A. C. Cain

Finding the major stories in the minor leagues

Author: Ariane C. Cain (page 2 of 3)

Reading Fightin’s begin celebration of 50 Phillies seasons in Reading

Fans root for a Fightin's victory on Opening Night, April 9, 2016. Photo by Ariane Cain.

Fans root for a Fightin’s victory on Opening Night, April 9, 2016. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

On Thursday, April 7, 2016, the Reading Fightin’ Phils Officially began the 50th Phillies Season in Reading.

The celebration of the 50th season of affiliation between the two clubs will last through the entire 2016 season, but the opening weekend festivities served as a great beginning for the fans and employees.

The weather seemed to be working to spoil the celebration, with a 54-degree game-time temperature on Thursday night being the warmest of the 4-game series against the Portland Sea Dogs, but the Reading fans brought hats, gloves and blankets. Vendors switched from cold drinks to hot chocolate, and the celebration began.

Ben Smith, the Fightin’s Music and Sound Coordinator, said the cold weather was unfortunate, but seeing the fans return to Baseballtown after a long winter was exciting.

The Reading Fighting' Phils and the Portland Sea Dogs line up for the National Anthem prior to the opening game on April 9, 2016. Photo by Ariane Cain

The Reading Fighting’ Phils and the Portland Sea Dogs line up for the National Anthem prior to the opening game on April 9, 2016. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

“Even though we did have, not the greatest weather, it’s amazing to see the fans that do come out regardless of what the weather is around here,” Smith said.

Opening night featured a T-shirt giveaway for adults, with shirts representing the 50 greatest players in Reading’s long history with Philadelphia. The 50 players were chosen in a fan vote, and will be honored in various ways throughout the season.

The Fightin’s players wore special jerseys covered with photos of the 50 greatest players. Replicas of these jerseys will be given to fans at later games.

Former players from the All-American Girl's Baseball League pose for photos after Ruth Hartman's Reading Baseball Hall of Fame induction on April 10, 2016. Photo by Ariane Cain.

Former players from the All-American Girl’s Baseball League pose for photos after Ruth Hartman’s Reading Baseball Hall of Fame induction on April 10, 2016. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

Friday night was dedicated to the memory of Ruth Hartman, a former Queen of Baseballtown and member of the Fightin’s family. Fans received a bobble head of Hartman in her All-American Girls’ Baseball League uniform.

Hartman was inducted into the Reading Baseball Hall of Fame in a ceremony that brought together some of her former softball players, current softball players from across Berks County, Hartman’s family and other members of the All-American Girls’ Baseball League.

On Friday, fans and players alike were forced to deal with snow before and during the game, but the festivities continued with a golden Jimmy Rollins Bobble head, the first of a series of golden bobble heads that will be given out throughout the season.

The golden bobble head series is contributing to an unprecedented number of bobble heads being given out this season. These, along with the other giveaways commemorating the 50-season affiliation, are certain to keep fans returning throughout the season.

Smith thinks the giveaways and promotions, which are very different from previous years, are helping to get people excited about the season.

Reading's Crazy Hot Dog Vendor performs for the fans on Opening Weekend. Photo by Ariane Cain.

Reading’s Crazy Hot Dog Vendor performs for the fans on Opening Weekend. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

“Being that it is the 50th season, we have a lot of cool giveaways, a lot of cool promotions going on,” Smith said.

50PhilliesSeason

The organization is proud of their historic affiliation, the third longest in Major League Baseball,

The 50th Phillies season in Reading is commemorated on employees' lanyards and hats. Photo by Ariane Cain.

The 50th Phillies season in Reading is commemorated on employees’ lanyards and hats. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

and the pride is evident throughout the ballpark. Employees sport 50th season crests on their hats and lanyards. Various video clips highlight and celebrate the affiliation before each game. The pitcher’s mound is covered in gold sand in honor of the golden anniversary.

Fans are invited to join the celebration at every opportunity with merchandise, giveaways, and special themed nights.

The 50th season my have had a cold start, but as the weather warms up the celebration will too, and the season is sure to be one to remember.

