A celebration of names

Same name, different player. Wheaton (Mass.) outfielder Paul O'Neill shares a name with a former big leaguer. O'Neill is not the only Division III player with a famous or interesting name.
Wheaton (Mass.) Athletics photo 

Mild efforts are taken to keep my name and the pronoun “I” out of these columns because that is what journalists do. Instead of my name, Around the Nation contacts coaches, Around the Nation makes predictions. Around the Nation is the name of the feature, not some pun or alliterative turn of phrase based on the author’s name.

That stated, I, Ricky Nelson, have written each word in the short history of D3baseball.com’s Around the Nation column. I typed that sentence because my name is Richard “Ricky” Nelson. Except for a short window of time when I thought I had outgrown my childhood nickname (“I’m so mature now, so please call me Rick”), I’ve been known as Ricky Nelson to friends, foes and the indifferent.

My name is an occasional conversation starter. For those who don’t know, there once was a time when one of the most popular entertainers in the country was named Ricky Nelson. The Jack Rabbit Slim’s scene in Pulp Fiction had Buddy Holly as the waiter and Ricky Nelson as the singing entertainment. A slight exaggeration of the historical record, but Ricky Nelson was huge.

That Ricky Nelson also went through a let’s-strike-that-Y-from-my-name-so-I-can-be-a-man-now phase. Requests for me to “Sing a song, Ricky Nelson” have waned over the years. I sometimes miss it because I had warbling versions of the choruses to “Poor Little Fool,” “Travelin’ Man,” and “Garden Party” at the ready.

For a hyper-specific segment of the population, you may know Ricky Nelson as an outfielder for the Seattle Mariners in the 1980s. Other Richard Nelsons have carved out noteworthy paths in everything from politics to economics. Wikipedia tells me that there’s even a character on Glee named Rick “The Stick” Nelson.

Names are great. Anthropologists – there’s a famous one named Richard Nelson, of course  – will tell you people were named after trades, hometowns or physical features. John Shoemaker. John of Arimathea. John Tallman. After centuries of living on this spinning orb, we have come up with some new and interesting things to call ourselves.

A part of my day job involves looking at thousands of names. So far my favorite first name I’ve seen at my job is Failure. I’m not entirely sure what gender that may be or whether it’s a nickname, but using world history as a guide, I assume it’s a man's name. I don’t remember my favorite surname I’ve seen in its entirety, but I recall that it was 21 letters long and needed to buy several vowels. The most interesting full name I’ve encountered during my time opening envelopes is Minnie Midgett.

I’ve always been an amateur connoisseur of names. I’d like to think we all are. There’s a reason why genealogy and baby name books are popular at certain times in our lives. Why would there be an ESPN front-page headline about an athlete changing his name? He legally changed his name to Chad Ochocinco or Metta World Peace, that’s why. I hail from the heart of Green Bay Packers country, and there is a fascinating man on the next block who legally changed his name to Gang Green.

For whatever reason names pique our interest, whether they’re unique or the same as someone else’s.  And baseball has a time-honored reverence of given names – Ferguson, Burleigh, Ryne, Harmon, Brooks – and nicknames – Babe, Jackie, Hack, Lefty, Honus. In baseball, seemingly more than other sports, there is a shorthand and romanticism around the names of players. To put a finer point on it, I’m willing to bet that the recognition of a common sports name like “Johnny” conjures up more images of Bench than Unitas. And while the former is considered great in his sport, the latter is considered one of the greatest in his.

My top 5 games of the week (March 27-April 2):

March 28: No. 3 Trinity (Texas) vs. Centenary (La.)
Doubleheader for the lead and possible No. 1 SAA seed; CC beat TU 2 of 3 earlier in March.

March 28: UW-Superior vs. Saint Mary's (Minn.)
 Last D-III doubleheader scheduled at the Metrodome, which is set to be razed in early 2014.

