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Minor teams always make do
by Will Lingo
When it comes to making the best of challenging situations, minor league teams have few equals.
When it rains at a minor league ballpark, the entire staff usually gets out on the field to pull the tarp. If there's a bunch of pizza left over at the end of the night, many teams will send employees into the stands to sell it off at a bargain price. When one team is displaced from its park after a catastrophic event like a hurricane, other teams are happy to help out.
Minor league adaptability is not a new phenomenon, of course. One of the greatest examples is Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Mass., which has been the home for a succession of minor league teams since it opened in the late 1800s. (The park does not have a tenant now, but there is a local movement to try to renovate it.)
Wahconah Park faces west, unlike most baseball parks, so that late in the day batters looked directly in the sun. This became an issue as games were played in the late afternoon and evening in more modern times, so teams simply sat through "sun delays" and waited for the sun to set. Sun delays finally disappeared in recent years when trees behind the outfield grew up enough to block the late-day sun.
Minor league teams also continually show their ability to adapt through their promotions. During the week in particular, especially in the early part of the season when children are still in school and the weather is cooler, it's harder to get fans out to the ballpark and teams are willing to try almost anything.
On the basic end, it's cheap hot dogs and beer, but these are also the nights when you find the innovative and memorable promotions that people identify so much with the minor leagues.
The Altoona Curve (Eastern) took this to its logical extreme with Awful Night a couple of years ago, when they took all their bad ideas--including a bubble wrap giveaway--and ran with them. It was so successful that it has become an annual event. On the more conventional side, the team invites local high school championship teams out to the ballpark throughout the early part of the season, bringing people out to the park while also providing recognition for young athletes.
It's promotions like these that help minor league teams become regarded as integral parts of their communities. This can happen through straightforward community service, or by a clever idea that shows a team understands what it means to live in a certain place.
A great recent example of that approach came when the Lancaster JetHawks (California) provided a ticket discount based on the wind speed the afternoon before a Tuesday game in May. Lancaster is in the Antelope Valley region of Southern California, which is known for its high winds.
"It does get pretty windy out here in the desert," assistant general manager Joe Reinsch said. "It's especially bad in April and May when the weather hasn't warmed up yet."
The JetHawks knocked 10 cents off the price of a $6 ticket for every mile an hour of wind speed, which ended up being 28 mph. In addition to the discount, the team had contests honoring the fastest tumbleweed, worst hair day and most bent out of shape umbrella.
Reinsch said the promotion wasn't a huge success, with about 30 people taking advantage of the discount, but that it did well considering it was a last-minute idea. Members of the JetHawks front office got the idea from other teams they had read about doing promotions with cheap tickets based on low temperatures.
It was successful enough that Reinsch said he would like to see it become a regular part of the promotions calendar, in the vein of a Weenie Wednesday or Thirsty Thursday. Windy Weenie Wednesday, anyone?
"I definitely think we'll do something like it again, maybe even pick a day of the week where it's a regular thing," he said. "We all joke about how windy it is; it always seems like it's too cold or too hot around here."
And by getting in on the joke, the JetHawks show they know what it's like to live in Lancaster, and they establish a rapport with their fans. Like most minor league teams, the JetHawks have a front office filled with people from across the nation, so it's important to show that they are involved and interested in what is going on locally.
"The wind is something everyone in the community can identify with," Reinsch said, "so it's a great way of showing the JetHawks are part of the community and part of the local fabric."
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.