Making Baseball Fun Again

Dal3, Magic, and In Flanders Fields: Ranking our favorite Reds nicknames for the Players’ Weekend jerseys.
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Baseball is supposed to be fun, you know? Yes, it’s a billion dollar industry, but that doesn’t mean that baseball isn’t—at its heart—entertainment, a diversion that gives us something to think about other than work and life and responsibilities and whatever the Kardashians are doing these days. It’s a wonderful, exciting drama wrapped up in nine innings of men playing a kid’s game.

If it’s not fun for you, why bother? (Seriously, so many people just seem angry about their favorite team all the time. Why? It’s baseball!)

Too often, MLB’s fun police seem like they want to drain all the excitement out of the best game on earth*. Whether it’s Oakland’s Mark Canha or Cubs rookie David Bote feeling like they had to apologize for flipping their bats after particularly memorable home runs, or pitchers throwing at hitters for whatever reason—I’m looking at you, Jose Urena and Ryan Madson—big league baseball seemingly has an unlimited number of unwritten rules that appear to be designed to take the fun out of the game.

*Other than Fortnite, of course.

I love bat flips. They shouldn’t just be encouraged; bat flips should be mandatory. When players show emotion and personality on the field—when they act like they’re having fun—it’s good for the game. When Amir Garrett Garrett pumps his fist after a big strikeout, it’s fun. When Aroldis Chapman does a forward roll to celebrate a save, it’s great. (No, seriously, watch it again. Even after all these years, it’s still amazing.)

Baseball usually discourages on-field demonstrations of personality, but last year, MLB took a step in the right direction—albeit in a shiny corporate way—when they created Players’ Weekend. This weekend will see the second such event, where players are allowed to express themselves a little more: They can wear brightly-colored spikes or unique batting gloves, for example. Stuffy uniform rules are tossed out the window temporarily—but please go buy the cool Player’s Weekend jerseys!

It’s a start. Allowing players to express a little individuality is only going to make them more marketable, which is as good for MLB as it is for the players. The best part of Players’ Weekend, however? Oh, it’s clearly the free snacks. No, wait. It’s the nicknames.

Each player is permitted to have whatever nickname they choose on the back of their jersey for the weekend. As baseball goes, this is earth-shattering stuff. Of course, many of the chosen nicknames are anodyne, something derivative of the player’s actual name. For example, a kid on my son’s team has called him “Dotty” over the last couple of seasons. This is baseball, it’s what baseball players do—and at least my son’s team was having fun. (Which, again, is kinda the point.)

So, for the Reds, we have a certain group of players who will wear uninspired nicknames on their backs this weekend. For example:

Tucker Barnhart: “BARNEY”
Alex Blandino: “BLANDY”
Curt Casali: “CAS”
Brandon Dixon: “B DIX”
Amir Garrett: “AG”
Matt Harvey: “HARV”
David Hernandez: “D HERN”
Dilson Herrera: “DILLY”
Scott Schebler: “SHEB”
Jackson Stephens: “JACKO”
Preston Tucker: “TUCK”
Mason Williams: “MASE”
Jesse Winker: “WINK”

C’mon, guys. We like you, we’ll root for you, but those nicknames are completely unimaginative.

A certain segment of players don’t have typical vanilla nicknames like those above, but decided not to switch things up from last year. Michael Lorenzen is sticking with “ZEN MASTER,” a nickname hung on him by former Red Scott Feldman last year. On Eugenio Suarez’ jersey will be “NICOLLE” once again. Suarez used that last year to honor his unborn daughter; well, she’s with us now, and he’s still a proud father.

Luis Castillo is “LA PIEDRA” (“The Rock”) again. Wandy Peralta is “LA GRASA,” which translates literally to “The Fat”—so that’s what those kids were calling me on the playground last year—but actually means something closer to “The Swagger.”

After eliminating the repeats and the boring, we’re left with 13 nicknames. Let’s break them down:

Homer Bailey (“HOMER”): Sure, I guess. It’s definitely a nickname; his given name is David Dewitt Bailey. It’s also a description of the last few years of his career.

