Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. On Tuesdays this season, we preview 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 a Tweet to @bensbiz, hashtag "#promopreview."
Monday's game between the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and visiting State College Spikes won't begin with the customary exhortation to "Play ball!" In its place, a ringing cry of "May the odds be ever in your favor" will be heard throughout the ballpark.
Yes, it's "Hunger Games Night" at Mahoning Valley's Eastwood Field, during which the Scrappers will pay an elaborate tribute to the wildly popular book and film series. Staff members, each representing different districts and dressed as such, will compete in a series of on-field contests throughout the evening. These games will be narrated by an on-field emcee portraying über-smarmy Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman.
"We'll start with an obstacle course 'Race to Cornucopia,' racing to the middle area to get supplies," said Scrappers community relations manager Annie Stoltenberg, who will be playing the role of Effie Trinket. "Later there will be a race where [the contestants] are chased by bugs. Whoever gets stung by our mascot will be eliminated."
Fans will be able to tweet "tributes" to their preferred contestant via the Scrappers' Twitter account, and those who do so will be eligible to win prizes from the team. Furthermore, Scrappers players have been polled as to what district they would like to represent, and this information will be conveyed via district ID card videoboard headshots.
"The players were all over the place," said Stoltenberg. "[Pitcher] Kieran Lovegrove, he really wanted to be Finnick Odair. We have a few [District] 12s and a lot of 1s. District 1 is the best district."
There will be plenty of Hunger Games-based activity taking place off the field as well. Fans showing up at the ballpark with a canned food item receive free admission, with the proceeds going to the Second Harvest Food Bank. Meanwhile, the Fun Zone will be transformed into a Hunger Games training center, featuring finger painting, arm wrestling, foam archery and flour bag tossing.
Finally, kids will be invited to write their name on a piece of paper and drop it in a bucket. Those who have their names called won't be forced to participate in a to-the-death endurance test; rather, they'll win a variety of kid-friendly prizes.
"Unlike the book, it'll be a good thing to have your name called," said Stoltenberg.
May the odds be ever in your favor.
Best of the Rest
Lowell Spinners (New York-Penn League)
Artie T. Party Night, Aug. 20
Market Basket, a Massachusetts-based supermarket chain, is embroiled in controversy as a result of a dramatic dispute amongst its corporate leadership. CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, regarded by his employees as a fair-minded man, was ousted by the board of directors this past June and in response, many workers and delivery drivers have walked off the job. Enter the Lowell Spinners, who are staging an "Artie T. Party" on Wednesday. Market Basket employees receive $4 admission and are invited to take part in a pre-game parade. "It's not about who's right and who's wrong," said Spinners general manager Tim Bawmann. "This is about recognizing the role Market Basket plays in our community … about giving [employees] a night to relax, enjoy a ballgame and be entertained."
Durham Bulls (International League)
The InstaGrammys, Aug. 21
While they may not have quite the same cache as the FacebOscars or Twittonys, the Durham Bulls' InstaGrammy Awards will surely make for an intriguing evening of social media-based pageantry. A panel of esteemed front-office judges has meticulously reviewed all 2014 fan photos tagged @DurhamBulls or #DurhamBulls and selected the 10 best. These will be revealed during the game, with each photographer receiving four tickets to an upcoming first-round playoff game. Meanwhile, the team will ask fans to post pictures to Instagram during the game -- whoever posts the best photo, as deemed by the team, will be given the opportunity to take over the Bulls' Instagram account during one day this offseason. This is better than giving a speech.
Batavia Muckdogs (New York-Penn League)
Attempt to break 75-year-old attendance record, Aug. 22
Three score and 15 years ago, professional baseball returned to Batavia in the form of the Batavia Clippers of the newly created PONY (Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York) League. This circuit is now known as the New York-Penn League, and Batavia and Jamestown are the only original members still in operation. The Batavia Clippers' first-ever ballgame drew 3,000 fans to State Street Ballpark, and 75 years later, this still represents the largest crowd to ever attend a game in Batavia. The Muckdogs are attempting to break this record Friday, and if they do, a drawing will be held at the ballpark awarding one lucky fan the princely sum of $3,001. The Muckdogs are averaging 957 fans per game this season, but ya gotta believe!
Potomac Nationals (Carolina League)
Rick Ankiel Hall of Fame Induction, Aug. 23
Rick Ankiel had one heck of an interesting baseball career. After a psychological meltdown on the mound, he returned to the Minors and successfully reinvented himself as an outfielder. His professional odyssey began in 1998, a season largely spent with the Prince William Cannons, when Ankiel made 21 starts for the club, striking out 181 batters in 126 innings, part of a meteoric rise that climaxed with his Major League debut the following season. On Saturday, the Potomac Nationals (the franchise once known as the Prince William Cannons) are welcoming Ankiel to the ballpark so they may induct him into the Potomac Baseball Hall of Fame during a pre-game ceremony. The first 1,000 fans through the gates receive a Rick Ankiel Cannons throwback jersey.
Vermont Lake Monsters (New York-Penn League)
Captain Richard Phillips appearance, Aug. 24
So what do you do after you've been kidnapped by pirates, rescued by Navy marksmen, written a book about the ordeal and then had the book made into a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks? If you're Captain Richard Phillips, you bask in your hero status by making a special celebrity appearance at your local Minor League ballpark. Phillips, a resident of Underhill, Vermont, will sign autographs and pose for pictures during Sunday's Vermont Lake Monsters game. Lake Monsters might be frightening, but they've got nothing on pirates.
Because it's what you've come to expect -- nay, demand -- here is a succinct round-up of even more notable promotions taking place this week:
- Aug. 20: Wrestler Kurt Angle visits the Bowie Baysox on "Football Kickoff Night." I don't understand either.
- Aug. 21: The Aberdeen IronBirds distribute team-logo Pashmina scarves to the first 873 women through the gates.… "Clunker Car Night" originated with the Arkansas Travelers. Tonight, they're doing it again.
- Aug. 22: The Connecticut Tigers revert to a previous incarnation of their existence on "Norwich Navigators Night." … Razor Ramon, he of professional wrestling fame and fortune, visits the Reading Fightin Phils.
- Aug. 23: With the start of school imminent, the Brooklyn Cyclones give away bobbleheads of their mascot, Sandy, dressed as a teacher.… The Buffalo Bisons distribute "Chicken Wing" bobbleheads. Celery and Blue Cheese are jealous.… The tie-dyed extravaganza that is "Frogstock" once again embiggens the Everett AquaSox experience.
- Aug. 24: The New Britain Rock Cats give away Ted Williams bobbleheads. There is no truth to the rumor that they will also be playing songs from Frozen.… The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers host a reunion of the 1964 Fox Cities Foxes.
- Aug. 25: Craig Adams, a Pittsburgh Penguin, visits the Altoona Curve.
- Aug. 26: The Binghamton Mets stage "Fear of Phobias" night, highlighting a different phobia each inning.… The Tri-City ValleyCats suit up in Jockey Silks.