CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Opposing batters have been trying to get the sound of his voice out of their heads and the smell of burnt toast out of their nostrils for the past 25 years in Charleston.
Rod Blackstone, aka “The Toastman” has been a fixture of Charleston baseball since 1992.
“Somebody said when somebody struck out and had to walk in front of us back to their dugout, ‘You are toast!’ So we started cheering that to every strikeout victim,” Blackstone recalled. “In 1992 the owner of the team said, ‘I love that cheer and you need to make toast in the stands. You can sit down front and we’ll plug in a toaster.'”
The tradition started at Watt Powell Park when the Charleston Wheelers were the city’s minor league franchise. Conveniently, there was an electrical outlet in front of Blackstone’s front row seat at the old park. When the decision was made to move to a new baseball park, the outlet was part of the original design of what is now Appalachian Power Park.
“The architects decided to do that at the request of the previous owners who had bought the team in 2001 and were moving toward building the ballpark,” he explained. “That was a nice tribute because it had become one of those staples at our ballpark.”
It wasn’t the only tribute. Through the years the West Virginia Power have advertised game day with a giant, inflatable toaster and the Toastman even has his own bobblehead likeness. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Blackstone’s contribution is the mark he left on players coming up through the ranks.
“I’ve heard Ryan Howard was being interviewed when he was an All-Star at St. Louis about what he remembered about the minor leagues. He remembered getting toasted at our ballpark,” said Blackstone. “Others will talk to friends and hear they played in Charleston and say, ‘Oh, you know the Toast Man.’ It’s kind of strange that this would have happened.”
Blackstone, who works by day as the Senior Assistant to the Mayor of Charleston, is a die-hard baseball fan. The evolution of the toast came out of an effort just to have a little fun. He’s added signage and various cheers over the years. He carefully researches the backgrounds of opposing players to find obscure facts which will irritate them. A peculiar name will also draw additional heckling. But for Blackstone, it’s all in good fun.
“There are some people who don’t like what I do, and not just on the other team. Some in our stands and baseball purists,” he said. “But minor league baseball is about trying to have fun and engaging people in the experience. To the extent toast has had something to do with that, I’m happy to do it, but there are a lot of people that make it fun.”
Blackstone couldn’t guess the number of loaves of bread he’s burned at the ballpark in his 25 year history with the teams. Typically two loaves per game are consumed–but if it’s a good pitcher for the home team on the mound, it might be a “Three Loaf Night.” He’s burned up an average of one toaster per season, but says the current machine, a T-Fal product, is now into a third season. There is also a backup toaster at the ballpark, just in case.
The Power will honor Blackstone’s 25 years of toasting opposing strike-out victims at Thursday night’s game with Delmarva at Appalachian Power Park. One thousand pieces of toast have been prepared and will be handed out to fans to be tossed into the air in celebration during the 7th Inning Stretch.