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Indians Indians Archive Social Sweetness
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

Indians Goodyear FacilityIt was like having the golden ticket.  I mean, this was something that they hadn’t done before, and there we were participating.  All we had to do was apply.  It’s all part of the social media, and if you don’t embrace it, you’ll get left behind.  How true that is, I really don’t know; even as recently as Saturday, I referred to Twitter as a necessary evil.  That statement was met with a lot of agreement, and not countered with strong arguments for the new-age phenomenon.  This was, after all, the Social Suite, and our thumbs were supposed to do the talking all day.  You can call me Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

I understood the concept for the day, and I really had no problem with it.  In fact, I’ve come to like Twitter, even if I don’t see it as a replacement for Facebook, which is an argument I think younger people make to keep their life on the World Wide Web, you know, private from the older folks in their life.  I see Facebook as a place to keep in touch and share memories, whereas Twitter is a place to share opinion; different, but same, as Mr. Miyagi would say.  Our day of Social Suite-ness was geared more towards Twitter than anything else, and my 33 years on the earth would make me a senior citizen in this realm.

We had to be at the ballpark at 9:30 AM, and I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t a problem for us to wake up and get there in time.  I swear it was just yesterday that I’d wake up on Wednesday, play cards for three days, drive to Vegas, and sleep for the first time in the Hoover Dam parking lot Sunday night.  The seasons pass, the years will roll, I suppose.  Despite being up at eight, and ready to roll at nine, we still managed to get there late have our own creative interpretation of punctuality.  We thought maybe we’d missed the opportunity to join the tour of what we thought would be the Reds facilities, and I already had that Black Bear Diner that all the Indians scribes talk about on my mind.

However, the Black Bear Diner would have to happen another day because we found the rest of our tour waiting for us.  There were four other guests waiting for the morning tour, two college aged girls and their fathers, who turned out to be old friends from back when.  My “plus 1” was my wife, who commented as we boarded the golf carts to the practice facilities, “this is like Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory”, which drew a couple laughs from the tour guides/ballpark employees, even though she didn’t say it to be funny.

The Indians Let Us In

Manny Acta talks to the media at BPBecause we were all Indians fans, the good people in charge of our random bunch made special arrangements to take us through the Indians private compound.  I can’t compliment the coordinators enough for making things happen for us throughout the day; it was really some white glove type service.  Now, I’d driven past the Indians facility in the past, but in the same way you drive past a prison.  The place is generally locked down, which is in great contrast with the fan-friendly digs the Reds have down the road.  Keep in mind, Saturday morning was all about fan-mode for me, so I was actually quite disappointed when we were told that they promised the Indians we wouldn’t be rowdy as a condition of allowing our tour to come through.

The first thing I person of note that I saw was Chris Perez, finishing up his stretches outside the weight room.  It would have been inappropriate for me to yell “RAGE!” or something else dumb just eight seconds after being told not to be rowdy, so Perez was gone before I could do as much as snap a picture.  I tend to wonder how long it will be before I see Perez again.  We walked over to the practice facility, and I was up-close and personal with the Indians as I had ever been, at least since the days at the old stadium.  Mike Sarbaugh was running batting practice on one field, while Manny Acta roamed between batting practice and fielding drills on the adjacent fields.  I don’t know, I may not be analytical or nostalgic enough to really enjoy watching a professional practice like I’m supposed to, but this doesn’t really do anything for me.

But, I was right there with Manny Acta, who does himself a lot of favors in putting himself out there on Twitter.  He’s responsive, he’s funny, and he seems like a guy you wouldn’t mind being around all of the time.  That persona plays out in real life, too.  With the date on the calendar being the 17th of the March variety, many spectators are dressed in green.  Manny quips, “Is there anything going on today that I see so many people wearing green?” Of course, per my Social Suite participant obligation, I Tweet it out.  And I see that one of young ladies has beaten me to the punch, and that’s so 26 seconds ago.

