Dallas Braden loves Stockton, and Stockton loves Dallas Braden. Those mutually reciprocated feelings are a big reason why the Stockton Ports' "Dallas Braden Bobblebelly" has won the 2011 MiLBY Award as Promotion of the Year.
After winning the "Best Giveaway" category in the semifinals, the Bobblebelly trounced the competition in the finals. The year's only undulating abdomen giveaway item garnered a whopping 59 percent of the vote, nearly thrice that of its closest competitor -- the Eugene Emeralds' Domingo Ayala celebrity appearance. Rounding out the voting with 9 percent each were the Memphis Redbirds' "Organ Donor" theme night and the Fresno Grizzlies' "Taco Truck Throwdown."
For those needing a bit of explanation, Dallas Braden is a native of Stockton and "209" is the city's area code. Shortly after the Oakland A's left-hander tossed a perfect game on Mother's Day 2010, he visited the Ports' Banner Island Ballpark to receive the key to the city in a pregame ceremony. During that triumphant moment, Braden lifted up his shirt and revealed a "209" tattoo emblazoned across his abdomen.
The rest is history.
"We knew we were going to do something Dallas Braden-related [in 2011]," explained Ports director of marketing Jeremy Neisser. "The other option was a double-bobble featuring Dallas hugging his grandmother, Peggy [after pitching the perfect game.] She's just as popular around here as Dallas is."
That option would have required using the uniform of the A's, who declined approval. So the Bobblebelly, it would be -- as long Braden was on board with the idea.
"[Braden] was all for it," Neisser said. "The only thing he asked for was, 'Make sure you give me a six-pack.'"
Keeping that abdominal specification in mind, the Ports turned to Coyote Promotions to create the Bobblebelly. The New York City-based company has established a strong reputation for innovative giveaway items in recent years, the Brooklyn Cyclones' "Angel Pagan Bobblewing" and the Inland Empire 66ers' "Ken Griffey Jr. Bobblearm" among them.
The Bobblebelly was delivered to the team in May. After a significant number of anticipatory Tweets and Facebook updates, the Ports first posted images of the item in early July (about two weeks in advance of the promotion).
"We knew that this was going to be a social media-driven promotion for us, so the philosophy was, 'Let's start where the finish line is going to end up being,'" Neisser said.
In other words, the Ports knew they had a likely "Promotion of the Year" candidate on their hands, and by debuting the item through social media they were preparing fans for the voting campaign that was to follow. In conjunction with this strategy, the team introduced a #promooftheyear Twitter hashtag on its videoboard during the July 17 game.
Such maneuverings are a moot point if the promotion itself fails to excite. And, fortunately for all involved, "Dallas Braden Bobblebelly Night" turned out to be one of the most memorable evenings of the season. Fans started lining up outside Banner Island Ballpark four hours before game time, eager to get their hands on the coveted item. And Braden himself was in attendance, spending nearly the entire game autographing the Bobblebelly for his fellow Stocktonians.
"The line to get him to sign never stopped, but he was really cool and gracious about it," Neisser said.
The goodwill generated during the evening, combined with the Ports' concerted social media campaign, has culminated with the Promotion of the Year honor.
"This recognition is very exciting. It tells us that all of our hard work has paid off," said Neisser. "Stockton has maybe gotten the reputation in recent years that it's not a major creative player in the world of Minor League baseball, but we're letting folks know that we'll be bringing it every year."
So what's in store for 2012?
"We've started to brainstorm; there is some internal pressure," Neisser said. "We've got the crown, so now what?"
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog.