Watching rookie players strut across the field wearing Dora the Explorer and Hello Kitty backpacks, fans might wonder whether professional baseball is trying to capture a new audience.
This latest fashion statement is not for the fans but the amusement of the teams' senior members. According to The New York Times, an MLB tradition holds that rookie relievers are responsible for carrying a bag of snacks from the clubhouse to the bullpen. To make the tradition a little more interesting, senior players scour stores or the Internet to find just the right hue of humiliation for the rookies. Some are more reserved, like the Padres' collection of "Star Wars"-themed bags, but others push the limits of manliness, as players see just how much pink the rookies can endure.
Unlike the NFL, where teams are cracking down on hazing, the backpacks are quickly finding a place among the more classic traditions of baseball. It also comes on the heels of a similar prank in MLB, where rookies return to the locker room after a game to find their clothes have been swapped with an outlandish costume that they then must sport on the plane ride home.
Compared to the scandals and subsequent lawsuits that usually make headlines when hazing goes too far, these players' pranks seem laughable. And really, they are. The rookies carry their bags with pride and laugh off the jests, looking forward to the days when they can pass the tradition on to a newcomer, and fans are amused at the sight.
To call this hazing, even, would be a bit harsh. Hazing implies a rite of initiation or acceptance and puts a group of younger players at the mercy of the older. But in baseball, younger players are often the driving force of the team, which diminishes the need to prove themselves off the field. The pranks are more about bonding rather than a means to acceptance; they're a sign that that these rookies have already been accepted by their peers.