- Doug Williams
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Before the Melkmen, there were the Coneheads.
There also was the Wolf Pack, Sheff's Chefs and Buhner's Boneyard.
Plus, in Seattle, fans of "King" Felix Hernandez wear matching T-shirts in the King's Court section at Safeco Field, just as fans of Manny Ramirez wore dreadlock wigs and sat together in the Mannywood area at Dodger Stadium.
While most fans at baseball games are content to wear the hat, T-shirt or jersey of their favorite team or player, a few are inspired to go all-in -- a la the Melkmen in San Francisco who follow Melky Cabrera -- and don matching outfits or costumes to honor certain players.
Among the most notable were the Coneheads, who sprung to life in 1988 to support Mets pitcher David Cone.
Andrew Levy, an original member of the group -- which grew to more than 60 men and women at Shea Stadium, some of whom followed the pitcher to the Bronx when he pitched for the Yankees -- said the Coneheads grew gradually.
It began with about 15 to 20 fraternity brothers and grads from Lehigh University setting up Cone's Co'ner at Shea at a time in which Dwight Gooden had his K Corner.
The Coneheads wore on their heads the big plastic cones (found at costume shops or ordered) made famous by the "Saturday Night Live" skits and kept track of Cone's strikeouts.
"It began, honestly, by taking the sheet off a bed and just tearing it in half and painting the Cone Co'ner sign, buying these little orange cylinder cones, like the traffic cones, and for each strikeout, dangling them out in left field," says Levy, who now runs Wish You Were Here Productions, a New York company that handles personal appearances by athletes.
Levy remembers how the group was made up of young 20-somethings just having fun.
"Every five days, we were just out of college and everyone had jobs, and come 5 o'clock we're ripping off ties and running into our cars and switching into T-shirts and putting on a Conehead," he recalls.
Other people took notice and joined. Soon, when the Mets went on the road, fans in other cities would show up as Coneheads.
In the days before social media and omnipresent cell phones, Levy says one of the best parts of the experience was building a bond and keeping people linked together to root for Cone (whose then girlfriend grew up with Levy).
He remembers that being a Conehead took a lot of time and effort, but Cone said he was inspired by all of it.
"Dave Cone has said in articles that it was a motivating factor to look up there and see us," Levy says.
In 2003, Levy organized a reunion of Coneheads at Shea when Cone returned to the Mets for his final season. It also was a time to honor one of the group's original members, Scott Saber, who was killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
At the time, Levy, then 37, told Newsday that being a Conehead had been a lot easier in his 20s.
"Before, we could get out of our day jobs in time to take off our suits and ties, a la Superman, and put on our Coneheads," he said. "Now we have careers and families and kids we can't break away from."
Some of other notable player-centric groups include:
The Wolf Pack: In 1999, seven brothers and their four first cousins founded the fan club for Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf and showed up to root him on at Veterans Stadium from his first start in June that year through his eight seasons with the team (ending in 2006 at Citizens Bank Park). The group wore Wolfman masks and hung out a sheet that said "Wolf Pack," and when Wolf would strike out a batter, its members would howl and pump their arms. Over the course of Wolf's 14-year career -- he's now with the Brewers -- Wolf Pack members have showed up to root for him on the road and when he has pitched for four other teams. Wolf eventually formed a friendship with the group.
Sheff's Chefs: When Gary Sheffield played for the Atlanta Braves in 2002-03, a group of fans wearing chef hats would cheer him on. It began with nine fans in the upper deck -- including fans who were part of the rowdy Georgia Tech football student section -- then spread over an entire section, with the team eventually providing paper chef hats for nearby fans to wear. Said one member of the group in 2003: "This is a good way to be weird and people like it."
The Boneyard: In Seattle, Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner was a fan favorite, as much for his prodigious power as his shaved head, which inspired his nickname, "Bone." Fans at the Kingdome and Safeco Field, where he played from 1988 to 2001, sat in the outfield Boneyard, and many had their heads shaved on Buhner Buzz Night, on which men -- and some women -- got free admission if they shaved their heads.
King's Court: Also in Seattle, pitcher Felix Hernandez has been a favorite since he made his Major League Baseball debut in 2005 at 19 years old. In May of 2011, the team opened its King's Court section, where fans can sit during the pitcher's starts. Tickets are sold starting five days before his scheduled spot in the rotation, and each fan gets a T-shirt and big, yellow "K" card. Plus, there's a contest for best-dressed fan who inspires further costumes. One fan has dressed as a jester and juggled and led chants; other fans come wearing crowns or are dressed as Hernandez's alter ego, Larry Bernandez (his character from local TV commercials). The idea for the King's Court was hatched when the team noticed heavy online chatter before each of Hernandez's starts. "The online community gave him his nickname, King Felix," says Gregg Greene, the Mariners' director of marketing. "Fans online would wish each other 'Happy Felix Day.' It came from the fans, so we wanted to give them a place to celebrate Felix's starts."
Mannywood: Manny Ramirez's tenure in Los Angeles was brief (2008-10), but while he was there Dodgers fans adopted him enthusiastically. Some fans wore wigs that looked like his long locks and sat in a section called Mannywood in the left-field corner, where they also received Ramirez T-shirts with their admission.
McCann's Cans/Francoeur's Franks/Kenshin's Geishas: What is it about Atlanta Braves fans? Four longtime Braves supporters in Atlanta-logo can costumes sit in the upper deck at Turner Field to root for Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann, who joined the Braves in 2005. Also coming up that season was outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who inspired a small group to dub themselves Francoeur's Franks and wear hot dog suits. And in 2010, Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami, who began a two-year stint with the Braves in 2009, spawned a handful of fans to dress up in Geisha costumes for his appearances.
11hEthan Sherwood Strauss