As I mentioned in my recap of Monday’s game, the Indians recently held a promotion called Social Media Appreciation Night. I found out about it last week when I got a mass email which began like this:

Indians Announce Social Media Appreciation Night

To thank you for your dedication to the Indians and your continuing involvement with the team through social media, the Indians and [SportsTimeOhio] will be hosting Social Media Appreciation Night on Monday, October 1. As a Social Suite guest in 2012, the Indians are offering you the first opportunity to take part in the event by reserving your free ticket today.

As part of the event, you will be able to interact with fellow social media users, and members of the Indians including team President Mark Shapiro and a player from the current roster. All attendees will also receive a free t-shirt, and have access to other giveaways and a buffet on the Budweiser Patio, courtesy of STO.

I was surprised to receive such an email, because contrary to what it said in the second sentence, I was never a social suite guest in 2012. I applied to be one, but I was never offered the chance to use the social suite. Be that as it may, I’ve never been one to turn down a free ticket to an Indians game, especially one wherein I am also treated to a free buffet.

The email told me to email a certain member of the Indians front office to reserve my ticket for the event, so I did. They made it clear that invitees would receive one and only one ticket. A few days later I got a response telling me that I could receive a ticket, followed by another email telling me where my seat was and how to claim the ticket.

The event was held at the Budweiser Patio not far from Gate C. At the patio, we were greeted by a team official, who checked our names to see if we were on the list of attendees. We were given a wristband and a t-shirt (they were all the same, but they had about four different sizes), and were then asked to write our names on slips of paper for the raffle prizes.

The buffet turned out to be hot dogs, barbecued chicken sandwiches, pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, popcorn, potato chips, fruit, and chocolate chip cookies. Soft drinks were provided; those who wanted beer could have it, but they had to buy it. I stuck with Pepsi.

Stephanie and Susan, who were social suite guests in 2012 (and 2011), also got invitations, and attended the event. We speculated that the “player from the current roster” was likely to be someone who wasn’t going to be in the starting lineup that evening, maybe someone like Thomas Neal or Vinny Rottino. We did get a Vinny, or rather a Vinnie: Vinnie Pestano. He showed up wearing a red and blue Indians shirt, no cap, and answered questions from the attendees for about 15 or 20 minutes. Although he had a microphone, it was hard to hear what he was saying, at least it was from where we were sitting (which wasn’t very far away).

At Stephanie’s urging, I asked Pestano to tell about the worst hazing he’d ever gotten as a rookie. He smiled and said that once he was made to board the team bus wearing SpongeBob SquarePants boxer shorts.

After the Q & A, Anne Keegan from the Indians PR staff said that it was time for the first raffle prize, a baseball with Pestano’s autograph. Pestano reached in to the hopper and pulled out a piece of paper and read the name of the winner: me! Not only did he autograph the ball, he also added his Twitter handle underneath his signature (VinnieP52).

Team president Mark Shapiro then came out to answer questions from the crowd. He was friendly and polite, but none of us expected that anyone would ask him a real tough question, and indeed no one did. And if they had, he wasn’t going to tell anybody anything he didn’t want the world to know. There were about 100 or 150 people at the event, nearly all of whom had Twitter accounts, and a seasoned executive like Shapiro wasn’t going to blurt anything out, or reveal any insider information, knowing full well that anything vaguely controversial he might say would be the subject of a hundred tweets within minutes.

The only time Shapiro showed a hint of losing his cool was when one woman stood up and said “This isn’t a question, it’s a comment. Keep Chris Perez! If you want to punish him, keep him, don’t get rid of him!” Shapiro seemed to wince at the sound of Perez’s name, and he also may have taken umbrage at the implication that the way to punish a player would be to keep that player in the Indians organization. He mumbled something about Perez being a valued member of the team, and one who was under contract with the Indians through 2014.

Steph and Susan and I heard her comments loud and clear, and so did Shapiro, but not everyone could hear her (she was unmiked), so people asked Shapiro to repeat her remarks. He said he wouldn’t bother to do so, because if he did, “it would just be on Twitter anyway.”

Another questioner asked if there was a chance that Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore would return in 2013. Both Hafner and Sizemore have been hobbled with injuries in recent years, and it’s widely assumed that the Indians won’t pick up their option year contracts with the hefty salaries they’d have to pay. Shapiro smiled and said that no decision had been made, but that it would be safe to assume that if either man returned next year, it would be “under different circumstances” (read: Hell no, we’re not picking up the options, but if they want to come back for a fraction of what we’ve been paying them, we’re ready to have that conversation).

When Shapiro left, Keegan raffled off some more baseballs and caps. By now it was getting close to game time, so Steph and Susan and I went to find our seats. Our seats weren’t together, but they were all in the same general vicinity, so a decision was made to grant ourselves a spontaneous ticket upgrade. No, we didn’t try to sneak into the field boxes, but we did find three unfilled seats (it wasn’t hard to do, with the attendance at 14,756 that night) and we sat together to watch the game.

It wasn’t much of a game, as the Indians got shellacked, 11-0. But it’s always fun to watch a game with Susan and Steph. What’s more, there may have only been 14,756 people there that night, but each and every one of them was a true baseball fan. In 40-degree weather, watching an Indians team which was eliminated from contention over a month ago, who but a true fan would come out to the park in the waning days of the season?

Susan got a free Indians cap when Indians interns tossed them out to the crowd in between innings. She was kind enough to give the cap to me. So I went home with a free shirt, a free cap, a free baseball, and my share, or perhaps more than my share, of free food. And oh yeah, I got to see a free ballgame. Beats sitting at home watching Mike & Molly!

I guess the Indians didn’t hold Social Media Appreciation Night solely for altruistic reasons. The tickets they gave away were for seats which would have gone unsold anyway, and it couldn’t have cost much more than a couple of thousand dollars to put the whole thing together. That’s a small price to pay to buy some goodwill among people who, by virtue of being active users of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs such as IPL and others, can help set the tone between the ballclub and its fans. I do feel, though, that the Indians actually do care about their fans, and that the organization is grateful that fans care enough about the team and the sport to make themselves heard through the various platforms they now have. I’m glad I attended the event, and I hope that in 2013 I actually DO get a chance to see a game or two from the Social Suite!

The proud winner of a baseball signed by Vinnie Pestano.

The proud winner of a baseball signed by Vinnie Pestano.

I’m on the Twitter Box, too.

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