The players are the draw in the International League. It's the last chance for fans to see rising prospects before they go to the Major Leagues; the last chance to get really close to ballplayers before they become a stars.
Of course, there are also some wacky promotions in the Triple-A circuit. From two-sided bobbleheads to movie posters that feature a bison impersonating John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever to scouts having a campout in the outfield, teams still have to do whatever is necessary to get people through the turnstiles.
Here is a sampling of both sides of the International League: the players and the promotions fans can expect to see this year. But act fast -- the promotions will go on all season, but many of the players will soon be called up to The Show.
2007 Results: 75-67
2008 Manager: Torey Lovullo
Things to look forward to: First baseman Jordan Brown won an MVP award in the Carolina League in 2006 and was the Eastern League MVP last season. ... Outfielder Ben Francisco will also be back, but possibly not for long -- Francisco was the 2006 MVP in the International League and won the IL's batting title last season. ... Right-hander Adam Miller, ranked as the Cleveland Indians top prospect, will try to rebound after his 2007 season was cut short by injuries. ... A series of movie poster parodies featuring Buffalo's mascot, Buster T. Bison, and Belle "The Ballpark Diva" will be given to the first 2,000 fans on May 18, June 28, July 19 and Aug. 3. ... A massive auction will take place on July 11. During the event, which is being called "Mystery Ball," 1,000 autographed and wrapped baseballs will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to Haven House. Each ball will be autographed by current and former Bisons, current Cleveland Indians, past and present players from the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres as well as former Major Leaguers.
2007 Results: 63-80
2008 Manager: Mark Bombard
Things to look forward to: Right-hander Lance Broadway is expected to be part of the rotation at the start of the season so he can work on his two-seam fastball. The 2005 first-rounder was 8-9 with a 4.55 ERA for the Knights last season. ... Another member of that rotation should be right-hander Jack Egbert, who went 12-8 with a 3.06 ERA and 165 strikeouts for Double-A Birmingham last season. ... Right-hander Adam Russell will continue his conversion from starter to reliever. ... Catcher Donny Lucy and big left-hander Andrew Sisco were optioned to Charlotte on March 19. Both played for the Knights in 2007. ... Homer the Dragon lunch boxes will be given away to the first 1,500 kids in attendance on Aug. 1. ... It will be Turn Back the Clock Day on June 24. Game time is early (12:15 p.m.) just like the old days and there will be 1920s pricing throughout the stadium. Did they have super nachos in the 1920s?. ... Free Car Friday will happen three times -- on Apr. 25, June 6, Aug. 22. Fans in attendance will have a chance to win a free car.
2007 Results: 64-80
2008 Manager: Tim Foli
Things to look forward to: Highly touted right-hander Collin Balester is expected to be part of the Clippers rotation after making 10 Triple-A starts last season. Balester, who turns 22 in June, appeared in the Futures game last season. ... Right-handers Tyler Clippard and Garrett Mock also will start the season in Columbus. ... Former Columbus Jets slugger Frank "Pancho" Herrera will be inducted into the International League Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Cooper Stadium on June 30. Herrera is one of six players to win the IL's Triple Crown, a feat he accomplished in 1959. ... This will be the team's last season at Cooper Stadium, which has hosted professional baseball since 1932. The Clippers will pay tribute to seven different eras of baseball over seven weekends. ... The Columbus Clippers 5K and Kids Run will take place on Apr. 5. The race begins at Cooper Stadium and finishes at home plate inside the ballpark. ... The biggest celebration of all will take place during the final game at Cooper Stadium on Sept. 1. There will be fireworks, a special Dime-A-Dog night and several other events that the club plans to keep secret until the big day. The Clippers will move to Huntington Park in downtown Columbus in 2009.
2007 Results: 80-63; won South Division title
2008 Manager: Charlie Montoyo
Things to look forward to: Evan Longoria will be back in Durham, but don't expect him to be there long. The Rays optioned the phenom third baseman back to Triple-A on March 24. ... The Bulls will have several other top prospects from the Rays talent-rich system, including Jeff Niemann and Reid Brignac. ... Some upgrades have been made to Durham Bulls Athletic Park, including a playground area in right field, a new concourse above left field that will allow fans to walk all the way around the ballpark and a new snorting bull on top of the left-field wall. ... The team will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the celebrated baseball film Bull Durham with giveaways throughout the season. ... As part of Wild Wednesdays, fans will be able to get 2-for-1 tickets with a valid hunting or fishing license. Those without a license will be able to purchase a license at the ballpark. Check the team's website for details.
