For nearly a decade Elian Herrera had played minor league ball. He spent almost ten years slowly advancing through the ranks; the Dodgers’ facility in the Dominican Republic, Rookie Ball, Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, BACK to Double-A. He’d seen pitches at every level of the game, except the majors.
Why should this season be any different?
“Elian’s been solid,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com after Herrera’s 17th game with the Dodgers, where he went 2-for-5 with two RBI. “It’s like you’re getting as close as you can to a grizzled veteran coming up from the Minors. Nine years of polish and learning to play the game. He’s been through a lot.”
But that still doesn’t explain it.
Why should the team with the best record in baseball find a spot for a guy that’s barely played a full season at Double-A? Why should he hit safely in 15 of 19 Major League contests? Why should he have three game-winning RBI already? Why should he, over five other players that were called up, make the cut instead of them?
“It’s (his success) from both sides of the plate,” Mattingly said. “He’s shown power, he’s had good at-bats, he’s shown awareness, he can steal a base, he can try to get a bunt down. He’s got a lot of different things to his game. It’s not like he’s a one-dimensional guy that came up and got hot. He looks like he belongs here.”
He also looked like he belonged with the Isotopes.
Before the call-up on May 14, Herrera was hitting .358 and on a 17-game hitting streak. He was a huge part of the ‘Topes’ winning ways, helping the team climb from the basement of the PCL American Southern Division to sole possession of first.
“It’s a great story,” Isotopes Manager Lorenzo Bundy said of Herrera. “He came here and worked his way into the lineup. He was part of the reason we turned our season around. He’s gone up there (to the Dodgers) and he’s definitely holding his own and doing a great job.”
Another thing that may have separated Herrera is his versatility. In 28 games with Albuquerque, he played six different positions on the diamond, and outside of catching or pitching, saw time everywhere except right field. At the plate, he mostly fit into the leadoff role but also had success batting in the bottom end of the lineup.
He’s the definition of utility player, and with consistent numbers at so many spots on the diamond and in the batting order, finding playing time with the Dodgers wasn’t the point of concern for Herrera or Bundy.
“The main question was could Elian handle the pressure,” Bundy said. “He’s played in pressure type situations before, but was it Dodger Stadium with 45,000 people? No. So I said the only way you find out is to give him a shot.”
In return, Herrera’s been ripping shots off any and all Major League pitching. Last night’s victim was none other than three-time All-Star and Cy-Young award winner Cliff Lee. The lefty held the first-place Dodgers to only two runs on the night. Herrera’s line? A hit with two RBI.
“He’s a baseball guy, he has great instincts,” said Isotopes Hitting Coach John Valentin of Herrera’s smooth transition to the Majors. “It especially shows when you see him have success in the big leagues, when he’s facing the best of the best when it comes to pitching.”
The greatest part of his story is that Herrera came out of nowhere and was picked up for almost nothing. When he signed with the Dodgers in 2003, he was inked with only a $15,000 bonus. As a catcher.
“I’d like to tell you that I studied the minor league system and knew this guy could play, but I can’t say that,” Mattingly said. “It’s a testament to him that he continued to work hard.”
And finally, it’s all paying off.
“In the Dominican they say, ‘Give 100 percent. What happens happens,'” Herrera said. “Even if you don’t reach your goal, you could always tell your children, ‘I gave the most I could give.'”
Here in America, we say, “Welcome to ‘The Show,’ Elian. You’ve earned it.”
The sport of baseball is in itself, romantic. Fans pile into stadiums to escape from the real world and watch America’s past time. This means getting to watch a gorgeous sunset over center-field wall, see tomorrow’s up-and-coming baseball stars and compete in spam carving contests.
You can’t make that up.
While Minor League Baseball is known for its greatness on the field, it’s becoming quickly known more for its “greatness” OFF the field. And I’m by no means complaining. Where else could I go to get a free Noah (Yes, the Bible Noah) bobblehead (Hickory Crawdads) or register to win a pre-planned funeral prize pack (Hagerstown Suns)?
It’s now become the genius, or lack thereof, behind nightly promotions that have driven ball clubs to sell tickets. Whether it be human-organ colored jerseys (Memphis Redbirds) or Britney Spears Baby Safety Night (Newark Bears), Minor League Baseball is known to have the most outlandish promotions.
And here at The Lab, we think we’ve found 10 of the strangest, most bizarre, you-actually-have-fun-at-but-don’t-want-to-admit-it-to-your-friends themed promotions in all of Minor League Baseball.
