Gobblers, Hush Puppies, Lambchops, and Sweet Teas. No, these are not the items on a lavishing buffet line, rather they are four of the six options for next season’s renaming and rebranding of the Gwinnett Braves, the Triple-A Minor League Baseball affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
The Gwinnett Braves is another minor league franchise that is going along with the trend of trading in its nickname for something that would appeal more to the local culture and younger fan base. The organization announced, Friday, the six finalists out of the entries that were submitted by the fans; “Big Mouths,” “Buttons,” “Gobblers,” “Hush Puppies,” “Lambchops,” and “Sweet Teas.” Sadly, one of these will become the official namesake of the Triple-A farm club for Atlanta.
As soon as news broke of the six finalists, I had to air out my frustrations with one of my best friends and professional connections, Alex Womer, the host of “The Sports Blitz,” on Erie’s Fox Sports Radio. As he pointed out during our mostly one-sided radio conversation, he usually has to pester me to make time to call in and talk about what’s going on around the sport of baseball. This time, however, I was quick to initiate the banter about why in the world a professional sports team would be willing to be called one of six names above.
On numerous occasions, we have talked about the myriad of teams that have been given new nicknames and logos. For some reason, this change just set me off. We, and the rest of the region’s baseball community, have been used to this trend for quite some time now. In the Eastern League, the home the Erie Seawolves, we have seen the Akron Aeros, Binghamton Mets, Connecticut Defenders, and New Britain Rock Cats transform into the child-friendly Akron Rubberducks, Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Hartford Yard Goats, and Richmond Flying Squirrels, respectively. Once feared opponents have now become the faces of laughable and/or somewhat confusing creatures. I mean, seriously, what the heck is a “Rumble Pony?” And even though the Seawolves haven’t changed their name since coming into existence in 1995, fans have had to adapt to three different uniform design changes, including the most recent change, in 2013, from an orange and black color scheme to the current red, black, and white jerseys.
The problem of ridiculous mascots has trickled down from the world of professional sports to the high school level. I’ve had the experience of playing for and forever-bearing a nickname that, to me, is paired with the least intimidating mascot in public school history; the SuperBerry. With schools in my district proudly sporting nicknames such as the Knights, Panthers, and Wolves, to name a few intimidating figures, my fellow classmates and I were not spared from the multitude of jokes at our expense due to the colorful fruit across our uniforms.
Even so, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to play high school sports as I am sure that professional athletes are thankful to put on the uniform they’ve been given, no matter the color, style, or nickname. With that, I think most sports fans can agree that we are seeing more and more of these bizarre team names that are becoming the subject of jokes and ridicule, like in the first paragraph of this column.
From a business perspective, rebranding is smart. There is a new source of revenue coming in from fans who purchase merchandise, and there is an aura of excitement built for the team’s upcoming season. Also, the appeal to children with more light-hearted mascots can reel in future fans and potential season-ticket holders. While it may be profitable, rebranding leaves some fans at a loss for words when a beloved nickname or jersey design is discarded into history. One doesn’t have to walk far around a ballpark to spot a fan wearing a throwback jersey who may be pining over the good ole days.
In case you haven’t noticed by now, I am somewhat of a baseball traditionalist. I may only be 25 years old but for the game to have survived as long as it has with relatively minimal change proves, at least to me, that MLB is doing something right. As you can imagine, I have the same stance with automated strike-zones and “pitch clocks” as I do with these nickname changes. Baseball has not only survived but thrived for more than a century. Change for the sake of change is overrated.
Yes, I believe it is important for a professional sports team to be infused into its surrounding culture, and to appeal to the younger crowd. But with that, how much should a franchise sacrifice of its heritage to do so? When is the change really worth it? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Borland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.