About the only bump in the road the Storm Chasers encountered on their one night as the Omaha Potholes came in the game itself. Memphis won the PCL series opener at Werner Park 7-5 Wednesday.
Behind the scenes, the Chasers staff turned a social media joke into reality in a three-week span. The team didn’t wear Potholes uniforms because of the turnaround time, but wore shirts during batting practice.
“We did everything tonight that we would’ve in June or July, sans on-field hats and on-field jerseys,” Omaha President and General Manager Martie Cordaro said. “Everything else was done. And we, for the most part, did it as the season opener was happening. Everything was pretty much planned by April 9.”
The Potholes were the creation of Omaha media operations manager Andrew Green, who has crafted a number of fun social media bits during his four seasons with the Chasers. One of his best gags, prior to April 1, came in the summer of the solar eclipse when he had a cutout photo of outfielder Logan Moon slide in front of teammate Jorge Soler, removing the latter from view and, thus, creating a Soler eclipse.
Green came up with the Potholes idea in early March as the area was battling through the end of a harsh winter that left many roads in the metro area in rough shape. He shared it with the staff, then sat on it.
“I was trying to come up with an April’s Fool joke, and every team rebrands,” the south Florida native said. “Every team does some weird gimmicky identities. I thought this might work since it’s a local thing. It’s something everyone could relate to here in Omaha. Obviously, the potholes aren’t that big.”
But the pothole on the logo Green created — in less than 15 minutes — was huge, big enough to engulf the cartoon car he dropped halfway in it. On April 1, he shared a message on social media — with a jersey and a hat included — stating that the Storm Chasers would be competing as the Omaha Potholes on June 31.
The date, of course, doesn’t exist, an indication that this was a joke. But a number of people, including national sports business reporter Darren Rovell, bought it. An unexpected social media buzz followed.
The Potholes, therefore, became a real thing. The Chasers had shirts and hats created for fan purchase, with a portion of those sales going toward the repair of youth ball fields in Bellevue and west Douglas County that were damaged by the spring flooding. They also auctioned off player-signed Potholes batting practice shirts, and other items, with all of those proceeds going to toward the same cause.
Cordaro said merchandise sales were nearing $30,000. The early auction estimate was nearly $5,000.
“It’s really wild,” Green said. “I think the coolest part about of all of this really is the community aspect. Not just that we’re doing this, but the fact that we’ve raised thousands of dollars for flood relief is a really cool thing. It is weird to see people wearing a logo that I designed because that’s not what I do.”
The Omaha players wore the Potholes shirts, with numbers on the backs, during batting practice long before the 6,040 in attendance at Werner Park arrived. Infielder Nicky Lopez, who played at Creighton for three seasons and is in his second with the Storm Chasers, said the players understood the gimmick.
“A lot of (other) people have asked about the potholes, but the people here see it,” he said. “They drive to the field. They know. The people from back home, you’ve just got to tell them that every street is covered in them. It’s the same back home in Chicago. With the heavy winters, you get the same thing.”
Lopez went 1 for 4 on Wednesday and was one of three Potholes on base when Memphis reliever Chris Ellis struck out Kelvin Gutierrez with the bases loaded to end it. John Nogowski homered and drove in three runs for the Redbirds (10-9), while Nick Dini launched a 443-foot two-run shot for Omaha (9-10).
The result on the field was the only setback on the night for the team. It was a smooth ride otherwise.
“Tonight was a reminder to our staff of what an idea seen through — with a little bit of current affairs, pop culture and good weather — can do,” Cordaro said. “It’s fantastic. There are lines everywhere. We’re selling a ton of merchandise. We’re raising money at the auction table. All of that is going to go to some good community efforts. It was the perfect storm on a night that we weren’t called the Storm Chasers.”