Minor League teams are known for their game-day promotions. Every Wednesday during the season, we'll preview 10 of the best for the week ahead. 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."
This is going to be a great year for Minor League promotions.
How do I know? Because for the past several months, I have spent untold hours in my offseason lair, scouring team promotional calendars in search of innovative theme nights, generous giveaways and thrilling performances.
What I have found -- from ramen noodle celebrations to egg tossing championships and used car giveaways -- has made me very optimistic about the potential of the 2008 season.
And I'm ready to share the fruits of my labor. Starting today (and continuing every Wednesday during the season), "Promotion Preview" will highlight 10 of the most compelling promos taking place across the Minor League landscape. The very best of these 10 ultimately will be determined by a fan poll.
This will be my third season writing the Promotion Preview column and I fully expect it to be the most interesting, absurd and unpredictable one yet. To that end, I need help from you.
Teams: Please email me whenever you have a noteworthy promotion taking place -- the more information, the better. Also, after the fact, please feel free to send recaps and photos from the event.
Fans: Please do not hesitate to get in touch. Give me your opinions on the column, share stories from games you've attended and let me know what promos you'd like to see more of.
Of course, with more than 160 teams in the affiliated Minor Leagues, there is always going to be more going on than can be adequately covered in a weekly column. For more content of a similar nature, please visit Ben's Biz Blog. It's updated regularly during the week and promos are always a major topic of conversation.
And now, on with the show! Here are 10 notable promotions during the opening week of the 2008 Minor League season:
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Altoona Curve (Eastern League)
Kitchen Sink Giveaway/Jerome Bettis (April 3)
William "the Refrigerator" Perry (April 4)
Nothing says baseball season is here quite like the combination of kitchen appliances and retired football players. The Altoona Curve are well aware of this fact. On Thursday, the club will kick off its 10th anniversary season by having legendary Pittsburgh Steelers running back (and Curve co-owner) Jerome Bettis throw out the first pitch. Then, during the game, a kitchen sink will be awarded to one lucky fan. This largely symbolic gesture illustrates the fact that the Curve are "throwing the kitchen sink" at fans in 2008. Want proof? Come to the ballpark the following night, when former Chicago Bears defensive tackle William "the Refrigerator" Perry will preside over a contest that involves giving away his namesake appliance to one lucky fan.
Corpus Christi Hooks (Texas League)
MEL Replica Statue Giveaway (April 3)
I have to admit, when I first saw "MEL Replica Statue Giveaway" listed on the Hooks' promotional schedule, I was completely stumped as to what it was. For a while, I entertained the thought that MEL might be some sort of sexy robot, but the truth is far more reasonable. In front of the Hooks' Whataburger Field is a statue of a bat-wielding ballplayer. This work of art officially is called, "For the Love of the Game," but the club's front office refers to it simply as "MEL." Why they chose this name or why it is in all capital letters is anybody's guess. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to solve any more mysteries today.
Lake Elsinore Storm (California League)
Jake Peavy's Number Retired (April 3)
When the Storm became a San Diego affiliate in 2001, a young hurler named Jake Peavy became the first Padres prospect to toe the rubber at The Diamond. He went on to make 19 starts for Lake Elsinore before earning a promotion to Double-A Mobile. Peavy is widely considered the best pitcher in the National League, but he hasn't forgotten his roots. On Thursday, the 26-year-old right-hander will visit The Diamond for a pregame ceremony in which his No. 22 will be retired. He'll also throw out the season's ceremonial first pitch. During the game, the entire Storm team will don No. 22 jerseys. Isn't that the one number they shouldn't be wearing?
Rome Braves (South Atlantic League)
Bruce Sutter Appearance (April 3)
A ceremonial first pitch is thrown at the start of every Minor League game, but on Opening Day, the individual tossing that pitch needs to be someone special. Like, Hall of Fame special. Somebody along the lines of, oh, I don't know, Bruce Sutter. On Thursday, the Cooperstown-enshrined reliever will journey to Rome to help the Braves get their season started with a touch of class. Some may wonder at the appropriateness of Sutter's appearance, however. After all, he is the only pitcher in the Hall of Fame who never started a game.
Lakewood BlueClaws (South Atlantic League)
Mitch Williams Appearance (April 4)
Like many players before him, former closer Mitch Williams has found fulfillment in retirement by producing and selling novelty foodstuffs. Williams' "Wild Thing Southpaw Salsa" is available online, but that's not nearly as fun as buying it from the man himself. On Friday, Williams will visit Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park to drum up excitement for his culinary concoction. If you can't make it to the game, fear not because Wild Thing Southpaw Salsa will be available at the BlueClaws' team store all season long. If the salsa is anything like its erratic creator, then expect a severe case of indigestion after consumption.
Also in Lakewood: Buster the Mascot's birthday party and pillowcase giveaway on April 5.
Las Vegas 51s (Pacific Coast League)
Russell Martin Bobblehead (April 4)
Bobblehead giveaways may not be quite as prevalent as they were in seasons past, but they're still a force to be reckoned with. One of the Minors' first such giveaways this year will occur on Friday in Las Vegas, where the 51s distribute 2,500 undulating, top-heavy dolls bearing the likeness of Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star catcher -- and 51s alum -- Russell Martin. My guess is that these dolls will not contain the backstop's full name, which is Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin.
Iowa Cubs (Pacific Coast League)
Winter Giveaways Galore (April 5-6, April 7-8)
It may seem like a distant, fading memory, but April 2007 was a cold, wet month. The first week of the Minor League season was marred by a seemingly endless series of postponements and cancellations, and the hardy fans who did show up had to hook up to hot chocolate IVs just to keep warm. The Iowa Cubs obviously remember those trying times and are doing their best to make sure fans are prepared should it happen again. Team-logo scarves will be given away on Saturday, stocking hats on Sunday and mittens on Monday. The Cubs will deviate from the cold-weather theme on Tuesday, however, when they distribute Shawon Dunston jersey shirts to the first 1,500 fans in attendance.
Quad Cities River Bandits (Midwest League)
Lose Your Blues Night (April 5)
After four seasons as the awkwardly named "Swing," Quad Cities has reverted to its previous moniker of River Bandits. To get this new era off to a rollicking start, the club will be staging "Lose Your Blues Night" on Saturday. Fans are invited to bring their old Swing gear (or any piece of clothing in the old Swing colors of light blue or burnt orange) to recently re-rechristened Modern Woodman Park. In exchange, they'll receive a brand new River Bandits shirt. Remember: It don't mean a thing if it's still got that Swing.
Stockton Ports (California League)
Ernie Broglio Figurine/Turn Back the Clock Night (April 5)
One of the more interesting Minor League innovations created this offseason came from Stockton, which established the Ports Alumni Club. Open to any former player or coach, this group will help preserve and celebrate the 65-year history of the franchise. On Saturday, members of the Ports Alumni Club will be showcased as part of a "Turn Back the Clock" pregame ceremony. The first 1,000 fans through the gates will receive a bronze figurine of Ernie Broglio, who starred with the Ports in 1955 en route to an eight-year Major League career. Chicago Cubs fans who are still bitter that Broglio was involved in the trade that sent Lou Brock to St. Louis are advised not to attend.
Wilmington Blue Rocks (Carolina League)
Star Trek Appreciation Day (April 6)
Family Guy Night (April 7)
Many teams hold off on staging wacky theme nights until the novelty of the new season has begun to fade. Not the Blue Rocks, who are charging ahead at warp speed through one of the most jam-packed promo schedules in the Minors. On Sunday, the club will celebrate the science fiction brilliance that is "Star Trek" all game long. The first 100 fans through the gates will receive a pair of Spock ears, which at the very least should provide some warmth. Then, on Monday, it's "Family Guy Night." In keeping with the spirit of the show, this promo should merely be a watered-down version of one of the many "Simpsons" nights that were held across the Minor Leagues last season.
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com