I love to write about first impressions, how a place or a person invites me to feel, it is how I write about baseball. I observe and experience things with a critical eye. This first impression is important since, consciously or subconsciously, this is how the majority of people judge; be it another person, a place, or a thing.
I am very critical of myself when I write, I take a lot of time editing my work, I want to make sure my words engage and entertain, my message understood. I want to provoke a thought, or for the readers to remember an experience. I am told I write well (by my mom and girlfriend but that’s besides the point). It takes time and effort and if I am going to do it, I will do it to the best of my ability.
I need to write/talk about “baseball hospitality”. Yes, hospitality, which I define as a friendly and generous reception, fan engagement and ownership, and an entertaining game. This is what I am looking for when I come to a ball game. To me this is a simple formula to be successful and profitable at all levels of baseball.
Many teams miss the mark, I don’t understand why, baseball is still the national pastime, there are more people playing and watching the game than in its history.
(If you don’t believe me look at all the kids in tee-ball, Little League, recreation leagues, the select leagues, American Legion, High School, college, college summer ball, the MLB partner leagues, the minor league, the MLB and around the world in Japan, the Caribbean, and Korea.)
Hospitality is simple, greet your fans with a smile, be courteous and generous with your time, make it easy to get beer and bratwurst, have a fun mascot and play area for the kids, engage the fans during and between innings. Keep the park clean and organized, it is these details which keep the fans coming back.
Fans love identifying with their team, this is the ownership aspect, they want the jerseys, hats, and knick-knacks along with the creative name and goofy mascot. At the lower levels of baseball it is not always about the game being played.
The MLB is about the players and wins, they have polished and perfected their fan experience, I enjoy going to MLB games. However, I absolutely love going to a college summer wood bat league where I don’t know any of the players, the stadium is old (but clean), interns are directing it all, hot dogs and burgers are fresh off the grill, and the beer local. Nostalgia comes to mind.
Successful teams subscribe to this belief, it is about marketing and having a critical eye on hospitality, if the team is also good that is a bonus, players will come and go.
The frustration and disappointment I felt with the Joliet Slammers was intense, I wanted to find the ownership to let them know; I wasn’t upset with the baseball team, they played well but lost 2-1 to the Washington Wild Things. It was the fan experience that was terrible, there is no other word for it.
As I drove the two hours to Joliet, Illinois from Milwaukee on Friday night, I started thinking about what I was going to write about, I hit upon how teams at all levels of baseball need to rebrand themselves every 5-10 years.
At the MLB level they are constantly doing themed uniforms; at the lower levels they utilize creative team names, uniforms and promotions. Some stalwarts such as the Yankees and Dodgers have no need to do a brand refresh since their fan bases are expansive and would be pissed, but they have gotten into doing theme uniforms, this is a boon for teams.
I was excited as I started thinking about Joliet, they call themselves the Slammers, a play on the city’s history and the Joliet Correctional Center which was located in the city from 1858 until 2002, and the close proximity of Stateville Correctional Center.
I admit, I am an intense person by nature and have always needed to take a moment before speaking, I have taken that moment and I am still passionate with my response regarding Joliet.
I had a great fan experience on Tuesday night in Kenosha with the Kingfish of the NWL, which is a college summer wood bat league. They played in an old stadium, the field wasn’t perfect, the players unknowns, but the Kingfish embraced what they had, they entertained with games and activities for the kids, maintained fan engagement between innings and had the obligatory dirty and undersized mascot. And for the most part it was run by college interns trying to gain experience. It wasn’t polished or sterile but if you asked the kids and their parents, they will say it was entertaining.
Joliet plays in the Frontier League, a professional independent baseball league with teams in the Northeast and Midwest, United States and a couple of teams in Canada, the league is a MLB partner. This is a step up from the Northwoods League the Kingfish play in or so I thought.
With the Kenosha experience fresh in my mind and the hundreds of games I have attended, I had an expectation as I arrived in Joliet after fighting traffic, I didn’t think I would have a hard time finding parking, but all the lots were full, a very good sign!
There were lines to get in, as I picked up my Media Credentials at the ticket window, I got a sense things were disorganized, but I brushed it off as I walked up to the press area and looked out and saw the place was hopping.
