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RiverDogs' Houston logging broadcast miles

Radio man to call game on treadmill; Express to aid ALS charities
June 17, 2014

Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. On Tuesdays this season, we preview the most intriguing for the week ahead. If you'd like a particular promotion to be considered for this feature in the future, please send it to [email protected] with the subject line: "Promo Preview" or send a Tweet to @bensbiz, hashtag "#promopreview."

Sean Houston is, by trade, a Minor League Baseball broadcaster. This week, he'll be moonlighting as a stand-up.

Houston, currently in his third season as the Charleston RiverDogs play-by-play man, will be vacating the booth on Thursday in order to broadcast that evening's game while walking on a treadmill situated behind home plate. From the moment the he hits the airwaves at 7 p.m. all the way until the conclusion of the postgame show, he'll perform his job duties while getting some much-needed exercise.

Thursday's game between the RiverDogs and visiting Kannapolis Intimidators is the Minor League "Game of the Week" on the CBS Sports Network, and national broadcasters Dick Gabriel and Doug Flynn will be occupying Houston's normal spot in the broadcast booth. One might assume (as I did) that this would have been the impetus for Houston's "Walk and Talk" treadmill broadcast, but one would be wrong.

"We actually scheduled this before we had any idea that CBS would be coming," said Houston. "In the offseason I had been talking with [sporting goods retailer] Play It Again Sports about something they could sponsor that would be unique and would draw some attention. I said 'Well, you guys sell treadmills… How about you bring one out to the ballpark?' They said 'Let's do it.'"

"We picked this day to do it because it was the first Thursday in the second half," he continued. "Then we found out that CBS was coming and I had to vacate the booth anyway. It couldn't have worked out any better, it's almost like it was meant to be."

Houston has some experience with unorthodox broadcasting locations. Prior to coming to Charleston, he was the No. 2 announcer for the Lakewood BlueClaws, who had an annual "broadcast from bed" promotion sponsored by a local mattress store.

"It was definitely a little strange on the bed, we got some weird looks, though it was more comfortable than I'll be on Thursday," he said. "But this will be better than lying on a bed with [BlueClaws primary broadcaster] Greg [Giombarrese]."

Houston proclaims himself to be in "pretty good shape." His main concern with Thursday's endeavor has nothing to do with cardio-pulmonary endurance and everything to do with the location of the nearest urinal.

"Honestly, that's what I'm most worried about, making it to the restroom," he said. "From where the treadmill is I'm going to have to sprint there and back, and there's only 90 seconds in a commercial break. But I have to stay hydrated so that I don't pull a Lebron James [and cramp up]. If the worst thing that happens is I have to ask the producer back at the station to play an extra commercial, then that's not too bad. It's not like I'll be running a seven-minute mile on an incline, [the treadmill] will probably be set as slow as it can go."

Staten Island Yankees (New York-Penn League)
Tiffany Appearance, June 19

Minor League Baseball is a haven for nostalgia-driven celebrity appearances, with the likes of Dennis "Mr. Belding" Haskins, Alfonso "Carlton Banks" Ribeiro and Ted "The Million Dollar Man" DiBiase making the rounds in recent years. On Thursday, the Staten Island Yankees are welcoming an individual who still is only known by one name and one name only: Tiffany. This late '80s teen sensation, best known for her chart-topping cover of "I Think We're Alone Now," will sign autographs, pose for pictures and even perform what the team is billing as a "mini-concert." Tiffany's appearance is sponsored by the Staten Island Mall, a fitting partner for an artist who originally skyrocketed to fame as a result of playing in malls across the land.

Round Rock Express (Pacific Coast League)
ALS Night with Lou Gehrig-themed jerseys, June 20

Pop culture theme jerseys are all the rage in Minor League Baseball this season, and in the midst of the Stars Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle madness, it's easy to forget that the simplest ideas are often the most effective. Enter the Round Rock Express, who will be raising money for ALS Research on Friday by taking the field in Lou Gehrig-themed black pinstripe jerseys. Gehrig died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1941, and the disease is often referred to simply as "Lou Gehrig's disease." These commemorative jerseys will be sold via silent auction during the game, with the proceeds benefiting local ALS organizations. Furthermore, in a nod to Gehrig's uniform number, fans can get into the game for just $4.

Gwinnett Braves (International League)
Clue Night, June 21

Minor League Baseball's mantra of "affordable family-friendly entertainment" generally makes it an industry that is adverse to ballpark murder, but an exception can be made for Saturday's "Clue Night" in Gwinnett. A murder has indeed occurred at the G-Braves home of Coolray Field, and team mascot Chopper is on the case. Throughout the game fans can help crack the case via a team-distributed "clue sheet," systematically eliminating iconic board game suspects such as Col. Mustard, Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum. Leave your candlestick at home, lest you become a suspect.

Stockton Ports (California League)
James Garner's Tribute to Johnny Cash, June 21

Celebrity impersonators don't come much more convincing that James Garner, a veteran Johnny Cash tribute performer (and not an impersonator of The Rockford Files' actor James Garner). Garner and his band will blaze through a set list of stone-cold Cash classics prior to Saturday's game in Stockton, with each song sung in the Man in Black's trademark baritone. A fireworks show follows the ballgame, but the Ports have decided not to dub this a "Ring of Fireworks." When it comes to accurate descriptions of their fireworks show, this is a team that walks the line.

Lakewood BlueClaws (South Atlantic League)
Pine Barons "What Could Have Been" Night, June 22

It's been a relatively slow year for "What Could Have Been" promotions, in which teams assume an alternate identity for one game only. But what the Lakewood BlueClaws are doing on Sunday certainly deserves a mention, as they will be taking the field as the Pine Barons. This quirky moniker, a reference to the landscape around the Lakewood area, was one of hundreds of names not selected when a "Name the Team" contest was held in 2000. The team will play the ballgame in Pine Barons hats and jerseys, which one of my Twitter followers recently described as resembling "an anime squirrel dressed as the Red Baron stealing a tree." I couldn't have put it any better.

Quick Hits

In order to keep this week's walk on the promo treadmill going a little longer, here's a quick look at even more notable promotions taking place this week:

  • June 18: Noted '70s iconoclast Bill "Spaceman" Lee visits the Rochester Red Wings.
  • June 19: The West Michigan Whitecaps distribute "Free Beer and Hot Wings" bobbleheads. Free Beer and Hot Wings are radio DJs. Actual free beer and hot wings are not part of the deal.
  • June 20: "Personal First Aid Kits" will be distributed at Batavia Muckdogs games, so fans can better treat their New York-Penn League-related injuries. … Miss Pistachio, a new mascot, makes her debut at the Modesto Nuts game.
  • June 21: Baseball games are often emotional rollercoasters. Therefore, the Arkansas Travelers are giving away "mood cups." … Mountain Man, peripheral Duck Dynasty character extraordinaire, visits the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. … Quad Cities River Bandits fans receive "Bobbletrucks."
  • June 22: Like cornhole? Like tournaments? Then get thee to the Delmarva Shorebirds game, as the team is hosting -- you guessed it -- a cornhole tournament.
  • June 23: His Myrtle Beach obligations now in the rear view mirror, Mountain Man visits the Charlotte Knights. … The Boston Red Sox's 2004, 2007 and 2013 World Series trophies are on view at the Lowell Spinners game. Start planning your elaborate ballpark heist now. … It's "Unclaimed Property Night" in Salt Lake. Get what's yours, Bees fans.
  • June 24: The Arkansas Travelers aren't the only team giving away a mood cup this week. Tonight, the Richmond Flying Squirrels do so as well.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.