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Baseball's best stunts (Pt. 1, continued)

Families camp out for the evening at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark., on "Scouts Night." Courtesy of Northwest Arkansas Naturals

Photo gallery: The stunts of spring and summer

6. "Military Appreciation Night," Charlotte Stone Crabs, June 19

Charlotte Sports Park
2300 El Jobean Road
Port Charlotte, FL 33948
941-206-3511 | Web site

Many teams offer nights to honor local heroes serving in the military. But you'll be hard-pressed to find one that does a better job than the Charlotte Stone Crabs.

Fun for all

For a gallery of images of some of the fan-participation promos that we've selected, click here.

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On "Military Appreciation Night" in Port Charlotte, even the ceremonial first pitch is a spectacle. A skydiver descends from the heavens with the first ball, then hands it to servicemen and -women representing all five branches of the U.S. military. Finally, two veterans share in the ceremonial first toss.

The Stone Crabs play drum marches over the P.A. all night long, and midway through the game the loudspeakers blast a patriotic medley that includes every military branch's song. Members from each branch stand up when their song plays, and the crowd gives them a rousing ovation.

Meanwhile, the concourse exhibits military antiques and equipment, and team representatives collect donations for the Wounded Warrior Project. During the game, the camouflage jerseys the Stone Crabs players wear are auctioned off to raise money for this worthy charity.

7. "Citizenship Naturalization Day," Iowa Cubs, July 4

Principal Park
One Line Drive
Des Moines, IA 50309
515-243-6111 | Web site

Any minor league team worth its salt (and peanuts) offers a fireworks display on the Fourth of July. But, for the second year in a row, the Pacific Coast League team in Des Moines will do something even more meaningful.

Before the Independence Day tilt against Albuquerque, a proud contingent of Iowans will become official U.S. citizens.

Last year, about 40 men and women who had recently completed the naturalization process took the field bearing American flags and accompanied by family members. They stood before a judge and were declared citizens. Then, after the ceremony, President Obama congratulated the new Americans via a video that played on the stadium's big screen.

America's newest citizens were overcome with joy during last year's event, according to team spokeswoman Andrea Breen.

"They were all smiles," Breen said. "They were hugging each other and giving each other high-fives. It was a feel-good moment for everyone in the park."

Surely this year's "Citizenship Naturalization Day" will offer its share of tingly moments, too. What better way could there be to remind a stadium full of people how lucky we are to be Americans?

8. "Christmas in July," Great Lakes Loons, July 26

Dow Diamond
825 E. Main St.
Midland, MI 48640
989-837-2255 | Web site

As temperatures rise in Midland, it begins to look a lot like … Christmas. That's when Dow Diamond is strewn with wreathes and its signature concourse fireplace is hung with -- you guessed it -- stockings!

Carolers serenade fans as they pass through the turnstiles, and a Santa on loan from Midland's "Santa House" roams the stands in shorts and suspenders.

For between-inning entertainment, the Loons bring actual department store gift-wrappers onto the field for wrapping competitions.

Kids find a photo booth on the concourse where they can pose with Frosty the Snowman. Well, sort of. The youngsters actually stand in a wading pool of water where Frosty is said to have melted some time before the Dow gates opened.

"We have our interns dressed as elves and our section leaders dressed in holiday garb," said Chris Mundhenk, the Loons vice president for marketing and entertainment. "Every little place in and around the ballpark you can touch with the theme of the day makes a difference."

Loons fans also may contribute unwrapped toys to an earlier-than-usual gift drive to benefit needy families in the Midland community.

9. "Scouts Night," Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Aug. 7

Arvest Ballpark
56th Street and Watkins Avenue
Springdale, AR 72766
479-927-4900 | Web site

On "Scouts Night" in northwest Arkansas, young campers arrive at Arvest Ballpark planning to stay a while. After watching nine innings of Texas League action, they set up colorful tents on the outfield lawn, sing camp songs, watch a movie on the stadium's big screen and, eventually (read: hopefully, for parents), catch a few Z's.

Last year, Naturals relief pitcher Chris Hayes spent the night under the stars alongside the kiddies. The sidewinding right-hander had never been camping before, according to Naturals spokesperson Frank Novak. So Hayes and his wife set up a tent.

"I don't think the kids were aware that one of the Naturals players was living in the 'tent city' that night," Novak said. "Leave it to a sidearmer to do something like that."

It's not hard to take a stab at why Hayes was in a playful mood. In 18 games for Northwest Arkansas last season, he went 3-0 with a 0.98 ERA in 36 2/3 innings of work.

This year's August sleepover actually will be the second of two "Scouts Nights" in Springdale this year. The first is April 24.

10. "'Field of Dreams' Fan Appreciation Day," Portland Sea Dogs, Sept. 5

Hadlock Field
271 Park Ave.
Portland, ME 04102
207-879-9500 | Web site

"No, Joe. This isn't heaven. It's Portland."

Just about every team puts on a "Fan Appreciation Day" at the end of the season, but not too many clubs go to the lengths the Sea Dogs do to express their gratitude for the local rooters' support. For the 14th consecutive season, Maine's Eastern League franchise presents the sort of magical ballpark experience that seems like something right out of a movie.

The day begins with the Sea Dogs' radio broadcaster dressed in old-time garb, wandering the field. Suddenly he hears a voice. "If you build it, he will come," it says. The voice recalls how the city of Portland built Hadlock Field in 1994 and how fans have been turning out at the park ever since.

Suddenly, Sea Dogs players clad in replica 1926 Portland Eskimos uniforms begin emerging from a faux corn patch in center field. The players line up along the base paths. Then they do something you hardly ever see: They hop into the stands to personally thank fans for their loyalty.

"It works because it's baseball at its purest form, baseball the way it should be," said Sea Dogs assistant general manager Chris Cameron. "The old-style uniforms bring you back to a time when all was good, and remind you that it could be good again.

"We also make it about the fans. This is our opportunity to thank them. It's not often that professional athletes go into the stands to thank you."

For the record, it takes Sea Dogs staffers about three hours to set up the cornstalks, about half the time it took more than a decade ago, when the team was just getting its collective feet wet in the finer points of set design. The stalks, which come from a local farm, are arranged so they can be removed in about five minutes' time just before the first pitch.


Honorable mention

Finally, here are some additional promos with "upside," as a scout might say:

"Nine Innings of Networking," Kannapolis Intimidators, April 28: Pack your glove, scorebook and résumé. Hey, in this economy, why not?

"Polish Heritage Night," Great Lakes Loons, July 7: Your best chance to score a plate of ballpark pirogi.

"Singles Night," Colorado Springs Sky Sox, July 8: Maybe the local nine can help you stretch that single into a double.

"Buffett Night," Fort Wayne TinCaps, Aug. 13: A cheeseburger, paradise and nine (hazy) innings.

"Superheroes Day," Lansing Lugnuts, Aug. 29: It's a bird, it's a plane, it's … the weird dude sitting next to you in a cape!

Josh Pahigian is the author of seven baseball books, including the recently released
"The Seventh Inning Stretch," and "101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out."

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