BY CAROLYN LaWELL
LAKE ELSINORE, California | Shorty Rossi is on the pitcher’s mound, ball in hand. His pit bull Hercules runs around the infield. A cameraman crouches low to capture Rossi throw out the first pitch and then turns around to film Hercules pick up the ball and playfully carry it around in his mouth.
The cast and crew of Animal Planet’s Pit Boss came to a Lake Elsinore game in early May to film scenes for an upcoming episode. The Storm had nothing to do with Pit Boss picking The Diamond for an appearance, but Storm fans shouldn’t be shocked to see little people — LPs, as Rossi and others in the show refers to themselves — a dog, a cameraman or a posse hanging out in front of the dugout before the game.
The Storm are known for their wild promotions and in-game entertainment, which includes Storm Wars, a mini series with mascots, evil villains and lightsabers, and a race from foul pole to foul pole where a fan attempts to beat a team staffer dressed up as a squirrel.
“Like anything, we try to be entertaining and creative and produce a product so that people can laugh and have a good time,” says Storm president Dave Oster, who sometimes dresses up in a banana costume and stands outside the stadium to promote the team.
“If you just keep doing the same old thing, at some point that’s going to get tiresome. You always have to be recreating yourself so that people want to come back.” — Lake Elsinore president Dave Oster
The goal behind it all is to get people talking about the Storm. It’s working.
In March, the Storm offered to trade two of their mascots — Rally Cop and the Grounds Crew Gorilla — to the Denver Broncos for Tim Tebow. The Broncos turned down the offer, but the Storm still made national headlines and news programs.
Last year, a Charlie Sheen look-alike — accurate down to the Ricky Vaughn hair cut — came out to “Wild Thing” by The Troggs for a Charlie Sheen-co de Mayo promotion. They retired a No. 99 jersey, served Tiger’s Blood cocktails, designated a rehab deck and sold two-for-one Ho Hos. They handed out bobble heads with Sheen wearing a jersey and a sombrero. That won them the Larry MacPhail Award, Minor League Baseball’s top honor for promotions, the first California League team to win the award in its 46-year history.
A few years ago, they held a Michael Jackson sleepover night. The game started at 7:35 p.m. — when the big hand touched the little hand — fans wearing pajamas received a discounted ticket and entertainment included a petting zoo. That turned heads, Oster says, and, surprisingly, didn’t yield complaints.
This year, the team will continue to play off Tebowmania and try to set a record for the number of people Tebowing simultaneously. The Storm will be hosting an All Faith Night on July 13. They hope to pack the field with people on one knee with fists on their foreheads.
“You’re always trying to look to the future and what the new idea is or what the current trend is, and still stay current with what’s going on so you remain popular,” Oster says. “If you just keep doing the same old thing, at some point that’s going to get tiresome. You always have to be recreating yourself so that people want to come back.”
Those fresh, new and sometimes-too-outrageous-to-use ideas come during staff meetings where Oster and the Storm’s core promotions team sit around a table, munch on tacos and drink a few beers. All front office staffers are asked to participate and filter in when they have time.
“Everybody is involved,” Oster says. “You have to take your job seriously because it’s not an easy operation to run; you have so many moving parts. But if you’re not having fun, most likely the fans aren’t having fun. It’s got to start with the mentality of the group. We give a lot of leeway as to being creative and letting them come up with their own ideas and decisions. Then it runs through the course of making sure we don’t make any mistakes.”
For instance, that race that pits a fan against a squirrel was pitched by Eric Theiss when he applied for the job last offseason. Theiss is the assistant director of media operations, but he dresses as the squirrel — probably not fair considering he was an all-America at Oneonta State, with a personal best of 47.62 seconds in the 400-meter run.
“Every year there is an attempt to just try to have fun,” says director of broadcasting Sean McCall, who has been with the team for 17 years of its 19 years. “We had fun in the early days, but in the last six to eight years and really since Dave and Chris (Jones, vice president and general manager) have been leading it, they like to encourage some humor and fun.”
Now that the Storm has garnered national attention with their promos, there is pressure to keep up the creativity. “For the staff, it shows that their hard work and creativity has paid off,” Oster says. “This doesn’t mean that we can sit back and rest. It’s more of an encouragement that, ‘Hey, we’ve done some good stuff, so let’s keep going with it.”
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