Swing Trooper Swing!

Bonnie Burton | July 18, 2007

On July 14, the West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers Class A affiliate) wore Lucasfilm-approved Star Wars baseball jerseys at their home game against the Beloit Snappers in Comstock Park, Michigan.

501st.com reports:

The jerseys were designed by 501st member Scott “Crow” Withers (TK-1491) and 10 game-worn jerseys were auctioned for one of our favorite charities, the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The 501st Midwest Garrison and Rebel Legion Midwest Base had 34 costumers at the game. Highlights include Vader throwing out the first pitch, 501st member Brien Skinner (TC-8595) playing the National Anthem on guitar in full Clone Trooper armor, photos for charity donation, and costumers participating in games in between innings. After the game, there was a fireworks display and fans watched A New Hope on the giant scoreboard!

We spoke with Jon “Blasty” Leopold (TK/IS-5037), Michigan Squad Leader of the Midwest Garrison about the event:

Why did your garrison decide to invade the Whitecaps baseball game?
In June of 2006, Michigan Squad troops had a meeting to try to come up with ideas for more events on the west side of their state. One of our troopers, Brent Ashcroft (TD-1044) is a TV sports anchor and suggested costuming at a West Michigan Whitecaps (the Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers) game.

Brent contacted Mickey Graham, the Whitecaps Marketing Manager, and he loved the idea of having us there raising money for charity. Two months later, the first Whitecaps Star Wars Day happened with the 501st, Rebel Legion, and Grand Rapids FanForce raising over $1,100 for Make-A-Wish. They do a fantastic job creating a family friendly atmosphere. After their Saturday home games, they have fireworks and fans can sit in left field and watch a movie on the giant scoreboard.

At the Whitecaps annual banquet in January, they showed their highlight video from 2006 which included Phil Font (SL-0654) as Darth Vader throwing a strike for the First Pitch. Upon seeing Vader’s throw, Tigers manager Jim Leyland commented that maybe they should sign him to a contract.

For this year’s game, we had 34 costumers from MI, IN, and IL, and they were everywhere in the ballpark. Besides the characters designated for the photo booth and on field games, we had costumers surprise a birthday boy in a suite, troops in the playground beyond center field signing autographs for over an hour, and many others roaming the concourse. Our Gamorrean Guard, Richard Bueker, drove almost three hours from Fort Wayne, IN, with his girlfriend, where they had costumed at a parade earlier in the day.

What’s the story behind their Sith baseball uniforms?
After the success of last season’s game, the Whitecaps came up with the idea of wearing Star Wars style jerseys for this year’s game and auctioning off some of them for charity. We started the process way back in November of 2006 going through the proper Lucasfilm channels to get them approved. Once they gave us permission, we asked any talented 501st troops to come up with a Star Wars design for the jerseys. Scott “Crow” Withers (TK-1491) came up with the amazing looking artwork used for the jerseys. The players looked fantastic in them. For the sports fans among our costumers, seeing the team wearing Star Wars jerseys was out of this world!

How did you raise money for Make-A-Wish?
We sold Make-A-Wish bracelets at our table and had a photo booth for donations. Donavon Larabel (TX-338) and his helpers did a fantastic job printing 115 photos in a little over two hours. The team auctioned off ten of the game-worn jerseys with proceeds going to MAW. After the game, the winners were brought onto the field, where the players took the jerseys off their backs and signed them. Besides the three jerseys going to LFL for their archives, all the remaining jerseys were sold at cost plus a $30 donation to the charity. The grand total ended up being $3,044.25 raised for Make-A-Wish! That amount is almost triple over the first Whitecaps game and over twice as much for any event we’ve costumed at in Michigan history!

Which trooper played the national anthem on his guitar and why?
In one of our meetings with the Whitecaps, we informed them that we had a trooper, Brien “Skinny” Skinner, who could play the National Anthem in full armor. Originally, the team had someone booked to play, but that person backed out two weeks before the game. They asked us if our trooper still wanted to play and we jumped faster than hyperspace at the opportunity.

How hard is it to do the YMCA in armor?
I worked our table at this event, so I asked two Sandtroopers in the video about this. Jason Ujvari (TD-1703) commented, “It’s really easy, except for making the ‘M.’ I love the anonymity that the helmet provides. I do not have any stage fright because people cannot see my face, so I will do the YMCA, Chicken Dance, Electric Slide, Hustle, waltz and swing dance in armor in front of thousands without problem!”

Brooke Merva (TD-1148) said, “It is not too hard, but because I am a shorter trooper my arms tend to lift my helmet up, so seeing is a little harder. But it is tons of fun. I love bringing a smile to people’s faces.” I have done the YMCA in armor at weddings and I have the same issue as Brooke with the helmet lifting up.

What was the crowd reaction like?
The crowd was going crazy all night long. The kids had a blast meeting the Star Wars characters, getting autographs, putting on temporary tattoos, and collecting our trading cards. The loudest ovations came after the Clone trooper finished playing the National Anthem and when the Whitecaps tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning- down to their last out. The home team won in the bottom of the 11th inning after the other team’s catcher dropped the ball when trying to tag out a runner at home. After that, our costumers led the fans in dances to songs like “Y.M.C.A.” and “Walk the Dinosaur” for 20-30 minutes. The fireworks display followed and was accompanied by scores from John William’s Star Wars music. To cap off what is a night to be long remembered, the fans were allowed onto the field to watch A New Hope.

Additional comments?
We had a Make-A-Wish family at the game. The wish child that represented the Foundation was Carissa. She is 15 years old and suffers from Cerebral Palsy with complications. She had her wish trip to go to Disney with her family in November of 2002. She uses a wheelchair and is not able to communicate verbally. However, she has the biggest and most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen. MAW is a charity near to the hearts of 501st troopers and meeting people who they have helped is always a rewarding experience.

See Brooke Merva (TD-1148) and Jason Ujvari (TD-1703) leading the crowd in the “Y.M.C.A.” here.

Read more about the 501st Midwest Garrison here.

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