Amanda M. Cain

Taking you beyond the stadium walls and into the community.

Tag: Baseball

Baseballtown Charities provides “field of dreams” for Reading youth

Any true baseball fan knows the famous line “If you build it, they will come” from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. Although it is surrounded by brick and stone instead of stalks of corn, Gordon Hoodak Stadium at Lauer’s Park has become a “field of dreams” for the young members of the Reading Olivet Boys’ and Grls’ Club.

Renovated in 2006, the stadium was the first major project for Baseballtown Charities, a non-profit organization established in 2000 by the Reading Fightin Phils.

Gordon Hoodak Stadium was renovated in 2006 as the first major community project for Baseballtown Charities. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Gordon Hoodak Stadium was renovated in 2006 as the first major community project for Baseballtown Charities. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Located on the grounds of Lauer’s Park Elementary School, the stadium is named after long-time school principal Gordon Hoodak.

The stadium is named after long-time Lauer’s Park Elementary School principal Gordon Hoodak. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Every summer, the stadium has been the home of the Reading Olivet Boys and Girls Clubs RBI League teams. Each year, the Reading Fightin Phils players visit the stadium to provide clinics for the young players and spend time sharing the sport that they love.

For Baseballtown Charities president Chuck Domino, the renovation of the stadium is one of his greatest accomplishments during his time in Reading.

“That was kind of my one-man effort,” Domino said. “I raised the money and I designed the stadium and I found the contractor.”

Located on the grounds of Lauer's Park Elementary School, the stadium serves as the host of the Olivet Boys and Girls Club RBI League. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Located on the grounds of Lauer’s Park Elementary School, the stadium serves as the host of the Olivet Boys and Girls Club RBI League. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Some of baseball’s most well-known names once played on the grounds where the stadium now sits. Players such as Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who is a main character in the film Field of Dreams, made stops in Reading on their way to the majors.

The people who know Domino from working with him or for him will be the first to agree that the renovation of the stadium is one of his greatest moments.

“He approached major business leaders in the area and convinced them that building a state of the art little league stadium in one of the roughest areas in the city would benefit not only the urban kids who needed a safe place to play, but it would start a relationship with the Olivet Boys and Girls Clubs and suburban little league teams,” said Mike Robinson, Fightins Executive Director of Community and Fan Relations.

While everyone knows that the stadium is named after the elementary school principal, few know the story behind the name. An anonymous donation was made at the beginning of the renovations and came with one condition; the newly renovated stadium was to be named after Gordon Hoodak.

In 2006, an anonymous donation was made to the renovation under the condition that the stadium be named after Gordon Hoodak. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

In 2006, an anonymous donation was made to the renovation under the condition that the stadium be named after Gordon Hoodak. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

This August, Baseballtown Charities along with members of the community celebrated the 10th anniversary of Gordon Hoodak Stadium. In the past ten years, the newly renovated ballpark has helped hundreds of children from around the city learn how to play America’s Pastime, including a number of members from the 2014 Berks County High School Baseball Champion Red Knights from Reading High School.

Even though he stepped down as general manager of the Fightin Phils a few years ago, Domino remains the president of Baseballtown Charities. Although Gordon Hoodak stadium is not the only project to have been completed by the organization, it will remain at the top of Domino’s list of accomplishments for one simple reason.

“Knowing that’s there because I decided I wanted to put the effort in and make it happen,” Domino said.

For the minor leagues, team names are all part of the game

When it comes to Minor League Baseball, fan entertainment is as much the goal of each organization as having a successful ball club. Part of that entertainment is giving the fans a team they can cheer for and a team name they can proudly wear on their hats and shirts.

Over the past decade, teams have moved locations, changed affiliations or ownership, or undergone a rebranding. As a result, team names have changed and Minor League Baseball is now home to some interesting ball clubs.

In 2012, the Reading Phillies and Baseballtown underwent a rebranding process which resulted in a new team name, new logos, and a new mascot. Now known as the Reading Fightin’ Phils, the organization wanted ultimately distinguish themselves from their parent club, the Philadelphia Phillies, while still acknowledging the affiliation. Affectionately known as the Fightins, the new name pays homage to a long-standing nickname of the Phillies organization.

Aiding in the rebranding of Baseballtown was Brandiose, a California-based company that specializes in helping teams re-imagine their looks including everything from logos to mascots.

Other beneficiaries of the Brandiose company are the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

Formerly known as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, the IronPigs relocated to Allentown, PA, and the Lehigh Valley, after being re-affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006.

The Flying Squirrels left behind their home in Connecticut and the name Connecticut Defenders in 2010 when they relocated to Richmond, VA. The team even switched divisions in the Eastern League, moving from the Northern Division to the Western Division; the same division as the Reading Fightins.

There have been a number of teams in the past few years who have changed names. The Akron Aeros are now the Akron RubberDucks. New for the 2016 season are the Hartford Yard Goats, formerly known as the New Britain Rock Cats.

1464573231

Information gathered from fightins.com, ironpigsbaseball.com, suirrelsbaseball.com, yardgoatsbaseball.com, and akronrubberducks.com. Created by Amanda Cain. Created at easel.ly

Along with each club and the men from Brandiose, there is another familiar face connected with each rebranding. Domino Consulting, the consulting company of former Fightins general manager Chuck Domino, has played a part in the renaming of quite a few teams.

Domino was involved in the name selections for Akron, Hartford, Lehigh Valley, and Richmond.

While many of the names seem to be humorous or even a joke, there are more than a few that have true meanings behind them or connections to the cities where they reside.

The Akron Rubber Ducks are paying homage to the long-time nickname “the Rubber City,” which dates back to the days when Akron was a major producer of tires. For the Lehigh Valley, the name IronPigs is a tribute to Bethlehem Steel and the term “pig iron” which was the name for raw iron before it became steel.

In each of these situations, the decision-making process was the result of a fan vote, in which teams offered up a list of names for fans to vote on and in the end, the name with the most votes was chosen.

At the end of the day, the name of a ball club is a small factor in the entertainment of the fans and the success of the club. True fans will wear any name on their chest and if it happens to contain a masked duck face or a squirrel wearing a cape it makes it all the more interesting.

With Fightins on the road, Baseballtown hosts high school championships

On Monday, May 16 and Wednesday, May 18 FirstEnergy Stadium played host to the BCIAA baseball playoffs. With the Reading Fightin Phils on the road, the Baseballtown tradition continued with four high school baseball teams vying for a county title.

In the semifinals on Monday evening, the Saints of Berks Catholic High School faced off against the Eagles of Exeter High School in the first game on the card. Following the Eagles 8-2 victory, the Twin Valley Raiders and Governor Mifflin Mustangs took the field, with the Mustangs coming out on top 10-2.

Wednesday evening the stadium lights shone bright again as the Mustangs and the Eagles fought it out for the county title. The two teams split victories during the regular season, but the Mustangs came out strong and collected their second consecutive county title with a 9-0 victory.

For some players, it was a return appearance on the minor league field, for others it was a brand new experience.

“It’s priceless,” said Exeter High School athletic director Tom Legath. “Words don’t describe how awesome of an experience this is for everybody.”

Baseballtown and the Reading Fightin Phils have been hosting the county baseball championship game since 2004 and the final two rounds beginning in 2006, giving high school baseball teams in Berks County an opportunity that the majority of high school players never experience.

“I already told someone from Harrisburg this is the greatest thing, we’re playing at the Reading Fightin’ Phils FirstEnergy Stadium,” Legath said. “That’s where our county playoffs are and it was like, ‘wow, really?’ This is very special for us.”

The teams who make it to the semifinals and the finals are given the big league treatment. They prep for each game in one of the two clubhouses at the stadium. Pregame batting practice takes place in the Ryan Howard Batting Tunnel, located behind the right field stands.

During the game, pitchers and catchers warm up in the outfield bullpens while the teams get the chance to experience the view from a minor league dugout. As each player comes up to bat, his name is read over the public address system.

For those teams who are fortunate to make it to the championship game, the experience becomes just a bit sweeter.

During team introductions prior to the game’s start, each player’s picture is projected on the video board located in center field. As each player comes up to bat during the game, his picture is once again shown on the screen.

At the end of the night, while only one team can be named county champions, for all the players involved it is an experience that will remain with them for years to come.

“They will never, ever, ever forget this,” Legath said.

Hart transitions from simple summer job to full time employment

 

For Travis Hart, working at FirstEnergy Stadium was simply a summer job. It was a way to make some money when he wasn’t playing baseball on his summer team. That was 12 seasons ago.

He is now almost two weeks into his first season as the Reading Fightin Phils Director of Food and Beverage. His job outlook has changed quite a bit from where it was a few years ago.

“I was 22, there weren’t crazy jobs batting down my door asking if I wanted to work, but it wasn’t like this was my only choice,” Travis Hart said. “This seemed like the greatest idea.”

TravisInfographic

Infographic by Amanda Cain. Created at http://www.easel.ly

After spending four years planning and studying to become a doctor of physical therapy, he found that he no longer had an interest in the occupation. An internship with the Fightins following graduation from West Chester University had him thinking that maybe working in baseball was more his style.

“I’ve played baseball since I was four,” Hart said. “Baseball was always a passion of mine, it just seemed like a natural fit.”

Those who have known him during his time with the Fightins have found that his new career path is one that he fits into seamlessly.

