With baseball fans beginning to look at the countdown clock for the official start of opening day, fans are also taking a closer look at their respective teams' promotional schedule to see which games will offer giveaways and commemorative items, such as bobble heads, t-shirts, caps, etc., usually to the first 10-15,000 fans to pass through the gates.
The way promotional items have become such a common fixture at major league ballparks, it's hard to imagine there was a time when giveaways were strictly unheard of.
The game-changer came when Bill Veeck assumed ownership of the Cleveland Indians in 1946. In fact, before the unconventional Veeck landed in Cleveland, foul balls that were deposited in the stands were promptly collected by stadium personnel.
In his entertaining and smartly written book, Bill Veeck: Baseball's Greatest Maverick author Paul Dickson chronicles many of the innovations ushered in by Veeck, including "ethnic nights," "Free Nylon Stockings,", "Bat Day," "Kids get autographs on the field," "Exploding Scoreboards," "Showers in the Bleachers," "Ivy on the Walls at Wrigley," "Circus Night," livestock giveaways, nurseries for infants staffed with real nurses, women's rest rooms so lavish that one was named "Hall of Femme," be the manager night, early morning games for shift workers during World War II, and zany giveaways, such as chocolate-covered ants, were just some of the thousands of promotions "Sport Shirt Bill,'' as he was affectionately called, employed during his tenure with the St Louis Browns, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox.
Echoing just how influential Veeck was in originating special promotions, Dickson told me, "his influence is everywhere today and in all sports. Veeck was also the man who invented the idea for a sponsor covering all or most of the cost of a giveaway."
So in keeping with the imaginative spirit of Veeck, I looked over many of the special promotions being offered by different MLB clubs to see which teams came up with some of the more creative promotional giveaways of the year.
Here, then, are some that caught my eye:
• With the wind to your backs and the sun shining warmly upon your face, the Chicago White Sox will celebrate a "Halfway to St. Patrick's Day'' on September 14 at U.S. Cellular Field against the Cleveland Indians in which the first 20,000 fans (21 and older) will be given White Sox green caps. The evening will conclude with a dazzling fireworks display.
• The American League champion Detroit Tigers will continue with all the pyrotechnics they provided fans last year with 18 post-game firework extravaganzas (courtesy of Pepsi) during the 2013 season at Comerica Park. In addition to the firework displays, the Tigers have planned 35 giveaways during the 2013 season. Two particular noteworthy dates include: April 6 against the New York Yankees, the Tigers will be giving away 10,000 American League Championship Banners to celebrate winning their 11th American League Pennant last year. And on May 25 against the Minnesota Twins, the first 10,000 fans will be given a 1968 45th anniversary commemorative coin. In 1968, the "Year of the Pitcher," the Tigers won their third World Series, defeating the St Louis Cardinals in seven games behind the dazzling pitching of Cy Young Award winner and American League MVP Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich who won all three of his complete games and was named the World Series MVP.
• Cleveland Indians fans, disappointed over last year's campaign, will have plenty to be excited about this year, as GM Chris Antonetti and President Mark Shapiro had a busy off season, first with the signing of former Boston Red Sox skipper Terry Francona, followed with the signing of ex-Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher. Other new additions include: Drew Stubbs, Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw and Trevor Bauer via trade and the signing of free agents Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers and Michael Bourn. And to add to the drama of the new facelift, the Indians on August 10th, compliments of Progressive Insurance, will be giving away replicas of the Indians Hall of Fame plaque of slugger Rocky Colavito, who spent five glorious seasons in Cleveland, where he became the first Indian to crack more than 40 home runs in two seasons. In addition, the Indians will tip their caps to their all-important 10th man in the lineup, John Adams, who enters his 40th season pounding his drums in the bleachers. Adam's first game with the drums began at Cleveland Municipal Stadium on August 24, 1973. Responding through an email, Adams says over the last 39 seasons, he's only missed 38 games, truly an incredible testament to his undying dedication to the Indians. A rare breed indeed.
• Hoping to marry both the popularity of garden gnomes with the celebrity status of left-handed pitcher Wade Miley, who had a spectacular rookie season (16-11, 3.33 ERA), the Arizona Diamondbacks will be giving away Wade Miley Garden Gnomes, courtesy of Sanderson Ford to the first 20,000 fans on April 27th against the Colorado Rockies at Chase Field. Garden gnomes are figurines, resembling human creatures, usually sporting a pointy hat, which originated in 19th century Germany, where they became known as Gartenzwerg (literally "garden dwarf").
• With about 1.9 million Hispanics, representing 30 percent of the state's population, Arizona has the sixth largest Hispanic population in the nation. To take advantage of this growing demographic, the D-Backs and Univision KTVW-TV Channel 33 will pass out Luchador masks (called Lucha Libre) to the first 15,000 fans at the July 27 game against the San Diego Padres, followed by Luchador Capes (courtesy of Circle K) on September 15th against the Colorado Rockies. Lucha Libre is a term for professional wrestling in Mexico and other Latin American countries. The wrestlers often wear colorful masks.
• Fresh off having captured their seventh world championship in team history (second in the Bay area), San Francisco Giant fans, at least the first 40,000 through the gates on April 7th, in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, will feel like champions themselves, when fans (courtesy of AAA) receive replica World Series rings (made of medal) on the same day the Giants receive their rings in a special pre-game ceremony.
Later in the month, on April 20 against the San Diego Padres, to celebrate clinching the NCLS in the driving rain, the first 20,000 fans at AT & T Park will receive World Champions Umbrellas compliments of Coca-Cola/Raley's, which features color photos of the Giants soaked filled game when they secured their 22nd National League pennant. Other novel features at AT & T Park during the season, includes presenting the first 20,00 fans with stylish orange, black, white and grey plaid fedoras on August 24th and on September 7th-Orange Sombrero (to the first 20,000 fans) presented by State Farm to celebrate Fiesta Gigantes when the team wears the 'Gigantes' logos jerseys
• The Seattle Mariners on April 26th against the Angels at Safeco Field will offer (to the first 20,000 fans) the first ever "Beard Hat Night.'' This must-have fashion accessory is a ski cap, with faux facial hair. The Mariners will follow that up on the very next day with "Bat Night," not the miniature bats, but a full-size Louisville Slugger, to be distributed to all kids 14 and under.
For a variety of logistical and security reasons, the Mariners have been unable to present a fireworks show since moving to Safeco Field in 1999. That will change this year as the Mariners have finally managed to work through the obstacles and are happy to announce they will be offering three spectacular post-game firework displays during the 2013 season.
• In tribute to the popular switch-hitting Coco Crisp, the Oakland A's on June 2nd at O.co Coliseum against the Chicago White Sox will be giving away (to kids only) 5,000 Coco Crisp Cereal Bowls, compliments of Chevrolet. The well-traveled center fielder, born Covelli Loyce Crisp, who previously served tours of duty with the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and Kansas City Royals, first earned the nickname "Coco'' from his sister who loved to rib him that he resembled one of the characters on the Cocoa Krispies cereal box. The nickname became a permanent fixture in the lineup card when he began playing AA baseball.
• As if the Washington Nationals season wasn't entertaining enough last year, being the first Washington-based team to advance to the post-season in 79 years before losing to the St Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, the Nats' this year will entertain fans with four post-game concerts (June, 8th, July 6th, August 31st, and September 21st). The scheduled performers for these free post-game concerts have yet to be announced.
February 25, 2013