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Unconventional promos take center stage
10/02/2008 5:19 PM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- When Myrtle Beach Pelicans general manager North Johnson took the podium at the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar on Thursday afternoon, he began his presentation by asking the audience, "Can we just go to lunch?"

Johnson's good-humored reluctance to speak was understandable. Clearly, there was no way that he (or anyone at the seminar, for that matter) would have been able to top what had just preceded him.

"El Vic" had just been in the building, and staged a presentation that was more akin to hallucinogenic avant-garde theater than a seminar lecture. Silly string, mini-footballs, streaming balloons and an evil rabbit were all prominently involved.

"El Vic" is the Elvis-influenced alter-ego of Tri-City ValleyCats Assistant GM Vic Christopher. Thursday's lecture was entitled, "The El Vic Discussion on Vehicles, Villains, and Various Oddball Concepts," and it did not disappoint.

Decked out in a one-piece bell-bottomed jumpsuit, and out of breath from sprinting through the crowd and banging on his guitar, Christopher took the stage in order to deliver a simple message: People come to the ballpark because they want to be entertained.

"The ValleyCats have suffered through two last-place finishes in a row, but yet we keep breaking our attendance records," he said. "We want to take things to the next level, and work, year by year, toward becoming a top-tier Minor League franchise."

Christopher aims to achieve this by celebrating "randomness" at every opportunity, and by infusing the ValleyCats' experience with high doses of slapstick and sight gags.

"We're influenced by vaudeville, and think that silly string is the greatest invention of all time," he said. "We always want to keep people guessing."

To illustrate this point, Christopher displayed photos of two of the ValleyCats' latest mascot creations: Horse Hot Dog and the Deer-Banana. These hilarious and slightly terrifying abominations are certainly among the most bizarre costumed characters ever created.

"We think that kids like to be scared, up to a point," said Christopher.

Horse Hot Dog and Deer-Banana are bit players in the ValleyCats' vast mascot universe, which is anchored by their primary mascot, Southpaw, and his 99-year-old grandfather, Pappy Southpaw. The in-game antics of these mascots are often enhanced by a variety of two and four-wheeled forms of transport. For example, the club's nightly Hot Dog race (between Ketchup, Mustard and Relish) is staged on mini-motorcycles, and Spiedie the Chicken throws his signature sandwiches into the crowd while riding a Vespa.

As the audience attempted to mentally process these bizarre images, Christopher moved on to the final stage of his presentation -- the Villains.

"People need someone to boo," he explained. As he said this, a grim-faced suit-wearing rabbit and his attractive yet obviously cold-hearted girlfriend made their way through the crowd. These were villains, clearly, and they sauntered up to the stage in obvious defiance of standard Promotional Seminar etiquette.

"A villain won't throw t-shirts to the crowd, he'll just wave them in front of everyone's faces," Christopher explained, before pointing out that villains will also steal from vendors, attack batboys and squirt fans with water guns. The rabbit then did just this, specifically targeting Lowell Spinners GM Tim Bawmann.

This was too much for Bawmann to take, as he rushed the stage to hit Christopher with a pie. This act of vaudevillian violence was followed by a Silly String war, and with that a presentation that had teetered on the brink of anarchy from the start finally succumbed to full-blown chaos. "El Vic" left the podium in a blaze of glory with his villainous cohorts in tow, and it was then up to Master of Ceremonies Dan Migala to pick up the pieces.

"I was going to make a joke about the Horse Hot Dog," said Migala, who had a stunned look on his face and Silly String in his hair. "But now I'm just speechless."

Embracing Failure

The Promotional Seminar kicked off on Wednesday morning with executives from all the Minor League teams in attendance sharing their best promotion of the year. This premise was reversed on Thursday, however, as these front office members instead revealed what turned out to be their worst promotion of the year.

Of course, there was much humor to be found in these anecdotes. Here are just a few of the many tales of failure, frustration and miscommunication that were shared:

  • In Corpus Christi, the Hooks had to cancel a baseball card giveaway after the evening's sponsor, a local gaming institution, was shut down by federal law enforcement officials.

  • The Clearwater Threshers' scheduled NFL Night promotion suffered a serious setback after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers player who was scheduled to appear was cut on the morning of the promotion.

  • The Bowie Baysox hired Joe Carlucci, three-time world-champion pizza acrobat, to attempt to break the world record for highest pizza toss. However, the 32-foot pole that Carlucci was supposed to toss over broke in half just before his attempt.

  • One would think that the folks behind Dr. Seuss Enterprises would be a jovial bunch, but that is not the case. The Lake Elsinore Storm had to cancel their scheduled "Dr. Seuss Night" promotion after receiving a cease-and-desist letter.

  • The Wilmington Blue Rocks' "Used Car Night" promotion was severely compromised after the event's sponsor bailed out a mere seven hours before the event. Front office members then had to scramble madly to find other used cars to give away.

For the Record

As a public service to those who base their Major League postseason bets on the rooting interests of Minor League front office members, here are the results of an informal poll conducted in the main seminar room on Wednesday morning:

The event's attendees would like to see the Brewers and Cubs in the NLCS, and the Red Sox play the Rays in the ALCS. The preferred World Series matchup would be Rays and Cubs, with the Cubs finally emerging victorious as World Champions.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.