There are plenty of characters in Minor League Baseball.
In fact, the diverse, eclectic and amusing personalities that surround the game play a big part in the Minors’ identity. Sometimes these characters do things that can bring pride to the entire sport. And then there are instances that, when enough time passes, folks can have a laugh about.
On Wednesday night, Hudson Valley celebrated the latter -- an incident that, 26 years later, can easily be seen through a silly, playful lens. The first 1,000 fans in attendance at Dutchess Stadium for the Renegades’ game against Jersey Shore received a Rick Zolzer ‘bobble-arm,’ which, for the uninitiated, is just like a bobblehead, but it’s the arm that, well, bobbles.
The figurine commemorates the time that "Zolz," who still works as the club’s public address announcer as well as its vice president, was ejected from a game for chiding an overzealous umpiring crew that called a series of balks in an Aug. 1, 1995 game against the Batavia Clippers.
“They would call bizarre stuff all the time. But, dude, five balks in one game? Literally, I've gone seasons and not seen five balks,” Zolzer said.
The club wanted the celebration to take place on the 25th anniversary last year, but it had to be pushed after the lost season.
Zolzer lays claim to the honor of being the first P.A. announcer to be ejected, and while he doesn’t remember the umpires' names or the players on the Renegades -- then a Rangers affiliate that rostered a 19-year-old Scott Podsednik and eventually an 18-year-old Ryan Dempster -- he vividly remembers the interactions that put his name in the history books.
As legend would have it, Zolzer played the sound of a cow mooing, then an explosion followed by a clip from the Collective Soul song “Shine,” in which lead singer Ed Roland blurts out “Yeah!” between guitar riffs.
After the third balk was called, the sound effects caught the attention of the second base umpire. The official ran to the phone in the home dugout and rang the hotline directly to the P.A. booth to chastise Zolzer, who held his side of the argument with the microphone on so the fans could hear everything.
“I said to him, 'You mean to tell me a guy who went to his senior prom three months ago is going to kick me out of this baseball game. I don't think so,'” Zolzer remembered.
Even Zolzer, a self-described wise guy, wasn’t tremendously proud of this next part. But it’s the reason for the celebration.
The P.A. announcer didn’t react to the final balk of the game with the same Collective Soul/exploding cow sound effect, but instead offered a bleak prediction for the umpires’ futures.
“I said on the P.A. system, 'The only way either of you two clowns is going to get to the big leagues is if you buy a ticket,'” Zolzer recalled. “They took exception to that.”
The field umpire ejected Zolzer from the game. Ever the entertainer, Zolzer opted to leave through the front window of the booth in triumph rather than exit through the back in shame. He was halfway out the window and gave the “No. 1” signal with his right arm, and that image is what’s immortalized in the giveaway more than two and a half decades later.
“People were going nuts,” Zolzer recalled. “It's really weird because, as I've talked about it throughout the years, based on the amount of people who told me they were there that night, our stadium went from an attendance of 4,500 to 57,000.”
Zolzer started with the Renegades in their inaugural season in 1994 and has been with the organization, which is now in its first year as the Yankees' High-A affiliate, for all but three of their 28 seasons. The idea for the bobblehead actually came from a Hall of Famer with his own knack for Minor League entertainment: Cal Ripken Jr.
“He visited our stadium, and he had some friends who lived in the area, and he actually said, and this is like on the 10th anniversary, he said, 'If that was my P.A. announcer, we would definitely be doing a bobblehead for that.' So, that was the very first time that was ever discussed,” Zolzer said.
Now 64 years old but still pushing buttons in an over-45 men’s hardball league, Zolzer has mixed feelings on what’s made him a local legend. He said he could never imagine doing something similar again, although some had suggested he try and get thrown out to celebrate Wednesday night. But he’s maintained that he’d like to finish every game right where he started.
“I love the game, and I realize that it was stupid and I didn't mean it. And I did apologize to those umpires after the fact,” Zolzer said. “But it's just absurd how much life it's gotten over the years. I really, locally, can't go anywhere without somebody bringing it up, and now with the bobblehead, it's only going to exacerbate it.”
Zolzer has his own collection of nearly 70 bobbleheads that will now be joined by his own image.
“It's really bizarre to think that I'm going to have a bobblehead next to these greats. And I'm just a wise-ass P.A. announcer in New York,” he said.
Beyond any feelings of uneasiness, the incident is still a point of pride in a career that’s kept him close to the game he loves for nearly three decades.
“I'm somewhat proud of the fact that I was the first [P.A. announcer] ever ejected, and then multiple guys followed,” Zolzer said. “If that's the way I'm going to have my name in the history books, then I'm going to go with it.”
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.