Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘CAN-AM League’ tag

2006-2010 Sussex Skyhawks

leave a comment

Sussex SkyhawksCan-Am League (2006-2010)

Born: January 2006 – Can-Am League expansion franchise.
Died: January 10, 2011 – The Skyhawks cease operations.

Stadium: Skylands Park

Team Colors:

Owner: Floyd Hall

 

The Sussex Skyhawks were an independent professional baseball team based out of Augusta, New Jersey.  Founded in early 2006, the Skyhawks followed on the heels of the New Jersey Cardinals (1994-2005), a short season Class A farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals that left town following the 2005 season.

The Skyhawks were owned and managed by Floyd Hall, the former CEO of Kmart (1995-2001) and his son Larry Hall.  The Halls were experienced minor league operators who built an ice rink and a 4,000-seat baseball stadium in Montclair, New Jersey and owned the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League.  The Jackals (1998-present) are a rock of stability in the Can-Am League, but the Halls wouldn’t have quite the same good fortune in Augusta.

The Skyhawks were the worst team in the Can-Am League during their first two seasons in 2006 and 2007 under field manager Brian Drahman.  Things turned around in 2008 after the Skyhawks replaced Drahman with Hal Lanier, the former manager of the Houston Astros (1986-1988) who was the National League’s Manager-of-the-Year in 1986.  The Skyhawks made the playoffs with a 52-42 record and defeated the Worcester Tornadoes in the first round.  In the championship series, Sussex swept the perennial league power Quebec Capitales 3 games to zero to capture the 2008 Can-Am League title.  Despite the improvements on the field, Skyhawks attendance was only 1,713 per game which was second worst in the eight-team loop.

In 2009 the Skyhawks returned to their losing ways, finishing 38-56 under Lanier.  Former Major League catcher Ed Ott replaced Lanier as field manager in 2010.  The Skyhawks finished dead last at 35-56.  After five seasons of play the Skyhawks had three last places finishes and one league championship.  Attendance dropped year-over-year for all five seasons of the team’s existence, bottoming out at 1,670 per game in 2010.

The Halls threw in the towel and folded the team in January 2011.  Skylands Park in Augusta has sat empty for the past three summers.

 

==Links==

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-Am League Programs

##

Written by andycrossley

February 2nd, 2014 at 10:55 pm

2010-2011 Pittsfield Colonials

leave a comment

Can-Am League (2010-2011)

Born: 2010 – The American Defenders of New Hampshire relocate to Pittsfield, MA.
Died: October 4, 2011 – The Can-Am League terminates the Colonials franchise.

Stadium: Wahconah Park (3,500)

Team Colors:

Owner: Buddy Lewis

 

The Pittsfield Colonials were an independent pro baseball franchise that toiled for two summers at historic Wahconah Park.  The Colonials failed to find an audience in Western Massachusetts’ Berkshires region, but they did make a fashion statement with their collared, old-timey uniforms.

Colonials owner Buddy Lewis was an executive at Nocona Athletic Goods, a domestic manufacturer of baseball gloves.  In 2009, Lewis was part of the investor group responsible for the American Defenders of New Hampshire and the Pittsfield American Defenders, a disastrous duo of military-themed ball clubs.  The Pittsfield American Defenders were an amateur team, competing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.  Their season was a washout thanks to poor weather and general lack of interest.

Up in New Hampshire, where Lewis’ group operated a professional team in the independent Can-Am League, things got real weird, real quick.  The Nashua Pride (1998-2008) played independent ball at Holman Stadium for over a decade, but in 2008 Pride owner John Stabile, exhausted by years of heavy financial losses, sold the club to Buddy Lewis’ group.  Lewis’ partners included Terry Allvord, a naval veteran and promoter of barnstorming U.S. Military All-Star baseball teams.  Allvord’s group re-branded the Pride as the “American Defenders of New Hampshire”, cloaking the team in desert-style camouflage uniforms.

The Defenders’ patriotic/military theme quickly crossed into morbid tastelessness.  The team’s mascot, a plush figure in fatigues and war paint, was named “Ground Zero” and wore the jersey number 9-11, for instance.  The Defenders were an epic flop, evicted from Holman Stadium before their only season ended for failing to pay their bills.  Among the unpaid invoices at issue were the overtime details for local police and fire personnel who provided game day security at Holman Stadium.  It was the ultimate irony for an organization that built its brand around reverence for military personnel and public safety officers.

Allvord quickly vanished and took the military concept with him.  The Pittsfield-based collegiate team was sold off and packed off to Bristol, Connecticut.  Buddy Lewis still owned the carcass of the New Hampshire ball club, as well as the lease at Pittsfield.  In December 2009, he decided to give the Can-Am League a second try and moved the former American Defenders of New Hampshire 150 miles west to Pittsfield.   The re-branded Pittsfield Colonials would be the city’s first professional baseball team since the departure of the Berkshire Black Bears after the summer of 2003.

Former Boston Red Sox slugger Brian Daubach (above left), who endured the 2009 debacle in Nashua as the Defenders’ camo-clad field manager, relocated with the team to Pittsfield.  Daubach took the Colonials to a third place finish at 48-45 and then onto the Can-Am League championship series, in 2010 where they lost to the Quebec Capitales.

At the box office, however, the Colonials were a flop, finishing last in the league with 29,485 fans for 42 home dates.  By comparison, the six other Can-Am League clubs drew between 70,000 and 150,000 fans each.

Nevertheless, the Colonials returned for a second season in 2011.  Daubach departed, but the team didn’t miss a beat under new skipper Jamie Keefe, improving to 53-39.  The Colonials made the playoffs again, but lost in the semi-finals.  Attendance ticked up marginally to 37,154 for 44 dates, but was still worst in the league.  At league meetings in October 2011, the Colonials ownership either wouldn’t or couldn’t replenish the team’s $200,000 line of credit and the Can-Am League voted to terminate Pittsfield’s membership.

The Colonials were replaced at Wahconah Park for the amateur Pittsfield Suns of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League in 2012.

Berkshires resident and Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famer James Taylor performed the National Anthem at the Colonials’ first home game in 2010.

 

==Links==

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-An League Programs

###

 

 

Written by andycrossley

December 8th, 2013 at 2:19 am

2005-2012 Worcester Tornadoes

leave a comment

Worcester TornadoesCan-Am League (2005-2012)

Born: 2004 – Can-Am League expansion franchise.
Died: August 31, 2012Franchise revoked by Can-Am League

Stadium: Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field (3,000)

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Worcester Tornadoes were a professional baseball club that played in Worcester, Massachusetts for eight seasons from 2005 to 2012.  The Tornadoes were part of the independent Can-Am League, whose clubs have no affiliation with Major League Baseball.  The arrival of the Tornadoes in the spring of 2005 marked the return of pro baseball to Worcester after a 71-year absence.

The team’s original ownership group, headed by Newton, Massachusetts developer Ted Tye, built a modest 3,000-seat baseball stadium on the campus of Holy Cross University over the span of just 10 weeks in the spring of 2005.  Just prior to opening day, Hanover Insurance agreed to pay a reported $100,000 per year for stadium naming right from 2005 to 2007, which was one of the largest corporate sponsorship deals in the Can-Am League.

The Tornadoes’ first season in 2005 was a charmed one.  The face of the ball club was field manager Rich Gedman, a Worcester native who played eleven seasons for the Boston Red Sox.  The Tornadoes got hot at the end of the season and swept the Quebec Capitales 3 games to zero in the Can-Am League Championship Series that September.  124,745 fans came out to watch, giving the Tornadoes an average of 2,599 per game.

Local interest in the Tornadoes peaked at 2,779 per game in 2006 after the club hired veteran independent baseball exec Todd Marlin to run the front office operations.  But Marlin’s efforts to reign in the club’s operational budget rankled Gedman and Marlin was dismissed at the end of the season.  Attendance began to drop and a star-crossed attempt to get into the concert promotion business crunched the team’s finances.  By 2009, attendance dipped to 1,818 per game and the original Tornadoes ownership group ran out of money.  Maryland-based investor and former minor league exec Todd Breighner assumed the team’s debt and took over ownership in the fall of 2009.  Gedman departed in 2010 after six seasons at the helm.

The Tornadoes’ great success story was the ball club’s discovery of Chris Colabello.   The strapping 6′ 4″ 220-pound 1B/3B was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Worcester’s Assumption College during the Tornadoes’ first season in 2005.  Colabello played all or parts of seven seasons with the Tornadoes from 2005 to 2011.  Overall, Colabello labored in the minors for nine long seasons before making his Major League debut as a 29-year old rookie with the Minnesota Twins in May 2013.

Less inspiring was the Tornadoes’ pursuit of 47-year old steroid casualty Jose Canseco during the team’s final grim season in the summer of 2012.  Owner Todd Breighner agreed to pay the former American League MVP $14,000 per month in a personal services contract later published by The Worcester Telegram & Gazette.  But fans had little interest and Canseco was washed up, hitting .194 with just one home run in 20 games.  Canseco later claimed he was never paid and filed suit against Breighner, issuing personal attacks against the team owner in the Worcester media.

Canseco wasn’t Breighner’s only problem during the summer of 2012.  A trio of local creditors, including the hotel that was to provide Canseco’s accommodations, filed suit for unpaid debts during the 2012 season.  They quickly attached the team’s few assets and the team was locked out of its Main Street office in August 2012.  In the final indignity, the Tornadoes’ uniforms were repossessed during the season’s final week and the team was forced to play in generic loaner uniforms from the league office.  By the end of August, the Can-Am League had seen enough and revoked the franchise on August 31, 2012.

Worcester was without baseball in 2013.  Groups from several independent pro leagues and collegiate wooden bat leagues have expressed interest in bringing baseball back to Fitton Field in the summer of 2014.

 

 

==Worcester Tornadoes Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
2005 8/27/2005 vs. New Haven County Cutters  ?? Program Game Notes

 

 

==Key Players==

  • Jose Canseco
  • Chris Colabello

 

==Downloads==

Jose Canseco personal services contract with Streamlined Solutions, Inc. 

 

 

==Links==

2012 Worcester Magazine profile of the decline & fall of the Tornadoes and owner Todd Breighner

Can-Am League Media Guides

Can-Am League Programs

###

 

 

 

Written by andycrossley

June 19th, 2013 at 3:10 am

July 16, 2005 – New Haven County Cutters vs. New Jersey Jackals

leave a comment

New Haven County Cutters vs. New Jersey Jackals
July 16, 2005
Yale Field
Can-Am League Programs
14 pages

The New Haven County Cutters were an independent baseball team in the Northeast League (2004) and Can-Am League (2005-2007).  The ball club, which played at Yale Field, struggled badly at the box office throughout its existence, but managed to hang around for four seasons before succumbing to the inevitable and folding on October 30, 2007.

The Cutters were a roadworn franchise, with roots dating back to 1996, when Wall Street commodity trader Jonathan Fleisig purchased an expansion franchise in the North Atlantic League, a low-level indy circuit.  Fleisig’s Massachusetts Mad Dogs played four seasons (1996-1999) at Fraser Field in Lynn, Massachusetts, but the dilapidated ballpark was in such bad shape that portions of the structure were condemned and unusable during Fleisig’s tenancy.

Fleisig pulled out of Lynn in frustration after the 1999 season and put his franchise on ice for two seasons before resuscitating the ball club in Pittsfield, Massachusetts as the Berkshire Black Bears in 2002.  Like Lynn, Pittsfield had a rundown ballpark (Wahconah Park) and a depressed local economy.  The Black Bears muddled along for two summers in Pittsfield but failed to draw much support.  The Black Bears didn’t leave much of a mark in Pittsfield, but Fleisig did make an impression – a bad one – on Ball Four author Jim Bouton, whose own effort to obtain the lease at Wahconah in 2002 lost out to Fleisig’s proposal.  Bouton retaliated with a vengeful and entertaining memoir titled Foul Ball about his rivalry with Fleisig and his bureaucratic brawls with City of Pittsfield officials and journalists.  The Black Bears gave up on Pittsfield after two seasons in December 2003 and signed a new lease deal at Yale Field in New Haven.

In New Haven, the team adopted the Cutters identity, along with a pastel palette of powder blue and yellow.  Former NHL All-Star and longtime New York Rangers captain Brian Leetch was introduced as one of several minority partners in the club to lend some celebrity appeal.  Management made some modest upgrades to ancient Yale Field, including the installation of no frills, air-conditioned luxury suites adjacent to the press box.  Fleisig and his partners also hired The Goldklang Group in an advisory role, long-time minor league baseball investors and management consultants who operated a half dozen ball clubs around the country, including one of the most successful independent teams, the St. Paul Saints, and the Cutters’ own Northeast League rivals, the Brockton Rox.

The cover illustration on this 2005 Cutters program (above) is by the late Goldklang in-house artist Andy Nelson and uses the Group’s “Fun Is Good” brand mark.  In the photo at right, you can see that the Cutters’ Northeast League rivals the Brockton Rox used the same branding that summer.  In this and other years, Nelson’s artwork ignored conventional imagery of ballplayers and baseball “action” in favor of mascots, fans and other imagery that reinforced the Goldklang Group’s “Fun Is Good” brand and affordable family entertainment emphasis.

Fleisig’s previous stops in Lynn and Pittsfield were marred by dilapidated ballparks.  In Yale Field he had another old and outmoded ballpark (1927) and he faced a new problem as well.  The Cutters were coming into Yale Field on the heels of the New Haven Ravens (1994-2003), a double-A farm club of the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Ravens were the worst box office draw in the Eastern League from 2001 to 2003, with their final lame duck summer of 2003 especially poor, as it was announced prior to the season that the club was moving to Manchester, New Hampshire in 2004.  There are places in America where independent baseball thrives – Long Island, St. Paul, Somerset County in New Jersey to name a few – but the common thread is communities that have been starved for baseball for decades.  In cities and towns where independent clubs come right in on the heels of departing affiliated teams, the track record is one of almost 100% failure.  The indy ball concept tends to suffer by comparison when local fans have grown accustomed to watching “the stars of the future” for a Major League organization.  New Haven was no different.

Photo courtesy of James Siscel, www.baseballroadtrip.net

Circumstance also dealt the Cutters a blow just before their New Haven debut in 2004.  The club was scheduled to start on the road with a short three-game road trip in Allentown, Pennsylvania starting on May 31, 2004.  The home opener was scheduled for Thursday, June 3rd against Brockton at Yale Field.  But just three weeks prior to the season, the Allentown Ambassadors abruptly shut down, forcing the remaining Northeast League owners to replace them on the schedule with a collectively-financed road team called The Aces.  All road dates at Allentown now became additional home dates against the Aces.  For strong draws like Brockton and Quebec, the additional home dates were a boon to the bottom line.  For New Haven, though, it was a disaster.  With a winter’s worth of promotion and festivities targeted towards the Thursday, June 3rd home opener, the team suddenly had to open at home with on a Monday night during the school year.  The Aces series drew only a few hundred fans, deflating the Cutters best laid plans for a grand opening.  The instability on display with last minute schedule changes and teams folding also did little to promote the quality of independent baseball to an already dubious New Haven marketplace.

For the 2004 season, the Cutters drew a meager 56,982 for 52 home dates, a drop of nearly 85,000 fans from the Ravens 140,922 for 71 dates in 2003.  Field Manager Jarvis Brown was let go after the club failed to make the Northeast League playoffs in 2004.

After the 2004 season, the Northeast League re-organized itself as the Can-Am League (short for Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball) as a legal maneuver in ongoing litigation with the former owner of the Allentown Ambassadors.  The Cutters replaced Jarvis Brown with new Manager Mike Church and the team’s performance picked up.  The Cutters made the Can-Am League playoffs in both 2005 and 2006. The club’s best season was in 2006 when the club finished 58-38 overall and lost to Brockton in the opening round of the playoffs.

Attendance ticked up slightly to 67,607 in 2005 and 62,356 in 2006, but the Cutters still languished near the bottom of the league at barely 1,000 fans per game. During the club’s fourth and final season in 2007, announced attendance improved to 1,653 per game (82,651), which ranked 8th among the Can-Am League’s 9th clubs, ahead of only the Nashua Pride.  Ownership folded the club on October 30th, 2007.

2007 was a dark time for New Haven professional sports.  The New Haven Coliseum – home to minor league hockey for the better part of four decades – was imploded in January.  The October demise of the Cutters left New Haven without a professional sports team for the first time in 109 years in 2008.

Jonathan Fleisig finally gave up on his Lynn/Pittsfield/New Haven independent club after a decade of wandering through New England.  He continues to be active in minor league hockey , where he has owned the Bakersfield (CA) Condors of the ECHL for more than 15 years, among other investments in the sport.

Downloads:

7-16-2005 Cutters Game Notes vs. New Jersey Jackals

Links:

New Haven County Cutters photos at BaseballRoadTrip.net

Photo courtesy of James Siscel, BaseballRoadTrip.net

August 25, 2007 – Brockton Rox vs. The Grays

one comment

Brockton Rox vs. The Grays
August 25, 2007
Campanelli Stadium
Can-Am League Programs
88 pages

“Always go with your gut” and “always have a plan” both seem like solid pieces of advice.  But what do you do when those two decision-making maxims contradict each other?

In December 2005 I set off for the baseball winter meetings in Dallas.  I was three months into my first General Manager job, managing the business operations of an independent baseball club in Massachusetts called the Brockton Rox.  The Rox were quite popular at that time, drawing close to 4,000 fans per game at Campanelli Stadium, an $18 million ballpark erected in 2002.  But during the club’s fourth season in the summer of 2005, average game attendance declined for the first time.  One factor among many was that the Rox’ entertainment set pieces – the mascot routines, music & video board selections, between-innings entertainment and nightly promotions – had grown stale and repetitive.  Even on nights when the ballpark was full in 2005, the buzz of anticipation and the joyful noise of laughter and cheering felt subdued.

So I went to Dallas with a plan.  I was going to hire a new Director of Promotions for the Rox, someone brimming with fresh ideas.  And I was determined not to settle for anyone with less than two years of pro baseball experience.  Promotions is often an entry-level position in the low-level minors.  It’s somewhat counter-intuitive, but the constant turnover of enthusiastic-but-inexperienced young people is a key reason why minor league teams get stale.

Once a team is several years old, a funny thing happens: the taste and sophistication of the team’s fan base starts to surpass that of the young front office workers who arrive each spring to begin their sports management careers.  Tired old warhorses like 1980′s theme nights, sumo wrestling contests, or mascots leading the crowd in the YMCA may seem fun & fresh to newly minted college grads who haven’t attended many minor league games yet themselves.  But to the season ticket holders and other ballpark regulars, these are re-runs they have seen a hundred times over.   The Rox were known for creative entertainment.  We didn’t have the luxury of another dull season while a first-year staffer rode out their learning curve.

Several industry veterans advised that I was likely to be disappointed in Dallas.  I was recruiting at the Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities (PBEO) job fair.  The PBEO is a terrific way to break into front office work.  Hundreds of entry-level jobs and internships are available all over the country.  But we faced a few challenges.  First, the PBEO is very much geared to students and recent grads.  The pool of candidates with two years or more of experiences was going to be shallow.  Second, independent baseball clubs like the Rox were banned from the Winter Meetings.  We snuck into the PBEO with bogus credentials and posted a fake job description under the name of a New York Yankees farm club to attract candidates.  We revealed the bait and switch at the start of each interview.  The bad news: you aren’t going to be working for the Yankees or in a warm Southern climate.  The good news: we might have a job for you anyway.

I liked two candidates on Day One.  Mike Then was the Assistant General Manager of the Mankato (MN) Moon Dogs of the Northwoods League.  Mike had the two years of experience I was looking for.  He also had experience selling which was an unexpected plus.  And Mike had existing relationships with key vendors who sold promotional items and with some great touring acts like Rockin’ Ray & Skyy Dogs USA and Jon Terry’s SRO Productions.  My only hesitation with Mike was his steamroller enthusiasm.  During a second interview over margaritas at the hotel bar, Mike talked a blue streak, rattling off dozens of promotions he already had planned for the Rox to fill our entire 50-game calendar.  The Rox had a 12-person staff and part of our culture was that everyone collaborated on entertainment and customer service.  I wasn’t sure how Mike’s style was going to go down with the rest of the gang.  The point of the job wasn’t to have all of the ideas yourself.  It was to draw out, cultivate and refine the best ideas from the entire organization.

