For more OutSTANDING Fan Competition coverage, including additional observations and links to local media coverage, please visit Ben's Biz Blog.
I, like many members of the human race, am always looking for new experiences. It is crucial to regularly engage in activities that can break up the monotony of the day-to-day grind and serve as reminders that life really is what you make of it.
To that end, I spent all of Friday outside, in the cold, in constant contact with a lifesize bobblehead caricature of a canine mascot.
The occasion was the Altoona Curve's "OutSTANDING Fan Competition," in which myself and six other thrill seekers vied for the chance to win 2009 season tickets (or in my case, the chance to donate season tickets to the runner-up). The premise was simple: Show up at Blair County Ballpark at 6 a.m. and affix a limb to a giant bobblehead mascot (either Steamer or Diesel Dawg). The last fan to remain standing while still touching the mascot would win the tickets, as well as undying respect and admiration from those inclined to respect and admire such ridiculous feats of human endurance.
What follows is an account of the 14 hours I spent touching Diesel Dawg.
Note: All times are approximate, as I was unable to take detailed notes throughout the day. My hands were numb, so it was impossible for me to grip my pen. Also, I was half-insane with fatigue by the time this ordeal ended.
5:40 a.m. -- I pulled into the nearly deserted parking lot of Blair County Ballpark, after driving through the night without any sleep. Unfortunately, I wasn't even able to drink coffee during the trip -- caffeine is a diuretic, and I was fairly certain that life-size bobbleheads aren't equipped with their own restrooms.
I made my way to the stadium's front entrance, where Curve general manager Rob Egan was in the process of wheeling out the bobbleheads. It was bitterly cold outside and I quickly realized the extent of my unpreparedness -- not only had I not slept, I did not have a hat, gloves or additional layers of clothing. I had my Carhart jacket, but outside of that was wearing jeans and a button-down dress shirt. This is the persona of "Benjamin Hill, business casual baseball reporter." That guy, obviously, is an idiot.
Over the next 15 minutes, six more idiots arrived. They were:
Duane Inks, 43, from Altoona
Chris Michelone, 14, from Altoona
Adam Erikson, 38, from Altoona
Brad "Yonk" Krug, 27, from Elmora, Pa.
The Legros brothers, Bruce (33) and Tim (28), from Ebensburg, Pa.
The brothers and their friend, Krug (who went by "Yonk" for reasons best left unexplained) arrived together, followed shortly thereafter by Inks and Michelone. The last contestant on the premises was Erikson, a morning DJ on Altoona's Q94, who puttered into the parking lot in a repurposed bread truck emblazoned with the radio station's logo and call letters.
With the competitors assembled and ready to go, Egan went over the rules. Most notably, he revealed that a short break would be granted every five hours. This was crucial, as it ensured that the contest wouldn't be decided strictly on the basis of bladder control.
Bruce Legros, however, was dismayed at this bit of news. The 33-year-old health care professional revealed, in a very matter-of-fact manner, that he was wearing an adult diaper. But what good was that if we were going to be given the chance to use a restroom? Bruce had just lost what would have been his most significant advantage (namely, the ability to go to the bathroom in his pants), but one has to give him credit for both preparedness and refreshing lack of shame.
The seven contestants then chose their spots. The Legros brothers, Yonk and myself ended up on Diesel Dawg, while Erikson, Michelone and Inks opted for Steamer.
6:12 a.m. -- The competition was underway. Very quickly, I realized just how cold 26 degrees really is and just how miserable the experience was going to be. Media Relations Director Dan Zangrilli was kind enough to lend me gloves when he arrived at the stadium around 6:30, but my feet were the real problem. I could feel them going numb and in order to counter this revolting development, I shifted my weight from side to side, again and again and again. Anything to keep the blood flowing.
Conversation was the only distraction we had, so we all got to talking. Not surprisingly, Erikson served as the leader in this regard. As a disc jockey, he is used to making small talk before the sun comes up and I was grateful that he was able to keep up a steady stream of patter. On the hour, he called in to the station to deliver live updates. Not surprisingly, "Diaper Boy" was a major topic of conversation. Bruce took it all in stride.
Meanwhile, the sun began its slow and steady ascent. Never in my life had I anticipated the dawning of a new day with more fervor.
8:30 a.m. -- The temperature increased to the point where I was no longer worried about succumbing to frostbite and a subsequent early exit from the competition. The lesson here? Never take the sun for granted.
Not surprisingly, sports was a major topic of conversation, as Erikson, Yonk and the Legros brothers are all diehard fans of Central and Western Pennsylvania athletics. Young Chris Michelone stayed almost entirely silent throughout, opting instead to listen to his headphones and snack on the prodigious supply of food provided to him by a seemingly endless stream of doting family members.
Inks, the elder statesman of our group, was largely silent as well (although when he did speak, it was in a rapid-fire staccato clip, not unlike Boomhauer from "King of the Hill"). As the morning progressed, however, Inks became a major source of entertainment. First, he nearly eliminated himself while recklessly trying to retrieve a wayward quarter. Later, he deftly took off his shoes, put on a pair of wool socks and put his shoes back on -- all while remaining affixed to Steamer. And, in the hour leading up to our first break, he fidgeted wildly and without letup, clearly in desperate need of a urinal.
