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May 27, 2009

Mug Shots: Let’s play local ball

If you’re a baseball fan, it’s important to contemplate the legacy of the late Bill Veeck, who was a true American original.

Veeck was the rarest of all baseball creatures, a team owner deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. His specialized skill was reviving moribund franchises with zany, fan-friendly marketing schemes and inventive promotional shenanigans.

Until Veeck, baseball tended to be too impressed with its trademark soul-of-Americana piety, but he generally refused to take the sport all that seriously, operating on the belief that a visit to the ballpark should be about more than the ballgame itself, with entertainment and good times that would help casual fans feel as comfortable as the die-hards with their pencils, studiously keeping score.

Love them or hate them, many facets of the game day hoopla we take for granted nowadays — fireworks displays, music, concerts, dot races, mascots, tugs-of-war and outfield swimming pools — owe a conceptual debt to Veeck’s whimsical determination that baseball loosen up and have some fun.

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Nowhere else does organized baseball have more fun than in the minor leagues, that free-ranging habitat where a young Bill Veeck first learned his trade. More than 250 minor-league teams relentlessly market themselves as joyful throwbacks, the locally oriented antitheses of the overbearing and corporate major leagues, and viable, inexpensive entertainment alternatives.

The Triple-A Louisville Bats are quick to remind us that they’re our one truly local pro team, playing in the local ballpark, charging fair ticket and concessions prices for a local experience, involving the local community and unapologetically deploying as many of Veeck’s exuberant tricks as possible.

A question: Should local food and drink be a part of this equation, or do the commercial implications of catering to the needs of 10,000 people preclude small-scale, local-food-and-drink purveyors in favor of more widely known mass-market producers?

In the spirit of Veeck, I’m an unrepentant advocate of localized food and drink options for baseball games in Louisville Slugger Field.

As for the availability of local craft beer, Slugger Field lags behind the experience of the minor leagues as a whole. Progressive concessions programs elsewhere not only exist but thrive. Here in Louisville, we’re offered Grolsch (Holland) nights, Corona (Mexico) specials and an overall hegemony of Anheuser-Busch (Belgium, Brazil and maybe even St. Louis — on a good day).

Given the excellence of locally-brewed craft beer in metro Louisville, and the spectacular growth of the category in America, what must happen for there to be a representative selection of locally brewed craft beers at Louisville Slugger Field?  

I’ve tried arguing that good beer is its own sales pitch, and that small, local businesses should get a fair shake in a facility constructed with governmental assistance.

I’ve wondered why a ball club so proficient in meeting the needs of paying customers representing varying demographics continues to ignore those ticket buyers who want locally brewed craft beer.

Silence raging, I long ago reached the only conclusion possible under the circumstances. Apparently product placement in sporting venues constitutes one of the last great bastions of unfettered pay-to-play, and 800-pound gorillas wielding corporate sponsorship bludgeons simply can’t be surmounted. Until proven wrong, that’s my belief.

Consequently, I’ve attended few Bats games of late, although occasionally I’ve gone to Browning’s to enjoy good beer, listen to the crowd roar on the other side of the wall, and wish I could be doing both in the same place.

But maybe there’s a thaw in the air.

According to Gary Ulmer, president of the Louisville Bats, a rotating Browning’s beer will be on tap this season at one of the portable stands along the concourse in the area behind third base. Courtesy of Ulmer, here are the other beers being served at Louisville Slugger Field:

Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Miller High Life, Coors Light, Bud Light Lime, Michelob Ultra, Michelob Amber and Light, Amber Bock, Shock Top, Landshark, Red Stripe, Smithwick’s, Rolling Rock, Red Hook IPA, Sam Adams, Sam Adams Brown Ale, Beck’s, New Castle, Harbin, Bass, Stella, Labatt’s Blue, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Tiger, Heineken, Peroni, St. Pauli and Corona.

Browning’s is a start, although if you’re keeping score, that’s 30-1.

What would Bill Veeck say?

 

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit potablecurmudgeon.blogspot.com for more beer.