The Winter Meetings
bring out all sorts of dreamers and schemers, those intent on doing anything they can to establish themselves in the world of professional baseball. You can find them everywhere -- from the PBEO Job Fair
ballroom to the hotel bars to, yes, even the annual Baseball Trade Show
Gargantuan doesn't even begin to describe the dimensions of the Trade Show (perhaps "Brobdingnagian" would be a better word?), and visitors should come equipped with a map, sturdy footwear and plenty of food and water should they get lost. The most intrepid travelers will eventually find a remote outpost dubbed the First Year Pavilion, featuring approximately two dozen hopeful souls who feel that their goods and services are worthy of baseball industry patronage.
Perhaps the most unique First Year Pavilion services on offer are those peddled by Ben "Utility Man" Youngerman, manning Booth 158 alongside his uncle Brian and friend/puppet-maker Dan Becker. In the tradition of Max Patkin (and, more recently, Myron Noodleman), Youngerman is a comedic performer whose dream is to spend the entirety of each season traveling from Minor League ballpark to Minor League ballpark. His "Utility Man" moniker is a nod to his diverse and ever-changing lineup of characters and routines, from dressing up as the elusive "Phantom of the Ballpark" to manipulating "Skipper the Puppet" to simply (or perhaps not-so-simply) gallivanting about on a pair of metal stilts.
One of Youngerman's go-to lines is that his act "features more costume changes than a Lady Gaga show." Though he hasn't incorporated any raw-meat costumes into his routine (yet), one will very likely come across some goat's milk. It's labeled "Bessie's Goat's Milk," to be exact, and is offered by his "Wacky Food Vendor" character (who also offers delicacies such as "individually salted peanuts"). Youngerman offered me a free sample of this frothy brew, and I was eager to give it a taste. But the liquid that he poured forth into a glass was yellow, leading him to quip "Sometimes I get the ends of the goat mixed up. This is a bad batch."
Yes, these are the sort of sight gags that may be coming soon to a ballpark near you. But how did this all come to be? Youngerman first developed the Utility Man character in 2011, while employed by the Trenton Thunder as a media relations and promotions assistant.
"I built a bunch of characters that fans seemed to love, and I had a friend in baseball, a former broadcaster, who said 'Hey, you should take this on the road! I think you could be successful at it,'" recalled Youngerman. "That was what first put the thought in my head. I wanted to incorporate all of my characters, and didn't want to be a one-trick pony, so that's how Utility Man was born."
Check out photos of the Trade Show and more
Youngerman attended last year's Trade Show in a "rogue capacity," roaming the aisles and handing out free high fives as a means to spread the word regarding his existence. He then interned with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs
in 2012, while also finding the time to perform with Northeast-based teams such as the Harrisburg Senators
and Wilmington Blue Rocks
. And now?
"I've got to get in the game, and having a booth here at the Winter Meetings is almost instant credibility," he said. "I'm confident in my material and knew it would be a hit wherever I go, so I needed to be here, needed to be around to see what happens. ... My dad would always tell me 'Get off your [rear] and get in some trouble'. That's why I'm here."