11 a.m. -- To the relief of all (but especially Inks), we were granted the use of a restroom. We returned to our respective mascots refreshed and optimistic and were soon joined by news anchor Abbie Tang of WJAC Johnstown. She was doing a spot for the noon broadcast and, not surprisingly, chose to focus on the fact that Legros wore a diaper. WTAJ Altoona also saw fit to include the "Magnificent Seven" in its noon broadcast, although none of us were interviewed.
12:41 p.m. -- Erikson, citing that formidable combination of evening obligations and fatigue, called it quits. Soon thereafter, a grim silence set in among the remaining half-dozen standees. There wasn't much to do except engage in idle daydreaming and wave at the motorists who honked and laughed at us as they drove by.
Yonk passed the time by sending text messages to friends and family members. Every time he received a text in return, his phone played the current McDonald's jingle: "Give me back that Filet-O-Fish, give me that fish." This happened again and again and again and again and again. And there was no escape.
One source of amusement (at least for the four of us stationed on Diesel Dawg) was the amount of food that Michelone had eaten throughout the day. Every hour or two, he was visited by someone in his vast network of family and friends, all of whom came bearing food and drink. And, without fail, it would immediately be wolfed down. Not surprisingly, Michelone was in dire straits in the hour leading up to the 4 p.m. break. Meanwhile, all I had eaten was a slice of pizza, delivered to us by the ever-thoughtful Adam Erikson in his ever-reliable bread truck.
5 p.m. -- Things got a bit more interesting as the Curve's "Fan Bash" officially kicked off. To promote the launch of 2009 single-game ticket sales, the club invited fans to the ballpark for free food, drink and entertainment. Part of the entertainment, was, of course, the chance to gawk at the half-dozen idiots who had been touching life-size mascot bobbleheads for the past 11 hours.
To make sure we were not interfered with (or perhaps to humiliate us further), Zangrilli roped off our entire area with orange caution tape. I have never felt more like a zoo animal in my life.
WTAJ-TV made a return visit, this time with sports reporter Nick Foley. By this point, the diaper jokes had finally, mercifully, died down, so Foley elected to interview me. I was a bit delirious by this point, and I'm still working on securing footage of this interview, but I do recall declaring myself a "Diesel Dawg for life," and maintaining that I very well might spend the remainder of my existence taking part in the competition.
6:44 p.m. -- While shifting his weight from side to side, Yonk inadvertently removed all his limbs from Diesel Dawg and was eliminated. Curve accounting specialist Tara Figard, assigned the task of monitoring the contestants during this time, surprised us all with the level of malicious enthusiasm she brought to declaring Yonk out of the competition.
6:56 p.m. -- Inks voluntarily removed himself from the contest. A pre-existing knee injury had been acting up for several hours and he was no longer able to take the pain. Although I had viewed Inks as an adversary throughout the day, I was sad to see him go. He made an earnest attempt to win and his primary goal was simply to take his kids and grandkids to the ballpark on a more regular basis.
8:03 p.m. -- Just several minutes after the fireworks-enhanced conclusion of the Fan Bash, my time as an "OutSTANDING Fan" came to an embarrassing end. While I believe that the Curve may have taken a bit too much glee in my departure, I will nonetheless defer to the description of my exit that appeared on their Web site:
"Benjamin Hill of MiLB.com, with one hand occupied for a cell phone call inadvertently 'waved goodbye' to an adoring fan and completely forgot that he had removed all limbs from the bobblehead. DISQUALIFIED."
For the record, I was on the phone with my mom, and the "adoring fan" was none other than Yonk.
At this point, I was only too happy to leave Blair County Ballpark. A nearby Ramada Inn awaited me, and its alluring siren call was impossible to ignore. I wished good luck to the remaining three contestants (nearly eliminating Michelone by offering an ill-advised handshake) and went on my way.
As it turned out, maybe I should have stuck around. Only 50 minutes later, the OutSTANDING Fan Competition came to an unexpected close. Again, from the Curve Web site:
"Due to dangerously cold conditions and the fact that three fans remained on their feet well into the night -- totally 14 hours and 53 minutes, the Curve awarded brothers Bruce and Tim Legros season tickets along with 14-year-old marathon man Chris Michelone both Grandstand season tickets for the 2009 season."
On Monday, I called Bruce Legros to get his take on the surprise ending to the competition.
"I don't think any of the [Curve] employees wanted to sit in a chair all night watching us," he said. "I saw them all huddling around each other and then Rob [Egan] came over and asked if there would be any problem if they gave my brother and I a pair and Chris a pair. It didn't matter to me. Chris seemed like a big fan and I was glad to see him get the tickets. But if I had had to stand out there into Saturday morning, I would have been able to do it."
Bruce Legros noted he has experienced nagging back and leg pain since the contest concluded, but perhaps an even greater injury has come in the form of the new nickname he has acquired.
"I've gotten a lot of text messages and phone calls, from people calling me 'Diaper Boy,'" he said. "Everyone seems to get a real big kick out of that."