Wash TimeNext, it’s over to the minor league fields, and the faces are even less recognizable.  I take very little shame in admitting that I know very little about our minor league system, except to know that there’s little not to like about Francisco Lidnor, the consensus top prospect in the Indians system, and I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.  If you want good coverage of the farm system, I recommend you read Al Ciammaichella’s scribbles right here on TheClevelandFan.  We snapped a few random pictures of some unknown faces, and I heard one of the fathers mention how he can’t wait to look at these pictures and reminisce how he got this picture when so-and-so was a nobody.  A non-nobody/Twitter celebrity that I was looking for was LeVon Washington, who I noticed hadn’t Tweeted since January 25th.  There’s a story behind it, and forgive me for not shedding light on it here.

We did take a few snapshots of “#WASHTIME”, but mostly commented that the one of him walking away from us towards the batting cages really required the Incredible Hulk sad music.   The rest of the time we just found interesting names on backs of jerseys, pointed, and clicked.  One player had the same surname and former number of a best friend of mine, and that picture is now his Facebook profile picture; the other name of note was Jared Goodnight.  The highlight of the minor league field experience was the conversation we had with one of the tour guides/ballpark employees about her beloved Cubs and the Playstation commercial, which only makes me wonder if I will be the guy that snips off a few decades of beard when it happens for the Indians.  There I go with my “what Cleveland will be like the night it wins a Championship” crazy talk again.

A Very Red Tour

redsAnyway, the Reds were prepared for us.  Though they have a more hands on type of operation there, things were a lot more official, a lot more structured in those parts.  We had to be credentialed with little luggage tags, and we met briefly with Cincinnati’s Arizona Operations Manager, Mike Saverino.  He handed us off to a younger guy that gave us Indians fans a guided tour of the Reds Goodyear operation.  We did spend some time at the Major League practice fields, which have identical dimensions to Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark according to our guide.   That’s where I somehow ended up in a conversation with Ellis Burks, who is now coaching the Reds, about green hats.  I offered him black and green Indians hat, possibly in trade for his 1st base coaching helmet, but no dice.

After that, they took us over to the batting tunnels.  The younger guide was constantly fending off questions about the Indians facilities, which he knew nothing about (because he’s a Reds employee).  It must have been quite the task showing off the Reds stuff to Indians fans that didn’t care, or should I say it was quite frustrating for him.  As it turns out, the six tunnels they have in Goodyear doubles what they left behind in Sarasota.  He gave us good information about how they can cue up any MLB pitcher to the pitching machine with video, so if you wanted to face Bronson Arroyo (his example), your pitching machine would look like it’s coming from the arm of Arroyo himself.  It was really good information, and I have to commend this young man’s patience with us for allowing a little bit of rowdy with the photo session that offered a lot of laughs.

The Reds gave us some parting gifts on the way out, which included some various knick knacks, but was a very nice gesture that they didn’t really have to do.  At this point, we are just having an all-around great time.  There are plenty of laughs to be had, but it was time to head over to the ballpark about a half mile north of the team facilities.  The actual Goodyear Ballpark essentially just hosts the games themselves, there’s really nothing permanent about it, even the clubhouse is just an empty office with a lot of empty lockers.  The fridge is stocked in both the Indians and Reds locker rooms, but the stainless steel hot tubs don’t look like they’ve ever been used, and were seemingly only there as a jumping off point for my Lou Brown, “this old body could use a soak” line, which I of course Tweeted.

A young couple with a 9-month old daughter joined us in the clubhouse.  Having missed the tour of the practice facilities, they were given the opportunity to meet Marty Brenneman.  Kudos goes out to mom and dad for exposing her to the baseball life at such a young age.  My father took me to Cleveland Municipal Stadium when I was very young, and probably terrorized the grandstand, but I have loved everything about the game my whole life.  I saw that mom was carrying and awesome baseball bag that they received at a Kids’ Day promotion at Jacobs Progressive Field.  I didn’t realize it in my youth, but kids get all of the cool stuff; therefore, parents of those kids also get all the cool stuff.

Play Ball; I Don’t Tweet Quickly Enough

After that it was upstairs to the Social Suite itself, the one on the end.  On the other end, you had the writer’s room, which is separate from the press box itself, and then the suites begin as you head from home plate towards third base.  There were gift bags waiting for us in the suite, this one from the Indians that included programs, schedules, autographs, hats, bobbleheads, and the requisite Bertman’s Stadium Mustard.  The spread in the hallway included mostly ballpark fare, chips, burgers, dogs, and pulled chicken.  It was already a great day, and the game hadn’t started yet.