2007 Results: 70-73
2008 Manager: Trent Jewett
Things to look forward to: The Indians are guaranteeing a warm welcome for fans on Opening Night. If the game-time temperature is below 60 degrees when the first pitch is thrown on Apr. 11, every fan in attendance will receive a free ticket for another home game in April. ... Dave the Horn Guy will entertain fans with his zany music on May 10, which is also Cub Scout Day. ... The Girl Scouts get their chance on May 16, when they will be allowed to camp out on the field after the Indians face the Richmond Braves. ... Right fielder Steven Pearce, shortstop Brian Bixler, right-handers Bryan Bullington and Ty Taubenheim and outfielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Neil Walker should start the season with the Indians. ... The 2009 Baseball Winter Meetings are scheduled to take place in Indianapolis.
Lehigh Valley IronPigs
2007 Results: First season
2008 Manager: Dave Huppert
Things to look forward to: These fans have baseball to look forward to as the IronPigs embark on their first season. There will be an exhibition game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the IronPigs, the first game in the new 8,100-seat Coca-Cola Park. ... The debut of the IronPigs marks the return of affiliated baseball to the Lehigh Valley after a 47-year absence. The last team to play there was the Allentown Red Sox of the Eastern League from 1958-60. ... The IronPigs should be able to hit the long ball. The Phillies signed Val Pascucci, who led the Pacific Coast League with 34 dingers for Albuquerque and Andy Tracy, who had a team-high 23 jacks for New Orleans last season. Lehigh Valley also could have catcher Pete LaForest, who hit 29 home runs in 296 at-bats for Portland last season. ... Manager Dave Huppert has led his teams to the South Atlantic and Florida State League titles in the last two seasons.
2007 Results: 73-70
2008 Manager: Rick Sweet
Things to look forward to: Jay Bruce. The center fielder seems destined to become a star. Before that happens, he'll spend a little more time in Louisville after the Reds optioned the top prospect in baseball to Triple-A during Spring Training. Don't wait until May or June to go to Louisville Slugger Field -- Bruce likely won't be there too long. ... Highly touted right-hander Homer Bailey also wound up in Louisville after struggling during Spring Training. Bailey, who won't turn 22 until May, was expected to have the inside track for a spot in the Reds' rotation. With two rookies in the Reds rotation, Bailey's stay at Louisville could be longer than Bruce's. ... The Dave Matthews Band will play a concert at Louisville Slugger Field on Aug. 1. It will be the band's first appearance in Louisville since 1995. Country music legend Willie Nelson also will perform that night. Tickets for the show are $65 for lower-bowl reserved seats and $55 for upper-deck seats. ... The Triple-A All-Star Game will be played at Louisville Slugger Field on July 16. The game will feature top players from Minor League Baseball's top two circuits, the International League and the Pacific Coast League. This will be Louisville's second Triple-A All-Star Game -- the other was in 1991, when National League affiliates defeated the American League affiliates. Louisville will become the first International League city to play host to the current incarnation of the All-Star Game.
2007 Results: 69-74
2008 Manager: Gary Allenson
Things to look forward to: With the trades of Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada, the Orioles have acquired several young prospects who should spend time in Norfolk. The starting rotation could feature five pitchers all of whom are 25 or younger. Top prospects Hayden Penn and Radhames Liz could be among that group. ... The Tides are introducing a bobblehead promotion that will last for two seasons and highlight local players who have excelled at the Major League level. The players will be displayed in their high school or college uniform and the proceeds will benefit the player's school. The players have yet to be announced, but figure David Wright will be in there somewhere. ... WSKY-TV announced it will expand its coverage to broadcast 20 Tides games this season. Included in the package are 12 road games. ... May 2 and July 1 are Orioles replica jersey giveaway nights, where 20 fans selected at random will win a replica Baltimore Orioles jersey...One lucky -- and talented -- fan will win big money on "A Picture is Worth $1,000 Camera Night." Fans with a camera will be allowed on the field for 30 minutes before the game to take pictures with their favorite Tides players. The best photo will win $1,000. ... In what has to be one of the more unusual giveaways in the Minor Leagues, the first 5,000 fans on July 11 will receive free Spice Packets.
Pawtucket Red Sox
2007 Results: 67-75
2008 Manager: Ron Johnson
Things to look forward to: The 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies won by the Red Sox will be on display before, during and after Pawtucket's Apr. 6 game against Indianapolis. Fans will have the chance to get an up-close look at the trophies and have pictures taken with them...Other giveaways commemorating Boston's World Series victory in 2007 are planned. On June 19, fans will receive a World Series commemorative baseball. On June 23, fans will receive a foam No. 1 finger celebrating the World Series title. On June 26, it will be World Series Rally Towel Night. And on Aug. 2, fans will take home a bobblehead of World Series star and former Pawtucket infielder Dustin Pedroia. ... Pawtucket will participate in the "Futures at Fenway" doubleheader against Charlotte on Aug. 6. The Lowell Spinners will face the Hudson Valley Renegades in the first game, which starts at 12:05 p.m. The PawSox and Knights are scheduled to start at 4:30. ... Brandon Moss, who had a run-scoring single in the season-opening win over Oakland in Tokyo, was optioned to Pawtucket after Boston lost the second game.
