Thursday, April 7, 2011

Catching Up With The Circle Me Bert Superstar

GameDay: When we spoke two years ago, you'd been circled by Bert Blyleven 27 times. What's the count at now?

Boone Hagarsky: I'm up to 39. You can find all the video at my website,

GD: A lot has been written about the adjustments Twins players made moving from the Metrodome to their new ballpark. Did the move to Target Field require changes to your Circle Me Bert approach?

BH: Oh, absolutely. The Metrodome was a just a pristine Circle Me Bert environment. No wind or rain. No sun, so pretty steady temperatures and lighting. At Target Field, you've got to inject these environmental variables into your preparation and presentation equations.

GD: Talk about the adjustments to the preparation piece. Last time you described some really interesting preparation methods. Things like using dressing room mirrors and in store surveillance video monitors to experiment with stances, sign presentation angles, and the like.

BH: Sure. What you're describing there I call technique training. With the injection of Target Field weather elements, you've got to cross train that technique training with what I call MST -- Materials Stress Testing. If you want to be ready for anything Mother Nature throws your way, you've got to subject yourself and your hand held signage materials to the most extreme weather conditions you can simulate.

GD: With the winter we just had, I don't imagine you had much trouble simulating cold and snow.

BH: (laughs) No, that wasn't a problem. But cold and snow aren't something I worry about too much. Heat, and especially humidity, pose much greater challenges.

GD: You're talking about fatigue?

BH: You bet. There's is a "wilt factor", both for the man and his Circle Me Bert signs. I’ve found the best place to MST for wilting is at a health club. Unfortunately, lots of places want to claim they have policies against bringing signs into the men’s steam room. Especially when you're fully clothed.

GD: You get hassled?

BH: Well, usually by the third visit they'll insist I remove my clothes and leave the signs behind. At that point I’ll start MST-ing my accessories. That's when the younger guys -- I'm talking about health club security – they’ll start playing a little rough. The older guys, the guys who know their U.S. history, they tend to be more careful. I see them looking at me like, "That can't be him, can it?"

GD: You're referring to your astonishing resemblance to Henry Kissinger.

BH: Exactly right. I think there may be an intimidation factor there. (laughs). I clear out before they realize you're probably not going to find Henry Kissinger in a Minneapolis steam room straddling a donkey-headed broomstick while wearing nothing but cowboy boots and a Circle Me Bert sombrero.

GD: Pieces of a Don Quixote assemblage?

BH: One of my favorite Circle Me Burt ensembles. But look, if you're prepared to leave behind your conventional paper signs and your accessories, a men’s steam room can be a really good place to MST your experimental signs. I'm talking about the ones that push and ultimately redefine the boundaries of what constitutes a hand held sign.

GD: Give me an example.

BH: Well, suppose I paint on my chest a picture of me holding a Circle Me Bert sign. Now, suppose the sign in that picture also shows me holding a Circle Me Bert sign. Whose sign in turn shows me holding a Circle Me Bert sign. And so on. Circle Me Bert signs inside of Circle Me Bert signs inside of Circle Me Bert signs.

GD: Where does the Circle Me Bert sign end.

BH: Yes. But more interestingly, where do I end and where does the sign begin? In Heideggerran jargon, has my Being left the behind the realm of Dasein and entered the realm of the Ding an Sich? In layman's terms, have I become, in a profound and exciting way, a Circle Me Bert sign myself?

GD: I never would have thought to go there.

BH: Stay with me. Say I'm wearing this sign at the ballpark and Bert circles me. With the endless regress the picture suggests, have I been circled by Bert just once?

GD: Or an infinite number of times.

BH: Exactly. The phenomenology of the Circle Me Bert experience is just endlessly fascinating. What was once little more than an aside in my book is now a section approaching one hundred pages.

GD: So the move to the new ballpark has helped you explore existential dimensions of the Circle Me Bert experience. Sounds like Target Field has another fan.

BH: Oh no. Not at all. Listen, getting circled by Bert shouldn’t require that you ride a Valley Fair roller coaster to MST your signs against straight line winds. Getting circled shouldn’t require that you drive all the way to a Wisconsin Dells water park to MST your signs against everything from a sprinkle to a cloudburst. Especially when there are so many mothers who get absolutely hysterical when their small children get tangled up and allegedly “pulled under” by the soggy detritus from disintegrating signs. What I’m saying is that with the introduction of the weather elements, we’re talking about another, higher level of preparation and commitment here.

