2016 is receding into the sunset, its once white-hot light having dissipated into smoldering embers. Now, before all goes dark, is a good time to examine the year that was.
In the professional life of this writer, 2016 marked another season (and portions of two offseasons) immersed in the business and culture of Minor League Baseball. What follows are the highlights of that coverage, including promotions, road trips, rebrandings and just about anything else that could conceivably fall under the Minors' nationwide purview. (For much more material of a similar nature, check out Ben's Biz Blog.)
San Jose's Paul "Super Churros Man" Cerda was one of many notable characters that Ben profiled in 2016.
Over the course of the season, I embarked upon three road trips. In chronological order:
North and South Carolina, taken together, are one of the most robust and diverse areas for Minor League Baseball in the country. An early May jaunt through the region yielded many high points, including but not limited to Durham Bulls' Star Wars Night, a full-to-bursting day exploring Myrtle Beach and one-on-one time with Greensboro Grasshoppers "Speaker of the House" Zeb Vance. I also got a thorough tour of Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies, as well as the improbable backstory behind the Carolina Mudcats' iconic logo. (More from the Carolinas on Ben's Biz Blog.)
The Rookie-level Appalachian League is Minor League Baseball at its most intimate. I visited all 10 ballparks in the circuit over a 10-day span, a fairly easy accomplishment given the teams' close proximity to one another. I got to know Johnson City's 18-year-old broadcaster, Bluefield's loudest fan, Princeton's wrestling rooster, Bristol's dedicated volunteers and the businessman who rejuvenated baseball in Pulaski. (More from the Appy League on Ben's Biz Blog.)
My third and final trip of the year began in Sacramento and ended in Spokane, with eight teams and three states in between. From city to city, the subject matter was as varied as the terrain. This included pieces on Sacramento's popular manager, San Jose's legendary churros vendor, Matt Capps' comeback attempt, Reno's ballpark canine, the most beloved peanut salesman in Washington's Tri-Cities and one family's story of marriage, kids and baseball. (More from Out West on Ben's Biz Blog.)
The Nashville Sounds' Country Legends Race featured Reba, Johnny and George. (Nashville Sounds)
Throughout the season, Tuesday's "Promo Watch" column chronicled noteworthy promotional endeavors taking place across the country. In many cases, teams found themselves in uncharted territory.
- The Harrisburg Senators, seeking to make a splash with their new team Hall of Fame, commissioned life-size bobbleheads of each honoree. 2016's inaugural class included Vlad Guerrero, Cliff Floyd and Bryce Harper.
- The KISS Army turned out in force for the El Paso Chihuahuas' celebration of everyone's favorite hard rock heroes.
- The Nashville Sounds celebrated that Nashville sound by introducing the Country Legends Race. George Jones, Reba McEntire and Johnny Cash go head-to-head-to-head on a nightly basis.
- In Frederick, Keys broadcasters Geoff Arnold and Doug Raftery called an entire ballgame while pedaling on exercise bikes.
- What takes longer: running a marathon or playing a nine-inning baseball game? The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders answered that question by staging both simultaneously.
- On "Sabermetrics Day," the Staten Island Yankees welcomed a who's-who of number-crunching luminaries.
- Of course, the Fresno Grizzlies were up to their usual creative antics. In early May they held a record fair on the concourse; later in the month mascot Parker served as a ballpark wedding officiant.
- As Minor League fans go, so goes the nation. In "Bobblection" events held across the country, Donald Trump just couldn't stop winning.
- What might be 2017's top promotion? Early returns indicate that it just may be the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes' "Eclipsefest."
And so much more...
Carolina League umpires Cody Clark (left) and Brock Ballou sprung into action after an RV accident.
Of course, writing about Minor League Baseball is a year-round job. Here are some of the many "miscellaneous" features that appeared in 2016, whether baseball was going on or not.
- Building a stadium with no public money? That's how the West Michigan Whitecaps did it.
- With the help of supercomputers, Johns Hopkins University is revolutionizing how baseball schedules are made.
- Dennis Bair, a former Minor League pitcher, has devoted his life to finding missing children.
- Chuck McGill, a meteorologist by trade, is dedicated to the arcane task of unearthing Minor League no-hitters.
- The Frisco RoughRiders' "Lazy River" made a huge splash at the ballpark.
- Cody Clark and Brock Ballou are umpires at night -- and roadside heroes by day.
- Jen Pawol worked in the Gulf Coast League this season, thereby becoming Minor League Baseball's first female umpire since 2007.
- What makes a great sports logo? Todd Radom knows.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.