CINCINNATI -- The inaugural Players Weekend is not just a chance for players to express themselves on the baseball field. It's an opportunity to say thank you to someone who helped them get to where they are today.• Players Weekend gear available at MLBShop.comOn both fronts, Reds center fielder Billy
CINCINNATI -- The inaugural Players Weekend is not just a chance for players to express themselves on the baseball field. It's an opportunity to say thank you to someone who helped them get to where they are today.
• Players Weekend gear available at MLBShop.com
On both fronts, Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton was pleased.
"Guys will be happy to express what they want," said Hamilton, the Major League leader in stolen bases. "A lot of guys know about all the rules for cleats and everything and don't want to get fined, so they don't get a chance to get all swag like they want to do because of the rules. It will be good for players to express the type of person and player they want to be. It will be fun for everybody."
MLB and the Players Association are behind the first Players Weekend from Aug. 25-27, when all players will be wearing non-traditional uniforms with alternate designs. Players will have the chance to use their nickname over their number on the backs of their jerseys and to wear uniquely colored spikes, batting gloves, wristbands, compression sleeves, catcher's masks and bats.
For Hamilton, he chose to go with the name "Bone" above the No. 6 on his back. It's short for one of his nicknames, "Ham-bone."
Reds first baseman Joey Votto is going with "Tokki 2," a homage to former teammate Shin-Soo Choo, who played for Cincinnati in 2013. Votto considered Choo to be one of his all-time favorite teammates.
"He was performing really well to the point that I kept telling him all the time, 'I'm trying to keep up with you, I'm trying to catch you. How can I catch you? How can I beat you on the season?'" Votto explained. "About halfway through the year, I said, 'Have you ever been to a dog track?' He said, 'Yep.' I said, 'You know those rabbits in the middle that spin around the center of the dog track that dogs chase but can never catch?' He said, 'Yep.' I said, 'That's how I feel about you. No matter how much I chase, I can't catch you.' He said, 'Oh yeah, that's a tokki.'"
"Tokki" is the Korean word for rabbit.
"Every day, we would say what's up to each other, and we'd call each other Tokki," Votto added. "Maybe three-quarters into the year and by the end of it, he said, 'You're my tokki.' He was basically saying, 'I'm trying to catch up with you now.' By the end, he was Tokki 1 and I was Tokki 2. It's just kind of a full-circle thing that we both put the word rabbit on the back of our jerseys. I thought it was kind of cool that we got to use a Korean word and got to share something with a former teammate. It's an inside joke between the two of us that we get to share with everybody else now."
The Reds, who will be hosting the Pirates that weekend at Great American Ball Park, will join other clubs in wearing specially designed caps and socks. All game-worn jerseys from Players Weekend will be auctioned at MLB.com/auctions with 100 percent of net proceeds being donated to the MLB-MLBPA Youth Development Foundation, which is focused on improving amateur baseball and softball programs in the United States and Canada.
Each player will also be sporting a special patch on his sleeve with a logo that shows the progression of a child evolving into a Major Leaguer. There is a white space under the logo where players wrote the name of a person they are grateful to for helping them advance their careers.
Hamilton chose to use his space to pay homage to Jim Ford from his hometown of Taylorsville, Miss.
"He got me into baseball," Hamilton said. "A lot of African-Americans, we didn't have a chance to play in a league. He used to come and watch us play behind the church. We had sticks and tennis balls."
One day, Ford stopped Hamilton and his mother and asked if he could help coach him to play baseball. Ford offered to pick him up, take him to and from the field and feed Hamilton, if needed. Hamilton's mother, who was also raising his two siblings while working a full-time job, accepted.
Hamilton played for a few weeks when Ford's son invited him to have a sleepover at his home.
"I stayed one night when I was 7 or 8. The next day, I went to school and practice. It turned into two days in a row," Hamilton said. "And from that day, I went to stay with him every day for years, all the way through high school. My mom lived a little ways away. I got my own key and had the same rules their son had. I went to church with them.
"Everybody in Mississippi that knows me knows they are my second family. I am thankful for him giving me a chance to play, which he didn't have to do. They don't ask for anything. They didn't do it for that. They just wanted to be helpful. They don't say 'I need this, I need that.' It's good for me to give back to them for giving me a chance."
Here's a list of nicknames that some Reds are expected to sport on the back of their jerseys on Players Weekend:
• Votto: "TOKKI 2"
• Zack Cozart: "COACH"
• Hamilton: "BONE"
• Homer Bailey: "HOMER"
• Adam Duvall: "DUVY"
• Raisel Iglesias: "EL CICLÓN"
• Scooter Gennett: "RYAN"
• Jesse Winker: "WINK"
• Luis Castillo: "LA PIEDRA"
• Patrick Kivlehan: "BELIEVE"
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.