The invitations have been sent. As of now, the folks at Recreation Park in Visalia, CA, have not heard back from the likes of Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken. The prescription might be for more cowbell, but securing a house call can be tricky.
Don’t fear. The Visalia Rawhide (High A; California League) will be just fine this season, with or without the celebrity cameos. You want more cowbell in 2018? Then Visalia is your Valhalla.
This year marks the 10th season since the team re-branded as the Visalia Rawhide, a nod to the world-renowned dairy community it shares in Tulare County.
And to celebrate that anniversary, the Rawhide have declared the entire 2018 season the “Year of the Cowbell,” complete with the season-long display of what the team is calling America’s Largest Cowbell.
The five-foot replica bell, which will be rung before every home game this season by a lucky fan, will be displayed on the concourse in right field.
For Rawhide general manager Jennifer Reynolds, it’s a dream – if you can possibly sleep over all that clanging — 10 years in the making.
“We’re finally getting it to happen,” Reynolds said. “This was an idea we had when we first re-branded [in 2009]. We were doing everything possible to the ballpark to theme it. But we couldn’t find somebody to build [an oversized cowbell] for us. So, 10 years later …”
Reynolds said the original plan was to try and set a world record for largest cowbell, but research indicated the record-holder resides in Germany – and it’s nearly 11-feet tall. That was deemed a little much for the 72-year-old bandbox in Visalia, an intimate ballpark where the seats are close to the action.
That, of course, makes the cowbell a particularly effective source of home-field advantage. Upon the re-branding from the Visalia Oaks to the Rawhide in 2009, the team sought to incorporate as many nods to the dairy community as possible. And that led to the permanent deployment of the cowbell.
“We’ve always hosted a Dairy Day,” Reynolds said. “Our local community, the county that we’re in (Tulare) is the dairy capital of the world – it’s where all the happy cows come from! We have more cows than people. So, we introduced the cowbell as a noise-maker in 2008 in conjunction with our Dairy Day celebration. Then when we re-branded in 2009, obviously the western, agriculture theme really came to life. Now we have a whole cowbell section with seats that have a black-and-white cow-print. We have a barn that’s part of the outfield well. Our mascot is Tipper. It all came together.”
Even with the iconic Saturday Night Live skit from 2000 featuring Walken and Ferrell making the cowbell famous, the fans in Visalia didn’t immediately take to their new weapon of mass distraction.
“When we first introduced the cowbell, you know how fans sometimes need encouragement,” Reynolds said. “The Christopher Walken skit was a natural for that. Our PA guy does a great job, when it gets quiet, he’ll have Christopher Walken say, ‘I gotta have more cowbell!’ and it starts ringing.
“It does create a great home-field advantage and our players embrace it and welcome it. But our fans will take them on the road and some parks even banned them. I don’t blame them at all. It’s a love-hate situation.”
Upon the team’s announcement of its America’s Largest Cowbell celebration earlier in January, some hate came from an unusual source. Some fans of Mississippi State, who have long deployed the cowbell in Starkville, did not like the sound of things, at all.
Reynolds has decided to let this bulldog lie.
“I’m not a drama-oriented person, so I’m just ignoring it all,” Reynolds said. “If they want to build a bigger cowbell, go for it.”
Images courtesy Visalia Rawhide.
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