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'Supercentenarian' toes the mound

Tourists to zipline first pitch, Reading doles out bobbleheads
April 5, 2012
Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. On Tuesdays for the remainder of the season, we'll preview 10 of the most intriguing for the week ahead. This is a special Promo Preview for the opening weekend of the season. 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."

Jamie Moyer making the Rockies' rotation at the advanced age of 49 was one of the feel-good stories of Spring Training, and deservedly so. But the seemingly ageless southpaw has nothing on 111-year-old Shelby Harris.

Harris, who turned 61 the year that Moyer was born, will take the mound for the Class A Quad Cities River Bandits on Thursday to throw out the nascent season's ceremonial first pitch. The Iowa native is recognized as nothing less than the oldest man in America, a so-called "supercentenarian" who was born during the McKinley administration and whose existence predates the founding of the American League (the junior circuit, indeed).

Harris isn't the first centenarian to toe the slab at a Minor League Baseball game. In 2010, 102-year-old Chris Nocera fired a strike for the Round Rock Express, and last season, 109-year-old Violet Smith painted the corner prior to a ballgame in Great Lakes. But Harris, who turned 111 on March 31, sets a new standard, and the River Bandits are celebrating accordingly. Bleacher seats have been priced at $1.11, and the first 1,111 fans in attendance receive Opening Day pennants.

"The nursing and rehab center [where Harris lives] had asked him if there was one thing he wanted to still do in life," said River Bandits director of marketing and promotions Shane Huff. "And he said 'Play baseball.' So what better way for us to celebrate his life, and his 111th birthday, than by offering the opportunity to throw out the first pitch? It's a win-win for both of us."

Special delivery

Harris isn't Thursday's only notable first-pitch purveyor, of course. The Asheville Tourists are initiating an endeavor unprecedented in the history of affiliated baseball by having the game ball delivered via zipline! Prior to each home contest, all season long, a presumably lucky fan (accompanied by a guide from Asheville Zipline Canopy Adventures) will undergo a fast-paced 500-foot journey into McCormick Field in order to deliver a game-ready South Atlantic League Baseball.

"Coming to the ballpark is centered on entertainment and having fun," said Tourists president Brian DeWine in a press release. "We felt there was no better way to achieve that goal than to combine two of Asheville's favorite activities in baseball and ziplining."

Meanwhile in Lehigh Valley, the IronPigs will come out swinging by having former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes throw out the season's first pitch. Holmes is a lock to draw the fans' interest, but he nonetheless may be upstaged by the night's other visiting celebrity guests -- the Lehigh University men's basketball team. These Goliath-slaying hoop heroes will be honored in a pregame ceremony, in recognition of their stunning upset over Duke in the first round of this year's recently concluded NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

Almost all teams stage some kind of "Fan Appreciation" promotion at the end of the season, but the Brevard County Manatees are taking that idea to its logical next -- or previous -- step with Thursday's "Fan Pre-Appreciation." There's really not much to it -- all tickets are free, for all fans. Don't get used to it, guys.

The Fort Myers Miracle are also setting that example, as fans can acquire free Opening Day tickets at 20 area Wendy's restaurants. The complimentary ducats are good for general admission and can be upgraded to a box seat for $2 (about the same price as a medium-sized Frosty).

This week in undulating appendages

Bobblin' BFFs: They might not have quite the same name recognition as Hall and Oates or Abbott and Costello, but on April 5, the ever-irascible Reading Phillies are nonetheless celebrating their most famous duo in suitably epic fashion. The first 2,500 fans in attendance will receive a dual bobblehead featuring Ryan Howard and the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor (the team's ostrich-riding purveyor of fine encased meats). Howard bashed 37 home runs as a member of the 2004 R-Phils, amply foreshadowing the Major League prowess that would soon follow. And while there, he forged a lifelong friendship with the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor. The CHDV (as he is referred to by lazy Minor League promotion writers) is a Reading icon, and later in the season he will be immortalized via apron (June 5), toothbrush holder (July 15) and doormat (Aug. 5). Collect 'em all, or shuffle off of this mortal coil amidst a profound feeling of emptiness. Your choice.

If I could bobble back through time: The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have made a tradition of giving away a creative and highly collectible Opening Day bobblehead, with recent examples including "Scooter vs. the Snowman" and "Bernie Meets Fang." This season marks the 50th of Minor League Baseball in the region, and to celebrate, the T-Rats are giving away five different bobbleheads on April 5. Each bobblehead will commemorate a different era of the team's history and will be distributed in equal numbers. All except one, that is, as only 250 dolls featuring the 1953 Appleton Papermakers have been made. Fans desirous of such an undulating figurine will simply need to attend the game and hope that their choice of turnstile proves fortuitous.

Bobbling Ohioans: The Columbus Clippers are also celebrating local history via the bobblehead throughout the 2012 campaign, and their "Columbus Icons" series of giveaways kicks off April 8 with a doll featuring legendary master of witticism James Thurber. Other notable natives in the series include boxer Buster Douglas, fast food magnate Dave Thomas and late night animal handler Jack Hanna.

Our bobble could be your life: One unsuspecting fan at Thursday's Fort Wayne TinCaps opener will be rewarded with an honor usually reserved for only the most exalted beings of our species -- his or her own bobblehead. During the ballgame, the team will randomly select one seat from all the tickets that have been scanned. The person in this seat then becomes the model for the TinCaps' "It's All About You" bobblehead giveaway on Aug. 31, an honor that not only assures immortality but also entrée into the highest echelons of polite society.

What's in the box?

That above question has been on the minds of Great Lakes Loons fans since early February, when a so-called "large box from an international shipping company" showed up at Dow Diamond unsolicited. The Great Lakes Loons front office professes not to know who sent this box or what is inside it, and team-released videos suggest that something may be living inside -- and that it has escaped.

The mystery of who -- or what -- is in the box will be revealed during the Loons' home opener April 9, at which point we can all put this Kafka-esque nightmare behind us and go hurtling into the future with unbridled optimism.

Into the ellipse

An exceedingly brief rundown of other promos taking place this week begins ... now!

April 5: The Altoona Curve are making a "special franchise announcement." As to what that could be, your guess is as good, or most likely better, than mine. ... The Beloit Snappers embrace pessimism with what has been billed as a "Guaranteed Rainout Homestand." ... The Dunedin Blue Jays host a postgame concert by the unfortunately named Black Honkys. ... Bryce who? The Syracuse Chiefs season opener is highlighted by a national anthem performance by distinguished mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel.

April 6: A day after their aforementioned announcement, the Curve welcome Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown to the ballpark. ... The Greenville Drive hope to be welcoming the two millionth fan in Fluor Field history. ... The Atomic Punks, an early-period Van Halen tribute band, play following a New Orleans Zephyrs game.

April 7: The Clinton LumberKings are giving away copies of Baseball America autographed by 2011 ace Taijuan Walker. ... The Quad City River Bandits stage a "Wii-ster Egg Hunt." ... The Springfield Cardinals celebrate last year's postseason hero with a "Rally Squirrel" T-shirt giveaway.

April 9: The Cedar Rapids Kernels distribute Mike Trout to fans, in bobble form. ... The Peoria Chiefs take the field in 1983 throwback jerseys. ... The Reno Aces stage the first of their creatively named "Nom-Nom Monday" theme nights.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog.