Lake County's first pitch for Lance
In the past, the Class A Cleveland Indians affiliate has staged tongue-in-cheek "tributes" to LeBron James, the Summer Olympics, and Cleveland's ignominious sports history. Armstrong will get the Captains treatment via the team's "LanceStrong Night" promotion, a light-hearted response to the celebrated cyclist's now-tarnished legacy.
Scheduled for June 29 (the day that the Tour de France begins), LanceStrong Night includes a bevy of inspired one-time-only elements. The evening will begin with a pre-recorded version of the National Anthem sung by Armstrong's ex-paramour Sheryl Crow, and this will soon give way to a "spandex fashion show," as sartorially daring fans strut their skin-tight stuff atop the dugout (perhaps inevitably, the winner receives a new bicycle). Attendees are also encouraged to wear their LiveStrong bracelets to the ballpark, so that they may compete in games such as ring toss, bracelet stacking, and the not-so-succinctly named "who can get the most bracelets on their arm?"
Though the Captains are clearly poking fun at Armstrong after his admission to using performance-enhancing drugs, they are also taking pains to ensure that the promotion's overall tone is one of positivity. Neil Stein, the Captains assistant general manager, said that the team plans to partner with a local wellness organization to promote a "Bike to the Ballpark" component of the evening. And for each fan who wears one of the aforementioned LiveStrong bracelets to the game, the team will donate $1 to the organization.
"LiveStrong is still a legitimate organization, and the casual person might not know that [Armstrong] is not affiliated with them anymore," said Stein. "So when we started talking about doing this, we said, 'Let's figure out a way to get a donation back to those guys.' We still want to do some good."
Such is the nature of Minor League Baseball, as the desire to quickly and irreverently capitalize on current events must coexist with a relentlessly positive and family-friendly operating philosophy. Thus, the Captains will be poking fun at Armstrong in a way that will be more absurdist than scathing. The prizes in the post-game Launch-A-Ball contest, for example, include first aid kits, used LiveStrong exercise equipment and Louis Armstrong CDs.
And since "LanceStrong Night" is still more than five months away, the Captains have plenty of time to plan additional Armstrong-related innovations.
"We've hardly scratched the surface," said Stein. "We wanted to be the first to do [an Armstrong promotion], but we don't yet have all our ducks in a row. The idea is out there, and now we can start a conversation."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog.