Friday, April 11, 2014

The Flying Squirrels

Tonight Pam and Kaitlin are taking me to a Flying Squirrels game for my birthday. We have seats on the lower level, first base side right behind the dugout. It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful night, in the 70’s. Can’t wait!

We will sample the unique cuisine of baseball. There will be ballpark hotdogs, giant soft pretzels, popcorn that comes in that familiar striped red box, and of course cotton candy. This year, Flying Squirrel fans will get to try a new locally brewed beer that we all got a chance to name…chin music. Then there’s dippin dots, that strange, otherworldly ice cream imitation that sounds and looks horrible but somehow works only at the ballpark. There will be those wonderful carnival barker guys who walk up and down the aisles hawking everything from peanuts to cold beer. There’s just about no place on earth I would rather be on a Friday night.

Minor league baseball may be the best entertainment value in America. First of all, at least on the Double-A level, the players are young and quite good. They hustle as if they have something to prove on every play, which they actually do. These guys don’t have the entitled swagger of their big league brethren. There’s not a lot of batting glove adjustments and long walks out of the batter’s box after every pitch. They are mostly 21 year olds with a dream and they play with a sort of unbridled energy, eager to impress. Because these games aren’t televised, the games are played at a must faster pace which is something MLB could learn from. These guys don’t take a lot of pitches. See ball, hit ball.

Then there’s the marketing department of the Flying Squirrels, a sort of Barnum & Bailey meets WWE. Every half inning features some zany madcap game featuring kids playing horse shoes with toilet seats or some such thing. Once every game a bunch of grounds crew guys run out in dresses and blond wigs to sweep the infield and advertise Molly Maids. It’s non-stop tom-foolery until the final out.

Five years ago when the Flying Squirrels replaced our beloved Braves, the name Flying Squirrels was something of an embarrassment and source of great derision. Of all the things to name a team from Richmond, Virginia, which hadn’t had an actual flying squirrel sighting maybe EVER. If I was going to name a team from Richmond I would have gone with something that its citizens could understand and the Monuments, or the Rebels, the Virginians, or even the Insufferable Old-Money Bluebloods. But the Flying Squirrels?? Well, this just proves how little I know about marketing. Somehow it caught on in a huge way and is now one of the most popular Minor League mascots in the business. “Nutsy” is the man, although if he ever showed up in my back yard he would feel the wrath of my BB gun.

There are a lot of things wrong in America at the moment, but thank God, minor league baseball isn’t one of them.