AN HOUR before the first pitch, Wednesday night, Dave Baggott is looking frantically out across the infield. "Where the (expletive) are the umpires?" he says.
No one answers because, of course, no one knows. That would be Baggott's job - making sure there are umpires for the Ogden Raptors' opening night. Soon he's running around checking on umpires, the national anthem, the ticket sales, the public address system. It's that kind of job when you're president of a Class A Rookie League baseball team."P.A. announcer, janitor, I do it all," he says. "Jack of all trades, master of none."
If the name Dave Baggott rings a bell, that's because he ran the late, great Salt Lake Trappers until they left town to make room for the Triple-A Salt Lake Buzz. Baggott convinced the Pioneer League it needed a Rookie League team in Ogden, and he was the man who could make it happen. Wednesday night at Serge Simmons Field, the Raptors began their third season in Ogden with a 13-6 win over Billings.
While opening-night attendance was slightly smaller than what it was the past two years, things were looking good nonetheless. A new ballpark is scheduled to be completed for next season, a few blocks northeast of where the Raptors play now. No more wooden pressbox, no more dirt parking lot and no more portable toilets.
Baggott had a loyal following when he was an executive with the Trappers. Determined to bring fans to the ballpark, he instituted a number of popular gags to kill time between innings and while pitchers warmed up. He urged fans on the message center to bark at the players; it sounded like a casting call for 101 Dalmations.
"They doing that at Franklin Quest?" says Baggott. "Don't let 'em know, 'cause when we get a scoreboard (message center) we're bringing it back."
This is the guy who had them swaying along with "Danke Schoen" between innings, then had them doing Elvis impersonations after cranking up the sound on "Return to Sender." The guy who, upon learning part of the old Derks Field bleachers had been condemned, filled empty seats with mannequins and passed out plastic hard-hats that said, "I survived Derks Field."
Baggott hasn't changed his M.O. since moving to Ogden. He has declared Aug. 9 as "Grateful Dead Night" on the anniversary of the death of Jerry Garcia. The Raptors will play the game in tie-dyed jerseys.
"Hi, I'm P.T. Barnum and welcome to my circus," says Baggott.
Indeed, attending a Raptors' game isn't so far removed from the circus. Before the game even begins there are remarks from the mayor, the national anthem and the first pitch. The players are delivered on 33 Harley-Davidson motorcycles, in honor of Milwaukee - the home of both Harley-Davidson and the Raptors' parent team, the Brewers. Then come the skydivers, and soon the sound system is coming up and Elvis is pouting his way through "All Shook Up" and there is no doubt another summer of baseball is on the way.
"There's a certain charm to minor league baseball," says Baggott. "It's a barnstorming-type baseball. You pull into a town, take the tents off the truck, set them up and put on a circus."
That's why when the skydivers land, Baggot has the P.A. mike in hand, calling play-by-play. "Let's see if he can land on second base. Oooh! He lands on his feet!" says Baggott. And why at the end of the first inning, he cues up the sound system and George Thorogood is indeed b-b-b-b-b-ad to the b-b-b-b-one.
Baggott isn't the only minor league executive looking for ways to entice fans. In Palm Springs, a team is inviting fans to attend its July 8 game naked. Nudists will watch the game from inside a large tent near the left-field line. The tent will be covered by a dark security screen.
All in the name of getting people to the park.
So when Billings infielder David Guthrie's hit gives the Mustangs a 2-0 lead, Baggott isn't worried. Winning is someone else's job. His is to get people to the ballpark.
"The bottom line," he says, "is that the fan needs to come and be entertained, so whether the team wins or loses is irrelevant.
But on this night, the fans get everything - skydivers and Elvis and 33 gleaming Harleys. They also get a win, which may or may not matter. It's hard to go home disappointed when you've spent the night at the circus.