At last week's Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego, awards were handed out at a fast and furious clip. During the banquet held on December 7, the King of Baseball was crowned and, later, eight more awards were bestowed upon various team and organizations. During the following day's Opening Session, 15 "Executives of the Year" were recognized, each one representing a different league. And this was followed by an Awards Luncheon, during which -- you guessed it -- even more year-end honors were dutifully doled out.
This concentrated burst of trophies, plaques, hand-shaking and speechifying resulted in the following realization: "Since everyone seems to be giving out awards these days, why can't I?"
Therefore, what follows is my first annual "Minoring in Business" Awards -- the Bizzies, if you will -- culled from my extensive ballpark travels during the 2014 season. The eight inaugural honorees, each representing an arbitrarily chosen category, have all gone above and beyond in their quest to make the Minor League Baseball fan experience as memorable as possible. Congratulations to all of the winners, as being included in this article surely represent the pinnacle of achievement within the baseball industry.
Best Fun Zone Attraction: Round Rock Express, "Bungee Trampoline"
On the Dell Diamond concourse, Round Rock Express fans can eschew the standard-issue inflatable bounce house in favor of a more advanced aerial adrenaline rush. The team's "Bungee Trampoline" is what its name implies. Get strapped in and then start jumping; it's as simple as that.
Best Between-Inning On-Field Attraction: Rome Braves, "Redneck Rummage Sale Trailer"
The "Redneck Rummage Sale," held in the Rome Braves' stadium parking lot, is a popular recurring event which the team advertises as the "best place to get rid of all the things the rest of your family doesn't want." To raise awareness of each upcoming rummage sale, the "Redneck Rummage Sale Trailer" is driven around the perimeter of the field during the ballgame. A bevy of young women, clad in denim shorts and sitting atop a precariously-perched couch, are always along for the ride.
Best Between-Inning Mascot Race: Tri-City ValleyCats, "Mayoral Race"
The three cities referenced in the ValleyCats' name are Albany, Schenectady and Troy. At each ballgame the mayors of these three cities, represented in big-headed mascot form, race against one another on the field. It's "running for office" made literal, as the three racing mayors veer haphazardly from left to right while racing toward the finish line.
Best Fan: West Virginia Power, "The Toastman"
His given name is Rod Blackstone, but at the West Virginia Power's home of Appalachian Power Park he is known as "The Toastman." Blackstone brings a toaster with him to each game, making up fresh batches of toast to throw to the crowd after each and every opposing team strikeout. "You're toast!" he yells while throwing the toast. His nickname is nothing if not well earned.
Best Ballpark Snack: Hickory Crawdads, "CLAWlossal"
The "CLAWlossal" is nothing more (and nothing less) than a foot-long chili-cheese dog, pub chips, a half-pound burger, a pulled pork sandwich, a corn dog, five onion rings, two jalapeño poppers and two pickle spears. It retails for $40, but any fan who successfully eats it within the span of six outs gets it for free. Seems reasonable enough.
Best Toilet: Jamestown Jammers, "John with a View"
The Jamestown Jammers played their last season in 2014, relocating to Morgantown, West Virginia upon the conclusion of the campaign. The team's longtime home of Russell E. Diethrick Park will continue to host baseball games, however. Visitors to the rooftop press box should make sure to take advantage of what just might be the only stadium toilet that simultaneously offers privacy and a full view of the playing field. It's a beautiful thing.
Best Team T-Shirt: Akron RubberDucks, "Haters Gonna Hate"
The franchise formerly known as the Akron Aeros changed their name to the RubberDucks prior to the 2014 season, a change that struck some within the fanbase as juvenile and embarrassing. But the team was undeterred by such nay-saying, confidently acknowledging the criticism with this "Haters Gonna Hate" team logo t-shirt.
Best Launch-A-Ball: San Antonio Missions, "Chimney Chuck"
Virtually all Minor League teams regularly stage a postgame "Launch-a-Ball" promotion, in which fans purchase tennis balls and throw them at various targets placed in and around the infield (hit the target, win a prize). Often these targets are uninspired -- trash cans and hula hoops come to mind -- but not in San Antonio. The Missions take a small house, hitch it to the groundskeeper's tractor, drive it out onto the playing field and then exhort fans to go ahead and try to throw a ball into the chimney. Just don't hit Ballapeno.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.