On Valentine's Day, there are many ways to show that special person in your life that you really, truly care.
But clearly, there is one method that towers above the rest -- hire a Minor League mascot to do it for you.
Hundreds of baseball fans around the country have done just this. From Portland, Maine to Huntsville, Ala. to Vancouver, Canada and all (OK, many) points in between, Minor League teams are sending their mascots out on all-important Valentine's Day delivery missions. If this promotional phenomenon continues to grow, it may irrevocably alter how we celebrate our most love-oriented national holiday.
Let me tone down the hyperbole for a moment, so I can explain how all this works. While the details vary, the gist of it is that teams assemble Valentine's Day gift packages -- often including roses, souvenirs and 2009 game tickets -- that can be purchased by fans for their loved ones. Then, on Valentine's Day (or this year, the Friday before), mascots are dispatched to the loved one's home or place of business in order to deliver the goods.
And in the end, everyone wins. Guys (for it is nearly always the guys who are under pressure to come up with clever Valentine's Day gifts) win points for going above and beyond the call of duty. And the teams involved are able to sell a few tickets while also putting themselves in the public eye during a time of year when very few people are thinking about baseball (or at least thinking positively about baseball, as is the case during this steroid and scandal-obsessed offseason).
Just think! As you are reading this, Minor League mascots all over the country are celebrating Valentine's Day in the only way they know how -- by barging into homes and workplaces, creating a scene and handing out gifts. Whether polecat, bear, dog or "unidentified woods creature" (I'm looking in your direction, Williamsport), these costumed characters are united in their desire to spread the love.
Spreading the Idea
The Reading Phillies didn't come up with the mascot Valentine's Day promotion (the details are a little murky as to where the idea first originated), but they are at least somewhat responsible for its increased prominence throughout the Minor Leagues. This is because R-Phils director of communications Rob Hackash gave a presentation at this year's Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas entitled "Sparking Media Coverage From the Dead of Winter On." The focus of this presentation was on his club's Valentine's Day promotion, which was co-sponsored by a local radio station and also covered as the lead story on a local news broadcast.
"This year we have 43 orders, which are going to be delivered by two different Screwballs," Hackash said. "And the same station that covered us last year has said they plan on doing something again. Sometimes when you do something for the second year in a row it starts to seem like old news, but this one is shaping up to be pretty good."
Minor League Baseball prides itself on idea sharing, and the R-Phils freely admit to taking a cue from their Eastern League contemporaries, the Trenton Thunder.
"[The Thunder] added an option where fans could choose between having flowers or a team jersey delivered, and we decided to do that as well," Hackash said. "It allows the women to get involved more, because they weren't about to have flowers delivered to their boyfriends."
And while the R-Phils are more than happy with the 43 deliveries they have lined up for Friday, Hackash sees just as much value in the deliveries they won't be making.
"Who knows how many women have told their boyfriends 'Don't you dare ever embarrass me like that?'" he said. "Either way, it really gets people talking."
And, of course, there's always room to expand.
"Maybe come St. Patrick's Day, we can send Screwball out to deliver a few kegs of beer," Hackash said. "Why not?"
Sowing the Seeds of Love
Reading, of course, represents just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to what will be going throughout the Minor Leagues on Friday. In lieu of making this a 6,500 word opus, what follows is a brief overview.
Fort Myers, Fla. -- 2009 marks the third season in which the Miracle's canine mascot "Miss-A-Miracle" will be delivering Valentines throughout the Fort Myers region. According to promotions director Gary Sharp, the mantra for the day is "expect the unexpected".
"The first year we did this, [Miss-A-Miracle] got attacked by a dog," recalled Sharp. "And last year she was sitting in the backseat, and another driver started staring at her and ended up running right into us.
"You just never know what's going to happen. Sometimes, we aren't given the right address. So, we'll be traipsing around an office complex with a 6-foot, 6-inch dog, not sure where to go. But it's a lot of fun. When we do this, all of a sudden you see the other ladies in the office act disappointed with what their boyfriends or husbands got them."
