It all started out innocently enough; I was in Myrtle Beach for some business and was planning to stop by the ballpark to see Nathan Barnett, voice of the Pelicans, to take a quick tour and get a feel for the place. I knew some folks with a suite, but wanted the inside dirt, if you know what I mean.
But the beauty of minor league baseball is that it’s devoid of the trappings that ensnare it stuffy older brother. The veil of pretentiousness is pulled back to reveal a form of the sport that’s just a bit more open to those outside the inner circle.
Barnett was unable to provide a tour due to his weekly radio show, but absent his scheduled guests for the opening, he asked me to join and blather about my blog. I was more than happy to oblige, so I prattled on about Cubs Insider and waxed poetic about the merits of minor league ball before going on my merry way.
Barnett said that he might have me on the live radio broadcast of the game later, and I agreed to join him. I honestly didn’t think much would come of it, so I filed the offer away “nice things people say but might not really mean.” Upon arriving at the ballpark, Nathan met me and pointed out some of the concessions and made note of the Pelicans’ better options. He then left to go about his duties and I sought out a nice, local beer.
As I walked around the concourse of quaint TicketReturn.com Field, I stopped to talk to various ushers and vendors and I found the same thing each time. These folks were genuinely happy to be a part of this club and this ballpark.
Only a few days ago, I wrote about a fantastic experience I had with my son at a Tennessee Smokies game, so you can imagine how great it was for me to have a similar time with the Pelicans. The evening was going great, up until around the 6th inning, when a couple Pelicans staffers sought me out with a proposition.
But before I get to that, I have to comment on the amazing job GM Andy Milovich and his team have done both integrating the partnership with the Cubs and making the team accessible. A lifelong Cubs fan, Milovich has enjoyed the new affiliation and the benefits that come with it. Having a truly national brand behind them has really helped the Pelicans to grow and capture new market share.
In talking with the Pelicans staff, I got the sense that they are truly committed to making the fan experience a great one, whether that’s with unique food (I highly recommend the chicken and waffle bites) or the excellent beer selection. They’ve implemented little touches to the park that reflect the Cubs affiliation, but it’s not so over-the-top as to discourage fans of any other teams.
After spending some time in the Choice Insurance suite and sampling some ballpark fare, I was brought over to the radio booth to sit in with Nathan for a bit. Had I thought of it earlier and been presented with a better opportunity, I could have gotten in a nice “I agree, Nathan” in response to one of his calls. I really think they should have kept me in there for a while longer, as the Pelicans got one of their two hits on the night while I was on the air, but alas, my color career was short-lived.
Regular color man Mason Robinson needed his chair and headset back, so I reluctantly gave up my spot. Little did I know I’d be back in the neighborhood just a couple innings later. There I was, minding my own business and talking with my hosts, when Robinson came back to the suite once more, this time accompanied by Senior Director of Community Development Jen Borowski, a microphone, and a question.
Would you like to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame?
Guh…would I? Sure! I’ve sort of made it a point to just say yes and deal with the attendant fears later, at least with things that have potential to be really cool. The overall production involved at Myrtle Beach is a bit different from that at Wrigley — the music only plays to cue you up, for one — but it was a rush nonetheless. I did my best to hang out of the window and let the crowd take it for a bit, but I’m reasonably sure I hacked the song to pieces.
But the one thing I was sure to do was to exhort the Pellies with “Let’s get some runs,” which is the one thing I always look for as the mark of a singer who knows his or her role. Everyone was congratulating me afterward, though I think that was as much common courtesy as anything. It was a really cool experience, but I was happy to get back to the booth. For the record, I have not and will not watch the following video of my exploits:
Of course, any discomfort I had felt was quickly dwarfed when I learned about Milovich’s experience singing the stretch last season. That’s because he led the crowd in the timeless baseball anthem WHILE HAVING A PROSTATE EXAM. It was done in an effort to raise awareness for prostate and other cancers and garnered a great deal of publicity and even spurred some of Milovich’s friends to schedule their own exams.
I love stuff like this. Well, not necessarily the prospect of a public prostate probing, but the way MiLB teams do business. They don’t take themselves too seriously, but if they can make a serious impact while having fun, well, that’s exactly what they’ll aim to do. This is, after all, a business. But it’s one that conducts itself with the fan experience at the forefront. The Pelicans understand that the Cubs provide tremendous leverage, and they’re working to use that draw in locals and tourists alike.
There’s so much for visitors to do in the Myrtle Beach area and the Pelicans want to make a trip to the ballpark an extension of that, just as the Cubs’ affiliates are striving to set themselves up as clear extensions of the big league club. It’s really cool to see the organization band together and to see fans develop relationships with the teams, rather than just individual players making their respective ways through the system.
Listen, I’m no celebrity, but the way the Pelicans rolled out the red carpet really made me feel like one on Wednesday. After the game, I got the chance to just sit down and have beers with Milovich, Barnett, and a couple other members of the front office staff while watching the end of the Cubs game. I learned of some super-secret promos (don’t worry, boys, my lips are sealed) and we talked about the ins and outs of operating an affiliate like this.
The only thing that could have made the evening better would have been Jhonny Peralta not hitting that game-winning home run, but the disappointment quickly faded as I sat in the GM’s office. That’s the thing about minor league baseball: it has the ability to sort of wash away the cares of the world, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. The players are often transient and the play unrefined, but the passion and the purity of the experience is palpable.
I want to the thank the Pelicans for being gracious and accommodating, and I’d also like to encourage you to get out and see some minor league games. Maybe it’s not all the way down in South Carolina — though there are some pretty inexpensive direct flights from Chicago, South Bend, and Indy — but I’m sure there’s a ballpark within driving distance for you.
So do yourself a favor and take you out to a ballgame.