Two long dry-erase boards say their own play by play in the Myrtle Beach Pelicans' front office. Each game is budgeted a line, and blanks get filled in with sponsor names; who's performing “The Star-Spangled Banner”; promotions 1, 2 and 3; and postgame activities.
Maggie Neil, director of promotions for the Upper Class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, said for the new Carolina League season that opens Thursday, she inked the first line entry in October.
Baseball in Myrtle Beach numbers more than just 70 home games a year. Each game entails a production, with entertainment, food and drink sales, promotions, giveaways — all the result of coordination, preparation and innovation made off the field.
“That’s why the offseason is seven months long,” Neil said, standing by a wall lined with boxes of team trinkets that might be flung to fans during games.
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Giveaways, mascots, merchant contests in the middle of innings, and local entertainment have helped make minor-league baseball an experience measured beyond any box score, for old-fashioned, pure family fun at parks across the United States.
From his office overlooking the bleachers on the third-base line, North Johnson, the team's general manager, said a different audience turns out for each game, with people from the Grand Strand and vacationers.
He stressed the goal of making the most positive impression possible for all ages, whether through the food sold, the music played between innings and keeping washrooms clean.
“It keeps all of us on our game,” said Johnson, in his 31st year in minor-league baseball.
Bigger team off field
Outside of the players and coaches from both teams on the ball diamond, about 150 to 180 people make each Pelicans game play out.
“I’m like the conductor,” Johnson said, comparing the staff to an orchestra, noting everyone must be in synch.
Staff including ushers, ticket takers and sellers, batboys, parking lot attendants, public address and radio announcers, groundskeepers and video camera operators make up about half the crew. The rest man the concession stands, a staple of the business always changing to people’s tastes.
Johnson said a fish sandwich will join the menu this yearntsa , and a footlong hotdog tops the shopping list for the futurente. Shrimp and clam-strip baskets debuted last season for added diversity in serving this beach market.
Keeping the vendors stocked takes nonstop counting, especially because attendance per game averages 3,700 people.
Johnson sampled the breakdown in consumption: One in 4 customers buy a hotdog, 1 in 3 a soft drink, 1 in 8 a hamburger, 1 in 3 popcorn, 1 in 18 ice cream, 1 in 6 nachos, and 1 in 8 pizza.
Less than an hour before game time, a pregame sequence unfolds after much planning so it looks smooth and seemless. Pelicans Manager Rocket Wheeler fields a video interview simulcast on local radio, special guests are introduced, the national anthem sung, starting lineups announced and a ceremonial first pitch thrown.
After each game, parkwide cleanup begins at 6 a.m. the next day, so seats get pressure washed, peanut shells swept and windows wiped. The process might take till noon, Johnson said.
A Fourth first
This summer marks the first time since the Pelicans began play in 1999 that the team is home for Independence Day. So, the promotions department thought red, white and blue to color that weekend.
Besides capping the July 4 game with fireworks, other festive activities will include handing out red, white and blue baseballs and mini-U.S. flags, and suiting up the Pelicans in special jerseys that will be auctioned to benefit charity.It'll be a whole patriotic weekend,'' Neil said.
Julie Borshak, the team's director of community relations, said freebies that remain big hits with fans include bobblehead dolls, replica bats and posters of players, along with the various themed nights such as the annual Bark in the Park, where people can bring their dogs to a game and help a humane society.
On the canine front, the team boasts two golden Labrador ambassadors — Dinger and his heir, Deuce — plus Splash the Pelican and the Rally Shark, the two mascots. All play a role in community outreach.
The Rally Shark, who jumps out from the left-field bullpen and does a quick dance on the field after every Pelicans score, will get his own doll in the team's pro shop this year, Borshak said.
An intern dons Splash's costume not only for games, but in public appearances and parades year round. Splash, who has a Facebook page, gets breaks during games as well in an air-conditioned office, with a TV tuned to ESPN.
"And Animal Planet,'' Neil said.
If you go
What | Season opener in the Upper Class A Carolina League
When | 7:05 p.m. Thursday
Against | Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks, a Kansas City Royals affiliate
Where | BB&T Coastal Field, on 21st Avenue North between U.S. 17 Bypass and Robert M. Grissom Parkway
How much | $7, $8, $9 or $11
Info | 918-6000 or 877-918-TIXX (8499), or myrtlebeachpelicans.com
An event for each day of the week:
Mascot Mondays | An open invitation for all area mascots, such as those from sports teams, local restaurants and theme parks, to entertain fans.
Team Tuesdays | For the first 1,000 fans through the gates, a series of posters spotlighting Pelicans on their way to the big leagues will be given away, with autograph nights.
Wee Wednesdays | Fans can play homerun derby on the Wii and enter to win a Wii in a raffle Aug. 26.
Thirsty Thursdays | Draft beers for $1 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and live entertainment, with entries available to Surge concert tickets.
Free Stuff Fridays | Goodies given away at the gates.
Show Time Saturdays | An array of entertainers.
Sundays | Pre-game catch on the field and postgame fireworks.
Pelicans Promotional calendar:
With number of items available, first come, first served:
Team Tuesday Poster Series giveaways (1,000 each) | April 14, 21 and 28, May 2, June 9 and 1, July 7 and 21, Aug. 11 and 25