The other candidate was Bailey Frye.  Bailey and I immediately clicked in our first interview.  She was charming, intelligent and genuinely creative.  Bailey’s life was more or less a promotion in progress.  Example: she and her best friend impulsively flew from New York to New Mexico after becoming convinced they had discovered a clue to the location of a buried treasure (they hadn’t).  I also sensed that Bailey would work collaboratively with our staff, rather than pound them into submission as I feared Mike would.

But Bailey didn’t fit my preconceived plan.  Her only previous experience was as a student intern for the Scranton-Wilkes Barre (PA) Red Barons, where she was the on-field emcee during between innings breaks in 2005.   We met again for breakfast for a second interview and I pressed her further on the internship.  What kind of office duties did she have with the Red Barons when the team was on the road?

“Oh.  Well, the Barons didn’t have any work for me in the office,” Bailey admitted.  “I only worked on game nights.”

My heart sank.  Occasionally you start to actively root for a candidate during an interview.  You know they’ve got longs odds, but you want them to say the right things to make you take the chance.  But game day internships are the lowest form of internship.  Some staff members don’t even bother to learn your name.   You rarely get mentored.  Bailey had no experience working in an office atmosphere of any kind, let alone a baseball front office.  My gut told me that Bailey was the perfect fit for us, but I couldn’t reconcile her lack of experience with our plan for the team.  A few days after the Meetings, I called Mike Then – the safer choice – and offered him the job.

And then serendipity happened.  Mike turned it down.  And I felt…relieved.  I dialed up Bailey.  A week had gone by since the end of the PBEO.  Had I waited too long?  Bailey answered the phone and told me she accepted an entry-level job selling tickets for the Kannapolis Intimidators in North Carolina.

“Congratulations,” I said.  “Do you want to do that?”

“No.”

And that’s how I lucked into hiring the best creative mind I ever worked with.  (In fact, I’ve hired her twice).  She immediately revived the Rox game day experience in 2006.  I resigned after the 2007 season, but one of the last baseball promotions we worked on together was one of her best: KISS The Season Goodbye on August 25th, 2007 -Gene Simmons’ 57th birthday.  This was the in-stadium video board promo:

The idea began when the Rox staff saw a KISS cover band called Kisstory play at the Westgate Lanes bowling alley in Brockton.  They sounded pretty good.  Ersatz Paul Stanley played a mirror ball guitar and had appropriately poofy chest hair.  Mock Ace Frehley looked constipated but nailed all his solos.  During “Strutter” a 70-year old woman emerged from the barroom crowd of 14 or so spectators and ground her hips lasciviously in front of a mortified Gene Simmons impersonator.  Fake Peter Criss was a better drummer than the real Peter Criss.

“One of the ways I brainstorm promo ideas is to look through birthdays and anniversaries of famous people and events,” Bailey explained in 2012.  “I loved using music to theme games anyway, but what really excited me about KISS is how visual and over-the-top they are, which is what a promotion should be all about.”

Bailey booked Kisstory for a post-game concert on August 25th.  I don’t want to know where she found a group of high school majorettes (right) that performed to KISS songs in borderline S&M regalia.  They couldn’t catch their batons worth a damn, but they looked killer flashing the devil horns in their KISS make up and black leather.

We brought Kisstory in early in the afternoon for a sound check and put them on a small trailer parked on top of home plate for a stage.  They were deafeningly loud.  I walked from home plate, down the left field line, out the back gate of the ballpark, through the Registry of Motor Vehicles parking lot and down around the corner past the Brockton Fairgrounds.  I could still make out the chorus of “Christine Sixteen” on Forest Avenue about six blocks away.

