I am not the target audience for promotional items given out by MLB teams. This is not to say I dislike giveaways, let alone at a baseball stadium. You think there's no free lunch? Evidently, you've never walked around a Costco. But the idea of giveaway items, as I understand it, is to get people who might not otherwise come to a baseball game to show up, and it's just never been that hard to convince me to go watch baseball. Two teams are playing? Great, I'll be along the first-base line. Or the third-base line. Or the outfield, if necessary. Wherever. I'm in. You want to give me free stuff on top of that? Great, but you had me at "baseball game."
Accordingly, I convened a focus group at dinner tonight which included my 3-year-old daughter, Mirabelle, and my roughly 97-weeks pregnant wife, Rachel. They were kind enough to participate, though Mirabelle did want to know at one point, "Why is Daddy asking us so many questions?" and my wife asked a few times to go off-the-record.
The general reception to items from my daughter was: Yes. She loves bobbleheads. She loves team calendars. She really loves mascots. You'll find no cynicism about Clark the Cub from this little girl. If my daughter made power rankings, they would read: (1) Mascots, (2) Dresses that flare out, (3) Daddy or Mommy, whichever of us hasn't said "no" to her recently.
This is not to say she chose without forethought. She preferred a backpack to a sweatshirt, because she could wear the former every day. A poster of David Wright offered by the Mets "would be beautiful, just above my bed." And making an error in judgment her daddy once did, my daughter declared, "I think it would be cool to take a Mets lunchbox to school!"
My wife applied more of a cost-benefit analysis to the whole process. Her definition of what she likes in a giveaway is an excellent guideline, I believe: "Functional and not just a tchotchke," she said, when I asked what she looked for in a giveaway. "You can wear a T-shirt. Even if it's a night shirt. You can carry a tote bag to the game; you can use a blanket at a picnic. And then you can support your team, at the game and after."
I do not pretend that we are some kind of cross section of the American public. We are, demographically, all white. We live very close to one another. At the same time, we have both genders represented. Some of us are pregnant, some of us aren't. In our group, we have some people who wear a tiara to dinner and some who don't. We encompass multiple professions (my wife is a teacher, my daughter is unemployed), and one of us recently staged an elaborate wedding ceremony with a stuffed cow.
So take it for what it's worth. But collectively, this is our list of the 10 best promotional items you can expect to get at the moment, while at the same time -- and this is the crazy part -- also being permitted to watch a baseball game. We did not take opponent, date or team into consideration. This is just about what you get for free.
Please keep in mind, not every team has posted its promotional schedule yet. So please don't hold us responsible if it turns out that, on May 16 against the Dodgers, every fan attending that night's Arizona Diamondbacks game at Chase Field receives, say, a house.
10. Colorado Rockies, Dinger Bunny Gnome Bobblehead, April 20 against the Phillies. Bobbleheads, generally, were big throughout this process, and teams have noticed. Every promotional schedule I scrutinized seemed to have a half-dozen of them, but the Dinger Bunny Gnome Bobblehead provided more than just a player nodding. It's Dinger, the only dinosaur-based mascot in MLB. He's not only a bobblehead, he's also a gnome.
Teams have offered one or the other in the past, and this year, the Nationals will give away Denard Span bobbleheads on July 20, followed by a Jayson Werth garden gnome on August 5. He's holiday-themed, too, so he's not only a dinosaur but also, somehow, a bunny. He's all things to all people, which is supposed to be impossible. "He's just cool!" insisted Mirabelle.
9. New York Mets, Loom Bands, April 27 against the Marlins. This one wouldn't have made the list, had I made it myself, but it received enthusiastic endorsement from both Rachel and Mirabelle. Rachel's students have been loom-crazy, apparently, making bracelets, necklaces, rings, anklets -- you name it. Mirabelle recently has been getting into the craze as well. So based on the idea that people can both enjoy an activity and have something Mets out of it to wear, this one should be a winner.
Better yet, fans 12 and under can run the bases following Sunday Mets games. So expect Mirabelle to show off her new style as she circles the bases. The Mets have stepped up their promo game in recent years, with Collector's Cup Night, mercifully, a thing of the past.
8. Philadelphia Phillies, Phanatic Children's Book Night, May 30 against the Mets. As part of the Phanatic About Reading Night, the Phillies are giving away copies of The Phillie Phanatic's One Man Band. This is a children's book about the Phillie Phanatic, arguably the finest mascot in any sport, written by Tom Burgoyne, who has been the Phillie Phanatic since 1993. If you have children, the opportunity not only to take something tangible home from the park, but also as an entry point to remember your night at the park together and read together, this is a very impressive combination.
7. Seattle Mariners, Mariners Beard Hat Night, April 25 against the Rangers. Seattle's an interesting place. They've got a Socialist city council member looking to raise the minimum wage, and they've also got Robinson Cano for 10 years, $240 million. Their giveaways include feather boas and fedoras. But it all pales in comparison to Beard Hat Night.
I wonder if I'd have added this to the list a few years ago. But in this winter of the Polar Vortex, as I write to you trapped in a house covered by snow, well … I can see it. So can you: A satisfied, warm man is sporting the Beard Hat on the Mariners' promotional schedule page. It looks really warm. It sports the old deep blue and yellow that is still, for all their efforts at rebranding, how I think of the Mariners. This is the Beard Hat that Alvin Davis would have worn. When I rush out into the cold tomorrow, I'll wish I was wearing it, too.
6. San Francisco Giants, Buster Posey catcher gear shirt, May 18 against the Marlins. Generally, you'll do better with a T-shirt giveaway than a jersey giveaway. No one expects shirts to adhere to the styles worn on the field. As my wife put it, "I like a quality of a good jersey, and I don't want Verizon all over it." But this Buster Posey shirt, rather than trying to be something it isn't, instead manages to both honor the best player on the Giants and let every kid who wears it look like he, too, is committed to life behind the plate.
5. Washington Nationals, Kids Run the Show, Sept. 7 against the Phillies. This is a departure from the full-on giveaway, but I had to include this promo date on the list, even if the only thing you come away with is answers. Kids Run the Show is, alas, a contest. Only a handful of kids (20 as of 2011) get the chance to serve in various capacities with the Nationals, such as broadcaster, team photographer, even grounds crew member.
To be clear, this is a contest I'd desperately want to win, and I am an adult. One kid even gets to serve as reporter, which back in 2006 led to Michael F. Buono getting the definitive answer of which three things Nationals reliever Bill Bray would take to a desert island. ("My fiancee, my dog and Chad Cordero.") Should you fail to win the contest, your consolation prize is Signature Sundays, when two Nationals players sign autographs atop the dugout before the game; Pups in the Park, which is exactly as adorable as it sounds; and getting to run the bases following the game.
4. Cleveland Indians, design your own T-shirt, Sept. 6 against the White Sox. Seventeen fireworks nights? Thirteen dollar-hot-dog nights? A Larry Doby jersey and a Jim Thome statue? All exciting, but my personal favorite item is one that hasn't been created yet. On Sept. 6, fans will receive a T-shirt. It will contain a logo designed by a fan. As it currently stands, the entries are being culled down to finalists, which I'm going to assume will be voted on by the fans.
I love the idea of getting the fans to participate in this, and Mirabelle was particularly excited about this idea, though her Mets fandom bled through a little when she described what her T-shirt would look like. "It would look like Mr. Met. He'd be this tall! (She reached high above her head.) There'd be lots of swirls, some stickers. I'd use markers, crayons, pens, pencils. I'd color on it. And then we'd do stickers. And I'd write 'Mr. Met' on it."
So no, her T-shirt probably wouldn't win among Indians fans, but I'm willing to bet plenty of kids near the Cuyahoga River will be just as excited to participate in this contest. There will be something undeniably authentic about the T-shirt everyone will wear, come September.
3. St. Louis Cardinals, Jack Buck bobblehead with voice chip, June 15 against the Nationals. The Cardinals won the 2013 National League pennant, and they'll be celebrating virtually every time they give something to their fans. On April 8, A NL champions pin. On April 12, A NL champions replica ring. Also an NL champions pennant, an NL champions poster, even a replica NL champions trophy -- and that's all by May 16. Who can blame them? They'll also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World Series championship with a replica ring on May 26, and even the 10th anniversary of the 2004 NL pennant (10 years!) with a replica ring on July 4. Oh, and there's Jose Oquendo bobblehead night.
But for me, the best of the excellent Cardinals promotions has to be a Jack Buck bobblehead, which apparently they've implanted with his voice. Now, I don't know how they did it. I don't know if we'll get a phrase, or a famous moment, or somehow, the complete call of Bob Gibson's no-hitter in 1971. But it's the Cardinals, so they'll almost certainly do it well. A touch of greatness within the bobblehead genre won't hurt.
2. (TIE) Dodgers May Promotions. I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that the team spending the most money on players, which saw a huge surge in attendance, is also offering the finest promotional items. After all, which sponsors are willing to pay to be included in the promo mix is dictated by how much their company will be seen. The April 6 Yasiel Puig Fathead looks pretty sweet. So does the classic April 8 zip-up sweatshirt. There's a fleece blanket, a Clayton Kershaw bobblehead, and a Hanley Ramirez replica jersey, all before April is over.
But the second-best promotion is a tie between a pair of giveaways over three days in May. On May 8, the Dodgers will be giving away an inflatable chair. Now, I haven't seen it. But let's just take a step back and consider: You will walk into Dodger Stadium, and you will walk out with actual furniture. Then, on May 11, comes a Mother's Day Clutch. Both Rachel and Mirabelle loved this item, not just because of the fact of it, but because it is awfully pleasing to the eye. Neither one is a Dodger fan, but, as Mirabelle explained matter-of-factly, "It's just pretty!"
1. (TIE) Dodgers Epic July. Neither of these come close, for me, to the triple-threat Dodgers July. For me, the son of a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, these items are breathtaking. On July 1, the Dodgers are giving away a replica Don Newcombe Brooklyn jersey. If you don't understand how big a deal that is, read this. And you can't just get a Newcombe jersey anywhere; it'll usually run you hundreds of dollars. So that's the promo item I covet most.
Unless, that is, I most want a Pee Wee Reese/Roy Campanella bobblehead on July 12. I'd put it next to my Carl Erskine, obviously, in my living room.
But my suspicion is, the item I'm going to actually want the most is the still-unannounced Vin Scully 65th anniversary commemorative item. To be clear, it won't even matter what this is. There's every chance it will come with some kind of speech by Vin Scully. Enjoy every syllable while you can.
Oh, right. And then I'll get to watch a baseball game.