Jackson Tributes Continue at Sporting Events

We've had two weeks of sporting tributes to Michael Jackson, from a one-gloved Ken Griffey Jr. to earnest words from Tiger Woods ("the greatest entertainer") and Magic Johnson ("made me a better point guard,"), from Ron Artest's arcane jersey selection to Arland Bruce's pretend burial celebration in the CFL. ↵

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↵All impressive displays of the emotions Michael Jackson could inspire, each unexpected in its own way. But athletes are born showmen, and so in some way, none of these tributes really showed the way MJ made us feel. But when a pair of buttoned-up minor-league umpires -- men whose public lives typically contain all the drama of a traffic signal -- get involved in this tribute business, you really know you're having a cultural moment. ↵

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↵The Class A St. Lucie Mets held an MJ tribute during their meeting with the Palm Beach Cardinals Thursday night. It was the usual stuff: anyone named Michael or Jackson got in for free, as did anyone with a white glove. All players were accompanied to the plate by MJ tunes instead of their usual batting music, and there was both a pregame moment of silence and a 15-minute Thriller rendition on the scoreboard. A dozen or so staff numbers all wore white gloves -- gardening gloves decorated with gray and black sparkles -- and when word got down to the field, the enthusiasm spread to the men in blue. ↵

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↵"We didn’t propose the idea to them so much as they asked us," Ryan Strickland, the team's manager of sales and ballpark operations, told me. "The umpires came over before the game and asked why we were wearing white gloves. We told them what was going on, and they said, 'Where’s our white gloves?' " ↵

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↵And so Mets manager Tim Teufel, Cardinals manager Tom Spencer and both umpires exchanged handshakes and lineup cards while wearing white gloves. Big-league outfielder Angel Pagan, rehabbing in St. Lucie, also wanted in on the action, making off with Strickland's glove, which he wore onto the field. ↵

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↵"He kind of stole mine, but that got me out of wearing one, so that was good," Strickland joked. ↵

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↵The game drew about 1,600 fans, better than average for a Thursday night game. Six hundred or so were comped in, several wearing black hats in addition to their white gloves. A Japanese television crew showed up, the only media outlet who responded to the MJ tribute. And the home team won in a 16-3 rout, easily its best offensive performance of the season. ↵

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↵"It was exactly two weeks from the death of Michael Jackson, so it kind of made sense," Strickland said. "You’re always looking for promotions to try to get butts in the seats." ↵

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↵The St. Lucie Mets are at home again tonight. They're giving away Harrah’s Casino playing cards.
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↵More images from the night after the jump. ↵

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↵Photo courtesy of the St. Lucie Mets. ↵

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↵For more of Dan Steinberg, visit his blog with The Washington Post, D.C. Sports Bog. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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