Amidst all the chatter about outfielder Yoenis Cespedes -- he's arguably the hottest athlete on the planet, he has single-handedly reversed the New York Mets' fortunes, he's a long-shot possibility for this year's National League MVP award, blah, blah, blah -- there's one aspect of his game that's received surprisingly little attention.
And here it is: For the past month or so, Cespedes has been wearing a neon-yellow compression sleeve on his right arm along with a matching neon necklace for good measure.
The use of these bright neon or highlighter tones -- sometimes leaning more toward yellow, sometimes more toward green -- has been spreading throughout the sports apparel world in recent years. Nike calls its version of the color "Volt," Adidas calls its version "Electricity" and so on. But by any name, no MLB player has embraced the trend as much as Cespedes. If Mets pitcher Matt Harvey is the game's Dark Knight, then Cespedes has become its Neon Knight (or Duke of DayGlo, or Pharaoh of Fluorescence, or the High Honcho of Highlighter -- take your pick).
Neon tones look processed and synthetic, which presents a sharp contrast to more conventional team colors and the organic-looking natural surfaces that form the backdrops for most sports (grass, dirt, wood, ice). Some fans like that contrast; others find it too loud and jarring. Either way, though, the neon look definitely appears to be spreading through the uni-verse. Here are some of the players, teams and events where it has been showing up lately:
MLB: David Ortiz
Big Papi's neon-accented batting gloves and neon bat-grip wrap arguably made him MLB's most fluorescent player, at least until Cespedes broke out his compression sleeve. The bright-green tones look a bit out of place in the old-school setting of Fenway Park, but it's probably OK as long as the Green Monster doesn't get repainted as a Neon Green Monster.
NFL: 2014 Pro Bowl
The 2014 Pro Bowl probably could have been played in the dark with the highlighter-accented uniforms of Team Rice and Team Sanders providing plenty of illumination on their own. Bonus points for probably being the first sporting event to feature neon-toned waistband towels. (Honorable mention goes to the Seattle Seahawks and their neon-green-trimmed uniforms.)
College Football: Oregon (of course)
What, you were expecting Penn State? The Ducks have experimented with a variety of highlighter-esque shades of yellow over the past decade and a half, but their ultimate neon moment came in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game where Nike splashed neon tones -- or maybe just radioactive waste -- all over their uniforms.
NBA: Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta's new uniforms, unveiled back in June, haven't yet made their on-court debut but are already a polarizing force in the uni-verse, thanks to the generous use of a color tone that might best be described as neon-mucus. Younger fans seem to like the new design, while old-schoolers detest it. One thing's certain, though: Nobody will mistake the Hawks for any other NBA team. Bonus points for the matching neon shoelaces.
College Basketball: Baylor
Adidas outfitted Baylor with some eye-popping highlighter-tone uniforms in 2012 and then upped the ante in 2013 by adding Zubaz-style stripes. The team is switching over to Nike this season, but the neon quotient is being retained. Note the Big 12 logo patch is neon-outlined but the American flag patch isn't -- so far.
NHL: 2015 NHL All-Star Game
The uniforms for last season's NHL All-Star Game, played in Columbus, Ohio, in January, made prominent use of a color called "Elite Green," which was widely ridiculed by fans and players alike. What, no neon puck? (Note to NHL: That last question was purely rhetorical.)
Tennis: Roberta Vinci and Serena Williams
The tennis world's increasing embrace of neon tones was nicely represented by last week's U.S. Open women's semifinals as Roberta Vinci, wearing bright fluorescent sneaks, upset Serena Williams, who was clad in a neon headband, neon scrunchie and a dress that was accented with, among other things, a neon Nike swoosh. Casual tennis fans might have been surprised, but serious devotees know Nike and the other outfitters have been pushing the DayGlo tones for some time now. And maybe that's not so surprising -- after all, the tournament balls changed from white to a bright, somewhat fluorescent yellow way back in 1972.
Maybe the best argument against the neon trend is so many stadiums and arenas already have neon-clad vendors. So if you're an athlete or team considering going the neon route, maybe it's worth asking whether you really want to dress up like the beer guy.
Paul Lukas, a lifelong Mets fan, doesn't much care for the neon trend but is happy to let Yeonis Cespedes wear whatever he wants. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.