When some people get to the ballpark, they head straight for the concession stand. Others, eager to check out their view for the next nine innings, make a beeline for their seats. But Stockton Ports fans have cause to pause inside Banner Island Ballpark's main entryway this season.
"People walk in the gates and know to go right to the community table," Ports director of partnerships and marketing Peter Fiorentino said.
It's there that fans can participate in Pick the Song, a new promotion that's bringing the Class A Advanced affiliate of the A's national attention and raising money for a worthy cause. For $5, a fan can pick a song as a random opposing player's walk-up music for the entire game. For $10, a fan can assign a song to a player of his or her choosing. Fans who prefer messing with hurlers' heads can chip in $20 and pick a couple songs to play during opposing pitching changes.
The cash goes to the Anchor Fund, the Ports' 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, which supports local youth sports with equipment, field repairs, uniforms and, in Fiorentino's words, "whatever the teams need." Minor League promotions are often conceived first and foremost with the fan experience in mind, and a charity or community-oriented component is tacked on. The whole idea of Pick the Song, though, came out of a desire to boost the Ports' nonprofit reach.
Video: Ports opponent walks up to 'Let It Go'
"We had a meeting where we were looking for creative ideas to do more for the Anchor Fund, just a marketing meeting, and we said, 'Wouldn't it be funny if the fans could pick the walk-up music?'" Fiorentino recalled. "Originally, we were going to have them pick the music for our team as well, but we decided against that."
They had so much fun talking about hilarious possibilities that it wasn't until about 20 minutes after the meeting that Fiorentino realized how much of an impact Pick the Song could make.
"I was putting together an outline to send to our [general manager, Taylor McCarthy] to get approved and, as I walked down the hallway, I realized it could be over seven grand that we bring in for this," he said. "People might get super into it and donate $15 or $20 for one player. It could be one of the bigger fund-raising efforts we've had in the last 10 years or so. I walked back to my office, like, 'Wait a second. This could be a lot of money for these [youth] teams.'"
The Ports announced the promo on March 28 and it went into effect for Opening Night on April 4. They began their third homestand and fourth home series with a three-game set against Visalia on Monday and, so far, Pick the Song has been a focal point for fans. Community relations manager Paige Kiesewetter, who's charged with handling the promotion on a nightly basis, keeps them happy, no matter how many show up.
"Like every team, we have [slow] nights -- like on a Monday or a Tuesday, we might only get $20 or $30 in there," the Ports' director of partnerships and marketing said. "But on Fridays and Saturdays, we sell out in the first half-hour of games. And because of that, we [added the pitching staff option]."
Community relations manager Paige Kiesewetter is in her first season with the Ports.
Pick the Song has media members singing its praises, too. It's garnered attention from national outlets like the Los Angeles Times, MLB.com's Cut4 and MSN Sports, and Fiorentino did an interview MLB Network Radio's Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette.
"I just really appreciate how everyone else also thinks it's really funny. [Ferrin and Duquette] were belly-laughing on the air," he said. "I really liked that because at the meeting when the idea came up, we were also laughing at the potential it had. We're sure there are some people who might be annoyed to hear 'Baby Shark' three times a game, but I think it's hilarious. It's so funny. The great thing is, when everyone shares [stories about the promo], they also mention the Anchor Fund."
That aspect of Pick the Song also pacifies those on whom the humor may be lost.
"The hard baseball fans ... they're here every night and they hear the same songs over and over again, every single night. I can see how that's a little annoying," Fiorentino admitted. "But because they know it's for a good cause, they don't raise a stink about it. We definitely do see some eye-rolls when 'Baby Shark' plays for a third time, though."
The community table features a suggested song list, which is two-sided with an alternate side facing forward each game. It's categorized with sections like "Group dances" (think "Cha Cha Slide"), "Show tunes" ("Mamma Mia") and "Children's" ("It's a Small World"'). The suggestions help fans make picks quickly, but the system also lends itself to a fair amount of repeats during a homestand. Fortunately for those who are at the park every game, not all of the picks are irksome earworms.
"No [staff person has] showed up with ear plugs yet. On the average night, we sell half to three-quarters of the lineup," Fiorentino said. "A lot of the songs, they're funny as walk-up songs, but they're also good songs. Beyonce's 'Single Ladies,' that's a great song. 'I Want it That Way,' by the Backstreet Boys, that's a jam; I'll groove to it. The goal is to be distracting rather than to have it be a bad song."
There already have been instances, too, when somebody from the enemy camp has upended the spirit of the promo.
"I noticed one [player] for San Jose looked up at the press box with kind of a questioning look the first time," Fiorentino said. "It was a good song. San Jose fans travel really well, and one picked a rock 'n' roll song for him. He looked up, 'Really? That's for me?' It was coming on the heals of 'Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah' or something like that.
"Our opening homestand, the Dodgers and Giants affiliates were in town, so there was a good mix of good walk-up music in there, but with the Ports fans, they do a good job picking overwhelming bad songs for the opponents."
2019 MiLB include
Mariners assistant general manager Justin Hollander already has been in touch about buying out a night when the M's-affiliated Modesto Nuts are in town -- whether to have some fun with the team or to crank serious pump-up music, the Ports don't yet know. Either way, the club is hopeful that others will be interested in scooping up a whole game's worth of selections here or there, for whatever purposes. On the air, Ferrin and Duquette expressed interest in putting playlists together.
Playful engagement from the opposition is one thing, but more challenging obstacles also have arisen. Through opening weekend, Kiesewetter and the rest of the staff labored to meet demand. Some fans picked a song for the opposing leadoff hitter within a few minutes of first pitch, which didn't allow enough time to track down the right music, cut it to the most amusing part of the song and play it over the public address system before the batter stepped in. The team instituted a new policy: they don't guarantee that any song paid for within a half-hour of game time will be played for the first at-bat.
There's also been at least one instance when it seemed highly inappropriate to goad the opposition in any way. But the show must go on.
"[One] night, we got crushed by Modesto. [The final score] was 13-2, and right after somebody hit a three-run bomb off us, we had to play a song," Fiorentino said. "It was like, 'We know we're getting walloped right now, but we've got to stay true to the promotion.' That's a challenge, but it has potential to really blow up for us [in a good way]. There's only room to grow."