READING, Pa. - You'd be forgiven for thinking ostriches at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading is an April Fools' joke, but, like so many things in minor league baseball, this one is strange but true.
The Phillies' Double-A ball club, which ruffled the feathers of some fans during the off-season by changing its name to the Reading Fightin Phils and officially adding an ostrich to its team of mascots, made another announcement during a pre-season news conference Monday.
Two live, female ostriches will make their home at FirstEnergy Stadium this season as a way for the team to celebrate Berks County's rich farming heritage, said Scott Hunsicker, the team's general manager.
"Certainly, we've had the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor for a number of years riding his version of an ostrich," said Hunsicker. "We really love the name Fightin Phils. We could have associated any iconic animal to that name, just like the Lehigh Valley team associated the IronPigs and our friends down in Richmond did the Flying Squirrels. We just happened to have our own version of an ostrich here."
The 2-year-old resident ostriches, on loan from the Roaming Acres Natural Farm in Newton, N.J., will reside in a large pen behind the outfield wall. Their coming to Baseballtown is the result of a partnership involving the Fightin Phils, the Berks County agricultural community and several affiliated organizations.
"Berks County ranks third in the United States and first in the state for farmland preservation, and the ostrich duo will help draw attention to the county's leading industry," said Hunsicker, who was joined at the news conference by Pa. Sen. Judy Schwank, who serves as Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee and Mathew Meals, Pennsylvania deputy secretary for animal agriculture.
The team has payed homage to the ostrich for the past several years in the form of the popular Crazy Hot Dog Vendor and his "pet" ostrich, Rodrigo. And rest assured, ostrich burgers will not be appearing on the ballpark menu, Hunsicker said.
"The idea is, you know, hey, if we can educate kids about farming and about a unique animal, great," said Hunsicker. "If we can get them to come to the ballpark to see an ostrich and they fall in love with the game of baseball in this stadium, then we've succeeded."
The new ostriches still need names. That's where Fightin Phils' fans come in. A contest is currently under way to name the birds. The winning names will then be announced prior to the team's home opener on Fri., April 12. More information about the contest is available on the Fightin Phils' website.
Fans will be offered a number of different opportunities to see the ostriches during the upcoming season, officials said.
The birds will be relocated to a pen in front of the ballpark prior to each home game for arriving fans to get an up-close look at the large birds.
Their outfield pen will also be a stop on the educational tours of the stadium that offered on Saturdays when the team is at home.
More information about the tours is available by contacting Todd Hunsicker, the team's educational director and one of the ostriches' caretakers, at email@example.com or by calling 610-370-BALL x.206.
"I did not grow up thinking I was going to be an ostrich farmer," said Todd Hunsicker. "Certainly, never imagined ostrich wrangler would be on that resume. I'm getting there. It's been pretty fun to educate myself and, in turn, to educate the kids and families."
Finally, fans can view the ostriches from the grandstand during the team store's regular business hours.