Shortly after the story broke Tuesday night that Jacksonville Suns owner Ken Babby was changing the team’s name to Jumbo Shrimp, comedic Jaguars’ long snapper Carson Tinker put the first punch line out on Twitter.
He tweeted a play on words off the old Suns’ jingle, saying: “Baseball’s never been tartar.”
So began a social media onslaught, most of it barbs expressing disapproval of the new nickname, which included a petition on change.org that topped 7,000 signatures to keep the iconic Suns monicker.
For most of Wednesday, you’d have thought Babby and his Jumbo Shrimp staff hacked into Hillary Clinton’s email server. The furious reaction lampooning the name change came in waves, one calling it, “A totally shellfish move.”
Babby managed, on the same day of a World Series Game 7, to make Jacksonville’s minor-league baseball team a prominent media talking point. He stirred water-cooler conversation in northeast Florida about Jumbo Shrimp. That’s quite a marketing feat.
Now before people go jumping off bridges over a name change, take a deep breath. Yes, the Suns have been part of 48 baseball seasons in Jacksonville, but it’s not like Babby acts disrespectful of that history. He has publicly said many times how appreciative he is of the Suns’ legacy.
But he paid $25 million to exercise his right to make changes, and minor-league franchises all over this country are constantly re-branding to attract customers, especially kids.
That’s why you see quirky names like Fisher Cats, Beach Bums, Corn Belters, Iron Pigs, Fire Frogs, Yard Goats, Flying Squirrels and Stone Crabs dotting the minor-league landscape.
Former Suns’ player and Sandalwood High product Desi Relaford, who played for 11 different minor-league teams, is ready to be part of Crustacean Nation.
“Change is a good thing, especially in this day and age when it comes to minor-league baseball,” said Relaford. “It’s not just about the game. These guys have to sell tickets, have to maintain the fun.
“From a financial standpoint, you need to do bigger and better things. Jumbo shrimp is a mouthful, but I think before long, people will jump on board with them.”
Former Suns owner Peter Bragan Jr. took the diplomatic route about the name change, saying: “Everybody is ripping [Babby], but I’m taking the high road.”
The best thing people upset over losing the Suns’ name can do is let Jumbo Shrimp marinate for a while. It’s not going to be as big a deal in six months or six years.
Remember, Babby endured controversy in Akron when he changed that Double-A franchise’s name from Aeros to RubberDucks, but that storm quickly blew over and the ballclub is flourishing.
“It’s a bold move, a long-term strategy,” Babby said. “We don’t need to win over 1.3 million people in Jacksonville today. It’ll take some time, and that’s OK.”
Tinker was already won over, walking in the Jaguars locker room Wednesday wearing a Jumbo Shrimp cap, saying: “It’s a cool logo.”
Petition or not, Babby isn’t going to change his mind. So let Jumbo Shrimp marinate. Maybe it’ll be an acquired taste.
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