V Vernacular

05/12/2007 (1:28 pm)

I Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Filed under: Marketing

One thing I really like about baseball marketing is that it’s so incredibly uncool. As far as dorky promotions go, no other sport comes close. I think it’s because the franchises make special efforts to get kids involved in fandom, whereas in football, basketball and hockey, those fans aren’t as heavily catered to. Or maybe baseball players are just dorkier. At any rate, here are some of my favorite “there is no way that actually exists” moments in baseball marketing:

The Heap & Frenchy Valentine. My friend found one of these in her doctor’s waiting room and gave it to me — I guess they mailed them out to the . . . fan club or something? If I was working the Braves’ PR department, you would get one of these for every holiday. Maybe even every Friday.

Rent on Arthur. Because not only am I certain that my favorite ballplayers go grocery shopping together (duh!), I’m sure they also get pretty excited about sales on apples. I have to watch this clip from time to time, when I feel guilty over a loss because I got up to go to the kitchen right when we gave up a homer. The kid in the cartoon is not quite that psychotic, but it’s the same basic principal.

The video of Adam LaRoche making a caesar salad. Not only does this exist, it is still featured on the Braves’ official website! Just scroll down the “All aXess” column and watch the “LaRoche tries his hand at cooking” video. You may also be interested in a video about LaRoche getting lost in the team hotel, entitled, of course: “LaRoche: First road trip to the Big Apple.”

I like the new features they have on the TBS Xtra broadcasts this year — baby pictures, lockers, who doesn’t like those? — but I’ll miss the complete randomness, and the potential for a video of Heap cooking cornbread showing up one night and leaving Skip speechless. Though, actually, I’m pretty sure Skip is banned from any and all Xtra broadcasts.

04/27/2007 (1:07 pm)

Smoltzy’s Here to Stay

Filed under: Frenchy,Marketing,Smoltz,Videos

The news that Smoltz signed a contract extension is not exactly surprising, but it’s definitely a comfort. I really admire him for staying with one team throughout his entire career, and I admire the Braves for being the type of organization that makes players want to stay. I hope it starts happening more often. Smoltzy’s final contract makes me wonder why he stayed while Maddux and Glavine didn’t. Did the move to the bullpen have something to do with it? Was it just a money thing for Glavine, just a Cubs thing for Maddux? Why don’t more players stay loyal to teams who treat them well? Money, obviously, but is there anything major league baseball could do to change that, and should they even want to?

There was a post about this in Alyssa Milano’s baseball blog recently (shut up, it was linked from Fire Joe Morgan). She talks specifically about how losing a free agent to another team can hurt a team’s female fan base. Are women that much more player-oriented? I hate to make a blanket statement, but a lot of the female fans I’ve encountered do seem to get more attached to specific players than male fans do. I personally became a baseball fan by watching my brother’s little league games, and grew up caring more about those games than major league baseball, though I followed that, too. I learned about and came to love the game while watching people I cared about playing it, so I’ve always needed to be invested in players’ personal struggles and victories in order to really care about a team.

Seeing free agents leave teams has affected my interest in the past. Maddux was the one who really killed me. I didn’t watch much baseball in 2004 or most of 2005, but it wasn’t some conscious decision I made out of anger, I just lost that obsessive interest I’d once had. I continued to follow the Braves casually, and didn’t really get back into it until the end of 2005 when the Heap and Frenchy era began. My loyalty has really always been to teams first, though I do get wistful when I hear the names of guys who’ve left the Braves mentioned. And there are some players I’ve always liked regardless of team; I still love Moises Alou, even as a Met, though I can’t really root for him anymore. It’s complicated.

Milano wonders if less free agent team-jumping would bring in more female fans. I’m not sure, but I do think women approach the game differently as fans. If something (God forbid) happened to Heap (GOD FORBID) and Salty came up in his place and was amazing . . . I’d still be heartbroken as all hell. Guys might feel bad for him, but would it really bother them to see a favorite player replaced by someone who ends up being just as good?

