JetHawks celebrate aerospace pioneer

Annual homage to local industry continues in Lancaster

Along with Jeana Yeager, Dick Rutan piloted the Voyager aircraft non-stop around the world in 1986.

By Benjamin Hill / | August 13, 2013 11:22 AM ET

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 with the subject line: "Promo Preview" or send him a Tweet -- hashtag "#promopreview."

This may be your first time reading it, but Promo Preview has been a staple of since 2006. And in the world of Minor League Baseball, 2006 was quite a long time ago. The best hitter in the Minors that season, from a purely statistical standpoint, was Kevin Kouzmanoff, while a young phenom by the name of Cole Hamels began the year in Class A and ended it in Philadelphia.

But, nonetheless, there are many constants to be found amid this world of perpetual motion, and one of them is the Lancaster JetHawks' "Aerospace Appreciation Weekend" (2013's iteration takes place this weekend). This annual celebration pays tribute to the region's thriving aerospace industry and is highlighted by a bobblehead honoring an aviation or space exploration pioneer. After a cursory mention in 2006, this promotion received its first Promo Preview write-up in 2007, and it went a little something like this:

Lancaster, Calif., was incorporated in 1977, and since that time has seen its population quadruple en route to becoming the biggest city named Lancaster in the entire United States (take that, Pennsylvania Dutch Country!). The primary reason that Lancaster has thrived is because of the aerospace industry. Not only is Edwards Air Force Base located in Lancaster, but Boeing, Lockheed and Northrop all have plants there. Each season, the aptly named JetHawks hold "Aerospace Appreciation Night," and this year's version is especially remarkable. The club will welcome famed astronaut Buzz Aldrin to the ballpark, and 1,000 bobblehead dolls bearing his likeness will be given away.

And so it began. Enthusiastic mentions followed in 2008 and 2009 (when the honorees were test pilot Bill Dana and an SR-571 "bobbleplane," respectively), and things peaked in 2010 when readers voted the JetHawks' Robert "Hoot" Gibson bobblehead as best giveaway in all of Minor League Baseball that season.

Suffering a bit from Aerospace Appreciation Weekend fatigue, the promo then went back to cursory mention status in 2011 and 2012 (apologies to astronaut Fred Haise and general Joe Engle), but you can't keep a good thing down as here I am writing about it again. 2013's iteration looks to be a doozy, as the bobblehead giveaway features astronaut Dick Rutan wearing a flight suit and cowboy hat while waving an American flag in one hand and cradling a globe in the other. And new for this year is an innovation that, in retrospect, seems forehead-slappingly obvious: a post-game fireworks show featuring the music of "Aero"smith.

So here's to Aerospace Appreciation, the Lancaster JetHawks, and all Minor League Baseball teams who stage signature regionally specific promos year after year after year. Dream on, and keep shooting for the stars!

And, in addition to that, please keep reading this column.

SharknadoLake County Captains (Midwest League) Sharknado Night, Aug. 15 tickets
On Thursday the Lake County Captains are inviting fans to jump into the not-so wayback machine, as they'll be celebrating one of July 2013's most notable pop culture phenomena. That month, if you'll recall, the Syfy Network (whose name, like Prince during his "symbol" days, is unpronounceable) aired Sharknado. The film's inherent ridiculousness created a feeding frenzy of mocking internet commentary, and the Captains are now bringing the shark snark to the ballpark. Highlights of Thursday's Sharknado promotion include free temporary shark tattoos made of shark repellent, gratis gummy shark treats and complimentary table games for local card sharks. And as for this write-up, all I can now say is "Fin."

Ben PetrickHillsboro Hops (Northwest League) Ben Petrick Bobblehead Giveaway, Aug. 15 tickets
Ben Petrick's story, as chronicled in an ESPN E:60 segment earlier this year, is one of tragedy, hope and resilience. Some 15 years ago he was a top catching prospect in the Colorado Rockies system, but Petrick's promising Major League career came to a halt soon after it began due to a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. This season marks the first time in a decade that he's donned a professional uniform, as the Hillsboro resident is now a member of the Hops coaching staff (in a "player consultant" role). Last month the team staged a Parkinson's Awareness promotion in which Petrick caught a first pitch thrown by his daughter, and on Thursday the hometown hero is slated to be honored with his very own bobblehead.

