Amanda M. Cain

Taking you beyond the stadium walls and into the community.

Category: Reading Fightins (page 2 of 2)

Honoring the unknown champions

During the 2015 baseball season, the Reading Fightin’ Phils were the Eastern League East Division Champions and fell just short of being crowned the Eastern League Champions. While the players on the team were recognized for their hard work all season, the Fightins also took the time to honor community members throughout the season with the Neighborhood Champions program.

Mike Robinson, the Executive Director of Community and Fan Development for the Fightins, is the man in charge of the program.

“The Neighborhood Champions program is a community based program to honor the achievements or accomplishments of an individual, group of people, or a team within the Berks, Lehigh, Montgomery, Lancaster, Lebanon, Chester, and Bucks counties,” Robinson said during a recent interview.

Robinson makes it a goal to have an honoree or group of honorees at each of the 71 home games during the summer. This can be anyone from a championship sports team to someone who wrote a book or saved another person’s life.

“Some of the different types of champions honored were the 2011 Conrad Weiser State Champion baseball team, a high school student who raised over $6,000 for cancer, and someone who wrote a book about their terrible childhood growing up in Brooklyn, New York and became a very successful education administrator in the borough of Brooklyn,” Robinson explained.

The process of finding a Neighborhood Champion is a relatively simple one and involves reading local papers or watching local news stations and contacting a school or newspaper to find someone who is connected with the story; a process laid out in the image below.

Infographic created by Amanda Cain. Image created at www.easel.ly

Infographic created by Amanda Cain. Image created at www.easel.ly

It is Robinson’s responsibility to reach out to any individual or team that has been chosen to be honored and invite them out to a game. “I look for a significant entity that would be newsworthy.”

The Neighborhood Champion is honored on the field during the pregame festivities and also receives complimentary reserved tickets courtesy of FirstEnergy Corporation. When it is a team being honored, all coaches, trainers, athletic staff, and school administrators also receive complimentary tickets.

Since it’s beginning in 2001, the program has been seen as a way to recognize a person or group of people beyond the recognition they may have received in their everyday lives and give them the chance to be honored on a bigger stage. An idea brought on by Fightins’ General Manager Scott Hunsicker, the thought was that it would recognize deserving members of the community while also enhancing the fan experience.

Robinson expressed his thoughts on the program when he said, “The program has been more than we expected especially from the adults. They love seeing their kids on the field.”

While the Neighborhood Champions program is not limited to strictly students or athletes, there are certain nights during the season that will be dedicated to one of the many local schools and any athletes or teams who were successful the previous year are honored on the field. Throughout the summer the team will recognize local schools such as Exeter High School, Wilson High School, Governor Mifflin High School, and Wyomissing High School among others.

As an integral part of the program Robinson has seen firsthand the impact that has been made on the community and has shared in the excitement of the moment with a multitude of fans.

“My favorite aspect about the program is the ability to reach out to people who deserve their moments of glory in front of thousands of fans. I also realize that I may not have met these outstanding people if it wasn’t for the program that we instituted.”

Looking back on past kings

With football season drawing to a close and spring training just around the corner, the Reading Fightin’ Phils are preparing to crown the newest King of Baseballtown at the annual winter banquet. The honoree for the 2016 season is Kutztown University baseball coach Chris Blum. As Blum prepares to accept his new title, the baseball history of past kings becomes a topic of conversation.

When looking at the previous kings of Baseballtown for the past 15 years, there are three major information points in each persons’ background that stand out. The infographic below takes these three points, Major League playing experience, coaching and managing experience, and playing experience in Reading, and compares the backgrounds of five previous kings.

KingsofBaseballtown

Infographic created by Amanda Cain. Image created at http://www.easel.ly/. Numerical information retrieved from http://www.baseballtown.org/

Major League playing experience would be considered by most to be a major component in choosing the face of an organization for a year. When looking at these past five kings, only three of the five played Major League Baseball.

Dick Gernert, the 2005 king, had the most experience with 11 years. Gernert played for the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, and Houston Colt .45s. The 2003 king “Broadway” Charlie Wagner played for the Boston Red Sox and Carl Mathias played for the Cleveland Indians and Washington Senators on his way to becoming the 2010 King of Baseballtown.

While Charlie Flannery (2014) never played Major League Baseball, he does have the most experience out of the five playing in Reading with 12 years of recreational baseball.

Gernert spent 10 years playing both professional and recreational baseball in Reading before and after his major league career, while Wagner played recreational ball for 10 years before signing with the Red Sox. Mathias spent five years playing recreational baseball in Reading prior to his professional career.

The final category of the infographic looks at baseball from the coaching side and is the only category in which the 2015 king, Kevin Devera, makes an appearance. While Devera never played professionally, he has had a major impact on baseball in the Reading community as the director of the Olivet RBI Baseball Program, part of the Olivet Boys and Girls Clubs of Reading.

For the past 11 years, Devera has brought the sport of baseball to inner city kids and helped them to learn to love the game and pursue the sport throughout high school and college.

