Monday, October 19, 2015

A Visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame Busts
The Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio was “buzzing with excitement” last week: The Class of 2015 was about to be enshrined. Attendance always swells during HOF induction weekend, as fans, family, and former players descend on the football museum.  Some museums across the country are seeing declining attendance, but this is not the case at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, located just off Interstate 77.  “Attendance is increasing,” says Joe Horrigan, Chief Communications Officer & EVP of the HOF. “We have thirteen national events that football fans love.”

Change is coming to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. According to Horrigan, a major expansion is in the works. The plan is to build a sports and entertainment complex that will create a strong fan experience and promote the history and values of the NFL. An amateur football complex with ten football fields will attract national tournaments to Canton. “We are going to be [to football] what Williamsport is to baseball,” Horrigan says. A world class training center, a hotel/convention center, retail space with restaurants, and a renovated/enhanced football museum are also part of the plan. The construction will take place over three years and should be completely finished by fall 2018.

A visit to the Pro Football HOF would not be complete without taking a tour of the museum. As a vintage sports memorabilia certified appraiser, I always enjoy seeing the old game-worn jerseys, programs, and of course helmets. The numerous interactive displays alone are worth the price of admission. The education provided by the videos is top notch. Only 10% of the collection is on display at any given time, but the HOF produces travelling exhibits at different venues including cultural institutions, allowing people who aren’t geographically close to Canton to view the fantastic collection.

As my day at the museum was ending, I asked Horrigan to name one piece of memorabilia he would like to have at the museum. “I wish I had Dwight Clark’s ‘the catch’ football,” says Horrigan. Clark’s catch in the 1982 NFC Championship game (San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys) signified the end of domination for the Cowboys and the start of the 49ers dynasty in the 1980s.

If you have never visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you are missing out.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Four Winds Field: Indiana’s Baseball “Diamond”

The summer is in full swing, and many parents are looking for fun and exciting experiences to keep their kids engaged and entertained!  Rollercoasters, amusement parks, water slides, and local festivals are the tried-and-true summer entertainment venues. And of course, let’s not forget there’s no shortage of Major League Baseball games to attend in the Midwest! Let me introduce you to the shining diamond of South Bend Indiana: Four Winds Field. The South Bend Cubs are the Single A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Admission prices for minor league baseball games are more affordable than the major league counterpart, and the rejuvenated park includes attractions which are specifically designed for families with children.

The South Bend Cubs underwent a variety of changes during the off-season. The franchise used to be the part of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, but being so close to Chicago and having the strong brand affinity (Cubs), the organization became part of the Chicago Cubs. The genius of the field’s rejuvenation includes:
  • The synthetic grass has been removed. The players are now playing on natural turf.
    • Roger Bossard, head groundskeeper for the White Sox, was brought on as a consultant to make sure the look, feel, and overall aesthetic simulates big league fields!
  • The Performance Center was deliberately placed in right field. You would be hard-pressed to find a better facility in major or minor league baseball…and you certainly won’t find better batting cages. The batting cages were built for players and fans alike; fans are able to feel what it’s like to play in a state-of-the-art facility!
Andrew Berlin, owner of the team, is a true living visionary, and invited me to take a tour his absolute gem of a park. It became immediately obvious that Mr. Berlin has dedicated his life to making sure the customer and employees are always happy. Mr. Berlin congratulated everybody from the bathroom attendants to the food service provider to the manager of the batting cages, as this day was very special; July 3rd 2015 set an attendance record of 8,000 attendees. He wanted to share the good fortune with everyone who helped make his vision possible.

As we continued around the park, fans approached the affable Berlin and thanked him. As I quickly found out, the renovations at the ballpark extend far outside the outfield foul poles; when Berlin purchased the team in 2011, the entire economy in South Bend was on a downturn. The city didn’t have much to look forward to in the evenings and weekends, until Four Winds Fields underwent its big change. One fan told me that Mr. Berlin is “Superman,” because the resulting job creation got the local economy booming and uplifted the entire community.

As my tour came to a close, fireworks were blasting off into the moonlit sky. It was almost as if Indiana was paying homage to Mr. Andrew Berlin, baseball visionary, and the incredible park he’s created.
batting cages

Friday, July 17, 2015

Cleveland Baseball Has Never Looked So Good

 Opening Day this past April, I paid a visit to Cleveland, where the Indians are hoping to improve their on-field performance and attract more fans in the 2015 season. Like many other ballparks across the country, Progressive Field has renovated and made significant updates to their space to enhance the fan experience.

