The 25,000 fans who walked away from Saturday's Nationals vs. Reds matchup did so with a one-of-a-kind souvenir tucked under their arms.
It's a Joey Votto bobblehead commemorating the first baseman's 2011 Gold Glove Award.
Those same fans may wonder where their collectible came from.
Well, their bobblehead most likely came from a pallet parked just inside the gates to Great American Ball Park. But really, where do the caricature nodders come from?
Glad you asked. Lori Watt, the Reds' promotional purchasing and broadcast administrator, was only too happy to answer that question.
The Votto "bobble," she said, was born sometime in late 2011, when she and several others with the Reds sat down to figure out their 2012 promotional schedule.
"Our marketing strategy overall as an organization is a Friday Night Fireworks, a Saturday night fan giveaway -- something that a general fan would like, such as our bobbleheads, or a fleece blanket -- and then on Sundays, a kid-specific giveaway," Watt said. "We start plugging ideas into the schedule, some of the new things we'd seen, and then tried-and-true giveaways like our bobbleheads."
Naturally, Votto's name popped up as a player to be immortalized in bobblehead form. Though the slugger's familiar face already has adorned multiple figurines, the Reds wanted to do something to honor Votto's latest achievement, a 2011 Gold Glove.
Once it was decided that the 2012 bobblehead would be the first to feature Votto in his trademark fielding crouch, Reds file photos were placed on a CD and sent to the club's bobblehead manufacturer to be used as models.
The vendor then sent back photos of a clay mold of Votto as proposed by the Reds.
"The first thing I do is to sit down with Ralph [Mitchell, Reds vice president of communications and marketing] and a few other people, and we pick it apart. We'll find that his eyes are too far apart or his nose is too thin, his mouth is closed and we want it open, his hair is too short. We look at every part of his uniform. We tell the vendor the changes we'd like and it probably goes back and forth two, three, four times just on that mold stage until we give them the approval to go to paint," Watt said.
When that happens, Watt said, the process of revision on the Reds' side of things continues. The ballclub and the manufacturer swap correspondences until a final mockup is agreed upon.
"Again, we pick it apart -- the stripe on the pants is too thin or too thick, the bill under his hat should be black, not red ... so [with] every little detail -- we really try to make it as accurate as possible," Watt said. "Of course, it is a cartoon caricature, so it isn't going to be perfect, but we try to get the little details, painting-wise, to be correct."
Watt also pointed out that each and every bobblehead is hand-painted, which accounts for slight differences from one miniature Votto to the next.
Votto himself is pleased with the Gold Glove bobblehead.
"I like this one because it is associated with me winning a Gold Glove and that means a lot to me, because the Gold Glove was such a difficult one for me to win," he said. "And I know the fans really have a great time with them, and they really like collecting them."
Does Votto display the various miniature versions of himself?
"I save some, I collect some, simply because at some point in my life I am probably going to want to look back on it. No, I definitely don't display my own bobblehead," Votto chuckled.
The casual bobblehead collector may have noticed that the Reds have been introducing more creative designs in the last few years. Case in point: last season's Dusty Baker bobblehead, featuring the skipper with the iconic toothpick in his mouth. The package included a small receptacle filled with toothpicks.
"We try to pick up what makes them special or their trait," Watt said.
In addition to Votto's Gold Glove, the Jay Bruce bobblehead (scheduled for Wednesday, July 18) will feature the Reds' batting-practice jerseys, and the Johnny Cueto bobblehead, making its debut on Saturday, Aug. 4, will depict Cueto in his Luis Tiant-like windup. The Reds are also giving out a bobblehead on Saturday, June 23, to commemorate hometown hero Sean Casey's induction into the Reds Hall of Fame.
Watt explained that no two teams' use of bobblehead promotions are the same.
"Every team is different on their strategy -- some teams only do one [bobblehead] or none," she said. "Everybody does different styles, works with different vendors. Some are more actively posed, more of an athletic body versus the fatter posed body. Some are more athletic figurines instead of an actual bobble. Some are talking bobbles, some are bobbles with the player driving a car -- they did that in Cleveland."
New to the Reds' promotional lineup this year are a Jay Bruce cereal bowl and spoon set, a Scott Rolen Gold Glove Award replica trophy, kids' binoculars, a Drew Stubbs die-cast car, Votto batting gloves, a kids' storybook and a silver miniature bat in honor of Brandon Phillips' Silver Slugger Award, among others.
"Our main goal is for them to help sell tickets, helping sell out a night," Watt said. "And for fans to take away something, and to have a connection to that player. And building a connection with that player means building a connection with our team. And that is our ultimate goal."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.