BOWIE, Maryland — What would it take to get you to go to a minor league baseball game?
That answer is different, depending on who you are and how much you love baseball. But the people who run minor league clubs, the front office members who make the wheels turn for 140 some-odd games a year, are constantly searching for ways to get you to come out to enjoy a game, no matter who you are.
So it was that a half dozen of my friends and I ended up at Sunday’s Bowie Baysox game. Some of us might have sat in the sun to watch Double-A prospects from the Orioles and Pirates battle it out just for fun. But we were all there, as a group, for a Baysox original promotion — the 1K Beer Run.
The concept is similar to the Beer Mile. Run a lap around the warning track of the ballpark, just under a quarter mile, then drink a beer. Repeat. Repeat once more.
In all, three laps is hardly a major workout. The crowd that participated, somewhere between 40-50 in all, had some serious looking athletes but was a pretty mixed bag in terms of both fitness and age. Most of us were just there for fun, and for what anyone who has ever suffered the sticker shock of buying a ballpark beer knows, it was a fantastic deal.
Tickets in the section we sat, just a couple rows over the home dugout, normally run $15. The Beer Run tickets cost just $18, including your three beverages.
“You’re literally getting three beers for three dollars at the ballpark,” said Baysox assistant general manager Phil Wrye. “You get to be on the field, you get to run around, you get a little exercise.”
This is how the minor leagues work. Teams throw hundreds of ideas at the wall every year. Those that don’t sound too outlandish turn into promotions, and the promotions that strike the right chord of fun and become hits quickly proliferate around the country.
“We started this like, four, five years ago,” Wrye said. “We’ve probably had 30-40 teams call us over the years.”
And it’s the kind of thing you just won’t get to do at a Major League park. There’s too much hand-wringing over liabilities, too many people up the chain who have to think it’s a good enough idea to say yes.
“I don’t think you’d ever see this in the Major Leagues,” said MiLB.com promotional writer Ben Hill, noting how much more seriously big league clubs restrict field access. “That’s what differentiates the minors and the majors. But it’s still a professional field, still a cool experience.”
This year’s winner was Chris Sachs from Towson. While he was a cross-country runner in high school, Sachs dusted the field despite running in cargo shorts. But that doesn’t mean he came in completely unprepared.
“I might have done a practice run in the neighborhood once,” beer and all, he admitted after his victory.
So will he come back next year to defend his title?
“I think I might have to,” Sachs said.
Hill says he’s seen maybe a half dozen other teams add the event to their promotional calendar. Wrye is quick to point out that two other teams in the Eastern League alone, Erie and New Hampshire, are two of them.
Broadcasters, often the only members of front offices to travel, see which promotions work on the road, then bring them back home with them.
“I think they found a formula, and it works,” Hill said. “It gets fans on the field, gets them excited for the game. Why not?”
It’s a motto that fits most minor league promotions, but especially ones like the Beer Run.
“We don’t get recognized for much in Bowie, but this is one that we do,” Wrye said. “If you’re going to be known for something, it might as well be running and beer.”