For those who experienced the phenomenon, one weekend in July 2023 will forever be remembered as the time a popular children's toy from the 1950s stormed the culture all over again, sweeping into the lives of fans of all ages in an adaptation of the classic that was at once
For those who experienced the phenomenon, one weekend in July 2023 will forever be remembered as the time a popular children's toy from the 1950s stormed the culture all over again, sweeping into the lives of fans of all ages in an adaptation of the classic that was at once a genuine appreciation and an ironic send-up.
Yes, on one historic Friday night, the Jumbo Shrimp introduced Jacksonville to "Captain Potato Friend, and the Table of Parts!"
The Triple-A affiliate of the Marlins built on its reputation as having one of the most creative front offices in the Minors by dedicating its July 14 home game against the Worcester Red Sox to the grand Frankensteinian possibilities of the humble tuber. The Jacksonville faithful let their imaginations run wild, making use of hundreds of real potatoes and thousands of parts from old Mr. Potato Head toys at a table on the concourse.
"Sourcing all of those was a challenge," director of promotions and special events David Ratz said of the Mr. Potato Head parts. "We scoured eBay and Etsy for bulk orders and boxes of parts. We ultimately spent twice as much on parts than we did on real potatoes, and we did not get an equal number of arms, eyes, ears, legs.
"We had potatoes with five ears and two mouths and stuff like that."
Ratz, who earlier this year was ordered into a wheelchair by EMTs after struggling to free himself from a pole he was duct taped to during one promo night, admitted he doesn't always know how these things will be received.
"You look at your budget, you think, ‘This’ll be interesting,’ and maybe it’s going to end up a little bit of a throwaway night," he said. "But people know the toy. They played with it, and their kids played with. We were just doing something fun and that pokes fun at that plastic toy and also taps into that childhood nostalgia. That’s what a baseball game is all about, and this was a little different way to do it.”
On top of practical benefits (an edible, low-cost, environmentally friendly giveaway that spared the team licensing and copyright headaches that might otherwise arise), the use of real potatoes represented, ahem, a return to the roots of spud-oriented leisure. Long before the famous plastic lump became the first toy advertised on television, kids were playing with their food.
The Jumbo Shrimp recognized that as a timeless impulse.
"We strive to find things that people can interact with, not just a promotion on video board and some music," Ratz said. "We do those things, too, but we try to find something that people can put their hands on or in. ... From the time the gates opened, there were people at that table building Captain Potato with the table of parts. And people were there as long as the parts lasted, through the third or fourth inning.
“If you leave the park saying, ‘Hey, I played with Mr. Potato Head tonight, except with a real potato,’ that’s something you’re going to remember and be talking about for a while.”
Josh Jackson is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @JoshJacksonMiLB.