By Andrew Kahn
Major League Baseball yesterday announced “Players Weekend,” an August 25 through 27 celebration that includes a Cardinals-Pirates game at a minor league field in Williamsport, PA, during the Little League World Series; jerseys with nicknames on the back; and other fun uniform accessories that would otherwise be dress code violations. The goals for the events, according to MLB, “are to celebrate youth baseball and the role it plays in developing major leaguers as well as creating a fun and youthful environment for fans to learn more about the players and for the players to show more of their personality.”
In case there is skepticism about the intentions of the event, let’s discuss. First of all, of course MLB is going to sell the game-worn novelty jerseys. But the proceeds are supporting the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation. Replica jerseys will be sold to the public for profit.
As for whether the celebration will have its desired effect, there are many ways to measure a sport’s popularity. Over the last few years, there have been plenty of stories about the relationship between young people and baseball. Whether focusing on participation numbers or kids as fans, the narrative is typically negative. But consider the latest annual report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which found that baseball and softball combined to have the most youth participation among team sports in 2016. Play Ball, the league’s initiative to get young people interested in the game, launched in 2015, and there is reason to believe it is working. At the very least, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of baseball’s death are exaggerated.
As for Players Weekend itself, it’s likely the “uniquely colored and designed bats, spikes, batting gloves, wristbands, compression sleeves, and catcher’s masks” will first catch your eye. The best part of the celebration, potentially, will require a closer look. What will players choose for their nicknames?
It’s no secret that current Major Leaguers, and today’s athletes in general, are short on (high-quality) nicknames. While the stars of a different era had nicknames like Babe, The Big Train, and Double X, many of the best players of 2017 have no alternate monikers.
Baseball-Reference.com, in its quest for thoroughness, does in fact list nicknames for Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. However, do teammates actually call Harper “Bam-Bam” or “Mondo”? It appears “Millville Meteor” was an erroneous edit on Trout’s Wikipedia page, a play off of Mickey Mantle’s nickname that hasn’t stuck. Proving those nicknames are nonsense, Harper chose “Big Kid” and Trout with “Kiiiiid.”
Surely many players will go with simple abbreviations of their last name or an uncreative combination of their first and last name: Paul Goldschmidt chose “Goldy,” Adam Morgan went with “A-Mo.” Those are not real nicknames.
Please don’t read this in the voice of an old man yelling about his lawn. There’s no harm in a player choosing a lame nickname for Players Weekend, and hopefully we’ll see some good ones. MLB.com is already selling some gear, giving us a sneak peak. Kyle Seager chose “Corey’s Brother.” At least two players with the first name of Aaron went with “A-A-Ron.” While I prefer “Condor” for Boston’s Chris Sale, “Stickman” is still a nice choice. Pablo Sandoval is back with the Giants so “Kung Fu Panda” is in play. (No, Bartolo Colon will not take the mound with “Big Sexy” on his back; he’s going with Morales, his late mother’s last name.)
Players Weekend will mark the first time we’ll see any name on the back of a Yankees jersey—Aaron Judge is going with “All Rise,” by the way—and the first time a Red Sox player will have one while playing in Fenway. (The Giants also don’t display last names on their home jerseys, but they’re on the road that weekend.)
The least conspicuous part of the Players Weekend uniforms is the most mesmerizing. Players will wear a patch in which they can include the name of a person or organization that helped them in their baseball development. The patch features five silhouette batters in different stages of their life and swing, including a larger version of the much-debated MLB logo. If you were confused about whether the hitter was right- or left-handed before, seeing four other ambiguous batters won’t help. Props to MLB for a well-designed logo and coming up with what should be a fun weekend.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn