We've seen some wild Minor League jerseys -- and then there's this one

February 26th, 2024

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE.

It sounds like an esoteric, essentially unsolvable riddle: What do you get when you cross a mouse, an ape and a celestial vision?

The answer, at least in this highly specific instance, is the “Public Domain” theme jerseys that the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Triple-A affiliate of the Marlins) will wear on May 19. "Steamboat Willie," King Kong and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” are together at last; these three entities have nothing in common save for the fact that intellectual property rights no longer apply to them.

The man behind this unabashedly weird creation is Jumbo Shrimp promotions director David Ratz, who, like everyone in his field, has to make sure that theme jerseys and promotional materials do not infringe on preexisting trademarks (unless permission has been granted to use the intellectual property in question). Drawing from the public domain removes these concerns, even if it results in a promotion far removed from the zeitgeist.

"Steamboat Willie," a 1928 cartoon short featuring the public debut of Mickey Mouse, had its copyright expire at the beginning of 2024. While Mickey Mouse is still trademarked by Disney, the archaic "Steamboat Willie" depiction of him is available for anyone to use.

“That got us thinking,” said Ratz. “Let’s do something along the lines of Public Domain Night.”

Further research into the idea led to the discovery that King Kong and “Starry Night” are also in the public domain. The three disparate images are depicted equally on the jersey, emphasizing the overall concept. Ratz said that he and his team are currently “putting the finishing touches” on other elements to be added to the evening. Expect, for example, to be inundated with America’s most well-known song.

“[We’ll be] loudly singing ‘Happy Birthday' to somebody during every inning,” he said. “That was a big trademark versus public domain thing.

“It’s fun and dumb. And, you know, why not?” Ratz concluded. “That’s kind of our motto: Why not?”

If one is looking for other examples of this mentality on the Jumbo Shrimp promotional calendar, then one will soon find it. Take for example, the theme night taking place on April 9.

“Being in Florida and sometimes the political state that it is, Band Books Night is going to be one of my favorite nights. It’s not what you think,” said Ratz, going on to describe an evening dedicated to -- wait for it -- reading passages from musical biographies.

“We’re having a ‘Snow Day Snowball Drop’ where we’ll have about 1,000 white beach balls that we’ll throw off the suite level during the seventh inning stretch,” he continued. “We’re [also] going to have a ballpark rave: ‘Quoth the rave: give me more.’ We’ll have a ton of glow sticks and utilize our LED lights after every half-inning for about 10-20 seconds. ... Going with the weird and wild, we will have ‘Mystery Eggroll Night’ where our food and beverage department will fry up God knows what in a ton of different eggrolls and we’re going to make people eat them.”

And so on and so forth, from March through September, early spring into the beginning of fall.

“You know, if you come out and you get it and you have fun, awesome,” said Ratz. “If not, we have 74 other theme nights on the promo calendar. Something is sure to get you going or get you excited.”

In recent editions of this newsletter, I have asked you -- the presumably loyal reader -- to tell me a little bit about yourself and your Minor League Baseball fandom.

If you’d like to be included in a future “Reader of the Week” segment, then get in touch: [email protected]. And send a picture of yourself while you’re at it if you're so inclined; it occurs to me that that would be good to include as well.