Here at Beyond the Box Score, we devote our time to writing about baseball. But I'm going to go off on a small tangent and mix in a bit of (football) soccer. If you’re not a huge soccer fan, then you're probably not familiar with Il Fenomeno: Ronaldo Luis Nazario da Lima. Or Frederico Chavez Guedes. Or Givalnido Vieira de Souza? OK, but I bet you have heard of Neymar da Silva Santos Junior.
If the answer to the above four is no, maybe it’s because these are the given names of four of the top Brazilian soccer players in history: (the original) Ronaldo, Fred, Hulk, and Neymar. The reason I mention these players is because soccer fans don’t know them by their surnames like Trout or Harper. We know them by their nicknames or first names.
Brazilian soccer, and its players, have a tradition where they don't put their family names on the back of their jerseys. They use either their first name or their nickname. This is kind of cool, if you ask me, because they look to celebrate their individuality, detached from their families (which, of course, does not mean that they have anything against their families).
Why do I bring this up on a baseball site? Because, for a single weekend in August, Major League Baseball has decided to cater to its fun side and allow players to display nicknames on the back of their shirts. I think this is a really awesome idea because it moves baseball toward a more fun and intimate place.
MLB has a problem marketing its players. This doesn’t happen in many other sports. The main issue behind this problem: There is no chance for players to be intimate with fans. Sure, if you get to a game early, you'll see players signing baseballs and other memorabilia, which is something no other sport features. But the times when a player was known only by his nickname — like Joltin' Joe or the Babe — are gone.
This is unlike other sports, where, for instance, if I talk about The Greatest, you already know that I’m thinking of Muhammad Ali. If I mention La Pulga (The Flea): That's Lionel Messi. Harry Potter: Zinedine Zidane.
MLB can benefit from marketing its players not by their given names but by their nicknames. Fans can form deeper bonds with them; histories and legacies can be built around them. And we can have fun celebrating their individuality.
Think of a world where we see Hawk, Kid, Big Unit, or Rocket written on the backs of a player's jersey: It becomes easier to familiarize with the person wearing the uniform. A greater connection is formed because that's how their close friends and family know them. For fans, calling these players by the same name their family and friends use invites us to join that inner circle.
Sure, history will always know them as André Dawson, Gary Carter, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens. But for us fans who worship and perpetuate their legend, they're more than their given name.
Much like Bryce Harper, I also want baseball to be fun. I want to see bat flips, and pitchers celebrating a strikeout, and teams jumping up and down when they take the lead. In fact, my favorite baseball GIFs come from the late Jose Fernandez celebrating the small things in baseball.
MLB is known for its stoic approach toward the game. Batters and pitchers are discouraged from showing any type of emotion because it means disrespecting your opponents. I understand that, but I come from a school of thought where celebrating an individual or team achievement does not mean disrespecting your adversary. It actually displays the degree of fun a team is having.
Just look at this ad from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Tell me those celebrations don’t seem fun. And none of these aim to show up the other team — they're just about enjoying the game.
MLB is taking a step in the right direction with this marketing campaign. For a single weekend — so far — we will be able to share a name that players reserved before for their close friends. And fans will feel like a part of that inner circle, if only for a couple of hours.
Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and BP Bronx and is contantly geeking out over baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.