Neil Stein has worked in Minor League Baseball for the past 15 seasons, the last seven of which have been spent as Lake County Captains assistant general manager. During his time with the Captains, the Class A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, Stein has been involved in planning and executing hundreds of promotions. But, by his own admission, no promotion was more memorable than the one that took place Aug. 1.
That evening, the Captains combined their annual "Cleveland Sports History Night" promo with a wide-ranging 25th anniversary salute to the 1989 comedy classic Major League. The night's much-coveted giveaway was a Jobu bobblehead, and actor Chelcie Ross, who played junk-baller Eddie Harris in the film, threw out a first pitch.
Between-innings games and contests referenced Major League in a variety of ways, while a small army of Cleveland sports celebrities signed autographs on the concourse.
The successful staging of such a promotion requires both creativity and coordination, as there are innumerable moving parts to contend with. In order to shed light on the Minor League Baseball promotional planning process, Stein has written a journal that details the work done by his staff and him in the week leading to Aug. 1's promotion. What follows is part one of a series. Part two, appearing on Ben's Biz Blog, can be found here. Part three will appear on the blog on Monday.
The "Calm" Before the Storm: Planning 2014's Promo of the Year, by Neil Stein (assistant general manager, Lake County Captains)
A huge part of the Minor League Baseball offseason involves planning promotions for the following season. Last October, our Lake County Captains front-office staff and the staff from our sister team, the Lancaster JetHawks, had a multi-day training and brainstorming session here at Classic Park to plan for the 2014 campaign. Little did we know that this session would lead to something monumental.
We discussed many ideas during these meetings, but only a handful made the cut. At one point I mentioned that 2014 would mark the 25th anniversary of the movie Major League. Everyone began thinking for turning this into a theme night for the Captains. After all, we are the Class A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians (the team featured in the movie) and operate within the greater Cleveland area. We discussed actors from the movie and what they were doing currently, as well as how different scenes could be incorporated into a theme night. During our discussion I vividly remember saying, "Wouldn't it be awesome if we could give out Jobu bobbleheads?" The room erupted! (For those whose Major League memory is murky, Jobu was a wild-haired doll worshipped as a god by outfielder Pedro Cerrano).
The ideas began flowing freely from there, culminating with us deciding to combine our annual Cleveland Sports History Night with a Major League 25th anniversary tribute featuring the Jobu bobblehead giveaway. Now, let's fast forward nine months, until we were just one week away from this event. Many hours had already gone into the planning, such as working with [bobblehead manufacturer] Alexander Global to design the Jobu bobblehead, booking celebrity appearances, and coming up with in-game promotions. Now, it was time for the real fun to begin.
Friday, July 25
Exactly one week prior to giving away the Jobu bobbleheads, we held a "Christmas in July" promo at Classic Park which included our first bobblehead giveaway of the season. The plan was to give away 1,500 A Christmas Story-themed bobbleheads featuring Captains mascot Skipper with a bar of soap in his mouth (a nod to the scene in the film in which Ralphie is punished for swearing).
How does this relate to the upcoming Jobu giveaway? The Captains have done bobbleheads for years -- always at a quantity of 1,500 -- so this wasn't new. However, the massive amount of media coverage for the Jobu bobblehead created more demand than anything we'd ever had to deal with before. Tonight's Christmas Story bobblehead gave us a chance to evaluate how we manage the crowd on giveaway nights. In addition, we wanted to make sure that only one bobblehead would be given away per person. It was important to insure that 1,500 different fans would get their very own Jobu.
At Classic Park, we don't allow fans to exit on giveaway nights until all of the giveaway items have been distributed. This is because thousands of people trying to get in, combined with hundreds of people trying to get out to take their giveaway to their car, causes mass confusion at the gates. We instituted this rule several years ago, posting small signs at all entrance gates, and it has made the process of handing out giveaway items go much more smoothly.
During tonight's "Christmas in July" night we had a few people who wanted to leave before the bobbleheads had all been distributed. However, after explaining the process, we were left with only one person who insisted on leaving. He literally forced his way out. We soon saw this same man milling around the main entrance, obviously trying to find a way to get back so that he could obtain a second bobblehead. Our staff pointed him out to the ticket takers stationed at the gate to make sure he didn't sneak back in. Eventually this gentleman left without any further disruption.
