Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. On Tuesdays this season, we preview 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 a Tweet to @bensbiz, hashtag "#promopreview."
This Wednesday, there will be no need for Lansing Lugnuts fans to guess what day it is. The presence of Humphrey the camel should make one thing overwhelmingly clear: It's hump day.
While the Great Lakes Loons currently boast a "Rall E. Camel" mascot, Humphrey represents a bold step forward when it comes to camel-based Minor League Baseball promotions. Humphrey is a living, breathing open-toed ungulate, and he'll be in attendance during all Wednesday home games at Lansing's Cooley Law School Stadium.
"We hadn't had a Wednesday-specific promotion for a couple of years, and in looking at our options it seemed 'Hump Day' made the most sense," said Lugnuts director of marketing Jeremy Smoker. "Through television advertising and the Internet, the hump day phenomenon has really grown."
After a few front-office brainstorming sessions, the Lugnuts ran the "Hump Day" concept by their ownership group.
"They said, 'Well, can we get a camel?'" recalled Smoker. "I said, 'I don't know, let me give it a whirl.' Believe it or not, there are a handful of camel folks out there, and we found one who really seemed to get what we were trying to do."
Humphrey is approximately 15 years of age and a seasoned veteran of what Smoker referred to as "fair-type environments." He'll begin his Wednesday "Hump Day" engagements by doing a lap around the warning track and then delivering ceremonial first-pitch baseballs to the mound. Once the game is under way, Humphrey will be safely ensconced in a secure concourse location, posing for pictures and magnanimously allowing himself to be petted.
"I've met him a couple of times -- he's very friendly," noted Smoker. "He ate about 30 apples in one sitting."
During the seventh-inning stretch, Humphrey will return to the field of play with one lucky fan -- the winner of an in-game "text to win" contest -- riding atop him. Other "Hump Day" highlights include Humphrey T-shirts being thrown into the stands, half-priced happy hour drinks and an "On the Hump" videoboard trivia segment featuring Lugnuts pitchers asking "true or false" camel-related questions.
| "I've met him a couple of times, he's very friendly. He ate about 30 apples in one sitting."
-- Jeremy Smoker
If "Hump Day" becomes a phenomenon in Lansing, then might it kick off a new camel-centric era in the world of Minor League Baseball promotions?
"I'd love to say that, but I have no idea," said Smoker. "It's all about the fan experience, and I think families and kids coming out to see a live camel will have a good time…. And if this blows up, then, absolutely, we'll take credit for it."
The best of the rest
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (International League)
Rob Crain's Guarantee, April 10
On March 11, when the Northeast was slogging through one of the most brutal winters in memory, RailRiders president Rob Crain appeared in video wearing what the team described as "floral orange shorts, inexplicable snorkel gear and a life preserver designed for a little girl."
"I'm sick of winter," Crain declared, and to prove it, he issued a personal guarantee that the temperature for Thursday's Opening Day would be 60 degrees or higher. If Mother Nature fails to meet this demand, all fans receive a free ticket to any future 2014 home game. But that's not all! Crain, for reasons known only to him, also guaranteed that if the RailRiders lose, he will dress up like a woman until they win.
Richmond Flying Squirrels (Eastern League)
Too Big to Fail Night (Take Home a Piece of the Iceberg), April 12
It's never too early in the baseball season to stage a satirical theme night. On Saturday, during what will be their third home game of the year, the Richmond Flying Squirrels are celebrating American entities who, as director of promotions Kellye Semonich explains, "were (or still are) too big to have been ever thought to fail." These doomed cultural icons include "the Hindenburg, the Titanic, big banks [and] Kim Kardashian's backside," but the real highlight of this promotion will occur as fans leave the stadium. In what has to be a Minor League Baseball first, fans will receive actual pieces of the iceberg that the Titanic crashed into. This promotion is too big to fail.
Tennessee Smokies (Southern League)
Mountain Man Appearance, April 12
Move over Mr. Belding. Scoot aside, Jerry Lawler. Scram, Alfonso Ribeiro. This year's preeminent touring ballpark celebrity is none other than Tim "Mountain Man" Guraedy, a peripheral character on A&E's divisive hit reality show Duck Dynasty. Last season, the State College Spikes became the first team to bring Mountain Man to the ballpark, a move precipitated by the fact that Duck Dynasty's principal characters were well beyond the range of the promotional budget. A sellout crowd was the result and -- voila! -- Mountain Man is now making (by my count) 17 appearances at stadiums across the land. Mountain Man's 2013 Minor League adventures kick off Saturday at a most apropos location, Smokies Stadium, located in close proximity to an honest-to-God mountain range.
San Jose Giants (California League)
Military Trading Card Set Giveaway, April 13
Like Mountain Man, military trading card sets are a fast-rising promotional trend first instituted in 2013 by a New York-Penn League team (in this case, the Lowell Spinners). It's a simple premise, as local military members both past and present are included in a set of trading cards that are distributed to fans as they enter the stadium. The Giants will be the first team to stage such a giveaway in 2014 when on Sunday they distribute a 36-card set representing all branches of the military. The individuals honored in the set were chosen from among nearly 100 fan nominations and include Pat Tillman as well as 95-year-old World War II veteran (and recent viral video star) Joe Bell.
Brevard County Manatees/Lakeland Flying Tigers (Florida State League)
Jackie Robinson Game at Historic Dodgertown at Holman Stadium, April 15
For the past decade, April 15 has been known as "Jackie Robinson Day" within the world of professional baseball. His legacy will be celebrated in myriad ways Tuesday, including the inaugural "Jackie Robinson Celebration Game" at Robinson's old Spring Training home of Dodgertown. This iconic complex, which has not fielded a Minor League team since the Vero Beach Devil Rays departed after the 2008 season, will host Tuesday's Florida State League contest between Brevard County and Lakeland. "Historic Dodgertown is truly the cradle of baseball's racial integration," said Minor League Baseball President Pat O'Conner. "The activities on those hallowed grounds and the exploits of Jackie Robinson changed not only baseball, but America and the world."
Because more is better, here is a succinct yet succulent roundup of other notable promotions taking place this week:
- April 10: Because you can't drink from a bobblehead, the Louisville Bats are distributing "Jay Bruce steins."
- April 11: It's "Billboard Bad Music Night" in Binghamton. Get ready to hear a cavalcade of catastrophic chart-toppers.… San Anontio Missions fans receive Brooks Robinson 1956 replica jerseys in honor of the Hall of Famer's Eisenhower-era stint in San Antonio.
- April 12: T-shirts bearing the likeness of a team's co-owner normally wouldn't be a popular giveaway item. But, then again, Bill Murray isn't a normal team co-owner. Visit the Charleston RiverDogs to get this one-of-a-kind piece of apparel.… The Charlotte Knights celebrate their new downtown location with the gala grand opening of BB&T Stadium. Jim Thome, a former Knight, is scheduled to throw out the first pitch.
- April 13: It's "Yoga with the 'Topes" in Albuquerque, giving enthusiasts the rare opportunity to strike a downward dog pose on the outfield of a Pacific Coast League stadium.
- April 14: The Akron RubberDucks host "Pop vs. Soda" night, an argument that will fizzle out eventually.
- April 15: Those looking to understand the finer points of meteorology will enjoy the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers' "Weather Night," featuring pregame demonstrations from those working in the field.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.