Audrey Dickman keeps Exeter’s athletes safe and moving forward

Every sports team deals with its share of injuries. When Exeter High School’s athletes get injured, they turn to Audrey Dickman, Exeter’s head athletic trainer.

With a training room full of laughter and smiles, Dickman keeps the students moving forward through injuries. She approaches every student and injury in a way that keeps the students positive and optimistic.

Dickman refers to the students as her kids, and makes sure to keep them as safe as possible.

Thanks to her work, and her dedication to protecting the students, Exeter was recently awarded the NATA Safe Sports School Award, 1st Team.

The award is an initiative by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association to ask schools to raise the bar when it comes to sport and athlete safety.

“It was like a five or six page double-sided checklist of things and requirements that we had to meet, and do like a self- assessment of whether we met them. There was so much on there,” Dickman said of applying for the award.

Her determination to achieve the standards set forth by the NATA got the entire school involved.

“Thank goodness for administration, the coaches, everyone made becoming eligible for this very easy for me. And it was because everyone was so into it that we could write these emergency action plans and have the coaches train with us on it; that we could have concussion protocols in place with administration, teachers, and guidance counselors. Without that, without everyone else collaborating, we wouldn’t have won it,” Dickman said.

The efforts of the trainer and the entire school paid off.  As Dickman said, “The school won the award, I just facilitated it.”

“It was kind of like the culmination of the last decade of my work here,” Dickman said, “Which was neat that it all came to fruition at once in time for the award.”

Exeter athletes take the stage

At Exeter Township Senior High School the spring musical gives many student athletes the opportunity to perform in a different way as they take to the stage.

Rehearsals general have some students running in late, fresh from practices or games, stopping only long enough to change their shoes, and sliding into their spots on stage. Other students are quietly slipping out early for dance lessons.

With so many different schedules to coordinate, director Kathy Galtere admits that planning rehearsals can be difficult.

“We have so many people running in so many different directions. It can get pretty crazy,” Galtere said.

Exeter’s community and administration has always strongly supported both athletics and the arts, and students are given every opportunity to pursue numerous interests.

The students in the musical cast represent numerous different sports, including wrestling, basketball, tennis, lacrosse, soccer, cheerleading and more.

The students are grateful for the opportunities they receive from their teachers, coaches and directors, work hard to make the final product the best it can be, whether on the stage or on the field.

Exeter is presenting Anything Goes! Friday, April 15 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, April 16 at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm. For tickets, call Exeter High School at 610-779-3060, or visit the high school website. All tickets are $10.00.

Come out and support your local athletes as they trade their uniforms for costumes and their cleats for tap shoes.

Warm temperatures draw large crowd for final Shiver by the River

With a race-time temperature in the mid-50’s, the March 3 Shiver by the River didn’t live up to its name, but runners still flocked to Dietrich Park to participate in the conclusion of the annual 4-race series.

The warm temperatures encouraged every runner to get out and participate in the friendly, simple, 5K/10K road race.

The Pagoda Pacers Athletic Club hosts the series, and encourages runners of all levels to participate, though the weather scares away all but the most devoted runners.

The weather didn’t scare anyone away from this race. There were participants from every age and skill-level, from walkers to hard-core runners, and children in strollers to a 95-year old man who participates in the series every year.

The running community was in full-force. When a young runner fell just around the corner from the finish, a group of racers who had already finished were quick to help him up and hold his hands to pull him across the finish.

Boyertown Junior High West teachers could be heard encouraging their students from the Road Warriors after-school running club, refusing to let them give up and quit before the finish, and even had one student run the 10K in an adapted wheelchair.

The runners weren’t only helping those present, though. Donation bins were set up inside and outside of the registration building for Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run is a youth development program for girls ages 8-13 that encourages girls to be healthy and confident through a program that incorporates running. The Pagoda Pacers had bins for monetary donations, but also had bins for donating items the program needs, such as running shoes for the girls.

Though prizes were awarded at the post-race party, the atmosphere was not competitive, but supportive, as the runners took advantage of the early spring weather to run by the river without shivering.

