It's a bold move, meant to energize the local fan base. But a Jacksonville baseball team's decision to rename itself the Jumbo Shrimp is meeting with a mixed reaction. Some say they can't wait to buy a team jersey; in other corners, it's being panned like so much scampi. A petition has been started.
Just like a shrimp, the team says, the new name is rich — with meaning. In addition to highlighting the city's connection to seafood, it's also a play on Jacksonville's role as "a big small town — Florida's largest city, yet in many ways a richly connected and close-knit community," the team says.
"We understand the rich tradition of this region and wanted to embrace it in a way only Minor League Baseball can," said Jumbo Shrimp General Manager Harold Craw, in a news release.
In Minor League Baseball, oddball names are part of the allure, as teams signal that they're far from the staid world of national sports leagues. Jacksonville's new crustacean identity replaces the Suns, the team's former name that dates to the 1960s. The team says it worked with San Diego-based marketing company Brandiose to create its new identity.
Brandiose has been part of several extreme makeovers in Minor League Baseball, including the renaming of Connecticut's New Britain Rock Cats as the Hartford Yard Goats in 2015.
"The Jumbo Shrimp will be a fun, fresh face in town, and I am excited for our fans to see them come to life next spring," says team owner Ken Babby, 36, whose plan for the Miami Marlins Double-A affiliate is similar to the strategy he used in shaking up his Akron, Ohio, team that went from being the Aeros to the Rubber Ducks in 2013.
The Jumbo Shrimp name was officially announced Wednesday morning — but Babby unveiled it to The Florida Times-Union Tuesday, calling the Jumbo Shrimp "a gritty, tough, hard-working shrimp."
Other opinions are available. And in Jacksonville, some of the team's fans say they were perfectly happy with the old name. A petition calling on the owner to return to the Suns attracted some 4,000 signatures in just 14 hours.
Here's the top-rated comment on that petition:
"They've been the suns since I was born. My parents took me to games and I was looking forward to taking my kids someday. Babby is an out of towner hiring out of town consultants to bugger up a tradition they know nothing about."
By reinventing itself as the Jumbo Shrimp, Jacksonville is aiming for the high bar that's been set by uniquely named teams such as the El Paso Chihuahuas, Fort Wayne Tincaps, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Wichita Wingnuts and Montgomery Biscuits.
Babby also said he expects a range of reactions to the change. From the comments on that story, and on the newspaper's tweets about the name, we'd say he's right.
"Please let this article be a joke!" a reader wrote on the Times-Union story, saying the name will be "another black eye" for Jacksonville.
The reactions were so varied that the newspaper devoted a separate story to them, hours after the initial story ran.
Via Twitter, Wesley Larkin wrote, "Could you wait until 2017 to announce this? We've experienced too much in 2016."
Others were more enthusiastic, saying the local sports scene needed shaking up. And several people announced their plans to buy hats and T-shirts with the new name and logo.
Still others marveled at the headlines and puns the new name could bring. And one commenter simply noted the (potentially delicious) implications of a Shrimp and Biscuits matchup.
Sadly, we aren't likely to see a giant shrimp out on the sidelines, taking part in mock-wrestling matches with a biscuit or (shall we dream?) a Chihuahua. The Jacksonville team says its mascot duties still belong to Southpaw, the dog character who has been with the team for years.