Tribe Affiliates Participating in “Copa de la Diversión”
Bob Toth | On 19, Mar 2019
Last year, Minor League Baseball implemented a season-long plan to help embrace and honor the Hispanic and Latinx players, fans, and culture which have helped grow the game of baseball at the professional level. A total of 33 teams participated in special games throughout the year, known as the “Copa de la Diversión”, wearing new and creative jerseys while taking on whole new monikers.
Proving once again that “MiLB is fun”, the initiative will return for the 2019 season, with the list of participating clubs expanding to 72 across the top five minor league levels. Minor League Baseball announced on Monday a schedule of 397 games over the course of the year, building on the success of themed efforts over the last two seasons. After four teams embraced the Hispanic fan bases of their areas in 2017 while enjoying great success in terms of fan attendance and fanfare, a 160-game schedule of special games was blended across the season’s slate for 2018. In addition to new team nicknames and jerseys (some inspired by their current names and colors, while others were entirely new looks altogether), games were also highlighted by an emphasis on new and different food selections and music options at the ball park and the presence of bilingual gameday staff.
“There are two numbers that are widely reported from very credible resources,” said Kurt Hunzeker, MiLB’s vice president of marketing strategy and research, in a March 19, 2018, story on MiLB.com about the initiative. “The ESPN Sports Poll looks at the fan, the self-designated fan, in a pretty comprehensive study they do annually. According to their metrics, 18.3-million U.S. Hispanics designate themselves as fans of Minor League Baseball. These are individual unique [responses]. We’re only behind the NBA and MLS, so we’re ahead of all the other ‘big leagues.’
“We’re really, really good at brand elasticity at the club level,” he continued. “There are teams that have alternate brands of alternate brands at this point, and people love them. Our fans love these identities.”
The Cleveland Indians organization did not have any participants during the 2018 season, but their Columbus and Akron affiliates were scheduled in games against another “Copa” clubs, with the Clippers joining Pawtucket and Durham on their dates and the RubberDucks living a similar experience in Bowie. This year, the Clippers will get to participate with a vibrant change to their usual garb and will be joined by the Indians’ Class-A affiliate at Lake County in the season long festivities.
The Clippers will add another new name to their franchise, as the “Veleros de Columbus” take the field in 2019. The new moniker is a direct translation of Clippers and will help recognize Christopher Columbus’s voyage at the end of the 15th century. The Triple-A Clippers are not unfamiliar to taking on a new identity, as the well-liked “Columbus Jets” name and uniforms have been a staple on the field and in the team shop for the club while paying homage to the former International League team in the city. In addition to a new look to the classic ship, the team hats will feature a sugar skull atop crossed bats and a new teal/red color scheme.
The “Veleros” will kick off the second official season of “Copa” play on April 5 in a 6:05 PM ET first pitch from Huntington Park in Columbus when they host the Indianapolis Indians. They will also host similar contests on April 26 (against Durham), May 10 (Syracuse), May 24 (Indianapolis), June 7 (Norfolk), June 21 (Lehigh Valley), July 5 (Louisville), July 12 (Indianapolis), July 26 (Gwinnett), August 9 (Buffalo), and August 23 (Toledo) for eleven home dates in total. They will be the visiting “Copa” club on May 14 (in Pawtucket), June 28-30 (Louisville), July 16 (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), August 15 (Gwinnett), and August 17 (Charlotte).
The Captains will go in an entirely different direction as they become the “Picantes de Lake County”. Featuring an angry chile pepper in front of a flame, it is said the new name and logo represent “the area’s spice of life” while celebrating “the chile pepper’s place in spicier LatinX cuisine and the community’s edgier, fiery personalities.” The team’s colors will shift to green, orange, and red for the contests.
The Captains will host their first “Copa” game on Cinco de Mayo against Kane County. May 10 will take them on the road to Wisconsin, but their next three “Copa” games will be home dates, including June 2 against West Michigan, July 7 at Classic Park against Lansing, and a rematch with West Michigan on August 11. Lake County will meet up with the same West Michigan club in Michigan on August 17, and the “Picantes” will host the second-to-last Midwest League “Copa” date on the schedule on August 31, when Great Lakes comes to Eastlake.
Cleveland’s Double-A Akron affiliate will play three road games (as the RubberDucks) on May 10 in Reading, May 17 in Richmond, and June 30 against Bowie. Their High-A Lynchburg squad (still as the Hillcats) will play three games as well – April 14 against Down East, June 23 in Winston-Salem, and August 4 in Salem.
The minor league level is already well known for initiatives driven at bringing fans to small parks, with fun activities throughout the game and unique branding choices in the names, logos, and mascots of the farm affiliates of the 30 Major League teams. Last year, a trophy was awarded to the Mariachis de Nuevo México, based on the success of their efforts in areas such as converting fans into new guests and the interest in new foods and merchandise. Participating teams also auctioned off jerseys and hats for charity following the season. In 2019, nearly 80% of the season’s dates will have at least one “Copa” game and the entire campaign will cover a total of 29 states.
“The growth we’re seeing in team participation for Copa is outstanding,” said Hunzeker on Monday in a story on MiLB.com. “To see this authentic engagement with our Latinx fans in MiLB communities across the country is very exciting. We like to say that you don’t attend a Minor League Baseball game, you feel it. To extend that feeling to a previously underserved fan base is remarkable.”