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September 19, 2014

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Giving away a funeral? Only in minor league baseball

It’s hard to imagine that we got beat on the free funeral idea.

In the world of wacky minor-league baseball promotions, you’d imagine that a funeral giveaway to one lucky fan would be something that would happen in a Florida ballpark.

But on Tuesday night, that distinction went to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Allentown, Pa.

“We’re known for pushing the envelope,” said Jon Schaeffer, the team’s director of new media. “No idea is a bad idea.”

The free funeral idea may not even be the strangest promotion this season for the IronPigs.

Earlier this summer, the team’s Coca-Cola Park installed hands-free, liquid-activated video screens above some of the urinals in the stadium’s restrooms so male patrons could double-task while in the restrooms. The video games, which last about 55 seconds, are played by using sensors in the urinal.

“We’re the only venue in the country with a urinal gaming system,” Schaeffer said.

We’ll spot them that one. But it’s the funeral promotion that really hurts.

Not that we lack promotions here at Roger Dean Stadium, home of the minor league Jupiter Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals.

Earlier this season, Darth Vader threw out the first pitch during “Star Wars Night,” when light sabers were sold at the concession stands and storm troopers ran the bases. And there was an all-you-can-eat chicken wings night, a craft beer night and four movie nights — when fans got to sit in the outfield grass after the games to watch movies.

Saturday was “Tiki Bash” at the Jupiter ballpark, a tropical-themed promotion aimed at giving the stadium an island vibe for the night.

But nobody will win a $7,500 funeral home voucher, plus a free casket, flower arrangement and headstone. You’d have to be a fan of the IronPigs, a team that has a local funeral home as a sponsor.

“We’re not looking to have a Halloween or dark theme,” Schaeffer said. “We’ll be using unique head shots of the players, showing them with angel wings and halos.”

The evening was billed as “Celebration of Life Night,” and more than 50 fans submitted the required 200-word essays to put them in the running for the funeral prize, which was announced during the sixth inning.

The essays ranged from funny to serious, Schaeffer said. The winner was selected by a committee.

“Some people have said that if they won they would agree to be buried in an IronPigs uniform,” he said. “And others are from people who are ill.”

Other minor league teams have gone the medical route with their promotions. The Mahoning Valley Scrappers in Ohio offered a free liposuction to one fan as part of an all-you-can-eat hot dogs night four years ago. And the Charleston RiverDogs in South Carolina tried giving away a vasectomy as a Father’s Day promotion.

This summer, the Brooklyn Cyclones had a game celebrating pregnant women, a promotion that included a Lamaze class in the outfield before the game, a pickles-and-ice-cream cravings station, and the offer of free lifetime tickets to any woman who gave birth in the ballpark during the game.

When it comes to promotions, not much is out of bounds with minor league baseball.

Kristen Cummins, the marketing manager at Roger Dean Stadium, said she had heard about the funeral promotion in Pennsylvania. But she didn’t sound as if she was dying to duplicate it here.

“We haven’t planned for next season yet,” she said.

Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post.

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