Monday, July 8, 2013

June 24- Buffalo Bisons

This is the second part of the #CrewEra13 trip to the New Era Cap headquarters in Buffalo, New York. For part 1, please click Jacksonville Expos. Otherwise, enjoy!

The next morning came much faster than I had anticipated, and made all the worse by the fact that my brain and body were still on Pacific Standard Time. I was only a little bit hung-over from the five or six Miller High Lifes I crushed merely hours prior as I was smart enough to slug at least a liter of water and some aspirin before I fell asleep. After a quick shower and the putting on of pants I headed down to the lobby to meet up with the rest of the crew. Katherine and Eric were slated to pick us up around 8:30 AM so I nuzzled up into one of the couches and chatted it up with Alex (@Type1SXC), Andrew (@AMitchel_416), Van (@VanLe23), Chris (@ccornolo), Ricky (@RickyRuby) and Leif (@Permabox) while Derick (@LeKid26) and John (@Interstate19) were a few blocks away picking up some coffee and a doughnut or two from the local Tim Horton’s. John, a huge hockey fan, had always wanted to give Tim Horton’s a try, so Derick, a Canadian very familiar with Tim Horton’s, showed him the ropes.

Our two hosts arrived at 8:30 on the nose and we were whisked away in the same SUVs as the day before, headed to breakfast. What none of us knew is that we would be having breakfast at New Era’s headquarters in downtown Buffalo off of Delaware Avenue. All of the other guys made sure to snag photos from the outside before we headed in. I all ready had a few from when I stopped by in 2012 so I took this one photo just for the sake of the utility truck that was inconveniently blocking any hopes of actually having a decent shot.

Before we stepped inside Erin had a manila envelope under her arm and handed us each one of these before we walked inside.

Not only did each of these badges come with our names and hat size on them, they also worked when walking through the special access points and elevators. On top of that, this was awaiting us in the main corridor door between the lobby to the offices and the entrance to the Flagship Store.

It’s the little details like these which go to show how much a company cares about their customers. Amazing.

Breakfast was nice, just a buffet-style gathering in one of the meeting rooms. For me at least when it comes to breakfast, if there’s bacon AND sausage patties available, I’ll be a happy camper for days. As we were shoveling food upon our plates we were greeted by several members of the higher chain of command of New Era including the Chief Marketing Officer and another member of the marketing team of whom I became acquainted with in 2012 while I was working in the MLB Fan Cave. In fact, he was the person who gave me the tour of New Era’s headquarters while I was doing my continent-wide Major League Baseball stadium tour, so it was especially nice to see and shake his hand and thank him again for his hospitality. We started with introductions which included where we were from, how long we had been collecting New Era Caps and what we did with our spare time. By the time they got to me the discussion turned more toward how my experience with the Fan Cave was and how it could have been better. I pretty much just threw up my arms after a solid five minutes. Other than that, everyone was very appreciative of how we had gone from just being collectors to being spokespeople for the company in a sense, always engaging and sharing our collections with other collectors and providing an overall sense of comradely amongst one another, which was essentially why we were chose out of so many people. It was also in this moment that we were told what to expect over the rest of the day: a tour of the New Era factory in Derby, a tour of building which used to be the Federal Reserve Bank, a tour of the newly renovated penthouse and a sit-down session with a designer so we could design our own New Era Cap. At this moment I could feel a little bit of drool dribble out of the side of my lips as idea after idea raced through my head. But first, it was off to Derby.

The drive took about 25 minutes or so we swapped stories with Erin which she started with why most of downtown Buffalo smells like breakfast cereal most of the time. As it turns out there’s a General Mills plant located not too far away and anytime they make cereal the wind will pick up the scent and carry it into the city. I’m a huge cereal connoisseur, mush in the same sense that Jerry Seinfeld is, so walking around town with the scent of Golden Grahams on my shirt would almost be a heavenly experience. The conversation then turned to the band Guns n’ Roses, who had played Buffalo just a few nights before. Erin was quick to comment on how much Axel Rose has changed (for the worse) over the years, something we all agreed upon, but also a show that we all wanted to see deep down. With about 10 miles to go the conversation somehow swayed to how and why “The Shark” was created and became so popular throughout MLB in lieu of the shark fin accessories the San Francisco Giants started producing for Gregor Blanco. What’s funny about this whole thing I that there really isn’t much of a story.


In 2011 my roommate, Jared Clark, at the University of Oregon and I were watching whatever random NFL games happened to be on TV as we were playing fantasy football against one another that week. It was around week six and we were tuned into the Green Bay Packers game as I had Jordy Nelson and he had Greg Jennings on his team. Somehow the conversation of Aaron Rodgers’ photobombs came up and we went to the Web site dedicated to it. For those of you who don’t know, ever since Rodgers came into the league he’s made a habit out of photobombing the captains’ photo before every game as long as he was not one of the captains. During week four of that season against the Denver Broncos Rodgers pulled this little number off before the game.

Jared and I thought that was incredibly funny so he and I started doing it to one another anytime we posed for family and friendly photos. Thus, “The Shark” was born. When I got to the Fan Cave I pulled “The Shark” on all eight of the other Cave Dwellers within the first few days of being in New York City as we walked the streets and did some sightseeing. Needless to say, “The Shark” also made appearances in other random folks’ photos as we shuttled through Times and Union Square. It wasn’t until we got back to the apartment that night that the other eight looked at their photos and noticed me in the background. This is when they all asked what I was doing. To which my response was, “That “The Shark.” And you just got bitten bitches!”

Now, contrary to popular belief, I rarely ever have photos taken with me in them; however, anytime I took an important photo in the Fan Cave “The Shark” by one of the other eight was not too far behind.

It had transitioned from a little thing I did with my good friend to becoming one of the unofficial trademarks of the Fan Cave. When the Minnesota Twins stopped by in April Lindsay Guentzel, the Twins’ representative, showed Matt Capps and Brian Duensing the ropes and asked them to do it on the mound if they had a chance during a game. Sure enough, they did.

I was a little pissed off at first, as this was our thing, but over time as more and more players rolled through, learned it and started pulling it on the field, I became a little bit more relaxed about it. It really took seeing Eric Byrnes do it on “MLB Tonight” on MLB Network on a night when all of the executives were in the house that I felt really good about it.

A few days before I got kicked out of the Fane Cave the production crew started filming interviews with all of us about how I started “The Shark” and a full scale (five minute) documentary was in the works; however, all of that came to a halt once I was let go. Despite his best efforts to highjack it, Cardinals’ representative Kyle Thompson tried to keep it going after my departure. Here’s one instance when all of the interns from MLB happened to stop by. What’s upsetting about this photo is that it was taken while I was on the airplane flying back to Oregon, one of many reasons why I hate the way I was treated by the Fan Cave.

From there I did my stadium tour, taking and posting photos of me doing “The Shark” at every stadium and event I went to, making sure to give each one a clever name. I never in my life would have expected so many people to embrace it and share their versions of “The Shark” with me. Even more, I never in my life would have expected players on the Oakland Athletics, as well as other teams throughout the league, to pop it in homage to me.

Actually, in the case of the Athletics, it turns out that Kurt Suzuki and Jonny Gomes had started doing it before they saw me as their home run celebration which they called “Mahi Mahi;” however, as the season progressed and more and more players started interacting with me, it became our version of saying hello, which still continues into this season.

I never would have expected something so dumb to become so popular and synonymous with my name. Crazy.

Back to reality

We pulled into the parking lot of New Era some time around 10:30 and shuffled about, taking photos outside of the facility which used to be original headquarters.
Left to right: Van, Leif, John, Derick, Alex, Andrew, Me, Ricky and Chris

As we got inside I made a B-line over to a few posters of all the on-field and Diamond Era caps for the 2013 season. Basically it was like the foldout section inside of an issue of Playboy; hat porn in my eyes. Before we started the tour we were all given a pair of goggles, for the sake of safety, and we were given instructions as far as what we could and could not take a picture of. I of course jumped the gun in hallway and took a photo of what Derick was wearing. I was soooooooooo jealous of that beautiful Montreal Expos jersey.

Then I opted for the “Reservoir Dogs”-esque slow motion walking shot from the rear as we hit the factory floor.

From there, Showtime!

