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Madden: Promos outdraw baseball here

Saturday, March 10, 2001

In Pittsburgh, it appears the best way to sell baseball tickets is by putting the emphasis on something besides baseball.

Opening day at PNC Park is sold out; so are the two preseason exhibitions there. Those are events, not mere baseball games. A three-game series with Cleveland is sold out. Because of the Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry, those games also are events and will be loaded with Indians fans.

Two fireworks nights are sold out. Cap Night is sold out. Bobble-Head Doll Night is sold out. Kids' Jersey Day is sold out. Schedule Mug Day is sold out.

Promotional days aren't events. That those days have sold so many tickets is ridiculous. Embarrassing. To think that a few sparks in the sky and some cheap trinkets are bigger drawing cards in Pittsburgh than Mark McGwire is absurd. It says a lot about how shallow local sports fans are.

But so be it. Go with the flow, I say. If Pittsburghers need promotions to buy baseball tickets, I got 'em:

Jimmy Anderson Must Go Nine Innings Night. It's guaranteed that the porky pitcher will go nine come hell, high water or cardiac arrest. If the game goes into extra innings and Anderson keeps pitching, every fan gets a free Taco Bell chalupa -- assuming they can get south of the border before Anderson cleans them out, that is. He's going to be hungry. As a fellow fatty, I will eschew the elevator and climb the steps to the press box in sympathy for Jimmy, at least as far as you know. If this sells out, look for Jimmy Anderson Pitches Both Ends of a Doubleheader Day.

Remember the '80s Night. Fans showing up early get to jog to first base with George Hendrick, misplay fly balls with Steve Kemp and do drugs with Dale Berra.

Greg Brown Night. In honor of the Pirates' broadcaster, fans will be encouraged to get wildly and inexplicably excited over routine plays.

Break Your Ankle Like Jason Kendall Night. Fans can go on the field before the game and have their ankles snapped in half just like the Pirates' catcher did two years ago. Doing the honors with one swing of the bat will be Chad Hermansen, who will, hopefully, make solid contact for a change. Kendall will sign everyone's cast at a later date, thus enabling the Pirates to get two promotions out of this fiasco.

Jim Leyland Night. Sponsored by Marlboro. All fans get a carton of cigarettes, which they are encouraged to chain-smoke throughout the evening. If the game isn't called because of the resulting cancerous haze, each fan will grab a microphone during the seventh-inning stretch and proclaim that they are staying for the duration of the game no matter what. Then, of course, they dash for the exits.

Kevin McClatchy Cup Night. Fans receive a replica of the tin cup he used to beg for stadium money in Harrisburg.

John Vander Wal Night. In keeping with this career journeyman's self-canonization, he'll make a speech before the game, complete with Lou-Gehrig-at-Yankee-Stadium echo effect: "I consider myself to have had (had, had) ... the luckiest season (season, season) ... on the face of the earth last year (year, year)." Vander Wal will be benched that day, then retire before season's end because of the effects of John Vander Wal's Disease, which prevents the afflicted from hitting left-handed pitching.

Maz Plays Night. The Pirates let newly elected Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski play one inning. There's risk of embarrassment, of course, because it's very likely that the rotund 64-year-old will display more range than Pat Meares, turn the double play better than Warren Morris and have better hands than Kevin Young. On second thought, why not let the guy play more than one inning?

Wild Thing Night. The Pirates bring announcer Steve Blass out of the booth to duel his latter-day out-of-control counterpart, St. Louis pitcher Rick Ankiel. Fans behind home plate get S.W.A.T. team helmets for protection. Batters wear full-body armor. Charlie Sheen -- who played "Wild Thing" Rick Vaughn in the movie "Major League" -- will throw out the first ball but fire it over the backstop, beaning one of his omnipresent hookers. To move the game along, the strike zone will be expanded to anything the catchers can hold onto.

Coors Light Ladies Night. Drunken middle-aged women will race around the warning track in their cars. A test run for this promotion recently made front-page headlines.

WrestleMania Night. A cage is erected in right field. Derek Bell and John Vander Wal then fight to a finish inside said cage, with the winner getting the right-field job and the loser getting traded. If this promotion is held late in the season and the Pirates are, as expected, out of the playoff race, then the loser gets the right field job and the winner gets traded to a contender.

John Wehner Bobble-Head Doll Night. Groundbreaking surgery turns the Carrick native into an actual human bobble-head doll, and he entertains the spectators with the merry bouncing of his cranium. Hey, anything to stay in the majors, right John?

Baseball Night. Fans will be encouraged to come see a no-frills nine-inning game featuring athletes from the finest baseball league in the world.

That last one might be a very hard sell here in Pittsburgh.

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