A pitch for understanding


With their rosters full of might-bes and almost-weres, minor league baseball teams have long relied on clever promotions to bring in fans. Such stunts as free beer if a certain player strikes out, toy mascot giveaways, concerts and free promotional T-shirts have become minor-league traditions. And Pokemon and Beanie Baby giveaways and '70s and '80s nights are increasingly common.

But perhaps because the number of minor-league teams has boomed in recent years, some teams are raising the ante to grab fan interest.

The Orioles' AA farm team, the Bowie Baysox, for instance, is trying to tap into the popularity of other types of sports entertainment. The club had World Championship Wrestling star Disco Inferno as a featured guest at a recent '70s night. And this season, the Baysox are offering patrons chances to win Keystone Faultless, a 7-year-old racing horse donated by Rosecroft raceways.

Some promotions may get a little too cutting-edge, though. The RiverDogs, a Class A team from Charleston, S.C. scheduled a Vasectomy Night -- a drawing at the Father's Day game for a free vasectomy. That event was cancelled, but the team will go forward with its pajama party and a celebration of singer Michael Jackson's birthday.

Now comes the latest in offbeat promotions. On July 6, the Butte (Mont.) Copper Kings will hold the first-ever John Rocker Awareness Day.

Rocker is the manic Atlanta Braves relief pitcher who became infamous this past off-season for remarks he made in a Sports Illustrated interview. Responding to a question about playing in New York, where he has become a favorite target of Mets fans, Rocker managed to make disparaging remarks about numerous kinds of people, including those with AIDS, those from other countries, even those with "purple hair."

He was suspended and fined by baseball earlier this season, then this past week was fined again and sent to the Braves' AAA team in Richmond, Va., after threatening the reporter of the article that got him in trouble. Now Rocker says he might quit baseball altogether to become a stockbroker or professional wrestler.

But John Rocker Awareness Day will go forward, the Copper Kings say. The Anaheim Angels rookie league team will offer free admission to "anyone who is native of New York, has ever ridden the No. 7 subway in New York City, is a young mother with children, has purple hair, whose first language is not English, or represents any of the groups whom Rocker insulted."

Also invited free of charge are residents of the nearby town of Rocker, Mont., anyone named Rocker (or nicknamed "Rock") and "anyone who is a 'redneck' or 'hick' or just can't seem to keep their foot out of their mouth," the team says.

Copper Kings president and general manager Brent Boznanski says he scheduled Rocker Day to give those who have begun to lose their love of baseball a chance to poke fun at one of the causes of that disenchantment. "Baseball is a game that reaches out to all segments of the American people and is meant to include rather than exclude," Boznanski says. "We want to bring back that spirit."

Boznanski says the Copper Kings have been getting lots of calls about Rocker Day, including some from Atlanta residents hoping to buy Rocker Day merchandise and from New Yorkers asking if their subway pass is proof enough to get in.

One call Boznanski hasn't received is one from the Atlanta Braves. "I'm a little surprised I didn't hear from them," he says.

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