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VOL. 130 | NO. 160 | Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Memphis Redbirds, Grizzlies Partner for ‘Grit & Grind Night’

By Don Wade

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The Memphis Redbirds and Memphis Grizzlies play in different sports and at different levels, but for years the people running the teams acted as though they were quasi-rivals.

Change has been in the works for a while – the annual Cardinals Caravan was at FedExForum this winter when AutoZone Park was getting a makeover – but now a growing partnership is in even greater evidence.

On Monday, Aug. 31, AutoZone Park will be home to “Grit & Grind Night’’ and will feature a guest appearance by guard Tony Allen, who will throw out the game’s first pitch.

Fans will be able to bid on the Memphis Redbirds' commemorative blue-and-gold Grizzlies-themed jerseys Aug. 31 at "Grit & Grind night."

Redbirds players will wear commemorative blue-and-gold Grizzlies-themed jerseys on the field, and the jerseys will be sold to fans via silent auction. Co-branded Redbirds-Grizzlies magnet schedules featuring the NBA team’s upcoming 2015-16 regular season schedule will be given away to the first 2,500 ticketed fans coming to the 7:05 p.m. game (gates open at 6 p.m.).

“We floated the idea to them earlier in the year,” Redbirds general manager Craig Unger said of the coordinated effort with the Grizzlies. “It’s right when their schedule is coming out so it’s great timing for them and for us as well.

“This is an ongoing dialogue. We’re partners here in Downtown and as part of Memphis sports. I don’t see the Grizzlies as competition at all.”

The Grizzlies are as popular in the city as they’ve ever been with five straight postseason appearances, and a likeable “Core Four” in Allen; All-Star center Marc Gasol, who just signed a long-term contract; point guard Mike Conley; and power forward Zach Randolph.

Grizzlies fans at FedExForum typically show out in their team gear. They know the players – their strengths and weaknesses – and even full names are not necessary. Everybody knows who you mean when you reference Z-Bo, Big Spain, or the Grindfather, and if you own an imitation protective mask everybody knows you’re paying homage to Conley.

Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (8), pictured here with former teammate Nick Calathes, will throw out the first pitch at the Memphis Redbirds' Aug. 31 game at AutoZone Park.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

But Triple-A baseball is a transient business. The better the player, the quicker he goes up to the parent St. Louis Cardinals and doesn’t come back. The Cardinals’ purchase of the Redbirds, and their AutoZone Park lease deal with the city of Memphis in January 2014, have brought changes to the corner of Third Street and Union Avenue.

From a much more obvious Cardinal branding presence to cutting the infield grass just like they do at Busch Stadium, things have a different feel, more of a big-league feel. Yet attendance has lagged.

Going into the Monday, Aug. 17, game at AutoZone Park, the Redbirds were averaging 4,050 fans per game through 59 openings – last in the 16-team Pacific Coast League. The Redbirds’ total attendance for 2015 so far was 238,938.

“We think the changes we’ve made are helpful,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told The Daily News during a visit to AutoZone Park in June. “But we know it’s going to take time and we’re going to continue to work at it.”

Unger says they’ve gotten good response to theme nights, such as Super Heroes Night, and that increasingly he believes the mission is to “make each individual game a destination.”

Saturday night fireworks games are popular, and he says there is no plan to move fireworks from the weekend. Newly renovated areas and the new all-inclusive Redbirds Club have received good reviews, too.

“Grit & Grind Night” also will feature the Grizz Girls and Claw Crew, and team PA announcer Rick Trotter will serve as a guest PA announcer for the baseball game. The silent auction for the jerseys will run through the end of the sixth inning with winners to be taken onto the field postgame to receive their purchased jersey from a Redbirds player. Proceeds will benefit the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation and the Redbirds Community Fund.

Unger even dismissed the notion that there is limited competition between the Redbirds and Grizzlies in the spring when both are in action.

“There’s some overlap in April and May,” he said. “But when they’re making their playoff push, they’re bringing people downtown and they’re raising the profile of Memphis.”

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