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Call of the Wild

Understanding nicknames

Jason Raish illustration

I have this thing about nicknames. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been incapable of calling people by their real names.

My close circle of college friends, for instance, were named Dids, Dr. Steve, P, Sully, Bake, Gift, Zig, Davey Jakes, Hoss Manure, Joey the Wad (don’t ask) and Zink Brat (As is bratwurst, not a petulant child.).

I, myself, was given many unsolicited nicknames over the years. Many of them were – if you’ll pardon the expression – no-brainers: CR. Rosie. Rosebud. Rosalita.

After graduation, I found my way to New Orleans, where it took very little time to understand that nicknames are vital elements of our communal and cultural idiosyncrasy. In my considerably younger years, I played baseball at a relatively skilled level and found myself on a semi-pro team for whom I was the only white member.

My teammates were named Dirt, Big Tiny, Black, Front Porch and so on. Needless to say being the only player on the roster without a nickname was a source of insecurity, an issue that prevented me from having a true sense of belonging.

I was, in every sense of the word, an outsider. Caucasian. A Yankee. I wore big, black-rimmed glasses that were long out of contemporary fashion trends. I don’t present the demeanor of an athlete to be taken seriously. And I’ve never looked anything short of goofy in a baseball uniform.

But I mixed easy in the dugout with the guys. And I eventually won their respect. I could play the game back then. I earned the starting spot at third base. And after a few decent performances at the plate and in the field, one day one of the guys called me, out of the blue, “Sabo.”

At the time, Chris Sabo was the third baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. He wore thick rimmed glasses. He looked more like a high school chemistry teacher than a Major League Baseball player.

But he could play the game. A perennial All Star. And my guys, my teammates starting called me by his name. And for the first time I felt like I was part of the group. I had
a nickname.

Which brings us, admittedly circuitously, to my romantic life over the years. Again, my affliction for assigning pet names has never abated. I have run through the whole cheesy array of Dear, Darling, Sweetheart, etc.

And then one day, not all that long ago, I called a woman with whom I was romantically associated “Babycakes.” She turned to me with an obsidian glaze in her eyes. The octave in her voice dropped at least four pitches. And she said, firmly, assuredly – and slowly, just to make sure I would hear and understand her words – “If you ever call me that again, I will kill you.”

Which brings us to our new Minor League Baseball team. Actually, our longtime minor league baseball team which has – oddly, stunningly, and oh so very wrongly – changed their name from the New Orleans Zephyrs (one of the great names in professional sports) to the New Orleans Babycakes.

Why? I cannot answer that question. But it strikes me as the worst marketing idea since New Coke.

And with a new mascot who resembles nothing or nobody more than Chuckie, the homicidal children’s toy who slaughtered families with joyous pre-adolescent glee during a series of horror movies several decades ago, I’m driven to a state of fluster and fatigue.

Why? Why oh why, Zephyrs, did you do this?

You took a team named after not only our region’s most famous amusement park ride (see: Pontchartrain Park circa 1970) but also a term that means, literally, a warm breeze.
Babycakes? What does it mean? A cross between our Baby Dolls marching clubs and King Cakes? Or just because everybody here call you baby and eats cake? Or just a marketing and rebranding scheme to sell more merchandise?

Sometimes, it seems, you should just call someone by their real name. Seems smart, easy and less inclined to ruin someone’s day, or season, or season ticket sales.

Me, I’m a hometown guy. I will support the team anyway, because they’re our team.

But let this be a cautionary tale. Nicknames: They matter; they emote; they provoke; and they can sometimes last a lifetime – for better or worse.

On that note, I once asked my own Babycakes if she wanted to get married. It is a matter still under consideration – considering just who and what I call her in the future, I suppose.

How about I try this: “Hey Zephyr, how was your day today?”

 

 

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