On Thursday, I took in Wrestling Night at the Florence Freedom baseball game. It was a pretty simple setup: the wrestlers would throw out first pitches together, do some goofy stuff in the early innings and then sign autographs in the third inning, followed by a Q&A session after the game. Since traffic was a complete nightmare, I missed the first pitches and some of the shenanigans, though I did catch the end of Billy Gunn losing a dance contest. As a bonus, the plate music all night long was nothing but WWE theme songs, so at least they were trying a little extra.
There were four wrestlers present: Brian Pillman Jr. (remember that this is about 15 minutes south of Cincinnati), Billy Gunn, Jim Cornette and Jim Ross. Marty Jannetty had to cancel due to a family emergency.
The ballpark is rather small so there wasn’t much to be seen. I was walking around a bit before the game and saw Gunn and Pillman walking towards an office. A kid asked Gunn for his autograph and he said you can get them during the third inning. Then he took a step, turned around and signed the kid’s ball. That was a nice touch, as my previous interaction with Gunn hadn’t been the best in the world.
The line for the autographs was rather long, though they kept things moving fairly well. You could get any item signed so I grabbed a Freedom baseball and mini bat while in the line (smart move to sell them there) so Gunn/Pillman could sign the ball and Cornette could sign the bat (Cornette with an item that can be used to beat people senselessly seemed appropriate).
As you can see, I got JR to sign a bottle of his chipolte ketchup (signature on top, WWE HOF on the bottom), which is rather tasty. The annoying part there though was the Freedom attendant started talking to JR about barbecue sauce while I was just left standing there as he signed. Kind of defeats the purpose no?
All four were rather nice with Gunn being more approachable than I was expecting. Cornette was his usual chatty self and was telling stories in between fans coming up. Pillman was incredibly nice and asked every fan’s name. I mentioned meeting him before at WrestleCon and he looked straight at me and was clearly listening while I talked. You don’t get that a lot of the time.
JR was the big one here as I’ve never gotten to meet him before. He was appreciative that I said I liked his AEW performance and that he was the first voice I remember in wrestling (Clash of the Champions XII when Sting was confronted by the REAL Black Scorpion). That got a smile out of him and he told me to keep listening.
The Q&A went well with the four sitting on top of a dugout in some chairs. Pillman wasn’t asked much and looked a bit bored (completely understandable) though he did get asked why he didn’t change his name to avoid the pressure of his dad’s legacy. He gave a very nice response about following your gut and figuring out what he wanted to do because that’s what mattered most. It earned a nice round of applause from the fans and sounded very genuine.
Other highlights included JR explaining the territory system to a young fan, Billy Gunn demonstrating the Rockabilly dance, some funny New Age Outlaw stories, Cornette on why WWE won the war (hint: it has to do with WCW being stupid), Gunn and Cornette (politely) going at it over the Double Or Nothing battle royal and Cornette offering Gunn money to beat up Joey Ryan during their upcoming match.
The best of all though was a question Cornette got about whether he would save Joey Ryan or Vince Russo if they were both drowning and he only had one life preserver.
Cornette: “I’d wear both of them myself, stand on their heads and make sure they drowned. Then I’d give Russo mouth to mouth so he could come back to life and I could do it again.”
All in all, a rather fun night for $70 total. I had a good time and got to meet some stars, one of which I’ve been trying to meet for years.