Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pelicans, Pittsburgh, and Public Relations

File:Pelican lakes entrance02.jpg
Australian pelican, via Wikimedia Commons

[Joe the Lawyer, our man in Myrtle Beach—at least temporarily—joins us as a contributor]

What do Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jung Bong, Tim Spooneybarger, and Crash Davis share? Give up? They all did some time (whether real or imagined) with the now Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Let me unpack that for you.

Until 1997, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans were the Durham Bulls for which Crash Davis caught in the immortal Bull Durham. The Durham Bulls spend the 1998 season as the Danville, Virginia, 97s becoming, for the 1999 season, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Between 1999 and now the Pelicans have sent quite a few players to the bigs, including Salty, Spooney, and, yes, my second-favorite baseball-player name, Jung Bong, a.k.a. the Bonger. (Stubby Klapp is, of course, my #1.) More recently, Tommy Hanson, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, and Elvis Andrus have escaped Myrtle Beach for the Atlanta Braves, the newest major-league organization for which the Pelicans is a single-A team.

If you haven't had the opportunity to attend a Myrtle Beach Pelicans game, imagine a Pirates game, perogi races and all, in a municipal, minor-league park, complete with bench seats so you might even touch the guy next to you who happens to be wearing the full-on Brett Michael headgear ensemble (do-rag underneath crumpled cowboy hat). There, now you've been to a Pelicans game.

And if you haven’t been to a Pirates game, as of this writing at least, you should go for the game and not just the park. The Bucs are again playing passable ball.

The smell of Pittsburgh wafts throughout Myrtle Beach, a.k.a. the Redneck Riviera, which includes BB&T Ballpark, the Pelicans’ home field. (Interestingly, I think just about every minor-league park in the Southern United States is named BB&T Park; and, no, I don’t care to know what BB&T stands for.) From more than a dozen Steeler Bars to a bevy of actual Pittsburghers trudging up and down the beach, Myrtle Beach loves western Pennsylvania. The current leader of the group that owns the Pelicans hails from Pittsburgh, Chuck Greenberg, Esq. He counts among his buds that other Pittsburgh-born sports mogul: Mark Cuban.

Like the Pirates, the Pelicans embrace that “we are the marketing department” approach to staging baseball games. Their categorical imperative being: gimmicks keep families coming to the park. Thus, the Pelicans hold a crab-throwing contest in the middle of the third inning. The crabs weren’t real crabs (which might have been mildly interesting since they were being thrown by seven-year-olds), they were inflatable beach toys that would travel only a few feet, no matter how hard they were thrown.

Marketing researchers must have also proven that young families really enjoy watching poorly paid teenagers put on unbearably hot food costumes and race around the park. Pittsburgh has the perogi races. Myrtle Beach has crab races. Yes, I know, that’s two crab races. It’s a theme. Pelicans eat crabs, right?

The game itself was pretty uneventful. The Pelicans slapped up two runs in the second, third, and fourth innings to quickly put the game out of the reach of their Carolina League first-place rivals from the Northern Division, the Frederick Keys. The Pelicans themselves are in first place in the Carolina League’s Southern Division, and they looked every bit the part. Sure, there were the usual minor-league gaffes (did that really go through his legs?), but you could tell the Pelicans are a solid team with some real pop in their lineup.

As I got up to leave during the seventh-inning stretch I watched the Michigan Dirtbags, being a dozen or so men and boys wearing baseball jerseys with “Michigan Dirtbags” in gothic type across the back, who were standing atop the home team dugout and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The now largely smashed crowd (it was $1 Budweiser night) was also singing, and they were way out of sync with the aforementioned Michigan Dirtbags. And there were children everywhere. Dirty children with faces covered in ice cream. I couldn’t believe I was at a single-A baseball game. I couldn’t believe what an old grump I’d become. I also couldn’t believe that I probably hadn’t watched more than five minutes of the actual game.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I'm not sure where to begin with this. First of all BB&T Coastal Field is the home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. We proudly welcome visitors from all over the
    United States as we are situated in the middle of a resort area.

    Our approach is not "We are the marketing department" as you stated but instead we pride ourselves on good food, good value, excellent guest services, and a terrific team. From the usher who wipes your seat down before you sit in it to the churches and sports teams who volunteer in our concessions, we want everyone to feel welcome.

    We do carry on the tradition of wacky on-field entertainment between innings. We do not have a crab toss with inflatable crustaceans (You must have indulged in too many of the dollar beers and imagined it). We do, however, have a crab race with three colorful crabs, sumo wrestling, Build-A-Burger, movie clip of the game, a dog who carries the balls out to the umpire, four mascots including a Mexican wrestler, and much more.

    As for the 7th inning stretch, we allow a different group to lead the traditional song each night as a way to include more people in the ballpark experience. You may see a church group, birthday kid, Elvis impersonator, or actual celebrity on the dugout singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". Also, Benchs are less than half of the seating in our ballpark. Our 'municipal field' is quite beautiful with a beach, picnic area, beer garden and outfield seating. When you look at our field from any of those seats, you are gazing upon the five time and reigning winner of the Carolina League Field of the Year.

    I suggest you come back again on a night when you are not so grumpy and once again experience all that we have to offer. Oh, and our field will be the star of a well known HBO series in 2012.