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."
When a Minor League team retires a player's jersey number, usually one of two situations apply. The first, and most common, is to honor an alumnus who went on to achieve great success in the Major Leagues. The second is to commemorate an individual who played for many years for the team in question and thereby became a community icon.
The Lowell Spinners are forging a new path on Thursday, when, for the first time in franchise history, they are retiring a uniform number. The honoree is outfielder Ryan Westmoreland, who wore No. 25 during the 2009 campaign. Westmoreland, a native of nearby Portsmouth, Rhode Island, made his professional debut for the Spinners that season and went on to compile an .885 OPS while stealing 19 bases in as many attempts. He was just 19 years old that season, and the sky was the limit.
Tragically, that was the only professional season of Westmoreland's career. The following offseason he was diagnosed with a "cavernous malformation" of his brain, which resulted in bleeding, and he had to undergo surgery as a result. A valiant 2010 rehab stint was ultimately cut short by the same condition, and prior to the 2013 season Westmoreland announced his retirement from baseball. He was just 22-years-old.
"When people think of [retired numbers], they think of Hall of Famers and legends," said Jon Boswell, the Spinners' assistant general manager and media relations director. "But we knew that we wanted to do something to honor Ryan, as there is no doubt in our minds that he would have been patrolling the outfield at Fenway for many years."
"At age 19, he was the best player on the field, the best player in the league," continued Boswell. "Ryan took everything in stride. News of the brain bleed hit us so hard, it couldn't have happened to a better guy. He inspired so many people, he inspired us."
The Spinners' first announced that they would retire Westmoreland's No. 25 during January's Hot Stove Dinner, with the announcement coming as a surprise to Westmoreland and his family. They'll be fully prepared for Thursday's event, however, chartering a bus from Rhode Island for the occasion. Representatives from the Red Sox organization will be on hand as well, while still-active teammates and coaches offer their congratulations via a series of videoboard messages. Additionally, commemorative Westmoreland pennants will be given to the first 1,000 fans in attendance.
Westmoreland will be honored in a pregame ceremony, and his retired number -- located just to the left of the right field foul pole -- will be unveiled prior to the Spinners coming to bat in the second inning.
"[Lowell] is Ryan's home in professional baseball," said Boswell. "He holds a special place in our hearts, and hopefully we have a special place in his."
Best of the Rest
Birmingham Barons (Southern League)
Rickwood Classic, June 25
I've been writing this column for the past nine seasons, and throughout that time I've tried my best to keep from repeating myself. But repetition cannot always be avoided always be avoided, as some promotions are worth writing about each and every year. So here we go with yet another nod to the annual Rickwood Classic, in which the Birmingham Barons return to their old home of Rickwood Field for a nostalgia-drenched afternoon of old-school Minor League Baseball. This year's theme is "The Roaring '20s," with Barons players suiting up in uniforms featuring an Olde English-style "B" on the jersey's left side. Dwight Gooden, who never played in Birmingham, is this year's guest of honor. Hey, why not? He's Dwight Gooden, and he'll be signing autographs.
Wilmington Blue Rocks (Carolina League)
Nine Innings of Networking, June 25
For a full description of this one, allow me to cede the floor to Blue Rocks director of advertising sales Brian Radle:
"It's our first 'Nine Innings of Networking,' incorporating a unique job fair into the game in an attempt to open doors for people in search of jobs. We currently have 15 companies that will be set up throughout the Stadium, ranging from Capital One, AAA and Northwestern Mutual to the Department of Corrections and a local car dealership. Each company is hiring for specific positions and will have HR reps on hand. Thanks to our presenting sponsor [Innovincent], we are also offering 500 complimentary tickets for job seekers who bring their resume to the box office."
