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Published: 5/1/2013

All abuzz about Chewbacca

Mud Hens to don special uniforms for Star-Wars-themed home games

Reaction swift to uniforms, auction during unique event

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The Mud Hens have drawn national attention for the Chewbacca jersey they will wear Saturday night and Sunday afternoon as part of their ‘Star Wars’ celebrations, ‘May the Fourth be with you’ and ‘Re­venge of the Fifth.’ The Mud Hens have drawn national attention for the Chewbacca jersey they will wear Saturday night and Sunday afternoon as part of their ‘Star Wars’ celebrations, ‘May the Fourth be with you’ and ‘Re­venge of the Fifth.’
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Fans of the Star Wars movies may confuse Fifth Third Field with Mos Eisley Cantina this weekend.

The Mud Hens will celebrate the iconic film series on Saturday and Sunday when the team hosts Charlotte. The May 4 contest is billed as “May the Fourth be with you” — get it? — and on May 5 the Hens will host “Revenge of the Fifth.”

One of the most notable features of the event is the special Chewbacca uniforms, fashioned to make the players look like the 7-foot tall Wookiee, that the team will wear both days. It’s a nearly impossible look to pull off because Chewbacca is completely covered with fur, and the jerseys merely attempt to show the fur along with a munitions holster strapped across the chest.

The unique jerseys were the product of brainstorming between the team and OT Sports, the company that has a license to produce on-field specialty jerseys and retail jerseys for Minor League Baseball.

“When we first came to OT Sports, we told them we wanted to do something different,” said Craig Katz, the Hens’ director of merchandise and licensing. “They showed us some things other teams have done [for Star Wars], such as C-3PO or Storm Troopers.

“Then they showed us the Chewbacca jersey. For overall silliness, it just stood out.”

So the team agreed to the Chewbacca jerseys — and braced for the response.

“There is no such thing as bad press with something like this,” Katz said. “We had fans tell us, ‘These [uniforms] are so ugly, I have to have one.’

“I think some people think they are so ‘out there’ that they have to have one. They may not wear it, but they want to add it to their collection.”

The Chewbacca uniforms have generated notoriety from a variety of social media sources, starting with a posting on the popular video game site Kotaku on Friday. Later that day, ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell tweeted a picture of what he called the “hideous” uniforms to his more then 340,000 followers — and interest exploded.

Since that time, the Hens have fielded calls from a variety of parties interested in wearing the uniforms on their broadcasts, including ESPN and MLB Network.

Nathan Steinmetz, the Mud Hens manager of online marketing and ticket sales, said the reaction on the team’s many social media platforms has been record-shattering.

Photos of the Chewbacca uniform have set an all-time record for “shares” on the team’s Facebook page, and photos of the uniform on the team’s Web site trails only the Opening Day story for a record number of “impressions.”

And while Rovell may not like the jersey, Steinmetz said fan reaction hasn’t been as negative.

“So far, I think roughly 50 percent of the people love it, and 50 percent of the people hate it,” Steinmetz said. “But 100 percent of the people are looking at it.”

The Mud Hens will auction half of the autographed, game-worn uniforms on Saturday and the rest Sunday. Proceeds from Saturday’s auction will go to Read for Literacy, while Sunday’s proceeds will benefit the Spina Bifida Association of Northwest Ohio.

While replica Chewbacca jerseys are not available in the Swamp Shop, the team’s merchandise sales outlet, Katz said response has been good for T-shirts that show Muddy swinging a bat Katz called a “laser sword,” recognizing that the licensing rights for the term “light saber” are owned by Disney, which bought the licensing rights to the Star Wars franchise last October.

The Chewbacca jerseys are just one of the Star Wars touches fans will experience this weekend.

There will be a pregame costume parade both days, and the 501st Legion — a volunteer organization focused on the costumes from the iconic movies — will dress in the uniforms of well-known characters such as Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, X-Wing pilots, and more.

The team also will offer Star Wars face painting, a costume photo booth, and special food and beverages such as Yoda Soda and Darth Chocolate Brownie Sundae.

The Hens will give away kazoos to fans both days, then lead a kazoo band in a rendition of the Star Wars theme.

There will also be postgame fireworks with a Star Wars theme after Saturday’s game.

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.



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