Latin music roared from the loudspeaker Friday, a distinct difference from what Arkansas Travelers fans normally hear when they make their way into Dickey-Stephens Park.
The red, white and blue bunting that highlighted Thursday's opening day ceremonies was replaced by equally colorful red, white and green banners.
The Travelers' uniforms were just as vibrant. Instead of the traditional white home jerseys, the home team donned bright red shirts with green sleeves and white pants. Their gold, red and green caps featured a logo of a man sporting a handlebar mustache and a sombrero.
Even Otey -- the Travelers' possum mascot -- got into the spirit, wearing a red, green and gold-striped poncho.
The festive atmosphere was part of the Arkansas Travelers' participation in the 2019 "Copa de la Diversion," which serves as the centerpiece of Minor League Baseball's Hispanic fan engagement initiative.
It was the first of 10 playing dates this season that the Arkansas team will change its identity from the Travelers to the Diamantes de Arkansas (translation: the Arkansas Diamonds.)
"We wanted this to be authentic," Travelers General Manager Paul Allen said. "We've been working with the Mexican consulate and his office and our friends at Cinco Media. We asked them what they thought. We didn't want to offend anyone. We wanted them involved. They were big on helping us come up with the team name and the design and colors."
The Travelers are one of 72 minor-league teams participating in the 2019 "Copa," an increase from 33 teams in the first year of the initiative. The 2018 Copa games drew significantly larger crowds -- 24.4 percent larger -- than non-Copa games.
"We knew if we built an authentic, culturally relevant campaign, our entire fan base -- not just Hispanic fans -- would embrace it," said Kurt Hunzeker, Minor League Baseball's vice president of marketing strategy and research. "The way Copa resonated with our communities almost immediately after we started unveiling the identities last year truly signaled that our focus, direction and execution was correct."
One of the more popular Copa nicknames of a year ago came from former Texas League member San Antonio. The Missions changed their name to the Flying Chanclas (translation: Flying Sandals).
The backstory behind the Missions' Copa persona is that of the matriarch of the Latino family -- the Abuelita, or granny -- and her symbol of love, strength and discipline. The Abuelita were renowned for their ability to hurl their sandals or flip-flops in an attempt to get their grandchildren to behave.
"It blew up. It was huge," Allen said of the success of the Flying Chanclas. "They sold more than $1 million in hats last year alone."
The Diamantes' fictional background is based on one of Arkansas' popular features -- the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro. The invented legend is that a man of Hispanic heritage came to Hot Springs to find his American dream by playing baseball while digging for diamonds in his spare time.
Allen hopes the promotion develops into a yearly tradition.
"We understand we may not have the largest Spanish/Latino population here in central Arkansas, but it is an emerging market that is looking for entertainment just like anyone else," Allen said. "It only makes sense to reach out and tell them they are welcome as well."
The next Diamantes Night is scheduled for April 26.
Arkansas Travelers third baseman Connor Hoover signs autographs before Friday night’s game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. The Travelers were wearing special uniforms as part of Minor League Baseball’s Hispanic fan engagement initiative.
Sports on 04/13/2019
Print Headline: Travs join fiesta in minor leagues