While we still root, root, root for the home team, the 2020 Kenosha Kingfish season — like everything else this summer — has been impacted by COVID-19.
To start with, there are now two home teams to cheer for: Our own beloved Kingfish and the newly formed K-Town Bobbers. The teams are playing all their games at Simmons Field against each other. That way, the players aren’t traveling out of Kenosha, risking more exposure to the coronavirus.
We were just happy to be back in the stadium cheering for our Kenosha Kingfish Friday night, but we did notice some changes:
Face it: You notice a huge change right away when entering Simmons Field. Fans and staff members are wearing face masks — a lot of them have purchased the Kingfish masks (on sale in the store). I only saw one couple not wearing masks, and they happily put them on when a staffer handed them two. Once we were in our seats, with no one sitting near us, we did take our masks off.
Dueling mascots: While the game still starts with King Elvis ziplining onto the field, he’s joined by a rival mascot, the K-Town Bobber. Seriously, it’s a fishing bobber rolling around on the outfield. Since this bobber has a face, I have nicknamed him Wilson. (Look it up.)
Like to be a contrarian? You can purchase Bobbers T-shirts and hats in the Kingfish team store.
Batter up! Even with all these changes, however, one popular feature of each game remains intact: the Miller Lite Beer Batter is still a thing. If that batter strikes out, beers are two-for-one, making this the most popular promotion at every game.
Cheer up! Overall, the ballpark was a lot quieter, with capacity capped at about 25 percent to allow for social distancing, but the fans were still cheering, the players were still hitting and the beer was still cold.
Drink up! Beers at Simmons Field this season include Bell’s Obero, Lakefront IPA, Blue Moon Belgian White and our own Kings and Convicts Hougoumont beer. Not a beer drinker? You can also enjoy sangria (red and white), Vizzy Hard Seltzer Pineapple Mango (trust me, it’s quite refreshing), Twisted Tea, White Claw Black Cherry and Mike’s Hard Black Cherry. Apparently, Black Cherry is a popular beverage flavoring.
Sorry, kids. Missing in action are the children’s games and the King Elvis bounce house.
Back to the basics: Food choices have been pared down to traditional ballpark fare: Hot dogs, brats, cheeseburgers (including a veggie option), cheese curds, chicken tenders and french fries.
Sweets and snacks: Ice cream treats are Choco Tacos, sundae cones, Oreo Ice Cream Cookies and strawberry shortcake. Snacks for sale are giant pretzels (with cheese, of course), popcorn, candy and chips.
Isn’t this breaking an unwritten rule of baseball? This summer, peanuts are not available … even though they’re mentioned in the official baseball anthem.
New location: For seven-game ticket holders, including myself and my husband, Rex, the familiar tent next to the Sheridan Road entrance is gone. Instead of a pre-game buffet, those ticketholders go through a cafeteria-style line, with cheerful Kingfish staffers serving up ballpark favorites. Bonus: The sodas and water were ice cold coming out of a cooler!
Social distancing 101: The Kingfish are keeping capacity limited in the ballpark, but actual social distancing in the stands was uneven. While entire sections were empty or held just a few fans, other areas — including our own Section 109 — placed people right next to each other. Luckily, there were plenty of open seats, and people just scooted down the row.
Onfield goofiness: Fans still enjoy familiar events like the Toilet Bowl Race, the T-Ball Challenge and Musical Chairs. Those games just look a bit different this season.
A new lord of the dance: In 2019, Kingfish catcher Brian Vance became something of an online sensation when a video of him dancing to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” during a delay in a game went viral and garnered more than 6 million views. At the July 17 game, Kingfish player Drew Wiegman (No. 19) showed off some winning moves of his own during the ribbon dancing competition against a K-Town Bobber. Online fame awaits.
With all these COVID-19 changes, we need to update the lyrics to the 1908 Tin Pan Alley song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”:
Take me out to the socially distanced ball game,
Take me out with the capacity reduced crowd;
Buy me some peanuts (not this year) and Cracker Jack (nope!),
I don’t care if I never get back. And, when I do, I’ll wash my hands!
Let me root, root, root for the home team … or the Bobbers,
If they don’t win, it’s a shame. Not really, they’re both in Kenosha.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out (and if you’re out, wear a mask),
At the old ball game. Take that, COVID-19!
Doug Gole, in his second season as general manager, is still smiling even as he works to get this unusual season going.
“It was a real challenge getting everything up and running,” he said. “We went from nothing to games in only a couple of weeks. It’s been amazing to watch the staff do all they have done to get us to this point. They have been fabulous.”
The support of the local fans, he said, is what made it all possible.
“We did it because Kenosha said they wanted us to. Survey after survey. Phone call after phone call: ‘We want Kingfish baseball.’”
After the first week of action, he said, “The people who have attended our games have almost universally been happy. We are still working to get better.”
The biggest news Gole had concerns bobbleheads, a key summer feature for avid collectors like me.
“Do not fret,” he said. “We will be having bobbleheads and will announce them very soon. Our friends at Festival, Twin Disc and Platinum Systems have helped us get some awesome bobbleheads.”
Like everything, the bobblehead distribution system is different this year.
“With all the delays in production and uncertainty, fans will get a certificate for the bobblehead and pick them up once they arrive later in the summer,” he said, adding, “We will grow your collection.”
The biggest surprise so far, he said, “is how popular the Bobbers merchandise has been. We can’t keep it on the shelves. Our ownership and marketing team did a great job taking the submittal of a fan — Jacob Gunderson who threw out he first pitch on Saturday — and creating a brand. And the fans have embraced it.”
It’s summer in Kenosha. Welcome back, baseball fans.