Last year, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and President/GM Andy Milovich garnered national attention for shining the spotlight on a national issue during their first-ever Prostate Cancer Awareness Night.
And while they took a rather unusual approach, it yielded remarkable results. On Sunday, the club is having their second iteration of the event, which includes what the Pelicans have dubbed the “Two Knuckle Challenge.”
“I think the promotion last year was such an overwhelming success,” Milovich said. “Not only in the ballpark, but nationally. To have people reach out from across the country and talk about what it meant to them either as a cancer survivor or as someone that lost a loved one to cancer is really special and we really wanted to do it again this year.”
In last year’s event, Milovich sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch to a sold-out crowd at TicketReturn.Com Field at Pelicans Ballpark while receiving a prostate exam in the press box. Milovich’s singing performance was displayed on the scoreboard in left-center field and also made it to The Today Show, ESPN.com, CNN and other big media outlets in the days following.
This time around, Milovich won’t be taking center stage. Local business owner Ronnie Hribar offered to participate with the goal of raising over $3,000 for a young local girl named Fallon Emery, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in December, 2013.
“It was just a really, really powerful promotion and we’re thankful for the opportunity to do it again to benefit Fallon and to do it with someone like Ronnie Hribar, who is a close friend of Fallon and her mother, Melanie,” Milovich said. “When that opportunity presented itself, we felt like it was our chance to continue the message and have another promotion that would really do some great things for the community and around the country.”
Hribar – a retired police officer – has also been taking donations for Emery at his business, Longbeards Bar and Grill in Carolina Forest, and is selling tickets for the first-ever “Poke-Him Run.” It’s a variation of a poker run, which is an organized event where participants, usually using motorcycles or other means of transportation must visit five to seven checkpoints, drawing a playing card at each one. The object is to have the best poker hand at the end of the run. The “Poke-Him Run” will start at Longbeards and end at the ballpark.
Hribar has also held fundraisers for Emery’s birthday each of the last few years and has a very close connection to the family.
“When I was talking to [Hribar] about the promotion and what we’ve done, he said ‘that’s awesome, if you need someone to do it – I’d be willing to do it. Anything for that little girl.’ He’s just an unbelievably good guy and entrenched in the community,” Milovich said.
The promotion also hits home for Hribar; he lost his father to cancer about a year ago.
“He has a personal stake in it,” Milovich said. “I think for him, it was an opportunity to really help some people he cares about.”
While working for the same cause, the inaugural event took a bit of a different route. Before Milovich performed his song for the Pelicans crowd and eventually the nation, he challenged Emery to boost her “Fierce Fallon” Facebook page – which has documented Emery’s courageous battle and spirit – to over 10,000 “Likes” by the day of the game. It hit that number with days to spare and Emery’s Facebook page currently has over 14,000 followers.
Milovich said any discomfort was a small price to pay for such an enormous cause.
“It’s a simple, easy 10 second deal,” Milovich said of the exam. “If you catch it, you can save a life.”
Pelicans first-year manager Mark Johnson didn’t witness last year’s event, but will be watching from the dugout Sunday as Hribar undergoes the exam.
“Any time you can raise awareness for prostate cancer or any type of cancer, it’s always a good thing,” Johnson said. “Better him than me, though.”
The promotion also includes “bobblefingers,” sponsored by ARS Rescue Rooter, which will be given out to the first 1,000 men (18 or older) through the gates.
The club’s goal in the “bobblefingers” and putting together Prostate Cancer Awareness Night is to demonstrate not only the importance of men getting prostate exams, but to prove it’s not something so intimidating that it should be avoided.
And it fits perfectly the event falls on Father’s Day as Milovich has repeatedly said that if the event saves one dad’s life, it’s worthwhile.
“Prostate cancer is about 98 percent curable if it’s caught early and the reason it doesn’t get caught sometimes is because of the stigma associated with the procedure to have it detected,” Milovich said. “From our standpoint, if one child has an opportunity to play catch with their father as a result of us having a promotion like this, it’s completely worth it.”
Milovich said he also received emails from total strangers commending him for his humility.
“For me, personally, it’s reedeming to receive emails from complete strangers around the country saying you definitely saved somebody’s life today. Or to have former college teammates reach out to you and say they scheduled their first exam because of it all. It’s a really humbling thing,” Milovich said. “You know, you try to do the right thing and you want to invest and give back to the community and you want to be a part of things bigger than just baseball and we’ve been fortunate to be able to do that a number of times here.”
During their 15th anniversary season in 2014, the Pelicans raised nearly $400,000 for various charities and causes. The club has continued the trend and tries to give back as much as possible. Earlier this year, they raised over $13,000 for Special Olympics of South Carolina after auctioning off special superhero jerseys as part of “Superhero Night.”
The Pelicans will also wear special “Strike Out Cancer” jerseys for Sunday night’s game and the jerseys are available for bidding in an online auction all season long.
“The Strike Out Cancer series came about after our 15th anniversary season in which we had given nearly $400,000 back to the community as a part of our ‘Play it Forward’ campaign. We wanted to build on that so we came up with the Strikeout Cancer series,” Milovich said. “It was a great promotion, a great series and we generated a lot of money and a lot of awareness and had a lot of fun in doing so. This is our way to keep building on that and continuing to focus on the community, which is what we’re all about.”
While last year’s promotion garnered national attention, Milovich isn’t sure it will this time around after a few other minor league baseball and hockey teams have emulated the event. Although, he said it will certainly be a fun and entertaining promotion.
“I don’t know that it’s going to resonate nationally to the extent it did [last year],” Milovich said. “But doing it with Ronnie Hribar, the owner of Longbeards – which is a staple in the Carolina Forest area – is really going to draw some attention to it, help raise some money and enable us to continue the tradition.”
Contact MAX McKINNON at 626-0302 or on Twitter @mmckinnonTSN.