courtesy of Lansing State Journal)
Minor League Baseball is pretty cool these days. Across the 160 teams that make up Major League Baseball’s affiliate system used to develop players, there are some unique brands that engage members of their communities at a multitude of levels. In 1996, when the Lansing Lugnuts revealed their new identity, this was not the case. Current Lansing General Manager Tyler Parsons, who grew up in nearby Danville, Michigan says that newspaper articles criticizing the Lugnuts’ identity are still displayed in the team offices. Tyler understands something that many within Minor League Baseball have learned since the Lugnuts blazed the trail for wacky, fun brands in 1996: you have to have the ‘cool factor.’
“I use this for every community I’m ever in. You can tell where your team is viewed in the ‘cool factor’ based on, ‘Do bartenders wear your merchandise and your hat for no reason other than it’s cool to wear?’”
Tyler has fond memories of going to Lugnuts games as well as games at Tiger Stadium in Detroit as a child. He remembers always being a fan of baseball and loved Cecil Fielder growing up. After high school, Tyler attended Central Michigan University, originally pursuing a career as a sports writer, but after one year at CMU, Tyler fell in love with the professional side of sports and changed direction to the Sports Management department. He acquired both his bachelor’s in Sport Management and his master’s in Sport Administration from Central Michigan. After briefly working in collegiate athletics, Tyler took a job with the Forest City Owls of the Coastal Plain League.
The move to North Carolina was a bit of a culture shock to Tyler at first, but he soon fell in love with the South. After one season in Forest City, Tyler took over as the General Manager of the Martinsville Mustangs, staying in the CPL for the same company that operated the Owls. At the time, Tyler was the only full-time staff member in Martinsville. He learned the grit and drive necessary to make a team successful with the help of a small team of interns. The community rallied around the team, and Tyler got his first taste of the feeling of revitalizing a team’s relationship with their hometown fans. This would prove useful on the next stop of his career.
When Tyler was considered for the GM position with the Appalachian League’s Johnson City Cardinals, he went out on the town in Johnson City, Tennessee to gauge the pulse of the city’s connection with the team. He found that most people he encountered had stopped attending games or were unaware that the team even existed. Despite the lack of interest in the team, Tyler fell in love with Johnson City. In a one day visit, he realized that really good things were happening there, and he wanted to be a part of it. His one condition in taking the position was that he wanted to be able to hand pick his Assistant General Manager. Tyler had grown up in the same town as Zac Clark. They even attended the same university and worked together previously in Martinsville. Tyler admired Zac’s loyalty and work ethic, and the duo began to rebuild the Johnson City Cardinals. They advocated for beer service at the park, teamed up with a new ownership group in Boyd Sports to upgrade the ballpark, and became involved in the community. The goal was to prove to the people of Johnson City that the team could be an asset to the community beyond baseball. Tyler believes there is a unique aspect to Johnson City’s relationship with their sports franchise. They seemed to come to games in the spirit of doing something for their community rather than a means of supporting a business. It wasn’t long before the ‘cool factor’ set in. Tyler recalls a trip with Zac to Holy Taco, a local cantina, when they saw a couple bartenders wearing Johnson City Cardinals caps. That was proof that their hard work was paying off and the tide was turning.
Tyler had said he would never take a job back home in Michigan, wanting, like many, to escape his hometown. He also felt that after 4 seasons in Johnson City, a new opportunity would have to be something special to convince him to leave. But, with age comes maturity, and Tyler admits that his priorities had changed. After turning down countless job offers, he took a visit with his beloved Lansing Lugnuts, who were in need of a new General Manager. Tyler was still on the fence about leaving the Cardinals and requested some time to consider the Lugnuts’ offer. On a 2 week trip to Colorado with a buddy, Tyler made his decision.
“Really stupid and cliche, man, I said, ‘I’ll go out there and get a reason, a sign if that’s the right move.’ We were in Aspen, Colorado, hiking the Maroon Bells in the middle of nowhere, and I passed a guy in a Lansing Lugnuts hat. I stopped him and started talking to him. He goes, ‘Yeah, my son goes to Michigan State there, but I’m a Michigan fan, and I hate that school. So, this is the only team I’ll support, but go ‘Nuts!’ … For me, that was something that said, ‘Hey, if you’re going to see a sign, it can’t be much more blatant than that.’”
