Call it a vintage SWAG list (Stuff We All Get). These days you’re more apt to see kids at the ballpark receive bobblehead dolls or tacky, cheap knick-knacks rather than the awesome SWAG we used to take home as youngsters back in the day.
That’s why we’ve come up with 11 of the greatest stadium promotional giveaways of our era and memorialized them in the following list. Like toys in Cracker Jack boxes or LPs on vinyl, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
11. Team Trading Card Day
Kids today still receive baseball cards at the ballpark. But unlike yesteryear, the baseball cards of today are a mishmash of brands and ballplayers that are often presorted into sealed grab bags out of some dude’s collection.
It’s been at least a decade since the advent of the team issued set went by the wayside, and it’s a travesty. Mother’s Cookies used to sponsor the Mariners’ annual giveaway set, and the cards were fantastic. Players would pose for mugshots on the astroturf of the Kingdome, and those mugshots (however bad they might be) were plastered on cheap pieces of paper and distributed to the first X amount of kids.
Undoubtedly, every set would be missing a card or two and be laden with a few duplicates here or there (I distinctly remember my 1993 Mariners team set with three Mike Hamptons). So calling it a “team set” was more wishful thinking than anything else. Gotta love it.
10. Growth Chart Night
Shawn Kemp is 6′10″ tall. How tall are you?
Growth charts were all fun and games as a kid, when you were still, you know, growing. But once you reach the end of puberty and realize that Shawn Kemp is much, much taller than you’ll ever be, those growth charts are more a source of spite than anything else.
Either way, you can’t deny the coolness of a life-size poster featuring your favorite player that could be tacked onto the back of your bedroom door and measured against on a daily basis. How many giveaways served a more practical purpose than the growth chart, anyways? And where else would you find such a chart if you didn’t receive one at the game?
Nope, the growth chart was a one-of-a-kind invention that can’t ever be replicated.
9. Sponsor-Laden Replica Cap Night
It looks just like the hat the players wear! At least that’s how it was marketed.
What the promotional staff didn’t tell you was that your promotional cap was acrylic (rather than wool), featured a snap back (instead of the fitted pro model), and had the name of your local supermarket and the team’s fun-for-all-ages beverage of choice (usually Coke, Pepsi, or Gatorade) stamped on the back.
Yep, the sponsor-laden replica cap was all business in the front (hey, is that cap authentic?), and one hell of a party in the back (oh…no, it’s not authentic).
8. Foam Finger Night
Whoever invented the foam finger is probably sitting on the beach in Bora Bora right now, contemplating how many women he’s going to be sleeping with tonight. The man is an absolute genius, and the creator of arguably the most desirable souvenir in childhood history.
Let’s be honest, who didn’t want a foam finger as a kid? Nobody, that’s right. If you had a foam finger, you were the man. If you didn’t have one, you probably spent hours begging your parents to drop the $3.50 it took to get that finely crafted piece of foam.
That’s why Foam Finger Night was one of the most important games a kid could attend. Like the playoffs and the All-Star game rolled into one magical evening. It didn’t matter if your team was taking on the New York Knicks or the Los Angeles Clippers. This night meant everything to you, and it had nothing to do with Danny Manning.
7. Life-Size T-shirt Night
Back in the early ’90s, the Mariners held a promotion in which they gave away Randy Johnson life-size jersey t-shirts to the first however many kids in attendance. I’m not so sure these shirts were actually life-size where Randy Johnson is concerned, but they were definitely about an adult XL or so.
The interesting thing about this giveaway was you had thousands of children running around in what looked like team logo moo-moos. It wasn’t the brightest idea, and my guess is that it came about when a promotional staff member screwed up the order form, but it was definitely unique and seemed a lot of fun at the time.
Nearly 20 years later, you still see the occasional localite running around in their Randy Johnson promo t-shirt. It might have been big then, but it fits just right these days. Call it the gift that keeps on giving.
6. Mini Basketball Day
As an elementary school student, mini basketballs were instrumental in providing entertainment value at recess. Because they were the only ball that children could feel like a superstar playing with, they received a lot of PT on the playground.
And where did one go about acquiring such a ball? At the gates of the arena on Mini Basketball Day, naturally.
Emblazoned with an obnoxiously loud rendition of the home team’s logo, the mini basketball was just big enough to play ball with, but still small enough to try and palm as a nine-year-old.
A useful giveaway that puts the bobblehead doll to shame, the mini basketball was beloved by all and never destined for eBay, making it one of the greatest promotional ideas ever.
5. Flip-up Sunglasses Night
There has and always will be sunglasses night. But we’re talking about sunglasses to the extreme, with Flip-up Sunglasses Night.
With flip-up sunglasses, a kid couldn’t get a more authentic item unless he was handed a protective cup upon entry. The flips were what the pros wore, and were understandably tacky and goofy looking in their appearance.
In fact, outside of accessorizing a Halloween costume, the promotional flip-up sunglasses served virtually no purpose to the recipient. Kids weren’t likely to wear such an item without getting teased by their jealous constituents using mockery to mask their envy, and hence the flips spent more time sitting on the shelf than getting any actual wear.
Nevertheless, if you were one of the kids lucky enough to receive such an item at a ball game, you were absolutely stricken by glee at the time.
4. Replica Glove Night
So what if you already had a real baseball glove? Replica Glove Night bestowed upon you a cheap plastic imitation of the real thing, and came complete with the team logo stamped on the palm.
No matter if you sat in box seats or the nosebleeds, as a kid you were always going to bring your glove to the park in hopes of snagging a foul ball. Replica Glove Night was the one evening where no glove was needed, since it was provided by the help.
As soon as you got home, your replica glove got tossed into the garage never to be used again, but that’s okay. Like the chick at the bar you picked up for a one-night stand, the replica glove knew what it was getting when it hooked up with you. No strings attached, and that’s the way we like it.
3. Photo Day.
Okay, so it’s not technically a promotional giveaway, but back before the days of Osama Bin Laden, teams used to hold a photo-op for fans casually entitled Photo Day.
In Seattle, Photo Day meant getting to head down to the field and take pictures with all your favorite Mariners. For adults, it was about glad-handing, sucking up, and passing out business cards. For kids, it was a chance to experience the playing surface of the Kingdome and maybe, just maybe get to talk to a real-life baseball player.
The only thing separating the players from the fans, at the time, was a thin yellow rope. Handshakes were encouraged and the reality of the moment could not be understood by today’s generation of players. It was a surreal event that made sports that much more real to the fans who were there. Too bad we can’t do that anymore.
2. Helmet Night
Nothing says “kids” like a replica team helmet that has “NOT TO BE USED AS A SAFETY DEVICE” stamped on the inside. Nice.
Helmet Night was the one evening that, as a child, you could look like a total goof and fit right in. Everyone was wearing their replica helmet, and it was pure enjoyment.
For those of you that have never seen a replica helmet, allow me to indulge you. The replica helmet in no way resembled the batting helmets of today. With no earflaps and no padding lining the interior, the replica helmet was essentially a molded credit card perched atop your skull. It looked like the old-school helmets that guys like Dave Winfield used to sport, except minus all semblance of safety.
In today’s world, the replica helmet would essentially be a lawsuit waiting to happen, which is probably why you don’t see too many of those things being handed out at games anymore. Thanks for getting in the way, lawyers.
1. Bat Night
Since the dawn of time, there has been no greater promotion than Bat Night.
Bat Night was simple, violent, and loads of fun. Upon entering the stadium, kids were handed a real-life wooden baseball bat. Boom, done.
What ensued from there on out was quite often madness, with children swinging their bats like crazed monkeys despite the close proximity to unsuspecting human beings. Shins were bashed in, skulls were bruised, and the entire evening was essentially a testament to gang violence.
There was, of course, the occasional child who sat quietly and politely with his Louisville Slugger, but those kids were rare. More often than not, you had adults scurrying through the concourses in fear of six-year-olds brandishing deadly objects of force. Like Lord of the Flies, but with more weapons.
These days, you’re more apt to experience a much safer brand of promotional giveaway and that just sucks. From start to finish, Bat Night was one of the greatest evenings of any child’s life. Here’s hoping we bring it back.