This season, the Akron RubberDucks' typically idiosyncratic slate of bobblehead giveaways includes mascot "Rubberta" as well as fictional pop culture icons such as Major League's Lou Brown and The Naked Gun's Enrico Pallazzo.
But the team's most unique bobblehead of 2017 features a real Akron ballpark mainstay. The first 1,000 fans in attendance Saturday will receive an undulating figurine bearing the likeness of Jack Kilway.
Now 82, Kilway worked as an usher at Canal Park from 1997 through 2016 (the team, originally known as the Aeros, adopted the RubberDucks' moniker prior to the 2013 campaign). His tenure came on the heels of a 47-year career in the grocery industry.
"Around that time [when I was retiring] one of my customers, a young lady, asked me what I was going to do," Kilway said Monday. "I said, 'Sit and watch the grass grow.'
"'No, come with me,' she said. She was the assistant general manager of the Akron Aeros."
That fortuitous encounter set the stage for an additional two decades of employment. Kilway, already well-known around Akron from his previous job, said he "enjoyed every minute of it" while at Canal Park.
Nonetheless, the team's declining fortunes as the 21st century progressed were troubling to him. Fewer and fewer fans were coming to what was once one of the crown jewels of the Eastern League as the team's former owners neglected to invest in upgrades, staffing and attention-getting promotions.
That all changed when Ken Babby, formerly with the Washington Post for more than a decade, bought the team.
"I was at an Akron football game [in 2012]," said Kilway. "I walked in and a guy yells at me, 'Jack! Jack! Are you coming back next season? I want you back.' It was Ken Babby. ... I wanted to see what he could do to stimulate the ballpark, and starting that next year he became the spark of Canal Park. I've never seen a man with such vision. He took everything that had been going badly and reversed it in one year."
Kilway had nothing but good things to say about the direction the team has taken since adopting the RubberDucks name. His decision to retire was largely motivated during the 2015-16 offseason when his home was burglarized.
"I didn't like being down at the ballpark working when my wife was home alone," he said. "After going through that, I said, 'I think it's time to retire.'"
On Kilway's last day as an usher in 2016, Babby brought him onto the field and presented him with two reserved seats for life. The impromptu ceremony also included the announcement that Kilway would be honored with his own bobblehead the following season.
Now that day has almost arrived.
"People keep asking me, 'Are you excited?' I'm thrilled to death," he said. "[The bobblehead] is perfect. Absolutely perfect."
The following promotions, taking place this week, are eminently worthy of your attention. (Or would that be "imminently worthy"? Or both?)
April 19: During every home game on Wednesdays, the El Paso Chihuahuas hearken to another era of their city's Minor League history by donning El Paso Diablos uniforms. The Diablos played in the Texas League from 1974 through 2004.
Is a hot dog a sandwich? The Myrtle Beach Pelicans are dedicating an evening to an exploration of this topic, which has long fascinated too-clever-by-half baseball Twitter types.
April 20: On '90s Night, the Fresno Grizzlies are wearing "Totally Krossed Out" jerseys inspired by the fashion-backward stylings of teen hip-hop duo Kriss Kross.
And as if that wasn't enough (really, it is), the Grizzlies are further celebrating the '90s by offering $2 cans of a citrus-flavored soft drink that gained a cult following.
April 21: On "Tribute to Grease Night," the Frisco RoughRiders welcome actress Didi "Frenchy" Conn to the ballpark. (Ben Hill, the author of this column and someone who would never deign to refer to himself in the third person, will also be in attendance.)
The Sacramento River Cats celebrate the mesmerizing delivery of one of their parent club's top pitchers by giving away "Johnny Cueto Shimmy-bobbles."
April 22: Local tattoo artist Matt Stebly partnered with the Biloxi Shuckers to create a one-of-a-kind theme jersey, featuring a design that would make for a really memorable back piece.
On "String Night," the Charleston RiverDogs have vowed to stage the "world's largest silly string fight." Dress accordingly.
The Grizzlies' big weekend continues with the distribution of "Buster Hugs" bobbleheads, celebrating the unfettered emotional display of two men who have just won a World Series title.
April 23: What's the best way to celebrate brunch and baseball? If you're the Richmond Flying Squirrels, it's by wearing special brunch-themed uniforms while distributing "Waffle Mascot" caps to fans.
April 24-25: Nothing of particular note is occurring, so far as this writer can discern. Please let me know what I'm missing.