Admit it: Garden gnomes are kinda cute. Characterized by red pointy hats, long white beards and pudgy bodies, gnome figurines are smile-inducing fixtures in gardens around the world.

According to legend, underground gnomes “came alive at night” to toil in gardens and protect them from “evil sorcery,” the Balcony Container Gardening website says. The garden gnome as we know it today — in all its “adorable tackiness and extreme portability,” as one website noted — first appeared in German gardens in the 1800s.

These days, they’re not just showing up in gardens, though. Bearing the likenesses of prominent figures in baseball, they’re being given away to fans at Major League Baseball games, most likely winding up on shelves rather than in gardens.

Perhaps those baseball-giveaway promotions explain why certain areas of the U.S. are especially intrigued by garden gnomes. A LawnStarter ranking based on Google Trends data finds that seven of the eight U.S. metro areas that are the most gaga over garden gnomes have Major League Baseball teams. (Other pro sports leagues also have garden gnomes.)

Thousands of Baltimore Orioles fans got their hands on the Buck Showalter gnome.
Photo: Baltimore Orioles

At No. 1 in our ranking is Baltimore, MD, home of professional baseball’s Baltimore Orioles. In the past, the Orioles have done gnome giveaways twice — once in 2015 and the second time in 2016.

The Orioles’ first gnome giveaway happened June 28, 2015, when a Buck Showalter garden gnome was handed out to the first 25,000 fans age 15 and over before the second game of a doubleheader, team spokesman Adam Esselman says. Showalter is manager of the Orioles. In March 2017, a new-in-the-box Showalter gnome was being sold on eBay for $44.99.

The team’s second gnome giveaway occurred July 9, 2016, when a Manny Machado garden gnome was passed out to all 43,288 fans at that day’s game, Esselman says. Machado is a third baseman and shortstop for the Orioles. In March 2017, one website was selling a new-in-the-box Machado gnome for $42.99.

Manny Machado gnome

The Baltimore Orioles’ Manny Machado gnome was a hit.
Photo: Baltimore Orioles

By the way, the 2016 edition wasn’t the first garden gnome made in Machado’s honor. Three years earlier, in August 2013, the minor-league Bowie Baysox baseball team handed out Machado gnomes to the first 1,000 fans age 13 and up. Machado was a Baysox shortstop before joining the Orioles in 2012.

The Baysox, a Maryland affiliate of the Orioles, say Machado was the team’s first player to be depicted as a garden gnome. The Machado gnome is wearing white Baysox overalls and a tall black hat, and is holding a baseball in his right hand and a shovel in his left hand.

The Orioles and the Baysox aren’t the only teams that have pitched gnomes as a promotional gimmick. The San Francisco Giants are said to have been the first Major League Baseball team to hand out free garden gnomes. That was back in 2012.

San Francisco Giants gnome

The San Francisco Giants started giving away gnomes in 2012.
Photo: San Francisco Giants

Since then, Major League Baseball gnomes have been a hit, with several teams following the Giants’ lead in the gnome-giveaway game. In 2016, a dozen teams gave away garden gnomes, the Sacramento Bee reported.

“I think what teams are doing is just trying to think of creative new ways, through giveaways, to drive people to games. And it just so happens that the hot thing right now is gnomes,” Michael Colangelo, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Sports Business Institute, told the Sacramento newspaper.

Here are the eight metro areas where garden gnomes are the “hot thing,” based on our examination of Google Trends data showing search activity for the term “garden gnome” from January 2004 to March 2017. On the Google Trends scale, a score of 100 indicates the highest interest level for a search term.

1. Baltimore, MD

Google Trends score: 100

2. Salt Lake City, UT

Google Trends score: 94

3. St. Louis, MO

Google Trends score: 88

4. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN

Google Trends score: 81

5. Denver, CO

Google Trends score: 75

6. Seattle, WA

Google Trends score: 73

7. Washington, DC

Google Trends score: 65

8. Chicago, IL

Google Trends score: 64

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Top photo: PressBox

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