Gregg Greene knew he might get a call last Sunday morning. He didn’t sleep soundly that night. He kept waking up to check his phone.
Greene, the Seattle Mariners’ senior director of marketing, and the entire organization had waited for a call like this since 2002. Seattle was the only major league franchise that had never had a player chosen to be part of the All-Star Game’s Final Vote, in which five players in each league compete in a fan vote for the game’s last roster spot.
Greene’s phone rang around 7:30 a.m. An MLB representative said Mariners shortstop Jean Segura was one of the five American League Final Vote candidates. The call began a three-day sprint for the Mariners’ marketing and communications staff, one that included dozens of giveaways, events and outside-the-box ideas to promote Segura. As a result, the shortstop is an all-star.
“That was the most surprising news that I’ve ever had in my life,” Segura said. “People around the world trying to help me make my second All-Star Game, and now I feel thankful for those guys; they did it for me. It means a lot to me, to my family.”
Segura, an all-star in 2013, has hit .323 with seven home runs this season. But the Orioles’ Manny Machado (.315, 24 homers) and the Indians’ Francisco Lindor (.291, 25 homers) were chosen ahead of Segura to represent the American League at shortstop at Washington’s Nationals Park.
When Greene received the call in his kitchen, he wrote the names of the other AL candidates, as well as the National League players, on the back of an envelope. Segura was up against players from big-time markets, such as Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees and Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox. Seattle is a large city in its own right, but the Yankees have 3.3 million followers on Twitter, and the Red Sox have 2 million. Meanwhile, the Mariners have just 537,000.
“Oh man, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Greene said he thought upon hearing Stanton’s name, the last read by the representative, adding that he still had confidence that Mariners fans would come through for Segura.
The Mariners’ plan shifted into motion. The marketing department’s blueprint for a Final Vote candidate had been in place since the contest began 16 years ago. Every year since, the Mariners staff has been ready to go but never had the chance.
“The first thing you really need to do is find a dance partner,” the MLB representative told Greene, referencing how teams often form alliances with a team in the opposite league.
The Mariners quickly joined forces with the Giants, who had Brandon Belt in the Final Vote, so the teams could increase their campaign bases. The staff saw opportunities with the names Jean and Belt, and it helped that the Giants would be playing at home during the voting.
That morning, Greene headed to the ballpark, picking up doughnuts on the way, for a preplanned, just-in-case-it-happens meeting at 10 a.m. The week prior, digital graphic designer Trevor Milless had developed a few hashtag ideas for various players if any became the Final Vote candidate. At the meeting, about a dozen marketing and communications staffers chose #SendSegura, and that became the foundation for what followed.
“It wasn’t as if we were getting together Sunday morning and coming up with a plan,” said Colin O’Keefe, the digital marketing coordinator. “It was more just springing to action on the plan that we put in place.”
While a living document of sorts has held onto the Mariners’ campaign ideas through the years, the rise of social media drastically changed the platforms through which the message spreads. Twitter has replaced email lists, and marketing departments are tasked with producing creative promotions and catchy hashtags. (The Brewers’ Jesus Aguilar, who joined Segura at the All-Star Game after winning the NL Final Vote, was supported through the three-day contest with the hashtag #WeBelieveInJesus.)
The Mariners’ players found out Segura was a candidate Sunday morning, and soon after, the marketing staff headed into the clubhouse to seek help from his teammates. A sense of urgency came from the fact that Seattle was set to leave Monday afternoon for a road series against the Los Angeles Angels. The players combed their lockers for items that could be signed and given away.
“When our manager announced the names [for the All-Star Game], I was the last name to get announced,” Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger said. “I was happy but sad at the same time because I felt like Jean was just as deserving as I am, as well as one of our starting pitchers, James Paxton.”
For the afternoon, the Segura buzz happened in secret. The rest of the world would not know until around 4 p.m. Pacific. Once MLB announced the candidates, the Mariners tweeted, “Alright, LET’S DO THIS.” And so it began.
Segura’s teammates began tweeting their support, and the Mariners offered prizes — the items the players had given up from their lockers — for those who voted. Fans could win a Haniger-signed bat, Edwin Diaz-signed cleats, Ichiro Suzuki-signed batting gloves and even a chance to bring out the lineup card with Manager Scott Servais.
Segura’s face started popping up all over — on the Mariners’ Twitter account, on T-shirts the players wore to Los Angeles and on widely spread campaign placards.
O’Keefe and Andy Menarchek, another member of the Mariners’ digital staff, headed to Los Angeles early Tuesday morning for a preplanned trip to Seattle’s series against the Angels. Since Alaska Airlines is one of the Mariners’ partners, the staff thought there might be a way to get the airline involved. On Tuesday, O’Keefe and Menarchek showed up to the airport at 3:45 a.m. with a few hundred T-shirts and placards ready to be placed on every seat of that flight to Los Angeles.
When the flight landed, O’Keefe had a text from Menarchek, who was sitting a few rows in front of him. The message said, “Hey, did you get Tim’s email?” Tim Hevly, the Mariners’ vice president of communications, had forwarded along the embargoed results of the contest so far. Segura was in first.
“It was like: ‘All right. Well, now we’ve got a 24- to 36-hour sprint to bring this thing home,’ ” O’Keefe said. “That was like, ‘Holy cow, we might actually do this.’ Even though I was running on one hour of sleep, I was pretty fired up to see that.”
Back in Seattle that day, the Mariners set up a voting outpost at Safeco Field, and pitcher Felix Hernandez, who’s on the disabled list, went out to the sidewalk to encourage cars to stop.
Tuesday night, Camden Finney, the senior marketing manager, texted Greene and said, “We’ve got to do one more thing.” And Segura Fest was born. About 12 hours later, the Mariners hosted fans on the field, where they could vote from Segura’s shortstop position. Some injured players who were at the ballpark for rehab joined the fans, and the team served free pizza in the dugout.
“We had the lead, and we didn’t want to relinquish it,” Greene said. “Camden was bound and determined to do everything we can. We left it all out at the table.”
Voting closed at 1 p.m. on the West Coast, and the staffers headed back to their offices at Safeco. About an hour later, Finney heard the voices of Hevly and General Manager Jerry Dipoto. They were going into Greene’s office and politely interrupted a meeting he was in about an upcoming event.
Finney ran over to the doorway because she knew this was about the time the Mariners would find out. Finney, whom Greene called the “energizer” of this project, heard Segura won. He accumulated more than 13.6 million votes. Finney let out an excited yelp but knew others could not hear the news yet.
“It felt like we were just rewarded, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry out of happiness,” Finney said. “I was just so happy — so happy for Jean, happy for all our fans that put in so much effort into voting and happy for the organization as well.”
Later that afternoon, when the public received the news, the Mariners had a final task in the campaign. The staff made one change to the hashtag. It remained simple and still had alliteration — the reasons Finney liked it when the idea was pitched, before Segura had been nominated. But the Mariners changed one letter, so it now read #SentSegura.
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