March 30: No. 9 Ramapo vs. Rowan
 NJAC opener; Ramapo won 3 of 4 in 2012, but Rowan leads overall series 54-27-1.

March 30: No. 17 Johns Hopkins vs No. 21 Haverford CC opener pits top 2 in preseason poll; HC swept JHU for first time in 2012. 

April 2: No. 5 Marietta vs. Mount Union  Conference contenders have split OAC doubleheaders in 3 of the past 5 years, including 2012.

It stands to reason that NCAA Division III baseball has its share of interesting names. Around the Nation … you know what? No. I, Ricky Nelson, a man who has had conversations start with cheeks getting pinched and strangers requesting renditions of 1950s, '60s and ‘70s pop classics merely because of my name, went on the hunt for the best names D-III baseball has to offer. After scanning the 2013 rosters for each of the more than 370 programs and starting with an enormous initial list of candidates, this is a column about my favorite Division III baseball names.

I made it a rule that a name had to jump out without my use of a search engine, so your mileage may vary due to my frame of reference. Be forewarned: I admit that my frame of reference and recall of names can be odd and random.

There were dozens of D-III baseball players who share names with someone in the professional sports. To keep the best-of lists manageable, here are some D-III names that could sound familiar from the world of Major League Baseball (MLB tenure in parentheses). Again, your mileage may vary.

Mike Adams (2004-present), Dickinson sophomore infielder
Scott Baker (2005-present), Sewanee head coach
Joe Borowski (1995-2008), Castleton State junior first baseman
Chris Brown (1984-89), Illinois Wesleyan senior catcher; Emory sophomore utility; Thomas freshman outfielder
Juan Cruz (2001-present), Albertus Magnus sophomore infielder
Jose Cruz Jr. (1997-2008), Lehman sophomore pitcher
Chris Davis (2008-present), Rochester junior utility
Pat Duncan (1915-24), Thiel freshman pitcher
Pedro Garcia (1973-77), New Jersey City senior pitcher
Adrian Gonzalez (2004-present), Rutgers-Camden junior utility
Michael Gonzalez (2003-present), UW-Whitewater junior utility
Jeff Gray (2008-present), Hampden-Sydney sophomore designated hitter
Tyler Greene (2009-present), Augustana freshman infielder
Jack Hamilton (1962-69), Saint John’s sophomore pitcher
Greg Harris (1981-95), Central freshman pitcher
David Hernandez (2009-present), Olivet sophomore utility
Brett Jackson (2012-present), Nichols sophomore outfielder
Ben Johnson (2005-07), Saint Mary’s (Minn.) freshman pitcher
Chris Johnson (2009-present), Nichols sophomore utility; Nebraska Wesleyan junior infielder
Dan Johnson (2005-present), Alma junior utility
Bobby Jones (1993-2002), Concordia (Texas) senior pitcher
Nate Jones (2012-present), Illinois College senior pitcher
Adam Kennedy (1999-present), Loras sophomore outfielder
Joe Kennedy (2001-07), Elmhurst senior infielder
Kevin Kennedy (Manager: 1993-96), Bates freshman utility
Eric King (1986-92), Thiel senior infielder
Ray Knight (1974-88), Sewanee head trainer
Matt Moore (2011-present), Curry junior utility
David Murphy (2006-present), Covenant freshman utility
Greg Myers (1987-2005), Stevenson junior pitcher; Rowan freshman catcher
Andy Oliver (2010-present), Richard Stockton sophomore catcher
Paul O’Neill (1985-2001), Wheaton (Mass.) senior outfielder
Carlos Perez (1995-2000), Concordia (Texas) assistant coach
Juan Rivera (2001-present), Eastern Nazarene assistant coach
Brian Roberts (2001-present), Ozarks freshman pitcher
Alex Rodriguez (1994-present), Loras junior infielder; Ozarks sophomore pitcher; Methodist freshman outfielder
Carlos Ruiz (2006-present), Rowan junior pitcher
James Russell (2010-present), Western Connecticut sophomore outfielder
John Russell (1984-1993), Elms senior pitcher
Mike Schmidt (1972-89), St. Mary’s (Md.) senior outfielder
Bud Smith (2001-02), Simpson freshman catcher
Billy Taylor (1994-2001), Rutgers-Newark freshman pitcher
Jim Turner (1937-45), Rutgers-Camden freshman pitcher
Mike Williams (1992-2003), Ferrum senior pitcher
Ted Williams (1939-60), Earlham junior outfielder
Michael Young (2000-present), TCNJ freshman utility; New England College freshman utility 

