Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pirates' Plinko-like fan game laden with Steeler prizes

During the middle of the seventh inning of last night's Phillies-Pirates game in Pittsburgh's PNC Park the home team attempted to actively engage the sparse crowd again. There are several opportunities for (Pirates) fans to win prizes throughout the game and this particular engagement, er, contest, was called Bucco. It was difficult, however, for the Pirates marketing staff to find a Pirates fan, as the Phillies faithful turned the picturesque stadium into a sea of red.

Bucco is based on the Price-Is-Right game show contest in which a large chip is dropped down a slightly angled, peg-covered board with slots at the bottom each labeled with different prizes. The chip bounces off the pegs changing directions rapidly as the fans look on in anticipation of where the disk will fall.

Most of the prizes are baseball-related gear ... with an extremely bizarre twist. For example, a Pirates bat signed by Ben Roethlisberger(?), Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback. Another prize was a glove with the likeness of Mike Tomlin, the Steelers head coach, stenciled into the leather. A replica of a batting glove that Steelers wide receiver Heinz Ward used as a little leaguer was also among the rewards.

"We get a little more fan interaction when we mix in Steelers names during some of our fan contests," said Sally Griffin, director of fan relations at the park, when asked about why the city's football team is so visibly represented in the contests. "Honestly, I think attendance would dip under 2,000 per game if we didn't do this."

The prize that has been most welcomed by the fans (and single-handedly credited for boosting attendance by 1,500 per game) calls for an impersonation of the popular former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher by a Pirates player or manager and shown on the JumboTron between innings.

Last night manager John Russell gave it his best shot and received a cheer of approval—yes, even by attending Phillies fans.

"I haven't been asked to do it since April and so I was rusty," said the manager after the game. "I looked like a scared Bill Cowher and not a feared Bill Cowher."

"I love when one of the Pirates' players has to do their best [Bill] Cowher impersonation," said Veronica Hansen, a fan from Greensberg, PA. "They all try to do the jaw, but they really can't. It's hilarious."

The prize list isn't completely devoid of Pirates gear. In fact, last night's Bucco participant declined four tickets to a future Pirates game that resulted from her first chip drop. She even passed on 2010 season tickets to the Pirates that came on her second drop.

"The crowd was urging me on to go for the impersonation prize," said Bucco player and Pirates fan Gail Stommers. "The handful of Pirates fans were chanting 'impersonation.' I had to take the chance."

Notes: In an effort to boost attendance the Pirates are considering a move to the Steelers' Heinz Field next year during Sunday games. "We might be able to trick some fans into coming," said Griffin. Also, the Pirates will attempt to have Ben Roethlisberger throw the ceremonial first pitch at all 81 home games.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In-game video session leads to Victorino intervention

During the bottom of the fifth inning in last Wednesday's Phillies-Cubs game in Chicago's Wrigley Field, four Phillies bench players, who preferred to remain anonymous, made a visit to the Phillies' clubhouse. The short trip was to watch video of the Cubs pitchers, in case called upon to later enter the game as pinch hitters.

The video session kept the players away for almost the entire bottom half of the inning. What they missed was an unruly Cubs bleacher fan tossing a full cup of $8 beer on teammate Shane Victorino as the center fielder attempted to catch a fly ball. When Victorino returned to the dugout, the smell of beer followed the All-Star as he moved past players, coaches and bat boys.

When the players emerged from the video session to enter the cramped dugout it was the top of the sixth inning and the game seemed to be progressing normally. The strong smell of beer was, at first, linked to the fans sitting behind the dugout--possibly a spill.

"I came out ready to pinch hit and I was so focused on what I needed to do," said one of the players. "I did, however, notice an unusually powerful skunked Coors Light odor."

It was at this point that the focused player paced the dugout floor itching and hoping to get into the game, then, needing to settle down, sat on the bench. He happened to sit next to Victorino who was sipping Gatorade, spitting seeds and gathering himself after the beer shower.

"Right away I smelled stale beer on Shane. I didn't know what to do," said another concerned player who had been in the clubhouse during the fifth inning. "There was beer all over his jersey. It's one thing to go out to the bar after the game and grab a few beers. It's totally another thing to pretend to drink Gatorade."

Again, the nervous dugout pacing started, but this time it was over concern for a teammate and no longer about entering the game.

"I considered pulling Charlie [Manuel] aside and asking him what to do. Shane is having such a great year and I didn't know why he was turning to the drink ... on the job!" said another player.

Eventually, the player asked the rest of the video session group to help him confront the outfielder about the beer.

Just before the beginning of the seventh inning the group of four players slowly and discreetly formed a circle around teammate Shane Victorino. They asked to speak to Shane privately in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse.

"I told them that in the fifth inning some crazy fan threw a beer on me," said a smiling, but annoyed Victorino. "They had totally missed that entire incident while they were studying tape of the Cubs."

"At first, we thought it was an excuse, then we realized what we had missed. The whole team had a good laugh," said one of the four players. "One of those good hearty laughs."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

UFC fight not interrupted by parachuter

On Saturday night the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its first ever visit to Philadelphia when it erected the famous octagon on the Wachovia Center floor. The sell-out, salivating crowd came from all over to see firsthand the brutal hits, KO's, submissions and decisions (yes, even decisions are brutal) normally caught on Pay-Per-View.

The revved up crowd was treated to the swift Anderson Silva who seemed to toy with opponent Forrest Griffin and, eventually, knocked him out—in the first round. In the last fight of the evening lightweight champion BJ Penn outlasted Kenny Florian by submission in the 4th round. The audience was almost treated to another event as well.

Steven Van Brod, 28, of Hammonton, NJ, attempted to crash Philly's inaugural UFC event by parachuting into the arena a la November 1993 when, during the Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield fight (video above), a man parachuted into the outdoor stadium landing at the the edge of the ring where he was then tackled by spectators.

The skydive instructor neglected to take into account one factor ... the Wachovia Center has a roof.

"I really don't know what I was thinking. I've been planning the jump ever since they [the UFC] set the Philadelphia date and I just never thought about the roof," said Van Brod, who was shocked when informed that his rough landing above didn't register any reaction inside.

"So there wasn't any thud on the roof that the fans inside could hear?" asked a disappointed Van Brod. "All that work and planning and all those blueprints ... for nothing. I even bought a protractor."

It is not clear when the parachuter realized that he would not be entering the stadium, but the moment must have occurred before coming into contact with the roof. Van Brod claims he landed on the roof at 12:37 AM around the time Anderson Silva was defending his title against Forrest Griffin.

The arena's security on the outside did not noticed Van Brod on the first jump and, after calling friends who refused to help, repacked his parachute and jumped again, this time into the parking lot. It was here that he was apprehended by security and police and quickly taken into custody.

Officials are speculating that Van Brod had been in communication with one or many individuals inside the arena to better time his jump in the hopes of landing during one of the final two headline fights.

The fight that erupted in the lower level seating area between several fans, and drew the attention of the entire stadium, may have been related to the planned jump.

"We believe that Van Brod's inside guys, after looking up and seeing the roof, began blaming each other at the embarrassing oversight and the argument quickly erupted into a full-scale physical altercation," said Officer Paul Bride of the Philadelphia Police Department. "They were upset that the plan had been foiled by the above covering."

Van Brod and his accomplices can face up to six months in jail and significant community service if convicted.

Asked by reporters if he would ever parachute into an outdoor sporting event Van Brod replied, "Not if it was inside I wouldn't."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Former Geese driver plunges school bus into river

On Wednesday morning, a former Ride the Geese driver plunged a crowded school bus into the fast-moving Delaware River in Easton, PA. The incident occurred just south of the Northampton St Bridge off of Larry Holmes Dr. The bus was full of day campers heading to the upper Lehigh River for an overnight tubing and camping excursion. None of the twenty-seven children, nor the bus, have been found.

Driver Francis Gilbright began working for the Hecktown, PA-based HeckBus, Inc only two months ago after spending three years in Philadelphia as a Ride the Geese amphibious vehicle driver and tour guide. Three years of driving the streets of Philadelphia and taking the same watertight vehicle into the Delaware River.

"He was a fantastic driver here," said Mallory Barter, manager of Ride the Geese in Philadelphia. "He was well-liked, entertaining, informative and had a spotless driving record."

The devastated Gilbright had avoided talking with the media until yesterday when, through a constant stream of tears and a heckling crowd, he described what had happened.

"I just totally forgot where I was for a minute," said Gilbright, 34, of Hecktown, PA staring incredulously at reporters. "I drove right into the river like it was my job. Those poor kids. I feel like this whole thing is my fault."

After the bus entered the water Gilbright began pointing out landmarks to the screaming children—screams that sounded a lot like quacking/honking whistles to the driver—for several minutes as the bright yellow vehicle floated downstream.

"I was very confused when I drove into the water and there was no Ben Franklin Bridge. Then my reaction was, 'this Goose is leaking,'"said Gilbright. "Then I heard the screams and realized where I was. I was in a regular old school bus. The leaky kind ... in Easton."

The driver told the children—who were all between the ages of 10 and 12—to make their way to the back of the bus toward the emergency exit. Meanwhile, Gilbright, who can not swim and is deathly afraid of water, opened the front door and managed to jump onto a rock protruding from the the river's surface.

Easton, which sits at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers, has often been hit hard by floods in the past. Recent heavy rain storms had placed the two rivers several feet above normal levels, which helped carry the bus quickly downstream where it disappeared roughly ten minutes after entering the water.

It has been reported that this is the second incident involving a river for the young driver while at HeckBus. During his initial driving exam—with no children aboard—he turned down a ramp that emptied directly into the Lehigh River, but stopped several feet short when he realized he was in a school bus. Gilbright reportedly laughed saying to the examiner, "That was a close one. You're not going to count this against me are you?"

Apparently, it was not counted against the driver. HeckBus, Inc did not return phone calls regarding the driver's road test incident.

The company, however, did release a statement last night hinting that Gilbright would either receive special training for non-floating buses or the entire bus fleet would be replaced by amphibious vehicles. Additionally, the bus company, in an effort to help ease the pain of the accident, is giving the victims' families free tickets to Ride the Geese in Philadelphia.

"And they can have all the Goofy Goose whistles they want," said Paul MacGregor, HeckBus, Inc CEO.

Police say they will not charge Gilbright because, "He was a former Geese driver and it was an honest mistake."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jetties: What are they and what do they want with us?

The critically acclaimed new film Jetties:What are they and what do they want with us? is Earl Hoffman's latest documentary sensation. Hoffman has directed numerous films including 2003's Drawbridges:Do we need them? and the 1998 Vineland Film Festival's Best Documentary winner Lighthouses: Do they need to be that high?.

In Jetties:What are they and what do they want with us? Hoffman looks to answer two basic questions.

"Really, I was looking to find out what jetties are and what do they want with us," said Hoffman from his home in North Wildwood, NJ. "I was really looking mostly at New Jersey's jetties and my findings were pretty interesting."

The award-winning filmmaker, who did not want to give too much information about his latest film, concentrates most of his work in the Garden State and can often be seen in small town coffee shops or speaking to regular folks while out and about.

"I love how he talks to regular folks, ya know ... like me," said Dan Thompson, of Toms River, NJ, a fan of Hoffman.

Jetties are a fixture along New Jersey's coastline from Cape May in the south to Sandy Hook in the north. The great poet Walt Whitman called the state's rock formations "the thinning hair of the coast I must boast."

Critics from all over the state are praising the film:

"If you like jetties and you are curious as to what they are exactly and what they are doing on this planet then this film is a must."—Millville Sun Times

"I didn't know jetties could do that."—Hoboken Ledger

"I will always fish from a jetty again."—Parsippany Times

"Riveting! I had know idea jetties wanted that with us."—Atlantic City Daily News