GREENVILLE, S.C. — The most popular man at the Minor League Promo Seminar on Tuesday evening had nothing to do with the minor leagues at all. He didn’t own or work for a team, and he wasn’t an owner pitching his acts to appear at ballparks around the country.
Instead, it was Noah Petro, an associate lab chief at NASA, and he was at the seminar to make himself available to any team that wanted to be extra prepared the next time a total solar eclipse came around like it did this summer. Of course, that won’t happen until 2024, but he was already armed with a map of the path of totality for that year and a list of which teams could be affected.
A year ago, Petro looked at the path of totality for this year’s eclipse and on a whim decided to send e-mails out to the minor league clubs in the path to see if they might like an astronaut to come out to their ballpark to help enhance that day’s experience. He got an immediate response.
“It missed St. Louis and it missed Kansas City just barely, so I started looking at minor league teams,” Petro explained. “I saw that there were six teams along the path of totality and I emailed each of them and I actually heard back from some of them. Salem-Keizer emailed me right away and said ‘Yes, we’re doing an event. Yes we’d love to partner with you.’ Several other teams got in touch with me, so we set it up to where ultimately four of the teams had NASA representation.”
Salem-Keizer made a four-day event out of the eclipse. The Charleston RiverDogs brought NASA to Joseph P. Riley Park and turned it into a massive education day. The Columbia Fireflies had special glow-in-the-dark jerseys printed up for the event. Getting one response surprised Petro. Getting four blew him away.
“Getting the response we did was amazing,” Petro said, “and we had great success at all of our events.”
The next eclipse is slated for April 8, 2024, which obviously would bump right up against the opening of the minor league season. The path of totality that year will bring darkness to swaths of the continent from New Brunswick, Canada to Durango, Mexico and has the potential to impact roughly a dozen minor league teams.
Some of the impacted teams include the Indianapolis Indians, San Antonio Missions, Round Rock Express, Frisco Roughriders, Arkansas Travelers, Dayton Dragons and Columbus Clippers. There are short-season teams too, like the Vermont Lake Monsters, whose ballparks will be in the path but whose teams don’t start playing until the summer.
Even if that’s the case, or if one of the full-season clubs is on the road at the time of the eclipse, they can still turn around and hold an event.
“I talked to a representative from Vermont here and mentioned that we had an eclipse event in Idaho Falls even though they didn’t have a game that day. They were on the road,” Petro said. “We (still) used that stadium for an event. The really nice thing about eclipse events for these teams is that our big concern is facilities. The fact that you have a stadium that has bathrooms and has power and is used to handling crowds made it much more feasible and reduced the stress on us.
“Just having the infrastructure (is helpful). Maybe there’s not a game before, but folks who are along the path of totality or near it, having something in their stadium would be really beneficial.”
Part of the first afternoon of the promo seminar included group therapy sessions, in which rooms full of minor league executives bounced ideas off of one another in an effort to brainstorm ideas for next year. The topic during this session involved how to best spice up their promotional schedules.
When the session concluded, Petro was the most popular man in the room. He passed out maps of the next path of totality, and ran out of the stack of business cards he’d brought with him. Even teams who won’t be affected in 2024 were interested in hiring someone from NASA to spice up their next education day.
Given a year to prepare for the 2017 eclipse, minor league baseball was ready. Given seven years, the next version could be out of this world.