The difference with losing someone I liked to free agency would be that I’d initially be a little pissed. I think both male and female fans would eventually say “to hell with him” if a player abandoned their team for more money. If Andruw leaves, he will basically become what Maddux has become for me now: someone I once really liked (though I never liked Andruw as well as Maddux, sorry, Druwski) who I will still be glad to see doing well if I hear his name on Sportscenter, but I won’t search for news about him or really care all that much. I won’t be hateful — it’s fine, it’s part of the business — but I won’t respect him as much as Smoltz, who stayed. I expect male and female fans would have identical reactions to a free agent leaving: brief annoyance followed by hopes that we can find someone good to replace him.

Anyway, just in case your Friday afternoon hasn’t been weird enough, please enjoy a video of Frenchy speaking to a church group (thanks to Leah for the link). Doesn’t sound all that weird? Well, he’s also pacing furiously and talking fast enough to be almost incomprehensible, though he does talk about the dangers of looking at “pictures that aren’t right” at one point. Also, the stage he’s on is taken like, directly from the set of Saved!, and I was so waiting for him to pick up one of the many guitars lying around and start rocking out. Maybe next time.

04/01/2007 (9:13 am)

Opening Day

Filed under: Marketing,Orr

Of course, it’s not our opening day, but it’s the opening day nonetheless. I know I’ll be tuning in to root for the Mets to lose tonight, as much as rooting for the Cardinals to win makes my skin crawl. But whatever works — I sure enjoyed knocking the Astros out of the playoff race last year, even though it meant allowing the Cardinals to somehow go on to win the Series. I still hope Clemens retires this year so that the last game of his career will be a loss to Chuckie.

Whenever I hear the phrase “opening day,” I think of Atlanta’s “Every day is an opening day” marketing campaign. What, you didn’t know that Atlanta has a slogan? It even has a theme song. Really makes me miss Fred Toucher antagonizing the campaign endlessly on the radio. I’m liking the Braves’ marketing campaign so far this year — it’s nice and subtle, unlike last year’s embarrassing MC Hammer video (this is a real thing! I refuse to link to it, but Huddy plays air guitar, take my word for it), and that other country one where the guy with the mullet screams “GO BRAVES!” at the end. I also hated the decade banners out at the Chop House — do the Braves really want to remember the 70’s and 80’s that badly? I still say those banners were bad luck. If they had a slogan last year, I don’t remember it, which is not a very good sign, but this year their slogan is “Welcome to the Bigs.” Pretty cheesy but not too bad. I like the commercials with the players getting out of limos on a red carpet — they’re just humiliating enough to be funny. At least there’s no “dancing” involved this year. Yet.

I really liked ending the game on a Wicky note yesterday, and I appreciated the crowd getting into it there at the end, like Wicky’s third out was the official bell for the start of the season. I guess I should make some predictions, eh?

I’m excited about:
Smoltz, Heap, Chuckie, Gonzo, Soriano, Chipper, Kelly (as a leadoff hitter, and how funny is it that the Padres are making Gilly hit leadoff?), Paronto

Haven’t made up my mind yet:
Andruw (he looks goofy as hell at the plate lately, yes?), Huddy, Langerhans, Thor, Rent, McBride

You guys make me nervous but I’m hoping for the best:
Frenchy, Diaz (he seems to be panicking lately, he’s talking to himself at the plate and stuff), Cormier, Hampton

I’m worried about:
Wow, I actually can’t think of anyone I’m really worried about. Maybe Redman? But even he hasn’t been terrible. I guess I’m just relatively indifferent about everyone else.

Okay, now, I hate to keep picking on Orr (not really), but this picture:

Let’s just hope it’s not a metaphor for his 2007 season. Cause it’s not a bad one for his 2006. But hope springs eternal! GO ORR! Get off your knees, find your glove and work it out, man. On opening day, anything is possible.

03/20/2007 (11:34 am)

Hungry Hungry Bravos

Filed under: Frenchy,Heap,Marketing,Preseason

My boss, who is a big Braves fan, came up to me yesterday to chat about the games that were on TV over the weekend. She also mentioned that she’d seen one of the many Chipper interviews where he insinuated that the team had lost its “hunger” after so much success in the division for so long, and she was impressed that he had acknowledged this. I don’t think I’ve seen a single broadcast or mention of the Braves in any mainstream sports coverage all spring that hasn’t made the same suggestion: they were “bored” before, and now they want it more.

The marketing department, after years of relying heavily on the long string of division championships to promote the team, really loves this angle, too. There is a commercial on the internet radio broadcasts (not sure if it’s on the AM/FM broadcasts, too) that basically starts out talking about how awesome the Mets are (or were, last year), then assures fans that the Braves are ready to kick some ass now that they finally have a real rival to inspire them to greatness.

As a marketing strategy, it’s a pretty effective way to turn last year’s disappointing season into something to get excited about this year, but I personally don’t buy it at all. I don’t think anyone was bored or really didn’t care last year. They all looked absolutely devastated on a regular basis, and I think they were really humiliated. I’ll never forget the night in Tampa Bay when they finally broke the ten game losing streak and went nuts like they had clinched a playoff spot, they were so relieved.

I think they actually suffered from trying too hard last year in the absence of reliable starting pitching. The hitters were really pressing and constantly swinging for the fences to try and come up with a big moment that would compensate for Hudson’s mediocrity and Ho-Ram’s mood swings (he actually admitted at one point that he screwed up the first game in a really important series against the Mets because he was nervous — I was at that game, and it was just embarrassing, especially because Turner is Carpetbagger Land and there were Mets fans everywhere). The relief pitchers were overworked because of problems with the starting rotation, and they were so freaked out by the responsibility that they drove themselves into the ground. Even Chipper seriously looked close to contemplating suicide when he watched all of this helplessly from the bench.

I really don’t think the problem was that no one cared, and I don’t think renewed “passion” is going to do much for us this year — they would have done anything to keep the streak going last year, they had passion then. I’m hanging my hopes on the starting pitching, though admittedly the Cards won the Series last year with Carpenter and not much else. But was that a REAL World Series? Sometimes I wonder. Last year was a really strange year for baseball, I’ll tell you what. This picture illustrates it perfectly, I think:

And speaking of marketing, has anyone heard the “Jeff Francoeur and the Atlanta Braves” commercial? It might actually be the same one that talks about taking on the Mets in the division race this year. I like Frenchy as much as the next person, but c’mon. Even if he is having a great spring, “Jeff Francoeur and the Atlanta Braves” is false advertising on the “Dale Gribble Bluegrass Experience” level. I do like the commercial with three teenage girls wearing Francoeur jerseys, where the announcer says something about coming to Turner to see “the sights,” and Frenchy materializes before them. I sort of love it when they advertise Frenchy like this sideshow attraction we happen to have: “Come to Atlanta and see the world famous HANDSOME MAN!”

We beat the Indians yesterday, and today is an off day. I’m really upset that the game wasn’t televised yesterday: Heap had a stand-up triple? Just, how? Did the outfielder lose the ball in the grass for awhile? I’m so sorry I missed this — even Bobby described the experience of watching Heap run to third as “fun.”

03/02/2007 (6:41 pm)

Let the Jokes About Chipper’s Sex Life Begin

Chipper’s beard was a hot topic of conversation among the ESPN announcers today, during the first televised Braves spring training game (also the first game ESPN has televised this season). Apparently, the beard is Chipper’s way of “rebelling against his wife,” who hates it. Chipper was interviewed by the dudes after he was taken out of the game, and they asked him if he was more afraid of drawing the wrath of Bobby (who presumably has issues with the beard himself) or his wife. Chipper of course answered that he was more afraid of his wife, and after he left Kruk said, “Bobby can bench him, but his wife can really bench him.”

Jokes about players’ wives withholding sex? Now it’s officially spring! Hooray!

