It’s the Instagram photo seen around the world, suddenly thrusting one Akron boys baseball team into the global spotlight and making their jerseys a hot commodity, and not because they went undefeated in their league.
The Orioles of the West Akron Baseball League are a team of 6- to 8-year-old boys sponsored by Akron’s reigning rock stars, the Black Keys. Drummer Patrick Carney posted an Instagram photo of the team’s jersey, featuring the band’s name in the font used on their Grammy-winning 2011 album El Camino emblazoned on the back, and now the team is a trending topic on Yahoo and their photos have appeared on TMZ, the Huffington Post, MTV and other global websites.
“It’s a good thing for the Black Keys and for the league. It’s definitely positive exposure for the both of us,” Orioles coach Kevin Floyd said.
While only a few of the kids — mostly those with older siblings or contemporary rock-loving parents — had previously heard of the band, “they all know them now,” he said, chuckling.
The idea to reach out to the band came from Orioles assistant coach and WABL official Steve Milkovich, whose younger brother Nick, a major in the Army Special Forces, grew up with Carney in West Akron. The two school chums remain good friends.
“I discovered that the Black Keys have sponsored a youth basketball team the last few years,” Milkovich said. “When I caught wind of that, I thought, wait a minute, because honestly, I always remembered Pat with an Indians hat on, playing catch with my kid brother, and that’s when the light bulb went off.”
Milkovich called Carney, who consulted with bandmate Dan Auerbach, and a few days later the band cut the team a check for the $300 sponsorship, only requesting the team use the band logo on the back.
“My friend’s older brother Steve Milkovich asked me if we would be interested in sponsoring his son’s team and we were 1,000 percent down, having both played little league for WABL,” Carney said by email.
“Playing little league was the highlight of my summer … until I discovered that I sucked and would rather stay in my dad’s basement and try and play the guitar,” he said.
Milkovich, who in addition to his coaching duties also helps with fundraising for WABL, said the past several days have been quite the whirlwind as league officials answer questions from around the world.
“Never expected it to be like this,” Milkovich said.
“It’s like every time I turn on the computer or get an email somebody else is like, ‘Oh, man look at this.’ So I think it’s worldwide and everyone is running with it,” he said, noting that team officials have been fielding interview requests nearly nonstop.
Milkovich said the attention has been great for the league. Black Keys fans and people who simply think it’s a nice thing for rock stars to do for their hometown are liking the league’s Facebook page and inquiring about how to buy one of the team’s suddenly hot shirts.
Team member Andrew Floyd, 8, son of Coach Floyd, summed up the team’s newfound fame and sponsor succinctly.
“Awesome,” said Andrew, who plays pitcher, catcher and his personal favorite, first base. “My dad has shown me a lot of Internet things about us.”
Andrew admitted he hadn’t heard of the Black Keys before, but now that he’s officially in the band’s orbit and has heard their music, he considers himself a fan.
As to whether he’ll actually spend his discretionary income on the band’s music?
“Maybe,” Andrew said.
With the Orioles’ newfound fame, the team, with the band’s blessing, is planning to offer the shirts (in grown-up sizes, too) to the public, with all proceeds going to the league.
“The requests are just flying in from all over the world for these T-shirts. It’s pretty cool,” Milkovich said.
“We just think this is so cool, and it’s funny and fun for the kids,” Kevin Floyd said.
Orioles/Black Keys T-shirts may start popping up on fans’ backs in the next several weeks. But none of those will be quite as special as the young athletes’ jerseys, because following the season, the team sent them all to the band’s management to be individually signed by their hard-rockin’ benefactors.