Last night, I was asked to “model” for the team which will be replacing the Jacksonville Suns. “What?” I thought, “Not the Jacksonville Suns. Is Ken really going to change the name?” I got over it and agreed even before hearing what the new name was. The assistant GM gave me a little pep talk ahead of breaking the news, “okay, are you ready?” I was already sitting. He also swore me to secrecy. “It’s the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.” I am never speechless and probably was a little speechless, waiting for the punchline. “Wait until you see it,” Noel added. This isn’t my first rodeo, so I took my oath to secrecy seriously and only told my wife and maybe three other people- all equally sworn to secrecy.
When the news broke later last night, it was tremendous. People who normally would not even be talking about Game 7 of the World Series were talking about Jacksonville’s minor league team. Not the upcoming huge college football game, Jaguars coaching changes or Presidential election. They were talking about the AA affiliate of the Marlins.
Sure, there was outrage and some amazing puns. Carson Tinker should get a dime every time someone says, “Baseball’s never been tartar.” But it was passion- something which has been absent from Sun’s baseball in a long time. I fell in love with the concept and the genius behind a brilliantly timed marketing splash. I love the Bragans and certainly respect what they brought to the table as “old school” owners, but “old school” doesn’t get it anymore. Look at what the Jaguars have done across the street to see what you have to do to be competitive for dollars these days.
And then I wondered… what’s in a name?
In 1917, we were home to the Jacksonville Roses. In 1926, the Jacksonville Tars played here. We’ve hosted the Red Caps of the Negro Leagues, the Jets and the Jays. The Jacksonville Shooters, JAM and SLAM played basketball here. On the ice, we have been the Lizard Kings and the Bullets. We even had the Tea Men for a bit in the 80’s. We have the Jaguars right now and even an Armada, but neither are very ferocious. In fact, they are playing way beneath their stature.
None -not one- of these mascots were meant to be literal and you don’t have to be a symbol of traditional power or strength to be awesome. Most players know that. And it is what is really cool about minor league sports- it can be both fun and a little campy. I was a Baker Hornet. I have also been a Red Sox and a Crimson Tide fan- all pretty lame in their own over-analyzed right.But look no further to the Savannah Bananas, the Montgomery Biscuits, the Hops, or the partially owned by Bill Murray Charleston River Dogs for how baseball can be fun, too.
And I have stared at the SUNS logo for years, with it’s same upside up and as upside down writing and evil wink and wondered, can we do something better? Can we have a modern mascot? Okay, maybe I wouldn’t have picked the Jumbo Shrimp, but I also wouldn’t have had the guts to be different and stand out like Ken has. He will sell more hats and swag outside of Jacksonville than the Suns ever have. I’d buy $250 worth right now. Southpaw lives in, too, so we won’t be chased by a huge… I mean jumbo… shrimp just yet.
Some of the coolest parts of our ecosystem are diminutive, if not microscopic. A shrimp’s heart is in its head. I like that about a shrimp. And I love Ken Babby for bringing passion to Jacksonville. I am proud to be a Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp darnit. My heart is in my head waiting for next season (whatever that means). We will be renewing our sponsorship because we earthlings need to stick together, haha.