Players around Major League Baseball are letting their hair down for the second annual Players’ Weekend starting Friday.
In lieu of the traditional last names, teams are wearing special jerseys and caps with personalized nicknames on the back of their respective jerseys. Players are also permitted to use and wear custom cleats, bats, batting gloves, wristbands, compression sleeves and catcher’s equipment.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, who is participating in the festivities with the nickname “Sal,” said Players’ Weekend is a way for players and fans to connect in a way they otherwise cannot.
“It’s part of their personalities that come popping out,” Lovullo said. “You see some nicknames that spark interesting conversation. … I know that baseball has always done a great job if trying to find ways to make that happen. This is a really special time for all of us.
“We expose ourselves a little bit differently and share something with the fans that you might not otherwise get to see.”
Diamondbacks right-hander Brad Boxberger is the owner of perhaps the most-discussed nickname this year, which consists of two emojis of a box and hamburger. Boxberger is the first player in MLB history to wear emojis on the back of his jersey.
“It played out well,” Boxberger said of the trail-blazing nickname. “It fits my last name and I was able to get it approved by MLB, so that was nice. … It’s on the back of my jersey, so I can’t even see it.”
Boxberger said he didn’t expect all of the attention the emoji nameplate has garnered, which includes being named a finalist by MLB Network for the best nickname of Players’ Weekend.
“I didn’t even know what an emoji was until about three years ago,” Lovullo said. “I’ve got kids that age that should be able to tell me what’s going on, but I’ve been living in the dark. But I think it’s great for baseball and I’ve always said that baseball is on the cutting edge and always trending toward very popular things, and this is an example of that.”
Multiple Diamondbacks players have also received attention for custom footwear and accessories they had made especially for the weekend.
Outfielder Jon Jay, a noted University of Miami product, will sport Hurricanes-inspired accessories, while injured right-hander Taijuan Walker has cleats honoring the TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Second baseman Ketel Marte, whose nickname “Pike” refers to his swagger and flashy style, said he’s been looking forward to Players’ Weekend for quite some time.
“You already know it’s going to be a fun weekend,” Marte said. “You’ve got nicknames on the back of our jerseys and it shows that this is a game. You have to have fun out there and I think that’s why they started Players’ Weekend — to start something different and to try to have some fun.”
Off the bench
Jay was not listed in the Diamondbacks’ starting lineup for the third consecutive game for Friday’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners at Chase Field.
Lovullo said he’s “trying to get a full mixture of guys” in the lineup with four capable outfielders at his disposal in A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Steven Souza Jr. and Jay. But Lovullo also sees the value of Jay on the bench.
“We have good players, and I know that Jon Jay will be ready,” Lovullo said. “My discussions with him have outlined that, but he’s going to play — and when he doesn’t, he’s a great luxury to have off the bench.”
Jay made a significant impact off the bench on Tuesday when he led off the ninth inning with a hit-by-pitch. He wound up scoring on a throwing error in a walk-off victory against the Los Angeles Angels.
Lovullo said that Jay, along with infielder Daniel Descalso, has proven to be an exceptional commodity when in a non-starting role.
“Pinch-hitting is very hard,” Lovullo said. “If you’re going to go up and give a quality at-bat once every four at-bats, you’re a very good pinch-hitter. They’re doing that; they go out there with the ability to hunt for a pitch and execute. What I see every single day is that, when they’re not playing, they’re engaged on the bench and talking baseball. Then, when it comes to be about the fourth or fifth inning, I look down there and they’re getting loose and getting ready.
“At times, you have to look for somebody to tell them to get loose, that’s not the case with these two. I could turn to Daniel after the fifth inning and tell him anything I need him to do, and that’s a great luxury to know that I have them prepped and ready.”
- Right-hander Shelby Miller (elbow) threw out to 100 feet but has not yet begun throwing a curveball, per Lovullo. It has not yet been determined when Miller could face live hitters.
- Outfielder Jarrod Dyson (lower core) continues to engage in baseball activity but has not yet begun running the bases. Lovullo said a timeline for Dyson’s return has not been set.
Richard Morin covers the Coyotes and Diamondbacks for azcentral sports. He can be reached at [email protected] and by phone at 480-316-2493. Follow him on Twitter @ramorin_azc