Saturday, July 26
Following a 1 p.m. tarp pull, several staff members were discussing the Major League promotion as well as various scenes from the movie. Willie Mays Hayes (the fleet-footed centerfielder from the movie played by Wesley Snipes) soon became the topic of conversation. Specifically, that he purchased 100 pairs of batting gloves -- one for every base he planned to steal. We began brainstorming how to incorporate that into the night and ended up with the idea of selling 100 pairs of batting gloves (cut out of paper) for $1 each. We'd hang them on the wall by our guest services area, with proceeds going to Captains Charities.
Lake County's Nellie Rodriguez used a golf club cover for his bat, while one fan dressed like "Wild Thing" Vaughn. (Captains)
Another item I needed to cross off my list was talking to one of our players about Friday's "Hats for Bats" golf head cover promotion. In Major League, Pedro Cerrano (played by Dennis Haysbert) stole a golf head cover from Roger Dorn and placed it on his bat while uttering the line, "Hats for bats. Keep bats warm." We wanted to reference this scene during our game, and I had a player in mind to play the role of Cerrano -- first baseman Nellie Rodriguez. First I ran the idea past Captains manager Mark Budzinski, asking if he'd be okay with Nellie putting a golf head cover on his bat when he came out of the dugout on Friday. He would take his warm-up swings and then throw the autographed golf head cover into the stands. Mark was on board as long as Nellie was. I then talked to Nellie, who loved the idea and said he'd be ready for Friday.
Fans pinned a uniform on a cutout of Captains mascot Skipper, a nod a similar move in the movie. (Lake County Captains)
Sunday, July 27
We had a doubleheader scheduled, but the weather forecast didn't look good. Neither game was played, but the brainstorming continued. Captains on-field host and full-time ticket sales executive Andrew Grover is a fellow Major League and Cleveland sports fan, and the two of us talked about other parts of the movie that we could incorporate into the promotion. Andrew jokingly suggested finding a golf cart to use for our relief pitchers, similar to the one used in the movie by Jake Taylor when he chased down his ex-girlfriend Lynn Wells at her apartment. That particular golf cart was shaped like an Indians helmet, which would be a stretch, but getting a normal golf cart was definitely within reason. I immediately e-mailed our contact at Baker Vehicle, the company that provides our grounds crew with equipment, because I knew that they sell golf carts. I asked if they would be willing to loan us a golf cart for the night, in exchange for exposure on the video board during each Captains pitching change.
Monday, July 28
The big night is now less than a week away, and we are feeling the time crunch. There are a lot of last minute details to work out, ranging from signage to on-field promotions to confirming that all of the celebrities we've booked will in fact be in attendance. I received a phone call early in the morning from Campy Russell, former Cleveland Cavalier and current Cavs director of alumni relations, telling me that he wouldn't be able to come to Friday's game as there was a funeral he needed to attend instead. Campy said that he would call some other Cavaliers players who live in the area to see if he could find a replacement. Because of situations such as this, I always like to confirm celebrity appearances two, three, and four times before the event. After talking to Campy, I emailed all of our other celebrity guests to see if they had any last-minute questions.
Lake County needed to ensure all its celebrity guests were accounted for and taken care of before the event. (Lake County Captains)
Later in the day I went down to the playing field to talk with our head groundskeeper, Dan Stricko, about using the golf cart for relief pitchers. He had no problem with it so long as our manager didn't mind. Dan and I looked at the garage area to see if there was room to store the cart during the game, and we decided that it'd be fine. I then asked Mark Budzinski if he'd be ok with this concept. After a chuckle he said that he liked the idea and gave us the green light.
Actor Chelcie Ross, who played junk-baller Eddie Harris in the film, threw out a first pitch. (Lake County Captains)
With Friday quickly approaching, I rewrote all my notes for the game and shared them with our promotions manager Drew LaFollette and on-field host Andrew Grover. I needed to make sure that our plans were in place since the team was off Tuesday and both Drew and Andrew had Wednesday off as well. I also made a list of items we still needed to obtain, a list that included a Brandon Weeden jersey, a banner for the main gate, postcards, graphics and thematically appropriate music. We also needed a life-sized cutout of Skipper the mascot, a jar of Crisco and a tube of Vagisil. If you're a fan of Major League, then you'll understand why…
• Read part two on the planning of Lake County's memorable Major League promotion »
• Read part three on the planning of Lake County's memorable Major League promotion »
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.