For the three clubs that debuted new identities in Copa de la Diversión this season, the success of the initiative was built upon the program’s core concept of community outreach.
Minor League Baseball’s celebration of the Latinx community set records in participation and attendance that already figure to be broken by next year. Triple-A Worcester and Double-A Akron experienced a similar anticipation last year when it was announced that both clubs would participate in Copa for the first time in 2021 and High-A Greenville rebranded their alter-ego.
In broad strokes, all three clubs enjoyed philanthropic and attendance successes that were similar to the nationwide accomplishments of the program. But it was the personal touches that made it all work.
Worcester adapted the identity of Los Wepas de Worcester based on a suggestion from a local fan, Daniel Velasquez, during a meeting with Latinx community leaders nearly two years ago. These meetings were commonplace for a club that was starting completely from scratch -- not just in Copa, but in the city of Worcester after Boston’s Triple-A squad spent the previous 50 years in Pawtucket.
The phrase “Wepa” doesn’t have any ties to Worcester. Nor does it have a formal definition at all. It’s a generic exclamation of joy akin to “Woo Hoo!” that was mostly popularized within Puerto Rican culture.
“It's such a positive term, and it can be used in a variety of scenarios,” said Worcester senior director of marketing and merchandising Brooke Cooper. “And when this individual was explaining it to us, he said, 'A player hits a home run ... Wepa!'”
The Red Sox took this almost completely blank slate and made it their own -- even curling the center of the “W” into a heart shape like their primary logo. Other names were considered before the final decision was made. But once the front office understood the story behind the term and saw a way to remain true to the community, they were sold.
“The fact that it came directly from someone in Worcester, in the community, at a fan plan meeting -- that's exactly what this is about,” Cooper said.
The club put both Worcester and baseball spins on the identity by using a firework as the actual logo and mascot to go along with the Wepas identity. Worcester Polytechnic Institute is home to the founding of modern rocketry, and, of course, fireworks are a common postgame staple at ballparks around the country.
With the framework for the idea in place, the club once again looked to the community to find the best way to put the Wepas into the world. Cooper explained that the club formed an advisory committee made up of civic and community leaders, including Worcester city counselor Sarai Rivera and members of the Massachusetts-based Latin American Business Association (LABO).
“Our Wepa advisory committee has been really the heart of all of our Wepa games, and they've just been absolute rock stars,” Cooper said.
At the direction of the committee, the club chose to focus on a specific country for each of their seven Wepa games to avoid the notion that all Latinx communities can simply be grouped together while celebrating the smaller components of an individual culture.
“It was really our advisory committee who kind of hit the ground running and took the lead on those efforts to make it really special and impactful,” Cooper said. “I would say that each one has had a bit of a smaller focus, and being able to have that more focused approach also made it more impactful.”
Beyond that idea, Worcester saw just how important it was to be in touch with that community for these efforts.
Akron doesn’t have the same sort of Latinx or Hispanic population. So, the club didn't have a rich history to try and pull from like it did with the RubberDucks rebrand. Instead, Akron went with a more baseball-centric approach to Copa with the Perros Calientes identity.
“It was really more of a fun name,” Akron club president Jim Pfander said. “But I think we're going to be able to develop more moving forward. Maybe not just with the name of the brand, but with the nights.”
Cleveland’s Double-A affiliate donned the Perros Calientes garb in five games at Canal Park this season.
Although they didn’t have the same local help as Worcester, the club got an assist from a baseball man in Abraham Allende.
Allende was a sportscaster in Cleveland working under the name Allen Davis, who eventually worked for Indians’ community relations department in the 1990s. He went back to his given name when he left baseball to study for the ministry in 2000, and, in 2019, he was elected bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“He was able to kind of put us in touch with the right people,” Pfander said. “He actually came out for one of our games this year and was our P.A. announcer that was able to announce the game in Spanish. It really gave us a nice flavor for the games as well, but I think he's going to help open some doors for us as well so we can really make these nights great.”
Greenville first participated in Copa in 2018, using the identity Energia. That name was a nod to the Drive brand which, according to their website, “was originally chosen in 2006 because it was the drive and vision of the citizens of Greenville and the Upstate that has made Greenville into what it is today. ‘Energía’ captures the continued energy that has made Greenville’s downtown one of the most thriving cities in America.”
The club opted to go in a more fun and colorful direction with its rebrand to Las Ranas de Rio, or River Frogs. The identity references Greenville’s own mascot, Reedy Rip’it and the Reedy River, which flows through downtown Greenville.
There were two sentiments that were consistent among all three clubs. The first was that Copa merchandise was a tremendous hit with the fans.
“It was really popular -- more popular than I expected with the fans,” said Greenville general manager Eric Jarinko. “Between the jersey with the bright colors and the T-shirt designs that we were able to do and the off-the-field caps. We couldn't keep these products in our team store. It was out every time.”
The second thought that came from the experience of all three clubs is the idea that they’d be happy to extend their efforts in the Copa program.
“I think it was a great first step,” Pfander said. “We got a long way to go. We're excited about what next year is going to look like.”
The wheels were already turning on potential ideas for next season’s Copa celebrations, whether it’s expanding to more nights, tying into local events that celebrate the Latinx community or looking to other Minor League clubs to see how they grew the program.
“I think it's great for our community," Pfander added. "We're hoping that it can just be another deposit that we can make in the community to kind of make the ballpark more inclusive and [reach] more folks really from every walk of life.”
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.