The conclusion of the 2009 Minor League season left a tremendous void in our cultural landscape. Not because there was no longer any baseball -- we all need a break from that -- but because it meant that I no longer was able to write my weekly "Promotion Preview" column.
Or did it? Earlier this week I was struck with a realization that I frankly should have had years before: Minor League teams don't take a break during the offseason, so neither should I. Therefore, it is my pleasure (or should I say obligation?) to unveil "Promotion Preview: Offseason Edition." This purpose of this column, which will run through March, is to highlight the myriad events still taking place at Minor League stadiums. From holiday gatherings to yard sales to celebrations of alcoholic beverages, there's a lot going on.
As always, I request that you email me in order to let me know what's coming up and to fill me in on anything I've missed. I do my best to be as comprehensive as possible, but at the end of the day I am just one man amidst 160 teams. Like a handful of change dropped on a dilapidated boardwalk, it is inevitable that much will slip through the cracks.
Sorry, there's no time to savor the above simile. There are offseason Minor League promotions to learn about, and nothing could possibly be more important.
All Hallows' Eve At the Ballpark
Not surprisingly, Halloween events currently dominate the offseason promotional docket. At least five clubs -- the Bowie Baysox, Gwinnett Braves, Lake Elsinore Storm, Quad Cities River Bandits and Williamsport Crosscutters -- have gone so far as to turn their stadiums into bonafide "haunted ballparks." This marks a first for both Gwinnett County and Williamsport, so let's take a closer look at those two.
Gwinnett Braves (International League)
Stadium of Screams
Oct. 22-24 and 30-31, Nov. 1
The G-Braves hope the "Stadium of Screams" will terrify even the most hardened haunted house visitor, so even those who show up wearing a concrete suit are going to get scared. But don't despair, for those who fall firmly on the "scaredy-cat" side of the haunted house continuum, the team is offering a family-friendly "Concourse of Characters." But no one could escape the terror that occurred on Stadium of Screams' Oct. 15 opening extravaganza, when Braves pitcher Vladmir "The Impaler" Nunez officially opened the gates. Last season, Nunez appeared in one game and posted a thoroughly ghastly 36.00 ERA.
Williamsport Crosscutters (New York-Penn League)
Terror at Bowman, Oct. 23-24, 30-31
Those who suffer from coulrophobia -- the fear of clowns -- should steer clear of Williamsport this month. "Terror at Bowman" features "Cap'n Bonkers' Cavalcade of Clowns" as well as a "Clown Alley," ensuring that the macabre merrymakers will play a key role in the haunted house experience. Other highlights include "The Mad Lab of Dr. Nefarious" (a mad scientist attempting to create the perfect Crosscutter player) and "Jim's Butcher Shop" (where pigs have their revenge).
But the above attractions represent just the stem of the Jack O' Lantern when it comes to Halloween in the Minor Leagues. Other innovations of note:
Free Pumpkin Patch (Frisco RoughRiders, Oct. 24): The outfield of Dr Pepper Ballpark will be filled with pumpkins, which can be bought for $3 each. But if more incentive is needed to attend, consider this: There will be free Bob Evans bratwurst, while supplies last.
Pig Tales in the Barnyard, Halloween Edition (Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Oct. 24): Kids are encouraged to put on their costumes and come to the ballpark, where the inimitable Farmer Sally will read spooky Halloween stories. Maybe she'll tell the youngsters how bacon is made.
Trick or Beat (West Virginia Power, Oct. 29): Children 12 and under are invited to come trick-or-treat at the ballpark, where they will be inundated with the "horrifying" Top 40 sounds of sponsor 98.7 The Beat.
Hootz Fright Days (Orem Owlz, Oct. 30): Fans are invited to celebrate the holiday with recently betrothed mascots Hootz and Holly. Those who do will be treated to hot chocolate, movies on the videoboard and an on-field Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby. Fun will be had by "owl."
2009 Red Beans and Rice Festival: Potions, Spells and Magic Beans (Mississippi Braves, Oct. 31): The musical fruit gets its due, as over 30 competitors will be vying for the hotly contested title of "Best Red Beans in Town." Attendees are encouraged to come in costume and come hungry -- over 300 gallons of beans are consumed at this event each year (enough to fuel an orchestra, in other words).
And finally, let's not forget that two clubs are currently running a "Trick-or-Treat with the Mascot" contest. So if you are 12 years old or younger and have always dreamed of spending Halloween with a firefighting dog (Homer, Peoria Chiefs) or a fuzzy green thing of indeterminate origin (Clipper, Lake County Captains), then make sure to enter immediately. Also, make sure to live within a 25-mile radius of the teams in question. Really, it's the least you could do.
But not everything in the fascinating world of upcoming offseason Minor League promotions is related to everyone's favorite macabre pagan ritual. What follows is a sampling of upcoming events that are free from Halloween connotations:
Super Yard Sale (Aberdeen IronBirds, Oct. 24): 200 vendors, complimentary balloons and free admission with the donation of a canned food item. Heaven on Earth, in other words.
Wine and Unwind Festival (Salem Red Sox, Oct. 24): Featuring 10 local wineries and 15 arts and crafts vendors. The team is promoting this on their Web site with a video featuring groundskeeper Tracy Schneweis chugging wine from a plastic cup and spraying cheese from an aerosol container directly into his mouth. Watching it was the highlight of my day.
Rubber Duck Race (Daytona Cubs, Oct. 25): I'm still a little unclear on just how a rubber duck race works, but this is clearly big time event. The first-place duck wins $3,000. Music, craft booths, face painting and clowns will also be part of the day's festivities. And charities, they shall be benefited.
World Series Viewing Party (Beloit Snappers, Oct. 28): The Snappers are hosting a World Series viewing party at a local eating and drinking establishment. Ten dollars covers the cost of snacks and Miller Lite, which is really all that's ever been needed for a World Series viewing party.
Strongman Competition (Mobile BayBears, Oct. 31): A bevy of local musclemen will compete in the log press, farmer carry, tire drag, tire flip, yolk walk and casket carry (let's just hope it's not an open casket). All proceeds from the event will benefit charity.
Toys for Tots (Reading Phillies, Nov. 1): With Halloween over, the R-Phils are wasting no time in moving on to Christmas. It's their 12th annual Toys for Tots event, in which fans are asked to come to the ballpark in order to donate new, unwrapped gifts to underprivileged children. The event features live music, free food and drink, a car show, and most crucially, an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Bonus Coverage -- The following events may have already happened, but this shouldn't be held against them. They are still imminently worthy of inclusion in this column:
Opening of Stone Crab Season (Charlotte Stone Crabs, Oct. 15): The Charlotte Stone Crabs' inaugural season recently concluded, but stone crab harvesting season has just begun. To celebrate this milestone, the club offered a free $50 gift card to those who purchased 2010 season tickets on the first day of stone crab season. Really, this is not as confusing as it sounds.
Hall of Fame Fight Night (Corpus Christi Hooks, Oct. 17): Over 6000 fans attended this Saturday evening spectacular, which featured eight bouts as well as the Corpus Christi Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Legends of Baseball Vintage Showdown (San Jose Giants, October 17): Former big leaguers -- including Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Rollie Fingers -- faced off against players from the California Vintage Baseball Association. The game was played according to the 1886 rulebook, meaning that Perry could finally throw a legal spitball.
National Championship Celebration (Durham Bulls, Oct. 21): Over 700 fans came out to Durham Fans Athletic Park in order to celebrate the team's status as both International League and Triple-A champions. The evening included player autograph sessions, free hot dogs and the chance to have a catch on the field.