Last March, sports fans across the U.S. were riveted by a single-elimination tournament that pitted some of the country's most promising athletes against each other. Upsets were common, underdogs gained hero status and very little -- if anything -- could be taken for granted.
Now, it's time for it to happen all over again. Welcome to the 2008 edition of MiLB.com's Minors Moniker Madness, a freewheeling bracket-style tournament that will provide a definitive answer to one of the most controversial and widely asked questions in all of professional sports: Which active Minor League Baseball player possesses the greatest name?
Minors Moniker Madness is structured similarly to the NCAA's March Madness basketball tournament, which you may be aware of. Sixty-four competitors are divided into four brackets of 16, competing through six rounds of play until there is only one man remaining. This formidable individual is then declared the winner of the Wonderful Terrific Monds III award, which was created in honor of one of the most memorably named baseball players of all time. Similarly, each bracket carries the name of a classic character from Minor League history -- Icicle Reeder, Natty Nattress, Farmer Works, and Razor Shines.
For those who somehow have not retained all the details of last year's tournament, we will now provide a brief refresher. Buoyed by a grassroots campaign that originated in his hometown of Summerfield, North Carolina, little-known Houston Summers defeated favored opponents such as Melquisedec Mesa and Michaelangel Trinidad en route to winning the coveted Wonderful Terrific Monds III award. The Arizona Diamondbacks prospect bested Atlanta Braves farmhand Will Startup in a final-round championship battle that saw over 15,000 votes cast.
It wasn't easy, but MiLB.com's official ranking committee combed through thousands of names in order to select the 64 players who will be involved in the 2008 tournament. Then, in a significant improvement over last year's contest, these individuals were given specific seedings. Just like in the NCAA March Madness tournament, the No. 1 seed will play No. 16, No. 2 will play No. 15, and so on and so forth.
In addition to Summers and Startup, Minors Moniker Madness 2008 features the return of powerhouse names such as Rowdy Hardy, Henry Henry and Noochie Varner. Will these established stars be able to remain dominant in the face of competition from emerging upstarts like Al Alburquerque, Ernie Banks and Darlin Duran? We will soon find out.
But not too soon. In order to build anticipation to a fever pitch, we're going to take our time with this. The 64 contestants will be revealed over the next two days, giving readers the opportunity to research the matchups and speculate on the results. The competition will then begin in earnest on Wednesday, March 19, when we throw open our electronic voting booths to the masses.
As Houston Summers himself could tell you, anything's possible when it comes to Minors Moniker Madness. Check back each day this week to see the brackets revealed, and then make sure your voice is heard on March 19! It's going to be a wild ride.
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.