Sal Romano (“BIG SALLY”): This one barely escaped the first list above, but the addition of “Big” spiced it up a bit, while also making it descriptive. (Because he’s big.) I would have preferred Romano go with “Mustang Sally,” but no one asked my opinion.

Rookie Davis (“BILL”): This one is underrated. Davis has upended the entire system! He goes by his nickname every day, so he’s using his actual first name as his “nickname” for Player’s Weekend. This guy is a rebel, completely out of control. I love it.

Anthony DeSclafani (“DISCO”): Disco is a really solid nickname, one of the best. So it’s hard to fault DeSclafani for choosing it, even though the rumor is that he’s never cared for it. I would have preferred DeSclafani go meta with “Tony Manero,” John Travolta’s disco-loving character from “Saturday Night Fever,” on the back of his jersey. Also acceptable: “Barry Gibb” or “Donna Summer.”

Phillip Ervin (“MAGIC”): Stick with me on this one. There’s another famous Ervin—well, Earvin—whose nickname was “Magic.” Yep, you guessed it: Earvin “Magic” Tummolo, the legendary cyclist from Torino, Italy.

Scooter Gennett (“DAL3”): Scooter chose to honor his favorite NASCAR driver, the late, great Dale Earnhardt. Should’ve gone with “Kulwicki,” to be honest.

Billy Hamilton (“BONE”): This is an off-shoot of the boring baseball nicknames above, but it qualifies as distinct. On many teams, Billy would be “Ham” or “Hammy.” At some point, that turned into “Hambone,” now shortened simply to “Bone.”

Jared Hughes (“ROBOT”): “Because I do a great imitation of a robot,” according to Hal McCoy. Some of McCoy’s other reporting in that piece is way off the mark, so your mileage may vary—but it’s all we’ve got, so we’re going with it.

Raisel Iglesias (“EL CICLON”): The Cyclone. Self-explanatory, and a pretty great nickname. You could also go with “El Ciclonerino” if, you know, you aren’t into the whole brevity thing.

Jose Peraza (“EL LLANERO”) This is either “The Cowboy” or “The Ranger,” if my rudimentary Google Translate skills are working properly. Peraza is having something of a breakout season, so he can call himself anything he wants as far as I’m concerned.

Keury Mella (“MANINI”): Ummm, I’ve got nothing.

Robert Stephenson (“BOB”): Interestingly enough, this nickname is precisely as exciting as his last two starts have been. He should have gone with “BOB STEVE.” Or “THROW STRIKES.”

That brings us to the GOAT, Joey Votto. There are some great nicknames being sewn onto jerseys this year—such as Shane “Not Justin” Bieber, Aaron “A-A-Ron” Nola, and Hunter “Underpants” Pence—but none are better than Votto’s.

Last year, Votto chose “Tokki 2” as his nickname, to match his friend Shin-Soo Choo’s “Tokki 1.” On his jersey this year, Votto has chosen “In Flanders Fields,” the title of a WWI-era poem by a Canadian military doctor, John McCrae. Here’s Joey’s explanation:

“Last year being the first year we did Players’ Weekend, I didn’t realize the freedom we had. I just felt like last year, I had fun with it, but this year, I wanted to do something that had more meaning.

“I’m very proud and excited to have the opportunity to share with the public something that has meant so much to me. I’m Canadian. I remember as a student in Canada, waking up, going to school on the 11th day in the 11th month at the 11th hour, stopping and paying tribute to our past, and the ‘In Flanders Fields’ poem being part of that process. It means a tremendous amount to me. I think our country does a very good job of paying tribute to our past. Whenever I go home and I cross paths with something that has history, especially as I’ve gotten older, I find that there’s more meaning to it.”

As always, Votto is the most interesting man in baseball. And no one else is even close.

Next week, we will get back to the nuts and bolts of analyzing the Cincinnati Reds. Until then, let’s have a little fun, OK? Maybe we’ll even see a bat flip or two over the weekend.

Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, and the founder of Redleg Nation. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available now in bookstores and online.

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