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Top promotions battle for MiLBY

Fans determine best giveaway, theme, celebrity, miscellaneous
September 23, 2011
Approximately 10,000 Minor League Baseball games are played each year, spread out over 14 leagues and six levels of play.

That's a lot of promotions.

I did my best to keep track of it all throughout the season, highlighting 374 promotions over the course of 22 weekly columns and recapping dozens more over at Ben's Biz Blog. And now we've come to this, our ultimate destination: determining 2011's Promotion of the Year.

This is a democratic process, and your help is needed. Ten finalists have been chosen in each of four categories -- giveaways, theme nights, celebrity appearances and the all-encompassing catchall that is "miscellaneous." Please peruse each category (clicking on the links provided for more info on each promotion), and then cast your vote.

The polls will remain open until Oct. 13, with the winners in each category then facing off against one another in a no-holds-barred battle to be named's "2011 Promotion of the Year."

Vote now!

Theme nights

From revolutionary implementations of social media and satirical celebrations of celebrity to inward-looking theme jerseys, nothing enhances a good time at the ballpark like an original and well-executed theme night.

Bowling Green Hot Rods -- Facebook Fan Night
The Hot Rods set a new standard with this one, utilizing Facebook as a means for fans to choose nearly every aspect of game-day entertainment.

Kane County Cougars -- Night of 100 Promotions
This evening of promotional overload doubled as a tribute to the groundbreaking Bill Veeck and his family, and also included Chicago icons Roland Hemond and Nancy Faust.

Lake Elsinore Storm -- Charlie Sheen-Co De Mayo
The Storm felt compelled to honor everyone's favorite drug-addicted megalomaniac at the ballpark, with festivities that included Tiger Blood Cocktails, a limited-edition bobblehead and the retirement of Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn's No. 99 jersey.

Lehigh Valley IronPigs -- Social Media Night
In a Minor League first, Lehigh Valley took the field in Twitter-themed @ironpigs jerseys. Fan tweets were displayed on the videoboard throughout the evening, and the "Twitter Bird" even made an appearance.

Memphis Redbirds -- Organ Donor Night
As a means to highlight the importance of organ donation, the team took the field in innards-exposing theme jerseys. Talk about showing a lot of heart!

Reno Aces -- Johnny Cash Weekend
The team sported black theme jerseys, gave away Johnny Cash t-shirts and hosted musically inclined members of his family at the ballpark.

Richmond Flying Squirrels -- Tribute to Bacon
Not only was bacon available at the concession stands, but a local detective by the name of Kevin Bacon threw out the game's first pitch.

State College Spikes -- Purr in the Park
In a truly revolutionary twist on the now-standard "Bark in the Park" promotion, the Spikes welcomed cats to the ballpark while staging between-inning games such as the "Kitty Litter Dig."

Visalia Rawhide -- Belle of the Ballpark Grandma Beauty Pageant
A quartet of young-at-heart ladies competed for the crowd's affections throughout the ballgame. The eventual winner was 96!

West Michigan Whitecaps -- 57th Anniversary of the Most Boring Day in History
A recent study painstakingly concluded that April 11, 1954, was the least significant day of the 20th century. The Whitecaps were not going to let the 57th anniversary of this non-event go unnoticed.

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From heavenly winged outfielders to snowman-smashing shortstops, the Minors were filled with the usual array of creative (and occasionally head-scratching) giveaway items. The nominees:

Altoona Curve -- Team-Logo Tighty Whities
The Curve's innovative "Summer Cruise" giveaway series was highlighted by July 7's distribution of team-logo underpants, an homage to Tom Cruise's iconic living-room dance moves in Risky Business.

Asheville Tourists -- Mr. Moon Bobblehead
One of 2011's most unique new logos was certainly the Tourists' "Mr. Moon," a sunglasses-wearing lunar body who appeared on the team caps. And -- but of course! -- he was also commemorated in bobble form.

Brooklyn Cyclones -- Angel Pagan Bobblehead
In a wonderful example of "taking things literally," the Cyclones' Angel Pagan bobblehead featured the outfielder with wings and a halo.

Inland Empire 66ers -- Ken Griffey Jr. Bobble-Arm
In 1988, 18-year-old Ken Griffey Jr. suited up for 66ers' predecessor the San Bernardino Spirit. This prompted the club to produce a KGJ "Bobble-Arm," featuring the smiling teen outfielder about to make a home-run robbing catch.

Lake County Captains -- "A Captains Story" Skipper Figurine
One year after the "Skipper Leg Lamp," the Captains again paid tribute to A Christmas Story via a mascot-related giveaway. Skipper was depicted with his nose affixed to the foul pole, mirroring one of the film's classic scenes.

Reading Phillies -- Carlos Ruiz "Chooch"-ing Owl Figurine
The R-Phils celebrated notable alumnus Carlos Ruiz by distributing a truly inimitable item -- a figurine depicting the Panamanian backstop as an owl. This owl could even speak, but the only word in his vocabulary happened to be Ruiz's owl-like nickname -- Chooch!

Stockton Ports -- Dallas Braden Bobble-Belly
Dallas Braden hails from Stockton, and after pitching his perfect game in 2010, the A's hurler returned home and proudly displayed his "209" area code tattoo. The Ports paid tribute with the Dallas Braden Bobble-Belly, featuring the free-spirited pitcher expressing hometown pride via inked abdomen.

