Atlantic League Hopes New Catching Gear Catches On

Rick White was sitting in the stands at Bethpage Park watching the Long Island Ducks last season when he noticed the Ducks catcher's chest protector.

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White, now in his third season as president of the independent Atlantic League, thought it was peculiar that the color of the gear was red and the Ducks colors are green and orange.

“It didn't look good," he said.

So White, the former president of MLB Properties, came up with the idea of designing specific catchers gear from head to toe that would match each of the eight team's colors and reflect their nicknames and local heritage.

This season, with the approval of the Atlantic League team owners and sponsorship from Rawlings, Atlantic League catchers will be outfitted in unique designs that White says could be easily adopted in the major leagues.

The Ducks catcher's helmet/mask will feature ducks in flight and a lighthouse, according to White. In Waldorf, Md., where White points out that 65 percent of the community is African-American, the design for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs will pay tribute to great Negro League players.

“We (Atlantic League) have a blank palette," White said. “We believe shortly after we unveil the designs major league players will adopt something similar."

The goal, White says, is to build upon the success of brand awareness the league has enjoyed the past several seasons. In 2015, the Atlantic League employed a red-and-blue stitched baseball with two signatures, White's and the team owner where the game was played. The unique baseball, the only one with two signatures on it, is on display at the Hall of Fame.

“We have our own set of protocols," White said. “Ultimately everything is vetted to the board of directors. We are far less bureaucratic than other leagues.

“We try things that others may never try. It helps us stake our brand awareness and innovation."

 

The new catching gear isn’t the only innovations in the Atlantic League for 2016. There will also be a buzz in Central Connecticut this season when the New Britain Bees inhabit the ballpark once occupied by the Rock Cats of the Eastern League. That franchise moved to Hartford. White said a few of the Bees players will experiment with “helmet cams” this season in the hopes of transmitting to a streaming device or wireless networks inside the ballpark to provide fans with a different perspective on the game.

“We don't want it (cameras) to affect the game at all," White said. “We never want to create a hazard for our players and we want to make sure the effort is worthwhile."

The Bees take the place of the Camden Riversharks, a 15-year member of the Atlantic League, who folded after last season. White said the decision stemmed from “an inability” to reach an agreement on lease terms with the ballpark’s owner, the Camden County Improvement Authority.

“I would be very surprised if that ballpark exists five years from now," White said. “It's too bad because it was a beautiful little ballpark on the Delaware River with a view of the Philadelphia skyline.

“It doesn't get more picturesque than that. “We were really sad. We were very dedicated to doing business there."

White remains confident in the creation of a Southwestern Division to accompany the Sugar Land Skeeters in Texas. He said there are discussions with four different ownership groups in 12 various locations, all within a five-hour bus ride of Sugar Land.

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