Any self-respecting minor league all-star game requires more than just 50 big league prospects.
No, for the full experience, you'll need eight dozen commemorative baseballs, a fresh warning track, seven airport shuttles, a trackless train and several inflatable attractions (think "Bouncy Boxing").
The Bowie Baysox have all the essentials in place for tonight's Class AA Eastern League All-Star Game at Prince George's Stadium.
All-star games offer minor league franchises a chance to show off their facilities, attract unprecedented media attention and reach out to a fresh pool of fans, executives say. They also present a string of logistical curveballs and great piles of additional work -- "like a whole other season; that's the best way I can describe it," said John Willi, assistant general manager of the New Britain Rock Cats.
The Baysox played host to the Class AA All-Star Game in 2000 before that interleague contest was discontinued, so a few front office holdovers knew what to expect when the team was awarded the 2004 game more than a year ago.
For that 2000 game, Mike Munter, now Bowie's general manager, supervised a fleet of three vans "running all over hell and back," from airports to hotels to the stadium. Director of Marketing Phil Wrye went more than 50 hours without sleeping leading up to the game before finally collapsing for about 15 hours.
"That'll probably be what happens this year," Wrye said. "It was exhaustion. A year and a half of planning for a day and a half."
When New Britain played host to last year's Eastern League game, the team's employees fueled their effort with about 30 cases of Mountain Dew LiveWire that were left over from a stadium tasting.
"I think our staff lived on that for two weeks," Willi said with a laugh. The game "just doubled the workload on everybody. I don't think anybody slept for the last three or four days before the game."
When the Eastern League began holding its own all-star games last year, most of the travel and organizational details and a large portion of the expenses were delegated to the host team. Thus, Baysox employees are coordinating the 80 or so room assignments at the Loews Annapolis Hotel, booking tee times for visiting team executives and driving those airport shuttles.
In addition to adding a fresh layer of crushed brick to the stadium's warning track, head groundskeeper Matt Parrott has been double cutting the field since Sunday and injecting it with nutrients, timing the treatment so that the outfield grass will be at its greenest today.
"You get pumped up for this one event of the year -- you want [the field] to look its best," Parrott said. "It's kind of like the Masters golf tournament. That thing doesn't look like that year round."
Tonight's event will be staffed by 80 to 100 employees, about double the usual game-day workforce, in part because it's the rare Baysox event with assigned seating. Tomorrow morning, "whoever's not completely exhausted" will climb in a van and chauffeur several players to Harrisburg, Pa., Wrye said.
And with the players subject to a call-up at any time, plans are constantly changing. Last month's Class AA Texas League All-Star Game went through 13 roster changes, including three in the final 24 hours before players began arriving in Midland, Tex. Anyone with a high batting average or a low earned run average remained a threat to disappear.
"Any minute they're going to get called up; you just hope it's not . . . on the way to the all-star game," said David Baur, who coordinated the Texas League game. "You just hope and pray that those people are the ones who actually attend."
For the players who eventually take the field, an all-star game offers another in a long line of auditions. The Baysox have already heard from about 20 scouts, and expect most major league teams to send at least one representative to tonight's game.
But more than that, the game serves up hoopla and crowds of the sort not usually seen at the minor league level. There are pregame galas and banquets, autograph sessions and home run derbies, and of course a fan fest with its attendant blow-up attractions. In addition to "Bouncy Boxing," today's festival outside the stadium will feature a giant inflatable fish and a game somehow incorporating bungee cords and basketballs, while the aforementioned trackless train will carry spectators to the gates.
Last year's Eastern League game attracted 7,200 fans, the most in the New Britain franchise's 22-year history. This year's Texas League game drew 7,138, making it the best attended professional baseball game in Midland in at least 16 years, although that mark has since been surpassed, Baur said. Bowie's 2000 all-star game attendance of better than 14,000 -- which included about 1,000 fans in temporary seating on the field -- remains one of the three largest crowds in Prince George's Stadium history, Munter said.
Willi said New Britain's game generated revenues in the low six figures, and Munter said the Baysox will "absolutely make money" from tonight's game. But both executives said the short-term monetary gains were almost incidental to the broader benefits.
"If this is done right, it's the biggest event for the local team in a decade," Willi said. "It was for us, and we can't wait to get back in."