6th of Jun | Story

An udderly incredible night in dairy land


GRAND CHUTE, Wisconsin | A two-day-old calf stood outside the team store at Fox Cities Stadium. Already bigger than a toddler, it circled its pen, as fans of all ages cooed and reached their hands over to pet it. On the other side of the gate, a slightly more impressive array of promotions awaited them during an all-encompassing theme night.

Every season, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers hold their Salute to Cows Night, which started this season with a Holstein cow and a calf in the parking lot and celebrated the Dairy State’s heritage throughout the stadium and on the field.

“Nowhere else does this promotion necessarily work to this level,” corporate marketing manager Ryan Cunniff says.

The promotion started four years ago as a nod to the dairy industry – in June, of course, which is Dairy Month.

This year, the night started when fans walked through the gates and were handed two-toned baseballs, half-cow print, half-cheese print underneath a curtain of inflatable cows, both traditional white and new-fangled brown – they produce chocolate milk, of course. Cheese samples in various shades of white and yellow were stuck with toothpicks and lined on tables and bratwursts were infused with cheddar. Rochelle Ripp, the 65th Alice in Dairyland and the spokesperson for the state’s department of agriculture, signed autographs. After wading through the concourse of cheese and dairy, fans finally made it to their seats.

Before the game even started, the Timber Rattlers appeared on the scoreboard with milk mustaches superimposed over their upper lips. Their opponent, the Clinton LumberKings, were referred to internally as the LumberCows. Employees wore cow hats and bandannas.

Over nine innings, the on-field entertainment carried Salute to Cows to another level. Teenagers chugged milk to see who could drink two pints more quickly. Erstwhile dairy bowlers tossed string cheese into buckets latched to their partners’ heads. Fans mooed their way to a final round that saw the crowd vote for the winner with their cheers (though they neither booed nor mooed). The prize? A cow bell.

“Just about anything we can tie into cows is what it’s become,” Cunniff says. “Even to the point that it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. Fans will buy and wear cowbell necklaces. We’ve even had fans rent out cow costumes.”

Salute to Cows almost sold out Fox Cities Stadium on a Wednesday night. The Timber Rattlers usually draw well for their larger promotions – they previously unfurled a Salute to Underwear Night and have plans this season to show off a Salute to Toilet Paper Night to honor the region’s paper production. The trick is to take the promotions to a new level every year.

“I’ve always wanted to bring the cow down onto the field,” Cunniff says. “Our grounds crew has always kind of steered me away from it with the possibility of bodily functions.”

Maybe since milk chugging has become a staple, Cunniff says, he could at least add a cow-milking contest next year.

“We’ve found, sometimes,” he says, “it’s more the little things that you can do to keep it going.”

One year, fans received cereal bowls on Salute to Cows Night. The next year, they were able to add a matching cup and spoon. This year, everyone left with a pint of milk. Now, in Wisconsin, the breakfast set is complete. The nights are still going, one every June.


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Time for minor league trivia. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers won three straight Midwest League championships in what decade? (Keep reading for the answer.)

Home for the first time after a 9-4 road trip, the Timber Rattlers showed they could hit at home, too, beating the LumberKings 6-4. The Timber Rattlers jumped out to an early lead and scored six runs in the first five innings. Leftfielder Jason Rogers batted in three of those runs thanks to a pair of singles and righty starter David Goforth pitched five shutout innings for the win. Righty reliever Chad Pierce allowed four runs over four innings of relief but still earned the save.

The Timber Rattlers bullpen tempts every fan who ventures along the boardwalk to their spot in the outfield. Every night, the relievers turn a cardboard box into a tent, open a black marker and scribble, in black block letters: “Make A Quarter Get A Ball.” Next to the sign are six Dixie Cups and four baseballs and, by the bottom of the third inning, about 30 to 40 quarters. The tradition started last year, righty Kevin Shackelford says. The bullpen normally collects somewhere between $10 and $20 per game and is saving the money this season to pick up something for the team.

The parking lot at Fox Cities Stadium opens two and a half hours before the first pitch and cars file in not long after that. Fans pull out lawn chairs, coolers and cornhole boards. Yes, they tailgate for a minor league baseball. Every night. “We have a lot of fans who tailgate our games,” Cunniff says. “It’s almost like a Packers game. It’s a right of passage in Wisconsin to tailgate.” This might be the only city where fans prep the same way for a mid-week Low-A baseball game as they do for an NFL game.

Want the answer? Known then as the Appleton Foxes, the team won Midwest League championships in 1982, 1983 and 1984. The Foxes had the best record in the league in 1985, too, but lost to the Kenosha Twins in the first round of the playoffs.

And in random statistical news, the game started one minute late, the first pitch was a ball and the first batter grounded out to third base. A recording of the “Star-Spangled Banner” lasted 1 minute and 15.1 seconds. We ate grilled chicken, baked potatoes and steamed broccoli for dinner, but did sample some of the cheeses on hand before the game. During the game, merchandise manager Jay Grusznski was kind enough to share some of his cheese curds with us. It was a full basket.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com  @CarolynLaWell  @AMinorLgSeason

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