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Thunder won't forget Pats' deflated footballs

Suns bid farewell to 'Pedro'; RoughRiders honor bearded among us
September 1, 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."

When the world was first shocked to learn the terrifying news of a nearly imperceptible amount of air (that may or may not have been deliberately) released from (anywhere from one to 11) footballs (allegedly by New England Patriots personnel) ahead of last season's AFC Championship Game, who would have thought Minor League teams would still be gaining timely traction from the event nine months later?

As Tom Brady and the football world await the final-but-probably-not-final word on the Pats quarterback's suspension (or whatever it is they're deciding in court this week), the Trenton Thunder will put the "scandal" back on the Minor League front page. On Wednesday night, the Thunder will hand out deflated footballs to the first 1,000 fans through the gates at Arm & Hammer Park.

Getting fans ready for football season isn't anything new to the Thunder who have done a Football Night for years. This season, they decided to accompany it with a giveaway, and as it turned out, life imitated the Minor League promotional art within.

"We decided to do a giveaway -- a football giveaway -- before all this stuff really happened or came out," Thunder general manager Will Smith said. "Naturally they were going to be shipped deflated, and then this whole thing happened, and we thought, 'Great, we'll just promote it as a deflated football giveaway.'"

As luck would have it, the Thunder's supplier had their production lines operating more tightly than the NFL's apparently comically inept pregame inspections.

"Sure enough as time went by and we found a vendor, [the giveaway footballs] came in inflated," Smith said. "So we bought some pins and deflated them all."

The dustup -- which isn't really a scandal (and which I refuse to call anything that ends in "-gate" because it is 2015, and that wordplay hasn't been funny for 30 years) has somehow occupied the NFL's consciousness for the better part of the year despite actual real life issues in football. Oddly enough, Monday saw the release of a trailer for the upcoming film Concussion about the NFL's head injury nightmare starring -- you guessed it -- Will Smith. (Not the Trenton GM Will Smith; the former Fresh Prince Will Smith.)

Football Night won't be just about poking fun at New England.

"We'll do headshots and dress things up, put people in facemasks [on the video board]," Smith said. "It depends on who we're playing how creative we can get with it, but it's always an easy, fun night."

Fans get into the act while rehearsing for the gridiron season as well, rocking their favorite jerseys in Trenton. Last year's highlight, Smith says, was a vintage Eric Dickerson Rams jersey. Sadly, the owner of that top was not rocking Rec Specs, but the fan distribution remains wide ranging in Trenton.

"In this area, it's kind of a dividing line between the media markets," Smith said. "You go north, and you get solely New York stuff, and you go south and you get solely Philly stuff. There are a lot of Giants and Jets fans, but there are also a lot of Eagles fans.

"All three teams are pretty well represented down here."

The Patriots will be represented, too. Just in a different manner.

Promo Preview on Cut4: Everything night in Lake Elsinore »

Quick Hits

Hickory Crawdads (South Atlantic League)
Roaring '20s Night, Sept. 4

In the antithesis to the Minors' recent craze of theme nights based around movies and pop culture phenomena from the '80s and '90s, the Crawdads will harken back to one of America's breakout decades. Hickory will recreate the Roaring '20s with at L.P. Frans Stadium complete with a postgame fireworks show set to 1920s music. (Interestingly enough, Minor League Baseball did not arrive in Hickory until just before World War II when the Hickory Rebels took the field in the Class D Tar Heel League. I know you were wondering.)

Frisco RoughRiders (Texas League)
Dollar Beard Night, Sept. 5

As a human being who loathes shaving and searches for any reason to not perform such an obnoxious and time-consuming act, I somehow had no clue that World Beard Day was a thing that exists, and yet I am fully on board with it. So are the RoughRiders, who will honor the bearded among us on WBD 2015 at Dr Pepper Ballpark. Bearded patrons will receive special deals around the park, and men aren't the only ones eligible. Female 'Riders fans can sport some fake whiskers of their own to take part in the action.

Gwinnett Braves (International League)
Greg Maddux bobblehead giveaway, Sept. 5

The G-Braves are located just miles from where their parent club played some of the best and most memorable baseball of the last two and a half decades, and they'll finish off a summer of paying tribute to that history with their final bobblehead of the year. Four-time National League Cy Young Award winner, eight-time All-Star and 18-time (!) Gold Glove Award winner Greg Maddux will be delivered, head bouncing, to the first 2,000 fans through the gates when Gwinnett takes on Charlotte in the final series of the regular season. Maddux's bobblehead is the fourth in a Hall of Fame series that also featured former Braves manager Bobby Cox and pitchers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

Jacksonville Suns (Southern League)
Pedro Fedora Giveaway, Sept. 5

It is the end of a lengthy era in Jacksonville where after 31 years, team owner and president Peter "Pedro" Bragan will be stepping down upon selling the team to Ken Babby, also the owner of the Akron RubberDucks. Bragan's father purchased the Suns in 1985, and Pedro has turned himself into a beloved Southern League icon in the preceding 30 years. (He was also the subject of this fantastic profile by our fearless promo leader Ben Hill back in May.) The first 3,000 fans through the gates for the third-to-last game of the Pedro chapter will get a fedora autographed by the man himself on a night also featuring the Minor League legends that are the ZOOperstars.

Best of the Rest

Sept. 2: Presumably the Lake Elsinore Storm will have security at the gates making sure Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi won't be in attendance when they host their final Wacky Weenie/Wine Down Wednesday of the year, featuring all-you-can-eat hot dogs free with every ticket as well as wine tastings and specials. … Getting a jump on next season, the Rochester Red Wings will give away 2016 magnet schedules at their final home game of the year.

Sept. 3: The Colorado Springs Sky Sox like it, so they'll put a ring on it. In this case, "it" means the hand of one lucky lady in attendance. The first 250 women will receive a 1/3 karat item with 249 being cubic zirconias and one being an authentic diamond thanks to a local jeweler. … The Lehigh Valley IronPigs will give away foam fingers to the first 3,000 fans sponsored by a local urology specialist clinic on Prostate Cancer Awareness Night.

Sept. 4: Former Rancho Cucamonga Quakes stars Clayton Kershaw (who rehabbed there in 2014) and Mike Trout (who played 50 games there in 2010) each took home big league MVP awards last year, and the first 1,500 Quakes fans can celebrate both with a special dual bobblehead the team teased in a birthday tweet to Trout last month.

Sept. 5: On Art in the Park night, Frederick Keys players and coaches will wear special Maryland-themed jerseys (you bet there are crabs and that wacky state flag on them) that the club will auction off during their game against Winston-Salem. … Former Nebraska Cornhuskers two-time national champion safety Mike Minter will celebrate his alma mater's season-opening win over BYU (fingers crossed) when he travels to Hickory (but apparently they're having him because he played 10 years for the Carolina Panthers and not because he and I went to the same university.)

Sept. 7: One of the unheralded groups that makes the Minor League engine run are host families. The Grand Junction Rockies will ensure their community support system isn't left out when they put on Host Family Night at Suplizio Field. … The Pensacola Blue Wahoos will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland and, one can assume, the fifth anniversary of everybody detesting the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie adaptation.

Sept. 8: Fan appreciation nights abound throughout the Minors on the last day of the regular season. If you've got a local team home on this day, they've probably got one going on. Plus, if your favorite team isn't headed to the playoffs, it's your last chance to catch Minor League action until 2016, so get to the park!

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