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Monthly Archives: August 2012

It’s time to wrap up the “Boys of Summer Baseball Blast.”  Let’s send off our salute to America’s pastime, by looking past time–into the future.  I’d like to share a list of Minor League Baseball teams that should change their brands.  That’s team nickname, logo, uniforms, and maybe even city.

When it comes to tasteless brands, Omaha created a perfect storm of gimmickry. Time for a retro Royal revert.

Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

AAA.  This is one level below the Show, so it’s a good place to class things up.

Omaha Storm Chasers change to….

I am not a fan of this brand.  It’s not likely to change because several people are fans of this brand, and the Storm Chasers draw about 6,000 fans per game average.  The Albuquerque Isotopes took their name from a TV show, but it was much more subtle and humorous than just copping the name of a popular and gimmicky show.  That’s just cheap–they ain’t chasin’ storms, they’re chasin’ bucks.  Solution: go back to being the Omaha Royals.  It’s the kind of chip-off-the-old block brand that really makes sense, like the Pawtucket Red Sox or the Iowa Cubs.  Go retro!

….the Omaha Royals.

Omaha deserves the Royal treatment.

Memphis Redbirds change to….

My theory on chip-off-the-old-parent-club brands is this: with few exceptions, you’re either all-in or out.  The St. Louis Cardinals have their top-three level affiliates named after them, but in this scenario, we’re going to change all three.  Redbirds is a good nickname for the top affiliate of the Cardinals, but I liked it better in Louisville than Memphis.  For Memphis, let’s pick a regionally-relevant nickname that would be a pitch-perfect complement to instate rival, the Nashville sounds.  Ignoring a certain hockey team in St. Louis, I’m happy to get the Blues.

…Memphis Blues

Stuck inside of Mobile (BayBears) with the Memphis Blues again.

Las Vegas 51s change to….

I’ve written about this before, but yikes.  When faced with a buffet of choices for a Las Vegas moniker that reflects the area, the choice was a thick slice of grey alien meat.  We should hold AAA to a higher standard and stage an all-fan walkout when the 51s host the Storm Chasers.  Solution: there are plenty of options.  For a new name, what about Players.  It has the dual meaning of sports and gambling; a match made in Heaven.  Even better than that, I like a revert to the old Stars moniker.  I like it in AAA and I like with Las Vegas.  A retro revert that still has Nevada panache.

Las Vegas Stars

C’mon Vegas! You could be swinging from a Star.

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AA.  Respectable, but with a little more leeway for goofiness.  

Huntsville Stars change to….

Now that Las Vegas has reclaimed the Stars, it’s time to switch things up for Huntsville.  Stars is too bland for AA, and it’s not working well for Huntsville.  Their attendance is lowest in the Southern League and is closer to Rookie ball numbers than AA.  Stars makes a certain amount of sense due to the Huntsville NASA station and the astronomer festival that is held every year.  Huntsvillians seem a little more smart than Stars give them credit for.  Solution: I like the space theme, so how about Explorers, or Shuttles, or Constellations, or Orions, or since the Marshall Flight Center was instrumental in the Apollo missions–the Apollos.  Until you or I come up with something better, that’s the pick.

…Huntsville Apollos.  

Huntsville, we have a problem.

Jacksonville Suns change to…

I’ll allow there to be one Sun in the Minors, but I choose Hagerstown.  They’ve been around longer, and I just associate Hagerstown with the Suns.  Jacksonville should be more distinctly Floridian, like Flamingos.  Also, their logo looks much sunnier than J-Ville’s creepy winker If a certain NFL flees for L.A., the Jacksonville Jaguars would make for a terrific Southern League team.  If the Jags are there to stay, how about a complementary name such as Leopards or even more minor-like: Ocelots.

…Jacksonville Ocelots

Move over Jaguars. A new spotted cat will leap into the hearts of Jacksonvillians.

Mobile BayBears change to….

I really despise the minor league nicknames that have a geographic formation followed by a generic animal.  RiverCats, Valley Cats, Hillcats, Sea Wolves, River Dogs, Rock Hounds, Rock Cats…you get the idea.  What is a Bay Bear?  Is it a bear in a bay?  Why is that bear in the bay?  Should we all avoid swimming there?  Maybe we should just change the nickname.  To honor Mobile’s voodoo culture and to alliterate, how about the Mobile Mystics?  Of course, that just reminds me of that WNBA team. I never thought I’d be endorsing a non-singurlable/non-pluralable (n-s/n-p) nickname, but there’s one that I found and then later saw as a suggestion for the New Orleans Hornets.  The Krewe.  It’s a reference to a Mardi Gras tradition.  Keep it out of the NBA, but use in AA.

