At Bowie, zany promotions take fans' breath away

The Baltimore Sun

BOWIE -- Bad breath is welcome here. Dogs, too.

In the minor league world, where you're only as good as your last promotion, the Bowie Baysox roll out the red carpet, even if it does, on occasion, resemble toilet paper.

"We want to keep a smile on your face," says Ryan Roberts, team spokesman and one of the merrymakers.

When a team like the Baysox hovers around the .500 mark and players are being called up and sent down, building a reputation for entertainment and good service is paramount to survival. The Double-A Orioles affiliate will stop at nothing - or almost nothing - to put fannies in the seats.

That means staging last week's Bad Breath Night, three Bark in the Park events for pooches this season (the last will be Aug. 26), a Tribute to Toilet Paper Aug. 31 and fireworks, fireworks, fireworks - 22 dates over the five-month season.

If a homeowner wanted to stage a similar 10-minute pyrotechnic display by Zambelli Internationale, it would set him back almost $5,000. By contrast, an adult general admission seat at Bowie is $9.

Modern minor league teams didn't invent crazy stuff. With his rubbery face and elastic body, Max Patkin crafted a half-century barnstorming career as the "Clown Prince of Baseball." Bill Veeck, the legendary major league owner and showman, hired Patkin to coach, let fans help manage a game and sent Eddie Gaedel, a midget, to bat.

These days, minor league owners such as Mike Veeck, son of Bill Veeck, delight in stretching the boundaries with Tonya Harding Mini-Bat Night and Enron Night, complete with paper shredders at the gates.

"Kids have free rein at a minor league park. They're designed so that kids can't get lost," says the younger Veeck, a Loyola College graduate and part owner of six teams. "You can't annoy a $70 ticket holder."

For the Baysox, in their 15th season, the act is still bringing them in. The team reached the milestone of 5 million fans on May 12 and through Saturday was averaging 4,059 fans, about the middle of the pack in the 12-team Eastern League, which stretches from Maine to Maryland.

But there's also excitement on the field. Just three weeks after reaching the attendance milestone, right-hander Radhames Liz pitched the first no-hitter of the Eastern League season.

On this night, with waves of heat radiating off Prince George's Stadium, it's the Chris Ray bobblehead giveaway, an event that has fans lining up an hour before the gates open and prompts the Orioles relief pitcher to call his old club and ask that several dolls be set aside for him and his family.

His excitement is understandable. It's Ray's first appearance in the land of bobble-mania.

Sitting on the shadeless pavement in 90-degree heat, Brady Oliver, 11, of Lusby, and her dad, George, wait.

"I love minor league baseball. You never know when you're going to see the next A-Rod," says George Oliver, referring to New York Yankees All-Star third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Boxes of dolls sit just beyond their reach behind the main gate as members of the Baysox Millennium Club, the booster group, steel themselves for the rush.

"This'll be a biggie," says Kathy Palmer, a past president of the club and season-ticket holder who lives just down the road.

But nothing like several years ago, when the Baysox uncrated the Cal Ripken Jr. bobblehead.

A wall of fans leaned against the wrought-iron gates, bursting through in an explosion of humanity that left the volunteers reeling.

"We had to protect the bobbles like this," says Tina Brown, hunching over and making a circle with her arms. "People were reaching under us and over us and trying to grab as many as they could. The next day, they were on eBay for $20."

This evening is nothing like that, although fans stream in at a steady clip and have to be reminded to move on. As they take their boxed ballplayer, several inquire about the other bobblehead promotions: Orioles pitcher Erik Bedard, who had two stints in Bowie, July 19; and outfielder Nick Markakis, who played 33 games for the 2005 Baysox, Aug. 23.

The Baysox don't limit their outsized promotions to the field.

Behind the counter on the third-base side of the ballpark, James Washington and Dan Dameron are building a Bubba burger: two half-pound beef patties, two slices of cheese, a couple of strips of bacon, a generous squirt or three of barbecue sauce and a cream cheese-filled, deep-fried jalapeno pepper on top.

"Don't forget the chips," says Dameron, grabbing a bag and sliding it next to the paean to meat.

They haven't sold many of executive chef Frank Curran's creations, food service manager Jennifer McGinn acknowledges. "They're just catching on."

"For $11, you're getting a meal and a half," McGinn says. "It's something different. It's something a little bit crazy."

Just like the minor leagues.

On the road

Since the Orioles are struggling, here's a different way to root for the home team: Visit the Orioles' six minor league teams in one week. We did, and over the next week we'll share with you stories from each city.


Delmarva, where the connection between players and fans is especially strong.


Frederick, where the national anthem serenades Francis Scott Key every night. THURSDAY Bluefield, 50 years of Oriole magic in the Appalachian Mountains.

FRIDAY Norfolk, under new management -- Mets are out, O's are in -- and attendance is up.

SATURDAY Aberdeen, the only thing better than the food is the size of the crowd.


Name: Baysox

Class: Double-A

Stadium: Prince George's Stadium (10,000)

Year built: 1994

Adult/youth general admission: $9/$6

Jumbo hot dog: $3.50

Mascot: Louie

Web site:

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