The last two editions of this column have focused heavily on Hot Stove dinners, but that portion of the offseason promotional schedule has finally, mercifully come to a close.
Now the focus shifts to that most sensuous of holidays: Valentine's Day. And of course, nothing says "romance" like having a Minor League mascot personally deliver roses, chocolates and 2010 game tickets to that special someone in your life. Nearly two dozen teams are doing just that, and what follows is a (mercifully) brief rundown of the costumed characters who will be spreading the love:
Archie (Reno Aces) -- It has been helpfully pointed out to me that Archie looks like a heart when he does a handstand. The Grimace-like character is all set to deliver roses and a $25 Aces gift card.
Boomer (Williamsport Crosscutters) -- Everyone's favorite unkempt woods creature comes bearing gifts. Specifically, a box of chocolates and two tickets to a Crosscutters game.
Buster (Lakewood BlueClaws) -- The BlueClaws have added an interesting twist to the concept: Buster will be making just one delivery and fans can bid for the privilege. As of this writing, the leading bid is $152.50 (proceeds go to charity).
Canaligator (Lowell Spinners) -- No need to make things complicated: Canaligator will be delivering a dozen roses. That's it. You know, there's really something to be said for simplicity.
Candy or Conrad the Crawdad (Hickory Crawdads) -- The Candy (or Conrad) Gram includes four box seats, a cap, T-shirt, pennant and a box of CrackerJacks.
Charlie T. RiverDog (Charleston RiverDogs) -- A cap, a rose and five ticket vouchers is what Charlie has to offer, and he'll happily pose for a picture as well.
Chopper the Groundhog (Gwinnett Braves) -- In addition to game tickets, Chopper will deliver flowers or "a Gwinnett Braves pint glass filled with sweets." The latter is the superior option.
Crazy Hot Dog Vendor or Screwball (Reading Phillies) -- Traditionalists will opt for Screwball, who, like Mr. Met, has a baseball for a head. But those who want to be on the cutting edge are arranging for deliveries from the ostrich-riding, wildly gesticulating Crazy Hot Dog Vendor.
Dinger the Cat (Sacramento River Cats) -- The "Dinger Gram" package includes two tickets, chocolate, a cap and a framed photo of Dinger with the lucky recipient of said Dinger Gram.
Fungo the Fisher Cat (New Hampshire Fisher Cats) -- Fungo will have his paws full, as he's delivering two Opening Day tickets, four ticket vouchers, a dozen roses and two candy-stuffed coffee mugs.
Gigante (San Jose Giants) -- The inimitable Gigante will be delivering his inimitable "Gigante Grams," which can consist of everything from a ticket "flex pack" all the way up to a full-fledged season-ticket plan. Why not go ahead and splurge?
Ike the Spike (State College Spikes) -- Ike will bring flowers, an Ike the Spike candy bar, game tickets and, best of all, "a special note written on Spikes stationery."
Looie the Lookout (Chattanooga Lookouts) -- Delivered by one of the strangest-looking mascots in Minor League baseball, "Looiegrams" feature tickets and a hat.
Muddy (Carolina Mudcats) -- Bottom dwellers must think alike, as the Mudcats are staging a promotion very similar to what the BlueClaws are doing. Fans can bid for the privilege of having Muddy make a delivery, which includes roses, chocolate, a card, a t-shirt, four game tickets and an opportunity to throw out a commemorative first pitch.
Mugsy, Misty, Righty or Lefty (Salem Red Sox) -- Talk about options. The Sox are offering four different V-Day packages, which can be delivered by one of four mascots. That's 16 distinct possibilities right there.
Pork Racer Pig-O-Grams (Lehigh Valley IronPigs) -- Fans can choose between Chris P. Bacon, Hambone or Diggity. It would be a pleasure to "meat" any one of these three fine pork products.
Rascal the Raccoon (Quad Cities River Bandits) -- Like just about everyone else, Rascal will deliver tickets and flowers. However, he also will distribute signed River Bandits memorabilia and a personalized card.
Rocky Bluewinkle the Moose (Wilmington Blue Rocks) -- The bluest moose in Delaware will deliver four game tickets, a $20 gift card, a rose and a certificate stating that the recipient will get to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at a 2010 Blue Rocks game.
Sandy the Seagull (Brooklyn Cyclones) -- Sandy is making just one delivery. It will be to the individual who, in 250 words or less, is able to explain why his or her sweetheart "deserves this wonderful surprise from everyone's favorite bird."
Skipper (Lake County Captains) -- In the tradition of the Phillie Phanatic, Skipper's species is unknown. The friendly "thing" will be delivering long-stem roses, chocolate and four box seat tickets.
Slugger the Sea Dog (Portland Sea Dogs) -- Slugger comes equipped with a dozen roses, a cap and two tickets to Opening Day.
Splash the Pelican (Myrtle Beach Pelicans) -- Is there anything more romantic than baseball tickets and a truffle-filled beer mug delivered by a giant bird? That was a rhetorical question, but I'll answer it anyway: No.
Strike the Sasquatch (Northwest Arkansas Naturals) -- Bigfoot sightings will be in abundance as Strike will personally deliver two tickets, a rose and a box of chocolates.
Wool E. Bull (Durham Bulls) -- Durham's offer is a lot of bull. Wool-E will deliver candy, Opening Night tickets and a pink hat.
That'll do it for the V-Day coverage, but not for "Promotion Preview." Contrary to my assertion in the opening paragraph, the Hot Stove hasn't quite yet flickered out. Observe:
Altoona Curve (Eastern League)
Spring Training Dinner and Auction, Feb. 6
After a "carnival-like event" at a local mall featuring celebrity guests and memorabilia auctions, the action will shift to the Ramada for the Spring Training Dinner. Notable attendees include Doug Drabek, Josh Bonifay and Pirates prospects Rudy Owens and Chase d'Arnaud.
Indianapolis Indians (International League)
Hot Stove Luncheon, Feb. 9
Just two days after the Colts play in the Super Bowl, the Indians will host their annual Hot Stove Luncheon. Guests of honor include former Indianapolis outfielder Ken Griffey Sr. and current Indians hitting coach Jeff Branson.
Batavia Muckdogs (New York-Penn League)
Hot Stove Dinner, Feb. 12
No special guests have been announced, but come for the "good food, friendship, baseball talk, silent and live auctions of baseball-related memorabilia, work by local artists and gift certificates from a variety of local businesses."