Promotions ... for the (world) record

Minor League teams work hard to set marks and get them recognized

(Bowie Baysox)

By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com | June 26, 2009 6:00 AM

Last Friday in Wilmington, Del., 6,105 fans packed Frawley Stadium in order to see the Blue Rocks take on the visiting Winston-Salem Dash in a Carolina League doubleheader.

Many of these fans were lured by the promise of postgame fireworks, while some may have been intrigued by the opportunity to see the synchronized life-sized puppet dance routines of touring performer The Amazing Christopher. And, of course, there was a strong contingent of baseball aficionados, desirous of nothing more than the opportunity to see a game.

And yet, when all is said and done, it is likely that what people will remember most about the evening is something else entirely. After the conclusion of the second game (and before the fireworks), the Blue Rocks attempted to set a new Guinness World Record in the prestigious category of "Largest Group Rendition of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes."

Led by Blue Rocks director of marketing Mark Vanderhaar and a motley crew of costumed characters from the team's extensive mascot universe, the crowd went through 12 repetitions of the time-honored children's classic. While it will be quite some time (if ever) before this record is verified by the fine folks across the pond at Guinness World Record Headquarters, the Blue Rocks are confident that they will soon achieve "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" immortality.

Challenging the Taiwan Tourism Bureau

The question that immediately springs to mind regarding the Blue Rocks stunt is "Why?" But this question can always be answered with another question, one just as simple: "Why not?"

No matter how frivolous, absurd or borderline insane a World Record attempt may be, there is an undeniable satisfaction in achieving what has never been achieved before. And when record attempts rely on group participation, it presents those involved with the always-welcome opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves.

Sure, it's true that the Blue Rocks' attempt probably had no discernible effect on the evening's attendance. But it did provide thousands of fans with an interesting and indelible memory, which goes a long way toward generating positive word of mouth and insuring repeat customers.

With that said, however, one thing needs to be made clear: staging a world record is a lot of work. I was at Frawley Stadium on Friday, and I observed this firsthand.

The current "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" world record is 1,217 participants, set by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau on July 1, 2008 in Taipei, Taiwan. In order for the Blue Rocks to officially beat this record, they needed signatures from each participant, sworn affidavits from police officers, copious visual and photographic evidence and press clippings. (Hey guys, send this article along. I'll vouch for you). Additionally, the song had to be performed for five minutes or more (which is why the Blue Rocks hedged their bets and led the crowd through 12 repetitions).

The foot soldiers in this comprehensive campaign for the record book were the ushers, who were given the task of collecting participant signatures. Each usher manned his or her section with a clipboard, approaching fans for a signature and occasionally passing the clipboard through the aisles. While many fans initially showed confusion upon being handed the clipboard, I didn't see anyone refuse to sign. Most did so unhesitatingly, although some of the more cautious individuals in attendance took their time reading the fine print before finally putting pen to paper.

But of course, not everyone took this task seriously. One young usher, reviewing the signatures he collected, was heard to exclaim, "All right, who put their name down as Chuck Norris?"

Late in the game, I asked a friendly usher with the nametag of "Bill the Bus Driver" if he thought the record would be broken.

"I'm confident," he replied. "The record right now is 1,200, and we've got over 5,000 fans here tonight, easy. Even if only half of them sign, we'll double the old record."

As it turns out, the Blue Rocks collected 2,276 signatures. Far more fans than that actually participated, but that's the number that will officially be submitted to Guinness.

I talked to Vanderhaar after the game, which was a memorable conversation due to the fact that he was dressed, head to toe, in full King of Pop regalia (the previous evening's Michael Jackson theme night had been rained out, and he didn't want a good costume to go to waste).

"We had a brainstorming session in the fall and were trying to think of low-cost things we could do that would drum up excitement among the fans," he said, explaining the origin of the record attempt. "[Blue Rocks staff member] Stefani Rash came up with the 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' idea. We contacted Guinness and they told us the record was 1,200."

