Home-run derbies are integral parts of All-Star Games, but the format has staled in recent years. By moving the competition to the USS Yorktown flight deck and bringing in some celebrity flash, the Charleston RiverDogs won Best Promotion of 2012 in the Ballpark Digest Awards.
“Other teams have spruced up home-run derbies in recent years, but no one has had the audacity to move it from the ballpark to an aircraft carrier,” said Kevin Reichard, publisher of Ballpark Digest. “More than that, the derby became a true event, complete with high-profile sponsors and community involvement.”
The home-run derby was actually a two-day event at the Low Class A South Atlantic League All-Star Game, with ten competitors starting the derby on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. An inflatable batting cage was set up so that the sluggers could belt balls in to the Charleston Harbor where volunteers awaited on jet skis to collect all of the balls. The title sponsor of the event was Miller High Life and Windell Middlebrooks, the High Life Deliveryman, was on hand to deliver the High Life.
The All-Star Festivities, and this event in particular, had a military theme to it which fit perfectly with Miller High Life’s “Welcome Back to the High Life” campaign for returning veterans. The event started with Windell welcoming everyone and honoring veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) who then took the first swings off the flight deck. After the 10 competitors took their swings RiverDogs co-owner and Director of Fun Bill Murray stepped in and following Murray fans were able to make a charitable donation to the IAVA to hit balls in to the harbor themselves.
“We are thrilled that the South Atlantic League Miller High Life Home Run Derby is being recognized by Ballpark Digest,” said Miller High Life Brand Manager Brendan Noonan. “We always strive to provide our loyal High Life drinkers with innovative and fun opportunities and are proud that our involvement in the derby was tied to our “Welcome Veterans Back to the High Life” initiative that helped veterans across the country enjoy some of life’s little luxuries this past summer.”
“The Miller High Life Home Run Derby on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown was a memorable event for everyone who witnessed it,” said RiverDogs General Manager Dave Echols. “It was a perfect day for the event and we had a great crowd come out to watch the action.
“It isn’t every day that one gets to watch a home run derby on the flight deck of a World War II carrier,” he said. “We’re honored to receive this award, and we’re glad that Ballpark Digest liked this promotion as much as we did.”
“Combining a high-profile event with a quality sponsor and asking for community involvement is a winning strategy,” Reichard said. “The Charleston RiverDogs really set a high bar for All-Star Game events in the future. It’s clearly the best promotion of the year.”
As usual, minor-league and independent teams showed plenty of imagination this season with truly interesting promotions. Here are some of the other noteworthy promotions of the season:
- The St. Paul Saints (independent; American Association) made national headlines with the Night of Unbelievable Fun, cosponsored by Minnesota Atheists and American Atheists. The Saints wore special “Mr. Paul Aints” jerseys during the game, which focused on figures many find unbelievable, such as Big Foot, Area 51 and the Loch Ness Monster.
- The Modesto Nuts (High Class A: California League) and Habitat for Humanity partnered to build a house for two local families in need. The season-long promotion began with an announcement on Opening Day and an introduction of the two lucky families. Throughout the season, Modesto Nuts players, coaches and staff volunteered time and donated resources to build the two new houses.
- The Dayton Dragons (Low Class A; Midwest League) partnered with the Dayton Development Coalition (DDC) on a Hometown Heroes Program, which supported the 25,000 Airmen and civilian Air Force employees in the area with special game-day experiences, video greeting cards and more.
- The Quad Cities River Bandits (Low Class A; Midwest League) host an annual Mega Candy Drop, where 300 pounds of candy are dropped onto the Modern Woodmen Park outfield for several hundred children to gather, eat and take home. Children ages 14 and under pack the infield following the game and watch as a helicopter flies over the stadium and showers candy onto the outfield grass. Once the candy has been scattered, the children are released to pick up all the candy, while the helicopter makes a return to drop marshmallows on the crowd of children to pick up along with the candy.
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