Baseball scouts grade players on a 20-80 scale. Eighty is the most rarefied talent level, ultra-elite and therefore applicable to very few. Welcome to the 80th edition of the Ben’s Biz Beat, filled with plus-plus material, the kind of content you’re lucky to witness once in a generation. Let’s talk about Minor League Baseball.
STAY GOLDEN: MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HONORS 2023’S TOP PROMOTIONS
The Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar, which began informally in the ‘80s and grew to become a staple of the early-offseason calendar, was held annually through 2020. The Golden Bobblehead Awards, honoring top promotions in a variety of categories, emerged out of this event and continue to this day.
This year’s Golden Bobbleheads were awarded at the inaugural Fall Meetings, a Minor League Baseball-specific gathering that took place earlier this week in Las Vegas. I did not attend the Fall Meetings but was a member of the Golden Bobblehead Award voting panel. What follows are the six winners -- four of whom I voted for -- and my thoughts on each.
Best Promotion or Event: Eugene Emeralds, Exploding Whales
If you’ve been a regular reader of this newsletter, then you’ve already been exposed to plenty of Exploding Whales coverage. Briefly, for the newbies: In 1970 the city of Florence, Ore., attempted to remove a beached whale by blowing it up with 1,000 pounds of dynamite. It did not go well, but a resulting local news report went on to become an enduring viral video.
The Emeralds’ Exploding Whales alternate identity was a massive hit both locally and nationally, resulting in upticks in attendance, social media engagement and, of course, merchandise sales. I attended May 6’s Exploding Whales game, where I spoke with a plethora of individuals who had intimate connections to this epochal 1970 event.
My vote: Exploding Whales
Best Community Event: Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, Starry Night
2023 marked the third iteration of the Cannon Ballers’ Starry Night, an all-day initiative benefiting the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Components include a sunrise “Shooting Star 5K” race, Starry Night theme jerseys and a postgame lantern lighting recognizing those who have been lost to brain tumors, those who are currently afflicted and those who support the cause.
My vote: Fresno Grizzlies, Back to School Night
I appreciated the scope and ambition of this pragmatic event. The Grizzlies gave away 5,000 backpacks prior to an early August game, and a multifaceted health fair offering a variety of free back-to-school-related products and services was held on the concourse.
Best In-Game Promotion or Event: Corpus Christi Hooks, Mutton Bustin’
The Hooks added a new twist to their annual Rodeo Weekend this season, as they gave young fans the chance to ride a boisterous lamb on the field between innings. The Double-A Astros affiliate chose 10 kids to participate, and the one who stayed on the mutton the longest was awarded with a two-foot tall trophy.
My vote: Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Duct Tape Night
I’m predictable in that I’ll usually choose and champion the weirdest and most absurd Minor League promos. Hence, my vote for Jacksonville’s Duct Tape Night. Promotions director David Ratz was duct-taped to a concourse pole and, when this endeavor became too much for him to handle, cut himself down. What happened next is a little murky, but it involved Ratz being escorted from the ballpark by onsite EMTs. I wrote a story about it.
Best Non-Gameday Event: Fresno Grizzlies, Tequila Fest
The Grizzlies’ long-running Taco Truck Throwdown started out as an in-game promo and evolved to become a standalone event held in the offseason. The team’s experience with tacos led, inevitably, to tequila. May 20’s celebration of this mood-altering elixir featured 36 vendors and drew over 7,000 fans. The evening’s musical lineup, featuring T.I., Rick Ross and Lil Jon, was about as top-notch as Minor League ballpark bookings get.
My Vote: Tequila Fest
Best Theme Night Collection or Specialty Jersey: Hartford Yard Goats, Bouncing Pickles
Like the Exploding Whales, Hartford’s Bouncing Pickles theme jersey received quite a bit of coverage throughout the season (read Rob Terranova’s story about it HERE). For the uninitiated: The Yard Goats somehow came across an archaic state law targeting unscrupulous pickle sellers, which stipulated that a pickle isn’t a pickle if it doesn’t bounce. The Yard Goats made sure that theirs did, and went on to sell over 3,000 pieces of Bouncing Pickles merch.
My pick: Bouncing Pickles
Best Digital Campaign or Activation: Buffalo Bisons, MARK bobblehead
Mark Aichinger, a 59-year-old with physical and mental disabilities, is a beloved Bisons superfan best known for yelling “Hey, you stink!” at opposing players. The Bisons gave away a bobblehead in his honor on Sept. 2, which was preceded and followed by an online marketing campaign. Highlights included a video of Bisons GM Anthony Sprague telling Mark about the bobblehead, and another one that recapped Mark’s special night in full. Both are very well done and therefore worth your time.
My pick: MARK bobblehead
Avast, ye landlubbers! This is Josh Jackson, sailing right into the most treasured spot of this newsletter. I host of Ghosts of the Minors, The Show Before the Show segment in which I challenge you to identify the historical Minor League team or player hidden among two fake ones.
Last week, we chatted about Chester Chatham. This week, I ask you which of these teams gave opponents a hard time in the Minors of yesteryear?
The Thunder Bay Thugs
- The Paris Bruisers
- The Beaumont Roughnecks
For the answer, check out the next Ghosts of the Minors on The Show Before the Show!
ICYMI: A COMPENDIUM OF RECENT BALLPARK ROAD TRIP ARTICLES
In case you missed it, ICYMI stands for “in case you missed it.” In this case what you may have missed was any number of ballpark road trip articles that have appeared on MLB and MiLB.com over the past month. I have not been promoting them in this newsletter as I usually do, just because there’s been so much else to get to. Until now!
I interviewed Nashville Sounds pitcher Caleb Boushley in mid-September, simply because my front office contacts told me he was an interesting guy who was popular in the clubhouse and the community. A couple weeks later, before my story was written, Boushley got called up to the Brewers and made a memorable debut in front of hundreds of friends and family.
READ ABOUT CALEB BOUSHLEY’S IMPACT IN NASHVILLE AND THRILLING MLB DEBUT
Greg Galiette is entering his fourth season as the Louisville Bats team president, and 40th overall. I spoke with the Louisville baseball lifer about the origins of his career and the evolution of the team. Those Cardinal Stadium days now seem so long ago.
READ ABOUT LOUISVILLE BATS PRESIDENT GREG GALIETTE HERE
On the other end of the Louisville Bats experience spectrum, we have Max Oxley. He graduated college this past May and started working for the team in June, fulfilling a dream of working in baseball. Max grew up in England, outside of Nottingham, a place where such dreams are far less common.
READ ABOUT MAX OXLEY’S OVERSEAS BASEBALL JOURNEY HERE
Howard Kellman is Minor League Baseball’s longest-tenured broadcaster, as he’s been calling games for the Indianapolis Indians since 1974. I spoke with him about his distinguished career, which also includes short stints calling games for both the Yankees and the Mets.
READ ABOUT HOWARD KELLMAN’S HALF CENTURY IN INDIANAPOLIS HERE
Keeping with the veteran employee theme: Marvin Dill began working for the Columbus Jets in 1967, when he was still a teenager. He went on to be the visiting clubhouse manager for the entirety of the Columbus Clippers’ time at Cooper Stadium (1977-2008) and still works for the team today.
READ ABOUT MARVIN DILL, COLUMBUS CLIPPERS GAMEDAY MAINSTAY
That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’ve still got more for later.
The Charlotte Stone Crabs were members of the Florida State League from 2009-20. I visited the team in 2012, as part of an FSL road trip, and this visit was highlighted by the Stoney Dog. This was the last bacon-wrapped jumbo hot dog topped with pulled pork and fried onions that I would ever enjoy, as one month later I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Oh, well. It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.