A. C. Cain

Finding the major stories in the minor leagues

Category: Fightin’ Phils (page 2 of 2)

Phillies top prospect lists promise another bright season in Reading

As most of the world enters the holiday season and the long winter months ahead, the baseball world enters the free agent season: a time of big free agent signings and huge deals that find key players switching from one team to another in the blink of an eye.

While this time is filled with excitement for major league fans, minor league fans can find themselves saying goodbye to fan favorites that they have watched develop and are now whisked away as an added bonus in a deal. An exciting season for some can be a depressing season for others.

Fans of the Reading Fightin’ Phils, double-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, probably don’t have much to worry about this offseason.

The Philadelphia Phillies are in the midst of a rebuild in their organization, making them unlikely to trade any high caliber minor league players that could provide help in the majors later down the road. Reading’s roster was packed with top prospects last year, and this year looks to be filled with more.

Baseball America recently released its annual top prospects list for each organization, and the Phillies looked much like many fans expected. Five of the top ten prospects, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Andrew Knapp and Roman Quinn, were all part of Reading’s team last season and had a successful season that ended in the championship series.

While many of them may be moving up to triple-A this season, the Phillies system is stocked with talent to fill the gaps in Reading’s roster. Roman Quinn, number 8 on the list, missed the majority of the 2015 season with a groin injury and will probably need another season at double-A, where he is sure to light up the stadium and the base paths. Jorge Alfaro, a catcher acquired in a late-season trade and ranked at 5 on the list, finished the season at single-A and may be moving up to double-A in the coming season.

A look at mlb.com’s prospect watch shows the Phillies top 30 prospects, many of whom were playing at double A or lower last season. As these young players move up toward the majors Reading’s roster, and fans, will benefit.

Brock Stassi, one of the Fightin’s top players from last season and the Eastern League MVP, does not even make the top prospect lists. When one of the team’s best players doesn’t even rank in the organizations top 30, the talent behind him is something to keep an eye on.

Recognizing the quality of their farm system, the Phillies have recently announced a treat for fans. This season will feature the first ever Phillies Future game; a game where all of the top prospects in the organization will face-off against the major league team. In honor of 50 years of affiliation between Reading and Philadelphia, the Fightin’s will host the game on March 31, giving their fans the rare opportunity to see the top prospects and the major league players up close.

While the holiday stress mounts and the weather grows colder, Reading fans can look forward to another bright, exciting and hopefully successful season of baseball with all of the young stars of the future Phillies.

To purchase tickets for the 2016 Fightin’ Phils season, or for more information on the Phillies Future Game, visit www.fightins.com.

Benjamin Smith: The man behind the music

Thousands of fans pack the seats at FirstEnergy Stadium for each baseball game cheering, clapping and dancing to the music. No one glances back to the press box to see the man behind the music.

Photo courtesy of Ben Smith

Photo courtesy of Ben Smith

That man is Benjamin Smith, the Music and Sound Coordinator for both the Reading Fightin’ Phils and the Reading Royals. Smith thrives in the press box, watching over the game and the fans, and creating the atmosphere with music.

Smith’s love for music began while attending Reading Phillies games with his dad and hearing the range of songs that were played. At the age of 18 he began working for the Reading Phillies.

“Since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to do music for them,” Smith says. “I grew up going there a lot, and I just fell in love with the atmosphere and passion that the Fightin’ Phils provide.”

When baseball season ended, Smith began working for the Reading Royals and discovered a completely different atmosphere.

The view from Ben's workspace at the Reading Royals. Photo courtesy of Ben Smith.

The view from Ben’s workspace at the Reading Royals.
Photo: Ben Smith.

“With hockey, the pace of the game is always pretty high, and that’s one thing that I love,” Smith says. “You constantly have to have music ready to go during games because of how drastically a situation can change.”

Four years later Smith is still encouraging Reading fans to get up and dance. The job can get stressful at times, he arrives three hours before game time each night and also works numerous pre- and post-game events, but the fans give him the energy to keep going.

“I use the talent that God has provided me to entertain, in some cases, as many as 9,000 people in one night,” Smith says. “The energy that it provides is simply amazing.”

His fellow employees can see the impact Smith makes at events.

“He does a great job pumping up the crowd during Royals games,” Kurt Roberts, a fellow employee at both places, says of Smith. “Getting the crowd into the game can sometimes get the team more into the game.”

Smith’s work even has a noticeable effect on the players.

“His music plays a big part,” Roberts says, “He plays a warm-up music mix to get the Royals players ready during warm-ups for the game, and at the stadium the walk-up music gets the player pumped up for his at-bat or pitching appearance.”

Maybe the next time the crowd is dancing and cheering to the music, one fan will turn around and see the man behind the music, but even if no one does, Smith is happy to be doing his job.

“I just love how much music tells a story and how it causes people to show all of their emotions,” Smith says; his passion is clear as he in unable to stop the smile that slides across his face. “It also creates an atmosphere of fun and laughter and that is just something that has always put a smile on my face. I figure if I can make people happy then I’m doing my job right.”

How to entertain the entire family at a minor league sporting event

Finding new and exciting ways to entertain the entire family can be difficult and, depending on the size of the family, expensive. Minor league sporting events can offer the perfect solution, as they boast family-friendly environments, are less expensive than their major league counterparts.

