Over the course of 22 columns during the 2007 season, "Promotion Preview" highlighted 222 Minor League promos from 94 teams spanning 14 leagues and six levels of play.
When piled atop one another, these columns form an unwieldy mountain of promotional information -- a seemingly endless list of bobblehead giveaways, celebrity appearances, and rock-paper-scissors contests. It is certainly a difficult task to create order from this chaos, but I will try.
What follows is a (not-so) succinct chronological review of the many, many promos that were staged this season. Additionally, 10 of these promotions have been selected as candidates for MiLB.com's first-ever Minor League Promotion of the Year Award. The winner will be selected by you, the fans. With great power comes great responsibility, so please choose wisely.
Now, let's move to a fun-filled recap of the year that was in the never-dull world of Minor League promotions.
The Minor League season kicked off on April 5, and so did the promos. Fans of the Durham Bulls saw the season's first pitch delivered via parachute by the 82nd All-American Freefall Team, Mic Gillette of the funk group Tower of Power played a pregame concert in Modesto, and the recently retired (and even more recently un-retired) Troy Percival made a guest appearance in Rancho Cucamonga. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Indians distributed free tickets to all fans, simply because the game-time temperature did not exceed 60 degrees (the club had previously issued an "Opening Day Warm Weather Guarantee"). In Lynchburg, the Hillcats distributed the season's first bobblehead, which featured Detroit Tigers third baseman (and Lynchburg native) Brandon Inge wearing his high school uniform.
The Inge bobblehead was part of a common April theme, in which many clubs took the time to celebrate local heroes. In a bout of wishful thinking, the Greenville Drive gave away "Shoeless" Joe Jackson Hall of Fame Plaques to all their season ticket holders. The Oklahoma RedHawks honored native son Bobby Murcer -- who had recently been diagnosed with brain cancer -- in an emotional ceremony, while famous documentarian Ken Burns gave a lecture on Negro League legend Buck O'Neill prior to a Sarasota Reds game. In Memphis, Redbirds fans made it clear that they were glad to have had "the Clapp," as the legendary Stubby Clapp had his number 10 retired in a postgame ceremony at AutoZone Park.
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The season's first month also gave teams a chance to celebrate the success of the previous year, as replica championship rings were given away in
and West Michigan
(among other diverse locales). And, lest anyone forget, it can still be really, really cold in April. The Iowa Cubs
gave away knit caps, and the Fresno Grizzles
distributed fleece blankets. These came in handy, immediately, as masochistic fans shivered away in the stands.
As the month came to an end, teams started to display the anything-goes creativity that is a hallmark of the Minor League promotional landscape. For example:
One lucky lady in Lexington won a date with Legends corporate account representative Seth Poteat. ... The Brevard County Manatees attempted to break their own record of throwing out 5,906 first pitches before a ballgame. ... And, in a truly innovative first, the Fresno Grizzlies gave fans the chance to vote for which local celebrity they'd like to see honored at the ballpark. Cher edged out the likes of "Growing Pains" mom Joanna Kerns and "Chipmunks" creator David Seville, and was therefore the focus of the "Famous Fan Tribute" on April 27.
As April's unseasonably frigid temperatures gave way to pleasant springtime weather, Minor League teams began to lure celebrities out of their heavily guarded secret compounds. The Altoona Curve kicked off a new season of their "Retro Celebrity Series" by welcoming '70s TV heartthrob Erik Estrada to Blair County Ballpark (later editions of this promo included appearances by the likes of Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas and Butch "Eddie Munster" Patrick). As part of a similar (but more modest) promotional series, the Lake County Captains began "Cleveland Celebrity Night" with an appearance by 1980 American League Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau. Come to think of it, the wild and woolly first baseman probably could have held his own in the ring with King Kong Bundy. The former wrestling superstar visited the Lakewood BlueClaws on May 26 as part of an action-packed night that also included a Michael Bourn bobblehead giveaway.
Like a professional wrestler running off at the mouth, the Bowie Baysox garnered a lot of attention in the month of May. Not only did the Eastern League franchise establish a new world record by inducing 1,496 fans to simultaneously yo-yo, but they also held their much-celebrated "Office Space Night." The 1999 Mike Judge-directed cult movie was honored in many ways, including a Post-It note stickoff, a flair competition, and, of course, a technology smash.
Another organization that generated a lot of buzz this season was the West Virginia Power. The Milwaukee Brewers affiliate staged off-beat tributes and contests all season, such as "Salute to Indoor Plumbing" on May 21 (it is best not to go into too much detail about this one. Trust me). Then, later in the week, the Power held "The World's Largest Tighty-Whitey Race" and "The World's Fastest Fat Man" competition. Yes, both of these world class events were staged on the same night. It boggles the mind.
It also boggles the mind just how much media coverage the feud between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump received. The Hagerstown Suns poked fun at this disgusting spectacle with "Donald vs. Rosie Night," in which the team had fans vote on who was the superior celebrity. A "Best Male Hair" contest was held in honor of Trump, and other celebrity feuds were highlighted all night long. Those looking for a break from this nastiness were able to take refuge in (relatively) nearby Frederick, where the Keys held a "Random Acts of Kindess Night" in order to promote volunteer opportunities with local charitable organizations.
Any discussion of Minor League promos in the month of June has to begin with the Fort Myers Miracle, as the Florida State League franchise held two memorable events. June 20 was "Billy Donovan Night," the Miracle's tribute to the basketball coach's decision to opt out of a $27.5 million contract with the Orlando Magic in order to return to the Florida Gators. On this special evening, fans were given the opportunity to negotiate their way out of a ticket purchase by consulting with a local attorney and then shooting a basketball through a hoop. Things got even stranger in Fort Myers the next week, as it was "Mike Tyson Ear Night." The Miracle celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the "Sound and the Fury" boxing match (in which Tyson bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear) by distributing 1,000 fake ears. Fans were given the opportunity to get Tyson-style facial tattoos, and elephant ears were sold at the concession stands.
Tyson is still an intimidating presence, but in the month of June the Minor Leagues were graced with appearances by two individuals who could definitely give him a run for his money. Steve MacDonald -- the World's Strongest Man -- visited the Syracuse Chiefs on June 1, and Adam West (TV's Batman) swooped into Myrtle Beach four days later. West's appearance was especially noteworthy as the beloved thespian was scheduled to appear in Altoona on three separate occasions last season and backed out each time.
World's Strongest Man competitions and "Batman" re-runs have long been staples of daytime television, but nothing can compete with the legendary "Price is Right." On June 2, in honor of Bob Barker's 35-year reign as the show's host, the Fresno Grizzlies wore horrific/brilliant uniforms inspired by the show and gave fans name tags so that they would be eligible to "Come on Down" for between-innings pricing games.
Perhaps no man on earth has been hugged more often than the affable Barker. Running a close second, however, is Rowdy -- the feathered mascot of the Oklahoma RedHawks. On June 7, Rowdy attempted to set the World Record for "Hugs in One Hour," although he wasn't quite able to reach the mark of 612. Perhaps next season, Mr. Celery of the Wilmington Blue Rocks should go for the record. The anthropomorphic vegetable has become one of the most popular mascots in all of baseball, and the Blue Rocks have responded by unleashing a slew of Mr. Celery-themed products into the world. The club gave away T-shirts in June, one month after distributing bobbleheads. All this craziness finally came to a head in early September, when the Blue Rocks actually took the field wearing Mr. Celery jerseys.
June came to an end in grand fashion, as the Short-Season New York-Penn, Northwest, Appalachian and Pioneer Leagues entered the fray. In short order, the world was treated to nights of promotional genius such as Tri-City's "Air Guitar Championships," Mahoning Valley's "Salute to the Pickle" and Lowell's "Patriots Night," when the NFL's Steven Gostkowski punted autographed footballs into the crowd.
To begin July, we must start with the end, as the 31st of the month featured two brilliant promotions. First, the Altoona Curve held their annual "Awful Night" extravaganza , in which all standard ballpark procedures were turned upside down and made awful. A few examples -- players' names were intentionally spelled wrong on the scoreboard, the Kiss Cam became the "Alone Cam," and spam sandwiches were served at the concession stands. Meanwhile, a few hundred miles north, the Lowell Spinners staged "Political Correctness Night." No one could have possibly been offended on this special evening, as positions were referred to in gender-neutral terms (first baseman became first baseperson, for example), players who made errors weren't identified (so as not to hurt feelings), and everyone who took part in a between-inning contest was awarded a "participant" trophy.
Those who actually like a good competition would have enjoyed the Auburn Doubledays' "Falcon Park Chef Night" on July 3, when three aspiring chefs were given the entire ballgame to create a new culinary concoction using only ballpark ingredients. The best entry -- a corn dog dipped in nacho-chip batter and coated with cheese and jalapenos -- was served at the concession stands for the remainder of the season.
Of course, a corn dog diet would lead to a quick death. Fortunately, the Lake Elsinore Storm offered many healthy alternatives during their "Going Green Night." In what is believed to be the first-ever promotion related to sustainable living, the Storm served organic foods at the concession stands, and the players competed in uniforms made out of hemp. While fans in Lake Elsinore went green, those in Greeneville (paradoxically) went yellow. On "Follow the Yellow Brick Road Night," the club welcomed Mickey Carroll, one of the original munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, to the ballpark. The still-limber 88-year-old did double duty by throwing out the first pitch and singing the National Anthem (perhaps Carroll would have benefited from the David Eckstein step stool given away by the Spinners earlier in the month).
Hey! I haven't mentioned bobbleheads in a while. Some notable individuals who had their likeness immortalized in bobble form in the month of July included romance author Nora Roberts (Hagerstown), Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (Reading) and Browns wide receiver Joe Jurevicius (Lake County). But the most notable bobblehead giveaways weren't "heads" at all. West Michigan distributed Ty Cobb bobblefoot dolls, while Stockton staged a "Salute to Happy Days" featuring Fonzie bobblearms.
Just like in July, two of the Minor Leagues' best promos in the month of August took place on the same day -- Aug. 18, to be exact. Over on the West Coast, the Portland Beavers staged what was arguably the most well-received promotion of the season when they distributed Bob L. Head bobbleheads. Yes, these were dolls bearing the likeness of Mr. Robert Leroy Head, a man from Iowa who beat out two other Bob L. Heads in a months-long vote and was thus immortalized in bobble form. Meanwhile, back east, the Williamsport Crosscutters spent an entire evening celebrating the 20th anniversary of catcher Dave Bresnahan's "Great Potato Caper." Back in 1987, Bresnahan pulled off one of the best pranks in baseball history. With a runner on third and one out in the fifth inning, the little-used backup catcher fired a potato over the third baseman's head and into left field. The runner then raced home, only to find Bresnahan waiting for him with the actual baseball. Two decades later, the Crosscutters commemorated this ridiculous stunt by giving away 1,000 Bresnahan bobbleheads. The man himself was in attendance to recreate his moment of infamy as part of a pregame ceremony, and then stuck around to sign autographs with a pen he had carved out of a potato (disclaimer: the last 10 words of the previous sentence may not be true).
Some might consider Bresnahan a hero, but he unfortunately was unable to work his way into the "Triple-A Baseball Heroes" comic book that was given away at every International and Pacific Coast League stadium during the month of August. In an unprecedented collaboration, Marvel Comics teamed up with both leagues to create a Minor League-themed comic. The plot involves the Fantastic Four and Spiderman teaming up to stop the Incredible Hulk from ruining the Triple-A All-Star Game in Albuquerque.
However, if the Hulk had decided to go berserk at Elfstrom Stadium on Aug. 11, he would have been stopped by a relentless barrage of pillows. While the Kane County Cougars were unable to establish a new pillow-fight record, they still managed to lure over 3,000 fans onto the field for a feather-filled battle royale.
Perhaps pillows were on the registry for Boise Hawks assistant GM Dina Duncan, who allowed fans to micromanage her wedding over the course of the season. After letting fans choose the gown, flowers, invitations, photographer and cake, Duncan got married at the ballpark on Sept. 2.
Justin Blaine, a relief pitcher with the Lakewood Blueclaws, displayed a similarly generous spirit at the tail end of the season. On Aug. 29, the southpaw allowed his Geo Metro -- which he had dubbed "White Lightning" -- to be given away to a lucky fan. As an added bonus, the car was signed by every member of the team.
THIS IS THE END...
And now, we've reached another long, cold offseason. During this time, Minor League staffs all over the country will be hunkered down in their deserted stadiums, plotting bigger and better promotions for the 2008 campaign. I, meanwhile, will be hunkered down in the MiLB.com office, plotting bigger and better writeups of these bigger and better promotions. Unfortunately, I have nothing else to do. Except, of course, provide you all with some...
Here's a list of unorthodox giveaway items mentioned in Promo Preview this season: Rabbit feet (Richmond Braves, April 13), fishing poles (Lake Elsinore Storm, April 28), beach rafts (Hickory Crawdads, May 11), mascot pillowcases (Corpus Christi Hooks, May 20), glow-in-the-dark baseballs (Rome Braves, June 8), redneck teeth (Mahoning Valley Scrappers, July 5), dodgeballs (Delmarva Shorebirds, July 8), sweatband wristwatches (Lowell Spinners, July 12), tie-dye sport socks (Hickory Crawdads, July 15), dog dishes (Altoona Curve, July 23), tie-dye baseball (Vermont Lake Monsters, Aug. 9), toothbrushes (Lake Elsinore Storm, Aug. 5), iPod cases (Lake County Captains, Aug. 25).
For those who made it this far, thanks for reading. Don't forget to vote for your favorite promotion of the season, and see you in April 2008.