KENNEWICK -- When the coaches for Kennewick National youth baseball began dividing up the teams for this spring's season, sponsors included the usual businesses: Windermere, The Trophy Shoppe, King's Gate Plumbing, The Informed Vegan.
That's pretty much what Chris Avery thought, too. The third-year coach for the Cal Ripken league did a double-take when he found out his team of 7- to 9-year-olds was being sponsored by a blogger based in Washington, D.C.
"It was definitely a little odd," he said as his team was warming up for a recent game against Northwest Restoration. "When I told my parents about it, they said, 'We're having a steak cookout for the first practice, right?' "
The blogger is Nick Klein, 25, who works for the Foundation to Support Animal Protection in the D.C. area. As a youth, he played on the same baseball fields on West Fourth Avenue near the Highway 395 overpass. After graduating from Southridge High School in 2004, Klein went to Eastern Washington University, during which time he became a vegetarian and, later, a vegan. After earning a master's degree, he worked in Spokane before moving to his current job.
He launched his blog, The Informed Vegan, about two years ago while still living in Cheney to educate others about issues surrounding animal rights and veganism. A vegan uses no animal products, including meat, dairy, honey or leather.
"It was a great way to make my voice a little bit louder," he said.
In the past few months, traffic to the blog has increased by more than 2,000 percent.
"More and more people are interested in veganism and animal rights," he said.
In January, he came upon the idea of sponsoring a baseball team.
"I was thinking about how the weather was going to get warmer and the Little League teams were coming out, and I wanted to sponsor a team back home," he said. "I felt like it would be a fun, interesting thing to do, to sponsor a team and see what happened. I knew it would be an interesting thing for people, especially in a town like Kennewick, where a lot of people don't even know what a vegan is. It would get people talking."
So Klein plunked down $450 to pay for the sponsorship, which includes uniforms and signage at the ballpark.
It left Avery and others shaking their heads as they thought about baseballs and gloves made with leather, and concession stands peddling hotdogs and cheeseburgers, all definitely not vegan. At first, the players didn't like the name, but now they're OK with it.
"I don't think they fully understand what a vegan is," Avery said with a laugh. "Still it's an odd name for a baseball team. But what's in a name? We're just out to play ball and have fun."
His son Gabriel, 8, is on the team but doesn't have a clear idea of what a vegan is.
"I just want to play baseball," he said as he chewed on sunflower seeds while warming up.
Avery said he has heard no derisive comments from opposing players or parents, though he has taken some good-natured ribbing.
"A couple of people have given me a hard time in the concession stand for ordering a hamburger."
Klein laughed when he heard that.
"I hope that inspires the concession stand to carry veggie dogs and veggie burgers," he said with a chuckle.
But he is not worried about the team heading to Burger Ranch after a game.
"It's not about being offended or saying someone is a bad person for eating meat or dairy," Klein said. "It's about being informed and about having all the facts. Everyone is entitled to know the truth about the food they eat, and right now, they don't."
When Klein looked up the team's schedule on the Kennewick National website, he saw an opportunity for a natural rivalry when he noticed Dairy Queen also sponsored a team in the same division.
"I thought it was a funny visual to see The Informed Vegans going up against the Queen of Dairy," he said. "I was hoping we would be in Tyson Meats' division too. That would have been fun."
The Informed Vegan battled Dairy Queen on March 30, and the Vegans won a thriller, 10-9.
A rematch will take place May 19, a game Klein hopes to attend in person.
"I hope The Informed Vegans beat Dairy Queen again," he said. "I hope the kids have a great time and come back next year."
* Andy Perdue: 509-582-1405; firstname.lastname@example.org.