Cut it out: Rochester rooters finally take their seats
To be a Rochester Red Wings fan in 2020, you've got to be cut out for the job. The Red Wings, Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, welcomed their first crowd of the year on Aug. 21. This Frontier Field gathering, eclectic yet inanimate, was in the form of approximately
To be a Rochester Red Wings fan in 2020, you've got to be cut out for the job.
The Red Wings, Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, welcomed their first crowd of the year on Aug. 21. This Frontier Field gathering, eclectic yet inanimate, was in the form of approximately 60 cardboard fan cutouts. Another 100 or so will join them as soon as the next shipment arrives, adding more color and personality to an otherwise barren seating bowl.
The Rochesterians represented are the result of the Red Wings' "Fan Cutout Pack" ticket deal, announced on Aug. 3. The $60 offering features a customized 24-inch by 17-inch cutout placed in the seats as well as four tickets to a 2021 Red Wings game. A Fan Cutout Pack purchase also includes the cutout itself, which can be picked up at the ballpark in October with the 2021 tickets.
"Like every team, we're just trying to scratch and claw our way through this whole thing," Red Wings general manager Dan Mason said. "We were talking about different ways to launch our 2021 ticket packages and we needed a hook of some sort, something to get people excited."
FIRST CROWD OF THE YEAR!!!! pic.twitter.com/OkzwPx9Rza— Rochester Red Wings (@RocRedWings) August 21, 2020
Hence, the Fan Cutout Pack. Nonetheless, fans -- cardboard or otherwise -- need a reason to gather. Rochester's cutout coterie came about because Frontier Field is home to the Blue Jays' alternate training site (the Major League Blue Jays, of course, are playing at another International League ballpark, Buffalo's Sahlen Field). While fan cutouts are common around the Majors, where actual games are played on a nightly basis, they have been few and far between at the Minor League level. Other teams who've offered them include the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (hosts of the Phillies' alt training site) and the Lansing Lugnuts (who created their own in-house collegiate circuit, the Lemonade League).
"Obviously, we’ve seen MLB teams doing fan cutouts and the success they’ve had," Mason said. "Once we became the Blue Jays' alternate site, we thought, ‘Jeez, for our fans who are missing the ballpark, it’s a tremendous way to still feel like they’re part of the season.' They can have the cutout placed in their season seat location, if they choose."
The Red Wings' cutouts, created by AMI Graphics, depict a wide range of individuals. Some 15 fans submitted photos of their pets, usually depicting a "Bark in the Park" canine regular.
Other unorthodox submissions included a pair of fans dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus, a man suited up as Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn from the movie Major League and the avatar of the absurdist Rochester-centric Twitter account "I'm the Medley Centre, Dammit." The Red Wings made sure that a variety of other franchise icons were represented, including legendary vendor Conehead and Milo the Bat Dog. They also ordered a cutout featuring Rush's Geddy Lee, a die-hard Jays fan.
"We wanted to help our fans stay connected, but it also makes it cool for the players," Mason said. "It makes them feel more like they're part of the current MLB experience. They watch the same games and highlights that everyone else does. To see the cutouts in the stands, it gives them a big league experience while they’re here in some capacity."
These days, a significant portion of Mason's day is devoted to making sure the Blue Jays' stay at Frontier Field goes as smoothly as possible.
"We've settled into a groove, into what is basically a 60-day homestand," he said. "[Blue Jays] staff has been very understanding with what we’re doing and how we’ve had to do it. We’re doing our best to take into account what they need on a daily basis.
"The first thing I do every morning is open everything up, propping the doors open, that kind of thing. Because the less surfaces they need to touch, the better. Doors, light switches, we turn everything on. Then it’s helping the grounds crew get ready, going through the various stages of the day, getting batting practice ready or getting it off the field. And then getting the field ready for simulated games, which they play pretty much every day."
Simulated games, played by members of an organization with which the Red Wings are not affiliated, witnessed by more cardboard cutouts than actual people. Just another normal day in 2020.
"Believe it or not, we’ve been busy. It’s not the kind of busy we’re used to," Mason said. "I didn’t think I’d be hosting ballpark dinners as a maître d, or running a drive-in movie theater. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t think that. But that’s just what 2020 presented to us. We, as a staff, we’re doing the best we can to adjust, and it’s great to see the ballpark being used. We had a brand new field installed over the winter, and to think of having a brand new field but no baseball being played [in Rochester] for the first time since 1894, that was a sobering thought. It’s been great to see the field being used by professional baseball players."
And those professional baseball players get to play in front of fans, or at least reasonable facsimiles.
"[Fan cutouts], they've been a great way to stay involved with baseball," Mason said. "A great way to stay a part of Frontier Field."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.