The lack of a 2020 Minor League Baseball season meant the lack of gameday promotions. While there may not be any to look back on this year, there are still plenty of promotions upon which we can reminisce. Today marks the first article in a series, a year-by-year chronicling of
The lack of a 2020 Minor League Baseball season meant the lack of gameday promotions. While there may not be any to look back on this year, there are still plenty of promotions upon which we can reminisce. Today marks the first article in a series, a year-by-year chronicling of this past decade's most notable Minor League Baseball gameday promotions. Future installments will follow on a weekly basis.To share your own favorite promotions of the decade that was, please reach out via email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@bensbiz)
2010's best promotion? By one metric, it was the Double-A Birmingham Barons' Rickwood Classic. This annual event in which the Barons return to their former home of Rickwood Field was extra special in 2010 as it marked the historic ballpark's 100th anniversary.
To celebrate Rickwood's centennial, the Barons and visiting Tennessee Smokies wore 1910-era uniforms (the Smokies' read "Appalachians" in honor of the region's team during that period). Dozens of Rickwood Field's Negro League and Southern Association alumni were in attendance, including special guest Harmon Killebrew. (The Hall of Fame slugger, who passed away in 2011, was a frequent visitor to Rickwood during his stint with the Southern Association's Chattanooga Lookouts.) As an added bonus, the game itself was an entertaining affair. After multiple lead changes, the visiting Smokies eked out an 8-7 victory in 11 innings. Marquez Smith provided the decisive blow, blasting a leadoff home run over the wall in left-center field to lead off the Smokies' half of the 11th.
"We spent a lot of time preparing and planning, but [the Classic] is like anything else in baseball," said Barons general manager Jonathan Nelson. "Sometimes you have a magical day, but sometimes it all gets washed away. This year everything went right. We couldn't have asked for more when it came to the weather, the crowd and the game itself."
The Rickwood Classic is, of course, an annual event. When it comes to the season's stand-alone moments, the most memorable and mythic occurred at the Dell Diamond on May 5. The Triple-A Round Rock Express were hosting the Nashville Sounds, and all was more or less normal until a mysterious pitcher named Billy Ray "Rojo" Johnson entered the game in the top of the sixth inning. Rojo, making his debut for the Express, was purportedly an American-born pitcher raised in Venezuela who had done prison time for the "illegal importation of countless species of reptiles, including various types of rare snakes, lizards, iguanas, turtles and galliwasps." The mustachioed, blinged-out and clearly out-of-shape hurler -- a spiritual predecessor to Kenny Powers -- came to the mound toting a bag of beer and threw a knockdown pitch at the first batter he faced. He was summarily chased across the playing field until he disappeared into the bullpen catacombs from whence he had come.
Of course, Rojo was not a real player nor even a real person. He was the alter ego of comedian Will Ferrell, who was in town to promote an upcoming golf tournament benefiting College for Cancer. The incident immediately went viral, and the legend of Rojo Johnson persists to this day.
Another of 2010's most absurd celebrity appearances came courtesy of the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. On July 9, this venerable Texas League franchise hosted a boxing match between Gary Hogan and Jose Canseco. The former, then 60, was the assistant athletic director at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. The latter was (and is) an eccentric and polarizing home run-bashing legend. The slugger and the sexagenarian squared off in a pregame bout, with Hogan declaring beforehand that "I'm coming out of retirement, because 60 is the new 30. This isn't going to be Mayweather-Pacquiao or Ali-Foreman, it's going to be two guys with 16-ounce gloves going out there just to see what happens."
What happened was that, somehow, Hogan won. Over the course of four two-minute rounds, he eked out a 39-37 decision.
As for other notable celebrity appearances of 2010, here are but a few:
Fresno Grizzlies -- Alfonso "Carlton" Ribeiro: "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" co-star was the highlight of the Triple-A Grizzlies' "Mad Tight 90s Night," as he signed autographs, posed for pictures and demonstrated his oft-imitated dance moves.
Lakewood BlueClaws -- Jeff "Chunk" Cohen: Several teams staged Goonies anniversary celebrations, but only one featured "Chunk" himself. Actor Jeff Cohen visited the Class A BlueClaws and participated in an array of activities, even serving as a judge during a "Truffle Shuffle" contest.
Oklahoma City RedHawks -- Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew: The science-fiction genre's preeminent 7-foot thespian added another dimension to the Triple-A RedHawks' Star Wars celebration.
As for 2010's best giveaways, this writer has a clear favorite: The Triple-A Iowa Cubs, seeking to honor baseball's most well-traveled player, honored the player named Later with his own bobblehead. Other highlights included (but were, of course, not limited to) the following:
Brooklyn Cyclones -- Ike Davis Bobble Legs: Ike Davis, a member of the 2008 Cyclones, was called up by the Mets in April 2010 and immediately made a name for himself via a triumvirate of tumbling dugout catches. The fast-acting Class A Short Season Cyclones found a way to capitalize, distributing a figurine featuring an upside-down Davis tumbling over a railing.
Charleston RiverDogs -- Groundskeeper Mike Williams Chia Head: Class A RiverDogs groundskeeper Mike Williams lovingly cultivates the turf at Charleston's Joseph P. Riley Park. In turn, the RiverDogs gave away a Chia Head that allowed fans to lovingly cultivate the turf atop a ceramic likeness of Williams' head.
Orem Owlz -- Torii Hunter Bobblearm: The Rookie Advanced Owlz honored one of their most prominent alumni with a figurine featuring Hunter in the act of robbing a home run.
Portland Beavers -- Viewmaster Giveaway: During their final season, the Triple-A Beavers gave away team-logo versions of the iconic Viewmaster. The item came equipped with 10 slides featuring photos of Beavers baseball as well as local military units.
In the category of the largely uncategorizable, 2010 featured quite a few rare (if not totally unprecedented) endeavors. Here are four which stood out, and if at all possible, should be brought back to the ballpark in 2021.
Lake Elsinore Storm -- Obscure Sports Night: Caber throwing, wife carrying and keg heaving all got their due, but nothing could compete with the pure spectacle of a between-inning fish toss at the Class A Advanced contest.
Lowell Spinners -- 50 Years of Bubble Wrap Celebration: The highlight of the promotion was 3,692 fans simultaneously popping Bubble Wrap in the stands, but the Class A Short Season Spinners went far beyond this spectacle. At one point, a gaggle of 50-year-olds danced atop Bubble Wrap to the music of 50 Cent. At another, one lucky fan won a year's supply of popcorn because the game's 50th batter popped out.
San Antonio Missions -- Randy vs. Puffy Taco, the Rematch: In 1992, Double-A Missions mascot Henry the Puffy Taco mascot defeated 11-year-old Randy Neuenfeldt in a race around the bases. This marked the first (and still only) instance in which Henry won such a race. Eighteen years later, Neuenfeldt was given the opportunity to redeem himself and the demons of this childhood trauma were finally exorcised.
Savannah Sand Gnats -- Fire Run around the Bases: Upon the conclusion of a ballgame at Class A Savannah's Grayson Stadium, incendiary stuntman Ted Batchelor was lit on fire and circled the bases before sliding into home. This was part of Batchelor's ambitious goal of being lit on fire in all 50 states.