There is no denying the impact that Bryce Harper had when he started his rehab assignment with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on Tuesday night. The reigning MVP hit two home runs, scored three runs, and drove in four to help the IronPigs to a 10-5 win over Gwinnett. The monetary impact for the IronPigs of course, was enormous with a packed house of fans buying souvenirs and eating as many dollar hot dogs as they could handle. There may have been a few beers sold as well to some of the 10,100 fans in attendance.
The timing of Harper’s arrival was perfect. He showed up on a night when the IronPigs had a long-planned promotion to take on the moniker of the IronMutts to coincide with their Tail Waggin’ Tuesday theme when fans are welcome to bring their dogs out to a game. The night was also planned to help local shelters get dogs adopted. Instead of having people visit the shelter to see the dogs, the dogs took a road trip to where the people would be.
The IronMutts also wore special jerseys and caps that were autographed by the players and auctioned or raffled off to fans. The auctions are a mainstay of the team, but they usually do not have a game worn and autographed Bryce Harper jersey among the treasures.
“Although Harper was certainly the huge attraction, we planned the IronMutts night and theme over a year ago. It’s heartwarming to be able to help local charities to the extent we were financially, but also especially with the exposure they received,” said Kurt Landes, the president and general manager of the IronPigs. “We wanted to celebrate the ‘underdog’ of dogs – the mutt – and use it as an opportunity to support local rescues. This year’s big dog night had a larger purpose than just a funny storyline or great logo.”
The event had been preceded by theme nights as the IronPugs and IronWeiners in past seasons, but Harper’s appearance made this one extra special, resulting in impressive donation tallies for local groups. The Harper jersey auction finished at $2600, and the entire auction and raffle finished at $10,838, both setting records for money raised. IronPigs Charities, which supports local community groups, and The Animal Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley, which works to donate food to all 12 of the agencies who took part in the night, will split the proceeds.
“The Animal Food Bank was a great charity to choose for the event because they assist all the local rescues,” Landes explained. “In addition, a portion of ticket sales from a dedicated ticket link given to the rescue organizations helped them raise an additional $1,074 to support their efforts.”
In all, 12 different shelters were involved in the night and a total of 44 loveable dogs were adopted. Plus, the agencies expect continued interest from fans who showed interest in dogs at the game. Those fans who left the ballpark not holding a leash with a new friend on the other end of it will now have area shelters to visit as they continue their search.
“Last night was incredible for many reasons, but to be able to bring additional attention and media to the local dog rescue organizations was special. Nearly all of the organizations that were here last night are run entirely by volunteers who care deeply for the animals,” said Landes. “The best promotions not only draw fans to the ballpark and increase merchandise sales, but also help our community and have an impact beyond the stadium. We’re blessed to be able to utilize our brand to help others.”
Harper is planning to continue his rehab through Saturday night at Lehigh Valley. The stint could be cut short at any time if Harper feels he is ready to return to playing for the Phillies. He could also sit out a game or two if he experiences any discomfort in his left thumb which was broken when he was hit by a pitch two months ago.
“It’s basically all up to him,” admitted IronPigs manager Anthony Contreras. “He will decide how many at-bats he wants each night and will make the call on when he is ready or on whether he needs a night off.”