I quickly set up my equipment since the game had already started, I put my recording device outside by a camera guy, I asked if it was okay, he was young like an intern, shrugged and said, “I think so”. I grabbed my camera rig to walk the stadium, but I noticed it was quiet in the press area, the PA announcer couldn’t be heard, and for that matter I couldn’t hear the crowd.
I first walked by the luxury boxes, they seemed quiet, then a concession area which seemed a little chaotic, being run by interns. I went down a stairway to the main concourse where most of the fans were, it was packed, I estimate 4000-4500 fans! What I found odd was the long lines, lots of kids, but it seemed really quiet to me for a ball game. That is when it hit me, the Slammers were not utilizing the beautiful scoreboard to engage the fans.
As I continued to walk towards the left field area, I noticed there was nothing for the kids to do; normally you would see games or a blow up slide and the mascot would be holding court. Absolutely, nothing! I walked the outfield and there was a handful of kids playing catch.
When I got to the right field area, I got a sense that it was a party deck at one time but on this night it seemed to be off limits and empty besides some young girls who were dressed up and their mothers taking pictures over looking the ball field which I found odd.
I was starting to question everything as I continued my walk, I popped into the team store, which seemed empty, there was shirts, hats and jerseys but it didn’t have all the knick knacks, I had another realization, hardly anyone had team jerseys or hats on besides the help and interns.
With the long lines for concessions I didn’t smell any hot dogs or burgers on the grill, no fresh popped popcorn, I wasn’t sure if soft serve ice cream was being served. So much confusion. This was a great little stadium, a little heavy on the 1990s decor but it had good sight lines.
I returned to the press area, which was still very quiet, two young guys were sitting there, I heard one say to the other that a friend or a cousin got called up to the NY Mets, I chirped in. I was just at the NY Mets game the week before, he showed me the kids name on the roster I had.
These two were interns, motivated college kids, I asked them what they did, they said something to the effect of taking tickets, I asked about the crowd. They said it was packed, Friday Night Fireworks, they thought.
I got up to get a burger and some popcorn, the concession area was still a little chaotic, I asked for a burger, it was terrible, it was like prison food, which made sense I guess, no fresh popcorn, only pre-popped.
I continued to talk with the interns, they were unpaid but got to come to the games for free. Things started making sense, I thought about the little girls and their moms on the party deck that were dressed up, I asked the interns, they said it was “Princess Night”. I was shocked, I had no idea!
This is when my frustration started, you have a “Princess Night” and no where for the fans to take pictures for social media? No fun “trellis of flowers” where the princesses’ could stand which overlooked the playing field to get their picture taken so they can post on Instagram!
Besides being a huge disappointment to the young fans that got dressed up; what a missed opportunity for the team, the fans posting at the game would draw future fans on other “Princess Nights”. My girlfriend asked if they gave little bats that the princess could use as wands…. What a great idea!
The Slammers have a great name, I thought they were doing a rebrand, since the team store didn’t have much merchandise, I asked an usher, he said they have had the name for 13 years. The more questions I asked the more frustration.
I don’t know the owner but I get the feeling he is a “baseball guy” that wanted to own a team. I looked around the press box and saw that it was people in their 30s on up that were keeping book, doing the public address, calling the game on the radio, etc… all good “baseball” people. I “think” there were interns doing the TV or internet broadcast.
A “baseball guy” is a person that is about the team and the product on the field, I love baseball, however at this level it is about entertaining the fans, only the “baseball” people care about the wins and losses, the fans care about the game at hand since the players change so frequently.
Fans want the merchandise, the unique name, the goofy games between innings, the scoreboard operator engaging them with “make noise”. The kids want the baseballs, the bouncy house and slide, pictures with the mascot.
With all the interns that want to learn and gain experience the Slammers need to engage them more, they have the ideas and motivation, let them take over the scoreboard so fans can be on it, the entertainment between innings, the theme nights, etc…. Interns want to learn and try different things, not just take the tickets.
