The start of the Minor League season means that there will be a whole new crop of prospects to follow and fawn over. But in the world of Minor League Baseball, it isn't the quality of the players that draws the average fan to the ballpark. It's the promos.
An industry focused on "affordable family-friendly fun" must do all it can to heighten the appeal of attending a game, as there simply aren't enough baseball purists out there to pack the stands on a regular basis. Hence, the persistent emphasis on theme jerseys, giveaway items, celebrity appearances and all manner of pop culture ephemera that comprise the modern-day Minor League Baseball experience.
It's the job of a Minor League team to stage such promos, and it's my job to write about them. Where as in the past that took the form of a weekly "Promo Preview," this season such writings will be labeled "Promo Watch." This catch-all tag encompasses promo previews and reviews (recapping a promo that has recently taken place) as well as larger analyses of industry trends. Recurring weekly promos and between-inning contests are fair game as well. If you, fan or front-office member, have something that you'd like to see in a future column then get in touch with me at [email protected].
Throughout the offseason, I covered notable promotion announcements via posts on Ben's Biz Blog. Many of these -- such as the Fresno Tacos, Lehigh Valley Cheesesteaks and Bowling Green Bootleggers -- received wide internet acclaim en route to viral fame and fortune. But there are plenty of under-the-radar promotions worthy of wider attention in 2016; here are three that, in my opinion, are worthy of a road trip:
Lake County Captains
James Garfield Bobblehead, July 17
On July 15 and 16, the Captains will wear "Election Jerseys" in honor of the Republican National Convention taking place in nearby Cleveland. On the 17th, the political escapades continue when the team commemorates an Ohio Republican of a bygone era. The first 1,500 fans through the gates receive a President James A. Garfield bobblehead, featuring the likeness of our nation's 20th commander-in-chief. Garfield's time in office was brief as he was assassinated by jilted presidential cabinet aspirant Charles Guiteau at a train station on July 2, 1881. Here's hoping the Captains play Johnny Cash's stirring "Mr. Garfield" at the ballpark on this unprecedented presidential afternoon.
Pork Roll Night with Joey Chestnut bobblehead giveaway, Aug. 12
The Thunder have long served pork roll sandwiches at the ballpark as pork roll is the Garden State's breakfast (and sandwich) meat of choice. The team has massively upped its pork roll game in recent months, however. In September, they hosted a pork roll eating contest at the ballpark, which was won by world-famous competitive eater and role model for all children Joey Chestnut. This brings us to Pork Roll Night promotion on Aug. 12. It will feature free pork roll sandwiches as well as a Joey Chestnut bobblehead giveaway for the first 2,000 fans. But in a sense, every night is Pork Roll Night in Trenton. On April 1, the Thunder announced a "Pork Roll Paradise" food stand as one of 2016's gala new additions. This was not an April Fool's joke, nor should it have been.
El Paso Chihuahuas
10th Anniversary of Pluto Becoming a Dwarf Planet Night, Aug. 20
No matter what your thoughts are regarding Pluto's ignominious demotion within the solar system hierarchy, this is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and thoroughly head-scratching promotions of the 2016 season. It is also, in a nutshell, what makes Minor League Baseball so consistently wonderful: A Texas-based team in the Pacific Coast League whose name simultaneously represents a dog and a desert paying tribute to an internecine cosmic dustup within the astronomical community. Ain't that America?
Opening weekend isn't the most compelling time for Minor League promos, as in most cases Opening Day is the promotion. That said, here are a few highlights taking place over the next couple days.
April 7: The Beloit Snappers stage their first "Insured Victory" promotion, courtesy of indefatigably confident local insurance agent Eric Oslund. If the Snappers lose, the ticket is "insured" for another Thursday home game. ... Wasting no time on formalities, the Lansing Lugnuts kick off the season with "Thirsty Thursday Gone Wild," featuring an appearance by Cowboy Monkey Rodeo.
April 8: In Clearwater, the Threshers are set to welcome the two millionth fan in franchise history. This fortunate individual receives a massive prize pack that includes two lifetime season tickets, a $500 team store gift certificate, and possibly, immunity from being bitten by a real-life thresher while bathing in Floridian waters. ... The Reading Fightin Phils posthumously induct All-American Girls Professional Baseball League legend Ruth Hartman into their Hall of Fame, while also giving away Ruth Hartman bobbleheads. ... This week's alliteration award goes to the Salem Red Sox, who stage "Friends and Family Night" along with "Freedom Friday Fireworks." Fantastic.
April 9: The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers honor snake mascots Fang and Whiffer with a dual bobblehead. Evil mascot Gnaf was justly neglected and will never receive his own bobblehead. ... The Rochester Red Wings make their annual foray into optimistic meteorological prognostication via their "50 Degree Guarantee."
April 10: Like Minecraft? Like fests? Then you'll love "Minecraft Fest," hosted by the Bowie Baysox.
April 11: Stare into the void, embrace existential dread, ponder your own insignificance: The Altoona Curve host "Nothing Night."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.