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Minor League teams going green

Lake Elsinore, Great Lakes and others adopting eco-friendly operations
March 14, 2008
Nearly four decades ago, Kermit the Frog made a celebrated appearance on Sesame Street in which he forlornly sang "It's Not Easy Being Green."

Fortunately, Minor League Baseball teams don't appear to be having the same problem.

During the 2008 season, many environmentally themed promotional nights will be taking place across the Minor League landscape. While the specifics vary, these special dates on the schedule give teams the chance to highlight their own "green" initiatives, while also providing fans with the resources to make more ecologically sustainable choices in their day-to-day lives.

It has often been said that professional baseball serves as a mirror to our culture, and one could certainly argue that the Minors' growing focus on the environment is merely a reflection of America's. From global warming to a dwindling oil supply to concerns over food production and exportation ... environmental issues have lately been at the forefront of our consciousness.

Yet, there are some clubs who have demonstrated a commitment to ecological sustainability that goes far above and beyond our evolving societal expectations. Chief among them is the Lake Elsinore Storm, who helped to kick-start the Minor Leagues' ongoing environmental awakening with last season's well-received "Goin' Green" promotion.

Green Fireworks and Hemp Uniforms

The Storm's "Goin' Green" night was centered around a game-long "health and sustainability festival," in which a wide array of local businesses and non-profit organizations set up booths outside the stadium in order to educate fans on environmentally friendly products and practices.

"Sometimes fans just want to get to the ballgame and not really worry about anything else, but there were a ton of people who took the time to see what was being offered," said Storm president Dave Oster. "I think as a society we realize that what is going on with the environment is a problem, but we often don't know what to do about it. Our goal was to educate our fans on some of the simple things that they could do.

"The festival got a great reaction, because it helped people come to the realization that you can do right by the environment and do right by your wallet at the same time. It really is a win-win situation."

Of course, the green activities didn't end once fans entered the Diamond. Storm players took the field wearing green hemp uniforms, which were auctioned off for charity after the game. Organic food was served at the concession stands and there was a postgame green fireworks display.

"We Wanted To Make A Statement"

Of course, there wouldn't have been much value in the "Goin' Green" promotion if it had occurred in a vacuum and was disconnected from the team's everyday business practices and philosophies. That is not the case with the Storm.

Upcoming "Green" Promotions

Lake Elsinore Storm (April 18-20)
Going Green Weekend, including Green fireworks display and seeded postcard giveaway

Memphis Redbirds (April 18)
Going Green with the Redbirds

Myrtle Beach Pelicans (April 22)
Earth Day Going Green Promotion

Great Lakes Loons (May 1)
Going Green Night

South Bend Silver Hawks (May 2)
Tree Saplings Giveaway

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (May 2)
Recycled Mug Giveaway

Sacramento RiverCats (June 6-8)
Going Green Weekend

Lancaster JetHawks (June 7)
Recycled Content T-Shirt Giveaway

Charleston RiverDogs (June 13)
Being Green is Hulky (Note: This promotion has nothing to do with the environment)

Stockton Ports (June 14)
Ports Go Green Night

Clinton LumberKings (June 28)
Going Green Night with Reusable Grocery Bag Giveaway

"If we're gonna talk the talk, that means we've gotta walk the walk," said Oster. And the Storm are definitely walking the walk -- and not just because traveling by foot is much less harmful to the environment than driving in an automobile. Last season, the club took over the operation of the Diamond, which had previously been run by the city of Lake Elsinore. Upon doing so, it was decided that the Storm would manage the facility in the most environmentally friendly manner possible. Oster, along with General Manager Chris Jones and Diamond Stadium Group GM Bruce Kessman, spearheaded a number of initiatives.

"We replaced our old urinals with waterless ones, and put in a new irrigation system that utilizes water-saving sprinkler heads," said Oster. "Between these two developments, we save close to a million gallons of water a year."

As an added bonus, the irrigation system uses "reclaimed water," which is waste water that has been purified and then re-used. Utilizing reclaimed water for such purposes helps to conserve the community's supply of potable, drinkable water.

Additionally, Oster, Jones and Kessman have made a point to systematically address the ways in which the Storm can operate the Diamond in an environmentally sustainable manner.

"We've set up meetings with our electric, gas, water and refuse companies in order to pinpoint the ways we can improve the operation," said Oster. "For example, the power company pointed out that we can switch to longer-lasting light bulbs, and we ended up purchasing a new hot water heater after meeting with the gas company."

"A lot of these companies offer rebates to those who take steps to become more green. You might sometimes have to spend more money upfront, but you'll eventually get it back in savings."

Making It Up As They Go Along

The proactive steps that the Storm have taken toward running a sustainable franchise have been impressive, but Oster remains self-deprecating about the club's accomplishments.

"We're just some dumb baseball guys trying to see what we can do," he said. "There's no template out there for doing what we're doing, we're just inventing it as we go."

The Storm's longer-term goal is to obtain LEED certification for the Diamond. An acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED-certified facilities must meet a rigorous set of environmentally sustainable standards. The Washington Nationals' new ballpark is LEED-certified, and the Minnesota Twins' next facility will be as well. In the Minor Leagues, only Medlar Field at Lubrano Park has obtained LEED certification. The facility is shared by the New York-Penn League's State College Spikes and Penn State University's baseball program.

In the meantime, the Storm have been more than willing to share their ever-growing environmental expertise with other Minor League Baseball clubs.

"We did presentations at the Minor League Promotional Seminar as well as the Winter Meetings," said Oster. "In some ways, we're a different animal in that we control our own facility, so we can be more aggressive than a lot of clubs. But there are still a lot of changes that can be implemented, and they just make sense - literally and dollar-wise."

A Growing Trend

Whether directly influenced by the Storm or not, the "green" movement is certainly spreading across the Minor Leagues (as this year's preponderance of "Going Green" promotions makes clear).

Another club with an environmentally friendly mindset is the Midwest League's Great Lakes Loons. The second-year franchise, which will be holding its own "Going Green Night" on May 1, has implemented an impressive array of earth-friendly features at the Dow Diamond.

"From the start, 'Going Green' has been our philosophy," said Loons Director of Media Relations Brad Golder. "For example, we have solar panels beyond right field, which provide power to the scoreboard. It's not always a direct correlation, though. How it works is that the solar panels receive energy, which gets sent to the power plant. They then give us a credit on our bill."

"We are also very conscious of our water conversation. Our restrooms use zero-water toilets that flush automatically and clean themselves. We plan on being a franchise that keeps up with the times, and we will continue to make our ballpark as eco-friendly as possible."

One area in which the Loons are perhaps ahead of their time is the Dow Diamond team store.

"This season, we are going to highlight a section of our store as environmentally friendly," said Golder. "We're adding several new items, such as a recycled sweatshirt, where 70 percent of the material comes from recycled soda bottles. It's a really comfortable, high-quality product."

While clubs like the Loons are already well on their way toward environmental sustainability, others are just beginning the journey in earnest. The Stockton Ports, who compete in the California League along with the Storm, have added a "Going Green" promotion to their calendar, and are currently devising ways to run a more eco-friendly franchise.

"We're working closely with the city of Stockton, which is really advocating green awareness," said Zach Bayrouty, the Ports director of media relations. "Many of us with the team recently attended the state of the city address, and environmental issues were a huge part of the discussion."

Bayrouty then hit upon what may be the most positive aspect of the Minor Leagues' developing green awareness.

"It says a lot about this movement that it has seeped into baseball, and that clubs are realizing that they can have successful nights based around promoting this issue," he said. "Many Minor League clubs are based in small communities, where you can really find out what people care about -- it's easy to gauge their interest by the way they respond. I think that what this shows is that a lot of people are interested in taking this to the next level.

Oster would no doubt agree with Bayrouty, as he expressed the same sentiment in even broader terms.

"The beauty of what we're doing is that, because of who we are, we have the power to influence thousands and thousands of people each night," he said. "We can make real changes in our own community, and those changes will spread to other communities as well. This is something that is growing from a grassroots level, and it's only going to get bigger."

Benjamin Hill is a contributor to