JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville's 50-year-old AA baseball team will no longer be known as the Jacksonville Suns. With great fanfare Wednesday morning, the team's new owner announced they are now the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
Owner Ken Babby, general manager Harold Craw and broadcaster Roger Hoover announced the change at a gathering of city leaders and others at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.
“Fun minor league team names is something we're seeing all across minor league baseball," Hoover said.
The Suns re-signed their player development contract with the Miami Marlins during the offseason.
Craw described the team's new logos and team colors of American red and St. Johns navy, highlighting the city's river and showing support for the military. One of the logos shows a Jumbo Shrimp pushing his way out of a pot.
“You can see the resilient shrimp, kind of like our resilient tough community that we have here, jumping out of the pot with a play on the shrimp boil that we have here,” Craw said. “Jacksonville is a true melting pot of different types of people, which also makes us special and unique at the same time.”
Babby said the team has been working toward the change for some time. He described the Jumbo Shrimp as tough and tenacious -- just like the people in the community.
UNCUT: Ken Babby talks Jumbo Shrimp
“We are so proud for this moment, but we're even more proud to turn the calendar to spring when our fans will have even more to cheer about as the Jumbo Shrimp," Babby said. "This is about fun and when they see that logo and hear that name, they're going to say, 'Wow. This is a team that is all about fun.'"
Babby purchased the Suns last year as his second minor-league team. His first, in Akron, Ohio, he renamed the Rubber Ducks after he took control. He said the name change isn't a marketing strategy.
"The cost of developing a brand, developing logos, changing all the signage in the ballpark, producing an event like today are way greater than the amount that you would actually make from a merchandise campaign," Babby said.
Merchandise with the new logo is already on sale at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. Shirts go for $18-$20, and hats for $20-$32. Youth shirts are priced at $14. There are already several hundred orders pending.
Officials warned that fans ordering online won't get their order processed for a few days because there are so many coming in at once.
Brandiose, a sports marketing company based out of San Diego, designed the new look. The company is also responsible for ideas behind other minor-league teams, like Babby's Rubber Ducks and the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
Initial fan reaction to the Jumbo Shrimp nickname was overwhelmingly negative.
"This is a mockery of a long-standing Jacksonville institution. What an embarrassment," - Stephen M. Collins
"Absolutely retarded. Thanks for making our baseball team the laughing stock of baseball," - Paul Bloom
"Looks like someone made a bad bet and now the whole city must deal with the embarrassment," - Robert Jaxon
"SMH. Stupid is as stupid does," - Kim Deppe.
But many fans reacted on social media with a sense of humor.
"Goodbye Jacksonville Suns and HELLO Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp! Nothing says baseball like cocktail and tartar! #JumboShrimp" - Brooks Joiner
"@JaxShrimp will you guys have a day of the week with all you can eat #JumboShrimp and general admission for $9.99?" - Ryan Rogan
Others said they're trying to get used to the name change.
"I thought it was a joke. I kind of laughed," said Paul Santiago, who's still not sure how he feels about the new name. "It'll be interesting to see what the community thinks going forward."
Chris Wooten, the owner of Safe Harbor Seafood restaurant, loved the new name, saying it connects the team to one of North Florida's biggest resources.
"If the owner was trying to show resilience and hard work, shrimpers are perfect," Wooten said. "This village has worked hard for hundreds of years in the shrimping industry. I think it's just great and makes us happy."
Mayor Lenny Curry said that he respects Babby's decision to change the team's name and look.
"They're going to be successful," he said. "I think as the baseball season starts, you're going to see a packed house with excited fans and good entertainment and winning baseball."
A Change.org petition has already been posted about the name. As of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, more than 6,000 people had signed the online petition.
Babby said that he understands change can be difficult, but asked fans to make it out to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville next season to give the Jumbo Shrimp a chance.
As for mascot Southpaw and Thirsty Thursdays, Babby said they aren't going anywhere, and prices for admission and concessions will stay the same.