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Captains pay 'homage' to Cleveland

Rickwood Classic honors World War II baseball Wednesday
May 29, 2012
Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. Every Tuesday we'll preview the week ahead, highlighting the best and brightest (not to mention strangest) that the industry has to offer. If you'd like a particular promotion to be considered for this feature, please send it to [email protected] with the subject line "Promo Preview."

Cleveland has gone nearly 50 years without a major sports championship, and as a result of this unremitting futility the city's sports fans have become firm believers in Murphy's Law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

The Lake County Captains, located in the nearby suburb of Eastlake, Ohio, have come up with a novel way to cope with the pain.

"It's sad, but in Cleveland we've come to expect to lose," said Captains assistant general manager Neil Stein. "So, in true Minor League fashion, we decided that we may as well have some fun with it."

Enter Cleveland Sports History Night, which first took place in 2009. That year, Browns kicker Don Cockroft visited the stadium and staged an alternate reality ending to the infamous "Red Right 88" playoff loss of 1981. This time around, the game ended not with a devastating interception but with Cockroft sealing the victory by kicking an autographed football into the stands. Other highlights have included a fish mascot re-enactment of Ernest Byner's fumble in the 1987 AFC Championship game, a moving truck on the field simulating the Browns departure to Baltimore, and a between-inning contest in which fans head-butted tennis balls into the stands in honor of the infamous Jose Canseco blunder that took place at a 1993 game in Cleveland.

The 2012 edition of Cleveland Sports History Night takes place on Saturday. Planned hijinks include a salute to Albert Belle's bat-corking caper of 1994 as well as a "rigged NBA draft lottery" in honor of the Cavaliers' success in getting the top NBA pick.

But despite the tongue-in-cheek approach, it's clear that this promotion is, first and foremost, a labor of love. Special guests on Saturday include current Browns wide receiver Greg Little, recent draft pick James Michael Johnson, former head coach Sam Rutigliano, the aforementioned Don Cockroft, and International Hockey League great Jock Callander. Legendary Cavaliers announcer Joe Tate will be on hand to sign copies of his new book, while former Cavs player Elmore Smith will spend the evening promoting his gourmet barbecue sauce.

But that, as is so often the case, is not all.

"Another thing we do is host a 'Browns Backers' tailgate party in the parking lot, starting at two o'clock," said Stein. "There will be guys out there with buses and decorated box trucks."

It all climaxes with what Stein describes as a "sports-themed" fireworks show, and when it's all said and done, he and his staff will begin thinking about what kind of stunts they can pull off the next year.

"[Cleveland Sports History Night] is very fun to do on one hand but very depressing on the other," he said. "When you sit and brainstorm, you have to relive all of these moments."

Truly a Classic

Birmingham's Rickwood Field served as the home of the Barons from 1910-86, and each season the team return for an afternoon of nostalgia-drenched baseball. This year's iteration, taking place Wednesday, celebrates World War II-era baseball and features Atlanta Braves legend Dale Murphy as the guest of honor. Both teams will wear '40s-era uniforms, with the Barons going the extra mile by sporting Hale America health patches. As explained in the Barons' press release, "Hale America was a nationwide fitness program designed to promote national physical well being at the outset of World War II."

The Rickwood Classic is one of the best known annual events in Minor League Baseball, and in 2010 it was voted's Promotion of the Year. For those who have not yet been exposed to its charms, well, what are you waiting for? Head to the ballpark on Wednesday.

This Week in Unorthodox Undulating Appendages

This column has featured a preponderance of bobbleheads this season, but it took until this week for a team to dedicate its efforts to the lower half of the posterior. That team would be the Clearwater Threshers, who on Friday are honoring the most famous individual to reside in their city: Winter the bottlenose dolphin. At the age of two months, Winter became trapped in a crab line and lost part of her tail. The Clearwater Aquarium took her in and fitted her with a prosthetic one, and after recovering from her injuries she went on to star as herself in the 2011 film A Dolphin Tale.

The latest chapter in this tale of the tail comes courtesy of the Threshers, as the first 2,000 fans in attendance at Friday's game receive a Winter Bobbletail. And, as an added bonus, a portion from the evening's ticket sales will be donated to the aquarium's marine animal rehabilitation program.

Three more giveaways of note this week:

  • Carl Spackler Bucket Hats (Lakewood BlueClaws, June 1): As part of a Golf Night promo, the BlueClaws are giving away camouflage bucket caps inspired by Bill Murray's character in Caddyshack.
  • Pedometer (Fort Myers Miracle, June 2): A great accessory for any fitness enthusiast, and sponsored by a company that one doesn't necessarily think of when it comes to healthy living: McDonald's.
  • Crazy Hot Dog Vendor Apron (Reading Phillies, June 5): A wonderful addition to the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor toothbrush holder, welcome mat and pillow case that are surely already part of your Minor League Baseball memorabilia collection.

Into the ellipse...

A brief rundown of other notable promotions taking place this week...

May 30: The Altoona Curve dedicate an evening to pretending that they had been named the "Altoona Lake Monsters."

May 31: In Brevard County, the Manatees purposefully louse up the gameday experience as part of "Awful Night." ... Fellow Florida State League entrants the Bradenton Marauders turn back the clock, taking the field in vintage "Bradenton Growers" jerseys. ... The Cedar Rapids Kernels host the first of five "Dueling Pianos" theme nights, in which the pianos in question are placed atop the dugouts.

June 1: It may seem like a better fit for the aforementioned Kernels, but the also-aforementioned Altoona Curve are distributing team-logo popcorn buckets. ... In a great example of creative sponsorship, Prestone Antifreeze is underwriting the Memphis Redbirds David Freese T-shirt giveaway. ... It's "National Donut Day," and the Richmond Flying Squirrels intend on celebrating.

June 2: The Astros turn 50 this season, and the Lexington Legends (their Class A affiliate) celebrate the milestone all evening long. ... Circus performers The Anon Brothers bring their high-wire act to a Louisville Bats game. ... Traveling entertainers Those Funny Little People bring their low-wire act to a Quad Cities River Bandits game.

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