Wagner spent 44 years after his professional career working as both a pitching instructor and scout for the Boston Red Sox. Flannery spent 31 years coaching with Gregg Post American Legion. Gernert spent two years managing and coaching for various minor league organizations after his professional career ended.

There are a variety of different aspects that go into choosing a king or queen of Baseballtown, but baseball experience plays a large part. Each of the kings of the past have either played professionally or recreationally, or coached some aspect of the game. The above infographic provides a visual presentation of this information for a small portion of previous kings.

It will be interesting to look back 10 years down the road and make more comparisons to see how baseball experience continues to impact the crowning of kings in the future.

A man and his ostrich

Sitting in his office surrounded by baseball memorabilia, Matt Jackson comes across as a down-to-earth kind of guy. You would never guess that he spends 62 nights each summer running around a baseball field screaming wildly and throwing hot dogs.

“He’s a very outgoing person who likes being with and talking to other people,” said Andrew Nelson, Jackson’s coworker and roommate. “This quality allows him to be very entertaining and engaging with fans on a daily basis.”

Photo courtesy of www.fightins.com

Photo courtesy of www.fightins.com

Born in Albuquerque, N.M. Jackson has spent the majority of his life in Reading, graduating from Reading High School and Slippery Rock University, which led to his first experience working in baseball.

“When I was a sophomore my neighbor, Ducky Turner, suggested I see if they needed any help at the stadium,” he said. “I ended up doing two more summers with the Reading Fightins including my official internship.”

His background in baseball includes playing third base for a number of years and this experience is evident in his role as the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor, the ostrich riding, hot dog throwing mascot of the Reading Fightin’ Phils.

Frank Phurter and his trusty sidekick Rodrigo have been entertaining Baseballtown since 2003. Donning his signature striped vest, crazy hair, and black glasses the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor tosses hot dogs into the stands while riding Rodrigo.

Jackson did not initially sign up for the job of Crazy Hot Dog Vendor. After a performer never showed, he learned that he was the man for the job. Things didn’t go quite as planned in his first outing as Rodrigo was a late arrival and missed the first performance.

“I just ran around the field kicking and screaming while throwing hot dogs. The crowd was stunned, but after I got the ostrich they warmed up to it quickly,” Jackson explained.

In his official role as the Executive Director of Graphic Arts and Game Entertainment, Jackson is responsible for designing billboards, advertisements, logos, and web graphics among other things. Game entertainment entails between inning performances such as the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor.

His passion for his work does not go unnoticed by fans and coworkers.

“As a graphic designer and on field promotional entertainer he needs to be passionate about what he does, detail oriented, and creative both with graphics as well as on field stunts,” Nelson said. “He always gives 100 percent and is never satisfied with his work. I think it keeps him motivated and able to constantly try and be better.”

When he is not performing during a game, Jackson participates in charity events at the ballpark and with Baseballtown Charities. As part of the Crazy About Reading program at Muhlenberg Elementary Center, he attends school assemblies as the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor.

Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/crazyhotdogvendor

Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/crazyhotdogvendor

Over the past 12 seasons as the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor, Jackson has watched kids come back year after year and has seen how the experiences they have at the ballpark make an impact on their lives. He describes the feeling of making people laugh and smile as one that makes the mascot experience worth it.

“It never gets old making people laugh and smile. That’s what coming out to America’s Classic Ballpark is all about.”

How to Get Involved with Baseballtown Charities

Giving back to your community is always a positive and rewarding experience. Help the Reading Fightin’ Phils and Baseballtown Charities bring the love of America’s Pastime to the city of Reading and its youth while also helping to revitalize the local community. Getting involved is easy and a great way to share your passion for this wonderful sport.

Step 1: Learn about Baseballtown Charities and what they do.

In order to work with an organization, the first thing you must do is find out what the organization is about and what kinds of projects they generally focus on. There are a number of ways to learn about Baseballtown Charities.

  • Visit the official website for Baseballtown at baseballtown.org. Here you will find the background information about both Baseballtown and Baseballtown Charities. There is information about the goal of the charity and projects that have already been completed. You will also find contact information for the people involved with the organization.
  • Go to fightins.com, the official site of the Reading Fightin’ Phils, and research stories that the team has published about their involvement with the organization. Baseballtown Charities works in connection with the team and this site is a great source of information about the different events held throughout the year.
  • Learn more about the groups mentioned in the previously completed projects. By knowing more about the types of groups the organization works with, you will get a better understanding of what Baseballtown Charities is all about.

Step 2: Connect with members of Baseballtown Charities.

After learning about the organization, you need to make contact with the people involved. The best way to participate in the events is to have someone who knows you are interested in helping out and is able to contact you when the next event rolls around.

  • If you feel wary about contacting a member of the charity board, you can connect with a member of the Reading Fightins’. Information for the Fightins’ office staff can be found at fightins.com under front office directory. By talking to a member of the Fightins’ organization, you can learn more about Baseballtown Charities and stay up-to-date on different events taking place.

Step 3: Sign up for the Baseballtown Insider.

