One of the best things about spring is looking forward to baseball season. I tend to react to the arrival of teams' schedules much in the way that Navin Johnson reacts to the arrival of a new phonebook. My reason for this excitement is because it means I get to check out the teams' promotional schedules and see what kind of sweet swag they’re going to be giving away at the gate.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the Phillies' schedule here. No. That's too mainstream. Everybody knows about the Cliff Lee and Hunter Pence bobblehead giveways (Monday, June 4 and Tuesday, August 21, respectively). I go deeper than that. The minor league teams are the clubs who give away the really cool stuff to lure in the fans.
I've scoured the schedules and talked to representatives of the teams in the Delaware Valley and beyond to present you with a list of the greatest Philly-area ballpark giveaways of the 2012 season. They’re presented below in chronological order, in case you want to put together some kind of swag-collecting roadtrip.
April 5: Reading Phillies – Ryan Howard/Crazy Hot Dog Vendor Double Bobblehead
The R-Phils kick off their season with their opening day Ryan Howard/Crazy Hot Dog Vendor "double bobblehead." If you’ve never been to a game in Reading, it’s pretty hard to explain the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor. He’s part hot dog vendor, part mascot, and he roams the park selling hot dogs while dressed to look like he’s riding on an ostrich. Or emu. I’m not really sure which. Either way, you get two bobbles for the price of one with this promo.
The Iron Pigs are double-dipping by giving away bobbleheads of their mascots on back-to-back nights. I don’t know that a FeFe’s arm is the most exciting thing to make bobble, but it gets points for uniqueness.
April 26: Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs – Ryne Sandberg Statue
The ‘Pigs are classing things up a bit by giving away a miniature bronze statue of their current manager and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. It’s not the best likeness ever, but it’s bronze which makes it seem just a little more high-class than a regular old bobblehead.
April 29: Wilmington Blue Rocks – Glow in the Dark Baseball
I’m not a parent, but if I was, I’d be kind of worried about what might happen if my kids were inspired to play baseball in the dark like the Royals’ single-A affiliate is equipping them to do.
May 1: Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs – Vance Worley Bobblehead
I waited in line for nearly two hours last year to get a Dom Brown bobblehead at Lehigh Valley and I still almost didn’t get one. A bobblehead of "The Vanimal" will probably be even more desired by Phillies fans, so be sure to get out to Allentown early. Call off work if you have to.
May 1: York Revolution – Championship Ring raffle
Take a trip out to my hometown of York on the first day of May when the back-to-back defending Atlantic League champion York Revolution will be giving one lucky fan in attendance an actual championship ring. It’s not a replica; it’s the same exact ring that the players will be receiving during the pre-game ceremony. The one fan will represent all York Revolution fans by being given the ring, although that one fan will also have to spring to have the ring resized if necessary.
The ring itself is really cool-looking and the uniqueness makes it, by far, one of the coolest promos I’ve ever heard of. (Thanks to Paul Braverman, promotions & communications manager for the Revolution for sending me a picture of his actual championship ring which, except for his name, is the same thing the fan will win.)
May 3: Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs – Harry Kalas bronze statue
This is the date that any die-hard Phillies fan is going to need to circle on their calendar. Fans will be lining up hours in advance of game time to get their hands on a bronze scale-replica of the Harry Kalas memorial statue that was unveiled by the Phillies last year.
May 15: Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs – Jamie Moyer high school bobblehead
The Iron Pigs continue their fantastic promotional schedule by giving away a bobblehead of the Rockies’ newly-minted No. 2 starter and local product Jamie Moyer dressed in the uniform of his high school team, the Souderton Area High School Indians.
May 17: Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs – Vance Worley Replica Glasses giveaway
The Iron Pigs will be giving away replicas of Worley’s trademark glasses, which will be, appropriately, sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Center for Sight. Somehow, I doubt you’ll be able to get your prescription lenses fitted into these.
June 5: Lakewood Blue Claws – Carl Spackler bucket hats
It’s "Golf Night" in Lakewood, and to celebrate, the Phillies' single-A affiliate will be giving away bucket hats modeled after the one Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler wore in "Caddyshack." It’s a stretch, sure, but it’s minor league baseball - it doesn’t need to make sense!
June 5: Reading Phillies – Crazy Hot Dog Vendor BBQ Apron
Phillies fans in the Delaware Valley will have to decide if they want to drive to Lakewood for the hat or to Reading for an apron. Either option will come in handy at some point in the summer.
June 14: Harrisburg Senators - Cowboy Monkey Rodeo Night
Okay, it’s not a giveaway but I had to put it on this list. Oh, I’m sorry, have you never heard of the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo? You’ll want to watch this video.
June 28: Wilmington Blue Rocks – Tubby Raymond Bobblehead
Tubby Raymond won 300 games as the head football coach at the University of Delaware. Apparently, that’s worthy of a tribute night and corresponding bobblehead by a minor league baseball team. Tubby himself will even be in attendance!
July 3: York Revolution – John Kuhn Bobblehead
Here’s another odd one: York native, Shippensburg University alumni (Go Raiders!), two-time Super Bowl winner and 2011 NFL Pro Bowler John Kuhn of the Green Bay Packers is immortalized by the York Revolution in bobble-form.
The notoriously stingy NFL wouldn’t allow Kuhn to be depicted in a Packers uniform, so the Revs chose to portray him in the outfit he wore when he threw out the first pitch of the 2011 Atlantic League All Star Game, which was hosted in York.
July 8: Trenton Thunder – "Robinson Ca-gnome" garden gnome
Here’s one you can re-gift to the Yankees fan in your life: The Thunder will be depicting Thunder alumni and Yankees all-star second baseman Robinson Cano in garden gnome form.
July 14: Lakewood Blue Claws – Vance Worley "Made the Phillies" Bobblehead
Another Worley bobblehead! Vance gets the double-bobble treatment this year, just like Dom Brown did last year when both the Blue Claws and Iron Pigs immortalized him in bobble-form. Like last year, Worley will be depicted in his Blue Claws attire.
July 25: Reading Phillies – Vance Worley Garden Gnome
Worley also gets the gnome treatment in Reading, just like Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels before him. This one is very high on my list.
July 28: Lakewood Blue Claws – Bruce Springsteen Appreciation Night with BruceClaws Jersey Auction
I know, I know, it’s not a giveaway night, but I’m a sucker for a one-off uniform night. The Blue Claws have their yearly Bruce Springsteen night and will again be wearing special "BruceClaws" jerseys that will be auctioned off.
August 3: Camden Riversharks – Unannounced Bobblehead
The Riversharks haven’t officially announced who will be depicted in this bobblehead yet, but I’m allowed to tell you that it’s a former Riversharks player that also won a World Series ring with the Phillies. It’s subject to change, of course, but if you’re a Phillies completest, you’ll want to cross the bridge on August 3.
August 11: Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs: “What Could Have Been” Night: Lehigh Valley Woodchucks Cap
This is one of my absolute favorite nights on the schedule. When the Ottowa Lynx relocated to the Lehigh Valley to become the Phillies’ new triple-A affiliate, they let fans vote on the name for the team. For the past few seasons, the Iron Pigs have hosted "What Could Have Been" nights, where they wear the uniforms they would have worn had the name Iron Pigs not have been chosen.
Last year, the ‘Pigs were the "Gobblers" and wore turkey-inspired uniforms. This year, they’ll be depicted as the "Woodchucks" and fans will be given matching "Lehigh Valley Woodchucks" hats.