Vancouver, Canada - The Vancouver Canadians win the "most improved" award for their Valentine's Day promotion.
"A year ago we didn't even have a mascot, so me and a few other guys went around delivering Valentines in pink ties," explained general manager Andrew Seymour.
But that was then. Prior to the 2008 campaign, the club unveiled Bob Brown Bear. Ever since, the team has worked very hard to make him a fixture in the community.
"A mascot is a real door opener," said Seymour. "He makes a great impression right off the bat. He doesn't talk, has a great smile and isn't intimidating."
Still, you can't please everyone.
"One of the people we're delivering to this year has a mascot phobia. So Bob is going to have to stay in the car for that one. I don't even think he'll be allowed in the lobby."
Troy, N.Y. -- Under the leadership of irrepressible (some would say insane) assistant general manager Vic Christoper, the Tri-City ValleyCats have made mascots a huge part of the game day experience. In addition to primary mascot Southpaw, an ever-changing coterie of costumed characters has graced the field at Joe Bruno Stadium (including the nightmare-inducing DeerBanana). So who knows what will happen when the team goes out to deliver Valentines on Friday.
"We've got a lot of depth on our mascot roster, so we're sending out a split-squad," Christopher said. "We're visiting a couple of teachers and a lot of businesses. We want to cause a scene and surprise a lot of people. It's going to be a big thrill."
Perhaps one of the day's thrills will be provided by "El Vic," Christopher's Elvis-influenced alter-ego.
"That might end up happening. I'll probably sing 'I Can't Help Falling in Love,'" he said. "Plus, I got a new guitar, so I'm eager to bust that out."
Huntsville, Ala. -- Another of the Minor Leagues' more enthusiastic front office members is Huntsville Stars GM Buck Rogers. His ballclub's mascot, Homer the Polecat, will be making the rounds Friday.
"Nothing says romance like a skunk in red boxer shorts," Rogers accurately observed. "He'll be out there with a boombox. We're allowing people to request a favorite song, otherwise it will be some Barry White or Marvin Gaye."
Another unique twist the Stars added to their promotion is that their Valentine's Day package includes a sterling silver necklace that was custom designed by a local jeweler.
"[The jeweler] is a diehard fan and the president of our booster club," Rogers said. "So it made sense for us to make her part of the operation. We just gave her a call and asked what sort of jewelry she could make that would be quick and affordable."
Williamsport, Pa. -- Boomer, the CrossCutters' mascot, is one of the most unique costumed characters in all of the Minor Leagues. A googly eyed, leaf-strewn former woods dweller, Boomer is proudly uncategorizable.
"Getting newspaper and TV coverage is one of our main reasons for doing this," said CrossCutters vice president of marketing Gabe Sinicropi. "We want people there to capture the reaction when a blue furry creature walks into the workplace."
The CrossCutters originally planned to stop taking Valentine's Day orders last Friday. However, they hadn't taken into consideration the prodigious procrastination abilities of the male human species.
"Guys don't really plan that far ahead," Sinicropi said. "We got more orders this week than we did the week before. We intend to keep it going, and accept orders all the way through noon on [Thursday]."
Of course, mascot deliveries aren't the only type of Valentine's Day events going on the Minors. In order to illustrate this fact, let us briefly turn our attention to Lowell, Mass., home of the Spinners.
Each year, the team stages a Valentine's Day "Spread the Love" goodwill caravan. The '09 version will feature former Red Sox coach Dick Berardino, Emily Elizabeth (from "Clifford the Big Red Dog") and a wide variety of Spinners mascots and personalities.
In the morning, the Spinners will visit local North Intermediate elementary school, one of several dozen schools that requested to be visited. The students will create Valentine's Day cards, which will then be delivered to a local nursing home.
"This was the first time we actively sought submissions from schools, and we weren't sure what to expect," said Spinners director of media relations Jon Boswell. "The winning school was overwhelming with their submission, as it included letters from 40 different students.
"But anywhere we go, we get a hero's welcome. We just want to keep adding to the event each year, and keep making it something that the community looks forward to."
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com.