Fun and Games

By Stephen Hunt

Minor League Baseball teams excel at finding innovative ways to bring fans to the ballpark each season, and such outside-the-box thinking is celebrated. 
As the Frisco RoughRiders celebrate their 20th anniversary this season, the team’s front-office staff has outdone themselves with a promotional schedule full of clever theme nights and time-tested promotions. 
One night that stands out is slated for July 21. It’s Pretzel Day is a nod to  an episode of the American version of the hit sitcom The Office. That evening, the ‘Riders will bring in series co-star Leslie David Baker (who played loveable curmudgeon Stanley Hudson) for an appearance and give away a mug that plays off of the “World’s Best Boss” slogan that was touted by The Office boss character Michael Scott.

 The inspiration for It’s Pretzel Day and several other scheduled 2023 theme nights came during a ‘Riders offseason staff retreat. 
“This year, we really wanted to bring back some of those celebrity appearances that we used to have and are known for,” said Krystin King, director of marketing for the Frisco RoughRiders. 
“We have a lot of Office fans in our office, so we were like, ‘How awesome would it be to do Pretzel Day and try to get a character out here?’ It so happened that Leslie David Baker was available, so we’ll have him out. And then the iconic Michael Scott mug. We really wanted to play off that with World’s Best Ballpark, which is what we have here.”

‘Bigger and Brighter’

One of the RoughRiders’ most popular games each season happens on the Fourth of July, as fans get to watch some great baseball on an evening punctuated by a firework display. 
This year, the ‘Riders are doubling the length of that firework show to commemorate the holiday in style. 
“We wanted to go bigger and brighter,” King said. “Our normal show is four minutes, so we’re tacking on a double show to give fans something more exciting.”
 The RoughRiders will also have fireworks after Friday home games and, starting this month, following Sunday home contests. For those shows, King and her staff work closely with Pyro Shows of Texas, which provides the fireworks and a musical soundtrack. 
“After we create the promo schedule, I’ll send over our fireworks dates with the themes. They do an excellent job of putting together a fireworks track and synching the show with that,” King said. “Pretzel Day falls on a Friday, so that one will be probably pretty heavy Office-influenced for the soundtrack, which is awesome.”
Another night many are looking forward to is Yellowstone Night on July 23, when the ‘Riders will give away Yellowstone-themed belt buckles. Denim Richards, a co-star of the popular Western drama, will also appear at Riders Field. 
 However, the biggest weekend of promotions will come September 1-3, when the RoughRiders are scheduled to celebrate the team’s 20th anniversary. 
On Friday night, dual bobbleheads of Texas Rangers General Manager Chris Young and player Josh Jung will be given to attendees,  followed on Saturday by a 20th anniversary poster by acclaimed sports artist Vernon Wells Sr. The weekend will end with a ‘Riders Dream Team trading card set that will be given to game goers on Sunday. The game will be followed by fireworks. 
“We try to come up with promotions that really can impact in a variety of different ways,” said Scott Burchett, RoughRiders’ general manager. “From Pretzel Day to the 23 firework shows to pregame catch on the field every Sunday, kids run the bases on Saturday night, there’s always something special and unique to make a memory here at Riders Field.”

 Dog Days of Summer

One popular promotion in recent years among both minor and major league teams is called Bark at the Park, when fans are welcomed to bring their dogs to the game with them. 
The ‘Riders have four Bark at the Park nights scheduled during 2023 and on July 20 will celebrate the birthday of team mascot, Brooks, a loveable Golden Retriever and club fixture. 
“Nobody can ever replace Brooks,” King said. “He is a huge part of our organization.”
Another RoughRiders tradition is Rowdy @ the River, which happens every Thursday. There are drink specials through the seventh inning during nights when the Bullpen Bar at the Lazy River, the manmade river in right field, has a DJ playing music the entire evening, creating an elevated version of so-called Thirsty Thursday events. 

 Following every Saturday home game, children are allowed to run the bases at Riders Field and, after they finish, receive a coupon for free chicken. There are also Kid’s Sunday Fundays, when youngsters get to go on the field pregame to play catch. 

This season, the ‘Riders will sport different identities at select games through three alternate jerseys. 
On July 8 and August 4, the team will be the Dallas Black Giants, a tip of the cap to former local Negro Leagues teams. On August 18, as part of State Fair Night, the ‘Riders become the Frisco Corny Dogs. Finally, for three games the RoughRiders will instead be the Quesos de Frisco, including September 9 when fans will receive a sugar skull figurine inspired by the fall Latin holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). 
Other notable promotions this season have included Military Appreciation Night, Lucha Libre Night (which honored the popular Mexican style of wrestling), Gaming Night and Peaked in High School Night where a ‘Riders letterman patch was given away and those who wore a high school letterman jacket got into the game for a discounted price.
Putting together a promotional schedule like the ‘Riders have in 2023 takes creativity, thought and great attention to detail. However, in King’s case, it’s a labor of love. 
“It’s a blast. It’s so fun that my job is just putting together fun theme nights and thinking of fun things that we can do in the ballpark,” she said. “I have no complaints.”

Stephen Hunt is a Frisco-based freelance writer who loves the innovative promotions minor league baseball is known for.
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