Mascot Mania takes over Santander Arena

On Saturday, March 5 Santander Arena was crawling with all sorts of animals and objects and the Reading Royals celebrated Slapshot’s birthday.

The special day was celebrated in the best way possible, with Mascot Mania. The event drew mascots from dozens of local professional teams, colleges and businesses, as well as the Fur Circus, a professional mascot entertainment group.

Attendees included Melvin from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Ferrous from the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Cylo from the Lancaster Barnstormers, Avalanche from Kutztown University, and many more.

While it seems odd, sending mascots away from their home field or arena is not unusual. Most notably, Major League Baseball teams send their mascots out on goodwill tours frequently, whether to gather more fans or to maintain the fans they already have.

While the night was a special celebration for Slapshot, the fans were the ones who got the real treat. Mascots roamed the stands throughout the game, taking photos with fans and providing endless entertainment.

From spilling popcorn, to rubbing heads, and leading cheers, the mascots emptied their bag of tricks to entertain the Royals’ fans.

And there were plenty of fans. The birthday celebration coincided with Scout Night, and a January snowstorm forced the Wall of Honor induction ceremony for Gordon Kaye to be rescheduled for this game. The three events led to a nearly sold-out arena.

Fur Circus added to the entertainment by roaming the stands with the other mascots, and giving two performances: a dance off between two young fans, and their own dance performance.

The impact of the mascots was apparent throughout the entire game. The arena was filled with the sounds of various cheers breaking out across the stands as individual mascots encouraged sections of fans. Children could be heard calling out for their favorite mascot, or darting after them in the concourse trying to grab a hug or a picture.

Even fans stuck waiting in-line for food were included in the fun, with various mascots passing by and offering high-fives as they journeyed from one portion of the arena to another.

The mascots set the perfect tone for the evening, and fans were cheering and dancing through the entire game.

Exeter baseball brings spring fun to community

As spring training begins, bringing hope for warmer weather, the Exeter Township Senior High School baseball team prepares to bring a little bit of spring to the community.

On February 20, 2016, the team hosted its annual Winter Carnival, an event started about ten years ago to raise money for the baseball parent’s club. Tired of the same fundraisers every other team was doing, the parents decided to host a carnival. The event has become the equivalent to May Days, an outdoor carnival hosted by the township every spring on the school grounds.

The Winter Carnival is an event that allows parents to get their kids out of the house after a long winter and let them have some fun. Activities range from typical carnival games, such as a moon bounce and ring toss, to a football toss, a session in the batting cage, and even an opportunity to pie a teacher in the face.

Head baseball coach Justin Freese says that the carnival is a great way for the players to interact with the community, and vice-versa.

The carnival is staffed by the baseball players, who are required to work from 10-5 and assist with set-up and cleanup, as well as staffing every game and activity. Players get the opportunity to interact with the community, especially the youngest members of the community, and create some new fans. They also earn community service hours, which help them to fulfill a graduation retirement.

“It makes me happy to see how they are, not only as students, but then also working with kids in the community,” Freese says.

Exeter residents play games at the annual Winter Carnival hosted by the baseball team. Photo: Ariane Cain

Exeter residents play games at the annual Winter Carnival hosted by the baseball team. Photo: Ariane Cain

Exeter High School transforms for the carnival, with the cafeteria, main gymnasium, and auxiliary gymnasium all used to hold the various games and activities. The gym lobby becomes a necessary pit stop, with the concessions stands selling all of the necessary ballpark foods throughout the day.

The raffle is one of the biggest moneymakers each year, with every prize being donated by local community businesses. The Reading Fightin’ Phils offer support by providing raffle prizes including ticket packs, bobble heads, T-shirts and much more. The raffle also has prizes sponsored by local stores such as Boscov’s Department Store and Coventry Corners.

The carnival is always a popular event, and one that is greatly appreciated by the members of the community.

“Just the opportunity to get the kids out in the winter,” Freese says when considering what the community enjoys the most about the carnival. “This year unfortunately it was a sixty degree day, so I don’t know if that helped or hurt us.”

The unseasonable weather did not seem to hurt too much, with the event raising about $2,000 for the team.

With the baseball players, ballpark food, and baseball theme the Winter Carnival serves as a symbol to Exeter residents that spring is on the way.

Exeter Wrestling Makes History with State Win


For the past three years, the Exeter Township Senior High School Wrestling team has been rather successful. The team earned a spot in the PIAA State Tournament each of the past two years, but was unable to bring home a win. This year, coming off of a county team victory and six individual county victories, the team had a third opportunity to win a match at the state level, something no wrestling team from Exeter has ever done.

On February 8th, fans packed the Exeter High School Gymnasium for a match against Downingtown East, all hoping for the chance to witness history.

The wrestling team gave them what they were waiting for. The Eagles won the match 51-15.

The match, which was expected to be tight, turned out to be one-sided with Exeter winning 11 of 14 bouts, including a run of 8 consecutive bouts after losing the first bout. Downingtown won 2 of the final three bouts, but by then it was too late.

As Exeter Athletic Director Thomas Legath pointed out, the amount of success the wrestling team has had is surprising to almost everyone, except, perhaps, the wrestlers and coaches.

“Anytime you accomplish something for the first time it’s surprising. But also, when you see how hard these kids worked and trained in the off-season, you can now kind of appreciate that they expected this. And the way their coaches worked them, they expected it,” Legath said.

This winning mentality, this expectation to win, has been brought to the program by Coach John Rugg, who has managed to make Exeter’s wrestling program a program to respect. Legath said that everything begins at the top, and with the wrestling team that means everything begins with the coaching staff.

“With our wrestling program it starts with Coach Rugg, and he, and his coaching staff which is probably about 8 people, work and train these kids very tough every day, and all that hard work, in this case, when you say hard work pays off it did for the Exeter Wrestling team,” Legath said.

Legath continued to point out that the team works so hard, the competition in matches is almost easier than the practices. The team trains for success, and they found it with this victory.

The Eagles made history with the match, and brought their school the state-level victory they had been fighting for. Exeter lost the next two matches in the double-elimination tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA, but for their fans the triumph at home was the victory they had been waiting for.

As the team continues to showcase its talent and determination to succeed, next year the Eagles may be fighting for a State Championship instead of merely a state-level win.

Twin Valley Raiders’ season ends with County Tournament loss

On February 6, 2016, the Berks Catholic Saints defeated the Twin Valley Raiders in the BCIAA Girl’s Basketball quarterfinals by a score of 51-23.

The Twin Valley Raiders played the Berks Catholic Saints in the quarterfinals of the BCIAA Tournament at Exeter Township Senior High School. (Photo: Ariane Cain/Full Sail University)

The Twin Valley Raiders played the Berks Catholic Saints in the quarterfinals of the BCIAA Tournament at Exeter Township Senior High School. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The Raiders appeared to be easily overmatched. At halftime the Saints led by 18 points, and scored the first 14 points of the third quarter. The Saints Devon Merritt was the leading scorer for the game, despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter.

Twin Valley’s bid for the championship ended quickly, while the Saints are projected to go deep into the tournament. Twin Valley was the 7th seed in the tournament, out of 8, while Berks Catholic was seeded 2.

The Raiders didn’t have a bad season, with a league record of 5-5 and an overall record of 14-9. They finished third in their conference, behind Berks Catholic with a 10-0 league record and 17-4 overall record, and Conrad Weiser.

The Raiders' bench watches the game as Berks Catholic scores again, increasing their lead. (Photo: Ariane Cain/Full Sail University)

The Raiders’ bench watches the game as Berks Catholic scores again, increasing their lead. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The Saints seem to have been the Raiders weakness all season, winning both regular season games. The first game was tight, with a final score of 31-27. The margin grew in the second meeting, with a final score of 56-36. The story between the two teams culminated on Saturday afternoon, with the Saints winning by their largest margin yet.

Despite being overmatched and outplayed, the Raiders kept fighting. Mark Morrow, the Raiders’ coach, refused to let them give-up, searching for anyway to motivate the disheartened team.

Raiders' fans look on as Mark Morrow attempts to rally his team before the fourth quarter begins. (Photo: Ariane Cain/Full Sail University)

Raiders’ fans look on as Mark Morrow attempts to rally his team before the fourth quarter begins. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

Despite a lack-luster student section, the Raiders continued to compete through the entire game, lessening the Saints’ lead during the fourth quarter when all of the starters had been replaced. They drew fouls from the Saints’ second-string, and slowly chipped away at the insurmountable point margin.

The Twin Valley student section watches the second half of the game. (Photo: Ariane Cain/Full Sail University)

The Twin Valley student section watches the second half of the game. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

When the game finished the team was understandably upset, unable to see the pride they should have. The odds were stacked against them, but they were able to make their season last long enough to qualify for the County Tournament, a tournament only 8 schools were able to participate in. Twin Valley’s season may have ended sooner than they wanted, but it lasted longer than many other teams. Only one team can end the season with a win, and maybe the Raiders will soon be able to say that they lost to the County Champions.

A Twin Valley player prepares to leave the court immediately after the game.

A Twin Valley player prepares to leave the court immediately after the game. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

Exeter’s athletic success causes the community to pay attention

On January 29th the Exeter Eagles defeated the Wilson Bulldogs to win the school’s first County Wrestling title. For a school that, until recently, was never known for its athletics, the maiden championship seems to be a symbol of the school’s recent successes. As far as Exeter is concerned, winning is certainly contagious.

The front of Exeter Township Senior High School with its signature eagle.

The front of Exeter Township Senior High School with its signature eagle. Photo: Ariane Cain.

In 2014 the girl’s tennis team won the schools first district title in the sport, and repeated as District III champions in October.

The football team won the Berks County Championship, and hosted the school’s first home district playoff game in November.

In the past few years Exeter has begun to emerge as an athletic threat, and the effects are being felt throughout the entire community.

William Cain has been the principal at Exeter Township Senior High School for five years, after joining the district as an assistant principal in 2007. He has had a front row seat for the athletic transformation. In his first two years at the school the football team had a 1-19 record.

The trophy cases outside of the senior high gym celebrate all of the school's athletic accomplishments. Photo by Ariane Cain

The trophy cases outside of the senior high gym celebrate all of the school’s athletic accomplishments.
Photo: Ariane Cain

“It’s really amazing when you look at it,” Cain said. “What the tennis team has done, and the football team, and now the wrestling team. It’s great.”

According to the 2010 US Census, Exeter Township has a population of 25,550. It is a large community, and boasts the 4th largest school district in Berks County. Exeter Township Senior High School has just over 1,400 students, with a senior class of 388 students according to the 2015-2016 school profile.

Exeter Township School District Athletic Program supports 14 different sports and boasts 67 different teams within these 14 sports. According to the 2014-2015 Interscholastic Title IX Disclosure Form, the high school alone has 757 student athletes.

These student athletes have recently brought their community together to support the athletic program and the schools.

Now when one drives down Rt. 422, the central road in Exeter, signs of the school district’s presence are everywhere.

The Exeter Dairy Queen sign congratulating the wrestling team on their recent championship. Photo by Ariane Cain

The Exeter Dairy Queen sign congratulating the wrestling team on their recent championship. Photo: Ariane Cain

The electronic sign outside of the local Dairy Queen boasts of recent athletic accomplishments and honors specific student athletes each week. Every team that wins a championship is honored on the Dairy Queen sign, as well as specific athletes being honored each week. The restaurant’s owner, Hamid Chaundry, donated a new video scoreboard for Exeter’s Don Thomas Stadium over the summer.

The local Giant grocery store has a spirit wear display, where it offers Exeter Eagles merchandise alongside Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Phillies merchandise. With the recent rise in success, the community of Exeter has found new home teams to rally behind.

The rack at the local Giant selling Exeter spirit wear. Photo by Ariane Cain

The rack at the local Giant selling Exeter spirit wear.
Photo: Ariane Cain

Abigail Rutt, Exeter’s girl’s tennis assistant coach and an Exeter alumna, has noticed the impact the athletic success has had on both the community and the students.

