Kids & Money, Part 1: “I only have $20.”

Many of you know how I feel about young children at baseball games – I shared my feelings in a previous post about Education Days – and during this season’s Education Days and Camp Day, I once again found myself fascinated by one aspect of dealing with children and money that I normally wouldn’t think about.

Children – especially those in elementary school – have very limited concepts of money and how money works.

We do have kids who come up to the stand on their own during normal game nights, but typically the majority of our interactions with kids who are handling their own money occur during Education and Camp Days. While most of the kids have no problem figuring out how much money they need to hand over and what change they should expect to get back, there are many that seem as though they don’t truly understand how the different values of the different bills work.

Let me provide an example for you.

“Johnny” comes up to the window and asks to order some ice cream – he appears to be around the age of nine or ten. He decides that he would like a miniature batting helmet with chocolate ice cream and rainbow sprinkles. I tell him that his total is $5.50 and in return, I receive a blank stare. For a brief moment, a look of confusion flickers in his eyes and he lays a crumpled bill on the counter while saying, “But I only have $20.” It becomes my job to explain to him that it is ok, $20 is more than enough to cover the cost of his ice cream and he will even get money back. He continues to give me a confused look as I put his money in the register and hand him $14.50 in change. After a brief glance at the new bills in his hand, he mumbles a quick “thank you” and moves over to collect his ice cream.

This scenario happens more often than you would think and I always find myself biting my tongue in order to not laugh or make some sort of comment about the fact that they don’t know that 20 is higher than 5.50.

Now, I was definitely never the greatest math student and I am still not a huge fan of solving math problems, but when I was in elementary school, probably starting around 3rd or 4th grade, I could pretty much figure out that if the number on my money was higher than what I was told my item cost, I knew I had enough to purchase said item. It just boggles my mind sometimes that kids cannot figure out if they have enough money.

Confessional: What is one thing that happens to you at your job that still catches you off guard every now and then?

While I don’t think sending a young child under the age of 10 or 11 up to a concession stand at a crowded stadium by themselves is a good idea, I do know that there are many children who like to be independent and want to do things for themselves. (My niece is one of those children – however she is only 2 so her days of handling money for herself are a long way away.) Giving your children a chance to be independent is fantastic and I wholeheartedly agree with the idea, but there are some instances where their independence may need some help from you in order for them to succeed. I have helped plenty of children who come up to the window with a parent or chaperone and the child does the ordering and handles the money, but the adult is there to make sure they understand how much money they have and whether or not they can afford what they want to order.

Maybe it’s just me and maybe it’s because I grew up in a household of educators, but I seem to remember that money is something that they begin teaching pretty early on in school and if a parent believes their child is old enough to go to a baseball game with a certain amount of money and be able to handle that money on their own, they should make sure that their child understands how money works before they try to make a purchase.

In the end, I always make sure that every child knows exactly what they are paying for their food and how much money they are getting back in change. What happens to that money after they walk away from my stand is a mystery, but I will make sure they understand that $20 is enough to cover their $4 ice cream.

A Night in the UIC

For this post, I decided to take you through a night of work so you can get an idea of what it is like in the Upstairs Ice Cream Stand. From the drive to work to selling ice cream to cleaning up at the end of the night. Don’t worry though, it is a very condensed version of a night in the UIC. If I created a video of the entire night, it would be three hours long and I wouldn’t make anyone sit through that! Enjoy this short inside look at what it is like working in the UIC!


Confessional: What is one question you have always had about working in a baseball stadium or in a concession stand?

Did you like this type of post this week? Let me know in the comments below if you would be interested in more video posts and what types of things you would like to see.

Employee Spring Training

Every March for the past 14 years, Baseballtown employees have flocked to FirstEnergy Stadium early on a Saturday morning. Why do we all show up bleary-eyed and with coffee in hand? For our yearly orientation.

I like to look at it as our Spring Training.

Everyone always says, “you’ve worked there for so long, why do you still have to go to orientation?” The way I see it, all pro athletes already know how to play their sports, but they still put in workouts before each season. There is one major difference between their spring training and ours. The Phillies and their affiliates, along with all of professional baseball, will spend their days working out and playing games in warm locations such as Florida or Arizona. This will not be the case for Fightins’ Orientation Day.

Unfortunately for those of us left behind in Baseballtown, our orientation will most likely take place under cloudy skies with a temperature of a balmy 40 degrees. If we’re lucky, it will only rain slightly and the wind will be nothing more than a strong breeze.

And yes, most of orientation is exactly the same every year. The front office is introduced, interns are introduced, promotions are discussed, and then you break into groups by department. In the department meetings you learn about any changes to your area and receive your uniform shirts and visors for the season. It’s pretty straightforward and tends to not last very long.

It is also a time to learn about any changes that may have taken place around the park over the winter, such as new foods added to the menu, new seating arrangements, or even new faces in the front office. While not every game day employee is able to make it to orientation, the majority come out every year and it truly shows you how many people it takes to keep the ballpark running as smoothly as it does each night.

Oh, and if you feel like sticking around for lunch, you can have your first hot dog and french fries of the season at no cost!

Confessional: If your job had an orientation day every year, what is one thing that you think or hope would be discussed? What would make orientation at your job interesting?

For me, the best part of orientation is getting to see all the friends who we only see during baseball season. It’s almost like going to a big family reunion, only with a family that you don’t talk to at all for 5 or 6 months out of the year. It’s great to catch up and hear what everyone has been up to during the off-season. The past two years have been a bit different as many of the game staff have spent the Christmas season working together at the ballpark, but it is still nice to get together again and talk about what may happen during the upcoming season.

