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On the Road: Going racing in Gwinnett
Coolray Field's Can Race has recent history of physicality, fun
06/16/2014 2:42 PM ET
Ben Hill poses with Chopper the Groundhog, the mascot that helped him win what may or may not have been a fixed race.

Today's "On the Road" dispatch involves three racing aerosol cans, an overzealous, shovel-wielding groundhog, and one luckless intern. In other words, it's a typical Minor League Baseball tale...

I spent the evening of Saturday, June 7, attending a Gwinnett Braves game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, Georgia. The G-Braves, as they are often referred to, are owned by the Atlanta Braves, and Coolray Field is just a 40-minute drive northeast from Turner Field. This proximity to the parent club results in a comparatively conservative ballpark atmosphere, but the G-Braves' promo team is nonetheless adept at delivering high-energy, sometimes anarchic bursts of between-inning entertainment.

One of the more memorable portions of an evening with the G-Braves is the Can Race, sponsored by the Southern Aerosol Technical Association (SATA) as a means to raise awareness of aerosol recycling options and inhalation abuse. Each evening, Stubs (shaving cream), Sunny (sunscreen) and Bugs (insect repellent) race down the right field line and then make a right turn toward the finish, furiously fighting with one another to get there first.

On Saturday I ran the Can Race while dressed as Stubs (fitting, given my generally unshaven condition). As my fellow liquid-mist dispensers and I entered the home stretch, G-Braves mascot Chopper the Groundhog leapt from the visitor's dugout and clocked Bugs in the head with a shovel. With Bugs out cold, I pushed Sunny out of the way and won the race. Whether or not this outcome was pre-arranged, I'll never tell.

These antics, or "cantics," as no one has ever called them, are part of a great Minor League tradition. In my travels I have suited up as a doughnut in Lowell, pork roll in Lakewood, and seaweed in Vancouver (among many others), almost always running these races with young interns who delight in pushing, tackling and sliding into one another as they race toward the finish line. Comic tales of racing mascot injuries are legion (a common theme seems to involve being blindsided by a rogue member of the visiting team's bullpen), and when in Gwinnett I witnessed one first-hand. Taylor Boone, the promo intern dressed as Bugs, was left with a lump on his head as a result of Chopper's overly-enthusiastic shovel use.

Boone's injury paled in comparison to one suffered the previous month, however, when promo team member Jessie Powell was flattened by a couple of out-of-control cans. Jessie P., as she is known around Coolray Field, is a Lawrenceville native in her first year with the team. Her harrowing can race encounter might have knocked her down, but she got right back up and is happy to tell the tale.

"I started here in mid-April and my accident was May 1. I had been doing the props [on May 1], putting them on the field and taking them off the field," said Jessie. "So one of my jobs was to hold the [Can Race] finish line. It's two pieces held together with Velcro, so one person holds it on each side."

Everything seemed "normal" as the race began, but things soon took a turn for the anomalous.

"[The cans] were hitting each other and running into each other and then Chopper came over with his shovel," said Jessie. "They ended up all coming in together, and the back can, the bug spray, pushed the other two really close to us."

Here, Jessie slaps her hands together for emphasis.

"It just knocked me over."

"I didn't black out, I just fell backwards," continued Jessie. "One of the baseball coaches yelled out to me 'You need to get that checked!' I was like, 'Uh, no big deal.' I [worked] the rest of the night, and we were joking because I was saying ridiculous stuff and blaming it on the 'concussion.' Quote unquote. But then I ended up having one."

Nonetheless, there are no regrets.

"Mild concussion. Small neck strain. But it was fine, it was worth it," said Jessie. "It's a proud thing. It started me off well, you know? I had to come right back out and hold the finish line the next time I worked."

And so it goes in the world of Minor League Baseball. When visiting the Charlotte Knights the following Tuesday, I shared the video of Jessie's Can Race mishap with the interns responsible for running in the team's nightly "Royalty Race" between King Meck, Queen Charlotte and Jerry the Jester. Far from being seen as a cautionary tale, the video inspired the racers to stage a finish-line takedown of their own. (Later I heard boasts of broken sunglasses and a potentially fractured rib.)

Take solace, Jessie. You are not alone.

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Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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