8 Things To Do At The Ballpark (Besides Watch The Game)

Getty Images
Getty Images

If you're a sports fan, nothing beats the thrill of going to a game. If you're not a sports fan, nothing is quite as interminable as being dragged to a game. Simply eating a $12 plastic container of bland nachos isn't going to kill three hours, so you'll have to go out scouting for adventure. You might want to consider one of these fantastic diversions.

1. Pony Riding, Cheney Stadium

Few fans remember the 2004 Tacoma Rainiers' season win-loss record, but scores can probably tell you that it was the year the ponies invaded Cheney Stadium. The Seattle Mariners' AAA minor-league affiliate turned home games into every ten-year-old girl's dream. Not only could young fans ride ponies on the field, but a pony also delivered the game ball to the mound before the first pitch. Sadly, the Rainiers' media office told me this stellar attraction ended with the 2004 season, which means the 2005 season probably broke some sort of record for highest number of crying, disappointed fans under the age of ten.

2. Ferris Wheeling, Comerica Park

 

Detroit's old Tiger Stadium may have been flush with history, but nobody was going to mistake it for a carnival midway. The Tigers' current home at Comerica Park fixes that problem with both a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round. The Ferris wheel's cars are actually shaped like baseballs, an aesthetic choice that underscores the strong historical link between Ferris wheels and baseball. No one's so sure what that link is, but it's underscored quite thoroughly.

3. Swimming, Chase Field

 The Arizona Diamondbacks' beautiful home stadium houses perhaps the most famous ballpark diversion, a swimming pool just beyond the outfield fence. Don't show up in your swimsuit for just any old Snakes home game, though; according to the team's site, the Riviera Pools Pavilion can be rented to you and 34 friends for a meager $6,500 per game. Of course, that comes with a $750 voucher for food and beverage, so really, it's only $5,750 per game. At that price, you can't afford not to rent it out. 

4. Pet Checking, U.S. Cellular Field

 Nothing's worse than walking through a stadium security check only to find that you've left your pet cat in your purse or backpack. At most ballparks, your day would be ruined since you'd either have to take Mr. Whiskers home or turn him free to fend for himself in the wild. Luckily, the management of the Chicago White Sox has a solution: fans can check their pets for a "minimal fee" which supports non-profit organizations that train service animals. No word on whether or not the team might start a particularly frisky dog at second base this season, although this pet-check is certainly a promising first step towards making the Air Bud series a reality. 

5. Being Terrified, Ripken Stadium

 For most of the year, Aberdeen, Maryland's Aberdeen IronBirds play minor-league hardball in this stadium. In October, though, it turns into the 13th Inning, a haunted house so horrifying that the shaky play of Class-A baseball doesn't seem so scary after all. Don't take my word for it, though; here's the official website's description: "The 13th Inning haunt has you reliving baseball's horrid past as you brave the bloody clubhouse of Manager Justin Bobby, Aberdeen's notorious skipper who stumbled upon a demonic asylum of cannibalistic spirits, demons long buried, who've consumed his players' souls." Whether or not it chills your blood, it's definitely a conceptual nightmare.

6. Sliding Out of a Beverage Bottle, AT&T Park

 The home of baseball's San Francisco Giants boasts many unique elements, from the brick wall in right field to long home runs splashing down in the water of McCovey Cove. It also has a gigantic Coca-Cola bottle behind the left-field bleachers that doubles as the housing for four playground slides. And next to the bottle is an enormous sculpture of a baseball glove that doubles as"¦an enormous sculpture of a baseball glove. The Giants claim it's the world's largest baseball glove, though, so if you're into viewing record-setting sporting equipment, it should be good for at least 90 seconds of entertainment.

