NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly an hour before the gates to KeySpan Park even opened Tuesday, the line stretched for two blocks down Surf Avenue, near the Coney Island boardwalk. Fans waited for the prized possession: a Barack Obama bobblehead.
For one night, the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones renamed themselves the Baracklyn Cyclones, in tribute to the new president. And tickets cost no more than $16, cheaper than nosebleed seats at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.
Steve Fischer bought $5 seats when they were sold in January as an "Economic Stimulus Package." With the bobbleheads going to only the first 2,500 fans at 7,500-capacity stadium, he wanted to be at the front of the line before the Cyclones played the Hudson Valley Renegades.
"You can come to a nice little community ballpark like this, tickets are a couple of dollars. Food prices are much more inexpensive," he said, standing near Pee Wee the Seagull. "You get a lot closer to the action."
The action included ceremonial first pitches thrown out by Amber Lee Ettinger, the Obama Girl, and presidential lookalike Randall West.
The real first family didn't take the Cyclones up on their invitation to attend, though in the first inning news broke that Obama planned to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the major league All-Star game in St. Louis on July 14.
Players on the New York Mets farm team wore white jerseys with "Baracklyn" across the chest in red, red-and-white stripes on one sleeve and a mixture of stripes, white stars and a blue background on the other.
In a promotion invented by Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen, some fans received free Band-Aids as part of "Universal Health Care." People named Barack got in for free, anyone named McCain or Palin received free bleacher seats and plumbers named Joe got two free tickets. There was one plumber named Joe and a Barak Zahavy in the overflow crowd of 8,760, Cyclones spokesman Dave Campanaro said. The Hall of Fame even called, requesting a jersey, before Brooklyn's 7-3 victory.
It's all part of the fun of Minor League Baseball, coming off six straight years of record attendance. Its 176 teams combined to draw 43.2 million fans last year; through Sunday they attracted an average of 3,993 per game.
Despite the recession that's down only 27 fans, or less than 1 percent, from last year's average through the same time.
The 30 major league teams averaged 29,412 through Sunday, a drop of 6.6 percent from the average of 31,484 through June 21 last year.
David Pecorano, a teachers' union leader from Beach Channel High School in Queens, brought a group of 20 to the Cyclones, paying $13 for each ticket. While he's gone to every Subway Series before this year, he's skipping the Yankees' games at Citi Field this weekend.
"There's very few cheap seats there left, because they eliminated the upper deck," he said. "You can get tickets if you want to spend $161 apiece. I'm not willing to spend $161 piece."
There are seats below $10 in nearly every minor league ballpark.
"It's not going to be a great year. But I think our clubs and our fans are holding their own," Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner said. "We were family affordable before family affordable was cool."
The goofy promotions help. Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said what works for the Cyclones wouldn't be accepted if he tried it with the big league club.
"I think it's expected at the minor league level. I think the columnists would have a field day if you tried to do anything too far off base here, especially in New York," he said.
Brooklyn isn't alone in the bobblehead craze.
The Quad Cities River Bandits, a St. Louis Cardinals farm club in Davenport, Iowa, is giving the first 2,000 fans bobbleheads of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this Saturday. The Tri-Cities ValleyCats, the Houston Astros' New York-Penn League team in Troy, is giving away bobbleheads of Gov. David Paterson next Monday.
Hudson Valley has an attention-grabbing promotion scheduled for July 7. The Tampa Bay Rays' affiliate is presenting a "Women Only" night, when only women and boys 7 and under will be allowed into the ballpark until the game is official. The team calls the youth allowance "the Renegades' homage to Momma's boys everywhere."
New York Yankees assistant general manager Jean Afterman is to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. All male team employees will be dressed in women's clothes. Large screen televisions will be outside the ballpark for men to watch while the women are inside.
According to Benjamin Hill of minorleaguebaseball.com, this season's promotions also have included a mooing contest on "Sale to Cows" night at the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game June 4, and the "Sunglasses at Night World Record Attempt" by fans of the Eastern League's Bowie (Md.) Baysox on May 29. The first 1,000 fans received sunglasses as the team attempt to set a record for most people wearing them at night.
Back on April 22, the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League had the simplest promotion: "Nothing Night." No music, videos or contests between innings.
"To paint it with a broad brush, our guys are pushing the envelope, but I think they know the limits," O'Conner said. "It's difficult. Need is the mother of invention and these guys are inventing some promotions based on the things that they're up against in these economic times that they otherwise might not try."
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