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?

A Nut-Free Night

“Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I ever get back…” – Jack Norworth, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, 1908

Everyone knows the lyrics to this popular tune that is performed during the seventh inning stretch at every baseball stadium around the country. What we don’t consider is the fact that the two popular snacks in the song have prevented many fans from ever attending a game in person.

According to The Peanut Institute, approximately 1% of people are allergic to peanuts. These allergies can range from mild to severe. Some allergies can be so severe that if even a trace amount of peanut is ingested it can cause a reaction.

Tree nut allergies are also one of the most common food allergies. Tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, and Brazil nuts. As with a peanut allergy, reactions can range from mild to life-threatening.

This is unfortunate for any baseball fan who may have an allergy as peanuts and cracker jacks – which contain nuts – are a staple food option at most ballparks. Another popular game snack that appears in more ballparks each summer would be cinnamon roasted nuts such as almonds cashews, and pecans. One of the best smells at FirstEnergy Stadium is the smell of a fresh batch of cinnamon roasted almonds being mixed at the Nuts for You stand in the plaza.

As with everything they do, the Fightin Phils take all of their fans into consideration when making plans for each season and those fans with nut allergies are not forgotten. Each summer one game is a pre-determined Allergy Awareness and Nut-Free Night.

While having an allergy awareness night may not seem like a big deal to some, to those fans who are unable to attend a game under the normal circumstances it means a lot. There is also a lot of preparation that goes into making sure the night is a success and a great outing for everyone. Prior to the game, every seat in the stadium is given a cleaning to remove any residue that may have been left from the day before. Two sections are given an extra scrub down and designated as “Allergy-Awareness Seating” for those folks who may have severe allergies and want to be extra cautious. While the cleaning is taking place, every package of peanuts and cracker jacks is removed from all of the concession stands that sell them on a normal night. Any other snacks that may contain nuts, such as cookies or the Choco Tacos we sell in the upstairs ice cream stand, are also removed and not offered that night. The snacks are removed and are not offered during the game, hence the name Nut-Free Night. While you get the occasional fan who grumbles about not being able to buy a bag of peanuts, normally all of the fans are good-natured about it and very few complaints are heard.

Another change that occurs is the removal of the Nuts for You stand. Since there may be fans who are allergic to tree nuts and not necessarily peanuts, it is important to make sure they can also enjoy the game. Since Nuts for You sells both almonds and cashews the stand is shut down for the night and the movable stand is moved out of the plaza to avoid the possibility of any type of reaction to the nuts.

While I have been fortunate enough to have not had to be concerned with an allergy to foods such as peanuts or tree nuts, I have known people who have dealt with this issue since they were young. Over the years of working at the stadium, I have answered numerous questions about whether the ice cream contains nuts, are the fries cooked in peanut oil, and are there nuts in the Dippin’ Dots. While the answer to all three of these questions is no, I have asked in the past how severe the allergy was because in the case of the ice cream and Dippin’ Dots, both come with warnings that they are packaged in factories that do use nuts in some products. In most cases the parent says their child will be fine while in others we have dealt with some disappointed children who quickly learn that they will not be getting the dish of chocolate ice cream they have been waiting for all game.

I think the fact the Fightin Phils have truly taken into consideration all of their fans and have worked so hard to give everyone a fun night at the ballpark just goes to show that the organization is more than just a baseball team; they truly care about the community. If you or a baseball fan you know would love to get to a game this summer, but suffer from nut allergies, I encourage you to visit the Fightin’s website and learn more about Allergy Awareness Night. The 2017 Allergy Awareness Night game is scheduled for Thursday, July 13.

Confessional: Have you ever dealt with allergies that have kept you from doing something you enjoy? If not, what is one food item that you would miss if you were allergic?