As our beloved Chicago Cubs embark on the ever-difficult journey of winning back-to-back World Series titles, one of their farm teams has its sights set on a third straight title of their own.
Though only entering their third season as the Cubs’ high-A affiliate, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans have already made quite an impact in the organization. After winning Carolina League titles after both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the Pelicans are looking to continue their run of success as a Cubs’ affiliate. The Pelicans’ success has come not only on the field, but also off as well.
From unique gameday traditions at TicketReturn.com Field to a Chicago-themed concession stand, the Pelicans and their fans have embraced the “Cubsification” of the team head-on and have no plans of looking back.
Scott Kornberg, Myrtle Beach’s Broadcaster and Manager of Media Relations, took some time out of his busy schedule to provide Cubs Insider with a closer look at the Myrtle Beach organization.
Cubs Insider: What is your job title with the Pelicans and what are some of the essential tasks that you perform for the organization?
Scott Kornberg: I am extremely fortunate to be the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ broadcaster and manager of media relations. It’s a wonderful job. Obviously, I get to broadcast the games, and that’s my favorite part, but it’s amazing how much work it takes just to get to first pitch because of my media relations duties. That includes writing press releases, feature stories, game previews and game recaps, creating the Pelicans’ game notes and team media guide, acting as a liaison between the media, front office and players and coaches and managing the club’s website and social media pages, among other tasks. I end up working about 14 hours a day during the season, but every day is a blast.
CI: How long have the Pelicans been around? Which organizations have they been affiliated with other than the Cubs?
SK: The Pelicans’ inaugural season was 1999, so this will be their 19th campaign. They’ve also had affiliations with the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers. The 2017 season will be their third year as an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
CI: When the Pelicans joined the Cubs’ farm system a couple seasons ago, were there any noticeable changes that came about? Was there a noticeable impact on attendance, merchandise sales, etc.?
SK: This is a little bit difficult of a question to answer, personally, because I wasn’t working in Myrtle Beach during any of their time with the Texas Rangers and their first year as a Cubs affiliate. That said, I did work in the Carolina League with the Winston-Salem Dash (Chicago White Sox) when the Pelicans first transitioned to the Cubs. So it’s hard for me to compare, but I can honestly say that it’s almost hard to believe how perfect the Cubs and Pelicans are for each other.
The Cubs’ fanbase is stunningly thorough in their knowledge of the game, and that drips all the way down into the minor leagues. The Pelicans, knowing that they would see a ton of Cubs fans traveling to the Grand Strand to see the “future Cubs,” updated their ballpark in something they called a “Cubsification.” They added a wiffleball field down the left field line that’s modeled after Wrigley Field with fake ivy on the outfield walls. There was the addition of the Clark & Addison Grill, which sells Chicago-specific items like Italian beefs and sausages and a deep dish pizza burger.
Also, the Pelicans changed their gameday experience to line up with the Cubs. They sing “Go Cubs Go,” they have someone different sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during each Seventh Inning Stretch, raise a “W” or “L” flag depending on the result of that night’s game and have Cubs-specific promotions every single season. I think the club’s efforts to not only produce a fun and energetic atmosphere for fans, but combine that with a Cubs-specific gameday, have made TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark a destination for Cubs fans and even former players.
And fortunately, when all this stuff has been considered, the Pelicans have seen a noticeable rise in attendance since the affiliation change.
CI: Can you provide us with what a fan experience might be like during a game at TicketReturn.com Field (average attendance, exciting giveaway items, concessions, autographs, etc.?
SK: The Pelicans, more so than almost anything, strive to make the fan experience fun, exciting and memorable for fans of all ages. Stadium Journey, which ranks ballparks and stadiums all over the country, has placed the Pelicans’ stadium experience sixth in all Minor League Baseball and 38th in all of sports. TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark has ranked among the top 50 in all six years the publication has released rankings.
I mentioned some of the concessions above, but in addition to some Chicago-specific food items, the Pelicans do a bunch of classic ballpark food and South Carolina/Southern specific concessions. A couple examples of that are the chicken and waffle bites, as well as these things called bog balls, which is a combination of rice, chicken and sausage fried into a huge ball about the size of a softball. It sounds weird, but I promise it’s very good.
As for promotions, the club has not released that schedule just yet. But I have heard about some of the plans, and like every single season, there is going to be a ton of exciting giveaways, celebrity/former player appearances and fun themes. The people who come up with that on the staff are absolutely brilliant, and a lot of their ideas aren’t just entertaining for fans, but they also go to help the community (i.e. special jerseys that are auctioned off for charitable causes throughout the Grand Strand area, or, a classic, the Pelicans’ general manager, singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” while getting a colonoscopy to raise awareness for men’s health.)
As for autographs, the Pelicans have a minimum of 1-2 players sign before each and every game, and obviously fans are able to ask players before and after each contest if they happen to be able to get close to those guys walking back to the clubhouse. One thing that has blown me away is the professionalism the Cubs teach their farmhands. The players understand how much an autograph can mean to a kid, and they also seem to make time to sign.
All of this added up, it’s truly a fun atmosphere that embraces that tradition of the Cubs and Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans averaged 3,500 fans per game in 2016, and that’s a figure that ranks very highly among not just the Carolina League, but all of high-A.
CI: Are there any popular spots that fans frequent before/after Pelicans’ games (restaurants, tourist attractions)?
SK: TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark is honestly located perfectly. There’s so many people who vacation to Myrtle Beach — it’s one of the top places to vacation in the world — and the ballpark is sort of right in the middle of everything. It’s only a few blocks away from the beach and literally right across the street from Broadway at the Beach, which has a ton of fun and exciting shops, restaurants and entertainment options. There’s a lot of people who spend time there and then just walk across the street for a game.
Obviously, Myrtle Beach is the golf capital of the world, and there’s also a ton of mini golf, so we see a lot of fans take advantage of that as well. There’s a lot to do throughout the area, and that’s what makes the city and region so special for locals and tourists coming in.
CI: What sort of impact has two straight championship seasons had on the team?
SK: Both of those championship teams were special, and an amazing way for the Cubs era to begin in Myrtle Beach. The 2015 club had won the year before in Kane County, and just kept the ball rolling pretty much the entire season. And last year’s team was pretty much a .500 squad until August, before catching fire and running all the way to the title.
It just confirms what a lot of people already know: The Cubs’ organization, in literally every single aspect, is A+ in their thought process. Ever since Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Jaron Madison, etc. came aboard, they’ve preached process over results. That process has yielded extraordinary results, not just in player development, but in community engagement, media relations, fan experience and literally every other way you can possibly judge a team. It’s an honor to work with an organization that has so much class and high-thinking ability.
CI: Who are some intriguing prospects that you think fans will have the opportunity to see play in Myrtle Beach this season?
SK: These are just guesses since Spring Training is only just starting, but, obviously, the big name that we saw at the very end of last season was Eloy Jimenez. Some of the things I saw him do in batting practice are mind-numbing. Here’s a guy who is only just scratching the surface of how good he can be, and that’s an All-Star caliber player every single year in the Major Leagues.
But the Cubs have a penchant for building some very deep teams, and the group at South Bend last season was extremely successful for a reason. It stands to reason that most of those guys will be moving up to Myrtle Beach, and so, like Jimenez, I’m very excited at the possibility of seeing everyday players like P.J. Higgins, Carlos Sepulveda, Eddy Martinez play for the Pelicans. There were some great pitchers on that staff that I’m looking forward to seeing as well, and there’s also the chance that guys like Ian Rice and Preston Morrison will come back and continue to develop their tantalizing skills.
CI: Do you have any other interesting information about the Myrtle Beach organization that you would like to share with fans?
SK: Nothing that I can think of off the top of my head, but this is just such an exciting time to be part of the Chicago Cubs’ organization, and we are thrilled to be welcoming so many Cubs fans to Myrtle Beach and TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark every single year!
Cubs Insider would like to thank Scott for taking the time for this interview. We are looking forward to working with Scott and other members of the Pelicans’ staff throughout this upcoming season. Stay tuned!