According to MiLB.com, during the 2015 season a family of four could enjoy a game for an average of $64.18, making it one of the most budget friendly options in sports. Other lower-level professional sports offer fans the same perks. Families can make the most of these inexpensive, unique options by following a few simple steps.

The view from the top of the grandstand at FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Reading Fighting' Phils. The least expensive reserved seats give families a great view.

The view from the top of the grandstand at FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Reading Fightin’ Phils. Photo: Ariane Cain

Step 1: Arrive early to the game. Teams frequently provide giveaways to a certain number of fans, and an early arrival guarantees that your family will get some. Arriving early also makes you eligible for some great deals. The Reading Fightin’ Phils feature a happy hour before most games with one dollar off of select beers and free Phunland for the kids. The Fightin’ Phils provide a complete promotional schedule listing theme nights, giveaways, and gate opening times. The Reading Royals post the same information. Be sure to check the team website or your tickets for gate opening times and plan accordingly.

Step 2: Look for posted rules and listen to announcements. Rules that are prominently posted or announced are important for assuring fan safety. All family members should be made aware of all important rules in order to make the event safer and more enjoyable. Most organizations provide an opportunity to read up on important rules before arriving at the game to leave more time for fun. The Reading Royals provide fans with a basic rundown of rules and official signals to avoid confusion and make the night more enjoyable.

Step 3: Explore the venue. By doing this you can make note of intriguing food stands and streamline your trips away from the seats later. Also, most sporting venues feature some sort of area for kids with games and contests, and several themed areas. Taking a lap or two around the stadium will allow every member of your family to find something that interests them.

Santander Arena, home of the Reading Royals, before the crowds have arrived. Photo by Benjamin Smith

Santander Arena, home of the Reading Royals, before the crowds have arrived.
Photo: Benjamin Smith

Step 4: Talk to the employees. They spend more time at the stadium than anyone else, and chances are that they are the team’s biggest fans. Ask them for suggestions such as their favorite food or favorite spot to view the action from. You never know what secrets they’ll tell you, and sampling some of their favorites might make your experience more interesting.

Step 5: Don’t feel compelled to remain in your seat during game action and only leave between innings or periods. Most of the entertainment happens during the breaks in the action in the form of games and contests, and your family will surely enjoy seeing it. Nearly every venue will have televisions in the areas where the game is not visible, so you won’t miss much action even when standing in line for a burger.

You never know what surprises you'll find at a minor league game! This past summer the Fighting' Phils hosted a surprise appearance by the Galapagos Gang, friends of the Phillie Phanatic, from Citizen's Bank Park.

This past summer the Fighting’ Phils hosted a surprise appearance by the Galapagos Gang, friends of the Phillie Phanatic, from Citizen’s Bank Park. Photo: Ariane Cain

Step 6: Be alert for in-game announcements regarding mascot appearances. You may be able to catch them in the stands, but nearly every organization has a designated area where mascots will appear at specific times throughout the game for pictures and autographs.

Searching for other ways to make the most of your experience? Try talking to other fans and following their suggestions. Many teams feature specific games or contests, so ask around and sign your family up for any that accept volunteers. Give your family their chance in the spotlight! You can also check to see if the organization features any sort of kid’s club, which are generally free and offer prizes and giveaways for the youngest members of the family. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to try new things and step out of your comfort zone!

Professional sports may not be the first thought on the search for affordable family entertainment, but the minor leagues provide an inexpensive, enjoyable night for the entire family without much work or preparation.

For more information on games and other family friendly events hosted by the Reading Fightin’ Phils or the Reading Royals be sure to visit their websites.
www.fightins.com
www.royalshockey.com

The Autograph

Each summer FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Reading Fightin’ Phils, is filled with fans hoping to see the baseball stars of tomorrow and get an autograph or two. Three times a season the stadium is not filled with typical fans, but with school fieldtrips.

“School Days,” as the employees refer to them, are mid-morning, mid-week games held in late May and early June. The pre-game festivities focus on Science and Music as the stadium promotes education, but all of the teachers and students are there to have a good time.

Donna Guy, a fourth grade teacher in the Coatesville school district, has attended School Days for the past several years. This year she was inspired to bring the joy of the fieldtrip home, and purchased team baseball card packs at the stadium. Each student received a card and was instructed to write a letter to the featured player and send the letter, baseball card, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the stadium.

The students were skeptical: why would a professional athlete bother to respond to them? Still, each student, and their teacher, harbored some hope that the letters would be received and read, so they sent them and waited.

About a week later, a student Mrs. Guy described as “quiet and withdrawn” marched into the room and up to her teacher with her arms outstretched, her hands clutching an autographed baseball card. Her player had responded, the first of many players to respond.

“She was so happy,” Mrs. Guy says, reenacting the moment with a huge smile on her face. “I’d never seen her smile so much.”

For the player, signing the card was a simple gesture that didn’t require much time or effort. For the girl, the simple signature told her she was important. For the teacher, the signature created a smile that will live forever.

Minor league sports are filled with moments like these, but the moments get lost among all of the prospect rankings, statistics, and game recaps. These moments are why fans fall in love with sports, and these moments are why they will always come back to their local minor league ballpark with their children and grandchildren. This site will attempt to capture moments and stories like this one, and allow us all a chance to look at the human side of sports, instead of the numerical side.

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