Heritage Park – which is a tribute to former Cleveland baseball players that have graced the baseball diamond – is now more readily accessible for fans and passers-by. The statues of former Cleveland Indian greats (Bob Feller, Larry Doby, and Jim Thome) are located in center field and are free for viewing.

Another major addition to Progressive Field is the Bob Feller Terrace. Feller was an 8-time All-Star, pitched 3 no-hitters, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, and was winner of the 1948 World Series against the Boston Braves. He was born and raised on his family farm in Van Meter, Iowa, where he pitched with his father on a daily basis. Van Meter had its own Bob Feller Museum, which housed many of Feller’s baseball and Navy artifacts for many years. The museum hosted many autograph signings and attracted many fans who wanted to learn more about the Iowan native and Hall of Famer. Feller died in 2010 and the Museum saw a declining interest in subsequent years, finally closing its doors in 2014. All of Feller’s collectibles were then moved to their new permanent home at Progressive Field.
bob feller 2
The Bob Feller Terrace is free to every visitor to the ballpark, according to Curtis Danberg, VP of Communications for the Cleveland Indians. It’s a wonderful place to watch the game, have a drink, and view some of the rare Feller collectibles, which are divided into 6 categories: Pop Culture, Post-Career, Feller Accomplishments, Military, Baseball Career, and Van Meter. Feller’s father’s original catcher’s mitt and items from Feller’s Naval service aboard the USS Alabama are included, as well as the famous bat that Babe Ruth used as a cane in 1948 when he was dying of cancer. These collectibles are true gems of baseball history and are certainly a highlight of a trip to Cleveland.
New in 2015, there is a two-story bar in right field nicknamed, “The Corner.”  For a $13 District Ticket, you get a standing room ticket, one beer, and a very good view of the field…this is by far the best deal in all of baseball! Additionally, there are a number of lively attractions in right field to entertain fans between innings. A favorite is the “Fast Pitch” machine, where fans can determine just how fast their fastball really is. Each fan eager to show off their skills can have 3 pitches for just $1. I watched Kyle Mrdinna, 13 years old, throw a lightning fast pitch that clocked in at 76 MPH, significantly faster than anybody else, including many adults!
There are many more exciting changes coming to Progressive Field in 2015, and I highly recommend that you make a trip to Cleveland to experience them on your own. Don’t miss the Bob Feller Terrace and all the wonderful history it holds…and good luck showing off your fastball!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Meet Sports Memorabilia Collector, Songwriter and Author Seth Swirsky

Seth Swirsky is a pop music songwriter, author, and world famous sports memorabilia collector. At the age of 7, Swirsky wanted to be in the Beatles. At the age of 9, Swirsky started collecting Lincoln head pennies. “At the time, you could purchase blue penny books that could be used to store and display the pennies,” says Swirsky. “It was such a thrill to find a penny that said 1944 on the reverse. I love discovery and history.”

The summer of 1969 was a very memorable and magical year for Swirsky. Seth grew up on the east coast and was a big New York Mets baseball fan. “I started collecting cards in 1969. I wasn’t collecting just to get the Mickey Mantle and other star cards. I wanted to complete the entire set. Looking back, I loved the completion aspect of collecting cards. Collecting has a beginning, middle, and an end.”

Swirksy was a pioneer in writing to athletesHe would write to his favorite baseball players and request an autograph. Seth would always include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to help procure the autograph. “I wrote to Roberto Clemente, Jerry Koosman, and many others,” he remembers.
Swirsky Mickey Ball
(Swirsky Mickey Ball)
Swirsky recently sold the majority of his sports memorabilia collection. However, he did keep some “favorite and unique” items that he created from scratch. Swirsky has a signed baseball with a signature from Mickey Mantle on the sweet spot and signatures from over 20 other MLB players who share the first name of Mickey. This ball was obtained by sending it in the mail to every “Mickey” who was a current or former baseball player. Swirsky recalls getting very nervous after the eighth or ninth signature, wondering, “Would I ever get the ball back?”

Today, Seth is not actively collecting anymore. However, he does still enjoy being surrounded by the unique items still in his possession. And he’s found a new career in songwriting. The Grammy-nominated hit “Tell It To My Heart,” by Taylor Dayne, was Swirsky’s first big success. “As you get older, you start to realize your talents,” he says. “I didn’t know it, but I kept pursuing the songwriting. The thrill was great to write a song and then have Smokey Robinson sing it.
Swirsky was invited to sing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field before a Cubs baseball game in 2011. “I brought my 8-year-old son to Wrigley Field. I love challenges, so I wasn’t going to say ‘no.’ I wasn’t going to be one of those people who screws up the lyrics. Ten seconds before I go on, I forget the first line. I walk onto the field and I heard the reverberation as your voice goes around the ballpark and comes back at you. Once I heard that reverb, I felt very comfortable, because I am used to the reverb when making music in the studio.”
Besides sports and music, Swirsky works as a clinical psychotherapist–a job informed by his many other enthusiasms. “I believe in following your passions and teaching your kids to follow and listen to their own,” he says. Swirsky encourages his patients to explore their passions and go with them. “Nothing replaces pure fun,” he says.

Seth still writes songs for a living, and performs as a solo recording artist and as a member of the band The Red Button. You can see pictures of his baseball collection, buy his books, or listen to his music at

Friday, March 27, 2015

Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

Opening day for the New York Yankees in 1952 looked a little different without the bat of Joe DiMaggio in the line-up. Joltin’ Joe retired after the 1951 season. The New York Yankee faithful were still excited for baseball after winning another World Series Championship just months earlier. Mickey Mantle replaced DiMaggio in center field and the rest is history.

Opening Day of baseball 2015 is days away and once again, the Yankee faithful are having déjà vu. The sun has set on the 20 year Hall of Fame career for Derek Jeter. Regardless of who is in the line-up, the Yankee fandom comes back year after year to cheer on their team wearing pinstripes.

One of those faithful and rabid Yankee fans is long time season ticket holder Bonnie Bernstein of New York. Bonnie’s father in-law first purchased season tickets in 1957, according to the New York Yankees. Bonnie believes the tickets were first purchased years earlier, but there is no way to prove it because the Yankees didn’t start recording purchases until 1957. Her father-in-law was in the clothing business and would bring customers to watch Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford grace the baseball diamond.

Nearly 60 years after Bonnie’s father-in-law first purchased Yankee season tickets; she carries on the tradition of attending as many Yankee games as she can. Her twin sons are just out of college and attended Jeter’s last home game in September. “You can’t replace those experiences,” Bonnie tells me.
The 1977 World Series Game 6 against the Dodgers is a memory all baseball fans are acutely aware of. Reggie Jackson hit three consecutive home runs off three different pitchers. “Security wasn’t as tight as it is today. I remember the stadium emptying onto the field and trampling Reggie. I also remember Paul Simon singing ‘Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?’ after Joe’s death in 1999. The last game that Paul O’Neill played at Old Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit and many more special moments happened watching the Yankees play baseball.”

The New York Yankees franchise has won 27 World Series titles since 1923. Bonnie Bernstein who is the longest season ticket holder of the franchise also feels as if she has won the World Series many times over. She will always treasure her cherished memories and experiences that nobody can ever replicate.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Andrew Berlin; Owner of the South Bend Cubs and Owner of a Legacy

Synagogues and ballparks typically have nothing to do with each other.  In South Bend Indiana there is one exception.  An abandoned synagogue built in 1901 as the city’s first Jewish house of worship has been renovated and reborn as the team store for the South Bend Cubs’ minor league baseball team.  In 1901, the synagogue was located at the center of town complete with kosher butcher shops and bakeries that you could smell from miles away.  The community quickly flourished and experienced incredible growth.  Accountants, lawyers, and many other small businesses migrated to South Bend.  After many decades of prominence, the neighborhood changed as most do.  The synagogue closed and remained a forgotten about piece of history until Andrew Berlin purchased the empty building.

When Berlin purchased the then named Silver Hawks in 2011, the synagogue was vacant and was located just outside the stadium walls. He poured more than $4 million of his own money into stadium improvements designed to increase ticket sales (which it did), and originally planned to build a new team store.

Instead of building a team store, Berlin spent  $1 million renovating the synagogue, including $40,000 for restoring the original chandelier alone; tore down the left field wall; and pushed the fence out and around the building to bring it into the ballpark – even though that effort was much more costly than new construction. 

According to Andrew Berlin, Owner of the South Bend Cubs’, “Our fans absolutely admire the synagogue and respect it’s admittance into the National Registry of Historic Places.”   Berlin met with three rabbis (orthodox, conservative, and reformed) before renovation to gain their approval and ask what the Jewish community would like to see in the renovation.  Once a synagogue is no longer used as a synagogue, it ceases to be a synagogue.  The community of South Bend was excited to see the vacant rat infested building returned to a beautiful edifice.  Miraculously, no graffiti or vandalism was discovered at the revered temple. 

Berlin told me, “One day I want to be bar-mitzvahed here.”