Mobile BayBears (Southern League)
Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey, April 13-15
Without a doubt, the touring performer that made the biggest impact on the Minor League landscape last season was Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey. He is what his name implies -- a white-haired, hat-wearing, fringe jacket-bedecked Capuchin monkey who rides a Border Collie with reckless abandon around the playing field. Whiplash made such an impression upon the fans of Mobile last season that the team has booked him to appear at each of the first three home games of 2011. But it's the BayBears players who will truly get their fill of Whiplash this month, as they'll be the visiting club when the monkey rides into Jacksonville for a three-night stint beginning April 23.
Tennessee Smokies (Southern League)
Turn Back the Clock to 1911 Night, April 13
Turn the Clock Forward Night, April 14
The Smokies are celebrating the 100th anniversary of professional baseball in Knoxville all season long, an endeavor that begins in earnest during Wednesday's Opening Night festivities. Throughout the ballgame, interviews with playing alumni, team owners and fans will be shown on the videoboard, complete with archival photos and film clips. But the sepia-toned nostalgia disappears the next night as the team blasts into a future with a "Turn the Clock Forward" promo featuring hoverboard infomercials and front-office staff dressed in alien garb. The chronological whiplash continues throughout the week as well -- Friday is "Star Wars" night, while Saturday salutes medieval times. Perhaps this will lead to Sunday's realization that time is an illusion, and nothing has ever existed save for the eternal present.
Reading Phillies (Eastern League)
Opening Night featuring Ryan Howard Garden Gnome Giveaway (including 550-pound version), April 14
This year the Reading Phillies experience is going to be bigger and more exciting than ever, thanks to an extensive $10 million renovation project that took place in the offseason. The message is being hammered home with Thursday's distribution of a Ryan Howard Garden Gnome figurine to the first 3,500 fans in attendance. The item features the prodigious slugger sporting a white beard, pointy cap and black R-Phils jersey. Even better, one lucky fan will walk (or more accurately, stagger) away with a life-size 550-pound version of the Howard Garden Gnome. This truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is available to all fans, who simply need to fill out an entry form and then hope against hope that their quarter-ton garden gnome dreams will finally come true.
Toledo Mud Hens (International League)
Opening Day Doubleheader, April 14
Doubleheaders are common in the Minor Leagues, where rainouts are many and off dates are few. But the Mud Hens' Thursday twinbill is a pre-planned affair, one designed to wring as much baseball out of Opening Day as possible. Fans are going to have to take the day off from work as the team has planned a full-fledged holiday extravaganza. A 90-minute ballpark happy hour kicks off at 1:30 p.m., with all sorts of ceremonial pomp and circumstance occurring before the first pitch at 4. And then (at least) 14 innings of baseball will follow -- a pair of seven-inning contests featuring Toledo's beloved Mud Hens taking on the nefarious Clippers of Columbus.
Tri-City ValleyCats (New York-Penn League)
"4 in 24" Field Renovation Marathon, April 14
The ValleyCats' season doesn't start for another two months, but this disparity between the present and on-field action isn't stopping the team from staging a most impressive charity event. Beginning Friday, the club will completely renovate four local youth fields over a 24-hour period. This grueling around-the-clock effort -- dubbed "4 in 24" -- is in coordination with a quartet of corporate sponsors and will include a complete infield re-sodding as well as new pitcher's mound and home plate areas. And in the true spirit of Minor League Baseball, the team is offering a special ticket deal to celebrate the initiative: Fans attending June 24's ballgame can get four tickets, four hot dogs and four sodas for $24.
Jackson Generals (Southern League)
Sarge Bobblehead Giveaway, April 15
2011 marks the start of a new era in Jackson, Tenn., as the franchise formerly known as the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx is now operating as the more concisely named Jackson Generals. The name change of course necessitated the creation of a new mascot -- a droopy-jowled, fatigues-wearing canine who goes by the name of "Sarge." Fans attending Friday's game will receive a "Sarge" bobblehead, an item that appropriately immortalizes one of the most popular new denizens of West Tennessee's sprawling sports landscape.