…Mobile Krewe

Mobile chooses a party atmosphere for you and your Krewe.

Tennessee Smokies

I really don’t like it when a team claims an entire state as it’s own when other teams exist within that state.  In this case, there’s the Memphis Redbirds, Nashville Sounds, Jackson Generals, and Chattanooga Lookouts.  Plus, most of the Appalachian League.  Yes, the stadium was built in the suburb of Kodak, but they should’ve kept them the respectable Knoxville Smokies.  If Kodakians pitch a fit and compromise is necessary, at least go with:

….East Tennessee Smokies

Why claim the whole state?

Springfield Cardinals change to….

We’re changing the Cardinals knock-offs, so how about an homage to a certain Kevin Costner film.  The Springfield of Dreams.  Either that or just move ’em to Wichita and bring back the Wranglers.

….Springfield Dreams

Every corny pun has a home in the Minors.

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A-Ball.  The levels of A ball should be a bastion of brand-creativity, and largely is.  Let’s just change a few.

Winston-Salem Dash change to…

As much as I loathe n-s/n-p nicknames, the Dash is funny because it’s a reference to the dash betwixt Winston and Salem.  However, I was a big fan of their old nickname and thought it fit right in with the classic animal names in the Minors.  So bring it back!

…Winston-Salem Warthogs

The Dash go hog-wild

Potomac Nationals change to….

Perhaps the P-Nats (like the Reading Phillies) are deserving of an exemption to the all-in or out rule, but I think they can do better.  Names that play on the parent club without mimicking it exactly are pleasant, so let’s riff on the political theme.  How about the Potomac Representatives or Reps for short?  They can be the P-Reps now.

….Potomac Representatives.

The P-Nats need better Representation.

Lynchburg Hillcats change to…

This kills two birds with one baseball.  Hillcats is as bland of a minor league nickname as you can get.  The Braves are one team away from a complete set of Braves-named affiliates.  Let’s simply make it happen.

….Lynchburg Braves.

The Hillcats are blocking a complete set of Braves affiliates.

Visalia Rawhide change to…

This may be my least favorite name in all of MiLB.  Not only is it n-s/n-p (“I’m a Rawhi…player for the team in question”) but it’s also vague and inaccessible.  They should go back to being an A’s affiliate and bring back the old Oaks moniker and the squirrel logo.

……Visalia Oaks.

A great nickname is squirreled away in the past.

Bakersfield Blaze change to…

The Blaze are more in need of a new brand than perhaps any other team in the Minors.  They draw dead last of all 150 or so teams from AAA down through Short-Season.  In a previous post, we simply had them ceasing to exist.  In researching what makes Bakersfield unique, I came upon a few things.  Oil is big in Bakersfield, but a new name like the Derricks is boring and would feel more at place in the Texas League or the Texas Collegiate League.  To honor the songwriters of the “Bakersfield Sound,” how about the Tunesmiths?  Finally, like an over-ambitious donkey, I caught the perfect name in my teeth.  I looked at the top employers in the Bakersfield area, and something immediately jumped out.  Over 5,500 people are employed by two companies: Grimmway and Bolthouse.  The primary product produced by both of those companies: Carrots!  If it worked for the Modesto Nuts, it might work for the (former) Blaze.

…Bakersfield Carrots.

As you can see, a fan support site has already been launched.

Palm Beach Cardinals change to…

Another Cardinal to pick off with a BB gun.  Palm Beach is one of the worst-drawing teams in all the Minors, and they’re overshadowed by the grand brand of the team they share their stadium with: the Jupiter Hammerheads.  For lack of a better name, let’s go with a pun.

…Palm Beach Combers.

Palm Beach should comb through some available names.

Dunedin Blue Jays change to…

Since St. Catherines and Medicine Hat no longer host the Jays, why should Dunedin?  Another poorly-performing Florida State League team gets the hatchet.  I originally wanted to call them the Dunedin Dunes.  Then the Dunedin Buggies…a bug as a logo and dunebuggies zipping around the field.  I’m glad I checked, because it’s actually pronounced DUNN-A-DINN.  I guess Dunes might still work, but let’s reach back in time and borrow a great MiLB nickname now lost to the ages: the Beaumont Golden Gators.

Dunedin Golden Gators

A nickname from a Golden Age.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers change to….

This is a pretty successful team in the Midwest League, so I don’t see any changes happening.  But the changes should happen.  As I said, claiming an entire state as your own doesn’t work when there is another team in the state.  In this case, it’s the fellow MWL team the Beloit Snappers.  In place of the cheese state, the place name should either go back to Appleton or the compromise of Fox Valley.  In either case, the old Foxes nickname has to come back.  Timber Rattlers is a little gimmicky, and maroon and black are terrible colors.  Go bright red!

…Fox Valley Foxes

Time for the Foxes to slink back to the Fox Valley.

Peoria Chiefs change to….

I have mixed feelings on Native American nicknames.  I think Redskins is terribly offensive, but I see no problem with Warriors or Chiefs.  Chiefs is no more offensive than Vikings or 49ers.  So why change the logo to a fire chief dalmation without just changing the name?  Why not Peoria Dalmations?  The funny part is that the thing that makes Peoria famous is it’s blandness.  As a play on the batting stat, how about the Peoria Averages?  The acting phrase, “will it play in Peoria?” lends itself well to another pun-nickname, the Players.  Also the alliteration is nice.  And it’s a bland, middle-of-the-road name.  Perfect.

…Peoria Players

If they keep the Chiefs name, they should bring back this logo.

Greenville Drive change to…

Like the Braves, the Sox need to add to their collection.  The Sea Dogs and Spinners aren’t changing, but what about Greenville?  The former Greenville Braves picked a name that not only is n-s/n-p, but is boring.  Time for the South Carolineans to honor their yankee parentage.

…Greenville Red Sox

Time to Drive this brand into the sunset.

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Short Season.  Anything goes.  

Tri-City Valley Cats change to…

It’s kind of nice that stadium-site Troy and Schenectady get some recognition, but I’m not a fan of either “Tri-City” place name.  I like Quad Cities alright, but mostly because Quad is fun to say.  Just pick the most well known city.  Though it was a team from Albany, Geogia, I think the Polecats can be reincarnated in upstate New York.  It’s another “Cat” name, but it’s really a Skunk.

…Albany Polecats

The Polecats: a name that doesn’t stink.

Tri-City Dust Devils change to…

This tri-city is easy switch to one, since the stadium site is in the most famous and most fun to say of the three: Pasco, Washington.  Kennewick and Richland are just boring.  Dust Devils is an OK name, but the logo is terrible.  If this team doesn’t move to Milwaukie, Oregon, they should rebrand as the Pasco….?  In a previous post, I talked about how the Yakima Bears should’ve been the Yakima Pears, so maybe we could go that route.  The tri-cities is famous for wines, so how about the Pasco Pinots?  That’s not kid-friendly, so let’s Pear it up.

…Pasco Pears

A brand that doesn’t exactly inspire fandom.

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Rookie Ball.  Who even cares?  I’ll tell you who: Sport Change.

Grand Junction Rockies change to…

The Casper Ghosts were a terrific brand, but then the moved to Grand Junction, Colorado and took on the popular parent club name.  I bet they’ll stick with Rockies, but they could be more.  In keeping with the Pioneer League tradition of Osprey, Chukars, and Owlz, let’s choose a bird name.  After a little research, I flushed out a few birds that are local to GJ: Hummingbirds, Quails, Woodpeckers, and Kestrels.  Grand Junction Hummingbirds is a mouthful.  Ditto woodpeckers.  Quails would be a cute brand.  They could have a funny logo and call themselves the Q’s.  But the verb “quail” means to shrink in fright, and quails seem a little frail.  Kestrels are pretty cool birds, so that’s got to be it.

…Grand Junction Kestrels.

Let’s be honest: Kestrels are pretty cool.

Helena Brewers change to…

I like how Helena has cleverly adopted the barley logo of their parent club, but something has to change.  Helena draws under 1,000 fans per game, and they need a reboot.  I love puns, so I have to pick the Handbaskets.  Imagine a logo of a devil or goofy demon catching a ball with basket instead of a glove.  Imagine a promotion wherein fans threw balls onto the field while the demon mascots tried to catch them.  Imagine a huge wooden basket on the center field fence that wins a free slice of Devil’s food cake for every fan if a player hits a ball into it.  Think about how kids would think it was sort of a curse word and how parents would have to explain the old phrase to them.  That’s good stuff.

...Helena Handbaskets.

This is a nice logo, but the new idea is better.

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Must be time to call it a post.  For more Sport Change MiLB posts, click here.  The Boys of Summer have gone, and tomorrow begins a week-long gridiron gasp.