GD: Is that necessarily a bad thing?

BH: Absolutely it’s a bad thing. Look, seeing others getting circled, getting circled if you've cultivated those skills -- that's a huge part of the Twins experience. If the move to Target Field is pushing Circle Me Bert into an extreme sport, what does that do to the participation rates? I think every Minnesotan ought to be asking himself or herself, "Is the move outdoors worth it if we diminish the Circle Me Bert phenomenon in the process?”

GD: And your answer is no.

BH: I’d like to see the Twins move back into the dome.

GD: Wait. You must realize how preposterous that sounds.

BH: It’s not as preposterous as you might think. I’ve started up an organization to push for it. We Like It Here has piqued the interest of some heavy hitters.

GD: For instance?

BH: You’ve heard of Mike Veeck.

GD: Of course. The St. Paul Saints owner.

BH: Lunching with him next week. Then there’s Justin Morneau.

GD: Justin Morneau?

BH: Not sure how he found out about us, but he approached me. He’s been incredibly supportive.

GD: Well, I’d wish We Like It Here the best of luck, but given the popularity of Target Field, that would probably cost me my three readers.

BH: (laughs)

GD: Listen, you mentioned your book. I’ve no doubt it's going to give us a really comprehensive look at all facets of the Circle Me Bert experience. When can we expect it on the shelves?

BH: I still have some work left. They uncovered some primitive hand held sign technologies in a pre-Clovis site in Monte Verde, Chile. Just incredible. That’s forcing me to rework the “origins” section. And then I need to find a publisher. But it’s close.

GD: We’d love to post some excerpts here.

BH: Yeah, maybe. Let me see what I can do.

GD: Great. Thanks for the time, Boone.

BH: Thank you. And win Twins!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Interview with a Circle Me Bert Superstar

Boone Hagarsky suffers for his sport. Sunny summer days spent inside the Metrodome has colored him the cadaverous off-white of the Metrodome ceiling. His failing eyesight and aggressive tinnitus he blames on the stadium's poor lighting and ear-shattering sound system. With his permanent squint and his head perpetually cocked towards his better ear, Hagarsky is a portrait of the man perplexed by something in the middle distance, or perhaps in another dimension. And yet Hagarsky's four-dome-dog a game habit places him unmistakably among the corporeal. Taken altogether, Hagarsky seems to have achieved in his person the impossible: An immense nullity that suggests both the impressive heft and the near-weightlessness of a giant marshmallow man.

Despite these handicaps, Hagarsky has been circled by Bert Blyleven more than any other Twins fan. GameDay caught up with this Circle Me Bert superstar in his studio apartment in Minneapolis.


GD: How many times have you been circled?

BH: Twenty-seven and counting.

GD: I think most of them have found their way into a YouTube video montage that’s gone viral. Are you recognized at the Dome?
BH: I think so. People stare at me a lot. But I don’t get approached, if that’s what you mean. Actually, I was asked for an autograph once. But the guy thought I was Henry Kissinger.

GD: The resemblance is astonishing.

BH: So I’ve been told. But why would Henry Kissinger be at the Dome wearing a Circle Me Bert sunflower sign? It made no sense.

GD: Why did you put the video out there?

BH: Well, I know there are a ton of people who would love to be circled by Bert just once. I guess I hope the video inspires people to chase that dream, and that it also acts as a tutorial of sorts for people just getting started.

GD: But it just boils down to holding a sign over your head, right?

BH: No, not at all. Listen, there’s a hell of a lot more to getting circled than just holding a sign over your head. I mean, if that’s all there was to it, then what have you accomplished? Why get so excited? "Hey everybody, look at me! I’m on TV! Yay!” Maybe if you’re a little kid you feel that way. But a grown adult? It’s not like Bert’s circling imbeciles out there.

GD: I’ve pushed a button.

BH: Well, I don’t think people understand the preparation that goes into getting circled.

GD: You mean the sign making piece?