There’s 22 steps to making a New Era Cap, most of which I don’t remember by name, but I assure you that a lot of heart, time and dedication goes into the process of every cap. We all did our best to find our teams’ caps being made. I struck gold a few times, but nothing with the logo showing. Bummer.

Andrew found a few Toronto Blue Jays logos being sewn on, while Alex was all about admiring his Chicago Blackhawks caps getting assembled.

Ricky had a few hits when we came across this guy clipping all the extra strings and fibers off of a load of Atlanta Braves caps. You may not be able to tell by the photos, but the guy was in the zone, listening to music on headphones and jamming out while he worked. Truly admirable.

One thing that had me cracking up was how all of the employees loved to interact with anyone taking a tour. Here’s Alex after he came across someone doing some stitch work on Team Mexico World Baseball Classic caps.

Everyone was incredibly friendly and open to talking about the experience with New Era, at which no one had a single negative thing to say. This was very reflective upon something very important that I learned during my experience, which I’ll get to in my conclusion.

Our next stop on the tour landed us in the “A-Team” department.

The “A-Team” is made up of small group of ladies who make individual hats for special orders, such as: player specific headwear, celebrities, special events, samples, etc. Of the many special items they had on display, the one that received the most attention was this oversized Military Day cap made especially for Jolly Roger, the Pittsburgh Pirates parrot mascot. I had actually written about this cap on May 5th. Here’s Andrew trying it on.

One of the perks of this bit of the tour is that it came with our own handmade caps for our teams.

At this point I thought New Era had done more than enough, yet the tour continued. The last stop was in one of the on-site board rooms where we unwound, chatted with a few of the reps and came with an open invitation to take as many “defective” 2013 Texas Rangers Stars and Stripes caps as we wanted. If you can’t tell by looking at it, the defect on this cap is that they were made with white “T” logos with blue trim as opposed to the red “T” with blue trim that the players wore. I was perfectly cool with this. They didn’t have any 7 3/8s, so I snagged a 7 ¼ for myself as well as two 7 1/2s for my friends Taylor (@tayloraksmith) and Mark (@gonzotx88) as they’re both die hard Rangers fans. I probably could have gotten a few more, but I didn’t want to overstep my bounds. In retrospect, it would have been nice to grab a few more to pass out to other Rangers fans I know through Twitter and my trip to Texas. Sorry guys. As the tour wrapped up we all headed back out to the parking lot, got in the cars and headed back to HQ for lunch and what awaited us next.

On the way back “You Can Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac came up on the radio, at which John and I got into an intense discussion about music. It started with, “Who’s the one band you’d love to see live, living or dead?” I’ve held pretty strong on this answer for about 15 years, but I have to go with The Ramones. They’re one of the few bands whose music has transitioned through the decades and always finds a wide-scale audience. If my memory serves me correct, John said The Cure, but in their early years, which I totally understand. Then The Beatles versus Rolling Stone debate came up, at which we both agreed upon the Rolling Stones… so there really wasn’t much of a debate. It then transitioned into which Stones album was our favorite and which song was our top selection. Naturally I rolled G7 (“Dirty Work” reference), “Street Fightin’ Man” while John went with “Miss You,” an equally awesome selection. This drug on the entire way back to HQ, including other genres, styles and artists; probably one of the better music-related talks I’ve had in a while.

When we got back to HQ we all crammed into the elevator and headed up to the penthouse for lunch and some additional surprises. Upon making the first turn into the penthouse the first thing that you see is the old New Era padded wall from the outfield at Shea Stadium, which always reminds me of Endy Chavez’s spectacular home run robbing catch in the 2006 National League Championship Series.

Then, it was like walking into heaven.

The joint is equipped with a bar, several TVs, lounge chairs and an array of office space all done up like a showroom. Who ever the designers and architects are really went above and beyond it setting this space up. When we stepped into the design/showroom we each had a little section dedicated to us with an assortment of our team’s hats in custom designs and colors affixed to personal hat pedestals, all of which would be getting sent home with us.

I was so blown away by these gifts that I didn’t even notice the $200 New Era gift card that was sitting underneath a small group of hats on a bar stool. At this point I really needed a drink. Not beer, but just something to calm me down because it was all incredibly overwhelming.

For lunch we crushed some square-cut pizza with Buffalo wings, naturally, while we met each of our designers. Derick and I had the same designer, Eric. I guess the word on the street is that all of the designers had done research on all of us and our collections and fought (amicably, not Thunderdome-style) over who would be whose designer. After hearing that I got a little nervous; so, I did what anyone else in position would do… let Derick go first while I went downstairs to go shopping.

If I remember correctly it was John, Leif, Chris, Ricky and I who went down first, while the others toiled away with their designers. My first priority was to scoop up a New Era t-shirt for that night, as I inadvertently forgotten to pack a black t-shirt for the trip. Next, I hat the hat racks, pretty much quaking as there were so many hats to choose from, which I also knew that it would take me very long to go through the $200 gift card. The feeling was pretty much mutual amongst the rest of the group. I had rounded up about four hats (Philadelphia A’s, Atlanta Braves, Midland Rock Hounds and a Toledo Mud Hens) by the time Derick came rolling down. Derick had an idea what he wanted to do for hat well before he came out to Buffalo, so his session didn’t last too long. I on the other hand tried to hurry up so I didn’t keep Eric waiting. Chris was the first person to check out, which meant he was the first person to find out that we were getting employee pricing on everything we bought. I just froze for a second. I just couldn’t believe how things continued to get better and better. Realizing now that I only had about half of my card spent, I went back to the hat racks. The clerk who was helping quickly realized he had been in a similar situation before. When I visited HQ in 2012 I picked up a few hats that I had been looking for for quite a while (Australian World Baseball Classic cap and a Tucson Padres cap). It then dawned on him that he was the one who had been helping me the previous year. I guess I just have one of those faces. All in all, I picked up about 11 hats including National and American League Diamond Era caps, a Kansas City Athletics and quite a few minor league caps before I raced back upstairs to not keep Eric waiting anymore. As I walked out of the store I overheard the clerk ask Eric to hold aside one of the hats I designed for him. Whether I misheard that or not, the pressure was definitely on for me to not design something that sucked.

The first thing that struck me about Eric was that he physically reminded me of one of my really good friends back in Eugene. The second thing I noticed is that the man knows his way around design software. There had been one design idea that had been stewing in my brain for the last two years and I was quite surprised I had yet to come across one on any Web site or in any store. It’s probably one of the most plain ideas I could ever have for a cap, but the logo that’s featured is really the selling point.

Ever since I was a kid I have been infatuated with this particular Pittsburgh Pirates logo, and have been really bummed out in not being able to find just a basic black cap with that logo. Because I like to keep things old school, I made sure to give it a green under brim and made all of the accents (earring, bandana, trim, eyelets and New Era logo in gold. The last thing I wanted to do, but didn’t, was add a comic book-style quote bubble coming out of the logo’s mouth saying, “AAAARRR!!!” It would have been fantastic and quite the conversation piece at galas and other fancy gatherings… but something didn’t feel right. Being the long-time Athletics fan that I am I felt it would have been a bit of a disservice to not do something Athletics-related. So, I popped my thinking cap back on and Eric and I cranked out this bad boy.

Of all the hats I really wanted from 2012 the Athletics Turn Back the Clock Oakland Oaks cap is the one that always comes to mind. In this case I decided to go with the Oaks “O” logo, but make them in the current Athletics colors. Alex pointed out later in the evening that it could have easily doubled for a University of Oregon hat as well. Very clever. I asked Eric if it would be ok to sit on it for a night, which he gladly said yes. I ended up going back downstairs into the shop to pick a few more things up with money out of my own pocket when the hat I ended up going with came to mind. This one.

A few weeks back when I was getting my Eugene Emeralds tattoo I came across a hat on Hat featuring the Emeralds’ alternate logo, which wasn’t supposed to appear on any caps. The only problem with the cap featured is that all of the colors were wrong. Wanting to fix this mistake, Eric and I tracked down the alternate logo and designed it based on the Emeralds colors from the last 20 years (navy/forest/gold). If you can’t tell, the trunk, eyes and mouth of Sasquatch are all done in gold, as is the batter in the Minor League Baseball logo on the back. I showed all three designs to the others guys and all eight of them unanimously chose the Emeralds cap over the other two. It also helped them come to this decision knowing that we would all get one of each others’ designs. Money!

