Minor League Teams Set To Celebrate Eclipse Day
On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will occur over the United States for the first time since 1918. Parts of the country from Oregon to South Carolina will experience totality at various points throughout the day, and you'd better believe minor league teams are ready with promotions to commemorate the event.
Some, like the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, have had the date circled on their calendars (or an at least an alarm set on their smartphones) years in advance. As it happens, their owner, Jerry Walker, had friends in (very) high places who could help out the team.
"Jerry's brother, Jim, writes physics books for colleges, so he sort of has a pulse on these things," Lisa Walker, Jerry's husband and Salem-Keizer co-owner, said. "He mentioned to us two or three years ago that something big was headed our way, and that we might want to pay attention to it."
Salem is scheduled to reach totality at 10:19 a.m., which is normally a bit early for the minor leagues. So the Volcanoes adapted. On that day, the team will open its gates at 5:00 a.m., hand out special eclipse-viewing glasses, serve fans breakfast and then begin play at 9:35 a.m., the earliest game time in franchise history. But if the eclipse is happening at 10:19, one might ask, why not start the game at 10:30, after the phenomenon has passed?
If they did that, then how would they be able to lay claim to the minor leagues' first eclipse delay?
"Jim had basically kept us abreast of it, and then NASA themselves got in touch with us last August or September," Lisa Walker explained. "They were talking to us about it and mentioned what was going on and that they were totally excited because it was the first-ever delay of game for an eclipse."
Although they won't delay their game for the eclipse, 3,000 miles away the Charleston RiverDogs have their own plans to celebrate the occasion.
Like the Volcanoes, the RiverDogs have been planning their eclipse tribute for a long while. They've been in communication with nearby College of Charleston as well as NASA for a year to help come up with ideas. Their game that day begins at 4:05, and they'll open the doors at Joseph P. Riley Park at 1:05 to let fans in for a host of educational activities.
On Sunday and Monday (the day of the eclipse), NASA will bring its "Driven To Explore" trailer, complete with lunar rock samples, to the stadium. They also plan to livestream the event via a camera in a balloon, and will have plenty of experts on hand from Kennedy Space Center and Goddard Space Center to answer fans' questions. The eclipse itself will occur during the pre-game festivities, so they won't delay the game for the eclipse, which will occur around 2:15 p.m. local time
. NASA and Boeing have teamed up to provide viewing glasses for fans.
The RiverDogs are also planning to collaborate with the Volcanoes on a coast-to-coast first pitch. A NASA scientist will be on-hand at Volcanoes Stadium to throw out the first pitch and then, via the magic of video editing, will throw that ball all the way across the country. After the video of the epic toss plays in Charleston, another NASA scientist will throw out that game's first pitch.
Both the Volcanoes and the RiverDogs (as well as the Bowling Green Hot Rods, Nashville Sounds and Columbia Fireflies) are planning to wear special jerseys to commemorate the occasion. The Volcanoes are going with a "Total Eclipse of the Park" (try not singing that slogan) theme, while the RiverDogs have opted for a more scientific angle for their day's uniforms.
"We have custom uniforms that we will auction off after the game. They are clean and simple, but reflect the unique event," RiverDogs director of promotions Nate Kurant. "Among other elements, they include the exact latitude and longitude points of home plate, as well as the start time and duration of the eclipse, all according to NASA."Minor league teams collaborate and overlap on promotions all the time. Bark in the Park nights are legion across the country. Fauxback and What-If nights have become staples throughout the minors. Teams change their names and jerseys on a whim. But rarely do clubs across America get a chance to coordinate on one promotion years in advance. That all changes on Aug. 21, when across the country will turn to the sun.
And even though they're all trying to add their own twist to the event, they're all there to celebrate the same ultra-rare event.
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Once games return to minor league ballparks, things are going to look very different.
"Our goal is to have the most engaging and educational event throughout the MiLB," Kurant said. "We know people are a little extra excited to be in our city with the eclipse finishing here, and we want to put on an event that is great for all fans that share this day with us."