The finishing touch were the Rox’ commemorative KISS uniforms for the night, featuring a Gene Simmons birthday patch on the sleeve.  (These were auctioned off for charity to meet payroll during the game).  The players actually liked these jerseys, unlike the pink ones we auctioned off for breast cancer research earlier in the year, when one pitcher actively tried to miss his scheduled start to avoid taking the mound in pink.

Unbeknownst to most of our staff, I had already handed in my resignation, effective shortly after the season.  I knew I wouldn’t be working baseball again for a while, so I decided I wanted to sit in the production room and spin music for this game, a job I had loved during my first years in baseball as a promotions manager.

The challenge was to balance our KISS theme with the affordable family entertainment brand.  We cut out a large swath of the KISS oeuvre from the playlist: “Love Gun” (too suggestive), “Lick It Up” (too sucky), and everything off of “Music From The Elder” (too embarrassing).  We supplemented the soundtrack with a few era appropriate chestnuts by the likes of Van Halen and Cheap Trick.  And, of course, Gene Simmons’ mind-blowing cover of “When You Wish Upon A Star” from his 1978 solo album.  Those played well with many of the fans, who were legitimately a little rougher around the edges than a typical Rox crowd.  More denim, more leather, more implants.

“I didn’t know their music that well,” Bailey recalled. ” The one song that sticks out in my memory is <Peter Criss’> “Beth” because I remember you telling me at the bowling alley that if the drummer came out from behind his kit and sang “Beth” we could hire them on the spot.  I had never been so excited for a power ballad in all my life.”

The production booth at Campanelli Stadium makes for a tight fit.  The P.A. announcer, video board tech and music tech are all jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, surrounded by computer monitors, microphones and sound boards.  Early in the game, a Rox base runner broke from first on an attempted steal.  I accidentally bumped a volume level on the sound board with my right elbow while the runner was en route to second.  I already had my selection cued up for the next inning break.  Paul Stanley yelled out “Cold Gin!” (Alive! 1975) as the catcher sprang from his crouch to fire the ball towards second.  I quickly turned the level back to zero and then peered sheepishly at the field, where the catcher, umpire and pitcher were glaring up at the press box.

Bailey and her “Fun Team” of interns and local high school kids were in fine form that night, moving the theatrics along from one script point to the next with precision and efficiency.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the Rox and their opponents that night – a league-operated team of nomads called the “The Grays” that played all of their games on the road.  The first inning took over an hour to complete.  By 9:00 PM were still in the third inning.  We had an extraordinary noise curfew of 11:00 PM, which was typically only an issue with fireworks displays.  But the sound and fury of the afternoon’s Kisstory sound check easily rivaled any pyrotechnics show.

In the end, the Rox and Grays ended up taking more than four hours to complete a nine-inning baseball game.  It was the longest non-extra innings game of the season.  It was sickening and I had to pull the plug on Kisstory’s performance – the centerpiece of Bailey’s vision.  The crowd booed vigorously and the band were clearly disappointed.  But they came down for an impromptu late game autograph signing and generated a huge line.  We brought the clumsy teenage dominatrixes/majorettes back out for an encore performance, accompanied by members of Kissory on air guitar.  The crowd was grudgingly forgiving.

Bailey’s take:  “To say I was devastated was an understatement.  Not only was I bummed that all our planning and hard work wouldn’t have a chance to be realized by the fans, but I knew the band was going to be heart broken.  One of the toughest things I have ever had to do was tell four grown men in full KISS makeup and costume that they wouldn’t get to play their rock n’ roll.”

All-in-all, it was a spectacularly executed promotion.  We were crushed not to put the cherry on top with the post-game concert, but there was a silver lining when ESPN named KISS The Season Goodbye as one of the Top Ten Minor League Publicity Stunts of 2007.

Bailey Frye stayed at the Rox for four years.  When she left the Rox after the 2009 season, I jumped at the chance to hire her for the Boston Breakers of Women’s Professional Soccer, where she once again designed the best in-stadium fan experience in the league.  Today she is the Events Manager for the Baltimore Orioles, the team she grew up cheering for as a kid.

 

 

Written by andycrossley

June 18th, 2012 at 5:25 pm