After we said our goodbyes to the designers we headed to a floor for a meeting with a few of the members of the new release crew. We got a sneak preview of a few of the new fall line collection, none of which I want to spoil the surprise, as well as a few of the Turn Back the Clock caps that are set to be released throughout the 2013 season. Rather than tell about which ones they are, I’m currently on the hunt for all of them so I can share them with y’all. Here's a sneak preview though.

We then headed into another group marketing session about a few of the new ad campaigns and a few other surprises has for the upcoming months. Once again, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. One thing I can tell you is that one of the most epic “war of words” and “smack talk” sessions I’ve ever seen took place before the meeting started. One of the members of the marketing team was born and raised in Chicago just like Alex; however, while Alex loved all Chicago teams (except the White Sox), this guy was an ardent White Sox fan, sporting a cap featuring this logo, but in a custom style. As soon as Alex walked into the room, the gloves were off. It really came out to be more of a philosophical debate than anything, but it was the kind of city-based rivalry that’s worth paying for in a pay per view showdown. To make a long story short, the market executive ended the discussion by asking, “what color socks are you wearing?” I’d say nine times out of ten it would almost be a guarantee that the person being asked that question would be wearing white socks, as he was expecting. Instead, Alex pulled up his pant legs to show off his socks featuring Michael Jordan’s free throw dunk in the 1988 Slam Dunk competition. And no, I don’t mean just the Jordan logo; I mean an entire mural plastered all over his socks. A raucous “OOOOOOOOOHHHHHH!!!!” escaped all of our mouths, and a friendly handshake between the two competitors sealed the deal. It was the stuff that legends are made of.

Our last stop before heading back to the hotel was back down in the lobby for a group photo in front of the banner that New Era had presented to us in the morning. The amount of space we had inside the room was pretty narrow, so I did what I could help bodies fill in by hitting the deck, coming up from the bottom.

Erin and Katherine had one last surprise for us though… a trip to the Buffalo Bisons game that night against the Durham Bulls. Not a bad way to unwind after a day jam-packed with action. We headed back to the hotel for about 30 minutes to decompress, change shower, etc., but I went straight for my Bisons cap and computer so I could mark it up before we walked down to Coca-Cola Field. The only sad part about this is that Van and Andrew had to head home as their flights were set for the evening, as opposed to in the morning on the 25th like most of us. We gave one another our hugs and goodbyes and made sure to swap social media and contact info before they headed to the airport.

The game was pretty wild for a variety of reasons. First, we got to kick it in New Era’s suite which not only provided a variety of snacks and endless supply of Coca-Cola (no this is not a marketing plug. I really love Coca-Cola), a solid view of the game and some awesome company, it also had a TV inside so we could pop in-and-out of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The game also featured a lot of Major League talent on each team. For the Bisons, Rickey Romero was on the hill while Jose Reyes was playing in his last rehab game before headlining back to Toronto and Anthony Gose. For the Bulls, Shelley Duncan and Ryan Roberts were both in the house, which is funny when considering the fact that they were two contributors in why the Tampa Bay Rays swept the Athletics when I was in Tampa with my girlfriend Angie (@sconnieangie) in April. Mike Fontenot and Jason Bourgeois were also playing for the Bulls. The other crazy surprise is that one of my friends from Toronto was at the game too.

Brad (@LeftOffBase) is a sound engineer for a lot of Canadian artists and bands who happened to make a stop in Portland a few weeks back, as he was working with an artist called Lights. This came during the time that Angie was in town visiting me so we both paid a visit to the Aladdin Theater and caught up with one another as we hadn’t seen each other since we went to a Boston red Sox game at Fenway Park back in August of 2012.

Out of general curiosity I had asked if he was going to be anywhere near Buffalo on June 24th at which he said he was going to the Bisons game (this one) that night with his girlfriend. Long story short, I felt like a bit of a jerk for breaking away from the New Era group for a few innings, but had to go visit my friend as I rarely ever make it up to Canada, let alone the East Coast. It also gave me an opportunity to take a few action shots closer to the field; one of which almost resulted in my getting tagged in the face with a foul ball. Luckily I went over my head, but unfortunately it got the lady behind me in the back of the head after it deflected off the wall. She was ok afterward.

