On Thursday, June 20, the Corpus Christi Hooks are staging Minor League Baseball's first ever "Phone-Free" ballgame. Will it get a good reception?
The Hooks hope so, of course. While some fans might have their hang-ups, the Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros believes that a no- phone night at the ballpark is a great chance to connect with friends and family while soaking in the natural and man-made beauty that surrounds their home of Whataburger Field.
The "Phone-Free Hooks Game" takes place on the first night of the team's June 20-22 Coastal Bend Conservation Weekend, described as "an effort to keep local waterways and beaches vibrant and clean." The team will wear special jerseys throughout, which feature a speckled trout as well as a "South Texas beach and pier where one might reel in a speckled trout as the deep-red sun sets beyond a picturesque shoreline."
"[The Phone-Free Hooks Game] isn't necessarily about conservation, but what we are saying is that we live in a beautiful place," said Hooks communications coordinator Dan Reiner. "Our stadium's right on the water. You can see the Harbor Bridge. The USS Lexington is right across the bay. How much of that gets lost when people are looking at their phones?
"Let's take a step back to the way it was 20 or 30 years ago, when there were no phones at games. Where you were just talking with your friends, keeping score or just taking in the surroundings. ... This is about enjoying the environment that we live in. We're the only Texas team on the coastal bend of the Gulf. So let's appreciate the environment around the ballpark and outside the ballpark. Take three hours to put the phone away and just watch the game."
The summer-collegiate Kalamazoo Growlers staged a Phone-Free Night earlier this month; the Hooks' upcoming effort represents the first such attempt in Minor League Baseball.
"We'll make a push across all social channels to get the word out, but we are aware that there are some fans who may not know," Reiner said. "There'll be plenty of signage, but if any fans aren't happy when they show up, we'll refund their ticket for a future game and offer a voucher for parking. We don't want to make it a negative experience."
Fans who do opt for the "phone-free" experience will put their phones in a locking pouch provided by Yondr, with whom the Hooks have partnered for the evening. Yondr, headquartered in San Francisco, "creates phone-free spaces for artists, educators, organizations and individuals." Fans will keep the pouch with them throughout the game and, if necessary, they can use their device at one of five "Phone Zones" set up around the ballpark (two on the concourse, two on the suite level and one in the outfield).
"This is Yondr's first foray into professional sports," said Reiner, adding that representatives from the company will be on hand to facilitate the process. "But they've done large-scale events before, like Dave Chappelle's Netflix specials and Donald Glover concerts, where they've had to convince people to put their phones away."
The Hooks, adhering to the theme, won't post anything on social media until after the game is over.
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"Obviously, in this digital day and age everything is documented immediately, but this game won't have it," Reiner said. "But we'll still have opportunities for fans to document the game. We'll have a photo booth on the concourse and are looking into getting a Polaroid camera for our photographer to use. You can get the Polaroid right then and there, a cool '80s throwback to when before camera phones were around."
During a weekend dedicated to conservation, the Hooks are trying to spark a conversation.
"If you can sit through a two-and-a-half or three-hour movie without your phone, why not do the same for a baseball game?" said Reiner. "That's the approach we're taking. It's a pretty simple process. Now it's just a matter of getting everyone to buy into the idea."