7. Getting Sand in Your Shoes, BB&T Coastal Field

 The Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a Class-A Carolina league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, have an interesting private-party seating gimmick: The Beach. According to the team's website, the sand-filled Beach is stocked with folding lawn chairs and a great view down the third-base line, just like the beach. Except there's no ocean, but it's still perfect for fans whose favorite part of going to the beach is hosing the sand off of their feet. Even better, the section has a private bar and is next to the visitors' bullpen. Life as a minor-league relief pitcher must be tough; it's difficult to imagine that drunken opposing fans with handfuls of sand next to the bullpen would make things much easier.

8. Posing for Questionable Photo Ops, University of Phoenix Stadium

 This year's home for the Super Bowl gets to house the NFL Experience, a football theme park that pops up for entertainment before and during the big game. The attractions are mostly historical or involve running through simulated NFL drills, but in one case the activity involves posing as member of the very bad local football team. As the event's site advertises/warns: "Arizona Cardinals Home Team Photo - Step into a life-sized photo of the Arizona Cardinals and have a friend snap your photograph." Sure, the Cardinals may be perennial losers, but that just means you can show the picture to friends and say, "Oh, yeah, I totally played on their offensive line a year or two ago"¦" and have it sound remotely plausible.

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Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys. His last mental_floss contribution was a quiz on Sibling Underlings.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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Bo Knows Everything: Remembering Nike's Legendary Bo Jackson Ad Campaign

Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Bo Jackson and the "Bo Knows" campaign helped Nike finally overtake Reebook in the early 1990s.
Mike Powell, Allsport/Getty Images

It may have been difficult for Nike to conceive of any athlete being able to do more for its company than Michael Jordan. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Chicago Bulls star was omnipresent, helping turn their Air Jordan line of sneakers into a squeaky chorus in school hallways and gyms around the country. Even better, the company had scored big with “Just Do It,” an advertising slogan introduced in 1988 that became part of the public lexicon.

There was just one issue. In spite of Jordan’s growing popularity and their innovative advertising, Nike was still in second place behind Reebok. No other athlete on their roster could seemingly bridge the gap. Not even their new cross-training shoe endorsed by tennis pro John McEnroe was igniting excitement in the way the company had hoped.

In 1989, two major events changed all of that: An advertising copywriter was struck with inspiration, and two-sport athlete Bo Jackson slammed a first-inning home run during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The ad man’s idea was to portray Jackson as being able to do just about anything. Jackson went ahead and proved him right.

 

Bo Jackson was an ideal spokesperson for Nike's new line of cross-training sneakers. The Auburn University graduate was making waves as a rare two-sport pro athlete; he was playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals and football for the Los Angeles Raiders. Early commercials featured Jackson sampling other sporting activities like riding a bike. “Now, when’s that Tour de France?” he asked. In another, he dunked a basketball and pondered the potential of “Air Bo.”

At a Portland bar near Nike’s headquarters one evening, Nike vice president of marketing Tom Clarke and Jim Riswold of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy were pondering how best to use Jackson going forward. Clarke wanted to devote the majority of their budget for the cross-trainers to an ad campaign featuring the athlete. The two started lobbing ideas about other people named Bo—Bo Derek, Beau Brummell, Little Bo Peep, and Bo Diddley, among others.

The last one stuck with Riswold. He thought of a phrase—“Bo, you don’t know Diddley”—and went home to sleep on it. When he woke up the next morning, he was able to sketch out an entire commercial premise in minutes. Riswold envisioned a spot in which Jackson would try his hand at other sports, punctuating each with a “Bo Knows” proclamation. Jackson soon realizes the one thing he can’t do is play guitar with Bo Diddley, the legendary musician.

It took longer to shoot the commercial than to conceive of it. The spot was shot over the course of a month, with the crew going to California, Florida, and Kansas to film cameos with other athletes including Jordan, McEnroe, and Wayne Gretzky—all of whom Nike had under personal appearance contracts.

Fearing Jackson might hurt himself trying to skate, the production filmed him from the knees up sliding around in socks at a University of Kansas gymnasium rather than on ice. But not all attempts at caution were successful. When director Joe Pytka grew frustrated that Jackson kept running off-camera and implored him to move in a straight line, Jackson steamrolled both the equipment and Pytka, who had to tend to a bloody nose before continuing.

In portraying any other athlete this way, the campaign may have come off as stretching credulity. But Jackson had already been improving his game in all areas, hitting a 515-foot home run during a spring training win over the Boston Red Sox. In April, he hit .282 and tallied eight home runs. Even when he struck out, he still stood out: Jackson was prone to breaking his bat over his knee in frustration.

 

After Jackson was voted into the 1989 MLB All-Star Game in July, Nike decided the telecast would be the ideal place to debut their Bo Knows campaign. They handed out Bo Knows pennants for fans and even flew Bo Knows signs overhead. Bo Knows appeared in a full-page spot for USA Today. Even by Nike standards, this was big.

There was, of course, a chance Jackson would be in a bat-breaking mood, which might diminish the commercial’s impact. But in the very first inning, Jackson sent one into the stands off pitcher Rick Reuschel. With a little scrambling, Nike was able to get their ad moved up from the fourth inning, where it was originally scheduled to run. In the broadcast booth, announcer Vin Scully and special guest, former president Ronald Reagan, marveled at Jackson’s prowess. Scully reminded viewers that his pro football career was something Jackson once described as a “hobby.”

A Bo Jackson fan is pictured holding up a 'Bo Knows Baseball!' sign at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989
A Bo Jackson fan shows his support at the MLB All-Star Game in Anaheim, California on July 11, 1989.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Jackson was named the Most Valuable Player of the game. That summer and into the fall, Bo Knows was quickly moving up the ranks of the most pervasive commercial spots in memory, second only to Jordan’s memorable ads for Nike and McDonald’s. Jackson turned up in sequels, trying his hand at everything from surfing to soccer to cricket. Special effects artists created multiple Bo Jacksons, a seemingly supernatural explanation for why he excelled at everything.

It was a myth, but one rooted in reality. After 92 wins with the Royals as a left-fielder in 1989, Jackson reported for the NFL season that fall as a running back for the Raiders. In one three-game stretch, he ran for over 100 yards each. Against the Cincinnati Bengals in November, Jackson ran 92 yards for a touchdown. He finished the season with 950 rushing yards. That winter, he was named to the Pro Bowl, making him the only athlete to appear in two all-star games for two major North American sports in consecutive seasons.

Nike was staggered by the results of Bo Knows, which helped them leap over Reebok to become the top athletic shoe company. They eventually secured 80 percent of the cross-training shoe market, going from $40 million in sales to $400 million, a feat that executives attributed in large part to Jackson. Bo Knows, bolstered by Jackson’s demonstrated versatility, was the perfect marriage of concept and talent. His stature as a spokesperson rose, and he appeared in spots for AT&T and Mountain Dew Sport, earning a reported $2 million a year for endorsements. A viewer survey named him the most persuasive athlete in advertising. If that weren’t enough, Jackson also appeared in the popular Nintendo Entertainment System game Tecmo Bowl and on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1989.

 

In 1991, Jackson suffered a serious hip injury during a Raiders game, one that permanently derailed his football career. He played three more seasons of baseball with the Chicago White Sox and California Angels before retiring from sports in 1994.

Jackson's relationship with Nike was dissolved soon after, though the company never totally abandoned the concept of athletes wading into new territory. In 2004, a campaign depicted big names sampling other activities. Tennis great Andre Agassi suited up for the Boston Red Sox; cyclist Lance Armstrong was seen boxing; Serena Williams played beach volleyball. The Bo Knows DNA ran throughout.

Jackson still makes periodic references to the campaign, including in advertisements for his Bo Jackson Signature Foods. (“Bo Knows Meat,” the website proclaims.) In 2019, Jackson also appeared in a Sprint commercial that aimed for surrealism, with Jackson holding a mermaid playing a keytar and having a robot intone that “Bo does know” something about cell phone carriers.

The other key Bo—Diddley—never quite understood why the campaign worked. After seeing the commercial, he reportedly said that he was confused because it had nothing to do with shoes.