The game today was the first one I’ve seen since my husband and I got a huge new television and HD cable as a Christmas present to ourselves, so it was a religious experience for me. I did find myself getting distracted by the detail that I can now see in the crowd: I was mesmerized by a kid eating an ice cream bar at one point.

Notes from the game:

–LaRoche forgot his jersey. LaRoche. Forgot? His JERSEY. He wore an impromptu number 96. At this point I’m just really impressed that his wife was able to see that their children survived past infancy. It must have been a challenge, just making sure he didn’t burn the house down every time he tried to make toast. I thought nothing could beat going to play golf with Tiger Woods and forgetting your clubs, but LaRoche certainly has a way of topping himself.

–Smoltz looked excellent; his breaking stuff was just embarrassingly good. He tried to throw a knuckleball to Rochy. They uh, had a laugh about it. He needed only 12 pitches in his first inning.

–Diaz got a hit, and tried to overcompensate for his reputation in left by tumbling into a concrete wall in an attempt to catch a foul that was well into the bullpen:

Thankfully he was okay. Someone please tell him that he’s on the goddamn roster before he kills himself. I swear most of his problem in left is nerves.

–Heap grounded out twice and missed a chance to throw out a runner, but he did make important tag at the plate after a great assist from Andruw:

Now if nobody could get near Heap again until April 1st, that would be great. Collisions at the plate are so not happening in spring training games, ya hear me?

–Frenchy homered, and even looked at the first two pitches in his first at bat! They were both balls, but the ump called the third pitch he looked at a strike, so Frenchy swung wildly at the next one. But anyway, he homered. He looked a little asleep out there in right, but it was a half-game golf day, so I guess I won’t be too bothered.

–Chipper and Andruw both looked like goofballs at the plate. Chipper especially looked like he wasn’t having any of this practice shit. It’s to be expected, I suppose. Andruw was certainly awake in the field.

–Gonzalez gave up a two run homer and Wicky’s inning ran a little long, but I’m not really worried about either of them.

–McBride, on the other hand, looked a little weak. Moylan was surprisingly good. The Vulch gave up a home run.

–Apparently Chipper flew to Japan during the offseason to have his new cleats fitted. The idea of Chipper in Japan will never stop being funny. I’m sure he went right to KFC like Andruw did while he was there.

–I don’t care for Andruw’s new spiderweb tattoo.

Peter Gammons is in love with the Braves, by the way. I’ve heard or read about a thousand positive things from him since spring training started, and hopefully the rest of the mainstream media will follow his respected lead. They sure hated our asses last year, seemed like.

Miscellaneous:

Orr almost killed KJ this morning. Orr just needs to go home before someone loses an eye, I swear.

–Dave O’Brien mentions the cover of the new media guide in his blog today. It features — what else? — Heap and Frenchy. Dave calls it the “dawn of a new era” for the Braves, and this is certainly true of their marketing department, if nothing else. I think it’s brilliant, and it may seem like Heap and Frenchy were just handed to them, but this has happened before in major league baseball, and while those childhood friends weren’t touted as equally as Heap and Frenchy (whatever happened to Munson, anyway?), I think the shameless flaunting of their history is a great approach here. Get them on the cover of everything and keep them there as long as you can.

03/01/2007 (5:16 pm)

The Rise of the Silver Catcher

It’s promotion schedule time! This year it’s mostly the old standards — a night where you can win the game worn jerseys (tastefully abbreviated as JOOB on the schedule), t-shirt giveaways, bat nights, hat nights, and plenty of kids running the bases all summer long. They also offer a sneak preview of the Heap statue they’ll be giving out on July 19:

I guess it’s silver because he got the Silver Slugger last year? Either way, the likeness is astounding.