Another thing, baseball is about marketing, the Slammers need a refresh, time to change the name to “Jail Birds” like your mascot; the one thing I really liked! Make the team uniforms prison guards or inmates, be the “bad boys of baseball”. Do an update to the stadium, post pictures of famous or notorious prisoners. Do something, your fans want an identity. I am sure the Slammers have done these things in the past, these aren’t original thoughts…
Baseball at this level is about the entertainment, you need to spend money to make money. You need new merchandise from season to season, time to trust in the young college kids to get you to the next level, reach out to the Kenosha Kingfish or ask your interns.
Baseball is a grind for all involved, a fun grind, so many little things you can do to create a great fan experience, if you rest on your laurels you will fail, Joliet Slammers you are failing your fans, time to change!
The Baseball Sentinel is about the fan experience, the sights, sounds, and the smells of being at a ball game, the entertainment doesn’t have to be polished it just needs to be engaging. This is my perspective regarding the Joliet Slammers, I am sure others feel differently, I would love to hear your baseball experiences.
I normally post the video I shot as I wander around the park along with audio on the Ballpark Confidential Podcast, unfortunately I didn’t have the microphone plugged in all the way on my recorder so I didn’t record anything, the video I am choosing not to put in the Sightseeing link.
It was a beautiful night in Baltimore for a game, Aaron Judge and the Yankees came into the Camden Yards and put on a show, the score was close with the Yankees winning 5-4. I walked Oriole Park and checked out all the sight lines, it is beautiful and celebrating being open 30 years.
After this game I purchased a camera stabilizer, so hopefully coming videos will be better. Please subscribe to the channel, I promise you that I will get better as I continue to learn more.
I visited Dodger Stadium on April 16th & 17th, 2022 – Opening Weekend – Dodgers versus Reds. I created this video to show the stadium, it is just me walking around the entire stadium amongst the crowd, it is for people who are baseball fans that haven’t been to a Dodger game, it will give a feel of what it is like to be at a game.
I will be doing these videos through out the year, mostly I want to learn how to edit video and learn the tricks to produce a decent film, this is quite lengthy, I recommend to just start watching, it was never intended to be watched from start to finish, skip through it, or just play it in the background. Dodger Stadium is very unique and has some very cool sight lines, it is the 3rd oldest park in Major League Baseball.
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The last day or of 2014 is upon us! This year went by way to fast, it feels like yesterday that I was packing up my apartment and getting ready for a trip of a lifetime. The gratitude I feel right now is immense, there is a hint of sadness also. Sadness since it will be a year that will be hard to “top”, I don’t know why I would even think like that but the thought is there.
I have so much to be grateful for and so many people that are in my life to thank for the love and support, it is hard to comprehend. Over the past year I revealed to the world who I am as a person, how I think and act. Over the last seven years (after my divorce) I have been doing things that have gotten me out of my comfort zone. I started questioning a lot of things, my emotional, physical, mental, spiritual and educational well being.
I have been contemplating a lot of the things that got me to the place I am at today. I still feel that I have a long way to go with the changes and things I want to make and do. I received a text from my sister on Christmas that made me well up with tears, I am going to share it, I hope she doesn’t mind, I was kinda shocked at how she viewed me, since it is not how I view myself:
“Merry Christmas to an amazing older brother who when around makes me complete. There is always a sense of security I have when you’re present (must be a twin thing!) Your ability to believe and trust in yourself is an inspiration for others. Love you XOXO” We aren’t twins but a lot of people thought we were since we graduated the same year, I was held back in first grade, first grade is tough…
Her text made me think of the moments that helped me change. I am going to share some of the big “resolutions” I made over the past years, the ones that have really shaped me, there are many more but I think you will see where I am coming from.
The first thing I felt I had some control over was the way I ate, I say control because when going through my divorce it felt like my world was ending and there was nothing I could do. I didn’t like the way I felt and was on high blood pressure medication so I started researching food and nutrition, I started changing the way I ate and eventually got off the medicine. I couldn’t believe how good I felt when I started eating vegetables regularly, most of the “greens” were terrible so I started making “green smoothies” and drank my nutrition, my daughter loves it when I talk about eating healthy, ask her.
