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Down on the Funny Farm

When minor league clubs need an over-the-top stand-up or tiny Elvis impersonator, they call on talent agent Jon Terry

Jon Terry is sitting in the stands behind home plate at the Kane County Cougars' home field in Geneva, Ill., recounting his greatest baseball memories, none of which seem to involve baseball. Terry, 53, a talent agent for the kind of acts that make their living at minor league parks, tells of the historic day he discovered Myron Noodleman, who is billed as the new Clown Prince of Baseball. He recalls with nostalgia the night Morganna--the busty blonde "kissing bandit" who, before her 2000 retirement, would run onto the field and plant her lips on unsuspecting players--asked him to be her manager. Anyone who's seen the movie Broadway Danny Rose, in which Woody Allen plays a beyond-small-time New York theatrical agent, can't help but see Terry as the baseball equivalent. And Terry is flattered by the comparison. "That's my favorite movie!" he says. "I own it on VHS and DVD. I've seen it 50 times! I'm surprised I don't have a one-armed xylophone player."

So would anyone be after reviewing his client roster, which includes a midget Elvis impersonator, a Three Stooges tribute act, a chain saw juggler, a Frisbee-catching dog, a hula-hoop girl and a man who bounces around in a giant balloon. Terry's bread and butter, though, is Noodleman, né Rick Hader, who is playing 15 dates a month this summer for a couple thousand dollars a night. Hader was a high school math teacher in Tulsa in 1991, doing his Jerry Lewis--esque act locally to make a little extra money, when Terry, a veteran of small-time front offices who had worked for teams in the USFL and the CBA, hired him to appear at a Tulsa Roughnecks indoor soccer game. (Terry was the team's G.M.) They hit it off. "I told him, If I ever leave this job, I want to manage you," says Terry. A few months later Terry found himself unemployed, and he and Hader headed to the baseball winter meetings. Noodleman displayed his shtick, and bookings piled up.

Noodleman's broad, G-rated comedy is made for the minors. Wearing buck teeth and a tuxedo several sizes too small, he works the stands, high-fiving fans and firing off one-liners. "Hey, look, it's my accountant!" he says, pointing at a burly roughneck in a Harley T-shirt. Between innings he does a nerdy dance routine with players. (He's danced with Dontrelle Willis, Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn on their way up.) In his signature gag he holds a plastic bag with one hand and throws an imaginary ball in the air with the other. He then snaps the bag so it looks and sounds as if the imaginary ball has just popped into it. Laughter ensues. "I saw Jackie Gleason do it on his TV show," says Hader, 47. "I've been doing it since I was seven."

Talent like that doesn't come along too often. Terry's Tulsa office is deluged with audition tapes, nearly all of which are rejected. One, he says, showed a hairy, overweight man whose act consisted of balancing a soda can on his head while playing soccer and riding a bicycle--shirtless. On the tape the cameraman can be heard yelling, "No, the other way! You're not balancing the can right!" That's the kind of act that would have to be twice as good just to be minor league.




It's Noodleman. Terry (inset) made him a bush league comedy king.



 [See caption above.]