Once there were 40. Now there are four.
After two weeks of voting, fans have determined the best promotions of the 2011 Minor League season. The quartet of winning promotions represent a specific category, emerging victorious from within a field of 10 competitors. Two of the categories -- "Giveaway" and "Theme Night" -- featured winners who led in their respective race nearly wire to wire. But there was more drama in the "Celebrity Appearance" and "Miscellaneous" categories, which were characterized by furious late charges from previously moribund competitors -- a bit like this year's Wild Card races in the Majors, if you will.
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The four category winners now will compete for the prestigious honor of "2011 Promotion of the Year." Vote early and vote often (up to 25 times), the polls will be open until Oct. 20. But first, a closer look at the winners.
Best Theme Night: Organ Donor Night (Memphis Redbirds)
The Redbirds made national news with Organ Donor Night as soon as it was announced, thanks to what had to be 2011's most notable theme jersey. The players took the field on "Organ Donor Night" in uniform tops that included anatomically correct depictions of internal organs, including a heart incorporated into the "p" in Memphis. These jerseys were auctioned off after the game to benefit the National Foundation for Transplants.
The Redbirds took an early lead right out of the gate and never looked back, netting a plurality of 32 percent of the vote. The only real competitor in the race was the Richmond Flying Squirrels' "Tribute to Bacon," which featured a local detective by the name of Kevin Bacon throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.
Best Giveaway: Dallas Braden Bobblebelly (Stockton Ports)
The best giveaway items often have elaborate back stories, making the items much more coveted to those "in the know." That was certainly the case with the Ports' "Dallas Braden Bobblebelly," a figurine featuring the titular Oakland hurler lifting his shirt in order to expose the "209" area code on his abdomen. This was in commemoration of a memorable moment from the 2010 campaign. After Braden pitched a perfect game on Mother's Day, he returned to his native Stockton for a congratulatory ceremony at the Ports' Banner Island Ballpark. Overcome with pride, Braden enthusiastically displayed his hometown area code tattoo for all to see. And the rest, as they say, was history.
Though Tulsa's "Super Tulo" bobblehead jumped out to an early lead in the voting, it was ultimately no match for the Braden Bobblebelly. Thanks largely to an enthusiastic team-led social media campaign, the Ports coasted to 38 percent of the vote.
Best Celebrity Appearance: Domingo Ayala (Eugene Emeralds)
Domingo Ayala might not be a real person, per se, but the self-proclaimed "four-time home run champion" and proprietor of the "Domingo Beisbol Academy" has become a veritable YouTube sensation on the strength of a slew of comedic baseball instructional videos. Ayala made an appearance at Eugene's PK Park after allegedly making the team's Opening Day roster. Not surprisingly, a cavalcade of comical on-field antics ensued.
The Delmarva Shorebirds' Earl Weaver appearance led this race for nearly the entire length of the voting, but a Twitter campaign led by Ayala himself helped turn the tide in his favor.
Best Miscellaneous Promotion: Taco Truck Throwdown (Fresno Grizzlies)
It seems like such a simple and excellent idea that it's a wonder it had never been done at a ballpark before. This past August, the Grizzlies invited eight esteemed local taco truck vendors to Chukchansi Field and had the fans decide on which one was the best. The result was a near-capacity crowd, many of whom purchased "Super Taco Experience" tickets that included a taco from each vendor as well as a commemorative t-shirt.
After a slow start, the Taco Throwdown ran neck and neck with the Tri-City ValleyCats' "Four-in-24" charity project over the final days of the contest. (The two teams combined to net a formidable 86 percent of the vote.) But in the end, it was the Grizzlies' aggressive campaign tactics that won out. The team even gave away free tacos to fans who voted in the contest and then Tweeted that they did so.
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