November 19 marks the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address, and so it would stand to reason that a minor league hockey team would take advantage of the opportunity to celebrate. That’s what the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors plan to do on Sunday. Team president Matthew Riley joined Bill to talk about the Condors commemoration.
BL: Mr. Riley, please describe this event for us.
MR: Well, it does make perfect sense doesn’t it? Abe Lincoln obviously one of the greatest leaders ever — why not have a jersey that honors our 16th President and his greatest speech — maybe the greatest speech ever said on U.S. soil.
BL: Well let me get on things straight though, Bakersfield, Calif. is 2,606 miles from Gettysburg, Penn. Do the two communities have a connection of which I’m not aware?
MR: Well, I think so just simply because we’re in the United States. You know the Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed here, but we celebrate July 4th. I don’t think there are any pilgrims here, but we celebrate Thanksgiving. So we all are citizens of the United States and we will be playing the Stockton Thunder that day — they’re in Northern California, we’re in Southern California. I guess it’s kind of a civil war of California, too. So maybe there’s a tie in.
BL: What does the Gettysburg commemorative hockey jersey look like?
MR: It’s got Abe Lincoln prominent as he’s getting ready to deliver the speech. They’ve adorned the condor with an Abe Lincoln top hat of course. We did not put a pipe in his mouth, but in hindsight maybe we could have. There’s a couple civil war cannons on the jersey. On the back actually is the Gettysburg Address. In the background and then at the bottom of the jersey is a depiction of a Civil War battle. There’s the carnage that is going on during a battle. Sports Illustrated called them the greatest jerseys ever. That may be a little bit of an overstatement, but we’ll take it. We’ve done a lot of specialty jerseys in our day and we do typically three a year and this is one of them. The dollars raised go to a local charity. Folks can bid on the game worn jerseys, but then we also have extras just for retail sale.
BL: That’s interesting. You mentioned that you customarily do three jersey nights a year. What are the other two this season?
MR: This season we’re doing a Bakersfield Oilers one that is more focused on this area. We’re also doing a Condors fighting cancer one. We did one to honor the Revolutionary War. We did one with the Pearl Harbor Memorial on that anniversary. We did one on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 which was a Navy SEALS tribute which coincided with the taking out of Osama Bin Laden. Country music is big in Bakersfield with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
BL: Well I have to interrupt you and ask, do they ever wear just normal hockey jerseys?
MR: On the rest of the games during the year, the other 33 games, we wear normal hockey jerseys which are pretty cool, too. We’re the Condors, so they’ve got wings on the sleeves and they’re silver and they’re kind of catchy. I do have to mention one more that we did, which was a Michael Jackson tribute jersey. It was designed on what he wore in the video Thriller. And that night also our hockey players wore one white glove in addition to their one black hockey glove. We like to have fun.
BL: I think it’s great. Look I can’t help it, but the best possible outcome on this night of nights would be for at least one of your players to tally four scores while a fans drank seven beers.
MR: The seven beers might be a lot easier than four goals by one player, I don’t know, but I like it. I like it.
BL: You think Abe Lincoln would have been a hockey fan had he had the opportunity?
MR: Without a doubt. A hockey fan. A sports fan. An entertainment fan. Certainly a fan of just good family fun and entertainment which is kind of what we’re all about.