Tag Archives: baseball

Biscuits Beat Rays

We went to see the Montgomery Biscuits hosts their pro affiliates, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (we’re never dropping the “devil,” no matter what the marketing people say). The minor league guys won!

It was a nice day for baseball once the gray clouds passed by and the sun broke through. The stadium was full (early reports say this was the 6th largest crowd in Riverwalk Stadium history). Everyone was in a good mood.

Rather than write up the game, we’ll hold off on saying a lot more about the new season because Opening Night is Thursday. We might say more then. The Biscuits have a new manager and a bunch of new faces on the team.

Until then, go back and read the tremendous volume of writing (and robust conversation in the comments section) from our season preview from 2012. Enjoy!

Biscuits Home Opener 2012

It was a beautiful night for baseball.

It’s a fair statement to say that the Biscuits haven’t been too good this year (4-6 coming into last night’s game), but it’s also a fair statement to say that we didn’t care. On Opening Night (even when the team has already had two weeks of games on the road), you throw out the record books. Opening Night is full of promise, and we’d expected the Biscuits talent level to be a bit depleted after having packed the AAA and Major League rosters with talent over the past year.

The best thing about going back to Biscuits Stadium after a long off-season is seeing what they’ve done with the place. If you’re a baseball traditionalist, most of the time the answer to that question is, “Hopefully nothing.” People like it when stadiums stay the same. It gives them comfort. But we did know from newspaper reporting press release reprinting that the team had splurged on some kind of new Jumbotron-style video board.

Let’s break down, in no particular order, some things that will be different when you go to a Biscuits game this season:

Things that are better:

Hak-Ju’s walkup music – We’ve made it clear that Hak-Ju Lee is one of our favorite players. He was hitting leadoff last night and still looks like a very promising prospect for the Rays. But the music that would play when he walked up to bat last year was pretty terrible (some sort of electro-pop dance thing). We were glad to see that he has picked out something better (it contains the booming of some kind of death knell bell).

The “Club Car” bar – Now open to the public! It was bizarre to us that the bar (on the concourse in rightfield) was only open to some kind of card-holding members of some weird club. What? We can’t buy beer in your stupid bar? Well, that’s ok with us because your stupid TVs in the bar aren’t even showing the Biscuits game that we paid to come to see. Well, that’s all changed. We can now walk into the bar and order a drink from the (seemingly overmatched) bartender and see the actual Biscuits game on the TVs in there. Thanks, Biscuits management, for the “privilege” of letting us unwashed masses buy beer in your bar.

Billy Gardner – Now in his 6th year as the Biscuits manager, Gardner is awesome. He’s old school – from the way he pulls his socks up, to the way he waves the runners around from his spot in the third base coaching box. He’s grizzled and savvy and seems like a patient, but firm teacher. Two examples from last night that show Gardner at his best: 1) He avoided showing up an umpire on a clearly blown call at third, knowing that it’s the start of a long series. But he (quietly) made it clear to the umpire that he knew that it was a missed call without riling up the crowd with some sort of over-the-top histrionics. 2) During an injury to one of the opposing team’s players, it seemed like the opposing team’s trainers were taking an exceptionally long time in letting the player sit on the field to recover (more on this in a moment). Gardner could have prodded the umps to prod the opposing team to cart the guy off, but instead pulled the umps aside to ask them a question about the play causing the injury. He engaged the umps, preventing them from speeding the process along, which seemed to be a genuine professional courtesy to the other team — and one that likely went unnoticed by the fans shifting uncomfortably as the lengthy injury was sorted out. Billy Gardner, son of a great baseball player (and coach), is a great leader and a greatly-appreciated class act.

New beers – Kudos to the concessions folks that made the decision to sell local beer at Biscuits Stadium. Back 40 beer is awesome and we’re glad to have that at the game. And additional kudos for keeping the veggie burgers on the menu, even though it’s clear that they don’t sell a ton of them. In fact, they’ve somehow figured out a way to speed up the process of selling them. Last year, you’d have to go up and order your veggie burger and then come back to the concession stand 20 minutes later to pick up your order. This year, they handed us a veggie burger with cheese within seconds of our order. Good job concession folks!

