By MICHAEL RADANO
Minor-league baseball promotions have always had an urban legendlike quality.
Did a team in North Carolina really give away souvenir bats on Tonya Harding night or is that just a rumor? Are those really giant eyes racing around the park in Lakewood or are we just seeing things? And if you're going to give away a car, shouldn't it start?
But isn't all of that part of the charm of minor-league baseball?
Most teams have built a following and know what works for their crowd. In Camden, the Riversharks are going to take it one day at a time.
"Some crowds, I guess you can say are more sophisticated," assistant general manager Dave Brady said. " Each stadium is different and they get excited over different things. What we do at the start of the year may be completely different from what we do in September."
As for the eyeball race, that's the Lakewood BlueClaws entry into the bizarre and entertaining aspect of minor- league baseball. The Class A franchise of the Philadelphia Phillies will trot out different colored inflated eyeballs for fans to get in each game. The fans will then get to race for prizes. This is not the most sophisticated entertainment but it's not meant to be.
"We're in the entertainment business," BlueClaws general manager Geoff Brown said. "It's all about making sure the fans have an enjoyable night at the park, and the promotions are a huge part of that."
"There's always something going on between the innings," said Gary Coates, a Cherry Hill resident who has three children. "I'm trying to make baseball fans out of them. To get them to sit still and watch a baseball game is difficult (without promotions)."
To draw those families in, minor-league teams will go to just about any length.
Take one stop Brady made on one of his trips to various minor-league locales. The team was giving away used cars.
"Some of the cars were nice," Brady said. "But some weren' t as, let's say, road ready. I think they gave away a used car each inning and the highlight was the car that wouldn't start. They actually had to push it off the field."
In Atlantic City, the closest rival for the Riversharks, the Surf have Parrothead Night to honor singer Jimmy Buffett, a Mitch Williams baseball giveaway named after the team's pitching coach and ex-Phillie and, of course, Armed Services Day where you can pick up a camouflage Surf jersey.
For the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the biggest draws are fireworks nights. But the Blue Rocks also offer the Dog Days of Summer. It's a day you can bring your dog to the park and maybe win some prizes.
"We have a couple of contests," Blue Rocks general manager Chris Kemple said. "We have the best dressed dog contest. We also have a vet at the game that will vaccinate your dog. It's all about the entertainment of our fans."
The Blue Rocks also have Mr. Celery.
Mr. Celery is a mascot that dances behind home plate after every run the Blue Rocks score. It has no special significance but Kemple has had a tough time convincing his fans.
"I think sometimes people spend way too much time trying to figure out what Mr. Celery has to do with the team," Kemple said. ``But if it keeps them coming back, it's fine with me."
The Riversharks first big promotion will be Mother's Day.
The Zooperstars, an inflatable mascot ensemble with characters named Harry Canary, Cow Ripken Jr., Ken Giraffe Jr., Pewee Geese and Mackerel Jordan, will be there to perform for the crowd. The first 1,000 mothers to walk through the gate will receive a rose presented by GD Roses. The first 1,000 fathers receive cookbooks presented by Campbell's Soup. Two flower bouquets will also be given away each inning. One lucky mother will win a new diamond after the game in Diamond Survivor. Mothers can also receive free massages.
"Most teams give out carnations and we thought that roses were a little different and a little more special," Brady said. "I think the diamond offer is great but a lot of people seem interested in the free massages. They can go as many times as they want."