By Dan Tapper
Last night I was pleased to take in my first Hartford Yard Goats game with my son and my parents; it was clear upon touring Dunkin’ Donuts Park prior to the first pitch that despite the myriad issues that plagued the stadium during the construction phase, now that it’s open our capital city has a beautiful, vibrant place to watch baseball during the spring and summer months.
Not only that, but Hartford also finally has a place where mascots can roam free and happy, safe from the perils of the outside world. Because one thing I was reminded of last night is you can never have enough mascots!
One thing I love about minor league baseball is a commitment to entertaining the fans that goes far beyond the game being played on the field. Minor league allegiances, for obvious reasons, tend to run nowhere near as deep as those for the Red Sox or Yankees or Mets or any other major league team, so team management knows more needs to be done to keep people engaged.
This means special package deals for youth organizations, schools, sports leagues, professional associations and any other group you can think of. This means affordable amenities. This means a strong focus on the nearby population, where local heroes are honored and school choirs sing the National Anthem. It means offering dozens of “theme” nights to bring people of all ages to the ballpark where they don’t just get a game but perhaps plenty more to remember.
And yes, it means mascots. Lots and lots of mascots.
I think I counted at least a half-dozen iterations of the Yard Goats mascots “Chompers” and “Chew Chew” gallivanting around the stands and the concourses last night, high-fiving fans, posing for pictures and basically serving as goodwill ambassadors for the team. And those weren’t including the four team-oriented mascots on the field itself, having a grueling race in the middle innings. Or the three Dunkin’ Donuts-themed mascots (Hot Coffee, Iced Coffee and Donuts) who had their own race earlier in the game. (For the record, I had picked the Donut to win and am deeply suspicious that he didn’t. Inquiries will follow).
In a customer-oriented world such as minor league baseball, where a positive, happy public face puts people in the seats perhaps as much as the game itself does, the fun-loving and oversized visage of a dutiful mascot can go a long way towards keeping the people coming. It’s a simple and fun little public relations lesson—a friendly face is often the best way to spark people’s interests. Even if that face happens to be attached to a large and multi-colored goat-like figure.
And lastly, it reminded me of a lesson offered by our fearless leader here at SLPR, the “PR King” himself Gene Sheehan. Gene recalled back during his days as Program Director for WHCN-FM in Hartford in the 1970s, it was decided that the radio station would adopt a giant walrus as its own mascot. (This would prove to be a very popular decision, as rock fans of my generation clearly remember “The WHCN Walrus” as the veritable symbol of Hartford’s rock-n-roll scene during those years).
Gene was personally involved in finding just the right walrus costume to be worn and used as the station’s mascot, and still today he offers sage advice as to why he did that:
“I had one priority in picking out that walrus costume,” he recalls. “And that was to make sure it didn’t fit me!”