BH: See, that’s what I’m talking about. Yeah, the signage is important. But I could give you the best sign in my collection and unless you spend some time with it away from the game you're not going to be circled.

GD: I’m not following you. Are you talking about practicing?

BH: Definitely. That camera can come at you from any direction. So right there you’ve got 360 degrees to worry about. There’s the angle of tilt on your sign. You’d better have that calibrated to the angle of the camera. And then Bert can pull that pen out at any time, and you want to snap right into your presentation stance. So there’s a muscle memory element there.

GD: Do you work this out in front of the mirror?

BH: Sometimes mirrors. Dressing room mirrors work great -- you can analyze your presentation from multiple angles. Even better than that are in-store security video monitors.

GD: Don't the stores mind you doing this?

BH: Sometimes. Actually, all of the time. I’ve been banned from just about every Super America between here and the Iron Range. And then there are the arrests and all that you’ve got to deal with when they take you downtown and throw you in with the perverts. But this is what I’m talking about. If you want to be circled, there’s a price to pay. There’s a price.

GD: Let’s get back to the signs themselves. What makes a good sign?

BH: Well, that’s going to be a big part of my book, so right now I don't want to go into the crafting aspect. But here again, preparation is key. You want to do your research. You can uncover just a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration if you study the history of the hand-held sign.

GD: There’s a history there?

BH: (laughs) Believe it or not we Minnesotans didn't invent the hand-held sign.

GD: How far back does the hand-held sign go?

BH: Well, there is some pretty compelling evidence that Jesus Christ used hand-helds.

GD: That’s unbelievable.

BH: Not really when you look at the crafting aspect if this. Lots of times I’m sitting there and an idea just comes out of nowhere. Ten or twelve or fourteen hours later I’m looking at a finished sign and I know that my rationality played absolutely no role in that exercise.

GD: Does this “divine madness” touch you when you’re presenting the signs?

BH: I think it does. At least, I can tell when Bert is in the process of circling me. I don’t know where that comes from.

GD: How can you tell?

BH: I’m talking physically. My muscles tighten. I flush. I start to tremble. My nostrils flare uncontrollably. I pant like a dog. And then there’s a prominent, and frankly, quite embarrassing reaction that I don’t want to get into here.

GD: That sounds pretty uncomfortable.

BH: Well, I think of it more like a heightening. It’s like when you go into combat.

GD: You’ve seen combat?

BH: I did a Civil War re-enactment once. Gettysburg. Battle of.

GD: Last question: have you ever met Bert?

BH: Nope. Don’t want to either. I don’t want favoritism to play any part in this. I want to be circled for my excellence.

GD: Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Summer Baseball Heats Up in the NWL!

It's almost mid-season for the Northwoods League and the races are really getting interesting now. Unlike most baseball leagues that you may be familiar with, the NWL has division winners for the first half as well as the second half of the season. Those first half winners are granted a bid in the playoffs at the end of the season. So, with just a shade under two weeks left before the All-Star break, it's starting to feel like end-of-season baseball.

In the North Division, the Manakto Moondogs have been in the lead pretty much since the season began. The still lead with a 19-12 record, but they have company at the top. The Rochester Honkers are right behind them at 18-12. The St. Cloud Riverbats are within striking distance with a 16-14 record, but they've won 7 straight, so they could make things interesting.

The South Division has been a tighter race all along and suddenly, it's a traffic jam at the top. The Wisconsin Woodchucks (Wausau) have been up at the top most of the season and now find themselves tied with the red-hot Madison Mallards for the division lead at 20-10. A strong La Crosse Loggers squad is right on their tails at 19-11.

If I were to pick an early, first-half MVP for the NWL my ballot would go for Eric Stephens of the Rochester Honkers. The junior infielder from Cal-State Fullerton is hitting at a .377 (tied for 1st) clip with 5 home runs (also a tie for 1st), 31 rbi (2nd), 11 stolen bases (tied for 3rd), 11 doubles (tied for 1st) and a .642 slugging percentage (1st). He's not just a stat stud, he's a big reason that the Mankato Moondogs are looking at Rochester in their rear view mirror as the Honkers are charging up. Honorable Mention: Derek Melton, 1B, La Crosse Loggers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Blinked...What Happened in the Northwoods League?