Rochester Red Wings (International League)
Batman and Robin Night with Burt Ward Appearance, June 28
Superhero-themed promotions are commonplace throughout the Minors, but these promotions, like superheroes themselves, are not created equal. The Red Wings' "Batman and Robin Night" distinguishes itself via an appearance by none other than Burt Ward, who played Robin on the 1960s Batman TV series. Ward will chance upon many of his old nemeses while visiting the ballpark -- including the Joker, Riddler and Penguin -- and an exact replica of the Batmobile will be stationed outside. But what of Batman himself? Rumor has it that he may make a late-game appearance, teaming up with Robin in order to make sure that all villains are disposed of and the postgame "Batman-themed" fireworks can proceed without shenanigans.
Salem Red Sox (Carolina League)
Pay It Forward on Faith Night, June 28
The Salem Red Sox are holding a Faith Night promotion on Saturday, which will be preceded by a day of "Paying it Forward" throughout the community. Red Sox marketing and promotions manager Matt Hoffman reports that the team's front office will be "distributing random acts of kindness around the Roanoke Valley" and that these acts of kindness will include (but are not limited to) "buying coffee in the morning for the car behind you, buying someone's groceries, paying an electric bill or filling up someone's gas tank." The goal is for one act of kindness to beget another, leading to a cavalcade of kindness that people of all faiths can take part in.
State College Spikes (New York-Penn League)
Fresh Prince Night with Alfonso Ribeiro, June 29
The Spikes, a Pennsylvania entity located west of Philadelphia, are all set to celebrate the legacy of a young man who was "West Philadelphia born and raised." Sunday is Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Night, during which the team will take the field in outlandish graffiti-laden jerseys inspired by the popular fish-out-of-water sitcom. The evening's special guest is one Alfonso Ribeiro, better known to Fresh Prince fans as conservative cousin Carlton. Ribeiro will throw out a first pitch, sign autographs and, if the fans are lucky, perform his famous "Carlton Dance" atop the dugout.
Before I retire for the evening, a succinct summation of even more notable promotions taking place this week.
- June 25: The Princeton Rays give away "Ben Zobrist Utility Belts." Or, as they're referred to in the industry: B-ZUBs. … It's a surf-and-turf spectacular in Bowie, as the Baysox host a "Bull and Oyster Roast" dinner. … The Williamsport Crosscutters celebrate "Half Way to Christmas" by wearing all-the-way Christmas-themed jerseys.
- June 26: Giancarlo Esposito, who played Gus Fring in Breaking Bad, visits the Altoona Curve. … The Eugene Emeralds give away Whoopee Cushions as part of an evening-long "Messing with the Sasquatch" promotion. … The Mahoning Valley Scrappers stage "Bring Back Lebron Night." Apparently his transgressions have been forgiven.
- June 27: The Akron RubberDucks' postgame fireworks show has a "History of Hip-Hop" theme, thereby putting the "bam" in Akrika Bambaataa. … Hope and Winter, dolphins both, are honored with their own bobblehead by the Clearwater Threshers. ... Zombies are the order of the day during the Lancaster JetHawks' "Hawking Dead" promotion.
- June 28: The Orem Owlz go gonzo via their "Awesomeness of Nick Cage National Treasure Facebook Hunt." ... Tim Lincecum bobbleheads shall be distributed by the Fresno Grizzlies. No word as to whether or not these items arrived via an unorthodox delivery. ... The Gwinnett Braves give away Chopper bobblebanks, because nothing says fiduciary responsibility like a Minor League mascot.
- June 29: The Nashville Sounds give away "First Wise Man" bobbleheads, no word as to whether the second and third will be honored similarly. ... Pitcher Joe Kelly, a veteran of bullpen standing contests, is honored by the Springfield Cardinals with his very own "standoff" bobblehead. This all makes sense. ... Bone marrow donors will be recruited during the Aberdeen IronBirds' "Bone Marrow Donation Night."
- June 30: The Reading Fightin Phils give away John Kruk bobbleheads on "Chili Fest Night." Perhaps this is not a coincidence.
- July 1: Shots fired! The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders give away "Friends Don't Let Friends Be IronPigs" shirts.