“He forms really good relationships with the people he works with and he works well with them,” Ariane Cain, a 10-year employee in the Fightins’ concessions department, said. “He cares about his employees and holds them to high expectations. He was one of us so he knows what the job is like.”

At the end of the day, Hart is content with the decision he made. Although it has its moments, there are more positives than negatives. When your job fits in with something you are passionate about, it is hard to imagine that things could get any better.

“I’ve seen him when he takes a break and he stops and watches the game,” Cain said. “I think he just likes baseball.”

Play like the Pros

From the first time he picks up a baseball, every young boy dreams of playing professional baseball. For some, the dream fades early as they discover other interests. Others carry this dream as far as high school and college.

In Berks County, PA a select group of high school players get a taste of the professional life every year when the Reading Fightin’ Phils host the BCIAA High School Baseball semi-finals and finals at FirstEnergy Stadium. Four teams from local high schools are given the chance to play on the same field as the pros when they advance to the semifinals of the county playoffs. The two remaining teams then battle it out for the County Championship on the same field where the Fightins have previously battled for an Eastern League Championship.

“It’s a great experience cause the kids get to go watch professional baseball there and to have the opportunity to play on the same field the pros are playing on for them is a great experience,” said Justin Freese, the head baseball coach at Exeter High School.

A lone baseball lies in wait on the Exeter High School baseball field for the upcoming baseball season. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

A lone baseball lies in wait on the Exeter High School baseball field for the upcoming baseball season. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

For a high school team such as Exeter’s, the differences between the high school field and FirstEnergy Stadium are numerous. The distance from home plate to the left field foul pole is 307 feet at the home of the Eagles. In FirstEnergy Stadium, the left field foul pole stands 330 feet from home.

Talking about how the kids handle the difference in field size Freese said, “The second time we went we played in the second game at the stadium so we got there extra early so they could walk on the field and take notice that it’s all about the same it’s just a much nicer atmosphere than playing on a high school field.”

The size of the field is only one noticeable difference between the two ball fields. FirstEnergy has a capacity of 9,000 people. Exeter, like many of the local schools, has suitable viewing locations for roughly 60-70 people.

The list of differences could continue on and on to include the number of advertisements and the size of the scoreboard. To the players, the biggest difference and the one with the most impact is the experience.

Winning a county title is the goal of every high school team. Earning that title while playing at the home of the pros makes it a little more exciting. Playing in front of a larger crowd than usual, sitting in the larger dugouts, and getting the chance to use the professional clubhouses is all part of that experience.

“Last year was the first time we got to the stadium. The kids who are coming back now their goal is to get back there and play in the county final. It is some motivation for the players.”

Baseballtown to crown a new king

READING, P.A.- Each winter Baseballtown Charities and the Reading Fightin’ Phils host fans and baseball players alike for the annual Phillies Winter Banquet. While the event is a great night for fans to interact with players from both the major and minor league teams, the evening also includes the crowning of the King of Baseballtown.

The first King of Baseballtown, “Broadway” Charlie Wagner, was crowned in 2003, the year Baseballtown Charities was formed. Since then, there have been 11 kings and one queen crowned in Baseballtown.

Each king and queen has their own special ties both to the sport of baseball and to Baseballtown and the Fightins’. Experience in the sport ranges from coaching at different levels in Reading to playing with the Reading Indians to playing in the majors or in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

In an article published on the official Baseballtown site, http://baseballtown.org/baseballtown/kings-queen-baseballtown.html, the organization gives insight into what qualifies someone for the title of King or Queen of Baseballtown.

The article states “The honor of the title King or Queen of Baseballtown is bestowed upon someone who embodies the spirit of the game in Baseballtown at any level of the sport, whether it be as a player, coach, administrator, executive, philanthropist, or ambassador. The King or Queen is someone who has contributed mightily to the game of baseball here in Baseballtown.”

Previous Kings of Baseballtown include Paul “Cooter” Jones, a member of the Reading Indians and coach at Reading High School from 1973-96, Dr. David Q. Voigt, a baseball author, and Kevin Devera, director of the Olivet RBI Baseball Program in Reading.

The lone Queen of Baseballtown was Ruth Hartman, a former member of the All-American Professional Baseball League Fort Wayne Daisies and Racine Belles. Hartman also played amateur ball in Pennsylvania and worked in the Reading School District.

The 2016 Phillies Winter Banquet will take place on Jan. 19 beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Reading Crowne Plaza Hotel. The evening will include a cocktail hour, dinner, a sports auction, prizes, special guests and, of course, the crowning of new Baseballtown royalty. The recipient of this honor has not yet been announced by the team.

If you find yourself looking for a way to get out of your house this winter and want an early taste of spring, go to www.fightins.com and purchase your ticket to the 2016 Winter Banquet. Be there as Baseballtown welcomes its newest king or queen to the realm.

© 2017 Amanda M. Cain

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