We are now in the midst of Hot Stove Banquet season, that time of year in which teams put together an evening featuring the near-unbeatable combination of food, drink, silent auctions and celebrity guests. Let's begin by taking a look at a few of the many gala events scheduled to take place:
Williamsport Crosscutters (New York-Penn League)
Hot Stove Dinner, Jan. 12
The Crosscutters announced their Hot Stove Dinner guest list Wednesday, finally putting an end to my ceaseless speculations (I lose sleep over this sort of thing). The esteemed Philly-centric lineup includes former reliever Dickie Noles, assistant Phillies GM Scott Proefrock and current Crosscutters skipper Chris Truby. But towering above the rest is perhaps the most esteemed figure in all of professional baseball: the Phillie Phanatic.
Burlington Bees (Midwest League)
Winter Banquet, Jan. 15
This event gets big points simply for the fact that it is being held at the PZAZZ! Convention Center, which I can only assume is the greatest place on Earth. The evening's special guest is Bill Buckner, who, it should be known, only struck out 453 times over 10,033 career at-bats. Buckner, whose career spanned four decades, will give a speech and then take part in a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Portland Sea Dogs (Eastern League)
Hot Stove Dinner, Jan. 15
Socks should always come in a pair, which is why two current Boston players will be attending Portland's dinner next Friday. The Socks (or more accurately, Sox) in question are infielder Jed Lowrie and outfielder Josh Reddick, who will be joined by Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler and Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen. Proceeds from both the dinner and silent auction will go to the Strike Out Cancer in Kids program.
Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Texas League)
Royals Caravan, Jan. 18
The Naturals are entering their third season as a franchise, all of which have been spent as a Kansas City affiliate. In order to celebrate this relationship, the Royals Caravan will be rolling into town on Jan. 18. The $15 cost buys a buffet lunch and the chance to hobnob with former and current KC luminaries such as Frank White, John Mayberry and Billy Butler. Also in attendance will be catcher (and local resident) Vance Wilson, who suited up for the Naturals last season as part of his ongoing big league comeback attempt.
Toledo Mud Hens (International League)
Fandemonium Sticks and Mitts, Jan. 20
This year's annual "Fandemonium" event offers double the pleasure for Toledo sports fans, as a local pro hockey team, the Walleyes, have been added to the mix (hence the "sticks" side of the equation). A variety of current and former Mud Hens and Walleyes players will take part in the Q&A session, but the undisputed star of the show is Tigers manager Jim Leyland (the inspiration for the Mud Hens' "Jim Flealand" racing mascot). The chain-smoking skipper, known for his gruff off-the-cuff style, is the evening's keynote speaker.
West Michigan Whitecaps (Midwest League)
Winter Banquet, Jan. 20
The guest of honor at the Whitecaps' 16th annual shindig will be former team manager (and current Detroit coach) Tom Brookens. Joining this decorated Tiger will be 2009 Whitecaps Casey Crosby and Mark Sorensen, as well as Tigers assistant GM Al Avila. The evening also includes a Whitecaps Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and all proceeds benefit the YMCA's inner-city youth baseball and softball program.
Kinston Indians (Carolina League)
Hot Stove Banquet, Jan. 21
The food can often be an afterthought at Hot Stove banquets, but it won't be in Kinston. The Indians are offering fried chicken, shrimp and an array of barbecued meats, almost rendering the remainder of the evening secondary. Almost but not quite, as the featured guest will be former Yankee player, manager and general manager Gene Michael. The esteemed Bronx Bomber will be inducted into the Kinston Professional Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition of his time spent with the Kinston Eagles in 1962-'63.
New Orleans Zephyrs (Pacific Coast League)
An Evening with the Zephyrs, Jan. 21
New Orleans boasts a culture of its own, so it's not surprising that the Zephyrs zig where others zag. For their Hot Stove event is not a dinner per se, but a cocktail reception at a local jazz hall. Guests have not yet been announced, but they are sure to conduct themselves with the decorum and class that this sort of event calls for.
Salem Red Sox (Carolina League)
Hot Stove Banquet, Jan. 21
A newly enshrined baseball immortal will grace Salem with his presence on Jan. 21 -- Jim Rice. The Red Sox legend will serve as the keynote speaker at the team's banquet, offering the sort of wisdom that only the Cooperstown-enshrined can provide. All proceeds go to the Mike Smith scholarship, established in memory of a long-time gameday employee who lost his battle with cancer in 2008.
Odds and Ends
That does it for the Hot Stove Banquet portion of the column, but I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention the fact that not one but two teams will be offering baseball clinics next week. The Brooklyn Cyclones' "Baseball Academy" kicks off on Jan. 9, offering children between the ages of 7-16 the chance to learn the fundamentals of hitting, pitching, fielding and spitting. Meanwhile, the San Jose Giants provide "Winter Clinics" on Jan. 9-10. The two-day event will be presided over by hitting coach Gary Davenport, with several former and current members of the team serving as instructors.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that the State College Spikes are still soliciting letters on behalf of Chris Simmons, a former member of the team now serving as a platoon leader in Iraq. Those wishing to send well wishes to Chris can do so at the following address:
State College Spikes
c/o Chris Simmons
112 Medlar Field at Lubrano Park
University Park, PA 16802