Toledo Mud Hens -- Jamie Farr Bobblehead
On the penultimate day of the season, the Mud Hens honored Toledo native (and "M*A*S*H" cross-dresser) Jamie Farr with a bobblehead featuring the noted thespian wearing a highly fashionable team cap and skirt combination.

Tulsa Drillers -- "Super Tulo" Bobblehead
The Drillers are in awe of the talents possessed by their distinguished alumnus Troy Tulowitzki. So much so that they commissioned a bobblehead featuring "Tulo" in a cape and form-fitting tights!

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers -- Scooter vs. the Snowman Bobblehead
After the Timber Rattlers' 2010 home opener was snowed out, shortstop Scooter Gennett took out his frustrations by decimating a snowman with a baseball bat. This season, the team immortalized this unique moment with a bobblehead depicting the carnage.

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Celebrity appearances

It's always exhilarating when a member of society's elite comes to the ballpark in order to mingle with the hoi polloi. Some of 2011's most notable appearances are contained herein.

Connecticut Tigers -- Al Kaline
The Detroit Hall-of-Famer signed autographs prior to the game, and then threw out a ceremonial first pitch to his grandson (and Connecticut infielder) Colin Kaline.

Delmarva Shorebirds -- Earl Weaver (at South Atlantic League All-Star Game)
The salty-tongued icon managerial icon, now an octogenarian, signed autographs for the Orioles faithful during the Shorebirds' All-Star Game Fanfest festivities.

Eugene Emeralds -- Domingo Ayala
Ayala, a YouTube sensation as well as proprietor of the "Domingo Baseball Academy," took batting practice with the team and showed why he is the five-time home run champion.

Great Lakes Loons -- Barry Melrose
The Loons concluded their hockey-themed "Red Wings Legends Series" with an appearance from one of the sport's premier analysts.

Lake County Captains -- Peter "Charlie Bucket" Ostrum
He's now a practicing veterinarian, but Peter Ostrum will always be known as the titular character in the classic film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In August, he visited Lake County's Classic Park as part of the team's Willy Wonka theme night celebration.

Lakewood BlueClaws -- Iron Sheikh and Nikolai Volkoff
The likes of Jerry Lawler and Sgt. Slaughter are now touring ballpark staples, but leave it to the BlueClaws to break new ground when it comes to semi-retired wrestler appearances.

Salem Red Sox -- Ben "Cooter" Jones and the real General Lee
Ben Jones played "Cooter" the mechanic on "The Dukes of Hazzard," and when he visited the Salem Red Sox he brought along the show's famous "General Lee" 1969 Dodge Charger.

Trenton Thunder -- Liz Gilbert and Harold Reynolds
The stars aligned, and the Thunder ended up with a best-selling author (Gilbert penned Eat, Pray, Love) and a well-known baseball analyst in the same night.

Vancouver Canadians -- Roberto Alomar
The Canadians' Blue Jays-themed "Superstar Series" was highlighted by an appearance from Roberto Alomar, just one month prior to his Hall of Fame induction.

Vermont Lake Monsters -- Brutus the Barber
What team wouldn't want to host one of the '80s most notorious wrestling villains? Brutus made a name for himself by cutting the hair of his unconscious opponents, truly unique in the annals of the sport.

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Each season there are many events that defy categorization but are nonetheless worthy of our collective attention. Here are 10 notable promotions that didn't quite fit into any of the above three categories.

Durham Bulls -- Return to the DAP
For the second consecutive season, the Bulls played a game within the historic confines of their previous home of Durham Athletic Park.

Fort Wayne TinCaps -- 3D Videoboard
The TinCaps truly added another dimension to the game-day experience, distributing 3D glasses to the fans on Opening Day.

Fresno Grizzlies -- Taco Truck Throwdown
Eight local taco trucks competed for ultimate supremacy. A $23 "Super Taco Experience" included a game ticket, one taco at each truck and a commemorative T-shirt.

Harrisburg Senators -- Baseball Project Performance
The Senators closed out their regular season with a concert by the Baseball Project, a national pastime-themed supergroup comprised of members of REM, Dream Syndicate and Minus 5.

Kane County Cougars -- Wilco-themed Fireworks Display
The Cougars added a new twist to an old favorite, soundtracking their pyrotechnics display to Chicago-area alt-country stalwarts Wilco.

Lehigh Valley IronPigs -- Man Cave Giveaway
The IronPigs put together a truly formidable prize package of uber-masculine domestic goods and services, and had fans compete to win it all.

Lowell Spinners -- Human Home Run
Between games of a doubleheader, David "The Human Cannonball" Smith was shot out of a cannon and over the outfield wall. You don't see that every day.

Quad Cities River Bandits -- Midwest League All-Star Game Home Run Derby
In lieu of a soporific slugfest, the team littered the field with targets as varied as oversized beer bottles, a team-logo van and even a dunk tank.

Toledo Mud Hens -- Naturalization Ceremony
Is there anything more American than obtaining one's citizenship prior to a professional baseball game?

Tri-City ValleyCats -- 4 in 24
This didn't occur at the ballpark but was nonetheless too good to ignore. Over the span of just 24 hours, the ValleyCats coordinated the extensive renovation of four local youth fields.

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Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow him @BensBiz on Twitter.