Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Visit to the Tribe Social Deck

In the continuing saga of how Twitter and Facebook has provided me with some interesting experiences, the latest example happened on Friday night at Progressive Field - home of the Cleveland Indians.

After being gone for two weeks with the Mount Vernon Nazarene University baseball team on the Cougars' postseason run all the way to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round, it was time for a fun family activity. My wife, Carla, and daughters Ashley and Kylie loaded up in the van after work and we headed to Cleveland even though it was already raining in Mount Vernon and the forecast did not look all that great for Cleveland for the rest of the evening. I wasn't sure that we would get the game in, but everyone wanted to go and I figured we would find something fun to do regardless.

As we got within a few miles of the stadium, my cell phone rang. It was Rob Campbell from the Indians' PR department. Rob is a recent grad and former baseball player from Northwestern who landed his job with the Indians after seeing a posting by Digital Royalty's Amy Martin. Among other things, Rob is responsible for the Indians' @tribetalk Twitter account as well as for filling the seats in the Indians' Social Deck.

As I talked to Rob on the phone, he informed me that due to some cancellations by other people that there would be room for not only me but my whole family to sit in the special section adjacent to the bleachers on the leftfield home run porch. After making sure that he knew what he might be in for with an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old in the section, he gratiously agreed to meet us at the media gate to get us in.

We arrived and were met right away by Rob, who took us to our seats. The girls were excited to see that we were in the front row and that not only could we watch the game live, but that there was a TV right in front of us too where we could catch replays. The Social Deck consists of two rows of five seats each with wireless internet access. After a quick trip to the souvenir stand to pick up an Indians'-themed stuffed monkey that they each had to have, we settled in for an exciting interleague battle between intra-state rivals.

As the game went on, it was also fun to meet the other people in the Social Deck. There was Terry from Indians Prospect Insider and his nephew, Joe, and also Lisa (@lzone) and Kelly (@kmcglumphy) - two Cleveland area residents and PR pros. We all enjoyed the game including a beautiful rainbow mid-way through. In the eighth inning with the rain coming down a little harder, we moved in behind home plate under the overhang to seats that Rob had secured for us just in case of inclement weather and we finished the game there.

Once the game was over, we had one last highlight when Rob took all of us down on the field and then into the visitor's dugout to watch the postgame fireworks show. We each had a photo taken on the field by an Indians' photographer to commemorate the evening and then a great fireworks show ensued. One of the pictures that Rob took of the evening ended up getting retweeted by the MLB twitter account (@MLB) and my family was famous. :)

As we headed home and even now as I reflect back on the evening, I know that my family was able to have a night that not all that many people get to experience. My daughters have told people non-stop about the game and experience and they think that Rob is their new best friend because he's the kind of guy that once you meet you feel like you've known him forever. We also had numerous people following the game through us on both Twitter and Facebook and that's exactly what the Social Deck is set up to do. (You can check out all of our photos from the night here.)

Rob took great care of us and is really good at what he does. He is working hard to connect Tribe fans and generate as much excitement as possible about a team that to put it bluntly is struggling out of the gate this year. Rob and the rest of the PR and marketing staff of the Indians have a tough job because in today's economy it is really hard to get people to come out to games when the product on the field may not be performing as well as the fans would like. And, we all know that the Indians will never be able to spend money on players the way that teams like the Yankees do.

However, one thing that Rob and his counterparts have going for them is the fact that Tribe fans are some of the most loyal supporters out there. Yes, they want their team to win on the field. But, year after year, they continue to support the team - hoping that this will be THE season. And, through efforts like the Social Deck, the Indians are on the cutting edge in all of Major Leage Baseball at finding ways to connect the fans with their team. Now, here's hoping that the on-the-field product will continue to improve to match the hard work and promotional efforts of people like Rob.

To read Terry's take on the experience on his site, check out his story.