10. Circle of Life Weekend (Quad Cities River Bandits)
Quad Cities promotional night included funding a birth (a night for expectant mothers), school (a one-year scholarship for college), marriage (an all-expenses paid wedding) and death (expenses paid funeral) over the course of a weekend homestand. (After winning all of that, I guess the only thing left to do is actually watch the game)
9. Zubaz and a Monkey Night (St. Paul Saints)
St. Paul brought in a real, live monkey dressed in Zubaz pants (from Screech Powers) to perform the jobs of the regular staff members. The monkey attempted to drag the field with a rake or even manage the concession stands. (Try explaining the importance of your job after watching a monkey handle it for you)
8. Backstabbers Night (Augusta GreenJackets)
In response to the LeBron James “Decision” on ESPN, the GreenJackets hosted a Roast of the former Cavaliers star. Anyone with an Ohio driver’s license was admitted for free and seated in a specially designated section that was staffed by a grief counselor. Augusta inducted James into the Backstabbers Hall of Fame and concluded the evening with Manager Dave Machemer announcing on live TV where he was going to dinner that night. (Fans now wear GreenJackets jerseys while they watch the Super Bowl for fear of being outcasted by the team)
7. Anti-Doping Night (Vero Beach Devil Rays)
The Devil Rays held this event in preparation for their own Olympic Night to “ensure their Olympic Competition will be a fair, clean event for all participants, and discourage the use of drugs or steroids in any form.” The kicker was the first 200 fans received free urine sample cups. (Should have paired with Thirsty Thursday to save trips to the bathroom)
6. George Costanza Night (Fort Myers Miracle)
The Miracle honored the hilarious lifestyle of “Seinfeld” character George Costanza (making decisions by doing the opposite of his instincts) by running a baseball game in the opposite of normal routine. This meant the scoreboard ran from the ninth inning to the first, fans were paid money to park, teams wore the opposite home/road uniforms and the players asked the fans for autographs. (“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right” – George Costanza)
5. Salute to Indoor Plumbing Night (West Virginia Power)
Initially, the team planned to close all of the restrooms and have everyone use portable toilets. Luckily, if there’s such a thing as luckily in this promotion, health code concerns forced the Power to resort to other means to appreciate their local plumbers. This includes, and sadly not limited to, dressing the employees in overalls, serving mashed up brownies that look like… and hosting a “Poo Toss.” (There were no winners in this competition)
4. Nobody Night (Charleston RiverDogs)
Fans who purchased tickets and paid for parking were treated to being locked out of the stadium for this promotion. The RiverDogs padlocked the doors until the fifth inning to set a Minor League Baseball attendance record of zero. This promotion ensures the RiverDogs will have the lowest single game attendance record of all-time, and a spot in the lower half of our promotions countdown. (The big question is, how many people actually stuck around to get into the stadium when the doors were unlocked)
3. SPAM Carving Night (Reading Phillies)
Reading implemented this promotional night to raise money for a local charity. Contestants were supplied with knives and toothpicks (and stripped of their dignity) but were encourage to bring their own carving tools to carve a slab of SPAM for a panel of judges. The team’s press release warned that “exposure to elements will quickly transform SPAM’s appealing pink-tinged luster to a distressingly monochrome shade of brown.” (And who said there wasn’t anything to do in Reading)
2. Silent Night (Charleston RiverDogs)
The RiverDogs’ second appearance in our countdown attempted to meet their lowest attendance record from Nobody Night by posting the “quietest game ever” with Silent Night. During the first five innings of the game, no talking was allowed. Many fans Duct Taped their mouths shut and some of the more creative attendees brought signs to cheer, boo or perhaps most importantly, a “HEY BEER MAN!” sign. The team staffed librarians and golf marshals with “Quiet Please” signs in place of the regular ushers. (How do you drink a beer with Duct Tape over your mouth anyway)
1. Awful Night (Altoona Curve and Salem Red Sox)
The best and worst promotion in Minor League Baseball (it IS called awful night) begins with the giveaway of “awful” promotional items like a noisemaker, air guitar, free compliment from an employee or bottomless cups. The terribleness continues with music from David Hasselhoff and William Shatner, video clips from Ben Affleck movies, a non-celebrity autograph session and in-game contests like helium balloon toss, a dry water slide, staring contest with the mascot and musical chairs with an abundance of chairs. To cap off the grand celebration, fans are treated to a fireworks display. On the video board. (Imagine the fans if the team loses on top of all this)
With ideas like this, you can’t put a price on the entertainment value at the ballpark. Not only are fans given nine innings of the greatest sport in the world, they may also be in for a “terribly awesome” night of promotions. So grab yourself a hot dog, sit back, relax and enjoy the magic of Minor League Baseball.
Unless of course you’re at the Charleston RiverDogs and find yourself locked out.