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Whitecaps honored with MacPhail Trophy

West Michigan given promotional award at Winter Meetings
December 6, 2007
Their slogan was "Never a Dull Moment!" and the West Michigan Whitecaps more than lived up to their own billing.

The Whitecaps, the Class A entry of the Detroit Tigers in the Midwest League, were honored Thursday night at the Baseball Winter Meetings with the prestigious Larry MacPhail Trophy, given annually to the team with that year's top promotional effort in the Minors.

"I'm happy and surprised to have won," said Whitecaps promotions coordinator Brian Oropallo. "But since this was announced I've found that people are giving me too much credit for my role in all of this. We in the promotions department might come up with a specific idea, but it takes the entire organization to make it work."

If that meant working overtime, or diving headfirst into one's personal belongings to come up with the perfect accoutrement for a given promotion, then the Whitecaps staff made it work to a tee. Or maybe a T-shirt.

"For instance, if we do an '80s night promotion, every single person who works for the team is digging through their closet looking for the appropriate clothes to wear to the ballpark," said Oropallo. "Unless that sort of cooperation happens, the promotion just isn't going to work."

With a talent-packed club that came into the 2007 campaign as defending league champions and finished it with back-to-back titles, the Whitecaps could have rested on their laurels and championship rings and still had a successful year on the field and at the gate.

The concept behind the slogan was to expect the unexpected. The club slotted "theme days," such as Big Top Tuesdays where the popular visiting entertainment acts were slotted in, Thrifty Thursdays where fans were treated to special discounts and giveaways and Family Sundays where the kids got to participate in a variety of on-field activities.

In between, the Whitecaps filled the nights with an array of special events, consistently coming up with creative ideas to keep the fans entertained and amused.

Ideas such as Mustache Night, in honor of then-manager Tom Brookens, resulted in the team's front office members growing mustaches and the players' headshots sporting a 'stache on the scoreboard thanks to the wonders of modern technology.

The season's biggest hit was Star Wars Night, where the club got the local chapter of the Star Wars Fan Club involved in the planning and execution of the event. From Darth Vader throwing out the first pitch to special team jerseys for the night. It was a huge success.

Even within the given structure, there was always something different. For example, the Whitecaps definitely went out of the box with some of their performers on their Big Top Tuesdays, bringing in such not-yet-big names as Rubberboy and Quick Change (and fans can look forward to such names as the Human Slinky and Mad Chad the Chainsaw Juggler in 2008).

"A lot of these performers would traditionally play halftime at basketball games, but I think they are catching on to the fact that there's a lot of business to be had in the Minor Leagues as well," explained Oropallo. "So they are tailoring their acts to fit the pace of a baseball game."

Lisa Winston is a reporter for Benjamin Hill contributed to this story.