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 ninth 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; 2017.
The best promo of 2018? As with any season, that's a matter of personal taste. But as for the most unique promo, a strong case could be made for the "Devices Night" hosted by the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs.
The Chiefs, in their final season before changing their name to the Mets, suited up as the Devices on May 31. The device in question was the Brannock Device, an immediately recognizable foot measuring tool invented in Syracuse in 1927 by Dr. Charles Brannock. The team took the field wearing black jerseys emblazoned with the name "Devices" in a red-accented metallic font, while their hats featured an anthropomorphic Brannock Device named Chuck.
Presiding it over it all was Paul Lukas, the evening's guest of honor. Lukas, best known for his long-running Uni watch column, is perhaps the only person in the world with a Brannock Device tattoo. While visiting the Chiefs, he threw out a first pitch and distributed temporary Brannock Device tattoos similar to his permanent one. In a follow-up Uni Watch column, he described his "Devices Night" experience as a "geekfest of epic proportions."
Of course, the Chiefs weren't alone when it came to staging unprecedented theme nights. Who could forget creative endeavors such as the following?
Lansing Lugnuts, "Backyard Baseball Night" -- Pablo Sanchez, the legendary "Backyard Baseball" video game slugger, turned 21 in 2018. The Class A Lugnuts, who played as the "Mighty Wombats" on this special evening, celebrated by distributing much-coveted Pablo Sanchez bobbleheads.
Lehigh Valley IronPigs, "#LVWantsLeBron" -- The Triple-A IronPigs entered the LeBron James free-agent sweepstakes, undeterred by the fact that he wasn't a baseball player. The team's multi-media #LVWantsLeBron campaign culminated with a multi-faceted theme night dedicated to wooing King James.
Myrtle Beach Pelicans, "Deaf Awareness Night" -- The Class A Advanced Pelicans earned well-deserved national accolades for this initiative, which featured jerseys featuring American Sign Language script as well as a baseball clinic overseen by deaf former Major League outfielder Curtis Pride.
New Orleans Baby Cakes, "Crawdaddy's Night" -- In season 2 of "Brockmire," Hank Azaria's titular character worked as a broadcaster for the New Orleans Crawdaddy's. The Baby Cakes changed their name to the Crawdaddy's, briefly making this grammatically incorrect entity a reality.
In 1993, "The Sandlot" was released upon an unsuspecting movie public. While the film wasn't a hit initially, it slowly developed a devoted base of young fans who thrilled to the baseball antics of Smalls, Ham, Squints, Benny the Jet and many more.
In 2018, Minor League teams across the country capitalized on the film's enduring popularity by staging 25th anniversary promotions. From April through September, there were giveaways and guest appearances galore. Chauncey "Squints" Leopardi was a particularly active participant, joining the festivities in Richmond, Biloxi, Delmarva, Frisco, Wilmington, Potomac, Lowell and more.
It goes without saying that there were plenty of "Star Wars" promotions in 2018. There are every season, without fail, no matter what. But 2018 was notable in that "May the Fourth" -- the unofficial but widely celebrated "Star Wars" holiday -- fell on a Friday. Sixty Minor League teams had a home game that evening, and more than half of them staged a "Star Wars" promotion. As the image above illustrates, many of these teams wore theme jerseys. The characters represented in jersey form included -- but were not limited to -- Han Solo, Darth Vader, Yoda, Ewoks and fighter pilot Poe Dameron.
After a soft launch in 2017, Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversión program hit the ground running in 2018. Thirty-three teams played a combined 165 games using Spanish-language alternate identities, setting the stage for further expansion in 2019 and beyond. Copa identities varied wildly, ranging from direct translations to monikers referencing Hispanic history, folklore, culture and colloquialisms. One of the most detailed efforts came courtesy of the Class A Short Season Eugene Emeralds, who played as "Las Monarcas de Eugene" every Tuesday.
The Monarcas logo featured a monarch butterfly with 33 dots along its perimeter. These dots represented the 33 Latin American countries as well as Oregon's status as the 33rd state in the union.
"We wanted something we could be prideful of, something welcoming," said Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides. "It's something that touches all of Latin America. [The monarch butterfly] migrates to the United States and Canada and back [to Mexico], a spectacular migrant journey and a beautiful symbol through which we can talk about these different cultures."
The trend of Minor League teams adopting regional food-based alternate identities began in 2015. In 2018, it showed no signs of abating. Four new additions to the Minors' culinary landscape follow forthwith:
Binghamton Rumble Ponies, "Spiedies" -- Spiedies, marinated cubes of spit-roasted meat served on a roll, are a Binghamton delicacy. The Double-A Rumble Ponies paid tribute.
Omaha Storm Chasers, "Runzas" -- The Triple-A Storm Chasers' celebration of these meat and cabbage-filled buns was the result of a partnership with local fast food chain Runza (who, of course, serve runzas).
Staten Island Yankees, "Pizza Rats" -- In 2016, the Class A Short Season Staten Island Yankees almost changed their name to the Pizza Rats. In 2018, they played as the Pizza Rats every Saturday, celebrating Staten Island's pizzeria primacy in the process.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, "Brats" -- The Class A Timber Rattlers celebrated sausage, German heritage and the intersection thereof by playing as the Brats. The uniforms were a Bavarian-inspired ensemble of high socks, lederhosen, suspenders and plenty of plaid.
Before this dispatch hits closing time, please enjoy a stiff drink courtesy of these four teams and their whiskey-based alternate identities.
Bowling Green Hot Rods, "Bootleggers" -- For the third consecutive season, the Class A Hot Rods adopted an identity that paid tribute to Bowling Green's bourbon and bootlegging history.
Louisville Bats, "Mashers" -- The Mashers' name refers to the first step in the bourbon-making process, involving the cooking and fermentation of a grain-based mash." Triple-A Louisville's primary logo featured an anthropomorphic barrel brandishing a bat in one hand and a bag of corn in the other.
Peoria Chiefs, "Distillers" -- The Class A Distillers, arch rivals to the aforementioned Bootleggers, paid homage to a long-ago professional baseball identity. The Peoria Distillers were members of the Three-I League from 1905 through 1917.
West Virginia Black Bears, "Moonshiners" -- Similar to the Bootleggers, the Class A Short Season Moonshiners' identity recalled West Virginia's history of illicit alcohol consumption, distribution and consumption.