It has been quite a while since I have blogged about anything. I am taking a different approach on these next few posts as I turn the page in my career and move on to the next chapter. Working in Minor League Baseball is a truly amazing experience and I am humbled to be able to make a living doing something I love, which is tough for a lot of people to say these days.
Just a quick background on my career thus far in the minors, I began in 2009 doing a college internship for the Double ‘A’ Phillies affiliate, the Reading Phillies (now the Fightin’ Phils). The R-Phils really got things started for me as I got to work with a fantastic staff that is known across MiLB as one of the top-tier organizations. Check out a run-down of my summer in Reading right here.
After mulling over a couple of full-time job offers at the 2009 Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, I instead decided to dedicate another season towards expanding my expertise in marketing and promotions. So, in 2010, I accepted a position as the Marketing Assistant for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, who are the Advanced ‘A’ Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. My direct supervisor at the Blue Rocks, Mark Vanderhaar, taught me a lot through my nine months in Wilmington, but the thing I learned the most from him was just how to conduct myself professionally in the industry. I mean, I already had a general idea of how things worked, but until learning the inner workings of the Blue Rocks, I didn’t realize how much actually goes on behind the scenes for a minor league team. I managed a group of over 35 college interns, taught myself photoshop and much more. Check out my recap of my Blue Rocks experience by clicking here.
The nine-month assistant position with the Rocks helped secure me a full-time position with the Advanced ‘A’ Affiliate for the Baltimore Orioles, the Frederick Keys, as the Promotions Manager. Little did I know, three years into my work, the Keys experience would unlock bigger things for me in the minor league baseball world. Here, I plan to touch on my experiences with the Keys that have now led me to become the Marketing & Promotions Manager for the Gwinnett Braves, Triple ‘A’ Affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. In this first post, I will focus primarily on community relations programs and mascot appearances.
My first Keyote appearance on camera for the Keys in 2011
Community Relations & Mascot Adventures
I began work with the Keys in 2010 right after Thanksgiving time. Other than college, I had never really been on my own. Never liked sleepovers much as a kid, never went to sleep away camp and never really saw myself leaving the area near family. Well, in the minors, moving is a way to advance and I am definitely comfortable with that now after three years on my own. Joining the Keys in the offseason was obviously a great advantage. Having time to get settled with all of the programs, staff, etc. The first season of mine with the Keys was the toughest when it came to adjusting, but it was a learning experience within itself.
Keyote (me) and the Oriole Bird at a yearly Dr. Seuss event at the Westminster Town Mall
I was dealt right into the action when it came to community appearances, representing the Keys at four appearances in my first two weeks on the job as the mascot, Keyote. Mascotting is definitely not one of the highlights of anyone’s day, but I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with the fans on that side of things. I never had sports mascots visit my community in New York or Pennsylvania when I was a kid, so I understood how great of an experience this was for some people, especially the kids. Throughout my time with the Keys, I probably performed as Keyote at over 125 appearances across Maryland, parts of Virginia and West Virginia and even Delaware. Getting out in the community and just getting the Keys name into people’s brains is an underrated act in my opinion. We all know word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools. When someone sees Keyote, they remember an experience at a game and tell their friends, who have maybe never been to one before, which could end up in new business at the ballpark. One thing I learned over my time as Keyote is that no matter what kind of day you are having, good or bad, you always have to be energetic in that mascot suit. I really pride myself in putting out the best product, whether it is on the field or in the community, so giving my all at these appearance gave me the chance to network with different radio stations, schools, charitable organizations and more. I know that getting Keyote out into the community and representing the Keys at various events wherever I was needed played a big part in getting fans to come to ball games. Of course, as a mascot, you deal with some weird fans and experience some “unique” situations to say the least. I have been humped as Keyote by a litle girl at a Family Fitness Night, played mascot basketball and got taken out by an inflatable Smoothie King mascot, done zumba in 98 degree heat, ran a 1/4 mile with kids (yes…actually ran), done three appearances in three different parts of Maryland in one day, punched in the nuts at a Challenger Little League event – there are others, so feel free to contact me if you’d like to hear more about any of these stories.
Me, as Keyote, running a 1/4 mile at the Frederick Running Festival
Keys for Reading
Keys for Reading assemblies include a reading of Casey at the Bat, with mascot Keyote acting out the book.
The longest standing program for the Keys is the Keys for Reading program, which just completed its 18th year. Covering over 150 schools and 85,000 students in seven different counties, the reading program is a great link between education and baseball. The process begins in October and November, when myself along with other Keys staff members begin calling Reading Specialists from schools in different counties. Catching specialists when they are actually available is a miracle within itself. Most calls end in leaving messages with secretaries who may never end up giving your info to the teacher. Some schools do this program year after year, while others, well they just hang up on you right when they hear me say “This is Brandon Apter from the Frederick Keys about our reading program.” The basics of this program is that kids receive a bookmark (seen below). They read three books at their own reading level outside of school. After they complete the books, they get it signed by their parent and can redeem it for a free ticket to a Keys game. At the game, the kids participate in a Celebration of Readers parade, which includes getting to say their names on a podium in front of all of their families and friends. It is a really unique experience for kids, who get rewarded for reading books by getting to go to a Keys game for free. Some schools go more “all out” then others by posting bulletin boards in the main halls with Keys swag and reading reminders.
After the schools are registered, then begins the boxing extravaganza. Once all of the bookmarks, school fliers and information sheets are delivered, an entire week (sometimes even more) is dedicated to boxing up all of the schools materials. An easy, yet tiring process, the boxes are then driven over to the post office, where they weigh and scan each box. Once the program kicks off, the appearances pick up a lot. The Keys offer two different types of school visits. One is an assembly, which involves a speaker talking about the program for 3-5 minutes followed by a reading of the famous poem, Casey at the Bat in a different rendition called Keyote at the Bat. After Keyote finishes acting out the book, there is a short Q & A about the program, which almost always ends up in a kid asking if Keyote is real, if his mask can be taken off or just randomly telling us about something completely unrelated to Keyote or the reading program. One series of questions was particularly unusual. The kid asked me why Keyote was wearing a belt. I answered that it was to keep his pants from falling down, to which the kid responded “why doesn’t he just take off his pants?”. After that, I promptly ended the Q & A session and let Keyote say his goodbyes. The other type of school visit involved a 1-2 minute speech on how the program runs and then Keyote goes around an hi fives kids at lunch in the cafeteria, which almost always ends in complete chaos.
The first year of the Keys for Reading program, we figured we would reward schools with the best numbers with an appearance by the Keyote Karavan. Over one week, we visited 10 schools, sometimes two or three per day. The Karavan idea was scrapped because of the amount of time it took from place to place and it was tough to do it with the season approaching, if it hadn’t already begun. It was a really tough part of the program because I could never really sit down and breathe, it was always an appearance every day. That being said, the Karavan concept likely drove more kids and families out to the ballpark and it was a beneficial experiment in the end.
Keyote visits an elementary school as part of the Keyote Karavan
My first Keys for Reading experience was an interesting one. I went with our Creative Production Manager, Paul, who now works for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I hadn’t really done too much research into the program, but I knew what it was and how it worked for the most part. While driving to the school, I assumed I would be Keyote for the first go at it, but apparently Paul had a different idea. Thrown right into the fire, I winged about a seven minute speech on the importance of reading in baseball. For the circumstances, I think it went well. Although I was furious at the fact that I was not aware I would be speaking, it is that appearance that made speaking in the future so much easier. I hated my speech class in college but now I can speak in front of large audiences of 500-600 without an issue and I can thank the Keys for Reading program, and of course Paul, for that.
I’ll conclude this first part with a video from this past offseason. I doubled as myself and then Keyote in the other scenes.
*Pocket scheduling is a large part of grassroots marketing here in Frederick. Beginning in the middle of February, we go and deliver out pocket schedules to local business and this happens pretty much everyday until August. In 2011, we distributed close to 275k, in 2012 we got out close to 265k and this season we managed to get out 250k. The number in 2011 was more than the two years previous combined. People grabbing these pocket schedules can play a large part in attendance increase over a span of a few years.
*If you are interested in seeing my mascot basketball skills (or lack thereof), click here or here.
*Here is a spoof video of the Fiat commercial from the Superbowl in 2012. View the original here.