Organizing the Jackson Generals' annual Star Wars celebration is serious business for Jason Compton. So serious, in fact, that the Southern League franchise’s general manager prefers to handle all the details himself—from booking Wookies to designing novelty jerseys to picking the best scenes and music from his favorite movie series to run on The Ballpark at Jackson's scoreboard.
To put it simply, the Force is strong with this one.
"Everybody around here knows that one of my favorite nights is the Star Wars Night," Compton said. "I grew up a huge fan and still am a big Star Wars fan, so I kind of take this one on more than others."
More and more teams around the minors are also taking on Star Wars-themed promotions, including seven on May 4—a night dubbed by Star Wars enthusiasts as "May The Fourth Be With You."
Because of how it flows into to the iconic Star Wars greeting, May 4 has become an unofficial holiday at minor league ballparks for Jedis and Clones, Vader and Solo, and nearly every other character and detail from the movie that teams can turn into an attraction or promotion.
It is also a night fans of all ages can embrace, as the sport that spans generations shares the stage for an evening with a movie that does the same.
"It's one of the theme nights that has had, and continues to have, the most participation over the years," the 33-year-old Compton said. "With the Clone Wars cartoons (a George Lucas production that ran for five years on Cartoon Network), Star Wars appeals to my 4-year-old just like it did to me and my Dad."
So what can you find at the ballpark on a Star Wars night? For starters, some pretty cool jerseys. Several teams will ditch their traditional home attire for special Star Wars-themed uniforms this weekend. Teams incorporating any Star Wars characters or markings into their uniforms got permission from Lucas' production company, Lucasfilms, to produce the jerseys and will auction them off to benefit a local charity.
Jackson will wear jerseys with Generals across the chest in lettering similar to the Star Wars movie posters, as well as a patch on one sleeve of the team's bulldog mascot carrying a light saber in his mouth.
The Omaha Storm Chasers (Pacific Coast) will transform into the Omaha Force on Saturday night, and will don uniforms and ballcaps emblazoned with the Rebel Alliance symbol inside the “O” in Omaha.
The Toledo Mud Hens (International) will field a team of Wookies—or at least players wearing jerseys designed after Chewbacca, the hairy, grunting sidekick of Han Solo. Toledo actually will make a weekend of Star Wars celebrations by following up May The 4th with a "Revenge Of The 5th" promotion on Sunday.
"When we looked at the schedule and saw that we were playing at home on the fourth and the fifth—and that it fell on a Saturday and Sunday—it was a no-brainer: Let's do it and do it up big," Toledo director of merchandise and licensing Craig Katz said.
This includes adding a variety of Star Wars-themed concoctions to concessions stands, like a Yoda Soda (a green mixture of Sierra Mist and sorbet), a Darth Chocolate Brownie Sundae and a Tatoo-weiner. Commemorative T-shirts of mascot Muddy holding a light saber will be available for purchase in the team store, as will light-up swords, which was a huge hit at the Mud Hens' inaugural Star Wars celebration last year.
"We bought a couple hundred last year and we were sold out by first pitch," Katz said. "So we bought a couple thousand this year."
Of course, a Star Wars celebration wouldn't be complete without the stars of the movie, and fans are encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters. They won't be alone.
In Jackson, Compton has arranged for 25 performers dressed as Star Wars characters to descend on the ballpark, and Darth Vader is expected to throw out the first pitch. The Mud Hens have partnered with the local chapter of 501st Legion, a national volunteer club of Star Wars costume enthusiasts, to fill Fifth Third Field with characters. So too have the Kane County Cougars (Midwest), who will kick off their fourth annual May The Fourth promotion with a pregame parade led by Star Wars characters. The Cougars will also bring fans onto the field for a Talk Like Yoda competition, challenge fans' knowledge of the movie with a trivia scavenger hunt, and recognize the best costumes of the night.
"I think the parents enjoy it the most. You see just as many parents dressed up (in costume as kids," Kane County promotions manager Jenni Brechtel says. "It's such a good promotion that we also do another one as the last theme night of the season."
Princess Leia will sing the National Anthem in Omaha and the team will stash general manager Martie Cordaro's life-size Yoda doll at various spots around the ballpark throughout the night as part of the team's Where's Yoda? contest.
The Akron Aeros (Eastern) are hosting a Space Day promotion on May 3, which will include a Star Wars vs. Star Trek competition. Fans are encouraged to dress as their favorite character from either movie series, and the team will conduct a variety of on-field competitions to determine a winner.
Other teams hosting May The Fourth promotions include the Stockton Ports (California) and Peoria Chiefs (Midwest). If you can't make it out to one of these ballparks this weekend, don't fret; there are plenty of Star Wars nights scheduled at minor league ballparks over the rest of the season.
Here's the list of upcoming Stars Wars promotions:
Durham Bulls (International)
Lake Elsinore Storm (California)
Tennessee Smokies (Southern)
Columbus Clippers (International)
Iowa Cubs (Pacific Coast)
San Jose Giants (California)
Fort Wayne TinCaps (Midwest)
Fresno Grizzlies (Pacific Coast)
Lakewood BlueClaws (South Atlantic)
Pawtucket Red Sox (International)
Birmingham Barons (Southern)
Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Texas)
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Midwest)
Salem Red Sox (Carolina)
Sacramento River Cats (Pacific Coast)
New Orleans Zephyrs (Pacific Coast)
Bowie Baysox (Eastern)
Buffalo Bisons (International)
Fort Myers Miracle (Florida State)
Great Lakes Loons (Midwest)
Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern)
Colorado Springs SkySox (Pacific Coast)
West Michigan Whitecaps (Midwest)
Lancaster JetHawks (California)
Harrisburg Senators (Eastern)
Lake County Captains (Midwest)
Modesto Nuts (California)
Wilmington Blue Rocks (Carolina)
Mobile BayBears (Southern)
Kane County Cougars (Midwest)