Frank De Los Santos – He didn’t pitch, but we saw him running what seemed like basically a pitching clinic for a gaggle of enraptured young boys down by the bullpen. The hard core Stone Crabs fans we met when we were down at spring training game in Port Charlotte said that he is very cool. We look forward to seeing him pitch.

The end of that awful “Bring on the Biscuits” song – We can’t verify this, fans, but we think that just maybe they’ve gotten rid of that stupid country song they used to play before games. They still say dumb stuff like “Biscuits are better in bunches,” even though that’s obviously false, and you’d be worried about anyone eating, say, more than two. But if the song is gone, this is a big improvement.

Things that are worse:

No more Mickey! – Remember from previous games that guy that would spring out with the Biscuits flag before the game, while Carmina Burana blared? And he was the in-game MC for all of the stupid between-innings advertisements? And he’d do the Cupid Shuffle on the top of the dugout? And once in a while he’d sing the national anthem? And he had the hilarious custom Biscuits jersey that told us that his name was Mickey? And he was the boss of the interchangeable “Biscuits Bunch?” Yeah, that guy. He’s gone!

We saw an ad saying the team was looking for a new in-game master of ceremonies, and had tryouts or something, but we never knew what happened to Mickey, who had been there as long as we could remember. An usher told us that he left the Biscuits for, wait for it, “clown school in Italy.” Was this a joke? Did Micky sprint around with the Biscuits flag as “O Fortuna” played so many times that he got really into classical music and stumbled across Pagliaccio and got totally obsessed? Did he try to take Big Mo with him? Did Big Mo get rejected from Italian clown school, leading to an emotional farewell at the Montgomery airport? Was the super-Christian clown school that the Montgomery Advertiser is so obsessed with not good enough for our Mickey? We need to know these things!!

There is only one answer to the question, “Who will replace Mickey?” because that answer is “nobody.” Nobody will ever replace Mickey.

The cups – Look, it’s a fairly minor quibble, but we loved taking home our plastic Biscuits “souvenir” cups and using them year-round. They were the perfect size and if we needed to send someone home with a “to go” cup, they were a perfect thing to rep our city and our team. The cups were pretty cool. This year, they come with a gigantic and stupid and permanent advertisement on them, totally obscuring the fact that it’s even a Biscuits cup. We don’t advertise for health care companies, so this year’s cups will come home with us and go into the recycle pile. Seriously. Was money so tight that the Biscuits really needed to sell sponsorship of the freaking plastic cups? If so, it’s a pathetic cry of desperation that ruins an otherwise-nice take-home reminder of the game.

The scoreboard – While on the subject of advertising glut, let’s just go ahead and put the new scoreboard on blast. It’s not good. They clearly pored over every inch of the stadium and looked for advertising opportunities during the off-season and tried to monetize every square inch of the stadium. We get it: Stadium ads have a long tradition in baseball (check out the cool retro ads at Rickwood Field sometime). But this feels like overkill in every possible way. We understand that you have to sponsor the in-game, between innings promotional things (the things that entertain the children and rubes that didn’t come to see an actual baseball game). But the worst sin of the new Alabama Power “ribbon board” (which sits right next to the regular new Jumbotron) is that it includes no useful information that isn’t already on the scoreboard.

The geniuses in charge of the scoreboard have taken down the speed gun scoreboard from last year that told you how hard the pitchers were throwing. Now, that information flashes (sometimes) interchangeably with the “time of day” clock on the big scoreboard. Frustrating. Worse, there’s no in-game pitch count. Pitch count has only been a closely-monitored part of baseball since the 1990s, so maybe they’re still struggling to find a way to communicate this simple bit of information to fans who’d like to, say, see how long the organization is going to leave their precious pitching arms out there on the mound.

And the redundancy of the two boards (the scoreboard and the ribbon board) is especially stupid given that they are right next to each other. Look, he’s hitting .280! And over there, on the adjacent scoreboard! He’s also hitting .280! Thanks scoreboards!

The music – Look, we realize that the players probably get to pick their walkup music. This isn’t about that (Really, Mike Sheridan, Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass?” Really? That’s your walkup music?) And it’s not even a complaint about the infantile “text which of these three songs you want to hear us play” promotions, where fans are asked to use their phones to democratically select which of the bad songs they prefer. No, this is about the moment in the game when a Biscuits runner going from first to second collided with a Bay Bears second-baseman trying to field the ball. Both players went down. For a long time. And it was painful to watch. And they both lay there. And the crowd was in that hushed silence that happens when bad-not-sure-how-bad injuries happen at sporting events.

So the PA music person decides to blast Lenny Kravitz’s moronic 13-year-old re-make of the Guess Who’s “American Woman.” You know, the one where he replaces the brilliant political sentiment with hyper-sexualization. Because evidently the Biscuits front office thinks it’s proper for their shortstop to limp off the field with a (possible) broken arm while Lenny Kravitz sings, “I don’t want to see your face no more.” And then as the player from the opposing team heroically limps off, perhaps wondering if this will be the injury that ends his dream of playing professional baseball, it’s unclear whether the song is taking a misogynistic tone, saying that he is a weak and injured woman, or is just mockingly telling him “bye, bye, bye.” Great choice up there in the press box.

OK, so what about the game? Well, the Biscuits got shelled. We love the team, but the loss was fine with us because we happened to have seats in front of the 80-year-old guy who brings the cowbell to the game and rings it … a LOT … every time the Biscuits do something good. Bay Bears make the first out of an inning on a foul ball to first base? EXTENDED COWBELL RIGHT IN OUR EARS. Biscuits player draws a walk? EXTENDED COWBELL RIGHT IN OUR EARS. I mean, we didn’t complain because ringing cowbells seems like the thing that Rays fans are doing. They do it at Rays games and they did it at spring training in the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs stadium that we attended. Fine. But this guy didn’t lift the bell up over his head, because that would have been too much work. So he swung it around in his lap (30 and 45 seconds per burst), which was right in the ears of the people in front of him (which was us). Thanks for the headache, super fan. We’re glad our regular season tickets are not in front of that deaf geezer.

Why did starter Shane Dyer only last one inning? He looked terrible. Was he injured? He gave up a monster home run to noted roid juicer Alfredo Marte. He also lucked out when the umps blew a call on an obvious home run that (probably) dented the back fence along the left field walkway. That ball was called a “ground rule double,” even though it cleared the walkway that fans were walking on. Does a ball have to leave the stadium to be a homer? I don’t think so. That guy for the Bay Bears got robbed, plain and simple. And Dyer looked horrible.

So, he got pulled for Jim Patterson, who was in his first appearance at AA ball, and who pitched pretty well. But after Patterson, it was a run through the bullpen (Schenk was especially terrible), leading to a corner infielder, Greg Sexton, coming in to pitch. Gardner had to have been disgusted with the pitching.

Yet, someone in the front office thought it would be a good idea to make an “Opening Day highlight video” full of incomprehensible fast cuts of blurry low rez footage. Remember that Opening Day, when we got shelled 11-3? And put our record at 4-7? And the pitching staff was so bad that we had to put a non-pitcher in the game to finish the game? I smell a montage to a crappy song!

Anyway, that’s over 2,200 words on your 2012 Biscuits Opening Day. You know you were asking for it. See you at the ballpark!

Reggy the Purple Party … Sigh

There was a confusing five-letter word on our minor league baseball tickets:

R-E-G-G-Y

“What does that mean? Is it like “Reggie,” like Reggie Jackson, or does it rhyme with “Geggy,” you know, from the band Geggy Tah?¹ You know, like someone who begs too much has gotten beggy?”

