Before the season begins when the promotional giveaways are announced I will peruse the list and try to estimate which of these free pieces of swag will draw the most interest and the largest crowds during the season. I have long contended that in a market trying to develop baseball fans it is sometimes the giveaways that will drive the people to experience baseball in person.
To diehard fans this is somewhat blasphemous. Why anyone would actually need an excuse to go to the ballpark to watch a game in person seems inconceivable. The real question should be why aren’t people always at the ballpark and bringing free giveaways to the Diamondbacks as a tribute and thanks much like the Native Americans who brought gifts and bounty to the first Thanksgiving.
I realize that the Phoenix area is not quite there yet but there are signs that baseball fans are being born or born-again. The enthusiasm at the ballpark is becoming more palatable. The crowds are perhaps slightly larger than in years past but still modest compared to some of the more rabid fan bases around Major League Baseball. We have a long way to go to reach the pinnacles of Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, or Busch Stadium but we’re making progress. So for the time being we just need to be content that sometimes it is the giveaway that draws the crowd.
There are certain promotional items that are bound to bring a big crowd. In their heyday it was the Beanie Baby craze that brought insane crowds (and insane people) to the ballpark. I cringe every time I think about the countless thousands of fans standing outside in the Arizona summer heat for upwards of 8 hours for a chance to get one of 5,000 Beanie Babies and even then it was only for the kids (although I don’t remember seeing any children who actually had the Beanie Babies, they were immediately tucked in glass cases by protective parents who wanted the tags to remain factory fresh).
Another giveaway that will almost always result in a near capacity crowd is bobble heads. These are like the holy grail of giveaways. I’m not sure what the draw is for bobble heads but they always bring a crowd. I have to admit, I am as hooked on them as much as anyone and have a nearly complete collection of every bobble head the Diamondbacks ever gave away (I’m lacking the mini Troy Glaus and Shawn Green bobble heads given as part of the kids club in 2005).
For 2013 the Diamondbacks have three bobble head promotions. The first was June 8th and featured second baseman Aaron Hill. That game saw the third largest crowd at Chase Field (second largest at the time) with 44,574 fans vying for 20,000 bobble heads including the rare silver one.
The second bobble head promotion was today and featured all-star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Given that the Diamondbacks have begun to market him as “America’s first baseman” and the heir apparent as the “face of the franchise” I expected a large crowd but even I did not expect what I found when arriving at Chase Field.
We arrived at the stadium at 2 PM some three hours before game time and an hour before the gates opened to the general public. The parking around Chase Field normally ranges between $5 and $20 depending on the date and the opponent. Today those parking lots were offering parking for $25-$30! We parked in the garage next to Chase Field and while we usually will be on the second level when arriving this early today we were at the top of the fourth level.
Fans camped in lawn chairs under umbrellas could be seen everywhere. Clearly these fans had been here a while and were not about to be denied a Goldschmidt bobble head. Trying to make our way to the stadium was the equivalent to wandering around Woodstock during a rock concert.
The Diamondbacks to their credit had set up tents and portable air conditioning to keep the dedicated fans from dropping dead before getting to the gates. They also had EMTs and medical personnel around to assist with any heat related injuries or to bandage up fans who decided to cut in line and were trampled by the former Beanie Baby mafia who had turned to bobble heads.
One of the great benefits to being a Diamondbacks season ticket holder is that they can get into the stadium 30 minutes before gates open to the general public. On days like this that pretty much guarantees you get a bobble head. Today the Diamondbacks even opened the gates a little earlier for season ticket holders to allow them into the air-conditioned stadium.
The great part about bobble head days is that the first 20,000 fans are all smiles walking through the turnstiles. It is like Christmas morning as people eagerly tear open the boxes to see their prize and pray that they were lucky enough to get one of the limited edition gold versions.
My emotion was one of relief. Much to the chagrin of my wife the Paul Goldschmidt bobble head will take its place with the others in our living room in what she has begun to call the “bobbling shrine”. It’s kind of like the Walt Disney World Hall of Presidents only in baseball uniforms and they don’t talk and aren’t robotic.
Life is good and the stadium is packed with the fourth largest crowd of the 2013 season. And while many of the 42,450 people left disappointed with a Diamondbacks loss, they were content holding onto their Paul Goldschmidt bobble head knowing that it would always nod in agreement that baseball is best experienced in person.