Humphrey the camel is a celebrity in Lansing

* What's the Wednesday night promotion in Lansing? On hump day, the Lugnuts welcome Humphrey the camel to the park. He's been a hit with fans, who have hugged him, hung out with him, and, of course, taken selfies with him. (Photo: Alexis Brudnicki). .... 2014 Canadians drafted … Canadians in Minors Canadians in college summer ball …. Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent

By Alexis Brudnicki

Lansing, MI – Minor league baseball is full of quirky promotions.

Down on the farm, fans are drawn to games for the baseball, the prices and the entertainment, often making plans to come back because of the latter.

For a few seasons, the Lansing Lugnuts had a Ladies’ Night promotion for Wednesday home dates. It didn’t stick, so for the last couple of years the Midwest League affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays ran through a variation of other mid-week events and looked to other teams for ideas before coming up with their own Hump Day promotion, bringing Humphrey the camel out to the ballpark for Wednesday home games.

“There are some teams out there doing Wine Wednesdays and some other things that appeal to a different demographic,” said Jeremy Smoker, Lansing’s Director of Marketing. “We saw Weiner Wednesdays for a handful of teams doing hot dog ballpark promotions.

“Obviously, the virality of the hump day phenomenon is sort of what minor league baseball is all about, taking advantage of what’s out there in pop culture. [Earlier this season] when that cat saved the kid’s life from the dog, the cat threw out a first pitch a week later. So it’s the perfect example of taking something that lives in the pop culture world that people have embraced, and translating it into something real and tangible.”

Once the team decided to celebrate Hump Day at Cooley Law School Stadium, there was still some figuring out to do before the idea could come to fruition.

“We talked about it and thought, 'how realistic is that and what’s it going to be?'” Smoker said. “Our [owner] is a big baseball guy; a traditionalist, so I don’t want to say we’ve stayed away from a lot of those things, but…we would never have that cat throw out the first pitch here.

“When we talked about it before presenting ideas to the ownership group for a stamp of approval we thought it might not fly. But he is an old ad agency guy and he’s developed a lot of national campaigns in the media space and obviously he’s seen commercials, so we started talking about it and he said, ‘Can we get a camel?’…

“So it turned into calling a bunch of camel guys and figuring out how we wanted to position it.”

What exactly does “calling a bunch of camel guys” entail?

“Well, the number of camel vendors is fairly limited,” Smoker said. “We started with the local zoo here, who we work with on the charitable side of things…but once they’re at the zoo, that didn’t work. So we had to find somebody else who does this. A lot of them do events, fairs, things where it’s a camel walking around in a circle, a kid walks up, hops on the camel, rides the camel, hops off.

“We thought, I don’t know if that’s necessarily as impactful as [we want]. Is it really about the kid hopping on the camel and going for a ride, or is it about integrating him into the day and making him a celebrity? So that’s the route we went.”

Humphrey the camel arrives at the stadium before gates open on Wednesday nights. The incredibly gentle animal walks the concourse among the Lugnuts' fans until it’s time for him to bring out the game balls. Then he sits back, relaxes and takes in nine innings from his spot behind the home plate seating area.

“He’s the most calm, cool camel I’ve ever seen,” Smoker said. “Usually about halfway through his time around the concourse he just sort of lays down like your dog would lie down. We open the gate and people walk in, stand next to him, hug him, hang out with him, and take selfies with him.”

Kirk is the name of Humphrey’s handler, and the owner of his own licensed zoo, found by Smoker when he Googled camel vendors.

“He does a lot of church work, he does his handful of fairs, and he has other camels who do traditional ride stuff,” Smoker said of Kirk. “He does a lot of school and educational work where he goes to schools and they teach kids about various animals…

“He’s been great. He’s been doing this for a long time and enjoys the environment with the people and their interest in a camel, which is good because he’s probably answered the same questions 50 times.”

To answer the most frequently asked inquiry: Yes, Humphrey will eat a hot dog.

In his first year with the Lugnuts, the camel has been a hit. Though the day dedicated to Humphrey has never been the biggest draw in Lansing, his presence has helped at the ballpark, and he’s sparked an increased interest in several of the team’s social media outlets.

“New promotions are always tough, and Wednesdays have not notoriously been a great day for us,” Smoker said. “We’re a little bit unique. There are some teams in our league and some teams in minor league baseball where their attendance is pretty consistent day to day and they bump a bit on weekends and we tend to be slow during the week but Thursday, Friday, Saturday we jump three times as much as they would…

“So we’ve seen a little bit of success on Wednesdays and…our goal is really to build it, develop some brand equity in it, and as long as people enjoy it and the sort of phenomenon continues, we hope to continue to do it. It’s fun.

Next Wednesday night (Aug. 13) is Lansing's last Wednesday home game of the season, and thus will be the last opportunity for Lugnuts fans this year to experience hump day with Humphrey.

“It’s the one day of the week where I can guarantee when I walk up and down the concourse and stand by the camel that everybody who walks by smiles and laughs. At the end of the day, we work in a business where it’s about people having a good time. If a bunch of kids and their parents walk away having a unique experience and tell their friends and they come back and they’re talking about the Lansing Lugnuts, then we’re doing our job.”

-- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis