READING - Gameday experiences for Reading baseball fans will be a little different this year.
On top of the newly-christened Fightin Phils' re-branding efforts this offseason, FirstEnergy Stadium will host a pair of live ostriches featured prominently during home games this summer.
'The response we've gotten is awesome,' said Scott Hunsicker, the Fightins' general manager. 'I can't wait till people come out to the games.'
The two female ostriches will live in a fenced-in area on top of the earthen batter's eye in center field of the ballpark. Before games, they'll be brought out so fans can get an up-close look and take photos with them.
As-yet-unnamed, the Fightins are holding a naming contest through their Baseball Insider online fan club.
Hunsicker said the idea for the ostriches came during a recent staff retreat.
'We were thinking outside the box, the idea came up,' he said. 'Then we thought, 'Are we sure we want to do this?''
The ostriches grew on them, especially when the staff figured out that the birds are considered farm animals. And they're much easier to manage than certain other animal mascots.
'If LSU has a tiger, an ostrich isn't a tiger,' Hunsicker said. 'It's a farm animal.'
Originally, the ostrich wasn't even planned to be a part of the new uniforms, Hunsicker said, but the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor's steed eventually made its way onto the logos.
Everything fell into place after that.
For every ostrich, however, Hunsicker said there are a few ideas that never see the light of day.
'Oftentimes, the ideas we come up with you never hear about,' he said. 'This one just made it through the filtration system.'
A podium for the announcement was set up around the area of second base where Cesar Hernandez normally patrolled last season when the team was still known as the R-Phils. In the distance, the ostriches were visible, patrolling their enclosure.
Among those in attendance for the announcement were business partners of the Fightins' ostrich efforts as well as Kings and Queens of Baseballtown, individuals recognized by the franchise for furthering baseball in Reading.
Dusty Wathan, the Fightins' manager, also attended with his family to check out the ostriches.
'I think it's another great idea,' Wathan said. 'It brings the ostrich logo full circle. Obviously, my four kids love them.'
Children in attendance were enamored with the birds, running along the fence in a bid to get the ostriches to follow them.
Hunsicker's brother, Todd, the Fightins' director of educational programs and music, is serving as the de facto ostrich expert. Standing in the enclosure, he tossed out information about the birds, such as that they can sprint at speeds up to 40 mph and have eyeballs that are about twice the size of their brains.
'We're not dealing with rocket scientists,' he said.
The educational aspect of the ostriches was hammered home at Monday's press conference.
Scott Hunsicker partnered with state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-11th Dist., for the announcement because the giant birds also highlight the team's efforts to recognize Berks County's strong agricultural ties.
Schwank is the Democratic chairwoman for the state Senate agriculture and rural affairs committee.
'They have developed (a) partnership with agriculture. Actually, it's been going on for a long time,' Schwank said. 'I think that link is very, very strong.'
Scott Hunsicker said the birds 'combine agriculture education and fun.'
Matthew Meals, the deputy secretary for animal agriculture, said ostriches are 'an important part of the agricultural economy of the state.'
He said the birds are valued for their hides and feathers.
'They very well may have had their lives extended spending their summer at FirstEnergy Stadium rather than being harvested for all the good things they provide,' Scott Hunsicker said.
The club hopes the ostriches will draw in even more for family nights out.
'Our players, Dusty Wathan, they take center stage,' Hunsicker said. 'But whatever we can do on the fringes to introduce people to the game of baseball, we will.'
EARLIER VERSION OF STORY READING - The Fightin Phils announced a big roster move Monday, adding a pair of live ostriches to the team's slate of gameday entertainment.
Stemming from the Fightins' re-branding this offseason from the traditional R-Phils, two female ostriches will live in a fenced in area in center field on top of the earthen batter's eye.
The ostrich, featured prominently in the team's new logo, stemmed from the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor character, who is depicted riding an ostrich during his in-game performances.
'That led us to a very unique logo and live animals that we can share (for) fun and education,' said Scott Hunsicker, the Reading Fightins' general manager at a noon press conference.
Hunsicker said fans will be able to take pictures with and check out the ostriches before and during games this season.
The move is not only meant to be fun but also educational, highlighting Berks County's strong agricultural history.
State Senator Judy Schwank was on hand to help announce the move. She is the Democratic chairwoman of the state senate's agriculture and rural affairs committee.
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