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Promotions Watch: Preseason Exhibitions

Irish/CubsMany Minor League Baseball teams are offering fans the opportunity to take in a game before Opening Day on April 9 by including preseason exhibition games in their schedules. Headlined by five games that pit Minor League teams against their Major League parent clubs, these contests are discussed in this week’s Promotions Watch.

Among Major League teams, the Miami Marlins will be active on the exhibition circuit by rounding out their spring schedules with visits to two Minor League affiliates. The first of these contests will take place on April 3, when the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Low Class A; Sally League) host the Marlins at NewBridge Bank Park. This will mark the Marlins’ third visit to Greensboro, following appearances in 2005, the Grasshoppers’ inaugural season, and 2010.

The following day, the Marlins will return to the Sunshine State to face off against the hosting Jacksonville Suns (Class AA; Southern League). Exhibition games have not been uncommon for the Suns since Bragan Field opened in 2003: They faced their then parent club Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006, before playing the Marlins for the first time in 2010. For the Marlins, the games in both Greensboro and Jacksonville come months after they extended the player development contract (PDCs) with both franchises through 2018 and 2016 respectively.

Following their most successful season at the gate in franchise history—they drew a record 687, 715 fans at brand new BB&T Ballpark in 2014—the Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League) are looking to begin 2015 with a bang. On April 3, the Knights will play host to the parent club Chicago White Sox. As noted in the Knights’ announcement, this will mark the first time a Major League team has played a game in the City of Charlotte since the Baltimore Orioles visited the Charlotte O’s (Class AA; Southern League) in 1984.

At their previous home—Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, S.C.—the Knights twice faced the White Sox, with the first matchup coinciding with the beginning of their affiliation in 1999. The White Sox returned to Fort Mill for a final time in 2010. In the time since, they have established a pattern of visiting for exhibitions in the second season of their affiliates’ new ballparks. This contest against the Knights continues a trend that began with the Winston-Salem Dash (High Class-A; Carolina League) at BB&T Ballpark in 2011, followed by a visit last year to Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons (Class AA; Southern League).

On April 2 parent Houston Astros will travel to Whataburger Field to take on the Corpus Christi Hooks (Class AA; Texas League). Houston owns the Hooks, so the exhibition is a natural.

Rounding out our look at MLB vs. MiLB exhibitions is the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Memphis Redbirds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) at AutoZone Park on April 3. Branded as the Battle of the Birds, this contest between parent club and affiliate has been fairly common over the years, as the Cardinals have visited Memphis seven times over their previous 17 seasons of affiliation.

Despite the commonality of these games, the 2015 Battle of the Birds will be special for the Redbirds. Last year’s scheduled exhibition was rained out, meaning that the upcoming matchup will be the first since 2009. Also, the Redbirds are about to play their second season under the ownership of the Cardinals, who are working on a long list of improvements to AutoZone Park. Among the upgrades coming to the ballpark including new videoboard displays, seating bowl and club level improvements, expanded concourses, and a brand new playing surface. All of these new features will be broken in on the night of this exhibition game, which will be played well in advance of the Redbirds’ home opener on April 9.

Lacking the opportunity to play host to their parent clubs, some Minor League teams seek alternate ways to build hype for the regular season through exhibition games. This includes one matchup between two closely-located minor league clubs of different levels.

The Akron RubberDucks (Class AA; Eastern League) and the Lake County Captains (Low Class A; Midwest League) will face off in a battle of Cleveland Indian affiliates on April 7 at Akron’s Canal Park. Following the abbreviated 7-inning contest, which begins at 5:00 p.m., the RubberDucks will allow corporate and individual season-ticket holders to stay at the ballpark for a meet-the-teams event. During the festivity, fans will be allowed to partake in autograph and photo sessions with the players and coaches from both squads.

By facing off again in 2015, the RubberDucks and Captains are continuing their collective effort to restore what was once on its way to becoming an annual tradition. Following a 2007 game, the two teams scheduled to meet again the following year at the Captains’ Classic Park. However, that game was cancelled due to rain and the two teams did not schedule a matchup over the ensuing five preseasons. That snap ended last year, when the Captains and RubberDucks met at Classic Park.

There are also a few cases this year of teams squaring off against local universities. The Delmarva Shorebirds (Class Low A; Sally League) will continue an annual tradition when they host the Salisbury Seagulls at Arthur W. Purdue Stadium. This year’s contests, which will take place on April 7, marks the sixth consecutive meeting between the Shorebirds and their local Division III NCAA counterparts.

Before they begin their inaugural season, the South Bend Cubs (Class Low A; Midwest League) will open the gates to Four Winds Field at Coveleski Stadium for a 7-inning game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on April 7. Prior to this year, the Fighting Irish had not played a Minor League exhibition game since 2010, when the then South Bend Silver Hawks included the preseason contest on their schedule for the third consecutive year. This game’s announcement in December began an offseason that has seen the Fighting Irish’s ties to the Midwest League grow: Back in January, former Fighting Irish centerfielder Dick Nussbaum was named the league’s president and moved its offices to South Bend.

From the Cubs’ perspective, this game allows them to showcase their product early after a busy and transformative offseason. Following the announcement of an affiliation switch from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Cubs, the team rolled the results of its rebranding process with the introduction of a new name in September and the unveiling of new logos in December. In addition, the team continued to make improvements to its home field by adding two outdoor suites and constructing the South Bend Cubs Performance Center. The latter project is a free-standing building that includes batting cages for the Cubs, as well as indoor facilities for local little leagues and amateur teams.

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