SAN DIEGO | In a former Navy barracks in San Diego’s trendy Liberty Station, Jason Klein and Casey White are reinventing minor league baseball.

 

In their one-room workspace, a wall is filled with caps bearing the pair’s logo creations: the Richmond Flying Squirrels, Akron RubberDucks, El Paso Chihuahuas and Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.

Their latest creation is that most curious of crustaceans, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

Best friends Klein and White maintain that every day is a zoo at Brandiose, the design business they created 16 years ago. But the fan support and merchandise sales they have generated in minor league franchises around the country are serious business.

They connected with Jumbo Shrimp owner Ken Babby several years ago, when they helped him rename and rebrand his Akron Aeros to the RubberDucks. So when Babby came back to them about a year ago to do the same with the Jacksonville Suns, the Florida Marlins’ Double-A affiliate he recently acquired, they knew all about the process — and the inevitable backlash.

“Jason and Casey are leaders in what they do in partnering with a team and community in finding its identity,” Babby said. “It’s more than just logo creation. It’s a real two-way process from start to finish.”

The team owner said a new name is about more than merchandise.

“The cost of the signage, developing the brand and showcasing what we are creating is far greater than a team could make in selling hats and T-shirts. It’s a misconception that we do it for the merchandise. The leading reason is to create a brand that identifies with the experience we are working so hard to build.”

Babby called Brandiose’s Akron results remarkable. Over the last four years, attendance increased 27 percent and the RubberDucks won the Larry MacPhail Award, Minor League Baseball’s top award for marketing and promotion.

Babby said they spent time on the ground “with us here in Jacksonville learning the community, talking to fans and engaging to see what makes Northeast Florida such a special place to work, live and play.”

Babby and Harold Craw, the team’s general manager, showed them around Jacksonville, where they spent days talking to locals and visiting popular places like Sweet Pete’s, which White called “the greatest candy store I’ve ever been to.”

“We absorbed what Jacksonville is all about,” Klein said. “The name and logo are part of it, but it’s the entertainment. We want to feel like the front porch of the community where you escape your everyday cares and celebrate everything you love about Jacksonville.”

“The idea of pouring a pot of shrimp on a picnic table with newsprint spread out on it became the symbol of everything … the community getting together to peel some shrimp,” White said.

Making a shrimp jumbo

The fact that Jumbo Shrimp is an oxymoron is not lost on its creators. It’s fun, most of all, and like the Flying Squirrels, Iron Pigs, RubberDucks and Chihuahuas, it’s making something small a star.

After extensive collaboration with Babby and Craw, White started sketching. “One of the challenges this time was how to make a shrimp look jumbo,” he said. “We had him turned into Godzilla, stomping over the bridges of Jacksonville, and swinging a cruise ship around. (In a final version) he’s larger than the state of Florida, with his left arm grabbing onto Jacksonville. If Mickey Mouse can wear pants, a shrimp can have arms.” Brandiose produced several final logos, with the primary one in the shape of a J for the city.

In addition to the necessary shrimp pink, which he limited as much as possible, the logo’s blue and red pay homage to the area’s military history and abundance of water.

From experience, Klein and White anticipated the negative public reaction to the name change from the Suns. Hearing their creations called travesties and embarrassments is normal.

“People don’t like surprises, especially when it comes to tradition,” White said. “But we know the end of the story, which is this hilarious, memorable, you-gotta-be-there-to-believe-it type of night out at the ballpark.”

Petitions to stop the changes, like one in Jacksonville, are par for the course, too, they agreed.

“I would say to those people, just give us a chance and check out the ballpark next year,” Klein said. “In reality, we are in football season and the Cubs won the World Series, but everyone in Jacksonville is talking about the Jumbo Shrimp.”

The hate mail from people in El Paso who despised the Chihuahuas name for their new team was the most vicious they received. “They have since become the No. 1 merchandiser,” White said. “That franchise has changed that city.”

The men are also aware of the resentment that often comes from teams going out of town — in this case across the country — to hire design and marketing professionals. They justify their specialization by the technical knowledge required for logo craftsmanship and their experience working with Minor League Baseball teams.

“The Jumbo Shrimp were built on the backs of the Chihuahuas that were built on the backs of the RubberDucks that were built on the backs of the Flying Squirrels,” White said.

Brandiose, which does work for Nike, Disney and Mattel, will be featured in an upcoming ESPN mini-documentary.

150 letters sent, 1 reply

Born in the same Southern California hospital a week apart 36 years ago, Klein and White met in kindergarten and have been collaborating on projects — from screen printing t-shirts to making home movies — ever since. While at Helix High School, they designed sports logos and uniforms for various schools.

The summer they graduated Klein auditioned to be the mascot of the San Diego Padres and got the job. “I told them if you hire me you have to hire Casey,” he said. “Casey wrote the skits and I acted them out. It was a collaborative extension of everything we’d done since kindergarten.”

College separated them for the first time. White went to the Pratt Institute of Design and Art in New York City and Klein went to the University of Alabama, where he was Big Al, the school’s elephant mascot, for a couple of years.

“We found ourselves with this high school portfolio and somebody charged with policing the logos at Alabama said, ‘You guys should get into the business of doing sports logos and reach out to Minor League Baseball because they have a lot of teams and do fun stuff like you are doing,” Klein said.

They sent 150 letters and got one reply, from the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. Now deeply entrenched in their niche, the Minor League Baseball marketing specialists rely on word of mouth and their reputation to keep busy.

Both married with sons — White’s 6 and Klein’s 2 — they appreciate the family experiences that Minor League Baseball provides.

“We have given people permission to embrace the culture of Minor League Baseball,” White said. “You can’t take your kids to a three-hour game if it’s not a circus. We are helping to keep the sport alive.”

Freelance writer Lorrie DeFrank is a former chief of the City of Jacksonville’s Neighborhood Services Division. She happened to be in San Diego when the news about the Jumbo Shrimp bubbled up.