‘When I saw myself like that, I cracked up’: How MLB Minis became a big hit with players

“Me next! Me next!”

Hayden Parker could hardly believe it. On his screen was an Instagram direct message from one of his favorite Major League Baseball players, Chicago White Sox ace Lucas Giolito.

Giolito had seen Parker’s work — a series of hilarious, creatively Photoshopped images posted on Instagram called MLB Minis, which in just a little over a month have generated nearly 2.5 million impressions, gained more than 15,000 followers and even led to a freelancing gig for the Major League Baseball Players Association. And Giolito was asking to be a part of it.

“I was like a kid in a candy store, [Giolito] messaging me, some 21-year-old nobody, basically,” said Parker, a Division III pitcher for Nebraska Wesleyan University. “I’m just so excited that something I offered was super cool. My teammates have been super supportive and always asking about who’s messaging me, like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so crazy. Tell him I say hi.'”

Baseball fans and big leaguers have been drawn to Parker’s Instagram account, which takes action scenes from MLB games and hits the key players with a shrink ray, resulting in surreal and eye-catching results.

“I just saw them all around Instagram, like other players posting them,” Giolito said. “I just think it’s cool Photoshop work and wanted to have one of my own.”

Parker started working on graphic design early in college but threw himself headfirst into the hobby while recovering from open-heart surgery heading into his junior year. Unable to leave his bed or throw a baseball, he spent day after day working in Photoshop on his MacBook, honing his skills. He started by making designs for his school, including game-day graphics for the athletic departments.

“It helped me get through the hard time, just putting my mind on something and not really having to think about it all,” Parker said. “I couldn’t get out of bed without my parents’ help. Just putting my mind to that really helped me get through.”

After noticing a few Photoshops of miniaturized athletes on Instagram, Parker decided last month to start his own dedicated account, combining his passion for baseball and graphic design by shrinking some of his favorite baseball players, a process that takes 20-30 minutes per image.

“I started out doing a lot of just high school or college dudes, just making minis for them to get my name out there,” Parker said. “I was like, ‘I’ll make you one if you just repost it to your story so people can see my work.’ It just grew from there.”

Parker is originally from Arizona, and his first Photoshop featured Ketel Marte, one of his favorite players on the Diamondbacks. The second featured Hunter Pence, one of the most active MLB stars on social media, someone Parker figured might stumble upon his work. But his first big break came via a repost by Cleveland Indians pitcher Triston McKenzie. Soon, the DMs began pouring in.

Former New York Yankees lefty CC Sabathia slid into Parker’s DMs asking for a picture of him pointing and yelling at a dugout to get the MLB Minis treatment.

Among Parker’s more memorable interactions was with retired outfielder Carlos Gomez, who asked Parker to “find whatever you want.” Parker selected a photo of Gomez arriving at home plate to yelling catcher Brian McCann. Initially, Gomez felt hesitant to post the photo because he didn’t want to be misinterpreted as starting online beef, but after seeing the popularity of the image on the MLB Minis account, Gomez reposted it on his personal page.

“I think it’s dope, man. When I saw myself like that, I cracked up,” Gomez said. “Every time I see the picture, I’m laughing.”

The interaction between designers like Parker, athletes like Sabathia and Giolito and baseball fans on social media could help generate more interest in the sport and its players, so it’s no surprise the MLBPA’s social media team reached out to Parker to showcase his skills on its Instagram feed.

“I think it can impact the game in a positive way for MLB because that creativity motivates the new generations and kids, 12, 13, 10 years old, to watch us,” Gomez said. “It’s a great idea. It’s going to impact the future of all of this.”

With a semester left of college, Parker isn’t sure if graphic design is what he wants to pursue after he graduates. For now, he’s taking things one Photoshop at a time.

“That’s just kind of how the world is now,” Parker said. “Things just pop up so quickly. I would obviously like to do it in the future if there is an opportunity for that, but I’m not limiting my options.”