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Shots in the dark: MiLB fireworks memories

As the Fourth looms, scribe shares his pyrotechnic recollections
From Triple-A down to Rookie ball, fireworks are Minor League Baseball's most popular promotion.
July 2, 2020

The most popular promotion in Minor League Baseball? Year after year, the answer is the same -- fireworks. Absurd bobbleheads and regional food-based theme nights might get all the attention, but fireworks are the backbone of promo schedules. Friday Night Fireworks are a common occurrence at all levels of play,

The most popular promotion in Minor League Baseball? Year after year, the answer is the same -- fireworks.

Absurd bobbleheads and regional food-based theme nights might get all the attention, but fireworks are the backbone of promo schedules. Friday Night Fireworks are a common occurrence at all levels of play, and in many cases, this alliterative weekly staple is just the start. The Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels had 24 fireworks nights on their respective 2020 promotional schedules, for example. But even these pyrotechnic-obsessed franchises fell short of the Class A Fort Wayne TinCaps, who scheduled a Minor League Baseball-high 29.

It all would have culminated on July 4 weekend, of course, with every Minor League team staging their loudest and longest fireworks show of the summer. Some teams are still proceeding with the festivities, setting them off for parking lot-based crowds. Others will be broadcasting their displays on local television. But it won't be the same as witnessing an incendiary postgame display in a sold-out ballpark, the emphatic finale to an evening that began with a real-live ballgame.

For this writer, and surely for many fans, the absence of Minor League Baseball equates to a dramatic reduction in fireworks intake. Between 2010 and 2019, I visited 177 Minor League ballparks, many of them on multiple occasions, and as a result, I've seen enough fireworks to last a lifetime. So as we head into a Fourth of July weekend unlike any other, it's time to reminisce.

The proliferation of downtown ballparks in the 21st century has resulted in the proliferation of fireworks displays on the field. This is for the simple reason that there is not enough open space to shoot them off from beyond the outfield fence. An on-field display is likely to be louder, more visceral and more in your face (but hopefully still taking place nowhere near your actual face). These displays inevitably litter the field with spent shells and debris, resulting in a cleanup process that amounts to a painstaking, search party-style trek through the outfield.

Segra Stadium, home of the Class A Advanced Fayetteville Woodpeckers, was one of three Minor League ballparks to open in 2019. It is a venue with a very small footprint, wedged into a tight downtown location and surrounded on two sides by train tracks. It was, therefore, not surprising to see the following fireworks setup:

A close proximity to train tracks means a close proximity to trains, such as what can be found in Fayetteville, means teams have to get the all-clear from railway officials before beginning the fireworks show. In 2012, I wrote about an unlikely friendship that developed between then-Tulsa Drillers promotions manager Mike Taranto and BNSF Railways police officer Ray Tucker. Their connection was fireworks, as Taranto had to communicate with Tucker before the Double-A Drillers could light up the night sky.

Sometimes that communication is less than ideal. When I visited the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits in 2015, the evening's fireworks display was delayed for over 20 minutes by a passing CSX freight train. While the team waited for permission from the yardmaster, they entertained the crowd with a video of the Muppets lip-syncing to "Bohemian Rhapsody." This was followed by “Let It Go”; the Muppets' version of “Don’t Stop Believin'”; “Turn Down for What” mashed up with video from "Frozen"; “Happy” accompanied by dog videos; the "SpongeBob SquarePants" theme and something my notes described as “cats being manipulated to dubstep.” Ain't that America?

A more common sort of fireworks delay occurs when the game ends before it is dark. The most dramatic "light delay" I ever witnessed occurred at a Rookie Advanced Missoula Osprey game in 2017. That evening's contest, a 5-4 win over the Great Falls Voyagers, took just two hours and nine minutes to play and ended at 8:54. In Montana, at the peak of summer, it doesn't get fully dark until 10 p.m.

After some standard postgame fare, including an on-field interview with the manager and a "Launch-A-Ball" tennis-ball toss, the Osprey went into improvisational mode. Executive vice president Matt Ellis, moonlighting as on-field emcee, hosted his own version of "Let's Make a Deal." The deals included "Four free tickets to the first person with false teeth to come to the press box” and “I’m looking for a fan with dental floss." This creative tomfoolery persisted until the clock finally struck 10 p.m., and, yes, fireworks lit up the night sky.

And speaking of osprey, one must take them into account before setting off any fireworks. In 2018, the Class A Advanced Daytona Tortugas announced that, in order to ensure the safety of an osprey nest in the left-field light pole, their fireworks show would be shifted from left-center field to the right-field side.

Whether man-made or natural, Minor League Baseball is often a stage for the theater of the absurd. This, of course, extends to the fireworks. When I visited the Class A Advanced Lynchburg Hillcats in 2019, circumstances forced them to stage their "Star Wars"-themed fireworks during a blustery rain delay.

Indeed, the show must go on. Another memorable instance of this mentality occurred at a Double-A Frisco RoughRiders game I attended in 2017. This "Friday Night Fireworks" evening, a decisive loss for the home team, had already been marred by a lengthy rain delay. It concluded in the midst of a subsequent rainstorm, and the tarp was immediately placed on the field. Only several hundred fans remained, if that. And yet:

Most of the time, I view postgame fireworks from the concourse or the seating bowl. This, of course, is the normal thing to do. On several occasions throughout the years, my status as a member of the media resulted in invitations to watch fireworks from unorthodox locations. This included the roof of Class A Lansing's Cooley Law School Stadium following the conclusion of the 2018 Midwest League All-Star Game...

...or from an empty expanse located beyond the outfield of Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore's The Diamond...

...or, perhaps most notably, from beyond the outfield while serving as an honorary member of the Rookie Advanced Bluefield Blue Jays' "Pyro Crew."

Wherever you are and wherever you prefer to view the show, let Minor League Baseball's penchant for pyrotechnics serve as a reminder to not go gently into that good night. Go out with a bang.

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