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Are You Ready for Some Football!!  It’s a Sport Change par-tay.

SPORT CHANGE

Aw, shucks.  The Lakewood BlueClaws just extended their Player Development Contract with the Phillies.  I knew this was going to happen, but it put a wet blanket on one of my realignment fantasies just days before I was going to post it.

In the middle of a good dream I got pinched awake.

In all honesty, there was no way this was going to happen.  There are plenty of reasons why this scenario would not pan out, so why get discouraged by one event blocking this from reality.  It’s fantasy anyway, so let’s go for it!

Speaking of fantasy, I’m writing this while my fantasy football league is drafting.  Everyone in America is chomping at the bit for football season, but I’m still giving baseball it’s summer due.  On Thursday or so, I’ll hang up the glove and pick up the shoulder pads.

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Anyway, here’s the scenario:

1. The Lakewood Blueclaws claw out of the low-A Sally league and find a deserving spot in the AA Eastern League

2. The Akron Aeros are grounded and whisked from the AA Eastern league to the low-A Midwest League

3. The Bowling Green Hot Rods put pedal to the metal and cruise from the Midwest League to the Sally League

The Akron Aeros make more sense in the Midwest League, doncha know? Just don’t tell the Cleveland Indians brass.

Here’s why it’s awesome:

1. Not only do the Jersey-based BlueClaws stick out like a sore thumb in the South Atlantic League, they deserve higher than Low-A.  Attendance north of 6,000 fans per game average towers over every other Sally team.  Only the Greensboro Grasshoppers come close.  That average would be among the leaders in Eastern League, and travelling to face Trenton would make more sense than trudging south to Augusta, Georgia.  Time to redraw the Mason-Dixon Line.

2. The Aeros are underperforming in AA.  Even with the parent-club Indians somewhat competitive, Akron (just like Cleveland) struggles to get folks to the ballpark.  Even LeBron James at a recent game still only drew 3,843 some odd fans to Canal Park, which can sit 9,000+.  The Aeros are a better fit in the Midwest League, where they can attempt to slay the Dayton Dragons or throw the Lake County Captains overboard.  When compared with other Eastern League cities, Akron is marooned out in the west and geographically out of place.  The Midwest League would be a great fit.

3.  What makes more sense?  Having Bowling Green be the the furthest south and least Midwestern team in the Midwest League or having the Hot Rods in the same league as in-state rivals: the Lexington Legends.  Ship ’em to the Sally!

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Why it isn’t awesome:

1. The Phillies have the Claws locked up.  The Phillies own the successful Reading Phillies of the Eastern League.  Can’t have your crab and eat it too.

2. The Cleveland Indians would be upset.  With Dayton and the Reds a match made in Heaven, Cleveland would have to choose between Lake County and Akron.  Akron’s PDC is still open, but Lake County’s is tied up with the Indians through 2014.

3. Actually, there is really no argument here.  The Rods need to go.

Point that auto east, and go back from whence you came!

In Conclusion:

This scenario was more tantalizing while all three teams had uncertain PDCs.  That doesn’t mean that this kind of realignment actually happens out of the blue, but the chances were higher.  Perhaps in 2014, the PDCs will be open again, and Sport Change can give it another go.

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Oh, and my fantasy football team is decent.  A bizarre coincidence on my team has four of my running backs with a common thread.  I have Issac Redman, and also three other backs who are men wearing red: Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, and Beanie Wells.  I should change my team name to the Red Scare.  Or the Red Menace.  I think people used to call China by that nickname.

Anyway, if you like the Minors, here’s a link to the Sport Change MiLB posts.

To keep abreast of PDC signings, check the Minor League Source blog.  

SPORT CHANGE

 

 

Hearing about Roger Clemens joining the Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters got me to thinking about some of the great brands that exist below the radar, in independent baseball leagues and collegiate summer leagues.  I guess you could call these minor league teams, but only in the sense that they are minor to the Major Leagues.  They have no official affiliation with teams in the American League or the National League, so why are even worth thinking about?

Clemens is joining the Skeeters, so let’s use that as excuse to talk about semi-pro baseball.

The beauty of these leagues is that a team can exist and play competitive ball in small and mid-sized cities across the continent.  Just about anywhere that you live, you can catch a game on a day off; whether in your town or a short drive away.

For this “Boys of Summer” post, Sport Change is dipping back into these trenches to find some great “brands” within the following independent leagues: The American Association, the Atlantic League, the North American League, the Canadian American Association, the Frontier League, the Mexican League, and the Pecos League.

