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Oaks ring in the noise with local flair07/29/2008 9:30 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
With a current seating capacity of approximately 1,500, Visalia's Recreation Park is one of the smallest ballparks in the Minor Leagues.
But that doesn't mean it's also one of the quietest. Far from it, in fact.
Late last month, the Oaks unveiled their new cowbell section, which is exactly what the name implies. Located behind the visitor's dugout, the 32 seats in this area are covered in black-and-white papier-mache cow patterns. And, more importantly, everyone who sits there is given their very own cowbell.
"We're the first ones to do this, so far as I know," said Oaks director of media relations Donny Baarns. "The fans have loved it, and even the one season ticket holder we thought might be annoyed hasn't had a problem with the noise. It really adds to the atmosphere around here. It's amazing what 30 cowbells can do."
Fans are allowed to keep their cowbells after sitting in the section, and are encouraged to bring them to future ballgames no matter where they sit. This Saturday, Visalia's gradual march toward total cowbell saturation will take a significant step forward when the Oaks host the Stockton Ports at 7:05 local time. As part of the club's sold-out Dairy Day promotion, the first 1,000 fans in attendance will receive a cowbell of their very own.
"We expect it to be fairly noisy that night," said Baarns in one of the understatements of the year.
While Baarns admits that several members of the Oaks' front-office staff are fans of the infamous Saturday Night Live "More Cowbell" sketch, this was certainly not the motivation for the club's recent emphasis on bovine-inspired promotional innovations.
"We're located in the number-one dairy region in the world, so it's important for us to celebrate that heritage," he said. "The industry props up the community and provides its lifeblood, so we want to honor that and have fun in the process."
And there will be plenty of fun to be had that night, although those who are lactose intolerant may want to steer clear. The team will take the field in special black-and-white cow-print jerseys, and a variety of dairy-themed games and contests will be held. Most notably, select Oaks players will be able to test their cow-milking abilities.
"We'll have them compete against one another to see who can do it the fastest," said Baarns. "Last year, they also had to drink some of the milk afterward."
And once the game begins, the cacophonous clanging of cowbells will result in a very unique hometown advantage.
"[Announcer] Dan Besbris and I will be in the broadcast booth that night, and I don't think it'll be much of a struggle to pick up the crowd noise," said Baarns.
In other words, it will be "udder" madness.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.