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Ballpark Notes for March 19, 2009

In today’s ballpark news: the Portland Sea Dogs return to Fenway; Echols is promoted in Charleston, and the River Bandits announce the winners of a fan-chosen-promotion competition.

The Boston Red Sox announced that the Portland Sea Dogs (Class AA; Eastern League) will return to play a game at Fenway Park in 2009. The fourth annual "Futures at Fenway" minor-league doubleheader will take place on Saturday, August 8 and will feature the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Red Sox, taking on the Bowie Baysox.

Charleston RiverDogs (Low Class A; Sally League) General Manager Dave Echols has been promoted to executive vice president/general manager, according to Marv Goldklang of The Goldklang Group, which owns and operates the New York Yankees’ Class A affiliate.

Over the past five seasons, Echols has guided the RiverDogs front office which set attendance records on four different occasions and boasted the highest average attendance in the history of Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park in 2008.

"Dave is a professional in every sense of the term,” said Goldklang. “He has led the organization to record levels, in attendance as well as community support and, perhaps even more important than that, has been a key factor in establishing the RiverDogs as a premier attraction in Charleston and throughout the Lowcountry. I look forward to his continued leadership as we continue to build for the future.”

Echols was named the RiverDogs general manager on March 17, 2004. The organization has witnessed consistent growth at the box office as well as in the community during his tenure. In addition to guiding the club to record attendance and sales, he has helped lead the team’s fundraising efforts of the annual R.P. Auction to benefit the MUSC Storm Eye Institute and has also seen the annual Hot Stove Banquet evolve into a readily anticipated event in the Charleston baseball community.

The Quad Cities River Bandits (Low Class A; Midwest League) revealed the results of Modern Woodmen Bank’s Name the Promotion Contest, a fan-voting initiative in which River Bandits nation was invited to suggest –- and then vote for -– the promotion they most want to see become a reality at Modern Woodmen Park this summer.

The winner of the contest was the Bandit Wedding, which took the top spot despite the Van Down by the River and Elvis Night also receiving significant support.

“We ran this contest because we wanted great ideas, and that is exactly what we got,” said team owner Dave Heller. “We are always looking for new ways to keep the entertainment at Modern Woodmen Park fresh and exciting. We were hoping to get one great idea, but instead we got three. So we said, ‘If we’ve got three great ideas, why not do all three?’ We owe our fans a great deal of appreciation for coming up with a great list of fantastic promotions that will enhance the game day experience in 2009.”

One lucky couple will have the wedding of a lifetime and get married on the Modern Woodmen Park diamond immediately before Fan Appreciation Day on September 4. Blake Humphrey of Rock Island, who was selected at random from the pool of fans that suggested the promotion, will receive four free tickets to the game, the opportunity to throw out the first pitch and a prize pack loaded with River Bandits merchandise and other specialty items.

Although they did not win the contest, two other promotions were exciting enough that the River Bandits have decided to run them as well.

Thanks to an email submission from Jody Swanson of Geneseo, the Van Down by the River will be parked on the right field berm. On a season-long basis, tickets to the seating in the decked-out River Bandits van will be given away live by Dwyer and Michaels on their morning show on 97X. At the start of each game, the Bandits will make a donation to a new fund called the “Jack Squat Jackpot” in honor of Chris Farley’s famous Saturday Night Live skit. If a River Bandits player hits the van with a home run ball, those sitting in the van will receive half the money in the jackpot while the other half will be donated to charity. For her idea, Swanson will enjoy a game from the Van Down by the River this season and will receive the opportunity to throw out a first pitch.

Elvis Night was also a popular choice throughout the contest, so the River Bandits will also be saluting The King during the 2009 season. The theme night will feature Elvis’ music, a costume contest and more fun in honor of the Rock ‘N Roll superstar. Jason Heinz of Rock Island was chosen to represent those that suggested Elvis Night, and for his great idea he will be throwing out the first pitch on Elvis Night and judging the costume contest.

The Camden Riversharks (independent; Atlantic League) announced the coaching staff for the upcoming 2009 season this week. Manager Joe Ferguson returns to the team for his third season as head skipper, looking to improve upon last year’s success.

In two seasons with the Riversharks, Ferguson has compiled an overall record of 134 wins and 132 losses (.504 winning percentage). In 2007, his first year with the team, Ferguson led the Riversharks to the Southern Division first half championship. Last year, he once again delivered a first half divisional championship, as well as a Liberty Division Championship; an accomplishment only achieved once before in franchise history.

Joining Ferguson’s staff this year will be pitching coach Jeff Scott, who will also serve as the team’s director of baseball operations. Scott joins the Riversharks after an extensive scouting and player development career in major-league baseball, which included stints with the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, and St. Louis Cardinals. Most recently, Scott was the bench coach of the Bridgeport Bluefish during the 2008 season.

In Texas, the Grand Prairie AirHogs (independent; American Association) announced reduced prices for the upcoming eason, including $1 hotdogs and $1 sodas during all Family Sunday home games and free parking all-season long, will be offered in addition to the renewed Thirsty Thursday $1 Beer Nights, Free Stuff Fridays, and Saturday Fireworks promotions.