“It gives them a sense of belonging, of being part of something,” Rutt said. “For all of them it provides a shared experience that gives them a connection to each other, to the school community, to the athletic community, the list goes on.”

The Reading Fightin’ Phils have hosted “Exeter Night” for the past two seasons, and will again this coming season, to recognize the school’s athletic accomplishments. Residents are offered free tickets, and it has become one of the busiest nights each season.

“It has even been more unifying within the school community,” Cain said. “It has brought together all different groups to support each other and share the success.”

This past season, for the first time, the high school had to pre-sell football tickets in order to eliminate a backup at the gates on game night. The athletic program’s recent successes have given the community something to brag about, and all of Exeter Township intends to make the most of it.

The soundtrack of the game

Fans attend minor league sporting events for the atmosphere as much as the entertainment. Being surrounded by other fans and eating typical concession food is an important part of the experience. Another crucial part of the experience, though often overlooked, is the music.

Minor league sports, just like major league sports, are fueled by a constant soundtrack used to keep the fans energized and engaged, and to keep the players’ blood pumping throughout the game.

Fans tend to overlook the importance of music because it is always there, but a closer look at the numerous roles music plays proves that it is a crucial part of every game and every fan experience.

Benjamin Smith can attest to the importance of music, he is the Music and Sound Coordinator for the Reading Fightin’ Phils and the Reading Royals. Smith began working for both teams in 2011, and knows music’s many roles better than most.

At a typical home game for the Reading Fightin’ Phils, double-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, the music starts long before fans even enter the stadium. The music coordinator is in charge of providing music while both teams take batting practice, and the music being played on the field fills most of the stadium as the game-day staff prepares for the game.

Smith says he generally arrives at the stadium 3 hours before game time to make sure he is fully prepared, because the job comes with a lot of stress.

“There can be certain situations where your patience is tested,” Smith says, “We do a lot of pre- and post-game activities, which keeps you on your toes.”

Once the gates open, a band performing on the Weston Center Winning Smile Stage during Happy Hour may replace the batting practice music. This music is piped through the entire stadium, serenading fans as they search for their seats.

When the pre-game festivities get underway, the music changes to highlight any theme the day might be celebrating, be it Elvis, Disney, or even Jimmy Buffet. A crucial part of the pre-game is the theme songs for both the Fightin’ Phils and Baseballtown, which include a karaoke style video encouraging fans to sing along.

When the game begins the music switches to a blend of walk-up music, selected by the players as they begin their at-bat, warm-up music, chosen by both starting and relief pitchers, and stock music that plays whenever certain events happen on the field.

This music is managed effortlessly, constantly switching from one scenario to another and always starting and stopping at the proper time to provide seamless transitions.

Post-game festivities may also call for music; particularly fireworks shows, which are always complimented with music Smith mixes live. The stadium finally falls silent when nearly every fan has left.

The Reading Royals, the ECHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, offer a different look at the role of music.

Yes, some of the tasks are the same. The music keeps fans energetic and keeps the players’ pumped-up, but in other ways it is very unique.

MusicinSports

Graphic designed by Ariane Cain. Graphic created using easel.ly. Info courtesy of Benjamin Smith

While baseball uses batting practice music, hockey relies on warm-up music to get both the players and the fans ready for the game.

Hockey is a much faster game than baseball, meaning the music has to change faster to react to scenarios. The goal of music in hockey focused much more on crowd participation and leading the fans in chants and songs to keep the players energized, and Smith says this fast-paced, high-energy atmosphere can make the job more challenging.

“You constantly have to have music ready to go during games because of how drastically a situation can change. Again, your patience can get tested.”

With less downtime, hockey doesn’t provide as much opportunity for music during play, but each period break is filled with entertainment for the fans, which must be appropriately accompanied.

Whenever you hear and feel a crowd getting louder and louder at a game, thank the music coordinator. Smith says that he knows he is successful when the crowd gets louder and responds positively to the music being played.

Despite all of the stress, Smith knows that the job comes with benefits, and the impact of the music on the crowd makes everything worth it.

“The fun and energy that I have experienced over the years on those sell-out games makes me absolutely speechless.”

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