Lifelong friends Jules Alper and Gary Lee proudly wore their new logoed golf visors during the Trenton Thunder’s shutout of the visiting Reading Phillies on May 24. The mini-plan ticket holders from Monroe Township, New Jersey were part of the first 1,000 fans in attendance for Golf Night sponsored by Cranberry Golf Club.
“The other giveaways have been hygiene products, with the implication being that we weren’t doing a good job when we left this place,” Alper joked.
It’s a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere at ARM & HAMMER Park, intimate home of the Trenton Thunder, where the action is almost secondary to the spectacle. Bat boys have been replaced by Derby and Rookie, a father-son pairing of Golden Retrievers. In between each inning, children take the field for sponsored contests and games, racing mascots and catching branded T-shirts. There is free face painting and balloon animal sculpting next to a wheel of prizes and Plinko, where fans win a variety of merchandise such as boom sticks, plush animals and foam fingers.
“You’re not going to get the pure baseball fan to every game so you have to take it to a whole new level and try to entertain as much as possible,” said Jeff Hurley, general manager and COO of the New York Yankees’ Double-A affiliate. “We’re here to put on a show so that fans of all ages can leave with a smile on their face. Promotions help that – they’re a nice tie-in and keep you occupied between innings. They give you something to go home with.”
Golf Night started in 2016 after a couple of 9 iron-swinging staff members thought it would be the perfect marriage with baseball fans. Six professional golfers representing local organizations took the field after a game to play in a “closest-to-the-pin” contest. Fans received a branded towel for their golf bags.
“We try to do fun and interesting themed nights that will engage different sets of fans,” said Jon Mozes, public relations manager for the team. “If Thirsty Thursday isn’t your thing, then maybe post-game fireworks set to Spongebob Squarepants music is.”
As the PA announcer, Kevin Scholla alerts fans to all the fun things happening inside the ballpark. “From mascot appearances to contests and giveaways, it’s my job to create a buzz and pump up the fan base,” Scholla said. “It’s usually not too difficult because the Thunder experience is that good. Families want an affordable night out and they get that here, and then some.”
Attending Thunder games is a tradition for fathers and their sons at St. Katherine Drexel School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A group orders custom T-shirts every year for the end-of-school celebration. “It’s a nice night out for a dad and his son to bond over baseball and a hot dog,” said Philadelphia native John Frain, who was in attendance with the group. “You have a great view from every seat in the house. The players are great with the kids and plenty of foul balls come out here to the picnic area, and the kids love that.”