Bluefield Blue Jays (Appalachian League) George McGonagle Bobblehead Giveaway, Aug. 18 tickets
Appalachian League executives don't get any more iconic than 2012 "King of Baseball" George McGonagle, who has worked for the Bluefield franchise since 1951 and has long held the title of president. Through thick and thin, good times and bad, stormy weather and clear skies, McGonagle has been a reliable Bowen Field fixture, and on Sunday he receives the ultimate Minor League Baseball honor: his own bobblehead. Get there early, Appalachian League executive fans, as just 400 will be given away.

State College Spikes (New York-Penn League) Purr in the Park Night III, Aug. 19 tickets
In 2011 the Spikes boldly went where no team had gone before, applying the concept behind "Bark in the Park" to felines. On "Purr in the Park Night," fans may bring cats to the ballpark (on a leash or in a carrier), so that they, too, may enjoy the joy of Class A Short-Season baseball. Up until this season, the Spikes were the only team brave enough to stage such a promo, but in June the Wilmington Blue Rocks followed suit and an onslaught of media attention resulted. Thus, Monday's "Purr in the Park III" represents an opportunity for the Spikes to tell the world: "We were the first team to do this and we're still the best." Are they up to the challenge?

Celebration of LifeLehigh Valley IronPigs (International League) Celebration of Life Night with Funeral Giveaway, Aug. 20 tickets
It's been said that death and taxes are the only two constants in life, but to that I'd like to add a third: Minor League Baseball teams giving away funerals. On Tuesday the IronPigs become the latest franchise to stage such an endeavor (joining esteemed entities such as the Lake County Captains, Quad Cities River Bandits and Portland Sea Dogs), as they'll be awarding one fortunate soul an all-expenses paid journey into the afterlife (valued at more than $10,000). This individual received the honor after submitting a 200-word essay describing an ideal funeral, and if the excitement of winning results in a desire to hasten his or her demise, the IronPigs can accommodate via their many delicious albeit patently unhealthy pork-based concession items.

Into the Ellipse...

Because the profound disinterest of the reading public hasn't stopped me before, here's a brief rundown of even more notable promotions taking place this week.

  • Aug. 14: The Buffalo Bisons give away Niagara Falls replica figurines, although miniature barrels will not be included. ... Vancouver baseball fans will be streaming in from kilometers and kilometers away in order to meet Ernie Whitt at Nat Bailey Stadium. ... In Richmond, the Flying Squirrels celebrate "Halfway to Valentine's Day." Because who doesn't like to be reminded of their profound loneliness six months early?
  • Aug. 15: It's "Wild Game Night" in Delmarva, so here's hoping that the game itself turns out to be wild. ... The Pawtucket Red Sox give away "Governors' Cup Championship Notebooks," providing me with an excuse to again point out that the apostrophe in Governors' comes after the "s." We're talking about multiple governors here, folks. Multiple governors. ... Those in the mood to squeeze a lemon until the juice runs down their leg would do well to attend the West Michigan Whitecaps' annual "Led Zeppelin Night."
  • Aug. 16: The Arkansas Travelers stage one of their signature promotions in "Clunker Car Night." The original and still the best. ... The Memphis Redbirds distribute barbecue bobbleheads, which must be the sauciest Minor League giveaway items of all time. ... There ain't no party like a dancing nut party 'cause a dancing nut party don't stop! Yes, the Modesto Nuts are yet again inviting fans to "Al and Wally's Dance Party." Get your legume on.
  • Aug. 17: The Brooklyn Cyclones mascot is the first seagull to successfully complete medical school, and the team celebrates with "Dr. Sandy" bobbleheads. ... Because bath time is no fun without an avian companion, the Frederick Keys distribute team-logo rubber ducks. ... The Rome Braves "Back to School Puzzle" giveaway will potentially lessen the anguish that inevitably accompanies the start of another school year.
  • Aug. 18: Alliteration aficionados alert: the Bowie Baysox give away Manny Machado Garden Gnomes!
  • Aug. 19: In Portland, the Sea Dogs give away Jacoby Ellsbury bobbleheads on the same night in which they salute Elvis. These two endeavors may be related but probably aren't.
  • Aug. 20: It's "Salute to Radio Night" in Wilmington. Here's hoping that this promotion gets a good reception.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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