Major League Baseball released its 2023 schedule last week, and the Triple-A International League followed suit on Monday. I understand the urge, and even the necessity, to look toward the future. But there’ll be none of that here. No, not today. Welcome to the 20th edition of the Ben’s Biz Beat Newsletter, rooted in the present moment, amenable to celebrating the past and wholly uninterested in 2023. At least for now.
Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder. When a Minor League team changes its name, it is very likely that there will be soon be strong feelings of nostalgia for what once was. “Things were better then,” we mutter to ourselves. “It was a simpler time.”
Teams have capitalized on this innate human characteristic by incorporating regular “Throwback Nights” into their promotional schedules. The concept is simple: Have the players don uniforms from a previous era of franchise history, and -- why not? -- sell some corresponding merch online and in the team store. Here are three of my favorite throwback identities. What are yours?
Winston Salem Warthogs -- “Warthog Wednesdays” has to be one of the best alliterative phrases going these days, at least from a Minor League Baseball perspective. The Winston-Salem Dash suit up as such on hump day, hearkening back to the Warthog era of 1995-2008. (Warthogs was the winning entry in a local newspaper “Name the Team” contest, an apparent reference to the North Carolina Zoo having recently acquired some warthogs.) The Dash, who represent what is actually a hyphen in their city name, debuted in 2009. The following year they moved from Ernie Shore Field to their current home of Truist Stadium.
Piedmont Boll Weevils -- Before the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers were the Cannon Ballers, they were the Intimidators. Before they were the Intimidators, way back in the 1990s, they were the Piedmont Boll Weevils. Wait, what? Piedmont referred to the larger geographical area. Boll weevils, of course, are beetles with a reputation for decimating cotton plants. Kannapolis was a textile town, so these nefarious crop chompers were certainly well known in the region. The Cannon Ballers played as the Boll Weevils four times this season, most recently on Aug. 28. Kudos to whoever in the front office came up with the tagline of “Unbollweevible.”
El Paso Diablos -- The El Paso Chihuahuas stage monthly “Diablo Days,” paying homage to the Texas League El Paso Diablos (1974-2004). The Diablos played at the legendary “Dudley Dome” through 1989, a facility known for its raucous energy and massive offensive potential, before moving to Cohen Stadium. The Chihuahuas currently wears the later-era “Chile D” uniforms, purple-tinged beauties featuring a bat-wielding anthropomorphic hot pepper.
School is, or soon will be, back in session. Football is imminent. “Penultimate homestand” press releases have come and gone. What I am getting at is that the Minor League Baseball season is on the wane. With that in mind, let’s take a look at recent offbeat highlights from the Minors … WHILE THERE IS STILL TIME.
Harper’s jersey says Mutt? On Aug. 23, Bryce Harper played the first of two rehab games with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. But on this special evening, they were the IronMutts. Harper went yard twice and, even better, 44 non-pedigreed mutts were adopted at the ballpark. Read all about it.
Drink it up: You probably saw the (almost certainly staged) viral video of a Yankees fan putting his hot dog in a beer and using it as a straw. This inspired the Bowling Green Hot Rods, who are now offering $1 “Straw Dogs” on Wednesdays.
Light the fuse: This past Friday, the Human Cannonball visited the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers. Synergy ensued. (Watch the video here).
Kodak moment: Coach Letterman, a man with a fountain-view apartment and so many rings that he can’t open doors, visited the Tennessee Smokies. He added to his resume by getting ejected from the game.
That’s not a knife…: And finally, for the record, Reading Fightin Phils mascot Screwball did not try to murder a fan on the field. The “weapon” in question is a pie.
This is Josh Jackson, with a soft but unmistakable “ahem” for all of you out there in newsletter land. I host The Show Before the Show podcast’s Ghosts of the Minors segment, in which I entreat you to pick out a genuine team from history hiding among a fabricated pair.
In last week’s episode, we shipped out with the Beaumont Exporters. This week, I ask you which of these musical numbers really used to swing it in the Minors of yesteryear:
- The Claremont Clarinets
The Drumright Drummers
- The Tenafly Tenors
Tune in, won’t you?
HOPELESSLY OBSCURE MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL TRIVIA QUESTION
What 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has a son who played Minor League Baseball?
QUESTIONS OF MINOR CONCERN
Last week’s question: Have you ever attended a Minor League game because a celebrity was making a promotional appearance?
I am a huge fan of “The Office” and I have twice gone to a Columbus Clippers game to meet actors from the show. Once was just this past week actually. -- Mike Sellers
I've never attended a Minor League game because a celebrity was making a promo appearance, but I did attend one because a celebrity was PLAYING in the game. Kurt Russell (of Goldie Hawn fame as well as being a pretty good actor) played ball for the Northwest League Walla Walla Islanders in 1972. At the time he was also a Disney star (e.g., "The Barefoot Executive" in 1971) and the local paper noted that he would be playing against the Tri-City Padres (my hometown team, now thankfully named the Dust Devils). I went to the game out of curiosity. I don't remember how he did but I do remember lots of screaming teenage girls, which I'm sure I enjoyed as I was 16 at the time. -- Mark Jensen
This week’s question: We’re in the dog days of summer, so let’s lower the temperature with this: What’s the coldest Minor League game you’ve ever attended? Was it worth it?
Send your responses, or any other questions or observations, to email@example.com
I’ll be doing a 2022 ballpark food round-up at some point in the near future, featuring all of my Designated Eaters. To tide you over until then, here’s the 2021 edition. It includes sweet and savory and often impossibly messy highlights from Chattanooga, Rocket City, Tennessee (Smokies), Hickory, Kannapolis, Fredericksburg, Worcester and Somerset. Ain’t that America?
HOPELESSLY OBSCURE MINOR LEAGUE TRIVIA ANSWER!
Todd Rundgren, a 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, has produced both records and children. His son, Rex, played Minor League Baseball from 2001-09, primarily in the Marlins organization. Todd may have played all over the world, but Rex one-upped his dad by playing in Jupiter (as a member of the Florida State League Jupiter Hammerheads in 2003-04).