I started dating which was another interesting and at the time a very frightening experience, being with the same person for 14 years you definitely fall into very comfortable and complacent routines. Laugh at that statement, my manhood will probably be questioned, I laugh now but I was literally shaking the first time I “kissed” another woman, no worries I got over that fear. I dated some very wonderful and beautiful women during this time, however for whatever reason it didn’t work. I called the three years after my divorce my “dark period”, I was learning about myself and trying to figure out who I was as a person.
During this time I met a woman that challenged me physically, check Day 63, she used to watch The Biggest Loser, I remember talking to her on the phone during the season final, it was season nine, the contestants were running a marathon. I arrogantly said to her, if they all finish I will run a marathon, they all finished, Darius was the winner. My goal was to beat his time, her and I were going to run the marathon together in October the following year, I started training. By training I mean jogging every three days for about a mile, I realized my mistake, besides realizing how much running “sucked” there was no way I was going to run a “fricken” marathon.
I didn’t want to look weak to this woman, so I continued my “training”, in early April we ran a 5K, I finished but felt like I was having a heart attack the entire time, which made sense since I think it was to raise money for the Heart Association… A couple weeks later we ran the “Crazy Legs Classic” 8K for Wisconsin Badger Athletics, again I felt like my body was shutting down! Two weeks later she dumped me, I was heart broken! I made the decision to continue training, I ran the marathon in October, my brother-in-law said I looked like death when I was at the finish line. I was shocked that I finished, I didn’t beat Darius’s time, so I trained for another year and ran the marathon again the following year, I was faster but still didn’t beat Darius, I didn’t care, I proved a few things to myself.
I worked with a woman that traveled the world, I admired her fearless attitude, she was a “doer”, I wanted to see the world. Through her I learned of a place in India and a course called “Introduction to Buddhism”. It was in the Himalayas near the Dali Lama, I wanted to stretch my view of the world, I had gone to China for work a few years before, I loved that experience, but it was work. This new adventure was for me, I was fearful, I was going by myself to a place that was way out of my comfort zone, to learn about a religion, I didn’t understand. I had a support group of five people that I met with regularly, we discussed our ambitions and goals in life. They helped push me to change and with their encouragement I went on this adventure, it was a great experience, I met so many people that just go out and do. It opened my eyes to the world.
I continued running but gave up running races, I enjoy how I feel after two or three miles of sweating but I needed to get the rest of my body in shape, I joined a small gym and worked with a couple of trainers doing P90X for a year, I was shocked how fit I was becoming, I was enjoying things more. When the small gym closed I joined a CrossFit box. Another level of fitness!
When my Dad had his triple by pass, I was already in the mist of questioning my goals and objectives in life, his question was the tipping point I needed to act. I always have wanted to get my life in order and then present myself to the world, but it was in that moment that I realized that I was always striving to be perfect, at which I was failing miserably. I was never going to be and that outlook was getting me no where. The past five or six years had proved to me that I was capable of doing things that I thought were too hard or impossible, I just needed to start.
The stars aligned for me, there is no doubt about it, I lived a charmed life in 2014. I could not have done it with out all the support I received through out the year and being pushed the previous years, which helped me not to give up on myself, especially during my “dark years”. I will continue with my passions, I am not locked into just one thing that defines me, I love baseball and I will keep writing a weekly blog when the season starts, it is a great escape for me. I will be starting a new job on January 5th, it has been almost an entire year that I haven’t had a regular paycheck coming in, I am running on fumes financially. Not complaining at all, it was well worth the adventure.
I have a few things I want to do this year, I believe it will turn out, just believing is half the battle… I have learned the current moment is the most important moment, embrace it, life goes by way to fast. That bucket list everyone has doesn’t get filled by talking about doing, you need to go out and do. I need to thank so many people for the past year and years, I hope you all know who you are, I appreciate each and everyone of you.
It is December 1st and I have finally moved into my own place. I am living in Milwaukee, I found a small apartment that is central to the area’s I love in this great city. I have been running around the State of Wisconsin, staying at family members homes until my place was ready, I also spent a week in Germany working a trade show for my old company. I am very lucky to have such great family and friends.
As I have been organizing and unpacking my belongings I am starting to realize the scope of the baseball journey I completed. All the mementos that I have collected, the contacts I have made, the pictures I have taken, the mileage I documented it is making my brain explode with thoughts of games I watched, rest areas I have slept in, and fears I have overcome. I have not written in awhile, I needed to take a break and get all these thoughts and experiences compartmentalized (if that makes sense). I also needed to figure out what I wanted to do with the information and contacts I have acquired. I obtained a wealth of baseball knowledge, I don’t want to waste it but I don’t know what to do with it at the moment. I want to continue writing, I enjoy it, I have contacted some alternative newspapers in Wisconsin about an idea I have for next baseball season and some are very interested. I have spoke to a large sports news entity about syndicating a column, I like independence. We will see…
I watched the Arizona Fall League and the All Star games between Japan and the MLB, but now the season is over and the countdown for Spring Training is here. I am currently reading a few baseball books. Men at Work by George Will, where I came across this nugget, “Baseball-its beauty, its craftsmanship, its exactingness- is an activity to be loved, as much as ballet or fishing or politics, and loving it is a form of participation.” I agree with this romantic assessment, it is an intelligent game that I am finding out I know very little about! I was fortunate enough to attend a baseball game at Mississippi State University and I met some of the most knowledgeable fans about the strategy and intricacies of the game. I have kept in contact with one MSU fan, Shane, who sent me Ron Polk’s Baseball Playbook. Ron Polk was the long-time head baseball coach at Mississippi State and is considered the “Father of SEC Baseball”. Polk’s book I continue to pick up and learn the nuances of the game.
I have committed to writing a book about the experience, I am excited about this and also very fearful for some reason. I spent some time with my daughter this past week and we had great talks about life and how to embrace it, to go out and do, to work through fears, to not worry about how you will be perceived or what the critics will say. It is an attitude and a confidence that I have acquired, I learn more from being uncomfortable, I find more happiness, I need to continue and the fear I have about writing the book will disappear. (We also drove down to Chicago on Thanksgiving night and walked around Wrigley Field to see the progress, I was shocked at what has been done so far!) Well that is all for now, some have wanted me to do a summary of the season, I figure the summary will be the book. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!
I will be heading to Kansas City on Monday, planning on going to one of the World Series games either Tuesday or Wednesday, maybe both. My buddy from Orlando/Missoula (we are both Dodgers fans) has been in constant contact with me during the playoffs, we both have jumped on the Royals bandwagon for the postseason (shut up Rob Dwyer) and is also going. I reached out to some friends in KC, we are planning a tailgate party which might turn into viewing the game party, if tickets are scarce or too expensive.
I have to thank my mother, she asked me how much it would cost me if I were to go to Kansas City, I told her and she said she wanted to give me the money, I was floored. The money came with a couple of stipulations however, I was not to expect a Christmas present and I needed to paint something for her. I don’t think my mom realizes I am a middle aged man, who has a daughter in college, and my belief in Santa Claus was lost when I was 8 years old. As a grown man with a daughter in college, it is hard to accept this money, my mother said she was grateful she is able to do it, I understand that but… “Thanks Mom!”
The Royals have captured the hearts of America, they haven’t been beat in the playoffs yet, which is a great feat in itself. As a fan I am excited for the city, the generation of fans that have suffered a long time, for my buddy Chris “The KC Super Fan” who has attended every Royals home game for the last ten years. Baseball has brought the community together, it is special when it happens, ticket prices are going through the roof, everyone wants to be a part of it. The Royals will either play postseason stalwarts St Louis or San Francisco, the state of Missouri wants a rematch of the 1985 I-70 series, but that doesn’t look like it is going to happen Giants are up three games to one on the Cardinals, I am not so secretly enjoying that fact, I despise the Cardinals almost but not quite as much as the Yankees…
I can’t wait to get on the road! I miss it, it has only been a few weeks but the adjustment has been a little more difficult than I thought. I will check in when I get to Kansas City!
It has been over 10 days since the MLB regular season ended, the playoffs have been exciting, I did like the Wild Card games (even though the Pittsburgh Pirates shit the bed), the divisional series were fun. We have four teams left, in the National League we have familiar names with recent champions in the Giants (2010, 2012) and Cardinals (2006, 2011). In the American League we have the Orioles and Royals both teams haven’t won since the early to mid 80s.
