On Friday, the Erie SeaWolves celebrated a championship they never won.
It was "Alternative Facts Night" at the SeaWolves' home of UPMC Park, a tribute, of sorts, to our current post-truth political climate. The highlight of the evening was the distribution of rings commemorating the SeaWolves' undefeated 2016 campaign, even if the standings indicate that the Eastern League club went 62-79 and finished 15 games out of first place.
The SeaWolves -- Double-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers -- announced "Alternative Facts Night" back in March. The team's press release promised "truthful hyperbole" throughout the ballgame, which was expected to draw upwards of 1.2 million fans.
"The SeaWolves' opponent on this night may dispute the team's 2016 title run," reads the press release, referencing the actual championship-winning Akron RubberDucks. "Very unfair. It is up to the fans, who are tremendous fans by the way, to decide."
SeaWolves community engagement manager Hunter Horenstein, who played a large role in planning "Alternative Facts Night," called the entire promotion "very deliberate." Donald Trump and his fellow administration reality-benders may have inspired the initial premise, but there was plenty of satire to go around.
"We had a lot of [staff] meetings and sit-downs," he said. "The biggest thing is that we had [SeaWolves owner Fernando Aguirre's] support. He wanted us to go as far as possible and make a splash, but also to be cautious and careful with what we did. We wanted to make sure that we were fair, and poking at both sides of the political spectrum."
The evening included ceremonial first pitches from both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, with Aguirre himself donning the Trump mask. Between-inning contests included a blindfolded "Find Hilary's emails" game, as well as the distribution of a literal "basket of deplorables." The results of one between-inning game were declared null and void due to Russian hacking, leading to all fans winning the prize.
Though the SeaWolves (most likely) didn't go 142-0 during their 2016 championship campaign, the rings celebrating this alleged accomplishment were gloriously real. Fans began lining up outside the ballpark four hours prior to the game, to ensure that they received this unprecedented giveaway. Local media covered the promotion in depth, and Friday's Washington Post article granted this unorthodox night at the ballpark a nationwide audience. And there was a charitable component fans of all political stripes could agree on: "Fauxback" jerseys worn by the team were auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting the Partnership for Erie's Public Schools.
"The climate we're in offers a lot of material, and we set the bar pretty high for ourselves," said Horenstein. "There were some fans who didn't agree with what we were doing, but it's a fine line. I think we got as close as we could without going over it. ... We looked around at the end of the night and breathed a sigh of relief. We did it, we pulled it off. It was a proud night to be an Erie SeaWolf."
And that's the truth.
Not done yet!
As we enter the final week of Minor League Baseball's regular season, a look at some notable promotions still to come.
Aug. 30: The Columbia Fireflies, who opened the season with Tim Tebow on the roster, will always have the memories of the 64 games he played for them. They also have a Tebow bobblehead to give away, which will be distributed to the first 2,000 fans in attendance.
Aug. 31: Again with the Fireflies? Yes, again with the Fireflies. One day after honoring Tebow, the Class A Mets affiliate stages its second annual "Purple Game" in honor of Prince. The team will take the field in uniforms resembling the Purple One's get-up at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.
Sept. 1: The Frisco RoughRiders stage "State Fair Night," as in the Texas State Fair. Celebrated state fair "fry king" Abel Gonzales Jr. will be on hand, frying food items that most men would dare not fry.
The Tri-City ValleyCats' "The One with the Friends Theme" promotion is an evening-long tribute to Friends. On this evening, the team is changing its name to the "Tri-City Smellycats." This is surely a humorous and apropos reference to the iconic '90s sitcom.
Sept. 2: Enrico Palazzo, the only man to umpire a Major League game after singing the national anthem, receives his own bobblehead courtesy of the Akron RubberDucks.
After a three-game set in Midland, the RockHounds-RoughRiders "Throwback Jersey Series" moves to Frisco. Both teams will wear -- you guessed it -- throwback jerseys.
"Diamonds are a girl's best friend," say the Sacramento River Cats. By this they mean that women in baseball should be celebrated, and to this end the team will wear peach-colored jerseys in the style of those worn by the women of the AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League).
Sept. 3: This season, as with every Minor League season over the past decade, has been chockablock with Star Wars promotions. The Binghamton Rumble Ponies, ascribing to the philosophy of "better late than never," are staging theirs.
The Lowell Spinners, who previously honored Mookie Betts in bowling pin form, give away "Mookie Does the Carlton" bobbleheads. The Red Sox outfielder is depicted in a yellow sweater, dancing in the same manner as the Fresh Prince's insufferable preppy cousin.