Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. On Tuesdays this season, we're previewing 10 of the most intriguing 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" or send him a Tweet -- hashtag "#promopreview."
The Gwinnett Braves' home of Lawrenceville, Ga., is located more than 1,000 miles away from Boston, but come next Tuesday, it certainly won't feel that way.
That's because the G-Braves will be hosting "Boston Strong Night," a fundraiser and show of support for a city still reeling in the aftermath of the marathon bombing that occurred earlier this month. The team will be playing the Pawtucket Red Sox, appropriately enough, and a quartet of notable athletes with impeccable Boston credentials are slated to attend: former Boston College (and current Atlanta Falcons) quarterback Matt Ryan, former Boston Red Sox captain Jason Varitek, former New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison and former Boston Celtics point guard Dee Brown. These athletes will all throw ceremonial first pitches, and later add their John Hancock (himself a notable Bostonian) to an array of memorabilia items that will be part of a silent auction. All funds raised during the evening benefit OneFundBoston.org, which assists victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
G-Braves general manager North Johnson said that "first and foremost, this is something that we planned because it's the right thing to do," but conceded that the evening's impressive roster of celebrity guests was a case of "better lucky than good."
Assistant general manager Shari Massengill is good friends with a woman named Kerri Leland, a well-connected and community-minded individual who is friends with Matt Ryan's wife. Leland reached out to the Ryans about securing Matt's participation, and the guest list snowballed from there.
The star power of the Beantown athletes -- and their corresponding fundraising potential -- put a high-gloss sheen on the evening, but the G-Braves will be paying tribute to (and raising money for) Boston in a number of smaller ways as well. Each ticket purchased online using the promo code "STRONG" results in a $5 donation to OneFundBoston.org, and throughout the game, all players will walk to the plate to the tune of Boston-based acts such as the Dropkick Murphys and Aerosmith. The fans will choose which of three songs will be played during the eighth-inning break, meanwhile, by donating money into a bucket attached to each choice. (Not surprisingly, Johnson predicts that "Sweet Caroline" will win in a landslide.)
A final charitable element is still waiting Major League Baseball approval, but the G-Braves hope to further signify their connection to Boston by having both teams wear 1934-era Boston Braves caps. The hats would then be autographed and given away after the game to the highest bidders in the silent auction (and will be available in the team store as well).
"We're keeping things in perspective and know that what we're doing is just a small piece," said Johnson. "But [Boston Strong Night] is us sending a message that we're all grieving and want to help in any way that we possibly can. Hopefully, other teams will follow suit."
The G-Braves tower above the promo landscape this week, but here are five more endeavors worthy of your attention.
West Michigan Whitecaps (Midwest League) Hipster Night, May 2
In popular culture, so-called "hipsters" have come to be identified with tongue-in-cheek consumption of cheap domestic beer, T-shirt slogans that project an air of ironic detachment and a smug rejection of mainstream culture. These traits, insufferable as they can be, will be celebrated in full during Thursday's "Hipster Night" in West Michigan. Team promotions manager Keith Roefselma promises that nerd glasses, skinny jeans and plaid shirts will be in abundance at the ballpark and that all music played on the PA will be by bands that no one has ever heard of. But, most impressively, he writes that the very premise of the promotion will be called into question via an "objective/scientific look" at the "paradox that is hipster nation." Heady stuff.
Fresno Grizzlies (Pacific Coast League) Farm Grown Friday, May 3
In their role as a Triple-A affiliate, the Fresno Grizzlies are proud to provide "farm grown" talent for the San Francisco Giants. But this season they are taking the concept to bold new vistas with their series of "Farm Grown Friday" promotions. The players' link to the parent club will be made explicit through orange San Francisco-themed jerseys, while off the field, the team hosts a ballpark Farmer's Market featuring fresh produce and other locally-grown goodies. What's more, former Fresno mayor Alan Autry will host pregame "Farm Forums," which the team describes as "an open-discussion over certain topics pertaining to the agriculture industry."
Toledo Mud Hens (International League) Star Wars Weekend: May the Fourth Be With You/Revenge of the Fifth, May 4-5
The aforementioned hipster-embracing Whitecaps were the first team to stage a Star Wars-themed promo, but at this point the idea has gone totally mainstream. This weekend, the Mud Hens are staging a "May the Fourth Be With You/Revenge of the Fifth" double feature, a two-day promotional endeavor whose quality should be commensurate to the first two films of the beloved sci-fi franchise. Highlights include Star Wars-themed fireworks, concession items and a post-game "kazoo-a-long" to music from the films, but pretty much nothing can top the theme jerseys that the players will (be forced to) wear. These one-of-a-kind duds approximate the luxuriant body hair of Chewbacca, everyone's favorite Wookiee native of Kashyyyk turned Han Solo sidekick.
Fort Myers Miracle (Florida State League) Special Needs Camp, May 4
Miracle president Steve Gliner calls the team's annual "Special Needs Camp" the "best event that we do all year -- hands down, no question," and his enthusiasm is justifiable. Working in concert with polio-stricken pitcher Dave Clarke and his eponymous foundation, the team invites disabled youths (18 and under) to Hammond Stadium for a day of baseball instruction with the entirety of the Miracle roster and coaching staff. "Usually the first five or 10 minutes, both sides, the kids and the players, are feeling each other out a little bit," said Jake Mauer, who managed the Miracle from 2010-12. "And then after 15 minutes, it's like they've known each other their whole lives. The apprehension is completely gone."
Harrisburg Senators (Eastern League) Mayfly Umbrella, May 4
The Senators play on Harrisburg's City Island, surrounded on all sides by the Susquehanna River. This aquatic environment is a haven for pesky mayflies, which have long enlivened the ballpark atmosphere by electrocuting themselves en masse in the stadium lights and then raining down onto the fans below. Instances of insect corpse bombardment have greatly decreased since a roof was added to the grandstand of the stadium prior to 2010, but nonetheless the Senators want to make sure that their fans are prepared. The first 1,000 fans attending Saturday's ballgame receive an umbrella emblazoned with the team's alternate "Mayfly" logo, because if you're going to get rained on by dead bugs, then you might as well have a sense of humor about it.
Into the Ellipse…
Because it's so hard to say goodbye, here's an exceedingly brief rundown of other notable promotions taking place this week…
- May 1: The Lakewood BlueClaws stage their annual preview of the Kentucky Derby, because watching team staffers pretend they are horses is even better than the real thing.
- May 3: If you mustache, then I must tell you: Rollie Fingers is visiting the Stockton Ports.
- May 4: One day in advance of Cinco De Mayo, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs give away margarita glasses for of-age fans. ... In Omaha, the Storm Chasers combine Stars Wars and "What If? Night" with a promotion in which they reimagine themselves as the Omaha Force.
- May 5: The Albuquerque Isotopes distribute tortillas to their fans, because it's Cinco de Mayo. ... Renowned White Sox organist Nancy Faust tickles the keys for the nearby Kane County Cougars.
- May 6: In Akron, the Aeros celebrate the freeze-dried miracle of creation that are Sea Monkeys.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog.