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Vote for best of the best promotions

Nominees include sitting on politicos, wild Home Run Derbies
October 2, 2012
Choosing the top Minor League Promotion of the Year is an arduous, agonizing and, yes, somewhat arbitrary task. There are thousands upon thousands of them staged across the country every season, ranging from giveaway items to theme nights to celebrity appearances and beyond.

So what makes one the best?

That question, as always, will be left up to you. But in order to streamline the process, I have again transformed into a one-man selection committee and narrowed the choices down to 12. These elite dozen made the cut because they embodied one or more of the following key Minor League promotional principles: originality, timeliness, community engagement and trendsetting potential. The polls open today and run through Oct. 22. Vote early and vote often! But not before reading up on this year's nominees, of course:

Arkansas Travelers (Texas League)
Loek Van Mil Growth Chart

This very well might have been the season's most unique giveaway item: On Aug. 19, the Arkansas Travelers distributed 500 growth charts featuring 7-foot-1 pitcher Ludovicus Jacobus Maria Van Mil (better known as "Loek.") Van Mil suited up for the Travelers in 2011 (compiling a 2.04 ERA over 30 appearances), and during his time there, he established himself as an athlete with high standards whom others had no choice but to look up to (hence, the growth chart). But don't accuse the Travelers of having any sort of height bias: On Aug. 18, just one day before giving away the growth chart, the team staged a pregame midget wrestling match.

Noted: This marks the second "Promotion of the Year" nomination for the Travelers, following 2010's unforgettable "Jose Canseco vs. 60-year-old man" pregame boxing match.

Bradenton Marauders (Florida State League)
Babies On Deck Night

A lot has happened at Bradenton's McKechnie Field over the nearly 90 years that the facility has been in existence, but the events of this past Feb. 25 were totally unprecedented: Trevor Gooby, the Pirates' director of Florida operations, delivered a baby during a stadium open house. This clutch delivery inspired the Marauders to plan a promotion that was pregnant with potential: "Babies on Deck Night." Highlights included pickles and ice cream at the concession stands and baby-changing relay races, but the piece de resistance was a bobblehead featuring Gooby presenting the baby to the world in a triumphant "Lion King" style. And the baby's name? McKechnie, of course.

Charleston RiverDogs (South Atlantic League)
Homer Run Derby on USS Yorktown

Future Minor League Baseball historians take note: On June 18, the RiverDogs became the first team ever to incorporate volunteers on Jet Skis into a Minor League promotion. The occasion was the first round of the South Atlantic League Home Run Derby, and the league's top sluggers hit balls from the deck of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier into the Charleston Harbor. And from there, the waterlogged spheroids were retrieved by -- you guessed it -- volunteers on Jet Skis. The RiverDogs received nationwide publicity for this unprecedented endeavor, which even included a visit from RiverDogs co-owner Bill "Director of Fun" Murray.

Noted: This marks the second "Promotion of the Year" nomination for the RiverDogs, following 2010's "Groundskeeper Chia Head" giveaway.

Fort Myers Miracle (Florida State League)
Special Needs Baseball Camp

The Miracle have long possessed an anything-goes promotional philosophy, but team president Steve Gliner says the annual Special Needs Baseball Game is "the best event we do all year -- hands down, no question." The premise is simple -- as part of a partnership with the Dave Clark Foundation, the Miracle host a day-long baseball camp for area children with disabilities. But what makes the Special Needs Camp a truly top-tier event is that the entire Miracle team and coaching staff participates, making small group and one-on-one instruction the norm. And the presence of Clark -- a polio survivor and advocate for the disabled who enjoyed an improbable professional playing career -- ensures that the event remains expertly executed from start to finish.

Noted: In 2007, the Miracle's "Billy Donovan Night" was voted's Promotion of the Year.

Frederick Keys (Carolina League)
Six Months to the End of the World Night

Apocalyptic angst experienced a noticeable uptick at the ballpark this season, as a result of the Mayans' long-ago prediction that the world would end in 2012. The Keys cashed in on this doom-and-gloom sentiment with June's "Six Months to the End of the World Night," which included morbid spectacles such as last meal eating contests, survival kit giveaways and, best of all, zombie interns. Clearly, this is the sort of promotional endeavor that takes brains.

Noted: The Keys received a "Promotion of the Year" nomination in 2010, when they staged the unprecedented culinary ballpark spectacle that was "Volt Night."