2007 Results: 77-64; won the wildcard, defeated Scranton-Wilkes Barre, 3-1, in the first round of the playoffs and then defeated Durham, 3-2, to win the Governors' Cup
2008 Manager: Dave Brundage
Things to look forward to: The Braves will be playing their 43rd and final season in Richmond. The club will relocate to Gwinnett County, Ga. next season. ... Pitching is expected to be a strength for the Braves. Richmond could see Matt DeSalvo, Jorge Campillo, Charlie Morton and Jo-Jo Reyes. DeSalvo was Scranton's Pitcher of the Year and Campillo led the Pacific Coast League in ERA in 2007. Morton is coming off a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. ... The club will induct former R-Brave Ralph Garr (two-time IL batting champ) and Tommie Aaron (IL MVP) into the International League Hall of Fame on Aug. 31.
Rochester Red Wings
2007 Results: 77-67
2008 Manager: Stan Cliburn
Things to look forward to: It will be loud in Rochester on Apr. 11 when the club doles out Red Wings cowbells to the first 5,000 fans. ... On May 11, all kids are invited to have a Postgame Catch with Mom in the Outfield. ... Fans will get a unique item when a two-sided bobblehead doll is given away on June 1. The bobblehead will have the likeness of manager Stan Cliburn on one side and his brother, pitching coach Stu Cliburn, on the other. The Cliburns are twins who are in their third season with the Red Wings. ... Rochester will have two of the players the Twins acquired from the Mets for ace pitcher Johan Santana on their poster: pitchers Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey. ... Minnesota Twins legend Tony Oliva will be at the ballpark to sign autographs on May 27 and 28.
2007 Results: 84-59; won North Division title and advanced to the Governors' Cup series
2008 Manager: Dave Miley
Things to look forward to: The next wave of Yankees pitching prospects is expected to comprise a significant portion of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation in 2008. Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, Kevin Whelan and Humberto Sanchez (recovering from Tommy John surgery) are all highly regarded hurlers. ... On the hitting side, speedy Brett Gardner should be an asset for the Yankees. ... Scranton/Wilkes-Barre could see center fielder Austin Jackson and outfielder Colin Curtis as the season progresses. Power-hitting first baseman Juan Miranda could also reach Triple-A later in the season. ... The Frontier Fan Zone will add a new dimension of entertainment to PNC Field. It contains a bounce house, a carnival-sized pop-a-shot basketball game and a pitch speed and hitting challenge area for fans to test their skills. ... There will be a fireworks show after every Friday home game and another one on July 5...A total of 35 games will be televised this season, up from five in 2007. WNEP, the local ABC affiliate will televise five games and Blue Ridge Communications will carry the other 30. ... Though they haven't played a game yet, the Yankees and IronPigs are gearing up for what should be a good rivalry. The two clubs are 76 miles from each other and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has put together a Rivals Package that includes a special limited edition Rivals T-Shirt, an all-you-can-eat buffet and a ticket.
2007 Results: 64-80
2008 Manager: Doug Davis
Things to look forward to: The Chiefs will face Rochester in a regular-season game to be played in Cooperstown at Doubleday Field on May 18. ... All My Children star and Dancing with the Stars contestant Cameron Mathison will make an appearance on Soap Opera Saturday on July 19. ... Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney will throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the season on Apr. 3....The Gary Dunes Band will play on July 11...The International League Hall of Fame Induction will take place on Aug. 15 with the Syracuse Baseball Wall of Fame Inductions the next day, Aug. 16. ... Veteran reliever Armando Benitez was expected to open the season in Syracuse after having trouble obtaining a proper working visa. ... The Chiefs have a special promotion called "Church Bulletin Night" where fans can bring a program from their house of worship and exchange it for a free ticket in the 300 section. ... Expect beer sales to soar on May 3, which is both League Bowlers Day and Recreational Softball Players Day.
Toledo Mud Hens
2007 Results: 82-61; won West Division title
2008 Manager: Larry Parrish
Things to look forward to: The Mud Hens have been the dominant team in the International League for the last three seasons. Toledo has won three straight West Division titles and also won Governors' Cup championships in 2005 and 2006. ... A pair of top Detroit prospects, Jeff Larish and Michael Hollimon also will be in the infield. ... One-time New York Mets outfielder Timo Perez is expected to be an important part of the Toledo outfield, while center fielder Brent Clevlen will be back and looking to re-establish himself as a power hitter after going yard just seven times in 2007. ... Matt Joyce, regarded as a Top 10 prospect for the Tigers, could also patrol the outfield. ... The rotation will be fronted by Virgil Vasquez, who was the IL Pitcher of the Week three times last season. ... The Mud Hens could get their 200th sellout at Fifth Third Field this season. The park opened in 2002 and has had 175 sellouts in six seasons, nearly 30 per season. ... Although the Tigers dealt several top prospects in offseason trades, Wilin Ramirez and Clete Thomas are still in the system and could be in Toledo by midseason.