Minor league baseball has a well-earned reputation for outlandish, fun or just plain silly promotions designed to catch the eye of the public in an era of strong competition for the entertainment dollar.
Saturday morning SportsCenter viewers are seeing some of the best of those promotions in a weekly feature now in its second full season.
The “Minor League Promotion of the Week,” which usually airs at 7:55 a.m. and 8:55 a.m. ET, shines a light on a selected stunt – it could be a special jersey or hat, a food offering or any number of other promotions.
Michael Epstein, coordinating producer, and Sarah Hart, coordinating editor, invented the segment and have the enjoyable job of selecting the promotions each week. Usually the segment involves anchors Matt Barrie and Elle Duncan wearing a jersey or eating a food item.
“We just started laughing about some of the things we’d see,” said Epstein. “‘Look this team is wearing this, or this team is wearing these cool hats,’ and then we just put our heads together and said what if they send us one of the uniforms and we just wear it?”
The first feature aired in May 2017 and spotlighted a friendly rivalry between the Fresno Grizzlies and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs when the teams changed their names to the Tacos and the Bacon, respectively. Barrie and Duncan jokingly picked sides and wore Bacon and Tacos hats on the air.
The segment then began to gain steam and became weekly in 2018.
“These teams started to buy in and are thinking if we can get on SportsCenter, that’s pretty big, even if it’s only 45 seconds to a minute,” Epstein said.
One team, the Fayetteville (N.C.) Woodpeckers, revealed its military-style jersey for the first time on SportsCenter. But only after some last-minute negotiations.
“There’s been times when there were mail delays or the jerseys weren’t ready, and I’ve called other teams,” said Hart. “’Hey can you help me out? Can you express something?’ We did that this year with the Woodpeckers. Their guy was like ‘Absolutely. How about if we’re the only team featured this week and I’ll send you all this stuff?’ He was wheeling and dealing to get his team on.”
And it’s not all silliness. Epstein and Hart are especially proud of a segment with the Rochester Red Wings and a recognition of Deaf Culture Day. At the suggestion of show staff member Amy Volski, an interpreter from the American School for the Deaf in Hartford signed the segment.
“Big thanks to [show producer] Justin Daly for giving up some of his valuable content time in the show to let us do this,” Epstein said. “We’ve asked these teams to provide and they have provided like crazy.”