Dominic Latkovski has his own unique way of judging prospects.
He doesn't factor in WAR or any Sabermetrics, nor does he consider the traditional 20-80 scouting scale. Instead, the co-founder of popular minor league traveling acts BirdZerk and Zooperstars considers participation above anything else—as in, is the player willing to take part in Latkovski's zany on-field antics.
So, Latkovski can't help but to smile these days when he sees highlights of Cubs rookie third baseman Kris Bryant belting home runs over the ivy in Wrigley Field. For it was just two years ago at the Northwest League all-star game that Latkovski—dressed as the mayhem-inducing mascot BirdZerk—and Bryant shared a between-innings dance at third base. The moment came just two months after Bryant signed for $6.7 million as the second overall pick, and merely a few hours after Latkovski approached him before the game about taking part in a brief sketch.
“I go to the manager before the game and ask him who is playing third base and he points me to Kris Bryant. Now, I don't know who Kris Bryant is. I don't follow the draft," Latkovski said. “So, I go to talk to him and introduce myself and I say this is what I'm doing, would you mind helping me out? He was nice and friendly and helped me out. It's not until afterward that someone tells me he just signed for $6 million.
“Now I see him on ESPN everyday, and I think shoot, two years ago he was dancing with BirdZerk. So it was neat to see that guy, and that he's cool enough and not too big for his britches do something silly like that."
Doing something silly has been the calling card for Latkovski and his brother Brennan, who together have spent the past 25 years entertaining fans—and some players—at ballparks around the minor leagues. And the brothers are on the cusp of reaching a milestone of their own: the 300 ballpark plateau.
Dominic says he has performed at 293 ballparks during his professional career and that Brennan has tallied a similar total. These range from minor league ballparks—Dominic's first came at the Louisville Bats' former home of Cardinal Stadium in 1990 when he first broke into the business—to major league, college summer league and international venues. Much has changed during that time, Dominic said, from ballpark conditions (they used to change in sheds or crowded hallways but now often get their own locker rooms) to how often they travel (BirdZerk and Zooperstars' popularity keeps the brothers on the road about 125 days a year). Although the travel can be a grind—Latkovski says a three-day, 5,500-mile road trip from Altoona to Modesto to Delmarva was the most grueling of his career—he couldn't imagine giving up life as a dancing inflatable or squawking mascot.
“It's not as much fun staying in the office and working on the computer and doing emails," Dominic said. “It's fun to go and do the routines and seeing people laughing and clapping at what you do. To me, that's the fun."
And so is interacting with players. Bryant joins a list of talented future big leaguers to dance with BirdZerk in the minor leagues. Other rising stars to take part in the act—which ultimately ends with BirdZerk throwing their glove over the outfield fence—includes Cal Ripken Jr., David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, and Dee Gordon.
The best dancer?
“Oh that's easy," Dominic said. “Freddie Freeman. He was playing in Columbus (for the Gwinnett Braves) and was as nice as could be. He did an unbelievable job, just dancing and being silly. It was a lot of fun."