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 email@example.com with the subject line: "Promo Preview" or send a Tweet to @bensbiz, hashtag "#promopreview."
Evan Chambers is gone, but the Bradenton Marauders will never forget him.
Chambers, an outfielder in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system, died in his sleep in December at age 24. A third-round selection in the 2009 Draft, Chambers had steadily worked his way up the Pirates' organizational ladder in the years prior to his passing. The Altoona Curve, for whom he played during the 2012 season, honored him last month by wearing throwback jerseys with an "EC" patch on the left sleeve.
On Thursday, the Bradenton Marauders are paying their respects via a wide-ranging "Evan Chambers Night" promotion.
"We knew very early on that we needed to do something, because of the legacy he left with our team," said Marauders director of communications Nate March. "Evan was very popular with the fans and always such a presence. … He was so personable, always taking the time to look you in the eye, shake your hand and say 'Hi.'"
Indeed, that Chambers is being honored in Bradenton has a special significance. Not only did Chambers appear in more games than any player in Marauders history (186, during the 2011 and 2012 seasons), he also was a native of nearby Lakeland, Florida. During his time with the Marauders, "Chambo" -- as he was referred to by his teammates -- went out of his way to connect with the community of which he was a part. In particular, he was a regular presence at Dream Oaks Camp, a camp for children with special needs and terminal and chronic illnesses.
"Since he lived here locally, he would often go and make appearances, helping to facilitate activities," said March. "The staff at the camp would just rave about how into it he was, in that he could bring himself to a level where he could relate very well with children."
All of the charitable components of Thursday's game will benefit the Foundation of Dreams, the organization that owns and operates the Dream Oaks Camp. There will be a silent auction featuring "memorabilia and gameday experiences" throughout the evening, and half of the team's Launch-A-Ball earnings will also be donated. The team's current gameday program features an extensive tribute to Chambers, and $1 from every sale in the second half will also go to the organization.
The first 500 fans in attendance at Thursday's game receive a commemorative Evan Chambers T-shirt, featuring his No. 53 on the back. During a pregame ceremony, the entire Marauders team will wear these T-shirts and then take the field along with a "baseball buddy" from Dream Oaks Camp.
"The T-shirt allows everyone to put that No. 53 on and pay their regards," said March. "It's kind of surreal and tough to think about, that we won't see him at [training complex] Pirate City or McKechnie Field anymore."
Best of the Rest
Altoona Curve (Eastern League)
Zombie Night featuring Vincent Ward of The Walking Dead, July 10
The Inland Empire 66ers recently wore blood-splattered, zombie-themed jerseys, with the wearer resembling a zombie that had just torn apart one of its victims limb by limb. The Curve are taking a more muted approach on Thursday, wearing grimy, soot-stained, slash-marked jerseys. These duds suggest that its wearer is one of the good guys, having survived (at least one) zombie attack and still fighting the good fight. Visiting the ballpark on this post-apocalyptic evening of Eastern League baseball is one Vincent M. Ward, who played the character "Oscar" in season three of The Walking Dead. Spoiler alert! Oscar only lasted seven episodes before meeting his demise. Let's hope that Ward can make it through all nine innings.
Toledo Mud Hens (International League)
Lego Night with Mike Hessman Blockhead Giveaway, July 10
It's been a season of milestones for Mud Hens slugger Mike Hessman, as the indomitable 36-year-old hit his 400th career Minor League home run June 30 and then, one month later, hit his 259th International League home run to become the all-time leader in that category. On Thursday, the Mud Hens will honor Hessman's IL supremacy in a pregame ceremony, and the first 2,000 fans in attendance receive a "Mike Hessman Blockhead" as part of a larger "Lego Night" promotion. "Everything is Awesome" references will no doubt abound, and what could be awesomer than seeing Hessman blast a dinger or two on this, his special night?
