Like tacos need cilantro, the Fresno Grizzlies needed standout jerseys for Taco Truck Throwdown 6, the Aug. 18 game against Omaha at Chukchansi Park, also known as taco heaven.
Tuesday, the team revealed its special edition uniforms, a crazy fusion of Mexican serape fabric patterns and baseball jerseys. Designers claimed the entire rainbow for the team’s colors: Shirts are black, with player numbers in iconic orange and green, and hot pink, turquoise, green and yellow stripes. Hats have a black cap with the taco mascot and bills with the colorful stripes.
The team also revealed fan merchandise, the fan-selected name of the Fresno Tacos mascot and a new name for the People’s Choice best taco truck trophy. The Adrian Loza Memorial trophy will honor a two-time winner who swept both People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice awards.
Yet to be revealed: One more merchandise surprise and the foundation to benefit from this game’s online uniform auction.
No two hats are exactly the same. We jumped all over it.
Derek Franks, Grizzlies executive general manager
Derek Franks, general manager for the Grizzlies, said the striped pattern answered the marketing team’s question of “What’s next?” in the taco theme. During the design process, they realized each hat will sport a unique version of the colorful pattern, adding another dimension to the already nontraditional baseball gear.
“No two hats are exactly the same,” Franks said. “We jumped all over it.”
But Franks’ favorite part of the process was how the Grizzlies’ in-house marketing team came up with the serape idea and the design for the new mascot, which fans named Cilantro Gomez.
“My favorite part about the whole thing is we get to create it in-house,” Franks said. “A lot of clubs have to go to an agency, or outsource. The fact that we’re able to achieve this in-house makes it all the more special for us.”
As for the new mascot? “Cilantro is here to stay,” Franks said.
The naming process for the mascot began in April when the Grizzlies took to social media to ask fans what they would name it. Franks said it became one of the club’s most popular social media campaigns all year.
After hundreds of names and thousands of votes, Cilantro Gomez won by a landslide, Franks said.
The Fresno Grizzlies’ Taco Truck Throwdown games, along with the once-a-week switch to the Fresno Tacos, have gained national and even international attention.
Paul Braverman, who conducts media relations for the team, said a lot of revenue from last year’s merchandise sales came from internet orders.
“It gets so much traction on social media,” Braverman said. “There’s so many baseball fans who collect fitted caps and wear them, and people who just collect quirky minor league baseball stuff.”
There’s so many baseball fans who collect fitted caps and wear them and people who just collect quirky, minor league baseball stuff.
Paul Braverman, Grizzlies media relations
Last year, the Grizzlies sold a hat in every state and a couple countries.
A lot of the hats wound up in the Bay Area, purchased by fans of the Oakland A’s because the colors match their own gear, he said.
“I think the uniforms – now we’re kind of used to them – but the uniforms when they first came out were so outlandish,” Braverman said. “There had never been a team that had played as a food, the Fresno Tacos. I think the combination of being partly ridiculous, but partly fitting so well with the culture here, it just blew up from there.”
Braverman said the Grizzlies won Minor League Baseball’s Promotion of the Year award in 2015 for the taco promotion.
Whitney Campbell, director of the Grizzlies Community Fund, said that award was another way to put Fresno on the map.
Campbell oversees where the company donates revenues from auctioned jerseys. This year’s auction will only be online Aug. 19-28 because fans are too focused on the game and the tacos to worry about bidding, Campbell said.
She said the company hasn’t decided yet on a beneficiary for this Taco Truck Throwdown’s jersey auction. In general, money raised from an auction doesn’t benefit just one foundation.
Last year, $2,000 from auctioned taco jerseys went to Sound N Vision Foundation, which brings concerts and art shows to the Valley. Another portion goes to the Grizzlies’ nonprofit, which puts on a league for disabled people, a literacy program and a baseball camp.
“That’s our one channel ... to give back to the community,” Campbell said.
They also decided to change the name of the People’s Choice trophy to the Adrian Loza Memorial trophy, in honor of an enthusiastic taco truck chef who died earlier this year, just before his 30th birthday.
“For us, it’s something that pretty much had to be done,” said Yahoo! Sports writer Mike Osegueda, who helped organize the first Taco Truck Throwdowns when he was a features writer for The Bee.
For the first throwdown, seven trucks were hand-picked. But the second year, Loza from El Premio Mayor called and asked to participate.
That year his truck won both the People’s Choice and the Judge’s Choice awards. Last year, his family’s tacos won both awards.
“It rocked us all hard: we enjoyed Adrian, we loved El Premio Mayor, we loved his family,” Osegueda said.
He said Loza’s passion for his family’s food, for the throwdown – even if his truck didn’t win – and for the community made him stand out.
“If you came out to an event, whether it was here or somewhere else they were at, everybody loved Adrian,” Osegueda said. “He had one of those magnetic personalities that people were just drawn to.”