Everyone knows minor league baseball is famous for its wacky promotions to attract new fans and keep them coming back to the park. But what about a team having a giveaway for someone who might not be passing through the turnstiles for very long?
If you consider giving away a free funeral at a baseball game as entertainment both morbid and strange, the wild promotion by the Lehigh Valley IronPigs may seem a little over the top.
But for 64-year-old contest winner, Steve Paul, the funeral giveaway valued at $10,000 is a sensible blessing.
Diagnosed with ALS in June, the Lehigh Valley man entered an essay contest with the IronPigs to win, knowing his disease is fatal and irreversible.
“For a person who is not looking at their own mortality, yes it would be morbid. For a person who is trying to find some sort of peace and some sort of direction knowing what lies ahead, it is very comforting,” Paul said.
That's why Kevin Reichel, of Reichel Funeral Home in Northampton, agreed to sponsor the IronPigs' "Celebration of Life" Tuesday at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown.
The idea to put the "fun" back in funeral came from Kurt Landis the General Manager for the IronPigs and it drew over 50 entries from people describing why they deserved the free sendoff.
“Teams are used to pushing the envelope and teams want to be crazy and fun,” Landis said.
The funeral giveaway at the ballpark includes a headstone, casket, flowers and a memorial service.
The contest was tough on Paul's daughter but she knows the prize will make her remaining days with dad less stressful.
“It’s shaken my world, it has shaken the rest of my family’s world. This is one less thing that we have to worry about,” Robyn Paul said.
And in the sixth-inning, when the IronPigs announced Paul was the recipient of the free funeral on the field, he was greeted with a standing ovation after reading his essay.
For his remaining days, the wheelchair-bound Paul — who rewrote the essay a few times before finally submitting it — has been relieved of the burden of leaving his family to pay for his funeral.
“I am so happy. I am ecstatic,” Paul said.
Paul said he wants to be buried in Lou Gehrig's No. 4 — even though he's a longtime Philadelphia Phillies fan.