Vegetables, presidents, and bacon, oh my!

For some reason over the years one thing that has become popular at baseball games is having mascots run a race between innings. The thing is, they aren’t your typical mascots running said races; you won’t see Screwball or Blooper the Hound Dog running around the field at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Instead you get to watch vegetables race each other to the finish line.

That’s right, vegetables. At each Fightin Phils home game Broccoli, Lettuce, Carrot, and Cauliflower race each other from right field around to third base. To make the race more exciting, the vegetables have to avoid Evil Candy, the peppermint-shaped villain who tries to ruin the race every night and has yet to be successful in doing so.

At the start of the race each night, the vegetables are each assigned a section of seats to represent in the race. Twenty fans from the winning section receive a free general admission ticket to a future game. The race gets the crowd excited and works to teach young fans an important lesson: “Vegetables are good, candy is bad. Eat more vegetables.”

The same cannot be said for the race held between innings at each Lehigh Valley IronPigs game. When you watch four different types of pork run around a ball field, it is hard to decide which is the healthiest option. Unlike the running vegetables, the four competitors in this race have names that tie into their specific form. Each night fans cheer as Hambone (ham), Diggity (hot dog), Barbie Q. (pork bbq), and Chris P. Bacon (bacon, of course) race around the field at Coca Cola Park.

While there is no villain attempting to mess up the race, Diggity has built up a reputation as a cheater while Hambone earns the fewest wins each season.

One mascot who understands how Hambone feels is Theodore Roosevelt, former U.S. president and one of four presidents to race around the field at every Washington Nationals’ home game. The Roosevelt mascot has continuously lost the race even after finally earning his first win in October 2012.

While I don’t fully understand the excitement of watching presidents or pieces of food running around a billfold, fans go crazy whenever the races take place. The vegetable race was such a crowd pleaser that the Fightins’ added the Small Food Race. In this race five lucky young fans don food costumes such as pizza, popcorn, and ice cream and race from right field all the way to first base.

Now I can understand why fans get excited about the small food race. There’s something about a small child running in a cheeseburger costume hat makes you smile. What I don’t understand is the excitement about watching four vegetables running around a field.

I don’t know about you, but I was not a fan of vegetables as a kid; especially carrots or cauliflower. I still don’t eat carrots or cauliflower. Most kids I know do not like to eat vegetables so why they get so excited about seeing them race and getting their autographs I don’t know.

If I had to guess, I would say the excitement comes from being at the game and a new event is taking place on the field. he fans get caught up in the excitement of the game and also get excited about the between innings entertainment.

Confessional: If you could pick any group of 4 or more mascots to run a race between innings, who/what would you pick? Why that group?

What was always exciting for me was watching the candy tackle one of the veggies each night. They all knew he would be coming, but they never knew who was getting taken down. There were even some nights when the vegetables would retaliate and get Evil Candy before he got one of them. Unfortunately there is not tackling of vegetables anymore – I’m assuming for safety reasons. Evil Candy is still part of the race though and he receives a fair share cheers and each night.

In the end I have decided that I will never truly understand the excitement about watching vegetables or presidents run around a baseball field. I’m sure when I was younger, I would have cheered just as loudly in the hope that my vegetable would win. Although I may not understand it, I will continue to enjoy watching the young fans cheer for their favorite vegetables while booing Evil Candy.

People Watching: First Pitches

*I posted a previous blog a year or so ago about how much we enjoyed people watching when I worked up at the deck. This enjoyment has continued over the years even though my location at the ballpark has changed. The UIC is a great place to people watch from and as a result, I have decided to have a blog miniseries about different groups of people who are fun to watch at each game.*

Group #1: First Pitch Participants

Now every baseball fan knows that the ceremonial first pitch is an important part of the pregame at any ballgame. At most major league parks you may only see one or two pitches, usually thrown by a well-known member of the community, or a celebrity, or a former player. This is not the case in many minor league parks, Reading included. At Reading, anyone can throw out a first pitch with the purchase of a first pitch package. It can be for a birthday, anniversary, graduation, bachelor/bachelorette party or just because you want to throw out a first pitch. There are also first pitches thrown by contest winners and sponsors.

With something like first pitches you’re going to see the good, the bad, and the “did that really just happen?”. If you go on to YouTube and search “bad first pitches,” you will find a plethora of videos of first pitches gone wrong or countdowns of the top 10 worst first pitches.

In my time working at FirstEnergy Stadium I have seen hundreds of first pitches. I’ve seen first pitch participants as young as two and as old as 98. There was even one that was a surprise military homecoming – a wife threw a pitch in honor of her husband, not knowing that he was the one behind the catcher’s mask.

Confessional: Have you ever thrown out a first pitch? If yes, how do you think it went? If no, what would you be most worried about if you were asked to throw out a first pitch?

Now it is understandable that while throwing out a first pitch can be exciting, it can also be nerve-wracking for some people. There are people who are not comfortable standing in front of a crowd of a couple thousand people. You can generally tell by the body language of people in line who is ready to throw and who is dreading that moment when all eyes are on them.

My favorite group of first pitch participants to watch are the young kids. I love watching the really tiny ones walk almost all the way to home plate and then throw the ball straight down into the grass. Sometimes they will pick it up and try again; other times they simply stare at the ball on the ground until someone moves them off the field. Every now and then we’ll see a youngster who refuses to throw or attempt to throw and instead they walk from the mound and hand the ball to the catcher.

After the young kids, I get a kick out of watching all the teenage and young adult guys who think they are very impressive.

The thing I like about this group is you can always tell which ones have actually ever played baseball. They’re the ones who will take the time to set their stance on the makeshift mound and watch the catcher as if he is giving them signs. This is followed by an elaborate wind up and then they hurl the ball toward home plate as if they were the next Cy Young or Nolan Ryan. This group is always entertaining because while they can all throw the ball, it is clear that they are not all pitchers.

By the end of the summer, the number of first pitches we have watched from the UIC is pretty high, but it never gets old. From the young fan to the old fan, each first pitch participant brings their own unique style to the experience. This is exactly what makes the first pitch participants a great group for people watching.

Countdown to Opening Night: #1

Today is the day. It is officially Opening Night 2017 for the Reading Fightin’ Phils and I could not be more excited. Before I get too carried away, let me share with you the number one spot on my countdown.

1. Old Friends

Now I know that this is a topic that has come up in numerous blog posts on this site, but to me it is the one thing that I look forward to more than anything with the start of each new season. The main reason is because the people I see at the stadium every night are people who I do not really see from September to April. This was not entirely the case this year as I worked Christmas at FirstEnergy Stadium and saw some people there, but the majority of the people I will see on Opening Night and after I have not spoken to since the end of last season.

The friends I have made at the stadium are a special group of people. I guess I could be cliché and say that they are more than friends they are family, but that seems a little too sappy for this post. I will just say that being able to connect over a mutual love for a sport can really bring people together; even if you’ve only known them for a couple of years. Seeing these people again just makes the summer that much more exciting. I cannot wait to hear what they have been up to and to talk about the prospects on this year’s team and what we think the outcome of the season will be. What I love the most is that it’s not just the fans that I am excited to see again, but also the coworkers. I enjoy walking past the ushers that I worked with during my internship and saying hi and having them ask me what I am up to these days. It is great walking through the plaza and the concourse and passing everyone and having them say hi and welcome back. That is what makes working at the ballpark so much fun and why I look forward to going back each season.

Well, the countdown has come to an end and as of 5:00 tonight the season will officially be underway. Don’t worry though, the daily blogs are finished for now – I’m pretty proud that I managed to blog all five days – but another season of baseball means more stories for me to share. Be sure to keep up with the posts – there are more confessions coming your way!

Confessional: Do you have a group of friends at a job that you may not see outside of work, but at work you love to talk and spend time together? If you do hang out outside of work, what types of things do you like to do?

Countdown to Opening Night: #2

2. Game Entertainment

Each season the Fightin Phils staff pulls out all the stops to provide their fans with the best entertainment they can before, during, and after every game. One thing I am looking forward to this season is what new entertainment they are bringing to their fans and what entertainment will be returning from last season.

One of my favorite parts of the game day entertainment is listening to the different music groups that are brought in to perform during happy hour before each game and on some nights after each game. They range from school choirs and bands to local bands and singing groups of all talent levels. I think that having these groups perform before games provides them with a great opportunity to perform in front of an audience and it introduces baseball fans to different types of music that they may not otherwise experience.

Everyone knows that part of going to a minor league baseball game is experiencing the between innings entertainment. The Fightin Phils have provided more than their fair share of interesting between innings games over the years and each year it is fun to see what new ideas they will come up with. Fans love when free items are thrown into the crowd or when “fans” make fools of themselves performing crazy on field stunts.

Game entertainment makes the #2 spot on the countdown because it is a major part of what the Fightins are all about and they rarely disappoint.

Confessional: What is your favorite in-game entertainment that you have seen at a sporting event?

Countdown to Opening Night: #3

3. Baseball

Today’s countdown topic is pretty straight forward: I am looking forward to the start of a new season for the simple reason that I once again get to watch baseball.

Now I know what you might be thinking, why don’t you just watch baseball on tv? Trust me, I do. The biggest obstacle in my way is time. Generally I am not around at the time that games are being shown on tv. I am either working, or out with my family, or in bed because I have to be up early for work the next morning. If I’m not at one job I am usually at the other; unfortunately the Fightin Phils play almost all their games at the same time as the Philadelphia Phillies. While I make it a goal to try to get to at least one Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park each summer it doesn’t always work out. These reasons are why baseball comes in at number three on the countdown.

I love being out at the ballpark on game day and while I am there to work, I am also there because I love the sport. It is enjoyable to me to sit there and be able to watch the game and talk about the game with other people who understand what is happening. Up at the UIC we don’t tend to get busy until about halfway through the game, so I can usually watch a good four or five innings of baseball with little interruption. I find watching the games both exciting and relaxing. It is exciting to watch the team do well and wonder what the next game will be like and it is relaxing because all you have to think about is baseball. It’s a few hours out of the day where I don’t have to worry about my full-time job or anything else and I can just enjoy the sport.

I get a lot of people over the summer who ask why I put up with the craziness of working two jobs and my answer is always the same: I love working out at the ballpark because I love the game and I can’t imagine giving that up.

Confessional: What is one thing that you are truly passionate about and maybe wish you had more time to devote to it? What is it about this hobby or job that makes you never want to give it up?

Countdown to Opening Night: #4

4. Stadium Updates

Each offseason America’s Classic Ballpark undergoes physical changes. Some are minor – railings get repainted, broken chairs get fixed – and some are major – the dugout suite was added during the 2015 offseason. The ballpark also undergoes changes to the game day operations, the most notable of which is new menu items available in concessions.

At orientation each year all of the employees learn about what changes were made both around the stadium and to the concessions menu. Even knowing about the changes prior to the beginning of the season, this category makes the countdown because I look forward to seeing how the fans will react to the changes. Will they like the new food items? What do they think about the new seating options? This year some changes have been made to increase safety for the fans and it will be one of the more noticeable changes. Every season there are positive and negative reactions to the changes, but I always like to hear what people think. I’m especially excited this season because one of the changes involves the UIC and a menu change in ice cream last year had some people upset –  who knew people would be upset about us not having Klondike bars that until that moment they never even knew we sold?! I won’t spoil anything here, but maybe after the season has started I will share more about this change.

Tune in tomorrow for Countdown spot #3!

Confessional: Have you ever experienced a major change at work? What was it and was the outcome positive or negative?

Countdown to Opening Night 2017

With the Fighin Phils’ season having already started and their 2017 home opener coming up on April 13, I thought that I would post a blog each night leading up to Opening Night counting down the top five things I am looking forward to this season. Now, I have never posted every day so we shall see how this goes and please don’t expect the posts to go up at the same time each day. With my work schedule, there is no telling when I will get each post up, but I promise I will try to have a new one each day through Thursday. Here is the first one!

5. New Faces

One of the most exciting aspects of each new season is getting to know the new members of the team. It is always fun to learn who the new prospects are and who everyone is expecting to make a big splash in Double A. Over the years it has been exciting watching players such as Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Darin Ruf and last year’s Bash Brothers, Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens, as they worked to prove themselves as strong players with the potential to go far in the game. While it is always a little bittersweet to watch a favorite player either move up in the system or move on to another organization, it is exciting to see who will take their place.

I’m also looking forward to learning more about the Fightins’ “new” manager, Greg Legg. Legg is the fourth manager that I can remember since I began working for the organization and he is not entirely new to Reading, having managed the team during the 2002, 2003, and 2004 seasons. Each of the managers I have seen over the past 13 seasons have had different styles of managing the team and I look forward to watching how Legg works with the young players. As with any player who leaves an organization, there is a small feeling of sadness watching Dusty Wathan move on after five seasons, but I can’t think of anyone who deserves the opportunity to move up than Wathan.

While it will be strange to look out onto a field filled with unfamiliar faces, I know they will become more familiar as the season progresses. A new season is always something to look forward to and having a new team to watch makes it that much more exciting!

Confessional: Who was/is one of your favorite players that you have watched or still watch since his time in the minor leagues?