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Bisons pitching ballpark celebrations

Teams roll out Titanic-themed promotions, Kaat visits 'Claws
April 10, 2012
Minor League teams are known for the creativity of their gameday promotions. On Tuesdays for the remainder of the season, we'll preview 10 of the most intriguing for the week ahead. This is a special Promo Preview for the opening weekend of the season. If you'd like a particular promotion to be considered for this feature in the future, please send it to [email protected] with the subject line: "Promo Preview."

Last week's Promotion Preview column told the improbable tale of Shelby Harris, who threw out the first pitch of the Quad Cities River Bandits' 2012 season at the age of 111.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Buffalo Bisons, whose April 11 Opening Day festivities include a first pitch thrown by a fan who was born in 2012.

"She's a month and a half old, and will throw a soft baseball," said Bisons public relations director Brad Bisbing. "We'll see what the scouts think of her arm."

This infantile offering will mark the culmination of an ambitious pre-game ceremony. The Bisons are commemorating the 25th anniversary of Buffalo's Coca-Cola Field by having 25 fans throw out first pitches, with each fan having been born during a different year in which the ballpark existed. (These fans, selected on what Bisbing calls a "first-come, first-serve" basis, will have their first pitches caught by individuals born the same year in which they were.)

The celebrations continue on Saturday, with the first of five commemorative coin set giveaways. Each set contains five coins and pays homage to notable people, games and events that have been a part of Coca-Cola Field's existence. And, throughout the season, fans will be asked to vote on a Bisons' "25 Seasons Team."

These initiatives, taken cumulatively, represent the Bisons' attempt to convey just how special their home is. Coca-Cola Field (called Pilot Field when it opened) was the first stadium designed by HOK (now Populous), the architectural firm that five years later went on to design the hugely influential Oriole Park at Camden Yards. That stadium kick-started Major League Baseball's retro ballpark revolution, a game-changer that can in fact be traced back to Buffalo.

"Back then, Minor League teams didn't have their own parks -- they were mostly multi-purpose community fields," said Bisbing. "That's why we're very proud of this ballpark -- we were out in front when it comes to innovation."

Indeed, the anomaly has now become the norm. Coca-Cola Field is now among the oldest ballparks in the International League, an indication of the extent to which its creation helped to spur change in other markets. But the team has no plans for a replacement, and in recent years has added a massive new scoreboard and party decks while overhauling the suite areas.

"We're constantly reinvesting to keep our standing as a marquee facility," said Bisbing.

That sinking feeling

Comedy equals tragedy plus time, and enough time has passed since the sinking of the Titanic for Minor League teams to mine some laughs out of the disaster. On Saturday, the Fort Myers Miracle will "honor" this significant centennial by handing out commemorative seat cushions to the first 500 fans in attendance. (The rest will apparently be left to fend for themselves in the unlikely event of a ballpark flood).

The Potomac Nationals get in on the act the next day, with a Titanic celebration featuring what is being described as an "iceberg giveaway" (your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what that could be). And, in a nod to standard maritime disaster etiquette, women and children will receive admittance to ballpark 15 minutes earlier than the men.

The sinking of the Titanic was a once-in-a-lifetime event, but tragedy of a more quotidian nature will be commemorated on Tuesday with the Portland Sea Dogs' "Tax Day" promotion. In recognition of the truism that the only certain things in life are death and taxes, the team has partnered with a local funeral home and will give away a headstone to one lucky (?) fan in attendance at the ballgame.

Those who like their satirical Minor League promotions free from an undercurrent of morbidity should head to Altoona, Pa., as the Curve are about to embark on yet another run of truly absurd theme nights. The team is staging a series of highly theoretical "What if Wednesday" promos, beginning with April 11's probing "What if HD Didn't Exist" investigation. Eschewing the concept of obsolescence, the team will give away standard definition TVs while doing their best to "make things less defined for fans attending this contest" (yes, this is the team's stated goal).

Amidst such rampant obfuscation, fans might wish for a theme night with clearer objectives. For that we go to Richmond, which on Monday will be staging "Salute to Alpacas." And that's exactly what will be happening, with alpacas in attendance and the whole evening sponsored by "an Elite Group of Virginia Alpaca Breeders." Who could ask for more?


Speaking of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the team will open its home season on Thursday in a manner that all in attendance will remember forever: Nutzy, the team's superhero squirrel mascot, will fly into the stadium via jetpack. This might sound improbable, until one remembers that this is the same mascot who regularly rappels down buildings in the offseason. Will this gliding rodent's entrance upstage the evening's celebrity guest, Atlanta Braves legend Dale Murphy? Perhaps "Murph" has a jetpack of his own...

Unique forms of southern hospitality can also be found in Memphis, which are making sure that its new manager, Pop Warner, knows that he's appreciated. Saturday is "Welcome Pop!" night, with pop-related giveaways and, most importantly, a Pop Rocks-eating world record attempt that even in the best of circumstances is sure to fizzle out.

This week in undulating appendages

It's a slow week for bobblin' body parts, but at least there is some movement. The Hickory Crawdads honor country star (and local boy) Eric Church with his own bobblehead on Saturday, and this is a bobblehead that the aforementioned Fort Myers Miracle might want to emulate. Last week, the Miracle issued the following tweet: "Going over walkout songs and the runaway winner as the most popular artist is @Eric_Church. 5 guys have requested one of his songs."

Meanwhile, Lehigh Valley is honoring its pair of IronPig mascots on back-to-back nights. Fans in attendance on Wednesday receive a Ferrous "bobblebelly," while those opting for Thursday will go home with a figurine of FeFe that features both a bobbling head and arm. Now that's multi-tasking!

Into the ellipse...

An exceedingly brief rundown of other notable promos taking place around the Minors...

  • April 11: The Iowa Cubs stage the first of a series of retro nights, suiting up as that bygone entity known as the Iowa Oaks. ... It's the first "Pay Your Bill Wednesday" of the season in Quad Cities: fans enter their unpaid bills into a drawing, and the team selects two of them to pay ($100 maximum).
  • April 12: The Birmingham Barons are inviting fans to a Crawfish Boil. No other information is provided; just go. ... The Gwinnett Braves pay tribute to former Braves player and Minor League manager Tommie Aaron in a pre-game ceremony. ... The Tulsa Drillers kick off their home season in style, with a parade through downtown.

  • April 13: The Indianapolis Indians issue their traditional "Warm Weather Guarantee:" if the first pitch temperature is below 60 degrees, fans receive free tickets to a future game.

  • April 14: Question: Is there a better named promotion in Minor League Baseball than the Brevard County Manatees' "Rock Out With Your Cookout"? Answer: No. ... Minor League Baseball is a world of glamor, fashion, and intrigue, and the Salem Red Sox pay tribute to this irrefutable fact with their annual "Night of Elegance."

  • April 15: The Tulsa Drillers are giving away tree saplings and calling it "Grow Your Own Bat Night."

  • April 16: Jim Kaat is scheduled to sign autographs at a Lakewood BlueClaws game, thereby putting the double "A" in "Single A."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog.