Minors' best promotions of 2008

Fans to determine MiLB.com's Promotion of the Year

The Cougars set a world record with 3,872 fans partaking in a pillow fight. (Donnell Collins/ Kane County Cougars)

By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com | September 16, 2008 12:00 PM

To say that 2008 was a good year for Minor League promotions misses the point. Every year is a great year for Minor League promotions -- there are just too many innovative teams out there for the case to be otherwise.

Therefore, when putting together a promotional retrospective, the challenge is to separate the excellent from the merely great. In order to do this, one needs to highlight the giveaways, theme nights and celebrity appearances that were truly transcendent and that raised the bar for future generations of aspiring front office gurus.

For your edification and enjoyment, I have done just this. What follows is a comprehensive review of 2008's most interesting and innovative promotions, broken down by category. But first and foremost, let me present the 10 nominees for the Minor League Promotion of the Year, which will be determined by a fan vote. You have until Wed, Sept. 24 at noon ET to pick, so choose wisely, readers -- much is at stake.

Top 10 Promotions of 2008

Win Spyder Webb's Car
Everett AquaSox, Aug. 31
Spyder Webb is the AquaSox's long-time trainer, and in this promotion the AquaSox gave away his 1995 Chevy Blazer in a most unique fashion. The keys were buried somewhere along the warning track and fans had to dig for them using tent stakes.

Mascot Showdown
Fresno Grizzlies, Aug. 16
Parker, the Grizzlies' mascot, went head-to-head with the legendary Phillie Phanatic in a battle for costumed character supremacy.

First Pitch World Record
Huntsville Stars, Aug. 23
The Stars opened their ballpark 19 hours before game time as a steady stream of fans, players and local celebrities tossed a world-record 11,689 "first" pitches.

Pillow Fight World Record
Kane County Cougars, Jul. 19
After falling short of the record last season, the Cougars and their fans fought their way into the record books after 3,872 took part in a post-game pillow melee at Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium.

<%-- POLL --%>

Which should be the Minor League Promotion of the Year?
Win Spyder Webb's car (Everett, Aug. 31)
Mascot Showdown (Fresno, Aug. 16)
First pitch world record (Huntsville, Aug. 23)
Pillow fight world record (Kane County, Jul. 19)
Skateboard giveaway (Lancaster, Jul. 12)
Tattoo Night (Quad Cities, Jul. 17)
Spam carving competition (Reading, Jun. 20)
Mustache Awareness Night (South Bend, Jul. 23)
Night of 100 Promotions (State College, Jul. 28)
Dave Rozema karate kick bobble-leg (W. Michigan, Jul. 9)
<%-- END POLL --%> Skateboard Giveaway
Lancaster JetHawks, Jul. 12
In what was certainly the most high-end giveaway of the season, the JetHawks distributed high-quality skateboards to 500 young fans.

Tattoo Night
Quad Cities River Bandits, Jul. 17
The River Bandits offered free 2009 season tickets to any fan willing to get a team tattoo. 28(!) people obliged.

Spam Carving Competition
Reading Phillies, June 20
For a $5 donation to charity, fans were given a can of Spam and urged to use the processed meat within to create a genuine work of art.

Josh Collmenter Mustache Awareness Night
South Bend Silver Hawks, Jul. 23
The Minor Leagues' answer to Jason Giambi was Josh Collmenter, who became a bonafide South Bend celebrity after growing a formidable mustache. The Silver Hawks capitalized on Collmenter's popularity by staging a night in his honor featuring mustache giveaways, contests, games and prizes.

Night of 100 Promotions
State College Spikes, Jul. 28
The Spikes took multi-tasking to the next level by jamming 100 promotions into one schizophrenic and highly entertaining evening.

Dave Rozema Karate Kick Bobble Leg
West Michigan Whitecaps, July 9
In 1982, Rozema suffered a season-ending injury when he attempted to kick the Twins' John Castino during a bench-clearing brawl. The Whitecaps immortalized this memorable moment by giving away a figurine featuring Rozema in full-on karate-kick attack mode.

Now the best of the rest.

Give It Away, Now

It is a proven fact that fans love being given free things, and Minor League teams are constantly exploiting this desire. Bobbleheads remain a popular drawing card, especially when clubs find a way to put a unique twist on this durable standby. The Lancaster JetHawks wowed fans with their Big Poppy Bobblehead, which combined a poppy (California's state flower) and Red Sox slugger David "Big Papi" Ortiz. The result was truly mind-blowing -- a burly Dominican slugger with a flower for a head. The JetHawks also deserve recognition for their "Tattered Jersey T-Shirt," which paid tribute to the Red Sox jersey that had been buried in the new Yankee Stadium by a Boston-loving construction worker. ... The Rochester Red Wings are the only team in the Minors to feature a manager and pitching coach who are identical twins, and they capitalized on this fact with the "Stan and Stu Cliburn double-sided bobble." ... The Lowell Spinners put a unique spin on one of New England's most beloved sports icons when they distributed Ted Williams Aviator bobbleheads, while the Greeneville Astros paid tribute to one of their most distinguished native sons with a bobblehead featuring president Andrew Johnson. ... The Portland Beavers have become known for big-time bobblehead promotions over the past several years (see 2006's Rodney McCray Bobblefence and last year's "Bob L. Head" giveaway). This year they gave away dolls featuring Beaver Cleaver, on a night when "The Beav" himself, Jerry Mathers, visited the ballpark. ... Democracy was in full flower in August when the Fort Myers Miracle, Charleston RiverDogs and Hudson Valley Renegades participated in Bobblection, in which fans were able to choose between Obama and McCain bobbleheads. Obama won every time. ... The Tri-City ValleyCats, aware of the axiom that "All politics is local," gave away a series of bobbleheads honoring the mayors of Albany, Troy and Schenectady (the Tri-Cities, naturally). ... But bobbleheads represent the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to what can be given away at the ballpark. The Reading Phillies won high marks for both the "Ryan Howard Santa Globe" and the "Michael Jack Schmidt-in-the-Box," which capitalized on the middle name of Philly's most famous slugger. ... The Charleston RiverDogs handed out "Pope Soap on a Rope" to commemorate Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the U.S., and later in the season handed out "Carpet Bags" in mocking tribute to all the northerners who have moved to the South in recent years.

