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Collmenter, 'stache create Minors phenomenon07/22/2008 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
When fans, teammates and play-by-play announcers remark that South Bend's Josh Collmenter looks like he's throwing in the 70s, they aren't talking about the velocity of his pitches.
Rather, they are talking about the 22-year-old right-hander's bushy mustache, a fashion choice that makes him look like a throwback to the era of disco music, Watergate and the Big Red Machine.
Collmenter has become one of the premier pitchers in the Midwest League since adopting his hirsute look in early May. The Michigan native's 10 wins rank second in the circuit, and he has emerged victorious in six of his previous seven decisions. The mustache must have something to do with this, right?
The Silver Hawks sure think so, and on Wednesday "Josh Collmenter Mustache Awareness Night" is scheduled to take place at Coveleski Stadium. This special evening coincides with Collmenter's next start, and a wide variety of events are planned. Mustachioed fans will receive free admission to the contest, and those without a mustache will be given one as they enter the ballpark. Many of Collmenter's South Bend teammates have jumped on the 'stache bandwagon as well, and fans will engage in a pregame vote to determine which player possesses the best upper-lip hair.
Clearly, Collmenter mustache mania is starting to spiral out of control. But like most cultural phenomena, Collmenter's mustache came from modest origins.
"We got off to a bad start this year and were struggling both offensively and defensively. We just couldn't get those aspects of the game to match up," said Collmenter. "So we were sitting around in South Bend one night, watching TV, and one of my roommates said I should shave my goatee into a mustache. So I did. That was at the beginning of May, and I said, 'Watch, I'm going to keep this for the rest of the year.'"
Collmenter's prophetic statement now looks like it will indeed come true, but that wasn't always the case.
"We won the night I shaved, but then we lost six or seven in a row," recalled Collmenter. "During the losing streak we went to play in Lansing, and I told my teammates, 'If we don't win tonight, I'll shave this thing off.' But we won and then really got on a roll and started playing well. After a month or two, the fans started recognizing it, but when I first heard about Mustache Night I thought it was a joke."
But the Silver Hawks were dead serious. From Syracuse to Vero Beach, mustache-related promotions have occurred throughout the Minors throughout the past several years (not to mention the recent Jason Giambi Mustache Day at Yankee Stadium), and the club decided they needed to capitalize on this still-emerging trend.
Making the Silver Hawks' mustache promotion even more fortuitous is the fact that it is taking place simultaneously with "Hug Your Plumber Night." Early-arriving fans will receive complimentary plungers, and any fan who wishes to embrace a (hopefully mustachioed) plumber can do so for just $1, with the proceeds going to charity.
"It's a natural fit, and I'm sure everyone will get along just fine," said Hill regarding the evening's synergistic promotional endeavors.
Collmenter is the Silver Hawks' undisputed champion when it comes to mustaches, so he will not be eligible for the evening's pregame contest. He has some opinions on the sartorial style of his teammates, however.
"I'm not sure if the fans will vote for the best in terms of looks, or best in terms of who really can't grow one. Because we've got guys like Eli Rumbler who are just growing whatever they can and it's pretty funny," said Collmenter. "And then there are guys like Chance Wheeless, who looks like he should be wearing a cowboy hat and riding a horse across west Texas."
Regardless, all of South Bend's players will be able to live vicariously through Collmenter on Wednesday. Through the magic of Photoshop, his mustache will be superimposed on all player headshots. But an even more impressive aspect of the promotion is that the club snagged a coveted endorsement from the prestigious American Mustache Institute.
"We are very pleased that Josh Collmenter and the Silver Hawks organization have embraced the thick tuft of hair above Josh's upper lip, and we're glad that Josh fully realizes the power, strength and ability it adds to his pitching prowess", said Aaron Perlut, the institute's executive director. "Josh sports a high-quality Chevron-style mustache. It's a little-known fact that a mustache of that type can be used to store nuts and berries during the winter season."
But Collmenter has no plans to go into hibernation anytime soon.
"Eventually, I'd like to get that Rollie Fingers curl at the end of my mustache. So maybe I can start putting a little gel on it and get the ends to stick up," he said. "It'll be interesting to see where all of this goes from here. What started as a joke has really taken on a life of its own."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.