Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. On Tuesdays this season, we're previewing 10 of 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 him a Tweet -- hashtag "#promopreview."
The 1963 Stockton Ports -- a Baltimore Orioles-affiliated squad that fielded five future Major Leaguers en route to winning the California League title -- were a team to celebrate. On Saturday, they will be once again.
The 50th anniversary of the '63 Ports championship season will be the focus of "Alumni Night" at Banner Island Ballpark, an annual promotion that pays homage to the many memorable teams and players who have been a part of Stockton's 72-year California League history. Ports president Pat Filippone calls "Alumni Night" a "labor of love" while conceding that its first appearance on the promotional calendar, in 2007, was "almost a fluke."
"We found out that the 1947 Ports won 26 games in a row, which was the professional baseball record [at the time]," said Filippone. "Once we realized it was the 60th anniversary of this, we set out to track down any players from that era. To my surprise we found a few in Northern California and even the GM from that year, who was living in Sacramento. We had them out, had a great time, and have been honoring our alumns ever since."
Last year's celebration honored both the 1992 and 2002 championship teams, but the recent vintage of both milestones resulted in rather sparse alumni attendance (especially when it came to the 2002 squad, many of whose members are still playing professionally). Saturday's festivities are shaping up to be a different story, however.
"Pat Dunlop, the manager of the 1963 team, thought [an Alumni Night reunion] would be awesome. He had kept in touch with some of the players, gave us contact info, and it ballooned from there," said Fillipone. "Some of the guys haven't talked to each other for 40-plus years."
Dunlop and at least 11 of his 1963 charges will be on-hand for the occasion. They'll take part in an on-field ceremony, throw out ceremonial first pitches and spend much of the ballgame signing 1963 team photos on the Banner Island Ballpark concourse. Meanwhile, the 1960s theme will be reflected in the evening's music, staff attire, between-innings promotions and videoboard graphics.
"[The alumni] love it, having kids line up for their autographs," said Fillipone. "It brings them back to the feeling they had when they played."
Omaha Storm Chasers (Pacific Coast League) George Brett Bobble-Arms Giveaway, May 18
If the word "apoplectic" had to be defined in a single image, the best choice might be that of George Brett charging onto the field during what came to be known as "The Pine Tar Incident" (in which Brett's go-ahead, ninth-inning homer in a July 1983 contest against the Yankees was declared null and void due to the excessive pine tar on his bat). This immortal moment of eye-popping on-field rage gets further immortalized Saturday, when the Omaha Storm Chasers give away "George Brett Bobble-Arm" figurines. These items depict Brett in a most apoplectic state, his arms wildly undulating in response to the grave injustice that has just been foisted upon him by wily Yankees skipper Billy Martin and a cadre of complicit umpires.
Rochester Red Wings (International League) Field of Dreams Game, May 18
The Red Wings are on the road Saturday, and in their absence a squadron of certified baseball immortals will descend upon Rochester's Frontier Field for the "Field of Dreams Game." This American League vs. National League contest features the likes of Rickey Henderson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench, and they will be joined by the winners of a "Field of Dreams" promotion sponsored by the caps-heavy carbonated beverage Pepsi MAX. Tickets to the event are $20, but savvy soft drink consumers can get theirs for free with the purchase of two 12-packs of Pepsi product at Rochester-area Wegman's supermarkets.
Reading Fightin Phils (Eastern League) Your Head on the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor's Body Blanket Giveaway, May 19
I've written about Crazy Hot Dog Vendor giveaway items many times in this column and must now violate my self-imposed moratorium in order to do so once again. For I am but a mere mortal, and how can a mere mortal resist the charms of a blanket that allows its wearer to superimpose his or her head upon a cartoon image of the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor's body? "Not I," is the answer to that question. "Not I." If you agree, then make sure you are one of the first 2,000 fans age 14 or under in attendance at Sunday's ballgame.
Akron Aeros (Eastern League) Argh! "Talk Like a Pirate Day" is Four Months Away, May 19
From "Ocho de Mayo" to "Halfway to Halloween," Minor League teams have become adept at celebrating holidays that occur during the offseason or simply when the team was on the road. Perhaps the most absurd and far-reaching example of this common occurrence takes place Sunday when the Akron Aeros celebrate the fact that "Talk Like a Pirate Day" is only four months away. So get down to the ballpark and start spewing pirate slang terms to your heart's content; otherwise, you'll need to wait until September to do so within a socially acceptable context.
Sacramento River Cats (Pacific Coast League) Barry Zito Bobblehead w/Bobblefield Giveaway, May 19
Ballpark giveaway items are inherently collectible, but the River Cats are further enabling those with completist tendencies by giving away a "bobblefield" on Sunday. The "bobblefield" is what its name might imply -- a baseball field in miniature with room on each position of the diamond for a corresponding bobblehead. 2,500 of these will be given away Sunday, along with a bobblehead of former River Cat Barry Zito. Zito will occupy the pitcher's spot, the first bobblehead in a nine-part series that, when completed, will encompass the entire bobblefield of play.
Into the ellipse…
Because why stop when you can go on? Here are even more notable promotions taking place over the next week…
May 15: The Pensacola Blue Wahoos host a "National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day" event that hopefully won't cost a lot of dough.
May 17: The Quad Cities River Bandits pay homage to the sci-fi classic that is Star Trek 2, but even more ingenuity will be on display in Salt Lake as the Bees stage a tribute to MacGyver. ... Fans in Richmond can get Smart, as the Flying Squirrels are giving away a bobblehead in the likeness of Virginia Commonwealth men's basketball coach Shaka.
May 18: Spanish heritage is celebrated in Charlotte via the Stone Crabs' "Viva Florida Conquistadors Night." ... Candy and costumes come together in Lake County as the Captains begin their "Halloween Weekend. ... I have no idea what it means, but the Quad Cities River Bandits stage "Shop-a-holic's Dream."
May 19: The Pawtucket Red Sox are doing it 19th-century style with a pregame "vintage baseball" exhibition.
May 21: Catcher (and accomplished turkey bacon spokesman) Erik Kratz didn't just play in Lehigh Valley, he's a native of the area as well. The IronPigs honor the local boy made good with his own bobblehead.