Okay, I got off to a slow start this year. I've been so busy hitting the party deck at the Lumberyard (Copeland Park in La Crosse) that I plum forgot to sit down and get my blog going. Now, as we finish up about three weeks of play, it's time to update everyone on how things are going for our college guys trying to make a splash. (Ooh...speaking of a splash...Waterloo's stadium is has a better chance of seeing a bass tournament than a Bucks game anytime soon. It's completely underwater.)

At this point there are two teams in the NWL that just seem to be way ahead of the pack. In the North Division, the Mankato Moondogs are dominating with a 14-4 record. Behind them is Rochester with a respectable 11-6 tally and then the rest of the pack just sort of follows along. In the South Division it's Jim Gantner's Wisconsin Woodchucks leading the way at a dominant 15-3 clip. Madison and La Crosse are tied behind the Chucks with 12-6 records each.

Since the College World Series and the Team USA tryouts are still going on, a lot of teams are still waiting on some of their top signees to arrive, so things can turn around in a hurry. I know I was stoked to see Brian Morgado (104 strikeouts in 80.1 innings pitched at Tennessee this spring), but he's still trying to land a spot on Team USA. Bummer. (Well, not for him!)

So who are the players that are whoopin' up so far? Here's the short list of early NWL studs.

Derek McCallum - St. Cloud River Bats - .439 avg, 17 runs, 15 RBI (That's a solid contributor.)
Carlos Ramirez - Mankato Moondogs - .422 avg, 17 RBI, .641 slugging (a doubles machine!)
Eric Stephens - Rochester Honkers - .350, 3 hrs, 20 RBI. (This guy puts runs on the board.)

Phil Haig - Rochester Honkers - 2-0, .038 ERA in 24 innings pitched. (There are some 3-win pitchers...but .038 in that many innings? That's a stud.)
Aaron Varnum - Wisc. Woodchucks - 6 saves, 10 K's in 10 innings. (6 saves in 15 wins? Nice.)
Chris Sale - La Crosse Loggers - 2-1 with 31 K's in 25 innings. (Tall, lefty...keep and eye on this guy.)

I started out my season by hitting Madison, La Crosse, and Rochester on opening weekend and then put back-to-back-to-back games together in La Crosse this past weekend. Not a bad way to start my summer. Keep checkin' in and I'll keep giving you updates and some insights into the coolest baseball league around.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Northwoods Baseball is Here at Last!

Finally, the Northwoods Baseball season is upon us! I feel like a nervous college kid knocking on a stranger's door. I've heard about her. I've listened to others give their opinions. But a blind date is still a blind date. You just don't know what you'll find when you open that door, no matter how much you try to figure it out before hand.

By the time the Major League season rolls around in April, we all have a pretty good idea who are the "haves" and who are the "have nots." Sure, there are some surprises here and there (can you say "Rays?") but over all, we know who will be contenders in the end.

The Northwoods League is nothing like that. No matter what kind of numbers these kids put up during their college season, you just don't know what they'll do with with (or against) wood bats. Plus, you get to add the drama of players showing up days, even weeks, late for the season because their college program made it into the College World Series. Every team can legitimately believe that they have what it takes to win it all.

I love the league. Make no mistake. But at heart, I really am La Crosse Loggers fan, so now I need to go, put on my best outfit, grab my corsage (beer) and open that door to see what blind date looks like this season.

Please don't be ugly. Please don't be ugly. Please don't be ugly!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The important things

So, I'll call Liriano's return a tentative success, but we learned something even more important from Sunday's game: Bert Blyleven is a swinger.

(I hope someone put's that comment up on YouTube. Anyone with a TiVo?)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Inside the Mind of a Batting Practice Ball Hawk

Barry Bonds’ 762nd – and possibly last – home run generated a mad scramble for the baseball. In the middle of that scrum was Jake Frazier. Frazier, a notorious Bay Area ball hawk who claims he missed out on the Bonds ball because he was “stoned to the bone”, had this to say about his technique:

If I hip-checked that guy, he wouldn't ****' be standin''s a baseball, man, it's a prize. You have to be aggressive. If you're not aggressive, you won't get it. You're out there playin' in a metal and concrete jungle, and there's people competing, so yeah, you know, you get little scrapes and bruises."

