There are many great Minor League promotions happening this week, but only one can be The Greatest.
This Saturday the Louisville Bats are staging Muhammad Ali Appreciation Night on the one-year anniversary of the iconic boxer's passing. Ali was a Louisville native, and the Bats' Louisville Slugger Field tribute serves as the kickoff event for a six-week-long citywide "I am Ali" festival based around his six "core principles" -- confidence, conviction, dedication, respect, giving and spirituality.
"We started working on this about this time last year, right after the passing of the champ, through conversations with the folks at [Louisville's] Ali Center," said Bats senior vice president Gary Galiette. "[Ali] was a friend of the franchise. He used to pop in unannounced at [previous ballpark] Cardinal Stadium and do magic tricks for the kids. He was always so gracious with his time."
On Muhammad Ali Appreciation Night, the team will take the field in theme jerseys featuring a photograph of Ali. The back features "Ali" in red within a white butterfly representing his famous "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" fighting philosophy. The jerseys will be auctioned off with all proceeds benefiting the Ali Center. Additionally, the first 2,000 fans in attendance receive an Ali-themed Bats cap.
Galiette noted that the entire evening would be built around Ali, from a pregame tribute to between-inning photos, film and trivia contests. Ali's widow, Lonnie, and son, Asaad, will be among the guests of honor. The event is expected to attract a large crowd comprised of Louisville natives as well as a sizable contingent of out-of-town fans.
"When Ali passed, his gravesite was not yet ready," said Galiette. "So a lot of people are coming back here, almost like a pilgrimage, and making a gravesite visit in addition to the ballgame."
Even mascot Buddy Bat will be in on the tribute.
"The Everlast company really went out of their way and made Buddy a white robe with black trim," said Galiette. "They also gave him some oversized boxing gloves."
"Muhammad Ali Appreciation Night" -- and the larger festival of which it is a part -- are poised to become annual events.
"Being a native Louisvillian, it is really cool to see the way this idea has grown," said Galiette. "We're proud to be a cornerstone."
Coming Soon! What else is happening this week? Perhaps a more appropriate question would be "What isn't happening?" Here's a well-curated smattering of attention-worthy highlights.
May 31: The Great Lakes Loons' host their first-ever "Pride Night," dedicated to their LGBT fan base. A $20 ticket package includes a Pride Night T-shirt.
June 1: For the second year in a row, the Asheville Tourists pay homage to their region's robust craft beer scene by suiting up as the Beer City Tourists.
The El Paso Chihuahuas' Pride Night is a celebration of "El Paso's rich LGBTQIA culture."
On "Classic Vinyl Night," the Fresno Grizzlies are wearing Sgt. Pepper theme jerseys in honor of the iconic album's 50th anniversary. The Grizzlies would also like everyone to know that they were the first team to announce such a promotion in 2017.
It's "What Could've Been Weekend" in Round Rock. Last year the Express played as the Fire Ants. This year? This year, they're the Jackalopes.
June 2: The Myrtle Beach Pelicans, capitalizing on the latest fad, stage their first "Fidget Spinner Friday."
The West Michigan Whitecaps distribute "Jack Morris Mustache bobbleheads" on an evening in which erstwhile Detroit Tiger ace Jack Morris himself will be in attendance.
It's "Salute to Paper Night" in Appleton, Wisconsin, as the Timber Rattlers stage their annual tribute to one of their region's most vital industries. Fun fact -- and shameless plug -- this writer's 2013 toilet paper first pitch is now immortalized as part of the 2017 Topps Pro Debut Ben's Biz insert set.
June 3: The Akron RubberDucks' celebrate the 25th anniversary of A League of Their Own by welcoming Megan "Marla Hooch" Cavanaugh to the ballpark.
(At least) seven teams are staging "Star Wars Night" on this early June Saturday -- the Albuquerque Isotopes, Bowie Baysox, Jackson Generals, Lake County Captains, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, Norfolk Tides and, as this tweet illustrates, the Buffalo Bisons:
June 4: On "Merge Records Night," the Durham Bulls pay tribute to the roster of their region's most influential independent record label. For this year's iteration, Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor will play the tunes of Merge Records artists throughout the evening.
June 6: The Portland Sea Dogs give away Mookie Betts bobbleheads, the second piece of their interlocking "Win, Dance, Repeat" series celebrating the current Boston Red Sox outfield.