We’ll also scour the ranks of the collegiate leagues: Cape Cod, Coastal Plain, Futures Collegiate, New England Collegiate, Northwoods League, Prospect League, Texas Collegiate, and the West Coast League.

We’re looking for great nicknames that are unique, alliterative, regionally-relevant, or otherwise terrific.  We’re looking for teams that seem to have their act together, attendance wise.  Also, we’re looking for great logos or uniforms.  Let’s do it:

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The Diablos used to bring the heat in the AA Texas League before going rogue in the American Association.

American Association of Independent Professional Baseball

The AAIPB is an a bit of an odd duck.  The thirteen teams in the league are all within the central time zone, but span north to south from Manitoba to Texas with stops all along the way.  Some teams were absorbed with folding of the Central League and the Northern League.  Other are defectors from MiLB, such as the El Paso Diablos.  The Diablos are a terrific team and would be included on our “Best Brands in the Minors” post if they were still playing in the minors.  Great nickname, a nice fan base, and a terrific chili pepper logo.  The Winnipeg Goldeyes, formerly of the Northern League, draw the most fans in the league and have held their brand since 1994.   Another former Northern Leaguer, the St. Paul Saints, have terrific promotions and pull in about an average of 5,000 fans per game playing in a big league market.  Having BIll Murray as a part-owner doesn’t hurt.  Another team that shares a market with MLB is the hilariously-named Kansas City T-Bones, who do quite well.  I’m also a fan of the prairie-appropriate Sioux Falls Pheasants of South Dakota.  The Amarillo Sox have a bland nickname, but their yellow uniforms reflect the “amarillo” in their name.  They might as well be the Yellow Sox.  Another Texas team, the new-this-year Laredo Lemurs have hit upon a family-friendly brand that is unique, alliterative, and funny.  Rookies of the year.

The Laredo Lemurs will claw their way into your heart.

Atlantic League

I’ll start with the new Clemens club, the Sugar Land Skeeters.  I think that’s a pretty brilliant nickname, and I love the logos featuring a fierce mosquito poking his proboscis through various objects, such as a baseball and the state of Texas.  Good choice, Clemens.  I’m also a fan of the Bridgeport Bluefish nickname, though the B-Fish draw the lowest fans in the Atlantic League.   Many of the other brands (Patriots, Revolution, Barnstormers, Blue Crabs) are bland or already in use, but one from among those we pluck the Long Island Ducks, who draw the most fans and have a logo that would put Oregon U to shame.

Move ovah, Oregon. Lawng Island is claimin’ da Ducks.

North American League

The NAL is composed of six Texan teams, two Californian, and two Hawaiian.  Names like Stars, Colts, Thunder, and Cats blend into the background.  I’m a big fan of the wine-country Sonoma County Grapes nickname.  It’s funny, but just a few days ago I suggested that as a replacement for Vines in the Hillsboro, Oregon name brainstorming process.  I also love Na Koa Ikaika Maui.  That means strong warriors of Maui.  It’s a name so regionally-relevant that it’s hard to pronounce.  Plus, that is a cool logo.  On the Texan side of things, I like the Abilene Prairie Dogs and Edinburg Roadrunners.

The Jackals are the lead dog in the Can-Am league, but it’s a pack of only five dogs.

Canadian American Association

The Can-Am league will begin playing games against teams in the AAIPB.  Do I smell a merger?  The Cam-Am has dropped down to only five teams.  Of them, I like the New Jersey Jackals the best. The Rockland Boulders and Worcester Tornadoes are OK.  I think a merger would make sense here.

By the time we’re done here, every furry North American mammal will be mentioned.

Frontier League

Most of the teams in the Frontier League are based in Illinois and Indiana, with a few outliers here  and there.  The Evansville Otters are a terrific brand.  I also enjoy the Traverse City Beach Bums and Schaumburg Boomers.  The Joliet Slammers are an hilarious reference to two prisons in the Joliet, Illinois area.  Their logos are a jailbird in striped pajamas and a prison–complete with razor-wire.  Though I find it a little too goofy, the Normal Cornbelters brand is built to sell.

The Mexican League’s Saraperros draw over 8,500 fans per game, sew it seams that they’re doing something right.

