I had an interesting moment twelve years ago when I got to bond with Barry Bonds.
As a kid, I was a pretty decent baseball player who loved the Mets, loved to play catcher and could swing a pretty mean bat. I never really dreamed of playing major league ball but there was something about the sport that was right for my temperament. It didn’t involve the violence of football, keeping score was like learning a secret language and it always ended with a trip to the Dairy Queen for either a cherry Mr. Misty or a vanilla ice cream cone dipped in chocolate.
|Jack and Jeff playing for Reinettes |
|Jaynes Motor Freight (Ross Ackerman, Larry Goldberg, Perry Koplik, Alan |
Shlanger, Gary Neifeld and a cast of other Springfield characters) I'm on top row upper left.
Baseball, Marketing and Surviving the Day
In 1999, one of the snack foods brands I had marketing responsibility for was starting a significant advertising campaign. The brand, Pemmican, was a beef jerky made by the folks who owned Slim Jim. Where Slim Jim was like a smoked hot dog, Pemmican was filet. That analogy wasn’t mine, it was my friend George’s and it always stuck with me.
We created a series of commercials with the tag line ‘Survive the Day’. We had a country music song created and repeated the storyline of how Pemmican can help you even when your all else is failing. (Kudos to Good Steve and Bad Steve for their ingenuity.) The campaign was remarkably successful growing the business over 4 years from a small $10 million dollar business to over $60 million dollars. The three commercials can viewed here:
Home Run Derby with Barry Bonds
So with a modest budget for reaching 18-34 year old men with our advertising message, we went to ESPN to see how we could leverage our media buys and make those dollars go as far as possible. We planned an advertising campaign and they added to the package sponsorship of the Home Run Derby which was held in Las Vegas at a minor league stadium. Not to be confused with the event held before the all-star game, this home run derby was an additional event that occurred before the season began. We used this event to bring our brokers, agents and some distributors so they could meet some of the baseball stars.
|Barry Bonds and The GoodMark Team |
When I got to the ballpark and met our ESPN contact, he informed me that we would have Barry Bonds as our speaker for our distributor meeting and Barry would be hitting on our behalf during the competition. The year before, Bonds had hit 39 home runs bringing his career total over 600 home runs. The next year, he hit his record 73 home runs in 2001. All of the nasty information about steroids and drugs had not surfaced and so our meet and greet was just a low keyed hour that we all enjoyed.
|Harrison hangs with Mike Piazza |
Since I was the senior marketing person at the event, I got a very special honor. ESPN let me take batting practice with the home run contestants. People like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Frank Howard, Shawn Green and Ken Griffey Jr. participated. My brother Mitch, sister-in-law Leslie and nephew Harrison came to the event since it was a chance for Harrison to meet Mike Piazza who was someone he looked up too. Today Harrison would look down at him from his 6 foot plus frame. Mitch had seen me play baseball plenty of times and I was happy to have him there to share this cool experience.
Do you know the feeling of walking in Muir woods?
I am 5 feet 9 inches tall and walking onto the field among this group of behemoths, I could barely see the forest for the trees. The bats these guys used were like redwood limbs that were so big and heavy. I could barely picked up one of these bats and I needed to swing it at a 90 mile an hour fast ball. But I was going to enjoy this moment and savor the occasion.
|That is me trying to hit a home run with|
Barry Bonds watching
|Hitting it out of the park in Spring 1967.|
The team was Carter Bell.
As I stood around the batting circle, I watched each player get up and knock the rawhide off the ball. The pitcher was a minor league player who was throwing smoke. I could barely see the ball as it left his hands and I feared I was in for trouble. It had been many years since I played hardball and I worried about looking like a fool although I knew I would survive the day. (Remember I had my Pemmican with me, even though I didn't eat red meat.)
I was standing in line to get up and Barry Bonds came by and said to me, why don’t you go next so you can get a chance to hit some fastballs before this kid gets tired. I picked up a 56 inch bat which was so heavy I could barely swing it. I think I used to use a size 42. I put on a helmet and stood at the plate and decided I would ‘take’ the first pitch which means to let it go by so I could judge the speed.
Before I knew it, the first pitch was in the catcher’s glove and my stomach fell into my socks. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed my supportive brother Mitch with a camera taking pitches and he yelled out to me, what he used to say when we played little league...
"no pitcher, no pitcher, no pitcher"
I needed those words of encouragement since I was confident I was going to embarrass myself. The good news is I did foul off a few balls. The bad news is I don’t think I hit more than a couple on the field let alone over the fence. But I didn't whiff and I could walk off with my head held high. It was a humbling experience but one that was still one of those momentSLATER. My hands still hurt from having this gigantic bat slam off a hardball traveling at 90 miles an hour but what an experience.
Bonding with Barry
After the derby, our distributors, brokers and agents all attended an autograph signing inside one of the stadium rooms. I introduced Barry to the audience and he spoke softly and graciously to the crowd. Toward the end, I said we would take a few questions. Since the audience was a bit shy getting started with the questions, I remember asking Barry who he would have liked to play in the outfield with- from any era.
|Barry Bonds and Uncle Willie Mays |
|A young Barry|
|Autographed 600 home runs by Barry Bonds|
|Bobby's Dad Barry Bonds |
|One of my real heroes|
Sey Hey Willie Mays
His answer surprised me perhaps because I didn’t know his history. He told me that his Uncle Willie Mays and his dad Barry would be the two people he would enjoy playing outfield with and he would love to do that when they were all at their peak ages. He spoke somewhat emotionally about Willie and Barry and I was touched as it connected with me thinking about those special people in my own family and life. Although a big guy, he seemed like a gentle giant and I was impressed with how he related to everyone. There was no over sized ego but there was no mistaking his over sized forearms and neck. He was also remarkably soft-spoken.
Keep in mind that this event predated the steroid and drug scandals that were to follow along with the 73 home runs in 2001. Years later when all of the scandal broke about Bonds, I didn’t really pay much attention to it since I’m not much of a sports fan. But I felt a certain sadness that this very thoughtful and heart-centered guy had to pump himself up to achieve success on the field. He seemed like he had the potential to be a real hero whether or not he held the home run record.
Like a Greek tragedy, it is odd to watch a hero fall; see for example Tiger Woods and Joe Paterno. (Does it strike anyone else that the root word of Paterno is Latin for father figure?) There is more than a one-dimensional view of any one's lifetime of experience but look how tainted reputations can get in a flash.
This major league moment was a brief experience in my lifetime. To this day, I still feel a certain bonding with Barry that I’ll never forget.
Labels: Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds, Famous Moments, GoodMark Foods, Marketing Moments, Mike Piazza, Pemmican, Slim Jims, Willie Mays