I admire what the Giants and Cardinals organizations have done, they are consistent winners. With that said, I have been rooting hard against each, it is tiring as a fan to see the same teams year in and year out go deep into the post season. I despise the Cardinals since they seem to out maneuver and out play my hometown Milwaukee Brewers every year, not to mention what they have done to another favorite team of mine the LA Dodgers the past couple years in the playoffs. Major League Baseball is an organizational championship, more so than any other sport, the season is a marathon, one player can’t catapult you to a championship. It is an out and out war of attrition, getting to the post season is wonderful but weaknesses are exposed and glaring immediately! (Dodgers bullpen comes to mind)
I will be rooting for the American League, I want to see another city and generation of that city share in the excitement of what a championship feels like. I haven’t felt that exhilaration since 1988 when the Dodgers beat the heavily favored Oakland A’s four games to one. The most memorable moment of the 1988 World Series occurred when injured Dodgers MVP Kirk Gibson, who could barely walk due to injuries suffered during the NLCS, hit a pinch-hit, walk-off home run against Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1, that still gives me chills. I was at my girlfriends apartment watching the game, I was trying to tell her I needed to talk to her about something, I wanted to break up, I started discussing things with her through out the game and finally was about to tell her when Tommy Lasorda sent in Gibson to pinch hit, needless to say but I am going to say it, delirium ensued! My girlfriend sensing I was weak with excitement started kissing me, I temporarily forgot about what I was trying to do and ended up doing something much more pleasurable, it took another week and a Dodger win to finally break up with her, it wasn’t as much fun as watching baseball…
So as the League Championship Series start I will be excited to see either the Orioles or Royals get to the World Series, it will be interesting to watch the Cardinals and Giants but I wont be as enthusiastic. I am adjusting to life not on the road, I have a lead on a job, hopefully that turns out for me. I have been staying at my sister’s in Ashland for the last few days and will be here through the weekend. The Northwoods are beautiful this time of year, slowing down and walking in the woods helps center me, I love the smell, the colors and the wildlife. I am trying to figure out what angle I am going to take on the book, it will come to me. I will check in when the two teams are determined for the World Series.
I am sitting in a Starbucks in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I didn’t go to a baseball game yesterday, I felt out of sorts, I am at my parents home. I am tired and feeling a bit lost. I have a lot of people to thank who have helped me with this journey. I have mentioned my brother Chad numerous times, he said he appreciates the thanks but it is time to get past it, thanks Chad, without you I would never have gotten this far.
I need to thank Beth Chapman and Roger Wilson, they were with me from the beginning working behind the scenes. Roger did all the trivia and managed most of the Twitter feed, besides also compiling a list of 20,000 baseball games throughout the country. Beth painstakingly edited most of my posts, here is something I think most people will be surprised to learn, I have never met Beth, a friend connected us at the beginning of this trip, I plan to get meet up with her sometime to thank her in person, right now she is writing her own blog, she is a diehard St Louis Cardinal fan. As annoying as that may be, she is a wonderful and giving person.
Mike Bruno of Bruno Independent Living Aids contributed quite a bit of money, he downplayed this to me but I was truly humbled and I thank him and his Bruno family from the bottom of my heart. I got many donations from so many people, I was shocked and again humbled by the generosity. Friends invited me into their homes through out the country, some I hadn’t seen in years, some I barely knew, my gratitude is immense. I loved reminiscing of by gone years, talking about life circumstances and laughing abut missed opportunities. I need to thank my family for supporting me, my dad for inspiring me.
I have lived my life on social media for the past nine months, I think I am addicted, I need to get away from it for awhile. I have committed to writing a book about this experience, I need to continue with my passion and pursue other ideas I have. I have realized if it is meant to be the stars will align, obstacles will be easily overcome and happiness achieved. I am nervous of the life unknown at the moment, securing a job and a place to live is on my mind, I want to continue staying uncomfortable trying new things. I have been as honest and forthright as I could possible be, insecurities and worries I have revealed, I am no longer as worried how I will be perceived but I am human and things will pop up from time to time.
I will leave it at that for now, I hear that lady singing, the song is about chapters closing, new ones beginning…