After an offseason that's felt like it would never end, Minor League Baseball is nearly back, and it’s bringing its most colorful initiative with it.
Copa de la Diversión, MiLB’s season-long “Fun Cup” celebration of Hispanic communities across the baseball landscape, returns in 2021 with its most packed itinerary yet. Nearly two-thirds of Minor League teams will participate in the initiative this year -- the largest percentage of clubs in the five-year history of the program -- and the logos, uniforms and identities are as vibrant than ever.
“Sports have a unique and powerful ability to bring diverse communities together,” said Kurt Hunzeker, vice president of Minor League business operations for MLB. “You’re at a ballgame, and you can sit next to people, front, behind, left, right, they can be wildly different from you in every way, politically, socioeconomic, demographic. And yet in San Antonio when I was there, Fernando Tatis Jr. hits a home run, you’re high-fiving everyone around you.”
Hunzeker was one of the leaders at MiLB who piloted the Copa program in 2017, and what began with a handful of teams on short runs has turned into a community engagement and sports marketing juggernaut.
“We’re entering year five of a platform that continues to grow and get better because now the power is 100 percent with the participating teams,” Hunzeker said. “They’re the ones working with their local Hispanic chambers of commerce and civic organizations. Their businesses are transforming. It’s not just a few games a year on a promotional calendar. They’ve hired differently. They’ve gone out in the community and connected authentically in ways they never had before.”
This year, 76 of the 120 teams in the Minor Leagues will take part in Copa, engaging with local Hispanic and Latinx community members to provide gameday experiences and platforms of social engagement like never before.
The 2020 season was set to be Copa’s largest ever with 92 teams ready to participate. After the pandemic and the ramifications surrounding the restructuring of Minor League Baseball, the total team number is lower, but the participating percentage -- along with the total number of Copa games -- is higher than ever. Moreover, teams recognize the importance of their work as community linchpins in a COVID-altered world.
“They understand that probably now more than ever bringing diverse fans together to have some fun really is needed,” Hunzeker said.
To draw attention and spark fan engagement, teams begin with their most visible elements: the identities. And there are a few new faces on the scene.
This year, the Perros Calientes de Akron, Ranas de Rio de Greenville and Wepas de Worcester enter the competition, while other clubs like Medusas de Jersey Shore and Churros de San José introduce fresh color schemes. Taken together, Copa’s cornucopia of logos once again emerge as a distinct visual identity in the already-loud Minor League landscape, grabbing eyes and interest with bold combinations of pinks, yellows, greens, oranges and more.
Of course, Copa’s logo packaging is just the hook. From cultural education and bilingual PA announcements to diverse stadium vendors and donations to Hispanic-centric organizations, Copa is a comprehensive reshaping of the baseball experience, and it's only expected to grow. In fact, Hunzeker and his team are already engaging with teams on plans for 2022.
“I am very confident in saying we are going to be much higher than the 76 [teams] we are now -- much higher.”
Explore all the Copa de la Diversión identities >>
In 2019, the Akron RubberDucks experimented with an alternate identity that was a smash hit. It also turned out to be at trial run for the team's new Copa identity.
The Perros Calientes de Akron are one of Copa’s new family members this year. The “Hot Dogs” debuted to rave reviews two years ago and are now part of Akron’s portfolio.
“We were ready [in 2020],” said Akron team president Jim Pfander. "We just had to wait an extra year, but I’m really excited. I think it gives us the opportunity to really tap into the rich history of Latino players and their contributions to the game. It really makes a lot of sense for us to be involved as well.”
The RubberDucks, now members of the Double-A Northeast, have a smaller Hispanic population than some of Copa’s pilot cities but are thrilled to engage with an already passionate fanbase.
“It’s that ground-level work,” Pfander said. “It’s so synonymous with Minor League Baseball. This is what we do with everything anyway, but it’s like, ‘Hey, I know this person, and this person’s going to connect you with this person.’ It really has this great groundswell, and that’s why I’m excited to see this come to life. There’s a great Latino community cattycorner from us, St. Bernard’s Church in downtown Akron."