Having made contact with people involved with Baseballtown Charities, the next step is to find a way to insure that you always know what is going on with the organization. The Fightins’ and Baseballtown Charities have found a way to make this easy for you. All you have to do is sign up for the Baseballtown Insider email newsletter. This is easy enough to do. To sign up, visit http://baseballtown.org/baseballtown-insider.html and fill out the short subscription form. The newsletter is a regular update on what is happening in and around Baseballtown and is completely free for fans. Aside from being a staff member with the organization, this is the best, and easiest, way to stay informed about the events regarding the Fightins’ and Baseballtown Charities.

Step 4: Connect via social media.

Now that you have made contact with a member of the organization and signed up for the free Baseballtown Insider, it is time to make a few more connections. In this day and age, almost every organization is able to connect with fans and participants via social media. The Fightins’ are no exception. While there are no direct social media accounts for Baseballtown Charities, you can still connect with people directly involved with the organization.

  • The first account you should connect with is the Fightin’ Phils official Twitter account (@ReadingFightins). By following this account, you will stay up-to-date on events in the community involving the team and Baseballtown Charities. The Fightins’ are continuously posting information about events in the community that they are running or are involved with in other ways.
  • Along the same lines as following the official Fightins’ account, it will also be beneficial for you to follow the twitter account for the team’s public relations director, Eric Scarcella (@FightinsPRGuy). Scarcella posts information about the team and Baseballtown Charities as they organize and take part in community activities.
  • Be sure to go on Facebook and click the like button on the Reading Fightin’ Phils page. This will insure that you never miss out on any information regarding the team and Baseballtown Charities. By liking the page, you will be sure to see every announcement and article that is posted regarding both organizations.

Step 5: Attend a Fightins’ game and participate in a pre-game or post-game fundraiser.

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Fightins’ Ugly Sweater Christmas in July jersey. Photo: Amanda Cain

Several times throughout the season, the Reading Fightin’ Phils have theme nights such as Christmas in July, Irish Heritage Night, and Harley Night. During these games, the team wears specially designed jerseys that are autographed and auctioned off at the end of the night. The proceeds from the auctions go to Baseballtown Charities.

Player-autographed Ugly Christmas Sweater jersey. Photo: Amanda Cain

Player-autographed Ugly Sweater jersey.
Photo: Amanda Cain

Another fundraiser they hold all season is the 50/50 raffle. During each game up until the seventh inning, fans can purchase raffle tickets. At the end of the game, one ticket is drawn and the winner takes home half of the money that was collected. The other half of the money goes to Baseballtown Charities.

Toss-a-Ball is another great fundraiser held by the team. Fans purchase tennis balls with numbers written on them and at the end of the game throw them on the field at targets, trying to win money or tickets. On certain nights, the money that is raised through the sale of the tennis balls is donated to Baseballtown Charities. These are easy ways for you to get involved and help Baseballtown Charities.

Toss-a-Ball numbered tennis balls. Photo: Amanda Cain

Toss-a-Ball numbered tennis balls. Photo: Amanda Cain

 

 Bringing baseball to Reading’s youth is just the tip of the iceberg for Baseballtown Charities. By getting involved with this organization, you will find you are a part of a much larger project than sharing America’s Pastime. You are a part of a group that truly believes in a community and what it can become and will do what it takes to make this idea a reality.

 

Additional Tips

  • Learn about fundraisers available for groups or individuals.
  • Come up with an event you can run that the organization could be a part of or benefit from.
  • Get involved with groups that have benefited from the organization’s work.
  • Research upcoming events in the community.
  • Get to know the people involved with the organization.

Travel beyond the stadium walls

Every summer thousands of baseball fans flock to FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, PA to watch the Reading Fightin’ Phils, the Double A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.  Each game is filled with excitement and entertainment and always begins with the announcer welcoming fans to Baseballtown.  New fans who are not familiar with the team may wonder, what is Baseballtown?

According to the Baseballtown website, the name Baseballtown was trademarked in 2002.  While the name takes root in the presence of a professional team being in the city, it encompasses so much more.

The sport of baseball was a part of this city long before the Fightins’ came to town and will remain a part of the community for years to come.  This website will take you beyond the walls of FirstEnergy Stadium and out into the community of Reading, taking a look at the impact baseball has had on the city.  You will be introduced to the people who are the true driving forces behind the organization and discover how they put their passion for the sport into helping out the community.

You will also learn about the impact the team itself has had on the city.  Discover the different ways the players have found to help out around the community and bring the love of the sport to the local children.

We’ll visit the site of Lauer’s Park, the inaugural project completed under the Baseballtown Charities organization, and learn what it has meant to have a beautiful stadium for the local leagues and teams to use and bring the sport to young fans who might otherwise not get the chance.

This website will show you these experiences and much more, taking you beyond the walls of the stadium and into a community that has been greatly impacted by a sport that is loved by so many.

From projects completed by Baseballtown Charities to community service work done by the players themselves, the sport has helped to revitalize the local community.  By traveling beyond the walls of America’s Classic Ballpark, you will discover why baseball truly is America’s Pastime.

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