I sat down with Jake Frazier and got inside the mind of a batting practice ball hawk.


My first moment with one of Major League Baseball’s most notorious ball hawks took my breath away. No sooner had I introduced myself than Jake Frazier slipped inside my handshake and delivered a short, powerful uppercut to my stomach.

“Sorry about that, dude,” Frazier said, helping me to my feet. “Had to establish dominance.”

Meet Jake Frazier, a twenty-six year old San Francisco Giants fan who works in the medical marijuana business when he is not gobbling up batting practice balls at AT&T Park. His remarkable ball hawking success – Frazier has captured thousands of baseballs over the years – is as unusual as his fierce enthusiasm for a pastime most men leave behind in their pubescence. Frazier has denied so many a chance at a baseball over the years that his name has become an anathema to the dispossessed. They will tell you that when Frazier’s beaten you to a baseball, and possibly beaten you with a baseball, you’ve not just lost the scramble for a souvenir.

You’ve been Jaked.


Frazier first spotted his opportunity a few years ago when he arrived at the ballpark early. Kids hustling for batting practice home runs caught his eye.

“Anytime I see a crowd of little dudes going after something, I’m like, ‘I’m a big dude. I can have that.’”

Frazier grew even more excited when he recognized that the youngsters’ poor hand-eye coordination made for some exceptionally weak competition.

“I mean there were balls bouncing off their gloves, balls bouncing of their heads. Boink! Little dudes were clueless. I knew I could do better.”

It was only after wading into the youngsters that the 6-4, 240 pound Frazier realized he had his work cut out for him. His lack of a ground game often meant his aggressive checking worked against him.

“Yeah, someone hits a baseball my way and – boom! – little dudes flying left and right. Looks like a keg of dynamite going off in a Popsicle stick factory. But then the ball lands, and if I’m not right on top of the spot the ball’s rolling around on the ground. Little dudes are down there already. They move fast. Advantage: little dudes.”

Frazier realized that if we wanted to dominate the ball-hawking game, he needed a technique that would put the ball in his glove in the end, even if it didn’t start there to begin with. A television program about the interrogation of suspected terrorists led to an epiphany.

“I'm watching this show and suddenly I’m like, dude! So next time I’m at the game and a little dude beats me to the ball, I pin his ankles together with one hand, lift him off the ground, and waterboard him with my cup of Pepsi. Little dude drops the ball real quick. But I’m out a Pepsi. Not cool, man. Money doesn’t grow on trees in the medical marijuana business. “

Eventually, Frazier abandoned the technique for one he had mastered long ago while prowling the halls of his junior high school. It was while discussing this move with me that Frazier decided a demonstration was in order.

It was a demonstration I would regret.

“Let me show you what I do,” Frazier said. Displaying a quickness that belied his tremendous bulk, Frazier snaked around behind me and reached inside my belt. Suddenly I was jerked off my feet.

“Little dude picks up ball. I pick up little dude by the undies. If he doesn’t drop the ball right away, I’ll bounce him. Like this.”

Frazier began working me like a yo-yo.

“At some point, he drops the ball.”

I did not doubt that. The pain was excruciating.

“Before I let little dude go I’ll turn him around, get up in his grill, and say, ‘Congratulations, little dude. You’ve been Jaked.’”


I asked Frazier if he thought he might be taking his pursuit of batting practice baseballs too seriously. What was another baseball, when he had thousands already? Wouldn’t a baseball mean more to a youngster who didn’t have a single one?

Frazier insisted I was missing the point. For him, the bleachers represent a metal and concrete jungle. Frazier sits on top of the food chain.

“Dude, when a lion sees a monkey walking down a path in the jungle, does he tap the monkey on the shoulder and say, ‘Pardon me little monkey dude, do you mind if I eat you?’ No way dude. Monkey gets eaten, no questions asked. Circle of life, man.”

Frazier did admit that having dominated the ball-hawking game for so long, he was looking for another challenge. He thinks he might have found one in autographs.

“I see these little dudes lined up for autographs. What if I get in that game? Man, those little dudes stand no chance."