That record may not last much longer, but Vanderhaar knows that the Blue Rocks' battle for "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" supremacy is far from over.

"We've still got to submit everything," he said. "We're not bringing out the champagne yet."

A Success, Sanctioned or Not

Vanderhaar's cautious approach is justified. Hearing back from the folks at Guinness is far from an inevitability, and this is something that the Kane County Cougars have learned first-hand.

Last season, the Cougars staged a very well-received "Largest Pillow Fight" world-record attempt. They carefully documented the event and made sure to collect the required signatures and affidavits. By their count, 3,872 fans participated, surpassing the previous mark of 3,648. Eleven months have passed since this seemingly historic day, but the club has heard nary a peep from Guinness.

"If they're going to recognize the record, they tell you. If they don't, they'll just leave things be," Cougars assistant general manager Jeff Ney said. "Having not heard something positive, we just have to assume the negative. We'd rather not present it that way, though, because that night was absolutely a success for us."

The Cougars enlisted Back to Bed, a local mattress chain, to sponsor the Pillow Fight. The company went so far as to sponsor a pillow giveaway on the day of the event, to ensure that everyone would be properly equipped. Upon the conclusion of the game, the Cougars allowed fans onto the outfield (which was thoughtfully divided into "zones of aggressiveness"), and a 90-second melee ensued. The evening was then capped off with -- what else? -- a fireworks display.

"I've been here for 15 years, and that was by far the most fun I've had at any one game," Ney said. "It was hysterical to see the fans having at it, hearing the roar of the crowd and all of their laughter. Mission accomplished, as far as we're concerned."

The Synchronization of Artificial Flatulence

Phil Wrye of the Bowie Baysox takes a similarly Zen-like approach to his team's dealings with Guinness, an attitude that can be summed up as "whatever happens, happens." The Baysox have attempted to set a world record at least once per season since 2001, but thus far an appearance in the hallowed record book has eluded them. This year, with a nod to Corey Hart, they attempted to establish the mark for "Most People Wearing Sunglasses at Night."

"We're trying to get [Guinness] to acknowledge 'Sunglasses at Night' as a new record," said Wrye. "They consider our attempt to be in the same category as the 'Groucho Marx Glasses Record,' but in our minds they are two different things. But it doesn't matter what's in our minds. It matters what's in theirs."

Other recent Baysox record attempts include "Most People Brushing Their Teeth at One Time" and "Most People Playing 'Take Me Out To the Ballgame' on a Kazoo," but it would be hard to top the one that started it all: "Most People Simultaneously Sitting on a Whoopee Cushion."

"We decided that we were going to have to attempt that on July 4, because that's our biggest night of the season," said Wrye. "The next step was to try to get the thing sponsored. We figured that wouldn't be a problem. A Whoopee Cushion is a piece of rubber, it costs 39 cents, it's cheap."

As it turned out, the Baysox were able to find the perfect sponsor: B & M Baked Beans. The company was so enthusiastic about the promotion that one of their vice presidents traveled to Bowie in order to take part.

"You can imagine what that sounds like, thousands of people counting down and then sitting on a Whoopee Cushion," said Wrye. "But the actual sound was even funnier."

Funny? Perhaps. But apparently not worthy of a response from the folks at Guinness.

"We thought we broke the record, but we never heard from them," said Wrye. "Eventually, they told us they never got our package. So, we sent it again, and still didn't hear anything. ... Finally, we gave up."

But such setbacks have not put a damper on the team's enthusiasm for record attempts.

"For us, it's not so much about breaking the record," said Wrye. "It's about doing something different."

Therefore, the BaySox are just going to keep on trying. The team's front office is always brainstorming its next stunt, secure in the fact that a memorable fan experience will always be the end result.

"We say in the office that if idea makes us laugh, then it's going to make other people laugh as well," said Wrye. "And if people are laughing, then they're having fun, and that means it's going to be a success."

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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