The lack of a 2020 Minor League Baseball season meant the lack of gameday promotions. However, there are still plenty of promotions upon which we can reminisce. This marks the eighth article in a year-by-year series chronicling the past decade's most notable Minor League Baseball gameday promotions. To share your own favorite promotions of the decade that was, please reach out via email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@bensbiz). Previous installments: 2010; 2011; 2012; 2013; 2014; 2015; 2016.
When it came to the top Minor League Baseball promotion of 2017, one idea literally eclipsed the rest.
On Aug. 21, the United States experienced its first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years. The ideal place to watch this phenomenon, during which day turned into night as a result of the moon obscuring the sun, was from within a 67-mile-wide strip of near-total darkness known as the "path of totality." Seven Minor League teams were within the path of totality: the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Idaho Falls Chukars, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Nashville Sounds, Greenville Drive, Columbia Fireflies and Charleston RiverDogs. All seven of these teams held a ballpark event that day as the eclipse made its approximately 1,500-mile southeasterly journey across the United States.
The Volcanoes, the first team to announce an eclipse promotion, were also the first to experience the phenomenon. The team wore eclipse theme jerseys for its specially scheduled 9:35 a.m. ballgame with a built-in eclipse delay taking place shortly before the 10:17 a.m. moment of totality. This writer, after doing an eclipse-themed interview with Bill Murray at a Charleston RiverDogs game, witnessed the eclipse at the Columbia Fireflies' home of Segra Park. It was a truly amazing thing to behold.
Of course, eclipse-related festivities were dependent on a team's location. When it came to standalone events not reliant on proximity to an astronomical phenomenon, 2017's best promotion came courtesy of the Daytona Tortugas. On July 15, the Cincinnati Reds affiliate paid homage to Daytona Beach native Bob Ross.
On "Bob Ross Night," the first 1,000 fans received a bobblehead of the iconic "Joy of Painting" host. This was just one aspect of a daylong celebration of Ross, which also included a "Happy Little 5K" race, a pregame painting class, a Bob Ross lookalike contest and the planting of a memorial "Happy Little Tree" on the grounds of the ballpark.
The Tortugas weren't the only team to find success with a theme night related to the intersection of art and pop culture. On July 28, for the second season in a row, the Bowie Baysox tweaked the pronunciation of their name to celebrate shape-shifting music icon David Bowie. "Boo-ey" became "Boh-ey," in other words, as the Baysox took the field wearing theme jerseys that team promotions manager Chris Rogers described as "an amalgamation of a 'Ziggy Stardust' outfit and the Union Jack flag."
Meanwhile, both the Fresno Grizzlies and Toledo Mud Hens staged theme nights dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." In typical Minor League fashion, this led to a rift between the two teams regarding whose jersey was best and, perhaps more importantly, who had the idea first. Regarding the latter point, it was the Grizzlies. As for the former, you be the judge.
When it comes to icons in the world of sport, few -- if any -- made a bigger cultural impact than Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali. Both were celebrated at the ballpark in unique fashion in 2017.
Robinson's number 42 is retired throughout professional baseball. On Jackie Robinson Day, Daytona Tortugas' players instead donned Dodgers-themed jerseys featuring the number 9. Robinson wore that single digit during 1946 Spring Training in Daytona Beach, marking his first games with the Dodgers organization. The ballpark where Robinson played these historic games, the current home of the Tortugas, was renamed Jackie Robinson Ballpark in 1988.
Ali, meanwhile, hailed from Louisville, Kentucky. On June 4, the hometown Bats kicked off the city's "I Am Ali Festival" by wearing Ali theme jerseys. The jersey backs featured "Ali" in red within a white butterfly representing his famous "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" fighting philosophy.
2017 will also be remembered as a year in which the lines between fact and fiction, real and fake, felt increasingly up for debate. Two teams staged satirical theme nights in honor of this disturbing trend, poking fun at the cognitive dissonance at the heart of the American experience.
On "Alternative Facts Night," the Erie SeaWolves celebrated an Eastern League title that never was. Fans lined up for 2016 championship rings that indicated that the team had gone a stunning 142-0, when in reality they hadn't mustered a winning record.
The State College Spikes operated along similar lines during their "Salute to Conspiracy Theories Night." The team's players wore conspiracy theory jerseys featuring the (possibly staged) 1969 moon landing on the front and the backpack of vanished sky pirate D.B. Cooper on the back. These jerseys included plenty of arcane symbolism, including (but not limited to) secret societies, all-seeing eyes, hourglasses, crop circles and the Owl of Minerva.
Food-themed jerseys, growing in popularity since their first appearance in 2014, reached an apex in 2017. From appetizers to the main course, here are six that stood out:
Aberdeen IronBirds, "Steamed Crabs" -- It doesn't get more Maryland than having a crab feast at the ballpark, complete with team-logo mallets.
Albuquerque Isotopes, "Green Chile Cheeseburgers" -- In New Mexico, green chiles go with everything. The Isotopes are particularly partial to the green chile cheeseburger.
Lakewood BlueClaws, "Pork Roll" -- The BlueClaws played as the Jersey Shore Pork Rolls, celebrating New Jersey's favorite salty processed meat. Just don't call it Taylor Ham.
Rochester Red Wings, "Plates" -- Garbage Plates -- an endlessly customizable, ultra-greasy late-night Rochester staple -- inspired the Red Wings' "Plates" identity.
Sacramento River Cats, "Tomatoes" -- The River Cats became the Tomatoes as part of a "Farm to Fork" celebration of local agriculture.
Syracuse Chiefs, "Salt Potatoes" -- Boiled in salt and dipped in butter, Salt Potatoes are a simple, much-beloved Syracuse delicacy.
2017, like every season, featured myriad bobblehead giveaways. A half-dozen standouts follow forthwith:
Chattanooga Lookouts, "Jackie Mitchell" -- At the age of 17, Chattanooga native Jackie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game. Clearly, she deserved her own bobblehead.
Lake Elsinore Storm, "Streaking Will Ferrell" -- This baring-it-all bobble featured a strategically placed team logo.
Potomac Nationals, "Bryce Harper Gobblehead" -- The P-Nats celebrated Thanksgiving (observed) with a half-man, half-turkey Bryce Harper "Gobblehead."
Reno Aces, "Trevor Bauer Drone" -- This item, complete with (presumably fake) blood stains, immortalized Bauer's ill-fated attempt to pitch in the 2016 World Series in the wake of a drone-related injury.
Salem Red Sox, "Conway Twitty" -- Country music legend Conway Twitty was once a co-owner of the Salem Redbirds. The Salem Red Sox, the city's current Minor League entity, celebrated Twitty's connection to their Virginia home.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, "Alex Rodriguez" -- In 1994, Alex Rodriguez began his professional career as a member of the Appleton Foxes. That team went on to become the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, while Rodriguez went on to become the enigmatic superstar known as "A-Rod."
And while it's not a bobblehead, per se, special mention must be made of this brilliant, somewhat disturbing item: The Potomac Nationals celebrated modern sports medicine by giving away Tommy John Surgery figurines featuring a removable UCL:
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.