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The Best and Worst Minor League Stadium Promotions

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The Peoria Chiefs, the Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, joined the list of LeBron James' bashers when it staged a "LeBron James NBA Championship Replica Ring Giveaway" after the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat for the NBA title.


There was no ring, of course.


The Chiefs claimed to explore the possibility of skipping the fourth inning to mirror James' disappearing act in the fourth quarters against Dallas.

Minor league baseball promotions are almost always creative. Many times they're hilarious. But this one didn't even rank with the best of the LeBron James Nights let alone make my Top 10 list.

Why?

Well, if you're an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, who last won the World Series 102 years ago and pretty much own a trademark on the terms "Lovable Losers" and "June Swoon," you might want to think twice about making fun of somebody for not winning it all at age 26.

There's a fine line between promotions that work and promotions that reach too far. Three quick examples of the latter:

Ted Williams Popsicle Night

After the story broke in 2002 about the son of the great Boston slugger having his father's body cryogenically frozen in Arizona, the Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings gave popsicles to the first 500 fans in a 2003 game.

Salute to Indoor Plumbing Night

The West Virginia Power had this idea to close the regular bathrooms and have fans use portable toilets to aid in the appreciation of indoor plumbing. The Health Department nixed it. But the promotion went on, complete with a version of a team's regular Hamburger Helper skillet toss.

"We took some brownies and mushed them up and made them look like poo," promotions director Kristin Call told the Washington Post. "It was a poo toss that night."

Michael Jordan Impostor Night

It wasn't billed that way.

The Utah Flash of the NBA Developmental League promoted a one-on-one grduge match between Michael Jordan and former Jazz player Byron Russell.

Jordan had trash-talked Russell at Jordan's Hall of Fame induction. Russell challenged him to a game of one-on-one with the winner's pot ($100,000) going to charity.

Except Jordan never responded and Flash owner Brandt Anderson continued the charade anyway by trotting out a Jordan look-alike. You can guess how that went over. Anderson had to refund people's money.

The best of minor league promotions are funny. At the very least they should do no harm.

(And, of course, since I'm from Cleveland and it's my list, at least one should poke at LeBron James)

10. 1K Backwards Race
The Charleston RiverDogs raised money for charity by holding a backwards race around the warning track (three laps). Who could be expected to cover .62 miles without an aid station? The RiverDogs set up a beer "hydration" stand at the halfway point. Prizes were awarded to the most leisurely competitor and the one with the biggest beer belly.

9. Salute to Cows
The minor-league baseball Wisconsin Timber Rattlers staged several contests, including a mooing competition. A lucky fan received a year's supply of cheese curds. The video board headshots of Timber Rattlers' players? Yep. All sported milk mustaches.

8. Billy Donovan Night
The Fort Myers Miracle had fun with University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan leaving the school to coach the Orlando Magic, then reversing his decision. The Miracle served waffles. Fans could get their ticket money back if they didn't feel sufficiently entertained, but only after negotiating a deal with a local lawyer that included having to make a free throw. Somebody named Billy Donovan was asked to throw out the first pitch but changed his mind and didn't show.

7. Rod Blagojevich Prison Jersey Night
This one came from the world of minor league hockey. The Las Vegas Wranglers wore gray and black prison striped jerseys with "ILLGOV" on them. The opponent, the Bakersfield Condors, wore orange prison garb. There were bars on the penalty box. My favorite part: The referees wore blue prison guard uniforms.

Footnote: In a 2006 game, the Wranglers held Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night.

6. 50th Anniversary Salute to Bubble Wrap
The Lowell (Ma.) Spinners handed out squares of Bubble Wrap and asked fans to simultaneously pop it in the third inning. The 3,692 squares of popped Bubble Wrap wasn't recognized as a world record, but Guinness did recognize the Spinners-sponsored world's largest game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" held in 2004 when 432 people participated.

5. Circle of Life Weekend
Quad Cities covered birth (a night for expectant mothers), school (a one-year scholarship to the University of Iowa), marriage (an all-expenses paid wedding) and death (an all-expenses paid funeral) in one long weekend of baseball.

There were on-site Lamaze classes and concession stands stocked with things pregnant ladies crave.

"We want our fans to know that cradle to grave the River Bandits have you covered," Quad Cities owner Dave Heller said in a press release.

4. Backstabbers Night
The Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets held a LeBron James roast 10 days after he announced via "The Decision" on ESPN that he was leaving the area where he grew up to join the Miami Heat.

Anyone with a Ohio driver's license got in free. They got a seat in a section staffed by a grief counselor.

James was inducted in the Backstabbers Hall of Fame, joining Brutus, Judas, Benedict Arnold, football coach Nick Saban and others.

Baby back ribs were for sale in the concession stands. Manager Dave Machemer announced on live TV where he was going to dinner that night.

3. Redundancy Night
The Altoona Curve has paid tribute over the years to Brett Favre's retirement pledges, Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl wins, vagabond coach Larry Brown's introductory press conferences and the string of non-title seasons for Cleveland sports teams.

Identical twins get in free. So do people from New York, NY, Jersey City, NJ, Kansas City, KS and Virginia Beach, Va. And people with similar sounding first and last names. "That goes for you, Dave Davies," the press release reads.

Everything is announced twice, including players coming up to bat.

2. Spam Carving Night
The Reading Phillies raise money for charity with a competition for closet spam carvers (you know who you are).

Knives and toothpicks are supplied, though contestants can bring their own carving tools. (We pause here to consider a team on a long losing streak watching fans file into the park hoisting knives and chainsaws.)

A 2009 entry -- Demon Dog -- looks like an alien Schnauzer.

The team's press release says "exposure to elements will quickly transform Spam's appealing pink-tinged luster to a distressingly monochrome shade of brown."

Don't get them wrong. It looks like a Rodin sculpture compared to what the West Virginia Power have cooking in their skillets.

1. Awful Night
The Altoona Curve give an awful promotional item (a noisemaker for instance) to the first 1,000 fans.

Awful Nights -- yes, plural -- have included bottomless cups, music from David Hasselhoff and William Shatner, a helium balloon toss, a Dry Water Slide Contest, a non-celebrity autograph session and clips from Ben Affleck movies.

There is a fireworks display. On the video board.

In a 2004 game, the Curve players got in the spirit of the evening by giving up five runs in the top of the ninth and losing to the Akron Aeros.

Not on purpose apparently.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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entertainment
20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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