Omaha Storm Chasers (Pacific Coast League)
Werner Park Grand Opening with Welcome Mat Giveaway, April 15
Friday kicks off the latest (and therefore greatest) era in Omaha's illustrious professional baseball history, as the Storm Chasers (formerly known as the Royals) compete in their first ballgame at Werner Park. This new facility, located in nearby Papillion, boasts the smallest capacity in all of Triple-A baseball (9,023, including standing room only and berm seating). Such intimacy, combined with a bevy of modern amenities, puts Werner Park in stark contrast with the club's former home of Rosenblatt Stadium (capacity 23,000). And what better way to kick off this new era than with the most literal-minded giveaway possible? The first 2,500 fans in attendance receive a Werner Park welcome mat.
Tucson Padres (Pacific Coast League)
First Home Game in Franchise History, April 15
The Storm Chasers aren't the only Pacific Coast League club embarking on a significant new chapter. For in Tucson, the parent club-referencing Padres are playing the first game in franchise history after relocating from Portland, Ore., where they were known as the Beavers. Friday marks the first time since 2008 that Kino Stadium has hosted PCL baseball, and to celebrate this auspicious return, the club is resorting to that time-honored Opening Night tandem of schedule magnets and fireworks. Keep an eye out for T-Pads mascot Kino Bambino, a robe-wearing superfan rumored to be the long-lost identical twin of the San Diego Padres' Friar.
Bowie Baysox (Eastern League)
Betty White Tribute, April 16
No unexpected late-career renaissance would be complete without a satirical tribute night at a Minor League ballpark, which is just what the Bowie Baysox are doing for Golden Girl-turned-venerated octogenarian comedic icon Betty White on Saturday. The evening will include Betty White video clips, trivia, look-a-like contests and between-inning games such as the Snickers Football Challenge, Rose Nylund's St. Olaf Race and Florence Dusty's muffin-eating contest (a reference to a recent "Saturday Night Live" skit that White starred in). The Baysox players are on board with the evening's events, so much so that many of them took part in a cross-dressing, falsetto-adopting promotional video.
Iowa Cubs (Pacific Coast League)
Bob Feller Bandana, April 17
Recently deceased Hall of Fame fireballer Bob Feller was known as the "Heater from Van Meter," with the Van Meter in question being a small town just outside of Des Moines, Iowa. Such proximity has inspired the Iowa Cubs to stage a series of Feller tributes and giveaways this season, with the first being Sunday's bandana. The first 2,000 fans in attendance will receive these somewhat psychedelic tapestries, which commemorate Feller's Opening Day no-hitter for the Cleveland Indians on April 16, 1940. Seventy-one years have since passed, and no Major League pitcher has been able to duplicate Feller's feat. Perhaps 2012 will be the year.
Bonus Coverage: The last edition of this column included 17 events happening within a five-day span, but I am nonetheless pleased to bring you even more promos that could have been included -- could have been, but of course weren't:
Thirsty Thursday with Dime Beer Happy Hour (Lake County Captains, April 7 and each ensuing Thursday): As part of a tongue-in-cheek tribute to an ignominious moment in Cleveland sports history, the Captains are offering 10-cent beers for one hour prior to each Thursday home game. Rioting not recommended.
Coca-Cola Park Stadium Replica (Lehigh Valley IronPigs, April 7): I'm surprised they didn't name the facility Coca-Cola Pork.
Back-to-Back Champs Motion Picture Book Giveaway (Jacksonville Suns, April 10): This is the sort of thing people flip out over.
Blenda Rodriguez Appearance (Mississippi Braves, April 10): Rodriguez is a Harlem Globetrotter, making it quite fitting that the M-Braves were taking on the Generals.
One Day Without Shoes (Visalia Rawhide, April 10): Fans donating a pair of shoes or cleats at the ballpark received free admission as part of a charitable endeavor bringing footwear to third world countries.
You'll Never Be Dun-Eatin' (Dunedin Blue Jays, April 11 and each ensuing Monday): All-you-can-eat BBQ, all night long.
34-cent Hot Dog Night (Lexington Legends, April 12 and each ensuing Tuesday): A great deal for fans, although it does involve far more pennies than the usual concession stand transaction.