Mad about anger management

Minor league manager's tantrum spurs promotional idea for Ripken's Augusta team

June 29, 2006|By JEFF BARKER | JEFF BARKER,SUN REPORTER

Asheville (N.C.) Tourists manager Joe Mikulik's on-field temper tantrum cost him a seven-day suspension, a $1,000 fine and more than a shred of his dignity.

But to a rival minor league club, the manager's infamous, base-throwing, dirt-kicking tirade represented something altogether different -- an enticing promotional opportunity.

Playing off Sunday's meltdown by Mikulik, the Single-A Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets -- owned by Baltimore-based Ripken Baseball -- announced this week that their Sept. 3 game against the Tourists will be "Anger Management Night." Fans will compete in a base-throwing contest and receive free "stress balls" -- they are squeezed to relieve frustration -- as well as books and DVDs on anger management.

So it goes in the minor leagues, where most promotions are fun and some occasionally test the boundaries of good taste. Augusta had earlier held "Hillbilly Night" and "Fall of Rome Night," inviting fans to dress creatively for the occasions.

A New York psychologist said yesterday that his opinion of an Anger Management Night at a 5,000-seat minor league baseball stadium depends on how it is handled. "I think it could be fun," said Robert Allan, author of the recently published Getting Control of Your Anger.

Allan said he wouldn't want anyone minimizing the potentially violent outcome of anger, nor would he want kids imitating boorish behavior. "This is not behavior to emulate," he said.

Allan said Americans "have a love-hate relationship with anger and violence. It's very entertaining when it happens to somebody else."

The idea for the promotion emanated from Augusta team officials and was cleared by Ripken Baseball, an umbrella group that oversees former Orioles star Cal Ripken's business affairs, minor league teams in Aberdeen and Augusta and a charitable foundation. Bill Ripken, Cal's brother, is co-owner.

"We're not trying to make light of the [anger] issue; we're certainly sensitive," Ripken spokesman Jay Moskowitz said. He said the event would be "topical and pertinent" for fans. Ripken Baseball purchased the team, a San Francisco Giants affiliate, in October last year.

GreenJackets general manager Nick Brown said a group of team officials had arrived at the offices Monday morning saying, "Did you see that?"

They were referring to Mikulik's tantrum, widely viewed on the Internet and cable television, in which the manager got in an umpire's face to argue a call in a game against the Lexington (Ky.) Legends. Mikulik dived into second base and then picked up the bag and showed it to the umpire. He later threw various objects that included the base, bats and a resin bag. He also kicked dirt on home plate.

The South Atlantic League suspended Mikulik, who said in a prepared statement: "It was just frustration and I obviously went too far."

Mikulik probably couldn't have imagined his tirade would be marketable for another team. "It's a crazy thought turned into reality, " Brown said of the promotion. "It's tongue-in-cheek, most definitely. Joe's one of us; he's been in the league for years."

Brown said the promotion, scheduled for Fan Appreciation Day on the last day of the season, would have a serious as well as a light side. He said there would be a psychologist available in the concourse to counsel fans.

The team also will make an intern available. "If anybody wants to get something off their chest, they can holler at him," Brown said.

After the promotion was announced, Brown said he got a call from Asheville general manager Larry Hawkins asking "if this was serious. I told Larry that if we didn't jump on it, someone else would."

The Tourists, a Colorado Rockies farm team, said yesterday that the parent club didn't want Mikulik commenting on the promotion.

But Chris Smith, Asheville's assistant general manager, said: "We have no problem with it. That's what minor league baseball is all about, unique and creative ideas. If they do it, that's great for them and that's great for the league, and we want to play in front of a packed house anyways."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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