By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Like roughly 20 million others in the free world, Andrew Seymour was watching Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
He watched the Spurs take a five-point lead with 28 seconds to go, he watched the Heat pushed to the brink of a catastrophic Finals loss, and most poignantly, he watched Heat "supporters" (and boy, do I use that term loosely) file out of American Airlines Arena in droves, abandoning their team at its darkest hour.
With 19 seconds remaining, two free throws by Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard would ice the game and win the title for the Spurs. Leonard eyed the bucket and released the first foul shot.
The ball bounced off the rim. Miami had new hope.
Unfortunately for the fair-weather Heat fans who'd decided to ditch their hometown team, they were not allowed to return to the building to see the Heat's miracle comeback, despite practically causing a riot trying to storm the exit doors and get back into the arena.
The Miami Heat would go on to win Game 6 and eventually the title.
But it's at "CLANK" where this story begins.
Because at "CLANK" is when Seymour's brain began to go into overdrive and his creative juices began to flow.
You see, Andrew Seymour is the Vice President and General Manager for the Fort Myers Miracle, the Minnesota Twins' class A minor league baseball affiliate, and part of being in leadership in minor league baseball includes overseeing the never-ending process to conjure up innovative promotions to get fans into the stadium.
In the world of marketing minor league baseball, where coloring outside the lines is the norm, anything within the boundaries of good taste is fair game.
Everything is content and content is everything.
Even a bunch of whimsical Heat fans who ditched their team and missed a historic comeback.
"When it comes to marketing and promotions, we always try to stay topical, have fun with topical stuff," Seymour said. "During the NBA Finals, nothing was more topical than Heat fans leaving their team before Game 6 was over."
And with that, "Big Three" night at the Miracle's Hammond Stadium on Thursday, June 20, was born.
In honor of Miami's "Big Three" (Heat-speak for the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh) and as a good-hearted poke at Heat "fans," all Miracle patrons wearing Heat gear would get into Thursday night's game for the low, low price of $3 per ticket, under two conditions: first, they enter through the "Exit" gates, and second, they stay for the entire game, which I would imagine was not very difficult for most of them to do, what with it being "Thirsty Thursday" (half-priced domestic beers!) and all.
"Big Three" night, Thirsty Thursday, Fort Myers Miracle. ...
Welcome to minor league baseball, ladies and gentlemen, where cheap beer, affordable tickets and marketing think-tanks that are part sales team and part South Park writing staff meet at the baseball nexus of literally dozens of secondary and backwater markets around the country.
And Texas is right in the middle of it.
If you've experienced a minor league baseball game in the last 20 years, it's hard to believe there was a time where it was viewed and treated as a virtual throwaway by its Major League parents.
In the 1960s, minor league baseball was rotting and dying a slow death. With low attendance and a slew of rundown stadiums, it was thought its only surviving entities might be AAA teams and possibly some AA ball clubs. The thinking back then was that college baseball, much as it had for football and basketball, would become the primary feeders for major league teams.
But in the 1970s, partially out of necessity due to MLB expansion, the minors began to resuscitate. In the late 1980s, on the strength of better marketing, Darwinian instincts and, believe it or not, due in a very large part to the release of Kevin Costner blockbuster Bull Durham (a film that, cinematically, is to minor league baseball what The Godfather is to the mob), the minor leagues saw a resurgence that continues to this day.
Once seen as a dying industry, it can now count billionaires like Warren Buffett, Robert E. Rich Jr. and Herb Simon among its owners.
Why are all of these captains of industry throwing their hats into the minor league baseball ring? Well, quite simply, it's just good business.
Combining minor league attendance with attendance for independent league teams, 48,408,316 went through the turnstiles in 2012, up 325,486 from 2011.
Affordability and superior marketing are what bring people to the ballpark. According to the most recent statistics, the Fan Cost Index (a metric that adds up the cost of tickets, hot dogs, sodas, beer and parking for a normal family of four) for a minor league baseball game is $61.23, less than a third of Major League Baseball's FCI of $210.46.
Once inside, the entertainment begins. Yes, there's baseball. But minor league ballparks are also the happy places where Christmas can be celebrated in May, Halloween can be celebrated in July, Star Wars can be celebrated whenever and Manti Te'o's phony girlfriend can be the genesis for "Lennay Kekua Night," where Stanford students received two free tickets and catfish was served at the concession stands.