On the topic of MLB names, these D-III coaches have the same names as former players because they are the former players (MLB tenure in parentheses).

Tommy Boggs (1976-85), Concordia (Texas) head coach
Scott Brosius (1991-2001), Linfield head coach
Chris Coste (2006-09), Concordia-Moorhead assistant coach
Jerry Don Gleaton (1979-92), Howard Payne assistant coach
Peter Hoy (1992), St. Lawrence head coach
Rick Huisman (1995-96), Hope assistant coach
Wade Miller (1999-2007), Alvernia assistant coach
Keith Osik (1996-2005), Farmingdale State head coach
Curtis Pride (1993-2006), Gallaudet head coach
Brian Raabe (1995-97), Bethel head coach
Josh Sharpless (2006-07), La Roche assistant coach
Gene Stechschulte (2000-02), Ohio Northern head coach

My 2013 Week 5 ballot (D3baseball.com rank)
Stats, musings and folly valid through March 24

1 (1). Linfield – Winning formula = Score 6.8 rpg + have a .975 FLD% + sport a 1.83 ERA through 21 games; upcoming schedule should test the formula.

2 (9). Ramapo – Latest cap feather was a win over Western New England; allowed 2 runs or fewer in 7 of 11 games; PJ Cerreto has 32 K in 14.2 IP.

3 (11). Saint Joseph’s (Maine) – Weather forced an idle week; win over Wheaton (Mass.) and a 1.38 ERA through 9 games keep the Monks in NE pace car.

4 (15). UW-Whitewater – Wins over Western New England and better-than-many-know Benedictine highlighted a 3-0 week; thriving despite .927 FLD%.

5 (2). Cortland State – Opened SUNYAC play with 3-game sweep; outscoring teams 146-61 through 17 games; 4 non-region losses by a combined 5 runs.

6 (7). St. Thomas – Yet another split with a Midwest contender (UW-Stevens Point); spotty offense has led to 4 losses depite 39 runs allowed in 13 games.

7 (21). Haverford – Swept St. John Fisher to extend season-opening skein to 12, which also includes a win over Rowan; batting .338 with 58 SB.

8 (6). Kean – Beat Eastern Connecticut St. and Alvernia in 3-0 week, lifting home record to 10-1; has scored 11+ runs in 4 of the last 7 games.

9 (4). Salisbury – 8-game winning streak snapped when it lost 2 of 3 1-run games at St. Mary's (Md.); Sea Gulls are now 2-2 on the road, 13-2 at home.

10 (10). Wheaton (Mass.) – Tossed 2 shutouts in opening 3-game NEWMAC sweep; Frank Holbrook and Alec Palioca are a combined 6-1, others are 2-3.

The rest of my ballot: Webster; Trinity (Texas); Western New England; Marietta; Huntingdon; Manchester; Johns Hopkins; Rowan; St. Scholastica; Case Western Reserve; UW-Stevens Point; UT-Tyler; Washington-St. Louis; Christopher Newport; Cal Lutheran.

Pete Varney (1973-76), Brandeis head coach
Rick White (1994-2007), Wittenberg assistant coach

Keeping with the MLB theme, these D-III player names could conjure some of baseball’s best.

Mitchell Bonds, Webster senior third baseman
Jackson Brett, St. Thomas sophomore first baseman
Trammell DeJarnett, Huntingdon junior outfielder
Sammy Evers, Emerson sophomore utility
Trammell Grimmer, Anderson freshman pitcher
Brooks Kirby, Virginia Wesleyan junior pitcher
Brett Ryan, Rutgers-Newark freshman shortstop

Stepping away from the diamond, I hope we can mix D-III baseball player names with politics.

Franklin Bush, Blackburn junior shortstop
Grant Davis, Castleton State sophomore pitcher
Andrew Johnson, Hamline freshman catcher

The list of D-III baseball player names in entertainment and popular culture is where my frame of reference can, and should for your sake, be most divergent. Not everyone remembers the 1987 Topps Chris Brown card like I, for unknown reasons, do. I sometimes can’t remember friends’ birthdays but I know Jim Turner was a pro baseball player in the early 20th century? Some things don’t make sense. At any rate, it doesn’t seem fair to anyone involved. I would much rather have some other info knocking around upstairs, but some stuff takes up room in the brain whether you want it to or not.

There is no other reason to explain why I know who wrote the songs “My Heart Will Go On,” “Tears In Heaven,” “Higher Love,” “Up Where We Belong,” “Didn’t We Almost Have it All,” and many others that you hear at the dentist. Yes, some dude wrote all of those. I own about 300 CDs – Google that acronym, players – and none of them contain those songs. I didn’t actively try to remember this useless bit of trivia, but I recognized the name Will Jennings immediately when I saw it on a D-III baseball roster. With that caveat about recall abilities, here are some D-III baseball names from the world of popular culture (a claim to fame in parentheses). Yes, I stretched the baseball-only rules in order to include some basketball legends, but they have other credits and, like it or not, Chris Mullin is one of my favorite basketball players. He wasn’t not going to get mentioned.

Matt Berry (Actor: The Mighty Boosh), Norwich sophomore outfielder
Dan Brown (Author: The Da Vinci Code), Skidmore freshman pitcher
Tim Calhoun (Will Forte Saturday Night Live character), Hiram junior catcher
David Cook (American Idol winner), Guilford senior infielder
James Dean (Actor: Rebel Without a Cause), Bethany Lutheran sophomore pitcher
Ryan Dunn (Actor: CKY2K), Westminster (Pa.) freshman infielder
Kevin Farley (Actor: Dirty Work), Rose-Hulman junior pitcher; Catholic junior pitcher
Chris Ferguson (Pro poker player), Ferrum freshman pitcher
Matt Foley (Chris Farley SNL character), Rhode Island College freshman catcher
Jeff Greenfield (TV journalist), Eastern Nazarene junior outfielder
Mark Harris (Author: Bang the Drum Slowly), Redlands sophomore pitcher
Josh Jackson (Actor: Dawson’s Creek), Frostburg State junior outfielder
Will Jennings (Songwriter: Every ballad from 1985-98), Randolph-Macon freshman pitcher
Justin Long (Actor: Galaxy Quest), Lancaster Bible senior pitcher
Chris Matthews (TV talk show host), Hardin-Simmons senior catcher
John Mayer (Singer/songwriter: “Waiting on the World to Change”), McDaniel freshman infielder
Troy Miller (TV director: Mr. Show with Bob and David), Stevenson sophomore third baseman
Michael Moore (Filmmaker: Roger and Me), Purchase senior pitcher
Chris Mullin (Actor: Forget Paris), Massachusetts Maritime junior pitcher
Christopher Nolan (Director: The Dark Knight), Mount Aloysius sophomore pitcher
Ryan Reynolds (Actor: Ted), Christopher Newport senior catcher
Pat Riley (Motivational speaker), King’s sophomore utility
Jack Rogers (Women’s footwear brand), Sewanee junior third baseman
Tom Sawyer (Pursuer of Becky Thatcher), Ripon junior outfielder
Chad Smith (Drummer: Red Hot Chili Peppers), Ohio Northern junior pitcher
Robert Smith (Front man: The Cure), Millikin freshman utility
Guy Stevens (Record producer: The Clash), Pomona-Pitzer senior pitcher
Jake Taylor (Fictional catcher: Major League), Defiance senior pitcher
John Taylor (Bassist: Duran Duran), Baldwin Wallace freshman outfielder
Dylan Thomas (Poet: “Do not go gentle into that good night”), Westminster (Pa.) freshman utility; Keuka sophomore outfielder; St. Thomas senior utility
Chris Wallace (TV journalist), New England College senior pitcher
Matt Walsh (Co-founder: Upright Citizen’s Brigade comedy troupe), Loras freshman catcher
Bill Walton (Actor: Semi-Pro), Western Connecticut assistant coach
John Waters (Director: Hairspray), Rutgers-Camden freshman pitcher
Walter White (Fictional character: Breaking Bad), Augustana freshman pitcher
Dan Whitney (Real name of “Larry the Cable Guy”), Husson freshman utility
Chris Williams (Actor: Dodgeball), Cazenovia sophomore outfielder
Andrew Wood (Lead singer: Mother Love Bone), Ripon freshman outfielder

