Education Days offer promotional muscle for minor league baseball teams
Promotions sponsored by minor league baseball teams probably all sound pretty good in the marketing meetings that hatch them. On the field, though, things don't always work out as planned. For proof, look no further than Comstock Park, Mich. - just outside of Grand Rapids. It was there, at Fifth Third Ballpark, that the West Michigan Whitecaps held in April a timeworn but fairly straightforward cash drop that went awry right after the helicopter dumped its payload of $1,000 in bills. In the mad scramble that ensued, a pair of 7-year-old children suffered minor injuries, with one trampled boy's bruises landing him a brief hospital stay. "It's for fun and games," a team spokeswoman told the Associated Press after the incident. "This is why we have everybody sign a waiver."
Now gaining in popularity, however, are some promotions that have a more obviously positive impact on fans and teams. One example is Education Day, a low-priced event that combines an early-start day game in April or May with a take-home teacher curriculum that encompasses math, science, language arts and social studies. For example, a pre- or post-game math-classroom assignment for middle school students attending Education Day at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., asked them to interpret a map featuring all cities in the Florida State League, and then determine the distance each team must travel to compete.
Now in its third season, the Education Days program at Roger Dean Stadium - the only minor league ballpark in the country to house two Class A teams, the Jupiter Hammerheads and the Palm Beach Cardinals - has steadily grown and attracted almost 15,000 students, teachers and parents to five such events this year. Each participant paid $6 for a ticket, a hot dog and a bottle of water, and was treated to several pre-game and between-inning activities. Some students served as honorary public-address announcers, for example, and all kids received a workbook. A highlight of each event was an on-field press conference with one player conducted by teacher-nominated students. At one of this year's Education Days, 10-year-old Caroline Winston, a fifth-grader from Progressive School in West Palm Beach, tossed a curveball to Cardinals third baseman Ryan Barthelemy when she asked if he thinks women will ever play in the big leagues. "Anything is possible," Barthelemy responded. "There are a lot of girls who are very athletic."
"From an academic standpoint, I don't think you can absolutely say that coming to this program is more educational than a day in the classroom. But it reinforces to kids that they will encounter math and other things they learn in school outside of a school setting," says Ross Swaldo, who coordinates the Akron (Ohio) Aeros' four Education Days at Canal Park. The Aeros have been hosting such events for eight years now, and approximately 21,000 kids spilled through Canal Park's turnstiles this spring alone - some from schools as far as two hours away and others from homeschool groups.
"For many children in the area, this is their first experience at a baseball game," says Lisa Fegley, Education Day coordinator at Roger Dean Stadium, which added a day specifically for middle school students this season, with a similar event for high schoolers in the works. "Not only does it bring new faces to the stadium, but it inspires many of these children and teachers to purchase tickets later in the season and bring out their entire family." Indeed, if Education Day attendance figures can be replicated or expanded year after year - and if only a fraction of participating students convert their families into repeat customers (you do the math) - this kind of promotion begins to sound better and better.