What? I don’t know. I mean, if the local NBC affiliate is sponsoring it, can it be bad? It’s WSFA. It’s the Montgomery Biscuits. I guess we’ll see when we get there.”

It turns out that Reggy is, in fact, pronounced like Reggie. It also turns out that he is a giant purple furry who attempts to entertain the public by loudly and stupidly expressing a desire to “party.”²

Reggy, as it happens, has a webpage and makes appearances at various minor league baseball stadiums across the south. And WSFA, home to the ever-trusted Bob Howell and Rich Thomas, inflicted Reggy on a stadium half-full of mostly unamused Biscuits fans. We would have been frankly better suited had they wrapped a drugged Huntington frat boy in several yards of dirty carpet and shoved him out over the firstbase line while blaring “Hot Potato” by The Wiggles.

Reggy, according to his Wikipedia page, evidently studied mascoting under someone who once performed as the legendary and awesome Philly Fanatic.³ We, as fans of mascotting — and particularly minor league baseball clowning, find this hard to believe.

Wait a minute! That's not the umpire!!

We, as much as anyone over the age of 5, appreciate quality pratfalls and the ancient art of harassing the other team’s base coaches. But Reggy seems like a smelly weirdo, emerging from his seedy-seeming basement to announce that he’s ready to “party” with the fans of the Lansing Lugnuts or Carolina Mudcats or whatever. He falls over, has an inflatable gorilla costume, dances around in drag, and takes a crotch shot or two. He got some decent play from an umpire that he draped with a feather boa, but mostly just left us (and several kids nearby) sort of uncomfortably shifting in our seats, wondering about the post-game rituals of sadness that Reggy must endure at some hotel bar.

And that’s not all we wondered about: What’s that thing dangling from his nose supposed to be? How did something as lame as Reggy become the spokes-mascot for the Mascot Hall of Fame? Why hasn’t the Mascot Hall of Fame updated its website since 2008? Are there no new inductees? How is a “mascot” different than this giant falcon, allegedly called a “skin character,” designed to promote debate in the nation of Qatar?

Reggy is at his worst when he grabs the microphone and uses his creepy “guy talking to little kids at a birthday party” voice. It was at this point, even before the Biscuits had taken the field, that we knew that we needed to blame WSFA for sponsoring this monstrosity.

Look, we understand that you have to spice up minor league baseball with crap like “fireworks night” and “clap your hands if you support the troops” night. The game of baseball is just too boring for the average modern ticket-buying rube, who can’t call a sporting event “family fun” unless it’s a Facebook Friday or a Limited Edition Porcelain Figurine Giveaway. God forbid people actually know who’s pitching or that the Biscuits are in dire need of a second baseman.

Even so, Reggy was taking things too far. His lame crotch gyrations certainly got the crowd around us talking … about how much we missed the decently-serviceable Biscuits mascot, Big Mo. Look, Big Mo may be a lame amorphous anteater-thing, so lumpy that he actually looks like a pile of poop wearing a baseball uniform. We get that. But he’s our pile of poop. He doesn’t do that much, shoots some biscuits out of a cannon at the crowd (the most important selling point, frankly, that I ever mention when describing our local game experience to out-of-town friends), and generally wanders around like a tolerable oaf, getting his picture made with the babies and whatnot.

We like Big Mo, especially in comparison to Reggy’s highly-contrived Spuds McKenzie antics, made all the worse by the fact that he shops said antics around the minor league baseball circuit like some kind of amethyst whore. Ideally, we’d have a mascot that was the actual team logo: a giant biscuit that would walk around and touch people with his butter-pat-tongue. And that tongue would taste like butter and it would also breakdance and have a better name than Big Mo.

But we don’t have that giant grunting edible biscuit walking around. We have Big Mo. And we like Big Mo. You know what you think about when the local TV station pays to bring in some imported teamless mascot when you already have a perfectly decent mascot at your minor league stadium? You think about the economy being in the toilet and outsourcing and how lame it must be to put on a suit in 95-degree heat and know that your employer is letting some guy from YouTube show up and throw frisbees to your crowd.

We like Mickey, the mayor of the Biscuit Bunch, doing their awful little line dances and Cupid Shuffling on top of the dugouts. We even keep quiet during his awful donning of the Indian headdress during YMCA. We frantically applaud his frantic waving of the Biscuits flag as Carmina Burana blares before each game.

Reggy? Well, we’ve already said it: WSFA, we blame you.

¹ It should be noted that as great and catchy as Geggy Tah’s song, “Whoever You Are” may be, the album on which that song appears is staggeringly weird. Hearing that entire album, it is no surprise that they could produce something so catchy and yet also disappear into obscurity.
² Your idea of what it means to “party” may, in fact, and likely will, greatly differ from Reggy’s idea about what “partying” seems to entail.
³ The Fanatic, while cool, is far from our favorite pro mascot. That honor goes to Youppi, formerly of the Montreal Expos (now of the Montreal Canadiens). One of many online looks at the world’s worst mascots can be seen here. This link is particularly good because it includes the reprehensible Izzy, but also several very strange and disturbing mascots from European soccer.

Rickwood Field – 15th Annual Rickwood Classic

We came home feeling like we had witnessed baseball magic, a minor league extra innings nail biter in the oldest baseball stadium in the world. The news on the television when we walked in the door — that Ken Griffey Jr. had retired, coupled with subsequent live viewing of human frailty ruining Armando Galarraga’s perfect game? Well, we knew it was one of those Field of Dreams kind of perfect baseball days — the kind you really never have anymore. The kind where you don’t just remember that baseball is awesome, you feel it in your bones and connective tissues.

Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama prompts this kind of feeling. It’s sort of like going to Wrigley or Fenway (minus the mega-corporations), knowing you’ve been to church. There have been enough paeans to those famous temples to fill George Will’s cavernous Chevy Chase mansion, but Rickwood is still relatively unknown except among the most hardcore baseball fans. But this won’t be one of those tiresome odes that white dudes write about the budding potential of rebirth as symbolized by green grass, infield dirt, and Opening Day. And although the star of the show is the stadium, we’ll try not to add to the stacks of bad poetry out there about Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, rhapsodizing about the body politic taking the day off work to track the flight of a leather sphere against the clear southern sky.

This is about a trip to watch day baseball at the simple and beautiful Rickwood Field, the oldest baseball stadium in the world. It’s about history, and pure baseball, and impure baseball (because there’s really no such thing as pure baseball), and yes, it’s also about white dudes. Lots and lots of white dudes. Before explicating Rickwood and our awesome trip there, first you have to understand the crowd. Who skips work on a Wednesday to watch a minor league team play in a stadium that’s used only once a year?

If you want to understand white dudes and baseball, especially minor league baseball (which is seen as more pure than big league baseball) and baseball history (ditto), it helps to understand the kinds of white dudes that are civil war history buffs and/or those who are big fans of the blues (who go to shows to watch old people play guitar and who ramble on about Lightnin’ Jim Puddin’cup who once made a scratchy demo for Chess Records). Baseball’s obsessive white dudes are (and of course these are all generalizations, but true) people who think nothing of thrusting a baseball encased in a cube of plastic under the nose of a wheelchair-bound former Negro league player named Cleophus, which nose is hooked up to an oxygen tube and crinkles slightly at the thought of prying this baseball out of the case to scribble some ink onto it. Many of these guys aren’t just collectors. They are also amateur historians (and sometimes, hopefully, preservationists) who all-too-often take a smug racial satisfaction in their interest in old black blues musicians or old black baseball players. They have a head for data and arcane facts. The old days were the better days, they’ll tell you — before electric lights brought night baseball, before HGH — although they’ll tiptoe around the “before integration” part. Ruddy-faced teens riding buses to tiny towns — good. Sixteen-year-olds from the Dominican — new and scary. The 99 percent white crowd’s racially-sensitive applause for the Negro league vets rubbed awkwardly up against the fans overheard planning to leave before the end of the game because they didn’t want to be away from their car “in this kind of neighborhood” after dark.

Nonetheless, Rickwood is chock full of this genre of older white dudes, and a couple of younger ones with their kids. The kids are great, wearing their little league uniforms that clash with their stained mouths, dyed garish shades of red and blue and green by the icy snow cones on sale under the grandstand. Their dads are often their coaches, sporting the same team jerseys, confident that their kid’s ability to turn a double play at age 9 is a good indicator that he’s the next Chipper Jones.

We sat near several groups of fathers and sons, the former talking strategy while the latter glanced at the game while consuming all the concession stands had to offer ($7 pizza, $4 lemonade, pretzels and mustard, popcorn, Cokes, with barbecue sandwiches and Bud Light for the dads).

We’d arrived super early to get a good look at the stadium and were glad we did – the traffic into the stadium was rough and disorganized, winding through a neighborhood that seemed like it was considerably worse for wear than the stadium (presumably the neighborhood is less interesting to preservationists than the stadium it houses). There was one parking lot. It was full, so the rest of us were diverted into “parking lots” by a sparse corps of volunteers paying only a little attention to the process. It was baking hot. Alabama in June hot. We parked in one of the few shady spots next to a Negro League veteran (we would later see him go out and kiss the Rickwood grass) telling stories and selling memorabilia to two fat white baseball nerds. The air smelled of charcoal and cooking things.

In the crowd milling around the ticket booths there were a hundred different jerseys, with everyone from babies to grandparents repping a player or a team. It was only a short wait to get our tickets which, we discovered, were General Admission. This stopped us short once we got into the stadium. Really? General Admission? We could sit anywhere we wanted to? We picked out great seats on the first base line just to the side of home plate. We didn’t have many neighbors. This was because it was fiercely, seriously hot and we were completely exposed to the sun. The shady grandstand seats filled up quickly. But what great seats! And close to the band. Yes, we were surprised, too. We’ve never been to a baseball game with a band – especially not a swinging jazz quartet whose singer grooved the very best National Anthem either of us has ever heard in person.

The scene before the game was part baseball nerd riot (Memorabilia auction! Harmon Killebrew! Negro Leaguers!) and part civic love-fest (Rep. Paul DeMarco! Mayor William Bell! Alagasco!). The umpires wore bowties, the teams wore period jerseys. As one of us is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, this meant we were rooting for the Appalachians, the Tennessee Smokies‘ period doppelganger. Towards the end of the 11 inning nailbiter, many of the fans who remained were Cubs fans just like us – not the first time we’ve seen the local fans drift away while the faithful in Cubbie blue remain. But that was to be several hours later. In the meantime we settled into the sharp contrast between the sun’s heat and our seriously cold beers and prepared to enjoy (with about 10,000 other folks) one of summer’s best offerings: the day game.

The Barons (farm team for the White Sox, famous for being home to Michael Jordan’s brief minor league baseball career) gave up early runs to the Smokies (managed last year by Ryne Sandberg), but came back. The Barons seemed to have the best player on the field — a tall rightfielder named Salvador Sanchez. He looked like he could be in the majors soon. The Smokies did not start their highly-drafted Josh Vitters, who has struggled this year and didn’t look good when we saw him play in Montgomery last week.

The extra frames were the cherry on top of the icing of a lovely day of baseball. With a Marquez Smith home run in the top of the 11th, the Cubs, er, Smokies pulled out the win and we left sunburned but happy. The official write-up from The Birmingham News is here, and includes some great video and a set of pics (in which we can be somewhat seen in the background of one).