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Punxsutawney Phil hits road for Altoona

Curve honor local prognosticating rodent; Keys go full-on Rugrats
July 28, 2015

Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. On Tuesdays this season, we preview 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 [email protected] with the subject line: "Promo Preview" or send a Tweet  to @bensbiz, hashtag "#promopreview."

Celebrity appearances at Minor League ballparks are obviously common, but usually those special dates involve uprightly mobile bipeds with the ability to speak and interact with fans. The Altoona Curve are charting a different course this week.

The Pirates' Double-A affiliate will welcome Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby himself to Peoples Natural Gas Field on July 31 and give away a bobblehead of the groundhog himself (replete with a Curve cap) and one of his minders in mid-prediction form.

"In addition to the giveaway and his appearance, we're planning to have Phil involved in a pregame prognostication," Curve general manager Rob Egan said. "We're hopeful that he predicts six more weeks of Curve baseball as that would have us playing in the Eastern League playoffs. (Would that be if he sees his shadow or doesn't?) We'll be theming out our in-game contests, showing clips from the Bill Murray/Harold Ramis classic Groundhog Day on the videoboard, having our local meteorologist sharing weather prediction tips (no tomatoes will be allowed in the ballpark) and accentuating the number 2 [with Groundhog Day coming on Feb. 2 annually]."

The brainchild (or braingopher) of former Curve radio man Mike Passanisi (now a member of the Mets' big league media relations staff), Phil's appearance wasn't as simple as calling the rodent up and asking him to come out for a night at the park. Phil, currently on the lam from New Hampshire law enforcement, had to run the appearance up the chain. His Inner Circle -- really, that's the name of the group that handles Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney -- gave their blessing with additional love for the idea.

"We approached The Groundhog Club for their blessing, and they quickly gave their approval, even letting us put a Curve hat on Phil on the bobble," Egan said. "The only thing they asked was for us to have Alexander Global make an additional batch for them to sell and promote after our event was completed."

The appearance is the latest in a line of regional legends the Curve have celebrated in Altoona, joining children's television icon Mr. Rogers (July 5), former NFL running back Tony Dorsett -- who will appear at the ballpark the night before Phil -- former big leaguer Pete Vuckovich (Aug. 7) and more.

"As Minor League ballparks are all about reflecting our community, we wanted to brainstorm a series of giveaways and theme nights that would resonate throughout the region," Egan said. "We're looking forward to giving away the unique Phil bobbles, having he and the Inner Circle appear at the game, and celebrating a character that's brought a lot of notoriety to our area."

Best of the Rest

Tri-City ValleyCats (New York-Penn League)
Pirate Night with eye patch world record attempt, July 30

The ValleyCats will get fans revved up for an attempt at history with a 2015 team poster giveaway to every patron in the ballpark Thursday night, but that's just the start. Tri-Ciy and its faithful will attempt to break the world record for most people wearing a pirate eye patch. The ValleyCats currently check in second in New York-Penn League average attendance, at just over 4,500 fans per game. Those sure arrrrrrre a lot of fans.


Daytona Tortugas (Florida State League)
Shelldon Gnome Giveaway, July 31

Fresh off their triumph in Clash of the Caps, the Tortugas aim to continue capitalizing on all things turtle in the first year of their fresh and quickly beloved identity. Mascot Shelldon gets his own gnome to adorn the offices and homes of Daytona fans everywhere. Just leaving this here: Vince Carter will be making an appearance at the Tortugas game on July 30, and I'd pay money to see if he can dunk over Shelldon.

Frederick Keys (Carolina League)
'90s Nickelodeon Night featuring Rugrats uniforms, July 31

You've heard about these ones. And while whistling the Rugrats theme song, you can give the Keys a massive tip of the cap for going beyond the standard promotional jersey and adding in promotional pants to honor Tommy, Angelica and the gang. Frederick players will do their best Chuckie Finster impersonations with the redhead's signature shirt and green pants presented by Nickelodeon.

Salt Lake Bees (Pacific Coast League)
Gulls Throwback Night, August 1

As noted since I've started occasionally filling in for Ben Hill on this column: if you're a team wearing throwbacks, you're more often than not going to get a mention. Salt Lake City has had some tremendous names for its Minor League clubs in years past including Elders, Trappers and Buzz, in addition to their current moniker. (Also, from 1911-1914 the city's team was known as the Skyscrapers in the Class D Union Association. A cursory study of Wikipedia leads me to believe that the tallest building in Salt Lake at the time was 16 stories. Touching the sky!) The Bees will throw back to be the Gulls, their name from 1975-84.

Quick Hits

July 29: The Brevard County Manatees will be hosting "Awful Night" which, much to my surprise, is not a tribute to Tomorrowland starring George Clooney.

July 30: People of hairy heritage, take heart: the Bowie Baysox will honor your kind with Back Hair Appreciation Night, which includes the simple description, "There will be back hair contests." … The Memphis Redbirds will reward the first 1,500 fans through their gates with an Ozzie Smith bobblehead.

July 31: In something straight out of a Planet Money podcast, the Delmarva Shorebirds are avoiding the giveaway product and giving away money. Actual money. The first 1,000 fans in attendance will receive an envelope containing a cash prize with one lucky fan taking home the grand prize of 500 smackers. … There was no more famous Minor League coach earlier this season than El Paso Chihuahuas skipper Pat Murphy -- since hired as interim Padres manager -- who will be immortalized with his own bobblehead.

Aug. 1: The Lake County Captains will play host to Cleveland Sports History Night with a theme jersey. No word on appearances by John Elway, Michael Jordan or Steph Curry.

Aug. 2: Many teams do Bark in the Park night, but not as many get tomm have pictures of actual dogs with a dog mascot like El Paso. This season, the Chihuahuas will have the option of getting photos of real dogs with a dog mascot and a bobblebelly of said mascot when they take on Reno. … Similarly, few Minor League clubs have a cape-sporting mascot like the Richmond Flying Squirrels, who will give away Nutzy capes to the first 1,500 fans ages 14 and under at The Diamond.

Aug. 3: In more Triple-A throwback action, the Norfolk Tides will be throwing way back to honor the six-time Piedmont League-champion Norfolk Tars with uniforms and special $0.50 pricing on select concessions.

Tyler Maun is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.