Jacksonville’s Minor League Baseball team officially announced a name change Wednesday, switching from the Suns, as they had been known for the better part of the last 50 years, to the Jumbo Shrimp. Team owner Ken Babby, who acquired the franchise from the Bragan family prior to last season, has a history of this, having done the same in Akron with the Indians Double-A affiliate a year and a half after purchasing it as well.
At the press conference, Babby reiterated that the decision to rebrand was “about fun” and that the organization is “not turning its back on history.” The reaction from fans has been mixed thus far, with some going as far as to threaten boycotts, and others flocking to the team site to purchase merchandise.
At the heart of the matter is this: it was not the local NFL team that changed names, and the Jumbo Shrimp are in a business where changes to wacky, marketable names is all the rage. Having grown up in this city, the Suns brand and longtime jingle, “baseball’s never been hotter with the Jacksonville Suns,” was ingrained in me. But, to those outside of our fair city, the Suns are an NBA franchise and the jingle was outdated.
Minor league baseball is about executing the exact motto that Babby coined when he took over last year: affordable family fun. Tickets and concession prices have gone down under the new ownership, along with adding more options and gameday promotions. Minor league baseball is about going to a game with family/friends, having a hot dog and a few pops, enjoying a summer evening and not breaking the bank doing it. That is what Babby has focused on since coming to Jacksonville.
Most importantly, people should be focusing on how the team is still here in Jacksonville. In the Southern League alone, six Shrimp rivals have relocated since Jacksonville joined the league in 1970. Cities such as Huntsville, Orlando and Savannah have all had their franchises leave town, some of which lead to other opportunities to add more minor league baseball afterward, others, not so fortunate. Jacksonville has had a minor league baseball presence for well over 100 years, and that is not changing anytime soon. Babby is part of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors & Jacksonville University Board of Trustees, among other prominent organizations and is invested in Jacksonville, the same way he is invested in Akron. He is part of a group of sports team owners in this city that have done, and will continue to do, wonders for the Bold City.
The improvements to the Baseball Grounds and the organization are unquestioned. If you want further proof that what he is doing here is positive, look at Akron. Attendance continues to improve alongside the personal $6 million dollar plus investment he made into Canal Park, similar to what he has done at the Baseball Grounds, and he has more tricks up his sleeve I’m sure. No one is making you buy a hat or a shirt or even to embrace the new name, but do not lose sight of the main focus: it is all about having fun.