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A Virginia Minor League Team Is Hitting It Out of the Park With “Cosmic Baseball”

Under the black lights, baseball meets "Tron" for the Tri-City Chili Peppers.

The first-ever "cosmic baseball" game on June 1st. Photograph courtesy of the Tri-City Chili Peppers.

A two-hour drive from DC, a minor-league team is turning America’s pastime into a far-out work of art. 

During their new “Cosmic Baseball” nights, the Tri-City Chili Peppers of Colonial Heights, Virginia don UV-reactive neon garb and play nine innings under black lights, creating an out-of-this-world display that brings to mind the Tron films—or maybe the black light posters from your college stoner friend’s dorm room. Just look at this!

Photograph courtesy of the Tri-City Chili Peppers.

“Cosmic Baseball” is the brainchild of Chili Peppers owner Chris Martin, who founded the team in 2019 as part of the Coastal Plain summer collegiate league. As a longtime coach and owner of the baseball-training foundation RISE baseball, the Chesterfield local wanted to create new opportunities for young players in Virginia—while also creating a unique experience for local fans.

Inspired by the Savannah Bananas—a popular minor league barnstorming team whose brand of baseball includes mid-inning dance numbers and unexpected hijinks—Martin wanted to appeal to both traditional and non-traditional fans. “The Bananas are constantly innovating for their fans,” he says. “They’re creative everyday, and that’s something I wanted to bring to the Chili Peppers.”

That desire eventually lead Martin to a glow-in-the-dark eureka moment. While watching his team throw glow sticks into the crowd at an 1980s-inspired “neon night” last season, Martin noticed that you couldn’t fully appreciate the sticks under the stadium’s white lights. “I wondered if there was a way we could turn the lights off, and let people enjoy the glow while still being able to see the game,” he says.

Martin quickly took this idea ten steps further, brainstorming ways to make the game itself glow in the dark. After over a year of meeting with lighting professionals, he made a $100,000 investment—renovating Shepherd Stadium with a comprehensive black light system and purchasing neon jerseys and equipment that absorbs the lights’ UV rays for both the Chili Peppers and the Tidewater-based Greenbrier Knights (all cosmic baseball games are played between those two teams).

Shepherd Stadium aglow. Photograph courtesy of the Tri-City Chili Peppers.

After the Chili Peppers released a promotional video on May 2, the four cosmic baseball scheduled for this season sold out within 24 hours. Coverage from national publications like ESPN and The New York Times brought even more hype.

Following sunset before the first-ever cosmic game, the team’s announcer excitedly counted down to the grand reveal; the crowd burst into applause when the black lights came on and the stadium glowed in a radioactive palette of pinks and greens. The audience—many of whom were themselves aglow in the team’s official cosmic merch or other neon clothing—was a mix of locals and out-of-towners. “Some people told me they drove over to 6 hours to be there, and others even flew in” Martin says.

While videos of the first glowing game have been viewed millions of times online, Martin says that nothing compares to seeing the spacey spectacle  in person. “Everything outside of the stadium becomes dark, so you truly feel like you’re in your own little world,” he says. “A lot of adults came up to me after the game and said, ‘I felt like a kid again.’”

Photograph courtesy of the Tri-City Chili Peppers.

Tickets for the remaining cosmic games of the season (June 15, June 28, July 20) are currently sold out , but Martin hopes to organize an additional game before the end of the summer. There is currently a lottery on their website for a chance to win tickets to that game, and Martin plans to hold similar lotteries next season. 

Looking ahead, Martin says he wants to make sure as many fans as possible can get tickets to a cosmic baseball game, and also continue to improve the experience. “Every cosmic game is a learning experience, and we’ll be making changes so every cosmic game is a little bit different,” he says. “If you come multiple times, it will be a different show. We’re at the starting line of this brand new thing right now, and we get to watch where it goes from here.”

Omega Ilijevich
Editorial Fellow