When I got back to the suite I entered an intense discussion on what song we would use as our walk-up music if we played baseball. This is a question that has plagued me for a long time as there are restrictions to what you can and cannot use. You only have a few seconds to make a point so you have to go with something that will really fire people up in a shirt time frame, which is why I went with “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin. Another great one to look up is “Don’t Speak (I Came to Make a Bang)” by Eagles of Death Metal. Anyway, the rest of the game moved along and the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins were tied 1-1 around the time the game was winding down. We took a few more pictures, one of which came with the Bisons mascot, before we headed back to the hotel to watch the rest of Game 6 as the Bisons fell to the Bulls by the score of 7-1. One random factoid I need to throw in is that on the Major League side of things the Rays and Blue Jays were playing one another, one of those weird moments when the parent clubs and the farm teams play against one another at the same time.

We got back to the hotel just in time for the start of the third period. Alex was going crazy, wearing his finest Blackhawks New Era cap and gear. Well all paid pretty close attention, but chatted amongst one another as we toasted our last nightcap together. As you all know, the Bruins struck first in the third period with about 12 minutes left on the clock and then the Blackhawks tied it back up with less than a minute-and-a-half. I think it was Chris who had said, “looks like we’re going to overtime;” to which I replied, “Well, if there’s one thing I learned from “The Mighty Ducks” trilogy it’s that it only takes one second to score a goal.” Literally, just as I finished that statement Dave Bolland shot and made the eventual game-winning, series-winning goal for the Blackhawks. Alex went ballistic, in the best way possible, of course.

With the game wrapped up so did our time with Erin, Katherine and the great folks at New Era. It was an intense two days of non-stop fun, but all good things must come to an end. But not this post yet. I still have to talk about that hat before I wrap things up. Ha!

Due to the fact that the AAA Bisons switched their Major League affiliate this season from the New York Mets to the Blue Jays, there isn’t a lot to be said about this cap. The Bisons opted for something new for the 2013 season and came up with this gem to wear as their game cap. They do have an alternate style, but I’ll get to that one down the road. The logo of the swinging Bison is a revived logo the team originally used from 1985-1997 while they were an affiliate of the White Sox, Pirates and Cleveland Indians. As far as the marking process is concerned I did it pretty quick, based on which players were doing the best at the time. Therefore…

#20- Josh Thole was an offseason acquisition for the Blue Jays from the original Bisons’ parent affiliate, the Mets, as part of the RA Dickey deal. Thole was a 13th round draft pick in 2005 and has become a pretty solid base-hitter since he started playing professional. Not a bad skill to have as a catcher. Thole had been called up to Toronto during the time we were there; however, his numbers before leaving: .322/7/31 in 41 games. I don’t think he’ll stick around Toronto for very long, unless of course the Jays decide to get rid of JP Arencibia, but definitely expect big things out of T-Hole (as TSN radio personality Jeff Sammut calls him) in the future.

#53- Signed originally by the Athletics in 1999, Luis Jimenez has become quite the minor league journeyman, having played for the Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Washington National, Seattle Mariners and now the Blue Jays. Before the game he was batting a solid .331, but went 0-4 on the night. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with me.

By now you’re probably as exhausted reading this as it was for me to write it. Fair enough, so I’ll leave you with this. New Era started as and has continued to be a family-owned, family-run business. I had known this for a number of years, but I didn’t really understand the emotional feeling of that until I was invited to Buffalo this time around. All nine of us were treated as such, as part of the family. We’ve done our best to do go for them by building or collections and sharing it with the world, while they continue to put out a terrific product for us to continue what we love to do. It’s very few and far between when a company rolls out the red carpet to give thanks who have helped support them, and that is what truly made this trip. Thank you again Erin, Katherine, Seth, Eric and the rest of the crew from New Era for helping make this possible and showing that there are still people in the world who care about the opinions and the happiness of others. And last, thank you to Van, Alex, Chris, John, Andrew, Derick, Leif, Ricky and Gary for all the crazy stories and good times we have ahead of us. #CrewEra13

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