As far as the Cubs are concerned right now, the minors are a veritable gold mine of talent, where the heralded names alone can draw droves of fans to Des Moines, IA, Sevierville/Kodak, TN, and even Boise, ID and Daytona, FL. Of course, the latter locale usually has no trouble pulling crowds in general.
But we're talking about a ballclub with a nationwide following and an insatiable thirst for the Next Big Thing. While many farm teams have a devout following in their particular town, team affiliation be damned, some of these outfits are operating on the fringes of professional-sports society.
I'm not going so far as to say these independent teams and leagues are some sort of dystopic society, but it's damn near the Wild West when it comes to some of these shoestring outposts. I've heard some interesting stories about the Richmond (IN) Roosters, for instance.
In an effort to draw fans, there's virtually no limit to how low, or how far out, team management will go to draw crowds. We've all heard of some crazy stunts aimed at boosting attendance for flagging team: We Hate the Yankees Night, Awful Night, Scientology Night, Disco Demolition Night. I'm not making these up, folks.
But the wacky, zany world of MiLB promotions isn't just limited to the little guys. The San Francisco Giants' AAA affiliate, the Fresno Grizzlies, recently unveiled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jerseys that they'll don(atello) at some point this season.
And the Grizzlies won't be the only AAA team to channel the awesomeness of yesteryear, as the Toledo Mudhens (Detroit Tigers) proved when they announced that they'll be rocking Ghostbusters-themed unis on May 30th:
I've got to admit: those are actually pretty dope. As a huge Ghostbusters fan, I'm barely able to restrain myself from making an impulse purchase.
But enough about jerseys; I want to talk about some individual promotions that have gone all kinds of right. Specifically, those put together by the Indianapolis Indians, AAA team for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Despite having represented the Expos, Reds, and now Pirates, the team's fanbase still skews Cubs-heavy. It doesn't hurt that Brian McLaughlin, their Community Relations & Promotions Manager, grew up a Cubs fan.
Over the years, I've had the chance to take my son, Ryne, to meet his namesake and to take both kids to get Andre Dawson's autograph (see featured image). So you can imagine my excitement when I got a news release from the Indians titled: "MLB LEGENDS HIGHLIGHT TRIBE’S 2014 PROMOTIONS SCHEDULE."
Eric Davis (April 26):
World Series champion (1990), 2x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove Award, 2x Silver Slugger Award
Al Kaline (May 31):
Hall-Of-Fame (1980), World Series champion (1968), 18x All-Star, AL Batting Title (1955)
Bruce Sutter (June 14):
Hall-Of-Fame (2006), World Series champion (1982), NL Cy Young Award (1979), 6x All-Star, 4x NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year
Bill Buckner (July 12):
1x All-Star, NL Batting Title (1980), One of only 27 Major Leaguers to play in four different decades
Fergie Jenkins (Aug. 9):
Hall-Of-Fame (1991), NL Cy Young Award (1971), 3x All-Star, 5x league strikeout leader, 4x league wins leader
I forwarded this over to my wife, whose response was: "Fun. Are you going to want to go to some of those games?" Gee, let me think.
Eric Davis: one of my favorite non-Cubs. His stance, holding his bat low and giving it that nonchalant waggle before unleashing its ferocity, was a thing of beauty. For those too young to remember, think Anthony Rizzo, only better.
Al Kaline: 18x All-Star?! Most guys don't even play that long, let alone at that high a level.
Bruce Sutter: ah, the man who was on the wrong end of Ryne Sandberg's legendary afternoon. Well, the wrong end for Sutter anyway. I'm tempted to go to this game wearing my '84 Sandberg throwback, but I'm not sure whether those shenanigans would be cheeky and fun or cruel and tragic.
Bill Buckner: I never really had the chance to know him as a Cub, but I can certainly appreciate his worth as a player now. I'm particularly impressed by the way he has comported himself over the years, despite all the crap he's had blown his way. I'm thinking Tom Loxas would be all about this promo.
Fergie Jenkins: the Canadian Cowboy. I made my then-girlfriend stop at Circle Center Mall in Indianapolis on our way down to Clearwater, FL for Spring Break because I had heard that Fergie would be signing at a memorabilia store there. I was able to have him autograph two gloves and he even posed for a picture. Good times.
So, yes, I will most certainly be getting to a few games at Victory Field this year. And if you're anywhere near Indy and want more info about these promos, just click here.
I've got to say, getting autographs from some former stars -- and even wearing one of the jerseys shown above -- sounds like a better draw than the Cubs fedoras that'll be given away to the first 10,000 fans at Wrigley on May 3rd. "Hey, we're not very good, but here's a gaudy hat!"
I hope I at least get a free bowl of soup with it.
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