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Raptors rewarded for quiet innovation
11/21/2008 10:00 AM ET
Minor League Baseball awards the Larry MacPhail Trophy each year to the club that made the season's top promotional effort. This year's winner, announced earlier this month, was the Ogden Raptors.

Wait -- the Ogden Raptors? As someone who writes about Minor League promotions for a living, I must say that the choice caught me off-guard. There are many clubs that regularly generate national headlines with their attention-getting promos (the Altoona Curve, Fort Myers Miracle and Fresno Grizzlies immediately come to mind), but the Raptors are almost entirely absent from this conversation.

That's just fine with them.

"If this was 15 years ago, we'd have wanted the whole world to know about something like this," said Dave Baggott, who has been the Raptors' owner and president since the team's inception. "Now, we don't consider it to be nearly as important as focusing our attention on the local community."

Indeed, Minor League Baseball, first and foremost, will always be a local enterprise. The Raptors have taken great pains to endear themselves to the Ogden community, and it shows. The club led the Pioneer League in attendance for the ninth consecutive season in 2008, setting a franchise record.

A prime component of their turnstile success has to do with the Raptors' "anything goes" philosophy. T-shirts taped under the seats? A cross-dressing grounds crew? Enthusiastic renditions of cartoon theme songs? It's all part of the Lindquist Field experience.

"We make sure the fans go home entertained, regardless of the outcome of the game, and that's the appeal of Minor League Baseball," said Baggott.

From the Playing Field to the Front Office

Baggott is a Pioneer League veteran in every sense of the word, as his initial exposure to the circuit came was as a player. The California native suited up with the Idaho Falls Nuggets in 1985, then played with the Salt Lake Trappers the following season. Both clubs lacked a Major League affiliate, and the latter team was the last such entity in Minor League Baseball. While Baggott's playing career turned out to be lackluster (he hit .267 in his career), it opened the door to his current occupation.

"I was planning on going to L.A. after the [1986] season to work in real estate and also because I was an aspiring actor," he recalled. "I don't know why, but the Salt Lake franchise called me up and asked me to work for them instead. I figured, 'Why not? I'm lousy at real estate and acting gigs are hard to come by. I'll do it for a year and see what happens.'"

What happened was that the 1987 Trappers made history by reeling off 29 consecutive victories (a professional baseball record) en route to a Pioneer League championship. Baggott, meanwhile, was soon named the GM of the franchise. After the Trappers were forced out of Salt Lake following the 1992 campaign, they went under league ownership and re-located to Pocatello, Idaho. The club played just one season in Idaho, however, before an ownership group led by Baggott purchased the team and moved it to Ogden.

"Ogden always seemed like a viable location, if and when the day came that there was no baseball in Salt Lake," said Baggott. "It's a decent-sized town in a decent-sized county. The proximity to the airport makes it so you can travel easily, and there's a history of Minor League Baseball in the region. It's a blue-collar town -- I'd compare it to Pittsburgh in that the people there are very loyal as long as you give them something in return."

"The Goofier, the Better"

The Raptors played their inaugural season in 1994 and have worked ever since on establishing themselves in the community while always providing a fun, unpredictable time at the ballpark.

"Our mission statement is simple, and it's that everybody deserves to see a game, whether they can buy a ticket or not," said Baggott. "What it comes down to is that the team is as much for the community as the community is for the team."

After playing at a temporary facility for the first three years of their existence, the Raptors moved to Lindquist Field in 1997. The stadium is best known for the gorgeous mountain view it provides -- the same backdrop that was used for the famous Paramount Pictures logo.

"We tell people that the ticket is to watch the game, but you've got to pay an extra dollar if you want to look at the mountains," joked Baggott.

But not even cheap (or free) tickets and natural beauty can keep a stadium packed forever. The Raptors' tightly knit front office staff (headed by General Manager Joey Stein and his brother, Vice President John), has made game presentation a top priority.

"The goofier the better is our philosophy, and we try to incorporate the fans as much as possible," said Baggott. "For example ... I double as the PA announcer, and if someone is dressed ridiculously I'll call them out on it. Pretty soon, you see people coming to the park looking ridiculous on purpose, just so they can be called out."

One of the club's early promotional innovations has since become an industry standard -- the one-night-only theme jersey.

"We stole the idea from a Minor League hockey team, who wore Valentine's Day jerseys," admitted Baggott. "We looked at our schedule and tried to brainstorm ways we could incorporate a theme. Someone mentioned that August 9th was the anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death, so we had the team wear tie-dyed Grateful Dead jerseys, and also staged Jerry Garcia look-a-like contests and sold grilled cheese for a dollar at the concession stand.

"Of course, since then, the style of this type of jerseys has drastically improved. We just took cotton button-up shirts and did our own tie-dye. But that's part of the fun, too. You just never know what you're going to end up with."

Another memorable promotion occurred during the 2000 season in the wake of the Salt Lake City Olympics bribery scandal.

"We had 'International Olympic Committee Bribery Night,' in which any fan who wrote down a lie on a sheet of paper got in free," said Baggott. "We then determined what the best lie was, with the winner receiving season tickets in both 2000 and 2002, because those were Olympic years.

"We chose 'I hate Raptors baseball' as the winning lie, but there were a lot of real clever ones that we'd never be able to read out loud."

One relatively recent Lindquist Field tradition is the Drag Queens grounds crew, featuring cross-dressing men tending to the infield. These gender-bending warriors were instituted in 2003 at the suggestion of long-time Major League executive Bill Bavasi, who was serving as the Los Angeles Dodgers farm director at the time.

"We were teaching some of our new employees how to drag the infield, and Bill says 'You should put dresses and wigs on those guys.' So we did, and it's been a staple ever since," said Baggott. "Now, we have fans who sign up to be Drag Queens. And we'll introduce them as if they're beauty pageant contestants from the opposing team's city. Like, please welcome Ms. Idaho Falls.'"

The Raptors' ballpark culture gets richer every year, as tried-and-true promotions are blended with new ideas. One innovation that worked particularly well was an unorthodox giveaway. The team distributed 100 t-shirts at every home game -- but never the same way twice.

"It was great, because we never told the fans how we were going to do it," said Baggott. "Whether they were taped under the seats or thrown from a car or handed out by the ushers, we always found a different way to do it."

And, rest assured, the Raptors will continue to find a different way to go about doing things.

"You never know when something new is going to come down the pike," said Baggott. "But no matter what, the goal is to just have fun."

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