Lando jersey takes Joust, place in clouds

Potomac's different take on Star Wars Night helps club capture title

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | August 26, 2015 10:00 AM ET

If you're a fan of the Potomac Nationals, Star Wars and theme jerseys, these are the Jersey Joust results you're looking for. 

At the close of voting Tuesday afternoon, Potomac's Lando Calrissian jerseys have captured the top spot in MiLB.com's first-ever Jersey Joust competition, in which 124 Minor League theme jerseys competed to be named No. 1. Pensacola's Guy Harvey, Quad Cities' Autism Awareness Photo, Greensboro's We Are the Future and Potomac's SNL Cheerleader jerseys closed out the top five in the online competition. 

For the record, Lando Calrissian isn't entirely used to winning, per se. You might remember he lost the Millennium Falcon to Han Solo in a briefly referenced game of sabacc. The Cloud City administrator also came out on the losing end of his agreement with Darth Vader, when he handed over a frozen-in-carbonite Han to Boba Fett and nearly gave up Princess Leia and Chewbacca as prisoners. He almost lost his life to a sarlacc in the Great Pit of Carkoon. He nearly lost this writer's respect by selling out Han in the first place -- because who does that to a friend even if the Empire had arrived on Bespin before the friend did? Sure, he won that respect back by becoming a Rebel general, piloting the Falcon and destroying the reactor of the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi, but it took a special type of courage -- not to mention another film -- to make it happen. 

But there were many reasons why the Cloud City administrator came out on top in Jersey Joust.

Star Wars Nights have become commonplace in the promotional world of the Minor Leagues, and that's been especially true this year in anticipation of the December release of the seventh installment of the universe's most famous space saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

With that in mind, Potomac began to plan for its own rendition but wanted an alternative take on the popular promo. The Nationals decided they'd stay away from homages to the classic characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Yoda, R2-D2, C-3PO or Chewbacca and looked instead at who else they could feature from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Using mockups of jerseys from OT Sports, they considered minor characters like Admiral Ackbar, before realizing of course that such a choice would be a trap. And then it hit them, like a stormtrooper smacking his head on a podbay door.

"Honestly when I saw [the Lando jersey], I thought it was really cool," said Potomac executive vice president/general manager Josh Olerud, who said he's not a big Star Wars guy but is a fan of actor Billy Dee Williams from his days in the Batman films and Colt 45 commercials. "It was cool to see Billy Dee on the front of a jersey in the clouds with a blaster in his hands. I mean, it was so unique that it had to be the right choice. When we sent the mockups out, out of the 24 people that saw them, it was pretty unanimous that these were what we needed."

When the Nationals announced the jerseys would be worn Sunday, June 14, the response was immediate.

"Fans went nuts," Olerud said.

But the Potomac players weren't so sure. 

"When our players got it, some of them are so young that they didn't even know who the character or actor was," said Olerud. "Once they did a little research, they thought it was the coolest thing ever. ... When we do these theme nights, we auction off the jerseys after the game, but I tell players, 'If you want one for yourself, let me know to make an order,' because we don't allow them to get involved in the auctions. Twelve of the guys really wanted to buy them, so I ordered a dozen extras for them."

For reference, Nationals outfielder Narcisco Mesa's game-worn Lando jersey was put for auction on eBay. Four days after the Star Wars Night, it sold for a winning bid of $355. Of course, Billy Dee himself will receive one for free, since the club contacted Williams' son with an offer to send one with the actor's own nameplate on the back.

But Potomac didn't want to make one of the best nights on their 2015 calendar just for the sci-fi crowd. The P-Nats partnered with Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic to make the June 14 occasion one for the books.

"We do a Make-A-Wish Night every year, and it brings out close to 20 families," said Olerud. "We give them full-access all day to the front office, and the entire teams spends a couple hours with them before the game. We bring the kids out for a third-inning run of the bases in front of the crowd and give them an experience nobody else would get. With the Star Wars element and characters around like the stormtroopers added to it, it was one of the more special Make-A-Wish Nights we've had."

Two months later, the night's uniform picked up steam once again in the Jersey Joust and quickly moved into the top five once the competition began. Support came from all sectors of the galaxy, including P-Nats fans and those active in Star Wars online forums. But according to Olerud, it hit the big time when Chad Dukes, a talk radio host at Washington's 106.7 The Fan, and of course a Star Wars fan, began carrying the banner for the Lando shirt

"He talked a lot about it last week, and when that happened, I think it's when we really started to see a spike," Olerud said. "Then, we were encouraging people during games and beefing up social media like everyone else. But once we saw we had a chance to win, we took pride in really beating this into the ground and trying to get fans to show us they really liked the jerseys."

As mentioned above, the P-Nats didn't just have jousting success with the Star Wars outfits. Uniforms designed in the style of Saturday Night Live's Spartan cheerleaders, made famous by Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri, placed fifth. Those jerseys were worn May 30 with proceeds from the auction going to Stonewall Jackson High School athletics.

"We started thinking about that one when Will Ferrell did his Spring Training tour and SNL was coming out with its [40th] anniversary episodes," Olerud said. "Between the popularity of both of those, we wanted to do something SNL or Will Ferrell-related. We looked at all the characters we could, but we thought our guys wearing cheerleader tops would be a big one. It raised the most money toward charity, I think, all season."

But in 2015, one jersey truly stood among more than 100 other creative and crazy jerseys. With their votes, fans, in essence, echoed the words the Cloud City administrator once coolly uttered to Princess Leia.

"You look absolutely beautiful. You truly belong here with us among the clouds."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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