Perspective: Saluting the wacky

These teams traditionally host the most inventive promotions

(Chris O'Meara/AP)

By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com | April 8, 2009 6:00 AM

A coincidental confluence of events has resulted in this "Perspectives" piece running on the same day as 2009's first "Promo Preview" column. Therefore, I figured the best course of action would be to have the two columns feed off of one another to create a more comprehensive look at the upcoming year in Minor League promotions.

While I try to cover as many teams as possible throughout the season, obviously, there are some that get mentioned more often than others. What follows is a look at a half-dozen full-season clubs that, most likely, will receive their share of press this season.

Altoona Curve -- Thanks to recurring promotional curiosities such as the nationally known (and nationally reviled?) Awful Night, the Curve have long been known as one of Minor League Baseball's most innovative and irreverent teams. This reputation was largely developed over the past seven seasons, under the leadership of anything-goes GM Todd "Parny" Parnell.

The club is under new ownership in 2009, and as a result, there has been a lot of turnover among the front-office staff. But it appears the club is as committed as ever to staging creative promos, especially when it comes to theme nights. Some to look forward to:

"The Long and the Short of It" (April 20, when the team honors fans "on the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum").

"They've Got the Beat" (June 29, a tribute to newspaper beat reporters).

"Everybody's a Critic" (July 27, in which fans will have the opportunity to "air their grievances").

Charleston RiverDogs -- Speaking of theme nights, there is perhaps no team that goes to such absurd lengths as the RiverDogs. The club is one of three affiliated teams in the Mike Veeck-led Goldklang Ownership Group, whose oft-repeated mantra is "Fun Is Good." It's hard to argue with that, right?

Here are a few of the more out-of-left field promo nights the RiverDogs will be staging in '09:

Here's to You, Mr. Competitive Adult Softball Player Night (June 18) -- Perhaps the first Minor League promo to be directly inspired by a beer advertisement.

Nancy Appreciation Night (June 30) -- From Drew to Pelosi to Reagan to Grace, the RiverDogs will be paying tribute to notable Nancys. But the best part of the evening will occur when the RiverDogs pick one Nancy out of the Charleston phone book who will be "lampooned" throughout the game.

Football Night "Illegal Use of Your Ed Hochuli" (Aug. 11) -- An evening dedicated to celebrating the follies and foibles of the NFL's best-known referee.

Fresno Grizzlies -- The Grizzlies have garnered a lot of publicity for their promotions over the past several seasons, and a big reason is that they have aggressively sought out nationwide attention. The club nabbed MiLB.com's 2008 "Promotion of the Year" for its Parker vs. the Phanatic "Mascot Showdown," while "Totally Rad '80s Night" was similarly honored by Ballpark Digest. These were just two highlights on a schedule filled with them, and 2009 promises more of the same. To wit:

"Mad Tight '90s Night with Mr. Belding" (May 14) -- The much-anticipated sequel to last year's '80s extravaganza.

"As Seen on TV Night" with Shammy Cloth Giveaway (June 6) -- If you want to get tickets to this game, act now! Operators are standing by.

"Magically Superstitious Night" with Magic 8-Ball Giveaway (June 27) -- Will this be a memorable night at the ballpark? All signs point to yes.

Lancaster JetHawks -- Much like the Curve, the JetHawks are a high-achieving promotional team that's under new ownership this season. While it will be difficult to top some of last year's highlights (such as the much-heralded skateboard giveaway and the wonderfully bizarre "Big Poppy" bobblehead), there should be much to look forward to in '09. The announcement of the "Polar Bear" ticket package (for those hardy fans who attend games in April's less-than-stellar conditions) immediately showed the team's willingness to think outside the box. Not to mention the fact that new co-owner Larry Lyttle is a well-established TV producer -- those connections, combined with Lancaster's proximity to Hollywood, should result in some intriguing special guests at the ballpark this season.

Reading Phillies -- Seeing as how they play in an area blessed with a large population of hardcore fans (hence Reading's nickname of "Baseballtown"), the R-Phils would probably draw well even without a strong emphasis on promotions. But that's simply not how this team operates. Too much is never enough seems to be the motto this year. On May 19, the R-Phils are staging "Gluttony Night," in which a $12 ticket includes unlimited hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, pizza and other concession stand delicacies.

Even more excessive is the amount of "Crazy Hot Dog Vendor" merchandise that is going to be given away. This ostrich-riding madman is slated to be honored with his own T-Shirt (May 31), lunch box (June 3), pillow case (July 5), piggy bank (July 19) and laundry hamper (Aug. 16). If this isn't a sign of the apocalypse, I don't know what is.

West Michigan Whitecaps -- The recent unveiling of the gargantuan Fifth Third Burger resulted in a massive surge of publicity for the Whitecaps. Flukish as that may have been, the club is well-equipped to capitalize on all the attention. Concession stand monstrosities aside, the Whitecaps offer a little something for everyone. A few of this year's highlights:

College Night with Pink Floyd Laser Light Show -- No word yet on whether they'll play "Wizard of Oz" on the videoboard.

Star Wars Night -- This promotion has spread like wildfire throughout the Minors over the past several seasons, but the Whitecaps were the originators.

1984 Champions Night with Hat Giveaway and appearances by Milt Wilcox, Willie Hernandez and Dan Petry -- Somehow, a quarter-century has passed since the Tigers last won the World Series.

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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