After successful stops in Martinsville and Johnson City that involved rejuvenating the team, Tyler came back to Lansing, taking the helm of a strong organization with an established brand and amazing facility.
“It was so challenging here because I was used to rebuilding things. Here in Lansing, everyone knows who the Lugnuts are, and the cool factor is definitely here. You can’t go anywhere without people knowing something about the Lansing Lugnuts or having been to a game here.”
Tyler’s reward in moving back home and furthering the success of the Lugnuts has been the rare opportunity to become the General Manager of a team he grew up a fan of. The Lugnuts were one of the first Minor League teams to build their brand around entertainment and family fun. Tyler now has the honor and privilege of sharing the fun he helps create with his own family.
“For me, it was really special to be able to bring my grandmother to a couple games. She was never able to make it down South to see any games that I had, but I got back here to Lansing and brought her out to show her a game, show her what I did.”
While Tyler is missing games during the COVID-19 pandemic, he claims he is busier now than ever trying to keep up with news coming in everyday regarding state regulations and opportunities to utilize the Lugnuts’ facility to connect with Lansing in the absence of baseball being played. He is confident that no matter what, the Lugnuts and the other teams in Minor League Baseball will strive to bring joy to the towns that they each call home.
“If there’s an industry that can find a way to find a light in all the dark of this COVID-19, it’s going to be Minor League Baseball. I think now, more than ever, we owe it to our communities to represent them and be part of the healing process, be an asset, and be a voice for our communities. That’s what has built Minor League Baseball, and that’s why it’s such a strong entity. All these communities, all 160 of them across the entire country, have stood behind each and every team through ups and downs through their entire existence.”
Pretty cool, right?
You can follow Tyler on Twitter @Tyler_C_Parsons and the Lugnuts @LansingLugnuts. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to stay up to date on all the great profiles and articles. If you enjoyed this article or any of the others on Baseball is My Muse, share the site with your friends and family! Thanks for reading.
(photo courtesy of Radford News Journal)
When I spoke to Betsy Haugh, General Manager of the Pulaski Yankees, she was standing on the warning track in historic Calfee Park as a crew worked to replace the last remaining seats from the park inherited by the Shelor Motor Mile Group when they purchased the team from the town of Pulaski, Virginia in 2015. Along with the New York Yankees taking over the affiliation that same year, the change in ownership has sparked a bit of a renaissance for baseball in Pulaski. Betsy has been a part of the continuation in improving Calfee Park and the Pulaski Yankees since February 2018.
Betsy grew 9 miles North of Charlottesville, Virginia in the small town of Earlysville. She was a soccer player, and her brother was a baseball player. So, her family spent a lot of time at soccer fields as well as ballparks. After high school, Betsy played soccer for Marshall University. Shoulder surgery following her freshman season led to her sophomore campaign being her last as a player. Betsy then began working in the sports information office at Marshall, and that is when she decided to pursue a career in sports off the field. After completing her bachelor’s in sports management and marketing, Betsy went to Virginia Tech for her graduate studies, gaining a master’s degree in communication. It was during this time when Betsy fell back in love with the game of baseball. She loved the Baltimore Orioles rebrand that reincorporated the “cartoon bird” logo and watched a lot of O’s games during her time in college.
From there, Betsy took an internship with the Appalachian League’s Danville Braves. After her internship Summer with the team, she was promoted to Sales and Marketing Manager and was taken on by the league as a publicist, assisting with social media, the league website and media guide, and press releases. Career growth is very important to Betsy, and after her second season in Danville, she saw an opportunity to take the next step in the form of Assistant General Manager for the Pulaski Yankees. Betsy says she is fortunate to have moved up the ladder, so to speak, each year of her career at that point. That did not change at the end of the 2018 season, when Betsy was promoted to General Manager in Pulaski.
Betsy also considers herself lucky to not have any horror stories from being a woman in a male-dominated industry. She commends Minor League Baseball and the work they have done to build a family of hard-working, capable women within the sport. She says that they are fully aware of the fact that baseball is dominated by men, and they embrace that rather than deny it. While the presence of women in baseball front offices is becoming commonplace, Betsy believes one of the largest areas of opportunity for women in the game is in player development, as we’ve seen more and more women hired as coaches and scouts in recent years. Her hope is that we are heading down a road that leads to a world where a woman taking a position within baseball is no longer a story. Betsy also commented that she appreciates how organic inclusion is in baseball. It’s one of the things that makes working in baseball so enjoyable for her.
The fact that Pulaski is the only Appalachian League team that is not on the list of 42 teams rumored to be eliminated from affiliated baseball has left Betsy in what she refers to as a “fortunately awkward position.” However, she feels strongly about the presence of the game in the other small towns that are facing the looming contraction.
“That’s something that just cannot be highlighted enough. Baseball in small communities is what helps grow the game. To be able to keep baseball in those communities would just be so important for baseball as a sport, as an industry in America, and as a sport around the world.”
Betsy believes that Pulaski has avoided being on the alleged chopping block by first focusing on facilities for players, then turning their attention to the fan experience. The club has made leaps and bounds in both areas as they prepare for the possibility of becoming a full season team. Beyond that, and more importantly in my opinion, the Pulaski Yankees have reignited a passion for baseball in their community.
The reality that COVID-19 will prevent the 2020 season from happening has saddened the town of Pulaski. Betsy calls Pulaski a “small town with a big baseball heart” and believes that the lack of a season this year would be a blow to the culture of the small community. More than anything, Betsy Haugh is trying to remain upbeat and positive when talking to fans around town, and she is utilizing the unexpected free time to strengthen her relationships with other executives around Minor League Baseball and prepare the ballpark for upcoming special events other than games. Calfee Park will still be busy this Summer, as Betsy and the Pulaski Yankees refocus and concoct new ideas that they otherwise would not have thought to attempt. Make no mistake, Betsy will still miss the hustle and bustle of gamedays. She looks forward to being able to engage with every aspect of operating a Minor League Baseball team all in one day. Along with the tight knit bond built with others working in the game, this is what Betsy enjoys the most about her job. It’s not difficult to see why the Pulaski Yankees are thriving the way they are.
You can follow Betsy on Twitter @betsy_haugh and the Pulaski Yankees @PulaskiYanks. I have more profiles of great women in baseball coming up, so be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to be the first to know when new articles are posted!
Like many young boys across the United States, Shawn Murnin dreamed of playing professional baseball. Growing up in the snowy Endless Mountain region of Pennsylvania, Shawn spent his Winters in the batting cages. He would take a few rolls of quarters to the local skating rink’s cages as much as he could, just working hard to get better. You’ll notice a trend of perseverance and determination as Shawn’s story unfolds.
Shawn compares the end of his playing days to a death in the family. It was a hard time for him, but he soon refocused his goal from playing the game to staying involved in baseball altogether. This led him to Lackawanna College for an associate degree in communications and then to East Stroudsburg University for his bachelor’s. Shawn originally set out to be a beat writer but switched gears to broadcasting while at ESU. He had fallen in love with baseball at an early age and had found his path to a career in the game.
Living in the Scranton area, Shawn decided to call the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Triple-A team to inquire about an internship with the club. He was initially deflected to Lehigh Valley but maintained that he could not afford the trip away from Scranton for an unpaid position. After persisting and getting a face-to-face interview, Shawn was given the internship with the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees in 2011, working during the day as a debt collector. There was an opportunity for Shawn to work in baseball in the Midwest the next season, but the timing was not yet right for Shawn to continue to pursue his dream.
At the time, Shawn had been dating his now wife, Sam, for around a year. She was in school, and felt the distance would be the end of their relationship. Shawn had a difficult decision to make. Sam had been there for him, before they were dating, to get him through the passing of a parent. He had pursued a romantic relationship with her for years, and chose to leave baseball and stay in Pennsylvania to be with her. She assured him, however, that this break from baseball was temporary.
After 4 years or so of working an array of jobs including more debt collection, sales, and quality assurance, Sam started to notice Shawn was not happy. They had relocated to Duluth, Minnesota after her schooling was complete, and she felt the time was right for Shawn to return to his dream of working in baseball. After reaching out to find a position, an opportunity arose in nearby Mankato. There was just one problem. Shawn needed a demo tape, he hadn’t called a baseball game in 5 years, and it was January in Minnesota.
“So, I threw MLB 2k14, I think it was, the one with David Price on the cover, into my Xbox, turned the commentary down, left the crowd noise up, and called a Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders game against the Rochester Red Wings.”
Despite the bootleg quality of the demo, Shawn was offered the Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations position with the Mankato MoonDogs of the collegiate Summer wood bat Northwoods league in 2015. At the outset of the season, in a sit down with the team’s Vice President, Shawn was asked his goals for the season. It was simple, really. He wanted to be voted the Northwoods League’s broadcaster of the year. But, after his first game behind the microphone for Mankato, Shawn realized he had a long way to go in achieving that goal. He started taking notes of things he felt he did well and not so well. He began listening back to games on bus rides in order to improve his broadcasts. He knew what a baseball game should sound like. Afterall, he grew up listening to Jon Miller and Harry Kalas. What he had to figure out was how to make HIS games sound the way they were supposed to. Through his own hard work and advice given to him by colleagues, mentors, and even some fans with radio backgrounds, Shawn talked himself out of giving up on his goal.
“Everything I had ever done at that point in my life, growing up in a small town, there was no “You’re gonna quit this.” It was “You better figure it out.” There’s an easy way, and there’s a hard way. Either way you do it, you have to finish it. So, the only way that I knew was to buckle down and try to figure out a way to get it done the right way.”
Gratification came in the form of a phone call telling Shawn his peers had voted him the 2015 Northwoods League broadcaster of the year. Mankato Moondogs Vice President Kyle Mrozek told the story of Shawn explaining that the award was his goal for the season to a stadium of fans when Shawn was recognized. Over the next year or so, Shawn would begin applying for jobs within affiliated baseball. This was the next step in his career. He even attended the Winter meetings to network and interview with as many teams as possible. The opportunity came in 2017 in the form of Broadcasting and Media Assistant for the Peoria Chiefs, the class-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals in the Midwest League.
Shawn called the middle innings of games, ran stats for lead broadcaster Nathan Baliva, and continued to learn the ins and outs of media relations in the minors. During one game, though, Shawn was thrust into an unfamiliar role. In the 5th inning of a close game, catcher Brian O’Keefe hit a home run in the pouring rain. After he touched home plate, the players were pulled off the field. The game was called shortly thereafter. Instead of handing the mic over to Nathan, Shawn was instructed to finish the broadcast and sign off. An impromptu sign off at the end of an unlikely walk-off home run. Only in baseball, right?
The following season, Shawn got his first opportunity to be “the guy,” taking a job as Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations for the Hagerstown Suns, a Washington Nationals class-A affiliate. Shawn recalls the fun he had with a great staff in an historic ballpark in 2018. This was the stop where Shawn learned the value of teamwork in Minor League Baseball, stating that everyone chipped in when it came to cleaning bathrooms, pulling tarp, and everything in between. While in his first season at the head of media relations for a ballclub, Shawn got the privilege of calling Juan Soto in his 16 games in Hagerstown, the most Soto played at any one stop in 2018 before making a big impact for the Nats that season. Shawn recalls Soto as a special, prodigal talent whose composure was striking.
Shawn had filled in on a couple games in 2017 for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, class-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays in the Midwest League, and when their head of broadcasting and media relations became available, they immediately thought of Shawn Murnin. He had shown up earlier than he was expected, made himself available, and even offered to help pull tarp during his short stint in Bowling Green. This clearly made an impression on the team. Now, as the voice of the Hot Rods, Shawn considers himself lucky. Although he is open to moving up the ranks if a better opportunity presents itself, Shawn understands that his connection with the team in Bowling Green is a rare one and says it will be difficult for him to find something better.
You can follow Shawn on Twitter @ShawnMurnin. Feel free to leave me a comment here or hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. I want to hear from you!
“Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks.”
Food and baseball have a unique relationship. A meal at a ballpark is vastly different than a meal anywhere else, including other sporting events. During the course of the season, a team will create special concession items to correlate with themed promotions. Tom Ando concotted perhaps the most infamous such concession item, the cotton candy hot dog, but the “mad genius,” as Darren Rovelle once referred to him, has made an impact on the relationship between food and baseball that reaches far beyond just one viral product.
Growing up in Buffalo, New York, Tom was more of a football fan than a baseball fan. He took to sportswriting as a teenager, covering the NFL, CFL, and Arena Football. He even interned for a professional lacrosse team for a season. It wasn’t until 2013, when he took a job as Concessions Supervisor at Progressive Field in Cleveland, that Tom found his love for ballpark food.
“Once I started working baseball, it just became a different love of mine. Every sport’s a lot different as far as atmosphere goes, and baseball is families. I love it. America’s pastime. It’s just awesome to be in the ballpark everyday.”
