The arrival of pitchers and catchers to spring training typically kicks off most fans' countdown to Opening Day. But there is another offseason event that—in perhaps more entertaining fashion—serves as another reminder that baseball season is just around the corner.
This, of course, is the slow-but-steady release of minor league team promotional calendars. For while major league squads are busy tuning up and filling out rosters, their minor league brethren are rolling out lineups of their own—complete with bobblehead giveaways, alternate logos and belly-busting concession creations.
So take a break from pitchers fielding practice drills and sneak a peek at what's in store at a few minor league ballparks this season.
What If . . .
What if Omaha (Pacific Coast) had not chosen Storm Chasers as its new nickname three years ago? What if it had gone with one of the other name-the-team finalists, like say, Commanders? Fans will get a chance to live out this alternate reality on June 7 when the team will don Commanders jerseys for the third annual What If? Night.
The promotion is part of a military appreciation night and will include an appearance from wrestling legend Sgt. Slaughter, now a regular on the minor league ballpark circuit.
The Storm Chasers, winners of the 2013 Triple-A National Championship, also plan to celebrate their title with five giveaways this season, including a bobblehead of title game MVP Chris Dwyer on April 19 and a bobblehead of former skipper Mike Jirschele on July 17.
Time flies when you're playing at one of the worst ballparks in the minors. Just ask the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Eastern League franchise set to celebrate its fifth season at The Diamond. The Flying Squirrels have overcome their deteriorating home with a variety of creative promotions and giveaways during their first four seasons in Richmond, and will roll out even more as part of their anniversary celebration.
Richmond kicks off the party on April 10 with the Richmond Flying Circus, a promotion complete with fire jugglers, stilt walkers and aerial acrobats who will help Nutzy the mascot "make his most daring grand entrance yet," the team announced. Other can't-miss promotions in Richmond include Eat the Ballpark Night, which will include a cheese replica of The Diamond, an Oktoberfest Das Boot beer stein giveaway on Aug. 8, and a Tribute to the Peanut celebration on Aug. 6.
Few teams can match the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (International) for creativity. If you don’t believe us, see the urinal gaming system they unveiled last year. This year, the team will offer a variety of player-themed giveaways, including: Cody Asche bobblehead (April 9), Jonathan Pettibone bobblehead (April 10), Andy Tracy commemorative cup (April 12), Ethan Martin bobblehead (April 28), Kevin Frandsen wine topper (May 11), Cesar Hernandez bobblehead (June 9) and Darin Ruf garden gnome (June 19).
While that's an impressive lineup, it likely could not compare to the core of players the Louisville Bats plan to roll out this season. In a battle of fantasy bobbleheads—stay with me—this cast of former Bats/current big leaguers is tough to beat: Homer Bailey (June 14), Jay Bruce (July 2), Joey Votto (Aug. 2) and Johnny Cueto (Aug. 30).
The early winner for most creative bobblehead lineup goes to the newly renamed Akron RubberDucks (Eastern), who will honor local sports figures—Bernie Kosar (Aug. 9) Sharon Hargrove (May 10) and a Jake Taylor bobble-knees creation (July 19)—and rock-and-roll heroes: Devo (May 24), Joe Walsh (June 14), Chrissie Hynde (June 28) and The Black Keys (July 5).
Gotta Have One
And then there are the giveaways that any minor league baseball fan will want to add a collectible collection. As more teams release their promo calendars this spring, this list will surely grow. Here are a few early highlights:
• April 25: Corky Miller #FearTheStache T-Shirt, Louisville Bats.
• July 1: Friends Don't Let Friends Be Lehigh Valley Fans T-Shirt, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
• Aug. 16: Jayson Werth Wolf-a-rine, Potomac Nationals
• Aug. 9: Russell Wilson Bobblehead, Asheville Tourists
• Aug. 19: Oops I Stepped On A Duck Night! Whopee Cushion Giveaway, Akron RubberDucks