Image: Steve Mancuso/Redleg Nation

The Reds marketing department crafts promotions for inside Great American Ball Park that entertain while branding the organization in positive ways.  In general, they’ve made taking in a game at GABP an enjoyable, upbeat experience (well, other than the pesky detail of the team’s recent performance).

The “Kids Cam” is an example – during one of the inning breaks the scoreboard video cuts to shots of kids mugging excitedly for the camera – dancing, jumping, waving – personifying excitement.  And most of the kids, at least the ones who haven’t taken their shirts off to gain attention, are wearing Reds swag.  It’s a win-win feel-good moment.

But my favorite promotion just began in June, and it’s decidedly adult.

Right before the Reds run onto the field for the top of the first inning, the organization honors a member of the armed forces.  And they do it in a meaningful way.  The designated honoree walks down the aisle between sections 128 and 129 to stand on top of the Reds dugout while they are introduced by a brief PA announcement.  I get a good look from section 130.

The simple yet moving ceremony lasts no more than a minute.  The crowd applause builds as the announcer details the soldier’s service record, invariably ending in a widespread, heartfelt standing ovation. (See the picture from last night.)

In addition to the patriotism, this ‘works’ because the service member enters and exits through the crowd — always to numerous handshakes from the appreciative fans on his or her journey back up the aisle.  It’s a closer connection, both physically and symbolically, than when an honoree is standing down on the field.

Zach Bronkowski, the Reds’ Director of Promotional Events, explained to me that over the years the Reds have received far more suggestions for honoring members of the armed services than they have been able to fulfill.  “So we looked for another way to incorporate the military into our pregame ceremonies.  The ‘Here’s to Our Heroes’ program is an initiative we were doing in the form of only a PA announcement as part of a Budweiser sponsorship, but we felt like it could be more compelling with a live shot of a current military member or veteran included,” Zach wrote.

Zach notes that the honorees represent many types of service members.  “Some are veterans of 20+ years, some are simply starting their service and shipping out for boot camp soon and others still are home on their 2-week leave from current duty – including those serving overseas and in Afghanistan & Iraq,” he explained.

I asked Zach how it worked, and he said the honorees, or their family members, contact the Reds about their upcoming attendance at a game.  Some already have their tickets, but if they don’t the Reds provide up to four complimentary.

Many of them have served multiple tours of duty in the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.  I’ll confess that I choke up as I hear the details of their service, especially when it turns out he or she is at the ballgame during their short leave time at home, which is common.  As they say at the game, raise whatever you’re drinking to these heroic service members.

And also, here’s to the Reds for honoring them.