Within months of starting at Progressive Field, Tom realized that this was no longer just a job. He wanted to make ballpark concessions his career. Realizing the benefits of hard work and impressing the right people, Tom started pulling double duty, working Cleveland Browns games in addition to the baseball games at Progressive Field. In 2014, he took a job back home in Buffalo, working concessions for the Buffalo Sabres NHL team. During Cleveland homestands, Tom would sleep on a coworker’s couch and work at Progressive Field. The following year, Tom moved to Detroit to work at Comerica Park, one of Tom’s favorite ballparks to this day. As you might expect, Tom added Ford Field and Detroit Lions football games to his workload. Mornings were spent at Ford Field, prepping for the upcoming football season, while evenings were spent working Tigers games at Comerica. Tom’s focus was continuing his diligent work in order to build a resume that would attract a more lucrative, salaried management position.
That opportunity came in the form of the South Bend Cubs, a class-A Cubs affiliate in the Midwest League. In 2016, Tom became South Bend’s Concession Manager. During the offseason, Tom worked for Notre Dame University. In his second season with South Bend in 2017, Tom was promoted to Assistant Director of Food and Beverage. While in South Bend, Ando began his pursuit of a viral concession item. Tom remembers watching hours of food related commercials from the 1980’s on YouTube in preparation for an 80’s themed night at the ballpark. For a 90’s night, Tom created a Gushers sundae that got retweeted on Twitter by the Gushers brand. Pretty cool, but not quite the pinnacle of viral food just yet. Tom thought he had found the ticket to viral, so to speak, in the form of a Daredevil burger, made with flaming hot Cheetos, for a superhero promotion. He names that item as one he felt deserved more attention than it received.
In 2017, Tom continued to chase down his goal of a viral item when he took the position of Director of Food and Beverage for the Erie Seawolves of the Eastern League. It was in Erie that Tom achieved his goal. Tom thought he had it when Tim Tebow was in town as a member of the visiting team, and he made Gator burgers. He got closer for Christmas in July by making a dish inspired by Buddy the Elf, Will Ferrel’s famous character in the film Elf. Sitting at his desk, brainstorming for Sugar Rush Night, Tom made the connection between two foods that seemingly don’t belong together that would lead to the most viral concession item to date. Tom layed a hot dog inside a cotton candy bun, sprinkled Nerds candy on top, and took a bite. The cotton candy hot dog was born. Tom sent one down to the clubhouse for two players to try. The video made its way to MLB Network. The photo of the strange concoction started to make its rounds on Twitter. By the next morning, the cotton candy hot dog was a hit. Tom finally had his viral concession food.
Tom was surprised that it was the cotton candy hot dog that became the item talked about on Jimmy Fallon. He thought his cotton candy ball, a scoop of ice cream with sprinkles wrapped in cotton candy, would be more popular in Erie on Sugar Rush Night. He had created a simple yet unique dish, the mac and cheesesteak, that he imagined could have the success that the cotton candy dog achieved. He also mentioned the Gator burger and Daredevil burger when prompted for items he thought deserved viral status. Through the many special items Tom has created in concession stands, it is easy to see his passion for and understanding of the correlation between baseball and food.
“It’s important because you’re sitting down, casually, for a longer time. It’s summer, nice day out. It’s almost like a picnic every game.”
Since creating the cotton candy hot dog, Tom has returned home to Buffalo, once again working for the Buffalo Sabres hockey team.
“I miss baseball more than I thought I would.”
Yearning for a way to stay involved in the game, Tom began writing again. He covers Minor League Baseball promotions for Our Sports Central. Tom and his wife enjoy traveling to see different ballparks. Together, they have visited 20 Major League and 11 Minor League parks. Tom likes to do research on each park’s food selections so he knows what he wants to try once he arrives. He notes PNC Park in Pittsburgh is his favorite ballpark to date. He also puts Wrigley and Fenway in class by themselves.
“I’m a Yankees fan, and I still couldn’t wait to get to Fenway.”
Tom and his wife had planned a trip to see 6 ballparks on the West coast this season, but obviously, that trip has been cancelled. They are also Buffalo Bisons season ticket holders and are looking forward, like we all are, to returning to the ballpark for a unique meal on a warm Summer day.
You can follow Tom on Twitter @concessionsguy. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as well.