Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. On Tuesdays throughout the season, we'll preview 10 of the most intriguing for the week ahead. If you'd like a particular promotion to be considered for this feature in the future, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: "Promo Preview."
Bowling Green Hot Rods (Midwest League)
Facebook Fan Night, May 18
If the success of a promotion can be determined by the rapidity with which it is adopted by other teams, then the Hot Rods' Facebook Fan Night is already a winner. Announced back in February, this literal game-changer lets the team's Facebook Fans decide nearly every aspect of the ballpark experience -- from the game's start time to the uniforms worn to food specials to which charity is supported with a portion of ticket sales. And as for those tickets, prices have gone down $.50 for every 200 fans the team has gained on Facebook (thus far, this has resulted in a $4.50 discount). Several teams added Facebook Fan Nights after the Hot Rods' announcement; my professional promo prognostication is that they'll be pervasive in 2012.
Fresno Grizzlies (Pacific Coast League)
Mad Tight '90s Night w/ Ben "Boy Meets World" Savage, May 19
Dennis "Mr. Belding" Haskins has become a popular ballpark guest in recent years, and the team that gets the credit (or blame) for that particular development is the Grizzlies. Haskins was the guest of honor at the team's inaugural Mad Tight '90s Night in 2009, a promotion that continued last year when Alfonso "Carlton Banks" Ribeiro graced Chukchansi Park with his presence. And now here we go again, as Thursday brings none other than Ben Savage to Fresno. The acclaimed thespian, best known for playing the lead character Cory Matthews on the sitcom Boy Meets World, will sign autographs and pose for pictures whilst bringing an unmistakable and infectious joie de vivre to the ballpark.
Hickory Crawdads (South Atlantic League)
Date an Intern Night, May 19
Interns might be the low men and women on the Minor League totem pole, but at least they're on the pole to begin with. After all, today's tarp-pulling, hot-dog slinging front office grunts may very well be tomorrow's tarp-pulling, hot dog-slinging general managers. Fans should look at the Crawdads' Date an Intern promotion as an investment, then, the opportunity to forge a romantic connection while it's still economically feasible to do so. Interns will walk through the stands with a bucket, and any fan interested in a date can toss in a fiver. Winners will be drawn at the end of the evening, with the lucky couples earning an evening in a private suite. And, best of all, all proceeds go to the "Strike Out Hunger" foundation.
Reading Phillies (Eastern League)
Spam Carving Contest, May 21
Another year, another Spam Carving contest, another mention in Promotion Preview. But just because I'm tired of writing about the same thing year after year doesn't mean that Spam carving isn't a transcendently brilliant idea that encompasses the full spectrum of what it means to be human. The fourth annual pre-game meat sculpting competition takes place before Saturday's Reading Phillies game, with the contestants aiming to surpass past standouts such as last season's "Screwball's Spamtastic Opportunity House" and 2009's "Demon Dog."
Stockton Ports (California League)
Rolling Stones Night, May 21
Previous Minor League promotions have paid tribute to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Beatles, but to my knowledge the Ports have the distinction of doing the first-ever Rolling Stones Night (please, correct me if I'm wrong). The only music heard over the PA will be courtesy of the Glimmer Twins, and the team will take the field in custom Stones-themed jerseys. Between-inning contests will all have a Stones connection (a Steel Wheels tri-cycle race? Goat's Head Soup eating contest? Your guess is as good as mine) and the evening culminates with a fireworks show featuring more mojo than a strutting sexagenarian.
Tennessee Smokies (Southern League)
Sensational Inventions and Discoveries Night, May 21
Board Game Day, May 22
Arnold Schwarzenegger Night, May 23
The Smokies have been taking things to the next level, creativity wise, and I could spend a good 500 words writing about what they have going on this week alone. In a nutshell: Sensational Inventions and Discoveries Night is a salute to just that, with mascots Slugger and Diamond continually foiled in their quest to create something that's never been done before. On Board Game Day, fans are invited to donate used board games in exchange for tickets, and during the game a giant Battleship game will take place between two seating sections (pieces of paper under each seat read "hit" or "miss"). Finally, Arnold Schwarzenegger Night includes copious film clips and (allegedly) a guest PA slot for the man himself. Awesome stuff all-around.
