HICKORY, North Carolina -- When a player strikes out at the Hickory Crawdads' home of L.P. Frans Stadium, it takes, on average, 21 steps to make it back to the dugout. This bit of esoterica comes courtesy of Christopher "Mega Man" Pack, Crawdads superfan and heckler extraordinaire. He, of all
HICKORY, North Carolina -- When a player strikes out at the Hickory Crawdads' home of L.P. Frans Stadium, it takes, on average, 21 steps to make it back to the dugout. This bit of esoterica comes courtesy of Christopher "Mega Man" Pack, Crawdads superfan and heckler extraordinaire. He, of all people, would know.
Pack, who sits in the front row of section 108 behind home plate, obtained his "Mega Man" moniker because he utilizes a megaphone throughout every game. His exuberant mix of cheers and jeers is augmented by a litany of handmade signs. Pack is assisted in these efforts by a group of enthusiastic enablers, the Minions. Among their most cherished routines is, yes, counting the number of steps it takes for an opposing player to walk back to the dugout after his post-strikeout "Walk of Shame."
At the start of each game Pack hands out white rectangular "over/under" signs to the Minions and other fans in section 108. Participants hold the sign with arrows pointing up or down to indicate whether they think the player will take more or less than 21 steps upon striking out.
"Strike one on the other team is a Ric Flair 'Woo!' Strike two is 'Finish him!' like the video game [Mortal Kombat]. Strike three we count the steps. They hold up [the over-under cards] and count 'em out loud all the way back," said Pack, speaking during a Crawdads game against the Aberdeen IronBirds earlier this month. His voice, not surprisingly, was hoarse due to frequent yelling, booing and woo-ing.
"The players, they remember it," added Teresa Nichols, Pack's girlfriend and longtime Minion. "We were at a restaurant here in Hickory after the game and when [Pack] got up out his seat and went to use the restroom, the opposing team that we played, they were counting his steps to the bathroom."
"That was the Rome Braves," said Pack with a sheepish grin. "For whatever reason they don't particularly care for me too much."
Mega Man punctuates his elaborate strikeout ritual by holding up a sign reading "Pit of Misery" and "Dilly Dilly"; both phrases reference a once-popular Bud Light campaign. Other tools in his arsenal include a "Back the Blue" sign (to get on the umpire's good side), a strike zone app sign (when he is no longer on the ump's good side) and the occasional deployment of "Mega Man Quick Facts" (providing obscure information about opposing players).
Mega Man and his Minions now make up a thriving ballpark subculture. Like most subcultures, it took a long time to come into its own. Pack, a West Virginia native, moved to the Hickory area in 1997. Nichols took him to his first Crawdads game in 2009, and over the ensuing seasons his commitment to the High-A Texas Rangers affiliate steadily grew.
"It wasn't an immediate thing. We started following [the Crawdads] on the road a little bit, going to different ballparks, and we went to see 'em in West Virginia. They have a guy named Toastman out there."
Toastman, a.k.a. Rod Blackstone, is a West Virginia Power fan and heckling legend. (The Power, formerly in the South Atlantic League, are now members of the independent Atlantic League.) Toastman is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of opposing players, witty chants, ample signage and, above all, yelling "You're toast!" after an opposing player strikes out while throwing freshly made toast to nearby fans.
Toastman is the guru; Mega Man his disciple.
"I love the way Toastman got the fans involved. We had been to several ballparks by then and they had the best fanbase, by far," said Pack, speaking over the loud protestations of a Minion who was convinced that the IronBirds pitcher had just balked. "I told Teresa, 'I would love to bring that kind of fan base to here.' It was the best place to go to to enjoy a game. He’s kind of my mentor and don’t know it."
These days there are about a dozen core Minions. All of them are season ticket holders and many are involved in the team's "Crawdad Connection" host family program. The chief Minion, so to speak, is a bearded military veteran by the name of Allan Moody, who deploys a variety of game-specific signage and often assists Pack with call and response chants. His son, Lukas, is also a section 108 regular. The Minions are multi-generational.
Mega Man and his Minions have had to rein in their antics on occasion. Pack's original electronic megaphone was eventually banned, as was the "hypnosis wheel" he used on starting pitchers until Frank Viola (then coaching with the Savannah Sand Gnats) put a stop to it. During a more recent run-in, apparently based on a misunderstanding and now cleared up, Greensboro manager Kieran Mattison told Mega Man and his Minions to "Get a life." They responded by bringing boxes of Life cereal to the following evening's ballgame.
Crawdads general manager Douglas Locascio, keenly aware that Mega Man and his Minions can be a polarizing bunch, believes they are ultimately a force for good.
"Some people think it's mean, making fun of the opposing team, but I think it's good, clean fun," he said. "They have a good time and it adds value and entertainment to our ballpark, so it's a great aspect to have. ... [Pack] loves our players, loves our hometown and he's a great asset."
As for Pack, he says section 108 is always looking for new Minions, whether they're season ticket holders or fans who are in town for just one game.
"As long as you can handle the rowdiness, you're more than welcome," he said. And with that he picked up his megaphone, as Aberdeen's J.B. Mundy had just struck out.
"20 [steps]! The unders win. Who had the under? Right there, that little girl had the under! Pit of misery! Dilly Dilly!"
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.