Salutes, Tributes, and Theme Nights

Giveaway items might help draw fans to the ballpark, but they also need to be entertained once they get there. What better way to do this than by staging some sort of ludicrous theme night? The Altoona Curve remain the kings of this category, as their season was highlighted by Salutes to Tools (April 18), Forgotten Presidents (April 21) and Quitters (June 15), as well as the annual and unbeatable "Awful Night." The Curve also paid tribute to Manage Tim Leiper with a thoroughly absurd Leip Day Celebration. ... Equally absurd were the Fresno Grizzlies, whose Second Amendment Night thoroughly confused the idea of "bear arms" and "bare arms." ... The Vero Beach Devil Rays emerged as theme night innovators with events such as Revolutionary War Night, in which the front office staff re-enacted key moments of our country's battle for independence. ... The Stockton Ports paid tribute to denim-related fashion faux pas with Canadian Tuxedo Night and also devoted an evening to reliving teenage horror with "Prom Gone Wrong Night." ... The Spinners celebrated cultural (in)sensitivity by staging "Political Correctness Night" and "Political Incorrectness Night" on back-to-back evenings, while the Auburn Doubledays solved the problem of global warming when their mascot unveiled Abner's Plan. ... The Jacksonville Suns took "Southern Rock Night" to the next level by having former gym teacher Leonard Skinner (whom Lynyrd Skynyrd was named after) throw out the ballgame's first pitch. ... Being located in the South didn't stop the Augusta GreenJackets from holding Brett Favre Night, featuring a flip-flop giveaway and bratwurst at the concession stand. ... An even-more absurd football tribute was staged by the Jamestown Jammers, whose Salute to Imperfection Night included a contest in which fans attempted to miss field goals in a manner similar to Scott Norwood in Super Bowl XXV. ... But sometimes less is more, and this idea was taken to the extreme by the Lake Elsinore Storm. On "Nothing Night," the club did not sell tickets or concessions, and the PA system was turned off for the evening.

Celebrities, Special Guests, and Local Heroes

The Fresno Grizzlies' Totally Rad '80s Night was given a huge boost by the presence of quintessential bully Billy Zabka. Best known as "Johnny Lawrence" in "The Karate Kid," Zabka visited Fresno's Chukchansi Park to sign autographs, pose for pictures and answer questions about himself in a "Zabka on Zabka" trivia contest. ... But Zabka's not as intimidating as bald-headed slugger Jay Buhner. The former Seattle Mariners star appeared at an Everett AquaSox game in August to personally give out a few of his signature "Buhner Buzz Cuts." ... Fans of the Fort Myers Miracle witnessed history on May 1, as local Taco Bell employee Mighty Gonzalez set a world record by performing 983 keg lifts over a nine-inning span. ... And where better to celebrate local heroes than at a Minor League Ballpark? The Binghamton Mets proved particularly adept at this, staging tributes to notable natives such as cartoonist Johnny Hart, "Twilight Zone" host Rod Serling, Chris Snee of the New York Giants, and official scorer Steve Kraly.

Miscellaneous Brilliance For those who think they've seen it all, think again. The Harrisburg Senators subverted the now-common guaranteed good weather promotion with "Guaranteed Rainout Night" on April 17. Since the game was played, all fans received a free ticket to an upcoming contest. ... Later that month, the Altoona Curve instituted their own "Economic Stimulus Plan" with all fans in attendance receiving a $5 gift card good for team merchandise or concessions. ... The Visalia Oaks celebrated their region's dairy heritage by opening a special Cowbell Section at Recreation Park. The cost of a ticket to this section included -- you guessed it -- a cowbell. ... Many teams have staged pre-game "Renew Your Vows" wedding ceremonies over the past several years, but the Connecticut Defenders raised the stakes by having theirs presided over by a local attorney by the name of Chuck Norris. ... The Omaha Royals also took advantage of a fortuitously named local when they staged "Ty Cobb Night." In this case, Ty Cobb happened to be one of the club's communications interns. ... Finally, one of the most flat-out hilarious promotions of the year was staged by the Casper Ghosts. "Wax the Max Night" was just that, as PA announcer Chris "Max" Maxwell attempted to perform his job while having his back waxed.

Until 2009...

Nearly 2,000 words later I feel I have merely scratched the surface of the remarkable 2008 season in Minor League promotions. Feel free to get in touch with complaints and criticisms regarding anything I gave short shrift to in this article, and, please, remember to vote for your favorite promotion of the year. Voting ends on Wednesday Sept. 24 at noon E.T.

Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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