May 13, 2008

Rai Henniger returns to Colorado Springs

Here's a remarkable, must-read story about Rai Henniger, senior vp of marketing for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Triple-A).
"A year ago, a pyrotechnic accident nearly killed him: "It's been precisely a year since a 2½-inch spherical titanium shell shattered Henniger's face, turning Security Service Field into a makeshift battlefield scene, and a glance in the mirror is all it takes to remind him that his life will never be the same."
Henniger is back at the ballpark, inspiring others with his remarkable story of recovery. I'll let you read the article for the entire story, but I do want to highlight some of Henniger's creative and caring approach to game entertainment:

At age 48, Henniger is a cross between Mike Veeck, proponent of the "Fun is good" mantra, and Tom Hanks dancing on a giant keyboard in the movie "Big." Amid the wide-open spaces of Henniger's imagination, there's no such thing as a bad idea -- merely occasional tinges of regret from concepts unexplored.

He's the guy who conceived "Bark in the Park" night, when baseball fans cavort with Cocker Spaniels and Pomeranians, and he was at the forefront of the first ballpark hot tub (even though the PR guy and groundskeeper had to twist his arm to do it). He designed the costume, name and educational theme for Sox the Fox, the Colorado Springs mascot, and once wore a homemade TV set over his head during Comcast Night in Colorado Springs.

As the proud creator of Assorted Animal Snout Night, he ordered thousands of cheap barnyard masks from China, passed them out to the crowd, then cued the pigs to "oink" and the cows to "moo" just as the opposing pitcher went into his delivery.

And during his signature promotion, Computer Geek Night, he dressed up in high water pants, a pocket protector and nerdy glasses and did a poor man's Myron Noodleman impersonation. When the Sky Sox weren't holding Bill Gates and Dilbert look-alike contests, they were designating fans to be "Spam blockers" -- sending them to the grassy hillsides behind the foul lines and firing gobs of lunch meat at them from a sling shot.

"I would have loved to be in the meeting where they talked about shooting meat into the berm," Ensor says. "Someone makes a dumb joke, the ignitions are firing, the lights are going off, and Rai's formulating a promotion. And he's the best at it. I like to think I'm pretty good, but he's got one more gear than everybody else."

It's only fitting that he met his future wife at the park. One night the scheduled participant in the "Pitch to Win" contest failed to report to the gift shop as instructed. Henniger, desperate for a replacement, approached an attractive young woman on a group office outing and asked if she could bail him out of trouble.

"What is this, some sort of sexist thing you do to make women look foolish?" asked the then Heather Mooney.

She won a $50 gift certificate by throwing a baseball through a hole on a board and revealed during a casual conversation that she was a trained vocalist. Henniger invited her back to sing the national anthem, and the story ends with 12 years of marriage, three beautiful children and a lovable, panting Australian Shepherd mix named Bosco.


Fellow employees tell a story from years ago, when a little boy designated to be the Sky Sox's junior announcer was so panic-stricken he wet his pants in anticipation of the big event. It was Henniger who cleaned him up, encouraged him to overcome his fears, and made the experience one to cherish.

"A time like this is a telling sign of how somebody treats other people," says Dan Karcher, Sky Sox radio broadcaster and Henniger's longtime friend. "I don't think Rai has an enemy anywhere in the community. He's one of those guys who's able to light up a room whenever he enters it."

Read the entire article...

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