It started with Ubaldo Jimenez on the hill, and Brandon Phillips coming to the plate accompanied by house music.  Just as I was about to Tweet about the house music, and how Phillips couldn’t possibly have any control over his soundtrack, he clubbed a Jimenez pitch halfway to Flagstaff.  So, I revised my Tweet to talk about the home run, and I used the halfway to Flagstaff comment later because I thought it clever.  So 16 seconds ago!

Brandon Phillips

Throughout the game, various people with the Indians, Reds, and Goodyear Ballpark stopped by to chat.  Guests included the ballpark mascot Zizzy, the gentleman who plays the Katie Witham role for the ballpark, the Reds Assistant Director of Media Relations (Reds Blogger) Jamie Ramsey, and the Indians Director of Media Relations Bart Swain.  Mr. Swain’s Cincinnati counterpart, Rob Butcher chatted it up with us for quite a while by the Reds practice fields on our morning tour.  Everyone seemed to agree how nice Twitter can be to follow baseball during the off-season, but how exhaustive following those same people can be with the Twitter play-by-play.  I must re-iterate how kind and forthcoming everyone was, both in the Social Suite and on the tour.

View from the SuiteThe game didn’t go well for the home team, the designated home team anyway, and as one of the young ladies got upset at the Indians for some on-field woes in March, the rest of us were in and out of the suite watching the March Madness action that we usually sacrifice in order to catch some baseball and some sunshine.  A few suites over, we saw MLB Network’s Peter Gammons in Suite 1 with Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro.  At one moment in time, we caught the Tribe’s brain trust with their faces buried in their hands.  I had my reservations about Tweeting that out, but the youth chose to Tweet it and @PlainDealer it before I could make a decision on it.  So 6 seconds ago!

We took off before the game ended, since Spring Training games are so meaningless and all, but not before the Reds dropped off more free stuff.  This time, it was Reds stickers and a Reds Tweet-Up shirt.  Since my “Plus 1” was coming home with me, all the free stuff was doubled, and I can’t wait to go out wearing our matching @Reds Twitter Tees.  We packed up our truckload of free stuff that would have made Mr. Wonka himself envious and headed out, but I stopped outside of the Shapiro/Antonetti suite to see that Gammons was saying goodbye.

We ended up sharing an elevator with him, and my mention of him being back with Harold Reynolds (his old ESPN Baseball Tonight colleague) at MLB Network put him into story telling mode of how he convinced Reynolds to get into “the business” back in 1995…in Cleveland at the American League Championship Series.  That’s one of those experiences you don’t get on the lawn.  Though I posted the picture we took with our actual camera later on, I tweeted nothing of my encounter with Gammons.  I was done being the Social Media chatterbox for the day, but I have to say that the suite was pretty sweet.

Free StuffHere’s what I took away from it.  Baseball is a business with so many moving parts, and I don’t think the typical fan is really aware of how much the guys that wear slacks and collared shirts do in order to make things tick for the guys that wear caps on their and spikes on their feet.  Because it’s a business, it know the demographic that it caters to isn’t the 30-something diehard or even the die-hards that speak Lou Boudreau in the same tone I speak of Omar Vizquel; it’s all about the families and getting the kids to the ballpark for our National Pastime.  That’s why 10 cent beer night is a thing of the past, and family friendly promotions that include toys and dollar hot dogs are more commonplace.

On that same note, everyone that works in baseball knows that it must evolve to survive, and that means embracing the social media with Facebook updates, Twitter promotions, and our Social Suite experience Saturday.  The people who visited with us weren’t doing so to pay lip service to the promotion, they really want to understand the new-age fans.  They want to know what keeps us interested in the game, and ultimately, what’s going to get our butts in the seats.  I’ll tell you one thing; I like free stuff, and the type of free stuff being offered does dictate my buying habits at the box office.  Don’t think the people in the business of Major League Baseball don’t know that.

Speaking of free stuff, Goodyear is offering this experience again on March 30th for another Reds-Indians game.  If you can be in Goodyear for a Friday afternoon game, apply for the Social Suite through the Indians or Reds official website.  For more information on what the teams and the ballpark socially network, like their Facebook pages, and/or follow the Indians, Reds, and Facebook pages on Twitter.

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