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2019 Freitas Awards: Lexington Legends (Class A)

The Lexington Legends have a novel approach to win younger fans.

They just ask them what they want.

The team partnered with grade schools, high schools and universities to brainstorm the best promotional and giveaway items. That has meant a game this past season when players wore SpongeBob SquarePants jerseys, plus other games with appearances by PJ Masks and Zooperstars characters and a glow-in-the-dark bracelet giveaway.

“We called that ‘Stache Tank’ ” said Andy Shea, the Legends’ president and CEO, referring to the team’s mascot, Big L, who is known for his luxurious mustache.“We did the program with every level of education. We gave the students the information of what we were looking for and what our budget was. It gave the students a look at the business of baseball. For each level, they come to the ballpark and give their presentation, telling us why their giveaway should be the one. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Lexington’s off-field success was matched by the team’s play on it. The Royals’ low Class A affiliate won its second consecutive South Atlantic League title in 2019.

For those reasons and more, Lexington is the recipient of the Class A Freitas Award.

Shea said a big reason the Legends have connected with their community is the support given by the parent Royals, who have encouraged players to take part in visiting schools, hospitals and other outreach programs in the Lexington, Ky., area.

“This was our seventh season as a Royals affiliate and I genuinely love working with them,” Shea said. “It’s almost like we don’t have to ask them to be involved in the community. They put their money where their mouth is, in their development of the players as young men as well as young baseball players.”

Back-to-back SAL titles have provided a boost at the gate, with season-ticket sales for 2020 running slightly ahead of last year’s record pace, Shea said.

“Winning is a very big deal,” he said. “I’ve been with the company since 2005, and my first 13 years here we made the playoffs only once. Once we won it all in 2018, the community feedback and support was amazing. Now that we won it again in 2019, I have people at the gym whom I don’t know talking about our winning the deciding game in the 13th inning. Everyone loves a winner. That cliché is real.”

Shea said he has two secret weapons when it comes to promotional advice.

“We have two brothers from (nearby) Mount Sterling, Cooper and Tanner Campbell, who are 10 and 12 years old,” Shea said. “They are our super fans. I’m always asking them for their best ideas. They know every player on the roster before everyone else does and they can mimic the batting stance of all our guys.”

When Reed Rohlman hit a two-run, walk-off home run to right field to win the South Atlantic League title for the Legends, Cooper Campbell dove to get the ball, only to return it to Rohlman.

The team also supports youth softball and baseball through its “Legendary Leagues” program, which it began in 2018. The club donated $7,500 to 16 different leagues this past season.

“The money is for uniforms, fixing up field, whatever,” Shea said. “It’s the league’s discretion. For that, we have a (logo) presence on the uniforms or hats. We’re looking for a partnership. Each league also gets a 1,000-person league night at the ballpark. The program has done a tremendous job of getting the youth and excited about professional baseball.”

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