Visalia Rawhide (California League)
Candy Drop, May 22
The Rawhide's Candy Drop promotion may or may not involve a 50 Cent parody ("Candy Shop," natch), but what it will most definitely entail is exactly what its name implies: the dropping of candy! After the game, a helicopter will blanket the playing field with candy. Shortly thereafter, children in attendance will be able to go on a candy-collecting spree. The whole thing is sponsored by a local vending company, ironic in that candy drops negate the need for a vending machine in the first place.
Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League)
Gaga For Gaga Night, May 23
Lady Gaga's new album finally hatches this week, making it a perfect time for Minor League teams to start lampooning pop music's most self-consciously bizarre diva. The Chiefs' Gaga for Gaga celebration will certainly include some of the most bizarre headshots of all time, as well as over-the-top promo crew costumes and games and contests incorporating poker faces, meat-packing and the paparazzi. Even mascot Homer is getting in on the act, making his on-field entrance from inside a giant egg. It will all reach its logical conclusion when a Lady Gaga impersonator belts out "Bad Romance" on the field, resulting in what will be the most subversive moment to take place in a Class A ballpark this week.
Portland Sea Dogs (Eastern League)
Mike Piazza Dog Tricks, May 24
It's appropriate that Portland's Bark in the Park promo features (Sea) Dogs vs. (Fisher) Cats, and "par for the course" elements of the evening include a pre-game doggie parade and canine relief area, wading pool and watering station on the concourse. But what's this? The team's press release states that "Mike Piazza and his dogs" will be "performing throughout the game ... awing the crowd with their Frisbee-catching abilities." Though this seems like an excellent second career for a Hall of Fame-bound backstop, the reality is that this happens to be a different Mike Piazza. Or is it? Only those in attendance will ever know for sure.
Richmond Flying Squirrels (Eastern League)
Tribute to Bacon, May 24
Some aspects of the Flying Squirrels' Tribute to Bacon are predictable: the night is sponsored by the Virginia Pork Industry board, all fans will receive bacon coupons, fans with the last name of "Bacon" receive ticket discounts, and bacon can be added to any concession item for $1. Then there are the more surprising elements, including "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" contests and a first pitch by Kevin Bacon (a local detective, not the actor). But perhaps the night's most original element is a fireworks show set to "bacon-themed music." What could this possibly mean? Is this a whole genre of music I've somehow been oblivious to? I demand answers, Richmond!
Bonus Coverage: Because it's always been my dream to stay up all night in an Adelanto, Calif., hotel room writing this column, here are seven promotions that could have been included in last week's column -- could have been but of course weren't:
Salute to Nursing Night (Charleston RiverDogs, May 12): A contingent of babies showed up at the ballpark, thinking the team was staging a tribute to breast-feeding.
Fan's Choice Theme Thursday (Lynchburg Hillcats, May 12): Democracy is the greatest system of governance, so why not apply democratic principles to theme night promotions?
Fingerless Gloves Giveaway (Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, May 12): Much better than the team's headless hat and legless pant giveaways.
Acrylic Mug Giveaway (Richmond Flying Squirrels, May 13): Because all drinking utensils should have stop-motion capabilities.
Phil Hughes Bobblehead (Trenton Thunder, May 13): Slowly but surely, this bobblehead is working toward regaining its full head-nodding capabilities.
Chopper Piggy Bank Giveaway (Gwinnett Braves, May 14): Groundhog mascots have more fiduciary wherewithal than most costumed creatures.
Belated Mother's Day (Potomac Nationals, May 15): If you forgot all about Mom one week before, this was your last shot at redemption.