And then there are just names. Some are puns because I’m a child. Some are unusual. Some are inventive. Some are evocative. Some are fun to say. For myriad of reasons, these are my favorite D-III baseball names, which where whittled from 100+ to a reasonable top 40.

Boardman Adams, Howard Payne freshman pitcher
Drew Arends, Coe sophomore utility
Franzee Baralamas, La Roche sophomore infielder
Holden Branch, Adrian junior pitcher
Frank Brank, Allegheny senior pitcher
Ross Bronfenbrenner, Macalester junior outfielder
Tater Clubb, Central freshman junior varsity infielder
Will Cook, Sewanee sophomore catcher
Josh Coughennower, Austin sophomore utility
Eren Cur, Augsburg senior pitcher
Boston Fields, Anderson freshman outfielder
Trux French, Pacific senior utility
Van Fudge, Occidental junior infielder
Nick Guitar, Ohio Northern freshman infielder
Boonewell Hagy, Roanoke freshman infielder
Derek Hug, Heidelberg freshman outfielder
Bo Irons, Knox assistant coach
Borja Jones-Berasaluce, Guilford junior pitcher
Hunter Justus, Wilmington senior utility
Atherton Kniseley, Cal Lutheran freshman infielder
Jackson Litterer, Wartburg sophomore utility
Max Nagger, Yeshiva freshman third baseman
Ernest Newborn, Oberlin freshman pitcher
Socrates Peralta, Lehman junior outfielder
Ketchum Marsh, Southwestern freshman pitcher
Markus McClurkin, Pacific Lutheran sophomore infielder
Tug McRoberts, Univ. of Dallas freshman outfielder
Ory Mee, Brockport State assistant coach
Thor Miller, Oswego State junior pitcher
Chase Powers, Nebraska Wesleyan freshman utility
Dakota Rabbitt, Colby junior pitcher
Kidane Rutty, Drew freshman outfielder
Ghazaleh Sailors, Maine-Presque Isle sophomore utility
Arneal Squibb, Heidelberg junior outfielder
Ison Smith, MacMurray freshman outfielder
Fla Strawn, Texas Lutheran assistant coach
Toran Tillotson, Concordia (Texas) freshman infielder
Adam Van DenLangenberg, Centenary (La.) freshman outfielder
Boo Weaver, Delaware Valley freshman outfielder
Will Williams, Finlandia assistant coach

An informal, personal poll said the best D-III baseball name is Tater Clubb. What are your favorites? What good ones did I omit?

Look for a trivia question about these names on the message board this week. The first person to answer it correctly will get a mention in next week's column.

[Cue singer Ricky Nelson voice] “When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name.” I can still nail it after all these years. Here’s to names.

Next week:
Revisiting top stories.