LAS VEGAS - Their names can be a little kooky: Iron Pigs, Air Hogs, Flying Squirrels, Blue Whaoos, Nuts, Rawhide, Crawdads, Beach Bums, Wild Things and one of my favorites, the Jackals.
The promotions are even zanier:
"Office Space" night, a tribute to the 1999 cult movie;
Pregnancy night, when pregnant women throw out the first pitch, run the bases and a "cravings concession stand" is stocked with anchovies, ice cream and pickles;
Liposuction giveaway night, falling on the same night as all-you-can-eat Wednesday;
And last but certainly not least, Awful Night, when fans are treated to music by William Shatner and Milli Vanilli.
When it comes to entertainment at the ballpark, there is no better place than minor league baseball.
A minor league baseball game is more laid back than a major league contest. You can buy a cheap seat and still sit behind home plate and the ushers really don't care.
That laid-back atmosphere was evident Saturday night at Cashman Field, where the Las Vegas 51s (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets) were hosting the Tucson Padres (Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres).
The 51s, who get their name from the supposedly alien remains that are housed at the nearby top-secret military base known as Area 51, gave away lawn chairs to 5,332 fans. I guess lawn chair giveaway night is better than alien anal probe night.
The game time temp was 104 and the mister system was working overtime. A father was passing the game down to his kids, teaching them what RBI stands for. In the second inning, I had the sacrament of a beer and a hot dog and in the fourth inning a guy saved his girlfriend from certain death by catching a foul ball with his bare hand before it smacked her in the head.
In the seventh inning I moved closer to the field, where a heckler heckled Padres manager and former Arizona State baseball coach Pat Murphy. Murphy, always classy, playfully obliged the heckler.
Watching a minor league baseball game in some ways is better than watching a major league game. You're not going to get the same quality of play, but you're also not going to get the smack of money in your face from the millionaire ballplayers on the field and the millionaire corporate CEOs in the luxury boxes.
Minor league baseball is about having a good time, whether it's a zany promotion or unexpected incidents that happen on the field. Those of us who worked in minor league baseball know there are plenty of those.
During my time spent in Tucson, I spent a lot of summers working for the Arizona Diamondbacks Triple-A team, the Tucson Sidewinders.
I was just as popular as the players, if not more. I was the mascot.
Through my alter ego as a six-foot snake roaming around the ballpark, I've seen and been a part of a lot of things.
I was working the time a naked streaker rallied the home team on dollar beer night from a six-run deficit. After the game, one of the players was quoted as saying, "We need to get a collection plate together and bail that ..... out of jail."
I was also responsible for tackling a few kids during the race-the-mascot contest. I started off at second and looked for ways to make it entertaining while at the same time making the race close.
One time I dove for the finish line, accidentally catching a kid by the foot and face-planting him into the ground.
The kid and the fans laughed, thinking it was funny the mascot just tackled a kid. The mascot was thinking, "Please don't sue me."
Another career mascot highlight occurred outside of the ballpark after the team played their final game and moved to Reno.
I stood on the median of the busiest intersection acting as a panhandler holding a sign that read, "Team moved. Will work for hot dogs."
Tucson has a rich history with minor league baseball. Before the Sidewinders, there were the Toros, who were responsible for just as many memorable stories, including the time the mascot pile-drove a drunk at home plate on (oddly enough) dollar beer night. Then there was the time a player forgot to tell the box office not to sit his wife and girlfriend next to each other. Let's just say the fireworks in the sky weren't the only set of fireworks being let off.
There is probably a reason why dollar beer night hasn't hit a major league park. Maybe it's because of memories of the Cleveland Indians' 10-cent beer night in 1974 in which fans rioted in the ninth inning.
But it's a promotion that works in the minor leagues with their kooky names and zany promotions with the ever-ringing motto: You can't beat fun at the ol' ball yard.
Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Article comment by:
Minor league baseball, even the non-affliated teams are great for community spirit. I lived in a small town in Tennessee where we had a minor league team made up of guys trying to catch the eye of a Major League scout. Te Stadium was nice and cozy, you were close to the action and the players lived with people in the community during the season. In Phoenix there is a league, the Freedom League, that is struggling to survive, mostly because of all the competition for fans. Towns like Kingman, BullHead City, Lake Havasu, Prescott, Parker and any other small town should try to entice this league to bring teams to their towns. I know the towns are smaller, however, the supprot would be greater!
Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Article comment by:
Continuing the Tucson journey .... I remember watching the Tucson Cowboys play at Hi Corbett field in the 1950s. MLB was fun, too. Our neighbors from Ohio held a bash for the Cleveland Indians, who held spring training in the Old Pueblo. Among the attendees were Larry Doby, Luke Easter, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and so on ... Luke Easter let me ride piggy-back on his shoulders. That was in the early 1950s and I never forgot it.