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 firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: "Promo Preview" or send a Tweet to @bensbiz, hashtag "#promopreview."
When Minor League promo historians look back at the 2014 season, they very well might dub it "the year of the theme jersey."
Attention-getting examples abound, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Fresno to Ghostbusters in Toledo to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in State College to Star Wars in, well, just about everywhere. But perhaps no theme jersey quite captures the zeitgeist of our anxiety-laden times than what the Inland Empire 66ers will be wearing Thursday.
It's "Zombie Apocalypse Night," in which the 66ers will take the field looking as if they themselves were zombies who had just ripped their victims limb from limb in order to feast upon their innards. The theme jerseys that the team has created for the occasion -- designed by 66ers graphic designer Jason Sargent -- are splattered with deep red blood stains. You might want to leave the kids at home for this one.
When mock-ups of these jerseys were unveiled in April, they inevitably went viral. 66ers director of promotions Matt Kowallis said that the actual jerseys, while still horrifying, will be a bit more subtle (if that's the right word).
"We did curtail it a little bit. The jerseys are a little less gory and little less extreme, but it's still the same concept," he said. "Really, the most excited people for this promotion are the players. They're stoked about it. I expect to see a lot of players' girlfriends bidding on these things."
The proceeds from the postgame jersey auction will benefit Lifestream, a blood center with 80 facilities in Southern California. All this week, fans donating blood at a Lifestream facility will receive a free ticket to the game, and the team will have a blood drive at the ballpark prior to the game.
During the game, there will be zombies (or at least those dressed as zombies) roaming the ballpark, and, as Kowallis puts it, "body parts and caution tape all over the place." The player's headshots have been doctored as well, so that they better resemble the flesh-eating undead. Perhaps most horrifying, there will be a zombie maze installed the ballpark.
"It's been designed by a gentleman who does haunted houses. People can go inside, and there will be zombies in the maze itself," said Kowallis.
While there will be a "non-quarantined" section of the ballpark for those who don't wish to partake in this promotion, Kowallis is aware that "Zombie Apocalypse Night" is presenting a challenge to Minor League Baseball's oft-stated industry mantra of "family-friendly entertainment."
"We take criticism seriously, and appreciate what our fans have to say because that makes us a better organization," he said. "We'll take criticism on a case-by-case basis; when and if complaints arrive, we'll deal with them."
Hopefully not by eating their brains.
Bowie Baysox (Eastern League)
Comedy Night, June 12
The Baysox are intent on bringing the laughs this week. On Thursday, just two days after comedian Gabriel Iglesias makes a ballpark appearance, the team is hosting "Comedy Night." The evening features a postgame performance by Steve Hofstetter, a comedian established enough to merit his own Wikipedia page. Via that page, which I suspect was written by Hofstetter himself, I learned that he has appeared on Late Night with Craig Ferguson and once declared war on Larry the Cable Guy via a DVD release entitled "Cure for the Cable Guy." Hofstetter's most popular YouTube videos all involve his thorough takedowns of hecklers in the audience, so let that be a warning to all loose-tongued Thirsty Thursday ballpark patrons.
Reading Fightin Phillies (Eastern League)
Jim Bunning appearance and bobblehead giveaway, June 12
It's not often that a former member of the Senate is honored with his own bobblehead, but Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) isn't your average senator. Prior to his political career, Bunning pitched for 17 Major League seasons in a Hall of Fame career, primarily with the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. Immediately after hanging up his spikes, he managed the 1972 Reading Phillies to a 70-69 record, and on Thursday he'll return to this fine Pennsylvania city for a night in his honor. The first 2,500 fans in attendance receive a Jim Bunning bobblehead, and during the game, Bunning will sign autographs for those who might desire one. If you're lucky, he also might answer any questions you have regarding arcane parliamentary procedure.
Great Lakes Loons (Midwest League)
Justin Martin Appearance, June 13
As regular readers of this column are aware, peripheral Duck Dynasty character "Mountain Man" has been making a killing on the Minor League promotional circuit this season. But there's more where that came from. On Friday, Duck Dynasty's Justin Martin will be signing autographs and posing for pictures at the Great Lakes Loons game. Through my meticulous research efforts, I have learned that Martin, a "family friend and employee" of the Robertson clan, is also a friend of Larry the Cable Guy. (And with that, a new record has been established in the category of "most Larry the Cable the Guy references in one 'Promo Preview' column." I'm going to celebrate this with a toast, and the fact that I'm alone in a North Carolina hotel room while writing this isn't going to stop me).
Akron RubberDucks (Eastern League)
Joe Walsh Bobblehead, June 14
Hot off the heels of last month's DEVO bobblehead giveaway, the Akron RubberDucks are once again honoring an Akron music legend. This time around it's Joe Walsh, who is best known as the guitarist of the Eagles (cue The Big Lebowski quote here). It should not be forgotten, however, that prior to his stint with these laconic West Coast easy rockers, Walsh was a member of one of the greatest rock power trios of all time. I'm talking about the James Gang, of course, an Ohio-bred riff juggernaut who cranked out some of the heaviest tunes of the early '70s. Just cue up "The Bomber" if you don't believe me, and then petition your favorite player to use it as his walk-up music.
Potomac Nationals (Carolina League)
Jayson Werth Beard-a-Palooza Weekend, June 13-15
While beards have in fact been bobbled before -- see Rancho Cucamonga's recent Brian Wilson iteration -- no team has bobbled a beard quite like the Potomac Nationals will be bobbling Jayson Werth's beard on Saturday. You see, this instantly-collectible giveaway features a bobbling beard which is made of actually fuzzy material. This is all part of the P-Nats "Beard-A-Palooza" contest, which features a beard Olympics and, rumor has it, Minor League Baseball's first-ever beard-tasting competition. If it gets out of hand, somebody's gonna have to call in the fuzz.
In honor of Joe Walsh and The Eagles, we're taking it to the limit one more time with a few extra promotions of note:
- June 11: The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers stage their annual "Salute to Paper." When I attended this promotion last season, I had the honor of throwing out a toilet paper first pitch.
- June 12: Danielle Colby of American Pickers fame visits the Altoona Curve, presumably because her appearance fee is cheaper than Mountain Man's. … It's "Bromance Night" in Fresno -- bring your sublimated desires.
- June 13: The Chicago Boyz acrobat team visit the Louisville Bats. These guys are awesome. … The Staten Island Yankees are making a "False Mustache World Record Attempt." Those with real mustaches are just getting in the way.
- June 14: Speaking of Mountain Man, he'll be in Colorado Springs tonight. … Michael Grandinetti, master illusionist, will be at the Corpus Christi Hooks game. Or will he?
- June 15: It's "Bacon and Brews for Dudes Night" in South Bend. There's nothing wrong with pandering.
- June 16: All proceeds from the Everett AquaSox game will benefit those affected by the recent landslides in Snohomish County.
- June 17: The Mahoning Valley Scrappers "Rush to Opening Night" promo involves, yes, Rush-themed fireworks.