The Inland Empire 66ers are a minor league baseball team that plays in the California League. They are the Single A affiliate of Los Angeles Dodgers and play their home games in San Bernardino, California. The origins of the organization date back to 1941, but for the last several years the Inland Empire 66ers have fielded a dance team.
Dance teams are a somewhat new innovation to baseball and in California the concept hasn’t quite caught on with our Major League Baseball Teams. Sure, there are squads that do in game promotions and community service, but there are only a few, real dance teams in all of baseball and we are lucky to have one in our backyard here in sunny Southern California.
One of the great things about minor league baseball is that they go the extra mile to create a fun and entertaining environment for the fans. Perhaps it’s the nature of minor league sports, but there are more fun and quirky promotions than in the big leagues. And on this night, the Inland Empire 66ers Spirit Girls turned back the clock to give the crowd that 50’s feel.
I have never been to a minor league baseball game and I wanted to see what game day was like and to get a sense of what this type of environment is all about. I was fortunate to be allowed full access to the dance team by Bryon Marquez, the Director of Business Affairs for the Inland Empire 66ers.
While this may be a minor league baseball team, it’s a big league dance team in terms of game day activities. The girls arrived two hours before game time to change into their 50’s style costumes and prepare for the evenings festivities. Once dressed and make up put on, the girls promptly made their way to the front gate and posed for photos.
The next order of the day was a brief meeting with Byron and his staff, Amber and Kela, to discuss upcoming appearances and to go over some important details for the future, like staying fit and trim for some upcoming promotions at the local Indian casinos.
Then it was off to the field to prepare for their pregame performance. The girls warmed up, stretched and posed for some photos…some serious and some not so serious.
At 6:45 pm, the Spirit Girls ran onto the field for their pregame performance. Dressed in their 50’s style hoop skirts and blouses, the Spirit Girls danced and shimmied to some classic oldies.
And then it was time for the pregame player introductions and the National Anthem.
7:05 pm and the first pitch. Recently assigned Dodger pitcher Charlie Haeger was in town to work on his knuckleball and he was tonight’s starting pitcher for the 66ers. That’s the cool thing about minor league baseball. You get a chance to see some major leaguers working on their rehab stints before being called back up to the bigs. Two weeks ago, Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal was here to get some work before being sent back up.
The girls reconvened in Byron’s luxury suite to get a bite to eat and relax before their next scheduled performance. Now, I must say Byron’s office is filled with some serious sports memorabilia. Autographed jerseys, helmets, balls and photos adorned his office. And perhaps the most impressive of them all were his two Championship rings on his desk, ostensibly used as paper weights. My general impression of the organization is that it is first class all the way.
And speaking of first class treatment, the girls all say that they are treated very well as members of the Spirit Girls. Though the responsibilities are many and span the entire year, they are well treated for what they do for the organization. And it certainly appears that way because between performances, they dined on prime rib and chicken and sat in the luxury box.
There’s not a bad seat in the house and the view from the luxury box was excellent. And the seats down low are so close to the action you can recognize the players from their faces, not the numbers on their uniforms…you are that close.
Anyway, I had a few moments to chat up the Spirit Girls as they relaxed before their next performance. Most of them are college girls. Most come from the area, but some come from places a little further away, like Orange County or Lake Elsinore. All of them are well spoken, goal oriented and happy to be a part of this organization.
More than a few of them have aspirations to dance on the next level, like for the Charger Girls, Laker Girls or the Clippers Spirit. In fact, one of the Charger Girls for the upcoming season was a former Inland Empire 66ers Spirit Girls. So, perhaps over the next few years some of the faces you see here will be gracing the sidelines at Qualcomm Stadium or Staples Center.
After the dinner break, it was back to the game action. The Spirit Girls perform a dance routine on top of the dug outs in the middle of the third, fifth and seventh innings. Here are some photographs of the Spirit Girls performing for the fans.
Minor league baseball has a small town feel. It’s much more personal and friendly than a game in a major league ballpark. You can get up close and personal with the Spirit Girls and get an autograph or take a photo with them.
And I took the opportunity to snap a few posed photographs with a couple of Spirit Girls between their fifth and seventh inning performances.
With their seventh inning performance done, the girls night was officially over. They reconvened back to Bryon’s office to change back into their warm ups and enjoy the rest of the evening, which included fireworks.
It was a long day, but an entertaining day.
In talking to Byron earlier in the evening, I got the sense that this organization’s vision for this squad is unique. It reminded me of a discussion I had with Rob Moor, an executive with the Los Angeles Kings in the late 1980’s when I was working on a project for my MBA. He said that the Kings were not in the sports business, but that they were in the entertainment business. The Los Angeles Kings were not only competing against the Lakers or the Dodgers, but that they were also competing against Disneyland, Universal Studios and live theater for the entertainment dollar. That’s why they got Wayne Gretzky, to add a little sizzle and excitement to a moribund hockey team. And the Kings became the place to see and be seen.
In that same vein, I believe that the way the Spirit Dancers are utilized, from their on field performances to their public appearances and community work all serve to increase the entertainment value of the Inland Empire 66ers. It’s not just a baseball game, it’s an entertainment experience.
For me, I think spending an evening with the Inland Empire 66ers is a great entertainment value. You can see some great baseball, participate in some fun home town promotions and watch some great looking dancers all for under $10.00.
The Inland Empire 66ers are the best kept secret in Southern California.
* * * * *
I want to thank Byron Marquez of the Inland Empire 66ers for providing me the opportunity to cover the Spirit Girls. I would also like to thank Amber and Kela for shepherding me throughout the day’s events. I had a great time covering the Spirit Girls. Thank you.
For more information on the Inland Empire 66ers, please click here.