One of those people is Abraham Allende, perhaps better known in Ohio under his sportscasting name Allen Davis, who helped pilot Spanish-language broadcasts as director of community relations for the Cleveland Indians in the 1990s. Born in Puerto Rico, Allende recently retired from his work as bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and will do bilingual PA work on Perros Calientes nights while engaging with his church community to join the fun at Canal Park.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to make a statement in our community and to promote to maybe a group of folks that we haven’t been as attentive to in the past,” Pfander said. “We want to ensure everyone feels welcome, everyone’s included in the affordable family fun in Akron. I can’t wait to kick this off.”
The Perros Calientes identity was already a hit in its first run. Now it’s more finely tuned thanks to one of MiLB’s design standard-bearers.
“It’s a great logo. It’s a great identity,” Pfander said. “I really can’t say enough about working with Brandiose. They’re the ones we teamed up with to create this identity and just go back and forth like we did when we became the RubberDucks. It was fun to be able to go back five, six years later and go through that whole process again and come up with the right look and feel for the jerseys and the logos.”
The Perros will take the field for the first time on May 5, Cinco de Mayo, and for the final time on Sept. 15, the first day of National Hispanic Heritage month.
“Everyone else that’s had the Copa program raves about it,” said Pfander. “They’ve been able to really connect with new people in their communities, and it’s overdue in Akron. I’m just thrilled that we’re part of it.”
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Roughly 450 miles east of Akron, the Jersey Shore BlueClaws have a lot that's new in 2021. Their level is new -- now High-A after two decades as Class A team. So is their geographic designation -- Jersey Shore instead of Lakewood, the ballclub’s hometown. And with new logos and a tweaked name, the BlueClaws’ Copa identity got a refresh, too.
The Medusas de Jersey Shore are here for 2021, two years after their launch as Medusas de Lakewood when they debuted with an all-purple cap and white jersey.
“We just wanted to spice it up and put this into motion for 2021,” said Greg Giombarrese, the team’s director of communications and radio voice. “The hat is a little more vibrant. We have the bright pink on the brim and the button and then the front of the hat is white, so it’s essentially a two-color [crown] with a third color on the brim.”
The Medusas name and visual package, already tremendously well received upon their debut in 2019, have an updated look with a new colorway.
“The jersey is a deep purple, and then we have a gradient on the side that goes pink to light blue and ‘Medusas de Jersey Shore’ across the front,” Giombarrese said. “With the switch from the Lakewood BlueClaws to the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, the Medusas were going to get an update as well. Along with that we wanted to liven up and brighten the jerseys and the hats.”
The Medusas refresh is much like the BlueClaws’ main identity: one that aims to enhance and capitalize on an already strong popularity.
Launched at the iconic Convention Hall in Asbury Park, N.J., the Jersey Shore rebrand has been building anticipation for over six months. That process is something the BlueClaws also implemented with the Medusas.
“One of the first things we did when this whole process began [in 2018] was we identified a few key constituents in the community that could be our guides, if you will, and partnered with them,” Giombarrese said. “We work with a couple of different organizations around the area. One of them is a group called O.C.E.A.N. Inc., and they work with a lot of underprivileged children in the area, many of whom are from the Hispanic community. Giving them the opportunity to experience the Medusas in one way or another is something we’re really excited about.”
With a fresh look and more Copa games on the schedule, the BlueClaws/Medusas are thrilled at the prospect of a colorful summer that will help push the program even further.
“I think people really embraced the program, and as a baseball team, you want to be the front porch to the community," Giombarrese said. "Part of that entails bringing the game to people that otherwise would not have the opportunity to come out or not otherwise would be exposed to baseball, to the BlueClaws, to the Medusas. It’s an amazing program that really helps promote the game and promote the community and what we’re all about.”
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.