Minor teams always make do
by Will Lingo
June 3, 2005
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
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
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
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.