Sep 05, 2008 Herm Card Uncategorized
As the timeless movie “Bull Durham” celebrates 20 years, Minor League Bwaseball (MLB) is alive and well in these great United States. MLB has always represented small town America at its finest, and over the last decade, skilled marketing and fan support have melded together to help the game survive and thrive across the country. A good team does not always guarantee fan support, and a poorly performing team does not always keep fans away. The skillful marketing that ensures fans an enjoyable night out, a night for the whole family, is what helps bring those who are not rabid, die-hard fans out to the ballpark. Perhaps the reason why baseball was nicknamed the great American Past time.
Over the course of the 2008 season, the Chiefs host over 100 promotions designed to get fans into Alliance Bank Stadium. Many involve free admission through corporate sponsorships, reduced price food and drink, or giveaway promotions.
Once the fans are in the park, the game provides the basic entertainment, but between a few of the innings Gary Dunes takes over — Dunes is the Chiefs’ “On Field Host” for the games and contests that are guaranteed to entertain the fans at the ballpark.
Dunes has been a prominent player in the Syracuse Music scene for some 25 years. For the past eight years, he has also been a prominent player in the Syracuse baseball scene, though on the outside of the white lines.
Dunes is better known for his involvement in the music business, as a long time disk jockey in the Central New York area, currently the morning host on WSEN-FM.
The 1976 graduate of Bishop Ludden High School, became a musician at the age of 14, forming a band that became the very popular and long lasting (in two incarnations) Dunes and the Del Tunes. The Del Tunes recently evolved into the Gary Dunes Band, an exceptional cover band that performs regularly at music events in CNY, and frequently prior to Chiefs’ games at Alliance Bank Stadium (ABS).
He started his Disc Jockey career at age 21 with WMBO in Auburn, moving to WGVA in Geneva, WKFM in Fulton, followed by nine years at WNTQ. He’s been at WSEN since 1992, currently hosting the morning drive time slot at the area’s premier oldies station.
Getting in the game
It was Dunes’ performing and media skills and his love for baseball that prompted Chiefs’ president John Simone to approach him about the on field hosting gig.
“John said to me one night that since I was at the ballpark so much, I might as well work here. Now I’m here almost every game — I only miss five or six a year because of other commitments.”
Dune is always in the park well before the usual 7 p.m. game time to prepare for the night’s work. He and the interns go over the schedule and locate the fans that will play the pre-game contests. The nights that the Gary Dunes Band performs are a bit more hectic. The band usually plays from 5:30 to about 6:30 p.m., giving Dunes just enough time to help them break down, then get into the stadium to prepare for his hosting duties prior to the first pitch.
The initial couple of contests take place in the stands, before the game. For example, a lucky fan, Lauri Hart, gets to choose a Chiefs’ player, hoping that he will hit a home run during the game and win her a prize. As it turns out, her selection, Russ Adams, homers in the sixth inning, and she wins $25.
Dunes next tracks down a lucky fan to ask him a multiple choice question about the New York State Lottery. The question, the answer to which is the amount of that night’s lottery jackpot, is designed to be so obvious that it can’t be missed. Mike Spolan gets it right, but also a fan once managed to ignore Dunes’s directions and guessed the wrong answer to a rousing “boo” from the fans.
Once the game starts — on the command of “play ball,” from Marissa Miller, one night’s “Play Ball Kid” — every couple of innings brings a new contest.
At the half inning before the next contest event, Dunes’ strong baritone voice fills the stadium. Walking onto the field with his cordless microphone, he is followed by several of the Chiefs’ summer interns and a contestant or two ready and eager for their few minutes of spotlight time on ABS’s new grass surface.
In the “Are You Army Strong Race,” contestants run a mini-fitness course, doing push-ups and sit-ups before returning to the start line. Over the course of the game, Dunes introduces and provides a bit of play-by-play for a sack race for youngsters; a ball toss through a target; a rubber duck race sponsored by a local tavern (contestants must be over twenty-one and wear rubber duck beaks and swim fins); and a cable station sponsored dice toss where contestants try to roll matching symbols on large rubber dice they roll down the screen onto the field from the press box.
Some winners at a game last week included James Licata in the Army Strong race, Shane O’Brien in the ball toss, Suzie Krupa in the sack race and Chris Haynes in the duck race.
The big winner of that night turned out to be Stephany Thoms who picked up a flat screen TV for successfully rolling matching dice in the Time Warner Sports Dice Roll.
The timing must be perfect for the on field games.
“We only have two minutes. The Chiefs are really clear that we have to get on, get it done and get off the field,” Dunes said.
The two-minute time limit is an International League rule, so adherence to it is mandatory, not optional.
As usual, the timing works. Dunes, dressed in his signature black shirt, shepherds interns and contestants on and off the field and the game doesn’t miss a beat. Between contests he spends a good amount of time working the crowd, chatting with old friends and making new ones.
“This is a great job. Baseball fans are great. It’s a treat being on the field, I can only imagine what it must be like to be a player and hear those cheers,” Dunes said.
He won’t admit it, but Gary Dunes, on field host, popular disk jockey and headlining rock and roll singer definitely knows what it’s like to hear those cheers.