Clearwater Threshers (Florida State League)
Slick Rick and Coolio postgame concert, July 11
The Threshers have long been proponents of the postgame concert, often bringing in tribute bands and purveyors of disco funk to satiate the partying needs of their party-minded fan base. They're really upping the ante with Friday's old-school hip-hop concert, which features the unimpeachable double bill of Slick Rick and Coolio. Slick Rick (right), a master storyteller, was considered old school at a time when Coolio was new school. His iconic "La Di Da Di" was recorded three decades ago, a full 10 years before Coolio gained prominence via his summertime anthem "Fantastic Voyage." But would you believe that Coolio is actually two years older than Slick Rick? You really learn a lot by reading this column.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Carolina League) Disco Demolition Night, July 12
New Orleans Zephys (International League) Disco Resurrection Night, July 12
Saturday marks the 35th anniversary of the Chicago White Sox's "Disco Demolition Night," which, along with the Cleveland Indians' "10-cent Beer Night," was one of the biggest promotional disasters of all time. It could be argued that both served as outlets for the misplaced rage of disaffected young white working-class males in the post-industrial Midwest, but that's a discussion for another time. What's more pressing at this particular moment is that, on Saturday, two teams are commemorating Disco Demolition Night in divergent ways. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans are playing it straight with a "Disco Demolition" promo of their own (hopefully minus the rioting), while the New Orleans Zephyrs are staging a "Disco Resurrection" shindig featuring a performance by the "Disco Amigos." Whose side are you on?
Durham Bulls (International League)
All-Star Game Fan Fest with Baseball Project Concert, July 12
Yes, the Baseball Project is a rock band who exclusively writes songs about baseball. But this is no peanuts and Cracker Jack novelty act, spewing out aurally sepia-toned National Pastime ditties as if they were Ken Burns' house band. No sir. The Baseball Project is a legit rock band, first and foremost, consisting of half of R.E.M. (Mike Mills and Peter Buck) as well as songwriters Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) and Scott McCaughey (Minus 5). These grizzled veterans will play during Saturday's Triple-A All-Star Game Fan Fest in Durham, cranking out songs about Harvey Haddix, Bill Buckner, Dock Ellis and more. They've also been known to crank out a smoking rendition of Neil Young's "Revolution Blues" during the encore. Request it early and request it often.
Because this Fantastic Voyage isn't over just yet, here's a succinct list of even more notable promotions taking place this week.
- July 9: It's "Grateful Dead Night" in San Jose, meaning that the Giants take the field in tie-dyed jerseys and fans receive free Ben & Jerry's "Cherry Garcia" ice cream.
- July 10: Cedar Rapids' game-long "Tribute to Corn" includes a "Corn Water Bottle" giveaway. I don't know what that means. … Cash falls down from the sky during the Great Lakes Loons' annual "Raining Money" contest. … The Lynchburg Hillcats "Turn Back the Clock" by giving away T-shirts featuring the logo of the long-defunct Lynchburg Shoemakers.
- July 11: Mountain Man, peripheral Duck Dynasty character extraordinaire, continues his season-long tour of the Minor League landscape with an appearance at the Eugene Emeralds' game. … The Fort Wayne TinCaps pay tribute to cartoon villains. Hopefully Mr. Burns will make an appearance. … Jose Canseco's "Home Run Tour" makes a stop in Lexington so that Legends fans can challenge him to a home run-hitting contest.
- July 12: The Hudson Valley Renegades stage "Cardboard Fort Night." No need to bring your own cardboard; they've got plenty. … Bill Buckner, a true baseball immortal, makes an appearance at the Indianapolis Indians game… It's Star Wars Night in Lake County, in which theme jerseys will be worn.
- July 13: The Bowie Baysox are celebrating the imminent return of gridiron action on "Football Kickoff Night." That just doesn't seem right. Summer should never end. … The Famous Chicken makes an increasingly rare ballpark appearance, visiting the El Paso Chihuahuas. ... The Louisville Bats are giving away "Kidz slapwatches." I don't understand either.
- July 14: In Wisconsin, the Timber Rattlers give away "mini-maraca," suitable for all of your small-scale maraca needs.
- July 15: I've got nothing. See you next week.