By Jason Upton // Bells Beat Writer
The Bells’ most frequently gifted fan promotion is also their loudest.
Dairy Queen’s “Burger Batter” promo has been a staple of Bells games for the past 10-15 years at Joe Martin Field, where fans receive a coupon for a free fire-grilled deluxe burger if the opposing leadoff batter strikes out. It’s common to hear Bells fans heckle that batter in hopes that they’ll distract him and win a burger, but what effect does this actually have?
The answer is, it makes a significant difference.
Through 32 total home games throughout this season, opposing leadoff batters hit 22-119 (.185) against the Bells. Before the final series against Kamloops, in which their leadoff hitters went an impressive 5-11, that batting average sat at an even more dismal .157. Burger Batters have also gone hitless in half of the home games Bellingham has played, and 15 of 32 have struck out and rewarded fans with a deluxe burger.
The Bells’ stellar pitching certainly has to get some credit for this wildy low batting average, but even when you account for that, this average that leadoff batters are hitting is dramatically low. Compared to opponents’ batting average against the Bells over the entire course of the season (.227), there’s a 42-point drop in the leadoff hitter’s average. Considering that an opponent’s leadoff batter is one of, if not their best, overall hitter, this stark drop in batting average seems noteworthy.
Jay Shaffer, the Bells’ PA announcer, sees different feedback from opposing batters when he dramatically announces them as the Burger Batter and the crowd starts to get loud during their at-bat.
“Some are very good-natured, they take it in stride. Some of the guys have given a thumbs up, but then there’s been one or two that didn’t take it in the spirit that it was intended,” Shaffer said.
Still, Shaffer insists that the promo is all fun and games, and means no harm to the batters.
“It’s kind of a fun thing because it lets us poke a little fun at their leadoff batter being the “Burger Batter”, Shaffer said. “We don’t want to put anyone down or anything, it’s not too serious.”
The DQ promo is a hit with the fans, who will chant all sorts of goofy phrases in hopes of distracting the Burger Batter. Seventh-inning stretch leader Michael Jay, and his wife Mary LeDonne, wave a sign with a big hamburger on it from their front-row when the batter steps up to the plate.
Their front-row proximity to the batter’s box also gives them a good idea of what the crowd has to say, and Jay himself joins in with his usual ‘Feed the fans!’ chant.
“If it’s $2 Tuesday and it’s later in the game, it gets pretty rude sometimes. People are like ‘I want a double burger, I want fries!’ they’re just really demanding,” Jay said with a smile, but still reinforced the fun-loving nature of it. “In general, people are pretty nice about the Burger Batter.”
Haydan Hastings, the Bells interim head coach, sees the Burger Batter promo – or beer batter as they are commonly referred to at other ballparks – as a more frequent occurrence that can have a direct impact on the at-bat.
“I think anywhere you go anytime there’s a beer batter or something that’s going to get the fans involved, it’s just an added pressure onto the hitter,” Hastings said. “It definitely makes it easier for the pitcher and a little bit tougher on the batter, so I think our guys are doing a good job on the mound of taking advantage when the crowd gets into it.”
On the road, when the Bells’ own leadoff hitter is chosen for a similar promo, Hastings said the team handles it well.
“They make a joke out of it, they think it’s fun, they like the challenge, and a lot of the guys like to put the ball in play on the first pitch,” Hastings noted. “Our guys do a great job of handling stuff like that on the road and when we come home it’s definitely an advantage for us.”
The stats back up Hastings’ comments, as Bells leadoff hitters bat .230 on the road, a small dip under the Bells’ season-long average of .245, but nothing as dramatic as the effect opposing hitters see at Joe Martin Field.
Still, there are two sides to every debate, and professional mental skills coach Bob Tewksbury believes otherwise. Tewksbury has worked as a mental skills trainer for three MLB teams, and coached the likes of major league big-names Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester and Andrew Miller along the way.
“I really don’t think the majority of hitters get distracted by the fans with increased noise. As an athlete, the outside noise just sounds like a large roar,” Tewksbury said over email. “ No doubt it can add a bit of adrenaline and if the player allows the external distractions to affect them, it will affect their performance……….but, for the majority of players I don’t think it prohibits them from performing.”
Dub Sea Fish Sticks slugger DJ Massey would tend to agree with Tewksbury’s stance. Massey found great success as the Burger Batter, with a 3-5 night at the plate in a July 3 game against the Bells. Despite striking out, and giving the fans their burgers, Massey proved to be an outlier among opposing leadoff hitters.
“I think whenever I come into conflicts, it really helps me focus. So after I had one strikeout, the crowd let me hear it and I really got to lock-in,” Massey said. “ I think it’s super fun and, like I said, it’s just that edge. I feel like it’s more of an advantage than disadvantage.”
So maybe it depends on the hitter. Some may take it as motivation to perform and silence the crowd, and some may succumb to the pressure. Either way, the stats have spoken, and they say that opposing leadoff hitters face a great disadvantage at Joe Martin Field compared to the rest of their team.
So, rejoice Bells fans. Your Burger Batter taunts and trolls are heard loud and clear by opposing hitters in the batter’s box, and may have even helped the Bells out along the way.