Jack Phelan is an usher for the Kane County Cougars, but don't expect him to guide you to your seat.
For the past 10 years, Phelan has been better known around Elfstrom Stadium as "Mr. Kaboom." He sits on a platform adjacent to the right-field party deck, intently watching the action on the field. Should a Cougars player be able to launch one over the fence, "Mr. Kaboom" springs into action. He deftly flicks a series of switches on a small, tan control box -- the Delcor MP 20 firing system -- which is attached via cable to a rectangular crate approximately 150 feet away.
And, just like that, pyrotechnics light up the sky -- Kaboom!
Phelan, who reports to work wearing a straw hat bedecked with the Cougars logo and a customized "Mr. Kaboom" patch, clearly loves performing his unique stadium responsibilities. He launches celebratory pyrotechnics in the wake of a home-team homer, the National Anthem, and the Seventh-Inning Stretch, maintains the Cougars gameday fireworks inventory (the club shoots off approximately 1100 a year), and serves as a spotter during larger-scale postgame displays.
This wasn't something he ever planned for.
"The first time I ever shot a gun was when I went into the service, and the first time I ever shot off fireworks was when I worked for the Cougars," he said, chuckling. "This came about because we had an individual on our staff who wanted to go elsewhere, and he asked me to take over. I didn't know anything about fireworks or pyrotechnics at all, so I went to school and learned. You have to be licensed by the state to do this."
Phelan prides himself on always being attuned to the action on the field, but sometimes mistakes can occur.
"One time one of my assistants was distracted by a conversation he was having. He looked up, saw the ball go over the fence, and set off the home run fireworks," recalled Phelan. "Unfortunately it was a ground rule double."
But egregiously over-celebrated two-baggers are few and far between at Elfstrom Stadium, so long as Mr. Kaboom is in charge.
"Everyone at the ballpark has a unique niche to fill, and Jack fills his perfectly," said Cougars media relations coordinator Shawn Touney.
Beds and Basepaths
Indeed, nearly everyone who works within Minor League Baseball wears more hats than their job title indicates. For example, Touney spends his gamedays coordinating the Cougars' on-field promotional activities.
In addition to standard entertainment such as T-shirt tosses and birthday announcements, the Cougars feature some memorably unique between-innings contests. For instance, Elfstrom Stradium is almost certainly the only Minor League facility that features a pair of twin beds parked beside the third base dugout.
In addition to providing on-field photographers with a comfortable place to relax, the beds are used in a nightly relay race. Competing families push the beds across the outfield, stopping along the way to change into pajamas.
This truly unique on-field extravaganza was the brainchild of assistant general manager Jeff Ney.
"I was watching the news on TV one night, and at the end of the broadcast they closed with a clip of a bed race down Main Street during a college homecoming week," he recalled. "I thought, 'Why can't we do that?'"
So Ney found a local mattress store willing to sponsor the contest, and the rest is history.
"It makes for a great visual, and I think the fans get a kick out of it whether they're participating or not," said Ney. "Especially since those beds can be hard to control. Sometimes they get turned around, or people crash into each other."
Innovative contests are certainly capable of adding to the fan experience, but at the end of the day it's usually the tried and true promotions that are the most popular. In Kane County, all fans are allowed to run the bases after each and every ballgame.
This led to a bittersweet scene on Monday, as it was the final "Run the Bases" of the regular season. School is back in session, the weather's getting colder, and sporting thoughts are turning to football, but nonetheless fans of all ages lined up for the opportunity after the Cougars' regular season ended with a 7-0 loss to Wisconsin.
And, after the announced crowd of 5,182 had its fill, a contingent of front-office and gameday employees circled the basepaths as well.
"Things get so busy during the season, sometimes we all have to stop and remind ourselves what brought us to baseball in the first place," said Touney.