PRO BASEBALL

PRO BASEBALL: Don't be a fool, it's independent baseball

2014-04-01T14:01:00Z 2014-04-01T14:37:08Z PRO BASEBALL: Don't be a fool, it's independent baseballHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

You should read the release first and then the explanation later. Here's the release that came from the Frontier League on March 31, announcing a "groundbreaking" rule change. (Hint, read carefully)

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — The Frontier League of Professional Baseball announced today an industry leading rules change designed to speed the pace of baseball games and add to the excitement enjoyed by fans.

“We are Happy to announce the approval of this innovative decision by a 4/1 vote of our rules committee,” said League Commissioner Bill Lee. “While all of the owners in the league still need to confirm this amendment at the annual meeting in April, we’re confident we have the votes to take a leading role in putting Frontier League fans first in professional baseball.”

Beginning with the 2014 season, each turn at-bat will begin with a 1-1 count already in place. The proposed rule change is intended to speed the pace of play and deliver more excitement for fans. “Fans don’t want to watch hitters take pitches, they want to see the ball in play and action on the field,” declared Kyle Kreger, General Manager of the Normal CornBelters and a member of the rules committee. “Red Sox/Yankees games have become notorious for being four hour marathons, that’s simply too long to be of interest and enjoyable to the average fan.”

Not everyone is sold yet however, Jamie Bennett, manager of the defending champion Schaumburg Boomers and the manager’s representative on the rules committee is in the minority opposing the rule. “As a former pitcher, I know first-hand the need for a pitcher to be able to manipulate a pitch sequence to Fool a batter with an out pitch,” Bennett explained.

“We’ve done our homework on this, it wasn’t a decision we took lightly,” reassured Josh Schaub CEO of the Joliet Slammers and rules committee chairman. “Through analysis by two baseball statistics companies, we’ve learned that we’ll take an average of 22 minutes off the time of a 9-inning game. Seeing the results of the study sold me.”

Frontier League Deputy Commissioner Steve Tahsler added, “Based on my research, over the last four seasons, 41% of the plate appearances that advanced to the third pitch, did so with a 1-1 count.”

The Frontier League Owner’s Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 3, 2014 in Indianapolis at which time the rules committee will present their recommendation to the league. A simple majority of the 14-team league, with a tie-breaking vote in the hands of Commissioner Bill Lee, will determine the outcome.

Group Outings, Season Tickets, Ticket Packages and Single-Game Tickets for the Schaumburg Boomers title defense are all available now. Opening Day 2014 is set for Friday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. when the Boomers square off against the Florence Freedom complete with a Championship Ring ceremony beforehand and post-game fireworks presented by COUNTRY Financial.

The release was sent by the league, by the way, not by the Boomers. As soon as I saw it, I read it (quickly, I'll admit) and found a phone. I called the Boomers, with a few in the front office who formerly worked for the RailCats. Ed McCaskey, former media relations guru for the RailCats who now performs the same job with the Boomers, was very kind to take my call.

Jamie Bennett, former RailCats pitcher, is the manager of the Boomers and he is a great interview, so I asked if he could call me back. McCaskey is a former pitcher and baseball purist, so I tried to gain some reaction from him about this new "rule." Nothing. That seemed strange.

McCaskey promised to have Bennett call, so after hanging up, I read the release. Then I read it again. Something was wrong. At first, I'd read past the "4/1" vote because I've read enough releases in my day to know not all are in AP Style. Then I noticed Bennett's quote. Why was "Fool" capitalized?

McCaskey called me back about five minutes later. He said, "Hillary, this is Ed McCaskey." I said, "Ed, is this an elaborate April Fool's Day prank." He laughed, "yes, yes it is."

I thanked him for calling me back, and breathed a sigh of relief. The only person fooled by this was me, not my readers. Since McCaskey let me in on the joke early, I promised not to reveal anything on Twitter or Facebook and let the Frontier League have their fun. So far, no one was hurt because I hadn't sent out a tweet, a blog post or posted a story on nwi.com.

Here's the other reason I let them have their fun: it's fun. This is independent baseball, it's supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be a good time, and about more than just baseball. That's why fans still show up.

Here's the release sent on the afternoon of April 1:

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — A joint story from the teams of the Frontier League of Professional Baseball sparked a heated debate on social media outlets as the first-ever, league-wide April Fool’s joke proposed the change to a 1-1 count to start every at bat in 2014.

With Major League Baseball on the warpath to shorten games with such tactics as sending strongly worded letters to slow pitchers, limiting walk-up music to 15 seconds and adding instant replay to somehow speed up games, the Frontier League brought the discussion back to the forefront with a league-wide April Fool’s Joke.

“The game of baseball is about as perfect as you can get,” said Schaumburg Boomers President & General Manager Andy Viano. “It was certainly interesting to see the reaction from our loyal fans, our players (who we didn’t clue in on the joke) and others around the country as people simply do not want core principles of their game altered, and we don’t either.”

Founded in 1993, the Frontier League has sent over 1,200 players to affiliated baseball and that includes an incredible 41 players since Opening Day 2013. The list of 25 players who made it to the big leagues contains current major leaguers Steve Delabar of the Toronto Blue Jays, Joe Thatcher of the Arizona DiamondBacks and Tanner Roark of the Washington Nationals. The Frontier League boasts three alums that earned All-Star recognition in The Show including Brandon Donnelly, George Sherrill and Steve Delabar and three former players with World Series Rings in Donnelly with the Angels in 2002, Josh Kinney with St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 and Justin Christian San Francisco Giants in 2012.

“The fact remains that the Frontier League is the preeminent professional baseball league for developing young talent in the country and, thankfully, silly things like our ‘proposal’ yesterday would never even be brought to the table at one of our league meetings,” Viano continued. “The Boomers alone sent four players to affiliated baseball in the 2013 season, and the league has produced dozens of Major Leaguers in its illustrious history, so our commitment to developing talent on the field is sincere and unwavering.”

The hoax increased web traffic at www.boomersbaseball.com alone by over 500% with over 5,000 pageviews on this story. The Social Media numbers are equally as impressive with the viral spread from the Boomers Facebook and Twitter accounting for at least 15,000 impressions, almost 1,400 direct clicks on the story and similar experiences throughout the 14-team Frontier League.

“The Frontier League – and especially minor league baseball – is all about fun after all,” Viano added. “We hope that even if we fooled you that you’ll share a chuckle with us today and crack at least a little bit of a smile, because that’s what we’re all about. Fun is everything to us, and there are a lot more smiles and laughs waiting for all of our fans at all of our great stadiums this summer. See you at the ballpark!”

While some people figured it out right away, there were several hints embedded in the original story. The phrase “Happy April Fool” can be found if you combine capitalized words from the release. The word “April” appears as you would expect it to be written, but the phrase becomes clear along with the unusual capitalization of “Happy” in paragraph two as well as the word “Fool” towards the end of paragraph four. A 4/1 vote is also not a coincidence and neither is the “research” of Deputy Commissioner Steve Tahsler showing that 41% of all plate appearances with at least three pitches advance to a 1-1 count.

With unique, one-of-a-kind promotions like 21 & Over Night on Thursday, May 29 at 8 p.m. and the first-ever Kickstarter funded theme night with the Schaumburg Zombies and the Field of Screams set for Saturday, June 7, the 2013 Champion Schaumburg Boomers, presented by Wintrust Financial, actively seek creative, never-been-done-before ideas to go the extra mile to add even more fun and excitement for fans at Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg.

Boomers Tickets are on sale now by calling 847.461.3695, visiting www.boomersbaseball.com or stopping by the Box Office in person, located at 1999 Springinsguth Road in Schaumburg, Ill.

The entire league was in on the joke, from the league office to PR pros across the several teams.

While I admitted to being sucked in initially, I didn't hold a grudge.

The Twittersphere wasn't quite as kind to the Frontier League.

Here's the catch, if the front offices didn't let their managers know in advance, then that's a problem. Yes, teams are trying to gather players now, so anyone considering a spot on a roster will have to be in on the prank. 

But it was a first time league-wide April Fool's Day prank ever pulled. People talked about it. J.J. Cooper's tweets ended up in the Twitter feeds of a few major league chats on Opening Day. Anyone who didn't know what the Frontier League was on Sunday probably heard about it by Tuesday. The press release popped up on a few Patch sites around the Chicagoland area, then was taken down as soon as it was confirmed as a prank. 

If anything, there's a lesson here, one that is taught in every journalism class in the country: confirm first, tweet second.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Hillary Smith

Hillary Smith

Hillary Smith has covered prep, pro and college sports -- and even a Dixie Baseball World Series -- for newspapers north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1995.

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