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Promotions Watch: Independent League Giveaways

Bill Murray and Kevin Millar

With the American Association, Can-Am League, and the Frontier League starting their seasons and the Atlantic League well underway, it is time to look at some of the best giveaways around independent baseball. These offerings—which include bobbleheads, t-shirts, theme-night freebies, tickets, and even money—will be discussed in this week’s Promotions Watch.

Independent leagues have established a formula to compete with minor and, even in some cases, major league squads. As part of a ballpark experience that rivals their competitors, independent league teams usually come up with intriguing giveaways to entice fans, even though some of the bigger promotions do not headline current players. Since players can be sold to a major league organization at any point, promotions that honor a prominent local celebrity or the team itself are common.

The best example of this trend comes with this year’s bobblehead giveaways, a slate that includes a pair of Atlantic League squads that are paying tribute to famous natives of their communities. On July 1, the Bridgeport Bluefish will hand out 500 P.T. Barnum bobbleheads. Barnum, the founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, was born on July 5, 1810 in Bethel, Ct, but spent most of his adult life in the Bridgeport area and at point was the town’s mayor. He is also buried at Bridgeport’s Mountain Grove Cemetery.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic League, the Lancaster Barnstormers are giving away bobbleheads of two famous natives in separate promotions. The team will honor golfer Jim Furyk—who was born in Pennsylvania and attended Lancaster’s Manheim Township High School—on July 18, before giving out bobbleheads of Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir on July 31. Weir, who is a native of nearby Quarryville, PA, will be in attendance that night as part of the Barnstormers’ Christmas in July promotion. Both bobbleheads will be available to the first 1,000 fans through the gates of Clipper Magazine Stadium.

Those who favor player bobbleheads—especially if they are fans of the St. Louis Cardinals—will find some interesting options in the Frontier League. On June 13, the River City Rascals will give out bobbleheads of Todd Worrell, who is slated to appear at T.R. Hughes Ballpark that night. A former closer, Worrell won National League Rookie of the Year honors with the Cardinals in 1985 and was formerly the Rascals pitching coach. In another Cardinal-related giveaway, the Gateway Grizzlies will honor the late Hall of Famer Stan Musial on August 27. It is a natural fit as a giveaway, not only because Musial is universally beloved by baseball fans, but the Grizzlies are located in Sauget, IL, just minutes from Busch Stadium.

While bobbleheads are a popular giveaway item at all levels of baseball, some teams are opting for a different approach. A common trend this year features teams either directly revolving their giveaways around a certain theme night, or establishing a series that follows a unique pattern of games.

One of the best examples—and one that was covered here previously—comes from the Joliet Slammers (Frontier League). The Slammers are cutting a unique deal to their fans on Back to the Future night on July 24, when any fan who drives a DeLorean to the ballpark will receive free admission. Furthermore, if the Cubs do not win the 2015 World Series—as was predicted in Back to the Future II—fans who attend the Slammers’ game on July 24 and save their ticket stub will receive free admission to a game in 2016.

Along with Back to the Future, Star Wars is a frequently-celebrated film series around baseball. The Lincoln Saltdogs (American Association) will incorporate a giveaway into their Star Wars night on August 16, as the team is giving fans light sabers as part of the promotion. This year the Salt Dogs will stage giveaways on every Saturday as part of Souvenir Saturday, which features several free Saltdogs’ jerseys, including a Navy-themed uniform top on August 22.

One trend that the York Revolution (Atlantic League) is fully jumping into is Social Media night, a promotion during which they will offer freebies to active fans on June 30. During that promotion, fans can receive prizes for posting on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, but the ultimate reward could be had by Vine users. Anyone who Vines a Revolution home run during the game will be given a team-signed baseball.

Among the other theme night giveaways to keep an eye on include Disco Night from the Rockland Boulders (Can-Am League) on August 1, when the first 1,500 fans in attendance will receive a complimentary disco wig. The Sioux City Explorers (American Association) will stage College Sports nights on back-to-back Fridays—August 17 and August 24—and offer a free reserved ticket to any fan who wears garb supporting one in a long list of regional universities. In addition the Southern Maryland BlueCrabs’ (Atlantic League) promotional lineup features a series of giveaways that take a friendly jab at their opponents. Though two of these items were given out earlier this month, several remain, including a Stan Cliburn “Stomp The Sharks” bobblehead on June 13 and a “Swat the Skeeters” fly swatter on July 31. Fans of the show Duck Dynasty will want to check out the Florence Freedom’s (Frontier League) duck call giveaway on June 24, which will be staged alongside an appearance from Mountain Man.

Rather than a free item, the Gary SouthShore RailCats (American Association) will give their fans money. On July 30, the RailCats will host their annual $2,000 giveaway, a promotion in which $2,000 is dispersed among the first 1,000 fans through the gates of U.S. Steel Yard. Some fans will receive the maximum $100, and one attendee could walk away with a free 40” television.

The giveaway that closes out this post comes from the St. Paul Saints (American Association), who will hand out a Bill Murray and Friends Construction t-shirt on July 5. The Saints have traditionally staged a promotion featuring Murray—an investor in the Goldklang Group, the team’s ownership—and drew over 5,400 fans during last summer’s t-shirt giveaway at Midway Stadium.

Expect a big crowd again this year. Murray is an actor with a broad and active fan base and the fact that he has appeared on two of this year’s most-widely viewed television specials—Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary Special and The Late Show with David Letterman’s finale—should only increase the anticipation. The Saints are also in the midst of their first season at CHS Field, a new ballpark that has already earned our praise and figures to be a popular draw this year.

With a unique blend of giveaways, there is plenty in store for the fans this season. Among the four leagues, there will be numerous opportunities to take in these promotions, and many others, and ultimately have a memorable night at the ballpark.

Image of Bill Murray and former Saint Kevin Millar courtesy St. Paul Saints.

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