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."
The people of Fresno know and love tacos, and this love is enabled by the city's wide array of vehicular purveyors of this cheap, endlessly adaptable and always tasty Mexican food staple.
But which of Fresno's taco trucks is the greatest? The Grizzlies seek to answer this question with Thursday's "Taco Truck Throwdown," an evening-long battle for vendor supremacy. This marks the second time that the Grizzlies have staged such an endeavor at Chukchansi Park, with last year's inaugural version being one of the team's most successful promotions. A crowd of 10,000 turned out for the event, and approximately 8,000 tacos were consumed from the seven vendors in attendance.
But the promotion suffered somewhat in that it was too successful, as inordinately long lines at each of the trucks created a cramped concourse environment. In the end, many fans were left with a frustrating decision: watch the game, or wait in line for tacos. The team is seeking to rectify overcrowding issues this time around, with Grizzlies director of media relations Chris Kutz noting that the event would be located in a more spacious ballpark location and that the gates would be opening a half hour earlier than usual.
"That was one of the first things that came to mind, how to address [the overcrowding] issue," said Kutz. "Last year some fans didn't have the best experience, but this year we have more options in a larger space."
Indeed they do. Though a bevy of 2011 competitors will be returning (including "People's Choice" winner La Elegante), this year's roster has been expanded to 12 and includes more unorthodox entries such as soul food and Korean fusion tacos.
Fans looking to get in on the action can do so via the purchase of an advance ticket package: $20 buys admission to the game, a Taco Truck Throwdown t-shirt, and a voucher for four tacos (for $8 more, the truly hungry can upgrade their ticket to include eight tacos). The fans make their opinions heard via the aforementioned "People's Choice" award, and five "all-star" judges (including local restaurant magnate Bobby Salazar) will also be issuing a verdict.
What it all amounts to is not only a heated competition but also an invaluable culinary education.
"Everyone has their favorite truck, but they're spread out all over the city," said Kutz. "By bringing so many to one central spot, people can go out and try ones that they've never had before. If you're from the North, you might not know about a spot 25 minutes away, but it could be way better than anything that you grew up on. This could end up challenging people's loyalties."
Peanuts. Popcorn. Cotton candy. Licorice rope.
Over the past decade, the above six words became very familiar to fans of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, as they were belted out every night by charismatic vendor Brock Calmes. The ballpark icon passed away earlier this season at the age of 28, due to a blood clot, and on Thursday the Timber Rattlers will pay tribute in a most apropos way -- the first 1,000 fans through the gates receive a Brock Calmes bobblehead.
Calmes had been among the nominees for a "Fan's Choice" bobblehead in the past, and it was an honor that he always hoped that he would one day receive.
"Brock was in the running a couple of years ago," said Timber Rattlers president Rob Zerjav, in an MiLB.com piece from earlier this season. "Ever since then, he would always mention in passing, 'Boy, I'd love to have my own bobblehead.'"
Here, there and everywhere
Like many teams, the Great Lakes Loons ran a promotion this season in which they asked fans to submit pictures of themselves wearing team gear amidst exotic locales. But the Loons, being an entity that is always seeking to expand into heretofore unknown promotional territory, have put an interesting twist on the concept. The team has chosen five finalists, whose photos are currently being displayed in a "Here, There and Everywhere" photo album on Facebook. All of these finalists will be in attendance during Monday's regular season finale, during which they will attempt to recreate their photos on field. Each finalist has been assigned an intern to assist with the recreation, and not only are props allowed -- they're encouraged.
The fan with the best photo recreation (as determined by Facebook likes) will earn a highly coveted prize: a weekend getaway to the Bavarian town of Frankenmuth, Michigan! Never before have the stakes been this high.
Most Minor League theme nights pay tribute to people, places or things that inspire positive reactions from the fans. But leave it to the Orem Owlz to subvert the concept, as the team is staging a "I-15 Construction Appreciation Night" on Wednesday in honor of the seemingly never-ending work being done on Utah's main thoroughfare. Owlz general manager Brett Crane writes that "On this night we will be decorating our stadium with orange cones, and all of our staff will be wearing reflective vests. ... The games that we feature in between innings will all be related to the construction, with the highlight of the evening being a 'barrel bash,' allowing a couple of fans to vent their frustrations by taking a baseball bat to a construction barrel."
Into the ellipse...
A brief rundown of other notable promotions taking place this week, which, as you know, is the final week of the regular season. It all ends here, folks!
- Aug. 31: The Fort Wayne TinCaps' "Fan Appreciation Night" is highlighted by the distribution of a bobblehead honoring one randomly selected season ticket holder. ... The endlessly multi-tasking Lake County Captains are staging a "Facebook vs. Twitter" softball game, pre-game clam bake, and a giveaway extravaganza with the modest title of SuperMegaPrizeathon. ... In Reno, the Aces relinquish control with an all-encompassing "Fans Run the Game" promotion. ... Albuquerque Isotopes mascot Orbit celebrates his win in MiLB.com's "Mascot Mania" contest by wearing his championship belt all night long. ... And, finally, the Montgomery Biscuits are giving away what might be the most awe-inspiring small change storage of all time: the Monty Bobble Bank.
- Sept. 1: The Hagerstown Suns stage a "Grab Bag" giveaway, and why not? It's the end of the season, and everything must go. ... The best-named giveaway of the season may just be this, courtesy of the Bakersfield Blaze: the first 500 fans in attendance receive a "Hideo Gnomo" lawn ornament. ... Iconic Notre Dame football hero "Rudy" Ruettiger makes an appearance at the Frederick Keys game. Why? Because his nephew John is on the team.
- Sept. 2: The penultimate day of the season is more about pensive reflection than it is promotions.
- Sept. 3: The Rochester Red Wings' snow brush giveaway serves as a cruel reminder of the cold weather to come. ... And, finally, the Lake Elsinore Storm are staging a "Beer Blowout." Says the team: "The Storm want to tap the kegs and get rid of all beer, so we are ready to SELL SELL SELL!"
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter at @bensbiz.