Like Opening Day or the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, MiLB.com's annual Moniker Madness contest is a much-anticipated National Pastime tradition.
First started in 2007, Moniker Madness is a contest that seeks to determine, via a fan vote, the best name in all of Minor League Baseball. This year's crop of 75 contestants includes rhyming names (Matt Bats, Blake Drake), alliterative names (Tommy Toledo), repetitive names (Jose Jose), food names (Joey Pankake, Mark Hamburger), nature names (Forrest Snow), celebrity names (Burt Reynolds), action hero names (Steel Russell), short names (Bo Way), long names (Dovydas Neverauskas) and just plain strange names (all of them, really).
Fans may vote as often as they wish, via randomized one-on-one matchups.
But to fully enjoy and appreciate our Moniker Madness present, one must understand our Moniker Madness past. What follows is a brief overview of the contest's history. Who won? Whom did they defeat? And what became of their careers?
2007: Houston Summers (catcher)
Defeated: Noochie Varner (semi-finals), Will Startup (finals)
Years Active: 2005-10.
19-year-old Houston Summers emerged as the first Moniker Madness champion, thanks to a concerted voting campaign from his friends and family in Guilford County, North Carolina. A catcher at the time of his victory, Summers converted to pitcher later in the season and eventually focused his professional attention on throwing a knuckleball. He finished with an 11-11 record and 6.01 ERA over 63 career appearances on the mound.
He said it: "People didn't comment on my name much growing up, at least not until Apollo 13 came out. Then I started hearing all these 'Houston, we have a problem' jokes."
2008: Will Startup (pitcher)
Defeated: Rowdy Hardy (semifinals), Dusty Napoleon (finals)
Years Active: 2005-present
After losing to Summers the year before, Startup extracted his Moniker Madness revenge by winning it all in 2008. And, like Summers, he won largely on the strength of a hometown voting campaign (in this case, Charlottesville, Georgia). Startup has gone on to have an interesting and resilient career. He dominated while pitching for Triple-A Richmond in 2007 but lost all or part of the next several seasons due to injuries. 2014 marks his second season in a relief role at Double-A Erie.
He Said It: "'Start Me Up' is my come-out song. It's certainly appropriate, and I have to admit it really gets the adrenaline going. What can I say? I'm proud of my name."
2009: Dusty Napoleon (first baseman)
Defeated: Rowdy Hardy (semifinals), Beamer Weems (finals)
Years Active: 2007-10
After losing to Startup the year before, 2009 marked Dusty Napoleon's time to shine. The trend of hometown support continued in the contest, as the Oakland A's infield farmhand was the recipient of a wave of help from his friends in Park Ridge, Illinois. Napoleon spent that 2009 season with Class A Kane County, where he struggled offensively. In 2010 he played in 22 games over four levels, but this was to be his final hurrah.
He said it: "My real name is Michael Dustin, but my dad is a baseball coach and he thought I'd play baseball, so he started calling me 'Dusty.' I guess he thought it had a nice ring to it."
2010: Rowdy Hardy (pitcher)
Defeated: Mark Hamburger (semifinals), Seth Schwindenhammer (finals)
Years Active: 2006-11
A crafty, slow-throwing lefty, Hardy rallied from three consecutive quarterfinal defeats to win it all in 2010. His supporters launched a social media campaign on his behalf, featuring a Facebook page, Twitter account and a YouTube campaign video. Hardy spent the bulk of the 2008-10 seasons with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and in 2011 he made four appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett, but this would mark the end of the line for him.
He said it: "You'll have to ask my dad," said Hardy, regarding the origins of his nickname. "I think [the television show] Rawhide had something to do with it. Clint Eastwood played a guy called 'Rowdy Yates.'"
2011: Seth Schwindenhammer (first base)
Defeated: Rougned Odor (semifinals), Dusty Harvard (finals)
Years active: 2009-12
After losing to Hardy the year before, 2011 was Schwindenhammer's turn to reign supreme. "The Hammer," as he was known, was heavily championed by the Lowell Spinners organization for whom he played, and this support had a large part in his victory. Unfortunately, Schwindenhammer was never able to advance beyond that short-season ballclub. He played there from 2010 through 2012, his last season in the Minors.
He said it: "The [Spinners] front office updates me about what has been going on and who I'm up against, but I don't get too involved," Schwindenhammer said during voting for the final. "I've been keeping a fair head about it."
2012: Rock Shoulders (outfield)
Defeated: Caleb Bushyhead (semifinals), Rougned Odor (finals)
Years active: 2011-present
2012 was Shoulders' debut Moniker Madness appearance, and, well, the first time was the charm. The slugging Cubs farmhand took great pride in his victory, to the extent that he and his Boise Hawks teammates engaged in a clubhouse celebration in which Coca-Cola was substituted for champagne. Shoulders went on to play for Class A Kane County in 2013, while 2014 has been spent with Class A Advanced Daytona.
He said it: "I'm headed to a workout right now, and all of the guys are saying 'congratulations' and stuff," said Shoulders, after learning that he'd won. "After the workout I'll put it out on Twitter, and I'll have to call my parents. My mom will be real happy and my dad, he'll get a kick out of it."
2013: Sicnarf Loopstok (catchers)
Defeated: Stryker Trahan (second place), Giuseppe Papaccio (third place)
Years active: 2013-present
Loopstok, a native Aruban, was drafted by the Indians in the 13th round of the 2013 Draft. Two and a half months into his professional career, he won the Moniker Madness crown. (Sicnarf is his father's name, backwards). He spent 2013 with the Class A Short Season Mahoning Valley Scrappers, and now he's suiting up for Class A Lake County.
He said it: "Everyone would ask, they'd say, 'Who the heck is that?'" said Loopstok, regarding his strange name. "For me, I heard all the comments, but it's OK."