Each year we laugh and joke about people who claimed they wouldn’t be back again, but each year they show up at orientation, ready for another season. It’s also fun to make jokes about what changes we hoped would take place, but in the back of our minds we knew they were too good to be true.

While I do not hold out any hope that this year orientation day will dawn bright, sunny, and 75 degrees, I am looking forward to spending the morning at the ballpark. Just as Spring Training marks the beginning of the season for the players and staff, orientation marks the beginning of another season in Baseballtown.

**It is clear that this post is going up well after Orientation 2018, so I will give a brief update. Thanks to Mother Nature and her decision to send us more snow three days before orientation, it was held inside the Fightins’ batting tunnel which offered a very up close and personal setting for the entire staff meeting. Luckily for us, when we broke into departments, concessions got to stay where we were and did not have brave the cold until we went back to our cars. Despite the different setting, the day went smoothly as it always does and we are now one home stand into the 2018 season!**

Eyes on the sky

At any baseball game there are signs posted and pregame announcements read encouraging fans to keep an eye on the game at all times and watch out for foul balls that may come into the crowd. They also warn about the possibility of a baseball bat leaving the field, but this is not as typical a situation. These warnings are issued as a way to both keep fans safe and in the event of an injury, to protect the team involved from any type of potential lawsuit. One of my responsibilities during my internship was filling out and following up on any incidents that occurred around the ball park in which a fan was injured in any way.

What those pregame warnings and signs do not warn fans of are flying objects that you would not expect to see at a baseball game. There are no signs warning fans to watch out for flying hot dogs or t-shirts. Although there are very few situations in which a fan gets injured after being hit by a flying hot dog, it is not a fun experience if you are not expecting it.

I will say that I have seen some scary moments involving foul balls and fans who were unable to move themselves out-of-the-way of a fast-moving baseball. After seeing everything from a bruised forehead to a broken nose, you start to understand that while coming to a baseball game is a fun experience there are also some dangers that you must be aware of while having said fun.

Can you imagine sitting at a baseball game and you realize something is falling out of the air? You aren’t paying too close attention because the game is between innings so you know it isn’t a baseball. With a quick glance at the seat beside you, you find a foil wrapped object lying on the chair. As you unwrap the object, you realize it is a fully cooked hot dog, with condiment packets and bun included. Looking around, you finally notice the man riding the ostrich who is running around on the field throwing hot dogs into the crowd. The crowd is going crazy around you because why wouldn’t they, who’s going to say no to free food?

Confessional: What is the strangest object you have ever seen being launched into a crowd of people at an event?

When at a baseball game you also have to keep an eye out for t-shirts being thrown into the crowd. In the case of the Fightins, free t-shirts are launched into the crowd from a t-shirt cannon situated in the back of a small train that drives around the outfield. While you might think that getting hit with a t-shirt wouldn’t cause that much damage, it can be painful if you aren’t paying attention and don’t know that it is coming.

While it is mandatory for baseball teams around the country to post warnings about foul balls around their stadiums and even on their tickets, there is nothing in the rules that requires warnings about flying food or clothing.

Never fear though, I promise that if you take a trip to a Fightin Phils’ game and the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor throws a package your way, you will not get a concussion if it hits you on the head. Watch out though, you might get some ketchup or mustard in your hair though.

People Watching: Vendors

As I have said in previous posts, one of the things I enjoy doing at the stadium is people watching. I’ve already shared my thoughts on watching first pitch participants each game and thinking about what they must be feeling or how nerve-wracking it can be to stand in front of a crowd and throwing a ball. It is time to discuss the next group that is good for people watching: food and beverage vendors.

In my opinion, the vendors have one of the more difficult jobs in the stadium, aside from the guys playing on the field. They spend all night walking up and down the steps of the stadium carrying cases of beer, water, soda, pretzels, and candy. Vendors are almost like the mailmen of the stadium. It can be 98° and sunny or pouring rain and they are still out walking through the stands selling food and drinks.

You can typically judge the type of crowd at the game by noticing which vendors are more popular. It is a no brainer that on education days and camp day, the cotton candy vendor is going to be popular followed closely by the vendors with popcorn and candy. On Harley Night, the vendors distributing beer can typically depend on having a decent night.

Even though the majority of evenings throughout the season are decent for the vendors, there are days when I feel bad for them and would not switch places with them for any amount of money.

I always feel bad when we might be having a slow sales night because of weather or a small crowd. We stand there and whine about going home and then I look out the window at the vendors; the people who depend on the crowd for profit even more than we do. I always feel bad for the vendors during a slow game. It’s not a secret that the vendors receive tips and sometimes the tips may equal another half of a paycheck. Unfortunately, you can only get tips if you sell your products and on a slow night, this can prove to be a difficult task.

One thing I enjoy about watching the vendors is watching how each one goes about selling their products; each vendor has his own approach. There’s the pretzel vendor who holds a pretzel high in the air as he walks around . The one snowcone vendor wears a baseball hat with a fake snowcone attached to the top of it. One of my favorite vendors I’ve seen was a beer vendor at Citizens Bank Park. He sold Stella Artois and his delivery was perfect. As he moved through the stands, he would call out “ice” “cold” and then shout “STELLA!”, clearly paying homage to the famous scene from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It was very entertaining and immediately grabbed attention; which is important when you are moving through a large crowd trying to sell merchandise.

Confessional: If you were a vendor at a sporting event, what would you sell? How would you make yourself stand out?

While each vendor has his or her own style for vending, they all have the same goal in mind: sell as much product as you can no matter what the size of the crowd is or what the weather is. The next time you’re at a sporting event, look around and see which vendors catch your eye and which one you think has the best practice for selling his or  her products.

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.