Fresno Grizzlies (Pacific Coast League)
Taco Truck Throwdown 2

With the 2012 iteration of the Taco Truck Throwdown, the Grizzlies joined the ranks of The Godfather II and The Empire Strikes Back in creating a sequel that was better than the original. The unassailable premise of local taco purveyors vying for food truck supremacy remained, but this time around the team increased the number of competitors to 12 and moved the competition to a more spacious area of the ballpark in order to best handle the hordes of taco lovers in attendance. A $20 ticket package included admission to the game, a Taco Throwdown t-shirt, and most crucially, four tacos.

Noted: The Grizzlies received a Promotion of the Year nomination for 2007's "Famous Fan Tribute" and then won it all in 2008 with the "Mascot Showdown." They received another nomination for 2009's "As Seen on TV" night, 2010's "Twilight Night" and 2011's inaugural edition of the Taco Truck Throwdown. They are the only team to be nominated in all six of's "Promotion of the Year" competitions.

Lowell Spinners (New York-Penn League)
Tyler Seguin Speed Dating

The Spinners have staged many notable promotions over the years -- from shooting a man from a cannon to setting bubble-wrap world records -- but none drew the public's interest like this season's announcement that baby-faced Bruins superstar Tyler Seguin would be visiting LeLacheur Park for a round of speed dating. Female fans vied for this opportunity via a variety of means (including an eBay auction and an essay contest) and a fortunate few got to spend an intimate inning with this most eligible of Boston bachelors.

Noted: The Spinners received a Promotion of the Year nomination for 2007's "Politically In-Correct Night," 2010's "Fifty Years of Bubble-Wrap" salute and 2011's "Human Home Run."

Missoula Osprey (Pioneer League)
Float to the Ballpark

From driving to biking to walking, Osprey fans have long had a variety of ballpark transportation options. But it took until this season for the club to find a way to utilize the Clark Fork River, which flows just beyond the outfield fence. The team partnered with a local rafting company in order to stage "Float to the Ballpark," a day-long $60 endeavor that began with a one-hour and 45-minute guided raft trip to Ogren Park Allegiance Field and also included a hat, game program and all-you-can-eat barbecue meal at the ballpark.

North Arkansas Naturals (Texas League)
Thunder Chickens "What Might Have Been Night"

The alternate-reality exploring "What Could Have Been" concept began in 2009, when the Bowling Green Hot Rods changed their name to the "Cave Shrimp." This was later voted the year's top promotion, and ever since, "What Could've Been" nights have been an industry staple. This year's most notable practitioner were the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, who changed their name to the "Thunder Chickens" (the runner-up in their 2008 "Name the Team" contest). On this special evening, the team suited up as such, and ultra-limited "Thunder Chickens" hats and shirts were available in the team store.

Orem Owlz (Pioneer League)
No Soup for You Night featuring Larry "The Soup Nazi" Thomas

It took until this season for Larry "The Soup Nazi" Thomas to finally visit a Minor League ballpark -- better ladle than never! The noted character actor, forever known for his memorable Seinfeld episode star turn, autographed the team-logo ladles that were given away and later served up soup to fans who asked politely. Owlz general manager Brett Crane called Thomas' appearance "the best promotion we have done in the 12-year history of our franchise."

Noted: The Owlz's first and only "Promotion of the Year" nomination came in 2010 for their Torii Hunter "Bobblearm" giveaway.

Reading Phillies (Eastern League)
Eastern League Home Run Derby

Whereas the Charleston RiverDogs spiced up the Home Run Derby by moving it to a novel location, the R-Phils breathed new life into the contest by adding a seemingly unending and exceedingly bizarre array of bells and whistles. On-field targets and distractions included a dunk tank, a musical performer, glove-wearing outfielders bouncing on trampolines, and most notably, an intern suspended from a crane in left field. The end result was nearly hallucinogenic in nature, a home run derby of the subconscious.

Noted:The Reading Phillies received "Promotion of the Year" nominations for 2008's "Spam Carving Competition," 2009's "Gluttony Night," 2010's "Salute to the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor" and 2011's "Chooching Owl Figurine." They've yet to win it all.

Stockton Ports (California League)
Presidential Seat Cushion Giveaway

The Ports are the reigning "Promotion of the Year" champions, having won it all on the strength of 2011's "Dallas Braden Bobblebelly" giveaway. Now they're gunning for a repeat, with this year's standout offering being a "Presidential Seat Cushion" giveaway. These double-sided items featured Obama on one side and Romney on the other, and fans were encouraged to sit on the face of the candidate they did not support. There couldn't be a greater example of Democracy in action.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog.