Early last spring, before Bernadina had any sort of name recognition among casual Nats followers, Tyler Stoltenberg and Terry Cangelosi decided to become Bernadina super fans. The two 20-something kids from the Midwest had seen Bernadina make one of his absurd diving catches during a spot start, and there was clearly a void in the Bernadina super fan category, and as relative newcomers to Nats fandom, Stoltenberg and Cangelosi decided this was their niche.
Of course, this required giving Bernadina a nickname. Now, our two protagonists both work at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, a children’s theater that had been doing a pirate-themed production at the time. This meant they had access to a bunch of fleece shark hoods designed for 2nd-to-4th graders.
But as they thought about it, the nickname sort of worked for their guy.
“We had the costumes, but it’s really because the way he hunts down fly balls looks like a shark hunting his prey,” Tyler told me this week. “He was the logical candidate.”
“Plus, we both love sharks,” Terry added.
And so fast forward to Aug. 26 of last year. Terry and Tyler showed up at Nats Park wearing children’s fleece shark hoods. They went to the outfield and began calling out to Bernadina about his new nickname. Nyjer Morgan heard their cries, and began putting his hand on his head, replicating a shark’s fin. Between innings, Bernadina began to do the same.
“I think Bernadina was a little embarrassed by it maybe,” Terry said. “I don’t think he’d had such devout fans before.”
But he learned. While he was at Syracuse this spring, he friended Cangelosi on Facebook, and they began corresponding. Bernadina suggested they meet in person, and his friend arranged for the Sharkadina folks -- as they began calling themselves -- to get tickets to a game. Rick Ankiel actually started in center field that day, but an early injury put Bernadina in the outfield.
“It was perfect, because we were dressed up as sharks, waiting to meet him” Terry noted. “You don’t wish injury on anyone, but....”
Bernadina gave his super fans autographed bats and pictures. He said he liked the nickname.
And indeed, it became a thing. Fans in the weird Nats-based corners of the Internet all recognized The Shark as Bernadina’s moniker, helped by Tyler and Terry’s Sharkadina blog. Radio play-by-play guy Charlie Slowes used the name on the air this month, exclaiming “the Shark, with his 14th run batted in!” after a Bernadina home run. The outfielder’s official Web site makes prominent use of the nickname, and he started mixing it into his Facebook status updates, as in “My name is Shark.”
Tyler and Terry only had six hoods, but their friend designed a prototype to turn an ordinary baseball hat into a less uncomfortable shark fin tribute, using card stock paper and costume design skills. And so earlier this month, a gang of about 10 Sharkadina followers took over a right field section, earning additional followers after a few quizzical looks.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to explain: he hunts down balls like a shark,” Tyler said.
“People generally get on board, and then follow blindly,” Terry added. “I tend to scream very loudly rooting for the Shark. I think I made a kid cry the first time we wore the hoods, but he was loving the name by the end of the game.”
The next step, of course, would be getting Bob Carpenter to use The Shark on MASN broadcasts, and then watching it spread to Fox and ESPN and the rest of the nation. Either that, or monetizing the nickname.
“We should probably start merchandising,” Terry agreed, when I asked about this clear oversight. “Or at least start producing the hoods.”
(Above image courtesy Daimon Eklund.)