More than any of these other giveaways and special events, everyone must make sure to mark their calendars for the September 9th game against the Nationals, when the Braves will have Bark in the Park (one of TWO Barks scheduled in the Park this season!), Pet Calendar Night (if you don’t have the 06-07 calender that features Rent staring lovingly at his goldfish, “Little Edgar,” you’re really missing the hell out) AND Girl Scout Night. I know, you’re thinking, Girl Scout Night? What’s the big deal? Well, last year we happened to show up on one of the Girl Scout days, and they had five hundred little girls parading around the field with their mothers before the game, and who had to walk out into right field to practice throwing with the starting pitcher while all of this was going on? Why, Heap, of course! He looked like he was afraid he was hallucinating. Then a rogue mom broke away from the crowd and ran to him before the security people could stop her, got his autograph and ran back, dragging her poor daughter with her. It was fantastic.

I listened to most of the game against the Dodgers on MLB radio today. All good news: we won 7-2, Davies had a good mini-start. Brayan Pena and Thor both benefited from really hustling down to first, beating out tags that would have been made easily if they hadn’t. Corky Miller, Escobar, Salty and Frenchy had some of the more memorable hits, and Paronto and Yates were fine to close it out. On the Dodgers side, Betemit was making errors all over the place, and LaRoche’s ridiculously good looking younger brother played a little third base.

A few pictures from the two games played so far

Am I the only person who can’t get enough awkward videos of Heap signing stuff for people? Probably, but do enjoy the above if you’re so inclined. I particularly like the part where Heap picks up that guy’s used tissue and inspects it curiously, and I love how the kid immediately sniffs the card after Heap signs it (for authenticity purposes?), then accuses him of signing it with glue.

02/28/2007 (4:38 pm)

First Game-Like Simulation of the Season!

I just finished listening to the second half of the Braves vs. Georgia Tech game on MLB radio. The game itself was pretty boring — we won 5-0 and our pitching was solid with 14 strikeouts (Harrison, Barry, and Ascanio each had two innings; Johnson, Lerew and Joey each had one). The only real surprise was Langerhans hitting a home run in the 3rd. Weird!

It was mostly just neat to hear Pete and Lemmer for the first time since last summer. There was also a commercial that featured their new slogan “Welcome to the Bigs,” which played a total of 5,032 times, seemed like. Interestingly, the actor talking about the magical experience of taking his kids to a Braves game has a rather obvious Boston accent (“bawlgame”). Are they trying to gain some nostalgic baseball cred by calling Red Sox Nation to mind?

The most hilarious line from the first commercial: “the drive to the game is almost as exciting as the game itself.” Right, sitting in rush hour traffic for two and half hours and missing the first four innings because the city can’t be bothered to build a MARTA rail out to the stadium — some of my best Braves memories! The closest I ever came to a nervous breakdown was circling the stadium looking for parking during the third inning one night, after suffering through surprise construction-related traffic on I-75. On the radio they were screaming about home runs that were being hit one hundred feet away from me, and I could hear cheering from inside the park while we were stuck in gridlock on Hank Aaron Avenue or whatever the hell that one that goes by the orange lot is called.

So I’m not too impressed with the first glimpse of their 2007 marketing campaign. I couldn’t understand the line about the bullpen in the other commercial they played — “with a new bullpen that can only be described as [something],” sounds like “nah”? When I first heard “new bullpen” it somehow called to mind improvements to the actual bullpen area inside the park, like they’d put in fancy neon lights or trampolines. Cause how great would Paronto fooling around on a trampoline be during those boring between inning mini-games? That would truly be worth advertising, but what is this “nah” concept all about?

I missed the first five innings, but it sounds like nothing much happened outside of Langerhans homering, and apparently Kelly screwed up a play at second and got Heap charged with an error. Lovely.

Two unrelated notes:

My friend brought my attention to this article about the Giles brothers this afternoon. If I could come up with a single word to describe it I would, but you just have to read it to believe it. A little preview that may very well terrify you into skipping it entirely:

Minutes later, Padres pitcher Chris Young is red-faced and out of the shower, still shaking his head.

So there’s that, and also: BREAKING NEWS! Heap wears glasses:

I knew it! All last year he was always blinking dramatically and widening his eyes awkwardly before he hit. I do the same thing when my contacts are bothering me. I finally found a clear(ish) shot of him wearing glasses, so this proves that his contacts were indeed the problem. I feel so vindicated.