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."
"It's cow everything."
That's how Wisconsin Timber Rattlers corporate marketing manager Ryan Cunniff sums up Wednesday's "Salute to Cows" promotion, and, truly, this is no understatement. The annual promotion, now in its fourth season, is an unrelenting wall-to-wall celebration of these four-stomached milk and cheese -- and beef -- providers and those who love them.
And there is surely no more apropos Minor League venue for such an event than Appleton's Fox Cities Stadium, which is located in the heart of dairy country. The team has partnered with a plethora of local sponsors -- including the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Morning Glory Dairy, and Merkt's Cheese -- and the festivities start as soon as fans pass through the turnstiles. This year's giveaway is a "Cow and Cheese" photo baseball, one half black-and-white Holstein cow pattern, and the other half featuring the team logo emblazoned upon a cheddar-yellow background.
"We really play the whole thing up," said Cunniff. "We'll have interns face painting milk mustaches on kids, and there'll be [dairy product] sampling, and we also have stress cows so we'll be throwing those out to fans."
Yes, stress cows -- as in, squishy stress relieving toys in cow form. (The featured creatures will be in attendance on site, meanwhile, in the form of a one-night-only Holstein cow ballpark petting zoo.) Newly crowned "Alice in Dairyland" Rochelle Ripp (the Miss Wisconsin of Agriculture) is scheduled to throw out the first pitch, and this udderly appropriate offering will then segue into a ballgame between the Timber Rattlers and an opponent to be referred to as "The Clinton LumberCows."
"The stadium will be decorated with bales of hay, and lots of the staff will wear cow pattern bandanas or a cow's head hat with horns," said Cunniff. "We've gotten to the point where this has taken on a life of its own. There are fans who will rent cow costumes and show up as cows."
These bovine-obsessed individuals will thrill to between-inning games such as the cheese curd toss, a milk-chugging competition and the highly anticipated mooing contest. (A local radio station, broadcasting via live remote pre-game, will pre-qualify the contestants on-air). And on and on it will go, with the end result being a "cow everything" homage that is unprecedented in Minor League Baseball promotional history.
"Only in Wisconsin would a promotion like this work," said Cunniff.
Oh, what might have been
While none of this week's theme nights can top the glory of "Salute to Cows," there is one that comes close. That would be the Northwest Arkansas Naturals' "What Might Have Been" celebration, in which the team imagines -- yes -- what might have been if the runner-up in 2007's "Name the Team" contest had actually won.
That runner-up? The Thunder Chickens! The team will take the field in "Thunder Chickens" uniforms, featuring "Chickens" emblazoned in red font across the front and "NWA" hats in which the "w" resembles a chicken's foot. Fans will be able to buy these Thunder Chickens hats on this night only -- make your plans now or spend the rest of your life in an even more pronounced state of unrelenting regret.
Mr. Cub, now playing in Peoria: Ballpark guests don't get much more distinguished than Ernie Banks, who will be throwing a first pitch and signing autographs (for a fee) at Friday's Peoria Chiefs game. Banks, of course, is a Hall of Fame Chicago Cubs slugger who bashed 512 home runs during his distinguished 19-season career. He was famous for his "Let's Play Two" baseball philosophy, and this well-known phrase will have added meaning on Friday -- it's also "Dueling Pianos Night" at Peoria's O'Brien Field, with the two players dueling from atop the first and third base dugouts.
Just super: Last season the Tulsa Drillers found success with their Troy Tulowitzki "superhero" bobblehead, in which the Colorado Rockies shortstop (and former Driller) was re-imagined as a swaggering caped crusader. This creative conceit has been made into a recurring giveaway item in 2012, and Monday marks the first of six "superhero" bobbleheads to be given away. The first 500 fans through the gates at ONEOK Field receive an undulating figurine of Tim "The Dark Knight" Wheeler, a fitting start to a series that also includes Willin "Weblyn" Rosario and Dexter "Flash" Fowler.
But, of course, Tulsa's not the only team with a bobblehead giveaway this week. Take a look!
- Eric Hosmer (June 7, Wilmington Blue Rocks and June 9, Northwest Arkansas Naturals): Yep, Hosmer is being honored by two of his former teams within a three-day span. A rare dual bobble accomplishment.
- Lance Parrish (June 8, West Michigan Whitecaps): -- Parrish, a man who once guest starred as himself in an episode of Diff'rent Strokes, will be in the ballpark on the night that the Whitecaps are honoring him. Get it signed!
- Todd Helton (June 9, Colorado Springs Sky Sox): Helton played 120 games for the Sky Sox during the 1996 and '97 seasons en route to establishing himself as one of the greatest Rockies of all time.
- Jack Hanna (June 10, Columbus Clippers): The Clippers' series of bobbleheads honoring local icons rolls on with this one, featuring perhaps the most famous late-night zookeeper of all time.
- Matt Adams (June 10, Springfield Cardinals): The fast rising St. Louis rookie hit 32 home runs for Springfield just last season.
Into the ellipse...
A brief rundown of other notable promotions taking place this week...
June 6: Mark Ballas, of Dancing With the Stars fame, struts his way into Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park.
June 7: Javy Lopez, of squatting behind the plate fame, visits the Birmingham's Regions Park. ... Former pitcher Dave Eiland is inducted into the International League Hall of Fame prior to a Columbus Clippers game. ... The Utility Man, a new touring performer on the Minor League scene, brings his act to Harrisburg. ... The people of Tulsa have a the chance to win gently (and not-so-gently) used automobiles during "Clunker Car Night".
June 8: The Peoria Chiefs give away Joe Maddon T-shirts, and those who wear them are sure to look more erudite than they otherwise would. ... A mechanical bull on the concourse highlights the Potomac Nationals "Country Night".
June 9: Come early -- and hungry -- to the Dunedin Blue Jays' game, which will be preceded by a "Food Truck Rally." ... The Fresno Grizzlies give away Elvis sunglasses to their Rock 'n' Roll-loving fan base. ... Should-be Hall of Famer Lee Smith signs autographs at an Indianapolis Indians game. ... The Lake County Captains are staging a Beer Festival, and those are generally a pretty fun time. ... The Tulsa Drillers distribute Mickey Mantle replica jerseys, in honor of one of Oklahoma's most famous natives.
June 10: The Albuquerque Isotopes give away skateboard decks to young fans, who then must procure some wheels.
June 11: An "old-time baseball demonstration" precedes the evening's regularly scheduled Iowa Cubs game.
June 12: Clayton Kershaw figurines are given to those who pass through the turnstiles of Great Lake's Dow Diamond. ... The Harrisburg Senators stage a salute to YouTube by playing the favorite videos of fans, players and staff. ... None other than Brett "The Hit Man" Hart visits Richmond's The Diamond.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog.