From Ballpark Digest by Zach Spedden:
With summer just around the corner, it is finally time to get ready to for the beginning of the summer collegiate league seasons, which collectively feature giveaways, theme nights, and other special events that rival the offerings in Minor League Baseball. Some of this year’s most notable collegiate league promotions will be highlighted in this week’s Promotions Watch.
A good portion of our promotions coverage this year has revolved around theme nights, including Pink at the Park, Turn Back the Clock, and tributes to notable films and television shows. While the minors receive a good deal of coverage for their efforts, some summer-collegiate teams are hosting theme nights that are on par with some of the best at the professional level. One team that is extremely active in this regard is the Wilson Tobs (Coastal Plain League), who are starting a robust theme slate with Super Hero Night on May 26. During the game—which is the team’s season opener—the Tobs will wear special super hero jerseys, and children who are dressed as super heroes will receive free admission and have the opportunity to partake in a costume contest as well as a Trick or Trunk Line. The Tobs have a wide variety of theme nights slated for later the year, including Sportsman’s Night and Pink Night.
Theme nights are also a big part of the promotional slate for the Gastonia Grizzlies, who are planning a Throwback Thursday, tributes to the 80’s and 90’s, and a Strikeout Cancer Night. The promotion that stands out, however, is Kids Run the Ballpark, which is back on their docket after a successful launch last year. On June 29, the Grizzlies will have kids work several jobs around the ballpark, including general manager and coach. Another promotion from the Grizzlies to keep an eye on is Home Improvement Night on June 20, when the team will don plaid jerseys. The uniform tops are a tribute to Al Borland, the character on the popular 1990’s sitcom Home Improvement.
Fans looking for a good turn back the clock promotion should check out the one planned by the Duluth Huskies (Northwoods League). On June 16, the Huskies will wear replica Duluth Dukes uniforms, with Eau Claire Bears uniforms donned by their opponents, the Eau Claire Express. The Dukes and the Bears were members of the Northern League, beginning during its time as an affiliated Class D level in the 1930’s and remained in the league when it became Class C in the 1940’s. Another aspect that makes this promotion unique is that the Huskies play in historic Wade Stadium, which was also home to the Dukes.
As in the minors, special jersey nights that are used to advance cancer research causes are commonplace at the summer collegiate level. This year, the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (Northwoods League) are hosting a cancer survivor night that will include a jersey that features the names of cancer survivors. Up until early May, the Rafters accepted submissions of names that would be incorporated into the jersey, the design for which has not been revealed. Cancer Awareness night will take place on August 3, with proceeds from the in-game auction benefiting the Marshfield Clinic Cancer Research Foundation.
While theme nights are an integral part of the experience at the summer collegiate level, special appearances make for another interesting trend. Whether it is a celebrity or a former player, many teams will incorporate special guests into promotions this year. The Waterloo Bucks (Northwoods League) will host longtime Major League reliever Lee Smith on May 29, while the Kenosha Kingfish (Northwoods League) will welcome Hall of Famer Andre Dawson and former big league catcher Lenny Webster in separate promotions. Dawson will appear at the ballpark on July 7, with Webster coming for his bobblehead night on July 10.
Throughout the summer, WWE wrestler Jerry "The King" Lawler will be making appearances at Northwoods League ballparks. Among the teams hosting Lawler are the Green Bay Bullfrogs, who will welcome him as part of Wrestling Night on July 9. He is also slated to make an appearance in Kenosha on May 29.
For a twist on special appearances, the Bethesda Big Train (Cal Ripken League) have always included a celebrity camp in their extensive summer camp offerings. The celebrity camp is a weeklong event that will feature instruction from members of the Washington Nationals. The Big Train have already announced that this year’s camp—which runs from July 6-10—will feature relievers Aaron Barrett and Drew Storen.
Fans in the mood for giveaways will also find plenty of options in the summer collegiate ranks. As part of the Northwoods League Major League Dreams Showcase—a doubleheader featuring the league’s 100 best prospects—fans will receive a free bobblehead of Chicago White Sox pitcher and Northwoods League alum Chris Sale. This year’s game will take place on August 4 at Warner Park, home of the Madison Mallards.
The Mallards will host several bobblehead giveaways of their own, most of which feature their mascot Maynard. On June 12, the Mallards will host the Dr. Jay Hazen Hippy vs. Hipster Maynard bobblehead night, during which fans will be asked to choose whether the likeness of a local dentist or the depiction of their mascot best represents the city.
Much like the Mallards, the Bullfrogs will use their mascot Jeremiah in several bobbleheads. Among those offerings are a Jeremiah Cheeshead bobblehead on June 18. Cheesehead not only is a nickname for Wisconsin natives, but also a recognizable foam hat worn by fans of the Green Bay Packers.
One team is offering two opportunities to receive a bobblehead on this year’s promotional slate. The Kingfish will host an Elvis Zipline bobblehead—which depicts their mascot, Elvis—on May 27. While fans can turn out to the ballpark that night to receive the giveaway, there will be an opportunity to receive the giveaway on May 24. As part of a special event at Festival Foods in which they unveil a new alternate jersey, the Kingfish will give free bobbleheads to the first 1,000 customers who purchase two or more pounds of cheese.
While the Northwoods and Coastal Plain circuits are the most active on the promotional front, look for more collegiate leagues to spruce up their lineups. Summer collegiate teams are finding a niche as a viable, popular alternative for communities without Minor League Baseball and virtually all leagues are now hosting special events such as All-Star Games while more teams are opening up facilities for offseason gatherings such as beer festivals. There are also some future promotional opportunities to keep an eye on, including in the Valley League, which recently announced that it will form its own Hall of Fame. This summer as fans try to take part in special events and giveaways, the collegiate leagues will represent a viable option.