When the sheets were passed around, Aaron Judge initially deferred. He's a rookie on one of the game's most storied franchises -- a team that, pointedly, has never had player names on the back of its jerseys -- and so you can understand why Judge might have been hesitant to
When the sheets were passed around, Aaron Judge initially deferred. He's a rookie on one of the game's most storied franchises -- a team that, pointedly, has never had player names on the back of its jerseys -- and so you can understand why Judge might have been hesitant to request anything other than his surname for his Players Weekend jersey.
But that's when teammate Todd Frazier intervened.
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"Come on, man!" Frazier implored Judge. "Get your brand out there!"
So it is that Judge's already unorthodox No. 99 will be partnered with the words "All Rise" -- an appropriate appellation at a time when Major League Baseball is allowing player personalities to surge to the surface like never before.
With his plea to Judge, Frazier -- who for the record will wear his own standby sobriquet ("Toddfather") across his back -- unwittingly articulated the spirit behind what is going to be a very special, very original and very welcomed weekend in MLB. Players Weekend, which will take place during all games scheduled between Aug. 25-27, is a rare relaxation of the uniform rules that provides opportunity for ostentation and individual expression.
"Obviously our game is a team game," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "We're very, very proud of that fact. But with things like this -- the Home Run Derby is another example -- it's also important to put the focus on individual players."
The selected nicknames will be featured on uniforms with colorful concoctions and alternate designs. Players will swing bright bats, wear vibrant spikes and batting gloves and catcher's masks. During pregame workouts and postgame interviews, they'll wear T-shirts highlighting a charity or cause near and dear to them, and the right sleeve of their jerseys will feature a patch on which they can write the name of a person or organization who helped them get where they are today.
Teamwork will always be the backbone of baseball. Its schedule will always demand steadfastness, its grind will always encourage self-abasement. But you can play the game "the right way" while still playing it in a way that is true to you and your own unique disposition. And that's what this sporting equivalent of Casual Friday helps accomplish.
"It's cool to kind of express the type of player you want to be so you can be unique," Pirates star center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "It's a cool concept."
From "Cutch" to "CarGo" (Carlos Gonzalez) to "Moose" (Mike Moustakas) to "Joey Bats" (Jose Bautista), the game is littered with established -- and obvious -- nicknames that the players have chosen to have branded on their back for these games. You'll see many an instance in which the nickname is nothing more than a simple shortening (the already short Jose Altuve whittles things down all the more with "Tuve") or a product of the Joe Girardi School of Adding a "Y" to Abbreviations (Luis Severino is "Sevy").
But there are quite a few inspired submissions in the realm of "All Rise." Yasiel Puig has embraced the "Wild Horse" moniker bestowed upon him by Vin Scully. Carlos Martinez is the "Tsunami," James Paxton is "Big Maple," Michael Brantley is "Dr. Smooth," Brandon Phillips is "Dat Dude."
Guys got creative. Hunter Pence went with the Swahili phrase for his first name, "Wawindaji" (which is frankly better than the nickname he's been called before, "Captain Underpants"). Kyle Seager is, hilariously, "Corey's Brother." Darren O'Day is "Odachowski," the last name his father grew up with.
There are even some revelations in the mix. Who knew Michael Trout wants to be called "Kiiiiiid"?
Additionally, the right sleeve of each player's jersey will feature a patch with a blank space for him to write the name of a person or organization that was instrumental to his development. The patch features a new logo that shows a progression of five players increasing in size to demonstrate the process of a player's path from Little League and youth leagues to Major League Baseball. The new "Evolution" logo, which symbolizes solidary with local youth baseball and softball organizations, will also appear on the back of each club's cap and jerseys in place of the MLB silhouetted batter.
The point of all this is to bring some flair to the field.The Players Weekend idea was one of many ways in which the league and the MLB Players Association have worked together to more effectively market MLB's stars and to engage a young audience (game-worn jerseys from Players Weekend will be auctioned off at MLB.com/Auctions, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation). Even a small moment like Nelson Cruz's All-Star Game selfie with umpire Joe West reminds us that these men are still boys at heart, and that's the kind of thing a generation of impressionable kids with a wealth of entertainment options could stand to see more often.
The game is hard and humbling, but there's nothing in the rule book stating that it is or ought to be a fun-free zone. Stuffiness and stodginess are not prerequisites toward professionalism.
"I think the fans will appreciate the style and flash we come up with that weekend," said Yankees reliever Dellin Betances (aka D. Dawg).
This event will take us to the roots of what drove today's players to the field in the first place. For one game, that connection will be quite literal. The Pirates and Cardinals will be the first clubs to wear the alternate uniforms when they play the MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., at 7 p.m. ET on Aug. 20. The crowd will consist primarily of Little Leaguers and their families in attendance at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, just up the road from the famed Howard J. Lamade Stadium where so many a child has lived out his or her Little League World Series dreams.
Three years ago, Manfred's first public appearance after he was named Commissioner-elect was to visit the LLWS. It was there that he made it clear that his priority of expanding baseball through youth participation. Soon thereafter, the league launched the booming Play Ball initiative, which operates around the very simple premise that those who play the game at a young age build a bond with it that can last deep into adulthood.
Players Weekend is ultimately an extension of those efforts, because it incorporates the casual joy of the sport at its lowest levels without interrupting the intensity and importance of the games taking place at its highest.
"[Players Weekend] will give our fans a little insight into the personality of the players," Manfred said. "It will give them, the players, the opportunity to express themselves. ... Secondly, it gives the players a chance to say thank you to people who played a particularly important role in their development as professional baseball players. I think it will be different and it's something I'm looking forward to."
In short, it's fun. And isn't that why we're here? "All Rise," because this is an idea worth saluting.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. Reporter Mark Sheldon contributed to this story.