If you would like more information about the Indians Social Deck, follow @tribetalk on Twitter and drop Rob a note.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Amazing Race 2 - Tennessee Edition

Well, this week officially ended up being the final week of the Mount Vernon Nazarene University sports season as the baseball team was eliminated in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round in Cleveland, Tenn. However, I was able to make the most of the team's postseason run and eight-hour roadtrip one way with my traveling buddy, Joe Rinehart, who called all the action with me on the radio.

First, I must say that this year's MVNU baseball team was special. No, it wasn't the most talented team to ever take the field in the program's illustrious history. However, it may have been the team that was the closest on and off the field. I have the opportunity each year to travel with the team on its spring trip to Florida, and 12 days on the road really let you get to know them. Then, the past two weeks I've been with them on the road at the American Mideast Conference Tournament and now in Tennessee. They are a group of guys that were very welcoming to me and to all their teammates. That's probably what helped them come together for a special ending to a season that was an up-and-down adventure all year. Congratulations, Cougars!

OK, and now back to our roadtrip. Some of you who have followed me on Facebook for awhile now remember that Ryan Halley and I did what we called Amazing Race - Branson edition when we drove to the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship in March of 2009. We let my Facebook friends give us places to stop along the way on our 12-hour trip and it really made it a lot of fun. So, I decided to revive that idea for this week's trip to Tennessee and Joe was a willing participant.

The trip started off with an uneventful drive to Cincinnati where we made our first stop at the home of MVNU alums Paul and Joy Helton. Joy had gratiously made us fresh cookies and left them on the porch for us along with cold milk since they had to leave to go to the Reds' game before we arrived. It was a welcome snack after nearly three hours on the road.

We headed out from there into Kentucky and after a dinner break ran into a bunch of rain which made the drive pretty miserable. We weren't able to stop to see many sights although we did get a picture of a giant dragon at a fireworks store. We rolled into our hotel at about 1:00 a.m. - just barely getting off the highway because it was blocked off past our exit for a bomb scare.

While in Cleveland, Tenn., we were treated to great southern hospitality by the Lee University staff led by George Starr, the sports information director. Joe and I had fun calling three games on the radio as the team went 1-2 and interactions with fans and parents on the school's Facebook fan page was a lot of fun. We set an all-time high for visits and interactions during those three games. It was also fun to spend some time with my good friend, Eric Smith, the Taylor (Ind.) SID, although I'm afraid he might not speak to me for awhile after MVNU thumped the Trojans 21-9.

Through the power of Twitter and the close-knit group that is the SID family, we met up with Owen Seaton from UT-Chattanooga one of the nights for dinner. I've known Owen for awhile now, and this guy was generous enough to treat us to a great dinner over which we all shared a bunch of funny broadcast stories in addition to listening to Joe and Owen talk shop about the future of the MVNU video department possibilities. It was a fun evening.

Well, after the Cougars were eliminated on Wednesday, we headed out on Thursday morning for home. As we neared Knoxville, we decided to see a few of the sights that people had asked us to stop at. We saw the Sunsphere and the world's largest Rubik's Cube, which had both first appeared in 1982 for the World's Fair in Knoxville which Joe had ironically attended. We were so close to the University of Tennessee that I decided to ask my online friends if anyone had connections to get us into Neyland Stadium. Within a few minutes, Jay Stancil called me and had set up a visit thanks to Drew Rutherford and Tom Satkowiak. We got a tour of the field, the media room, and the spacious UT locker room. It was very cool.

After a quick stop at the UT bookstore to see the sea of orange apparrel, we head back on I-75 north. Pretty soon, we came to Corbin, Ky. - the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken. We met Jay there and took some photos and then headed to Sonic for lunch. It was great to visit with Jay, who is this year's Ike Pearson Award recipient as the NAIA Outstanding Sports Information Director of the Year.

After lunch, we continue home with only a stop in Lexington, Ky. to see Rupp Arena and an impromptu filming of Cops. We also listened to the Reds' meltdown versus the Braves when they gave up seven runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to blow a 9-3 lead. However, we quickly recovered as Joe went into character as either 'Danny Carpenter' or 'Vernon Knox' to make me laugh. Some of this was caught on webcam, but some of the funniest stuff wasn't filmed because I was laughing so hard that I couldn't hit the button to start it.

