Much to the delight of baseball fans in the small, Upstate New York town of Batavia, their beloved Muckdogs just won’t go away. A team that has been either on the verge of collapse or rumored to be on the move for more than a decade received yet another lifeline earlier this week.
New York-Penn League President Ben Hayes told The Daily News that the Muckdogs will be back in Batavia next season, a surprise announcement considering the league has been trying to sell the team since taking it over from the Rochester Red Wings last December.
“We are coming back, that is 95 percent,” Hayes told the newspaper. “The only reason it’s not 100 percent? If the community says ‘We don’t want you anymore.’ But as far as our intent? The league is going to be here. If the community of Batavia wants us, we will be here.”
Dave Chase has built quite a resume over his 41 years of working in and around minor league baseball. He has run one of the premier franchises in the minors, created one of Major League Baseball’s signature events and published one of the top baseball publications.
So it may seem odd that when he got word this past offseason that there was going to be a general manager position opening in short-season Batavia, Chase jumped at the opportunity. The Muckdogs, after all, have not been a destination for baseball fans in many years and have been on the market—and on the verge of collapse—for more than a decade.
The decision, however, made perfect sense to Chase. He saw an opportunity to help stabilize a franchise that had been taken over by the New York-Penn League in the offseason after being operated—and rescued from bankruptcy—by the neighboring Rochester Red Wings the previous 10 seasons. Chase also saw an avenue to return to affiliated ball after three years of running independent league clubs and another four years as commissioner of the summer collegiate Prospect League.
Deep down, Chase simply thought it was simply the right thing to do.
“I’ve always been driven by service to the game,” Chase said, “and for better or worse this team had to operate. I think my experience should help, has helped, and that made sense . . . I figured it would continue my journey in baseball.”
On nearly any day, the most popular figure at Durham Bulls Athletic Park is neither a player nor a manager. It’s Wool E. Bull, the iconic minor league franchise’s mischievous, dancing, go-kart driving mascot that is regularly trailed around the ballpark by kids and parents seeking pictures and autographs.
Wool E.’s fame is hardly limited to the DBAP, as the character makes between 250 and 300 appearances at schools, parades and charity events around the Triangle region. Yet the mascot’s popularity is limited to the outfit because the person who has brought Wool E. Bull to life for the past 10 years prefers to remain anonymous.
“The character is the character,” said the person behind Wool E. Bull, who agreed to discuss the life of a minor league mascot on the condition of anonymity. “Some people like to divulge that they are the character. I prefer to keep Wool E. sacred. The Durham Bulls have been good about that: Keeping Wool E. Wool E.”
What follows is my conversation with the person who makes a full-time living as Wool E. Bull about the fun, challenges and aspirations of a minor league mascot. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
The Albuquerque Isotopes are but one of 33 teams participating in the Copa de la Diversión, Minor League Baseball’s new multicultural marketing program tailored to attracting local Hispanic and Latino communities to the ballpark. The Isotopes did show off how to do the promotion right when they transformed into the Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico as part of their Cinco de Mayo celebration that included special mariachi jerseys, Mariachi bands and Ballet Folklorico dance groups, and pinatas hanging from the ballpark entrances.
Albuquerque’s promotion not only attracted a record crowd to Isotopes Park, but also earned the Pacific Coast League franchise the top promotion award for the month of May and a spot among the finalists competing for a coveted Golden Bobblehead at the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar in Des Moines, Iowa, in September.
It is certainly an honor well-earned. Not only did the Isotopes—or rather, the Mariachis de Nuevo Mexico—attract a team record 16,975 fans to the ballpark, they also were a hit on social media with 107,977 total Twitter impressions between the Isotopes and Mariachis accounts. The rebrand was equally successful at the merchandise stands, with the team reporting record-breaking sales. The team has said it plans to incorporate the Mariachis identity more frequently in the future.
Either way, the fad has become a phenomenon in minor league baseball.
The Staten Island Yankees, with their season-opener in the New York-Penn League around the corner, have joined the food fray and will become the Staten Island Pizza Rats for their five home games on Saturday nights this season.
Chuck Greenberg once described longtime minor league executive Todd “Parney” Parnell as the best people-person in all of baseball, that he has a natural talent for building relationships with people from all walks of life. What becomes clear in talking with Parney, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, is that he cares for the people around the game at least as much as they care for him.
Parney has used that passion and love for baseball and people to become one of the most well-respected—and certainly the most energetic—operator in minor league baseball over the past three decades. From Reading to Altoona to State College to Richmond, Parney has matched a colorful personality with an even more colorful wardrobe to do anything and everything for the sake of the team. That attitude has made the Flying Squirrels one of the most popular teams in the minors since Parney helped launch the franchise with Chuck Domino in 2010.
What follows is my conversation with Parney in which he discusses his approach to people and running a team, and why he loves minor league baseball so much. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
Roll out the red carpet, it’s Golden Bobblehead time again.
The five finalists for the top promotion from the month of May have been announced by Minor League Baseball. The winner qualifies as a finalist for a Golden Bobblehead award, a recognition of promotional greatness awarded after the season at the annual Minor League Baseball Promo Seminar.
This month’s nominees were selected from more than 70 entries and embrace the fun, fan-friendly and community-minded spirit of the sport. Each month, teams can either nominate promotions or events of their own or other teams for the award. The winner qualifies as a finalist for the Promo Seminar held in Des Moines, Iowa, where they will present their promotion before their peers, who will then vote on winners in the following categories:
Best Theme Night
Best In-Game Promotion
Best Non-Gameday Event
Best Community Promotion or Event
Best Digital Campaign or Activation
So, ladies and gentlemen, the nominees for the top promotion in the month of May are . . .