SPRINGFIELD – With what already promised to be an energy-filled season, it looks like the Springfield Thunderbirds have an ace up their sleeve.
With a full slate of promotional activities already announced last month, the Thunderbirds made a surprise announcement this week that former Red Sox pitcher and Baseball Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez would make an appearance at the team’s season finale on April 13.
“We were already feeling a lot of excitement about this season and we were just able to make this happen, so it just brings everything to a new level. We’re very excited to be working with Pedro,” Thunderbirds President Nate Costa told Reminder Publishing.
Martinez was a member of the Red Sox for seven years. A three time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All Star, he was part of the 2004 World Series-winning Red Sox team. The appearance will in part commemorate the 15th anniversary of that season, during which Boston brought home its first title since 1918. Last season, the Thunderbirds drew a capacity crowd for David Ortiz Night, honoring the former Red Sox slugger. In similar fashion, the Thunderbirds will don special Red Sox-themed jerseys for the game.
“We had a great time and great response to David Ortiz night and Pedro Martinez is on that level; a different level, really,” Costa said.
Martinez’s appearance will cap a season that Costa predicts will be another successful one as the organization strives to continue the positive momentum of the first two years.
“Last year was a little different because we had the David Ortiz announcement and that event happening at the beginning of the season, so there was already a bunch of buzz,” Costa said. “This year with the weather being nice and The Big E and things like that, it had been a little quiet, but with the weather starting to get a little cooler now, people are really starting to think about hockey. This week it’s felt like a switch was flipped and the excitement is building.”
In addition to a promotional schedule that blends some tried and true favorites with some new offerings, the Thunderbirds and the MassMutual Center will play host to this year’s AHL All Star Classic Jan. 18 and 19, 2019.
“Any way we can leverage that event, we’ve tried to. We’ve been changing a lot of our branding to include the All Star game and a lot of things we do will have that fell,” Costa said. “It is kind of challenging, though, because it is an AHL event and not our event, so there are certain things we are able to do and some that we aren’t.”
Costa also said the addition of MGM Springfield offers the potential to capture a larger audience.
“I think a lot of downtown businesses have seen and uptick. There wasn’t a lot of foot traffic in the area on game nights the past two years, and that is definitely changing,” Costa said. “We have had a really great relationship with MGM Springfield, who is our presenting sponsor this year, and we’re really hoping it will translate. We have always tried to find ways to attract new fans and we hope this is another avenue that can help us with our growth.”
MGM Springfield will play host to the Thunderbirds’ annual Opening Night Pregame Block Party at its outdoor plaza to kick off the season Oct. 13. The party is open to the public from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by the game at 7:05 p.m. Among the other returning promotions are 3-2-1 Fridays , Winning Wednesdays, Sunday Funday Four Packs, Blast from the Past Night with Springfield Indians throwback jerseys, Pucks and Paws Night, Military Appreciation Night, Marvel Superheroes Night, the Teddy Bear Toss. The Friday night concert series will also return to the MassMutual Center concourse.
The Thunderbirds are also rolling out a number of new promotions and events, starting with OkT-BIRDfest, the team’s first-ever beer garden on Bruce Landon Way from 4 to 6 p.m. before the team’s Oct. 27 game. Brewers include Jack’s Abby, Mayflower, Cape Ann, Abandoned Building, Riverwalk, White Lion, Artifact Cider Project, Lagunitas, New City, Amherst Brewing, Back East, and Harpoon.
“We’re going to have 15 local breweries and this is really a way to showcase some of work the MassMutual Center has done to expand what it has around the concourse,” Costa said. “When you come to a game, you’re going to notice a ton of new local beer.”
Harry Potter Night, which Costa said has been very popular at other AHL arenas, will take place Nov. 17. Also, in addition to the annual Pink in the Rink event to support Rays of Hope, the Thunderbirds will host its first Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Nov. 24.
“This is the first time the AHL has been able to participate in this event because it had been an NHL event,” Costa explained. “We really want to help bring awareness to cancer of all kinds and help support efforts to fight it.”
A full promotional schedule can be found at www.springfieldthunderbirds.com.
With the mix of new additions and tried and true traditions, Costa said he’s looking forward to a high level of support from the community and the team’s efforts while the ice was melted have laid the foundation.
“We had a really great offseason,” he said. “We’re continuing to focus on our marketing and branding to attract new audiences and grow our fan base and it has gone very well. Our full-season ticket sales have continued to increase and we are very encouraged by the growth.”