Well, needless to say, we enjoyed our trip and made some memories. We're thankful for those of you who contributed suggestions or met us along the way and to the rest of you who tolerated our silliness. It was a fun time and I'm looking forward to seeing where the next Amazing Race will take us. Who wants to go along for the ride?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sportsmanship...You Make the Call

This morning, I got a call from my cousin, Robert, asking if I had heard the story about the NAIA golfer who purposely lost on a playoff hole after already qualifying for the NAIA National Championship so that a golfer from another team could make the tournament in his senior year. At that point, I had not, so when we hung up I quickly researched it. This article on ESPN.com presents the facts and I encourage you to read it before proceeding with this blog.

Sportsmanship as defined by Webster is: (noun) : conduct (as fairness, respect for one's opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.

After reading that article, listening to the audio file with comments from Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic and other ESPN analysts, and checking out a couple of blogs with opinions on both sides of the debate, I decided that I was going to post my thoughts. I'll say up front that this blog could go on and on, but I would most like to hear the comments of others. I am also a big fan of true sportsmanship stories such as this story almost exactly two years ago to the date involving the softball teams of Western Oregon and Central Washington.

First, I don't want to be too critical of St. Francis' Grant Whybark for his attempt at sportsmanship. The sports world needs feel-good stories and the NAIA's mantra is Champions of Character. I just think that if Whybark truly felt like this was something he needed to do, he could have gone about it in a much more low-key way that wouldn't call attention to himself. He is obviously a skilled golfer as he shot a one-over-par 145 over 36 holes in the conference tournament to force the extra hole, so he could have just missed a long putt during the playoff without anyone really noticing it. However, by blatantly blasting a ball 40 yards out of bounds and making sure that he told everyone who would listen about his intentions, he decided to draw attention to himself which is really not what good sportsmanship is all about. It is also a little arrogant to think that he wouldn't lose the playoff hole to his worthy opponent playing it straight up. One other question...would Whybark have done the same thing if he had anything to lose? I think we all know the answer to that one.

The person that I really feel for is Olivet Nazarene's Seth Doran. Obviously a well-liked player by his conference peers, Doran was having a great tournament of his own as he matched Whybark hole-for-hole to finish with an identical one-over-par 145 after 36 holes. While I am sure that Doran is excited to make the trip to the NAIA National Championship at nearby TPC at Deere Park in Silvis, Ill., site of the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, I am guessing that the true competitor in him wishes that Whybark had a mulligan on the hole and the two of them could play it out on the up-and-up. Personally, I probably would have pounded my tee shot into the woods (although it typically goes there without me trying) if I was Doran as I would rather have won the berth on my own merit.

One other thing...the sport of golf is one of integrity - possibly more so than any other sport. It really is about what you do when no one else is looking. Golfers are taught to self-report even the smallest and most obscure of errors that sometimes cost them championships and thousands of dollars just as it recently did Brian Davis. However, it is that integrity that draws people to the sport. While we all like to see people doing things for others, the goal in golf is to shoot the lowest possible score within the realm of the rules. To try to do otherwise really goes against the very nature and integrity of the game. It would be better to withdraw than to purposely hit bad shots.

Finally, the true winner in all of this is the NAIA and the NAIA National Championship that will take place on May 18-21. Typically, this tournament doesn't draw anywhere near the coverage or media curiousity that the NAIA's highly-successful 32-team, one-site basketball national tournaments or even the NAIA World Series in baseball draw. However, I would be really surprised if there are not TV cameras there when Whybark and Doran tee off in 12 days. The best thing for the NAIA to do in order for it not to be a distraction to the other golfers who aren't used to this kind of coverage would be to pair the two of them together and watch the story continue.

I welcome your thoughts on this subject. Was this just good sportsmanship by Whybark or did he dishonor the game? How would you have handled the situation if you were Whybark or Doran for that matter? What ending would you like to see when the two compete at the NAIA National Championship? Thanks for taking the time to tee it up with me.