Atlanta Braves pitching prospect and Lawrenceville native Lucas Sims takes a lot of pride in his curveball.
But even the Brookwood grad and 2012 Daily Post Pitcher of the Year had to marvel at the one team officials of the now former Gwinnett Braves threw their fans with the unveiling of the team’s new name — Gwinnett Stripers.
“I didn’t know what it was until I walked in this morning,” Sims said following a Friday press conference at Coolray Field in which the new name, logos and uniforms were unveiled. “It kind of took me by surprise because like they were saying earlier, that wasn’t one of the final choices. But once you saw it, it looked pretty good.”
Indeed, the new name was not among those previously announced as finalists by Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate during its Name The Team contest that began in the summer.
Instead, the team will be called the Gwinnett Stripers, an homage to the striped bass that abound at nearby Lake Lanier.
The name is a variation of Gwinnett Big Mouths, one of the contest finalists. Team officials liked Big Mouths, but didn’t like the way the name sounded.
From those discussions, Stripers rose above other finalists such as Buttons, Gobblers, Hush Puppies, Lambchops and Sweet Teas.
But since the eventual choice was a variation on the name Big Mouths, one fan among those submitting each name was selected as a winner of the Name The Team contest.
Patrick Kelly of Decatur, who submitted Big Mouths, and Jay Andrews of Sugar Hill, who submitted Stripers, will each receive a pair of 2018 season tickets, along with a selection of new Stripers merchandise.
Overall fan reaction was mixed, with several fans noting on the team’s twitter page that ‘Stripers’ is only one letter away from ‘Strippers,’ which prompted several jokes in that vein on the team’s Twitter page, as well as that of the Daily Post.
I’m actually happy with this but at first I thought it said strippers— John Miklos (@John_Miklos21) December 8, 2017
There were other tweets on both Twitter accounts lamenting any change from the Braves name, while others weren’t happy with a name other than the finalists being chosen.
“Congrats, you tricked everyone into spending time on participating in a fun, good natured campaign and now have lost all faith from Braves fans. This is a complete disaster,” tweeted one fan.
Nice look! I was hoping for the Buttons though....— Scott (@USAFCCF) December 8, 2017
However, the reaction among those season ticket holders among the about 100 people at Friday’s press conference were more positive.
“I started telling people it would be a cold day before we change the name,” joked Suwanee resident and season ticket holder Tommy Henry, noting the snowy weather outside Coolray Field’s Home Plate Club. “It’s a good curveball. I wasn’t happy with any of the other (finalists), really. Of course, I’m a Braves fan. I’ve been a Braves fans since they were in Milwaukee.
No, no, no and hell no! worst idea in Gco history since we decided to bring down the “Gwinnett is great” & “success lives here” water tower!— Tyler Gildemeyer (@TylerGildemeyer) December 8, 2017
“I can live with this. I like the colors. To me, this has got more meaning than some of the other gimmick (names). You’ve got Montgomery, they’re the Biscuits. Savannah, they’re the Bananas. So, Stripers is better than SweetTeas or Hush Puppies or whatever. I think of SweetTeas, I think of softball.”
Like Henry, Buford resident Gena Smith, also a season ticket holder since the club moved to Gwinnett County from Richmond, Va., in 2009, wasn’t happy when the decision to change the name from Braves was made.
However, she said she’s warmed to the idea after Friday’s unveiling, and has even thought of way to keep one of the Braves’ most visible traditions — in Atlanta and Gwinnett — over the last 25 years alive.
“(Team officials) told me I can still chop if I want to,” Smith said. “Maybe now it can be a cast (off a fishing reel) instead of a chop.
“I wasn’t excited about any of this before, but I was trying to be supportive anyway. … But I like that they changed it to Stripers. I did not like the Big Mouths. And the logo looks awesome, and the colors, too. I like all of it. It’s better than what I thought it would be.”
The logos, colors and uniforms were big hit among the fans in attendance, including Sims, who helped model the new uniforms Friday, along with last year’s G-Braves teammates Xavier Avery and Matt Tuiasosopo, plus Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro.
Still, Sims hopes not to be modeling the new uniforms beyond the press conference.
After being named Gwinnett’s Pitcher of the Year for 2017 in the Braves organization and representing the team at the Triple-A All-Star Game before being called up to the Atlanta Braves in late July, the 23-year-old right-hander hopes to earn a spot with the major league club coming out of spring training.
“No, I don’t plan on it,” Sims quipped when asked if he would wear a Stripers uniform again. “I think (the new uniforms) look good. They’re bright. They’re vibrant. … They look pretty good. The logo looks good. I think it’s exciting.”
Friday marked the public conclusion to a long process that began in May, when the team initially announced the plan and its Name The Team contest.
General manager North Johnson had pushed for a name change for years, so he was happy to see it come to fruition.
The process had its ups and downs, but he was pleased with how it finished up.
“It was fun, first and foremost,” Johnson said. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Hopefully, everybody understands we are creating our own identity. Brandiose (the marketing company that worked with the team on the name change) literally gave us a cheat sheet for when and where something was going to happen along the way. That said, I don’t think you ever prepare for the harsh comments from people you think are your fans or friends. That was more disappointing than anything else. People you know or see on a nightly basis. They won’t tell it to your face, but they put it out there on social media.
“The whole process of making sure we’re getting it right was a big burden. There were six to eight of us working on this and we had those internal conversations and we walked through every scenario. I think we’ve done a really good job checking all the boxes. There are always frustrations in everything you do, especially something of this magnitude. But they pale in comparison to the good things that have come out of this.”
— Sports Editor Will Hammock contributed to this report