Mexican League

The Mexican League is different from the rest of these leagues in many ways.  Technically, it’s part of Minor League Baseball, though the teams are not considered affiliates of MLB teams.  The league was founded in 1925, so there’s some history here.  Attendance is on par with the other AAA leagues, the International and the Pacific Coast.  Since it differs from the other Leagues in the farm system in so many ways and functions more like an independent entity, I thought I’d include it here.  For starters, the Diablos Rojos del Mexico or Mexico City Red Devils are pretty badass.  Their logo is a baseball on fire.  I’m also intrigued by Saraperros de Saltillo or Saltillo Sarape Makers–it’s one of the few textile industry nicknames; sharing a common thread with the Lowell Spinners.  I’m a big fan of the Guerreros de Oaxaca (Oaxaca Warriors–unintentional alliteration) and their double ax logo.  That’s a brand with some teeth.  My underdog favorite is the Pericos de Puebla.  Parrots make a terrific minor league nickname, especially in the Mexican League.

The Pericos are fun and accessible. Just like Mexico.

Pecos League

The tiny Pecos League has only six teams and very low attendance numbers.  I’m not impressed with the Roswell Invaders brand.  It seems gimmicky much in the same way that the Las Vegas 51s does.  I like the Ruidoso Osos nickname–they make up for having the overused “Bears” moniker by the pleasant way the name rolls off the tongue.  My favorite here is the White Sands Pupfish, a reference to a little fish found only in Southern New Mexico.  My only recommendation would be a cartoon pupfish for a logo.

The Pupfish are the pride of the Pecos League, but they should hire a cartoonist to design a new logo.

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Collegiate Summer Leagues

Here are the true boys of summer.  The players in these leagues are college joes trying to remain active ballplayers throughout the summer.  The games and equipment more closely resemble the minors than college, and some of the teams are able to consistently draw fans.  Some of the players get drafted and make their way to success in the pros, so each league has a roster of alums.  There are more collegiate leagues than those listed below, but these seem to be the most tracked and talked about.

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The Kettleers seem innocent enough. But then you do some research on how they got their name.

Cape Cod Baseball League

The Cape Cod Baseball League was founded in 1885 and has many all-stars, hall-of-famers, and baseball legends on it’s alum list.  The teams are all well-established, with the most recent (Brewster) being birthed in 1988.  Major League Baseball has been subsidizing the league for many years, and they’ve also put pressure on some of the teams to not use the same brands as teams in MLB.  So recent years have seen some switches to new nicknames, whereas others have either assimilated with the pro clubs or simply stuck their guns.  Chatham changed from Athletics to Anglers, Orleans changed from Cardinals to Firebirds, and Hyannis changed from Mets to Harbor Hawks.  Of the three, I like the Hyannis Harbor Hawks the best due to the triple alliteration (great in Scattergories!) and their bizarre logo.  Though the Falmouth Commodores have appeal, the most interesting brand has to be the Cotuit Kettleers.  The name refers to a somewhat nasty bit of history wherein the white folks traded a copper kettle and a hoe for the land.  My guess is that the natives didn’t fully understand the terms of a real estate transaction or what “land ownership” meant to the whites.  Anyway, it’s 2012 and the Kettleers’ ballpark is surrounded by trees and looks like a great place to catch a game.

Is it a ball with spikes or a blowfish with seams?

Coastal Plain League

The CPL is a league with some energy.  There must just be something about semi-pro baseball in the mid-Atlantic.  In addition to the Southern League, Sally League, and Carolina League–you’ve got the Coastal Plain League.  The league has 15 teams in the Carolinas and Virginia.  The nickname that seems most creative on the surface is the Columbia Blowfish of South Carolina.  The old logo is a blowfish with baseball seams making a ridiculous face.  They also seem to draw well.  The Outer Banks Daredevils look like fun and may be a good excuse to visit a beautiful part of the country.  The Peninsula Pilots of Hampton have a great logo and the alliteration is nice.  The Forest City Owls are very appealing and much more classy than the Orem Owlz of the Pioneer League.  Then there are the Wilson Tobs.  What’s a Tob, you ask?  It’s short for tobacco.  This cracks me up.  You gotta love how the Tobs weathered the political correctness of the 90s and kept an unhealthy North Carolina tradition alive–or at least on life support.

The Wilson Tobs are keeping a tradition alive. If only smoking could do the same thing.

Futures Collegiate Baseball League

The FCBL is made up of nine team in New England.  Perhaps the most interesting brand is the Old Orchard Beach Raging TIde .  Talk about a mouthful.  The Martha’s Vineyard Sharks would be more intriguing if the nickname was actually the Vineyard Sharks.  There’s not much else to mention about the FCBL except that maybe the league seemed very superficially buttoned-down New Englandy except for the team in Massachusetts–the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs.  God bless America.

Another furry mammal wins hearts.

New England Collegiate Baseball League

The more respectable New England League seems to be doing things right.  I’m so glad to see that the Laconia Muskrats have chosen to lionize a marginalized mammal.  The Mystic Schooners and Newport Gulls put you right there on the Atlantic, and the Vermont Mountaineers of Montpelier are having some fun.  Montpelier Mountaineers would be a better name, though.  The Lake Monsters have already coiled their tail around the state.

Meet the Beetles

Northwoods League

The Northwoods League is the most successful of the collegiate baseball leagues.  Of the 16 teams in a four state + one province area, a few good brands stand out.  First, the Madison Mallards have to be mentioned.  The Mallards draw over 6,000 fans per game average, and flourish in a college town with folks ready to swill beer and eat bratwurst.  The Rochester Honkers refer to the ubiquitous Cananda geese in the region.  The lowly Alexandria Beetles have a cute logo and fun name.  The Wisconsin Woodchucks of Wausau are a good complement to the aforementioned Muskrats.  The La Crosse Loggers are alliterative and regionally-relevant, and the Green Bay Bullfrogs present a light-hearted counterpoint to the sacrosanct Packers.

We’ve already gone this far, so why not embrace the Woodchucks as well?

Prospect League

The Prospect League has 12 teams littered throughout the breadbasket and rust belt.  The brands that stand out are the Hannibal Cavemen of Missouri, the Chillicothe Paints (as in horses) of Ohio, and bizarrely, two teams named the same thing: the Slippery Rock Sliders of Pennsylvania and the Springfield Sliders of Illinois.  The former is a reference to the baseball pitch and the latter a reference to the type of turtle.  Advantage: turtle.

Springfield bests Slippery Rock in the clash of the Sliders.

Texas Collegiate League

The oil-soaked teams in the TCL keep intimidating nicknames (Bombers, Generals, Strykers) popular across Texas and Louisiana.  One name of interest is the East Texas Pump Jacks, with an angry donkey as a mascot.  The other is the Acadiana Cane Cutters of Lafayette, LA, who make us remember the lost art of scything.

Acadiana continues the TCL tradition of nicknames that refer to the intense professions that the players may someday have.

West Coast League

Finally, we take it to the coast.  The WCL is inappropriately named, since all nine teams are in Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia.  The late Yakima Bears of the Northwest League may have been well served to take notes from the two best brands in the WCL, both in the same region as Yakima.  The first is the Wenatchee AppleSox, who are a good logo away from a good, wholesome, tasty brand.  The other is the Walla Walla Sweets–a reference to the sweet onion that made the city famous.  What a sweet note to end our post on.

Let’s end this on a sweet note.

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Thank you for your perusal.  Please comment and stay tuned.  Within the next week, Sport Change will keep cranking out the baseball posts before we leap with both feet through the goal post of football season.

SPORT CHANGE

Sport Change is going to attempt to broach a sometimes controversial topic: relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays–also known as “Ray-location.”

Could the pride of St. Petersburg leave the Sunshine State? Faster than a Ray of light.

This isn’t a new topic.  In any talk of relocation in Major League Baseball, the Rays always find themselves in the spotlight.  Let me start by saying that I truly admire and like the Rays.  They’ve been playing scrappy baseball for the last few years and any team that keeps the Yankees and Red Sox in check is a likable team in my book.  However, in a Sport Change post a few weeks back, MLB teams were assessed as potential relocators.  The Rays emerged as the only team that seemed fit to discuss.

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There are several reasons for this, and I’ll attempt to tackle a few:

-Lack of history and tradition.  Other than money, history and tradition are perhaps the most powerful forces in baseball.  Even though they barely sell more tickets than the Rays, the Indians are not open for discussions of relocation.  They’ve been around for a long, long time.  Since Nap LaJoie was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  The Rays, on the other hand, have…uh….Wade Boggs played for them a little.

Wade Boggs for the rainbow Rays. The word is weird.

-A short but weird history.  The Rays have been somewhat doomed from the get-go.  Why was it a good idea to stick another expansion team in Florida just a few years after the Marlins claimed the whole state for their own?  Tampa is a large city, but the stadium was set up in the second-tier burg of St. Pete.  They had rainbow colors and a nickname that offended many bible-belters: the Devil Rays.  They did a great job of rebranding and reinventing themselves in the aughts, and have enjoyed admirable success on the field through sheer scrappyness, cleverness, and resilience.  Staying competitive in the AL East is something to celebrate, but unfortunately…

-They don’t sell many tickets.  What more can the Rays do?  They’ve become one of the most interesting and entertaining teams in baseball, yet still draw meager numbers–hovering around 20,000 per game.  That’s currently dead last among the 30 teams in the Majors.  This is a problem that performance on the field cannot solve.  It’s bigger than that.  Many will say that if the Rays played in a nicer stadium than Tropicana Field and were in Tampa, that the day would be saved.  But…

-That’s putting lipstick on a pig.  If the Rays got a new stadium, I highly doubt that would save the day.  By most accounts, the Trop is a poorly-located dump.  But I think I can speak for a lot of sports fans when I say that I would rather sit in a pit and watch my teams win than luxuriate in a state-of-the-art stadium; reclining in a Lay-Z-Boy to watch a team embarrass themselves on the JumboTron.  Just ask Marlins fans.  The Marlins went all-in with a new stadium, new uniforms, new coach, new players…they pulled out all the stops to try to be superficially successful.  It didn’t work this year and now they just look like clowns.  Expensive clowns who draw only 18th best in the bigs.

The Marlins went all in with their reinvention. Will gimmicks sustain the team long-term?

Not only are the Rays a competitive team, they are one of the most interesting and entertaining clubs in the Majors.  Based on the play of the club, the Rays should be drawing fans in the top ten, and they’ve done all they can with what payroll they have.  Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay area hasn’t responded accordingly.  If they won the Pennant, would the seats in the Trop fill up?  Sadly, it’s no guarantee and even a new stadium would convince few that the Rays should stay.  The main problem is…

-Florida sucks when it comes to sports.  If the Marlins and Dolphins get their heads out of the water and get fans excited again, that’s great.  Florida should have representation in all major sports.  But with more then one team from the state per sport, you’re pushing it.  Just ask the Jaguars.  Or the Howardless Magic.  Even the successful Tampa Bay Bucs franchise struggles to prove it’s legitimacy.  The economy has tanked, and Florida has been hit hard.  The party’s over.  Time to move on.

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But where to move?

Ah, that satisfied feeling that comes from knowing the groundwork is already in place.  Sport Change recently did a thorough assessment of ready-to-relocate-to cities and markets for the big three major sports.  From that study, we came up with a top ten list of best places for a team to move to.  I’ll give you a minute to read that post.

Before we get into those, I would like to debunk a few stray theories.

1. I do not see another international team.  Not even Vancouver.  There hasn’t been much talk of Mexico City, so I don’t see why that would be on our horizon.  It makes common sense, but it probably won’t happen.  Just like Cuba.  I would love to see a franchise in Cuba, and I enjoyed Charles P. Pierce’s recent piece about Cuban baseball for Grantland.   But no, it won’t happen.  A Sport Change commenter also suggested San Juan, Puerto Rico.  That’s not technically international, and it could conceivably happen.  But I doubt it will.

A new MLB team in Brooklyn? Over the Yankees’ dead body.

2. There will not be another team in the greater New York area.  A team in Brooklyn would be terrific, but you can bet the Yankees and especially the Mets would freak out over this.  A New Jersey team would see a similar freakout, only the Phillies would also get into the mix.  The Orioles pitched a flying fit when the Expos moved to Washington, and they might protest a New Jersey team as well.  Connecticut has been mentioned by some, but the Yanks and Red Sox would forge an unholy alliance to repress the very idea.  Welcome to money-ball, Hartford.

3. Sacramento does not deserve a pro baseball team.  For starters, they can’t seem to hold on to their NBA team.  For seconds, they are competing against San Francisco and Oakland.  The A’s might move to Sac-town, but the Rays will not.  For thirds, I think this is just a Kevin Johnson “think big” pipe dream.  The AAA RiverCats do well for AAA, but by all accounts the newly built Raley field could not be converted into a pro park without tearing up the streets something fierce.  Don’t think big, Sacramento, think realistic.

Seriously, KJ. Tone it down. Sacramento is a second-tier sports city.

In Sport Changes’ previous post, the top ten candidates of MLB relocation sites were listed.  I’m just going to use the the top five.

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Here we go.  The Rays relocating to:

1. Indiana Rays.  Basking in the the Super Bowl afterglow, Indy decides that it needs a baseball team to complement the Colts, Pacers, and Hoosiers.  Indy ponied up for the Colts’ new stadium, so they aren’t afraid to spend.  Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis has a capacity of 14,000 and is adjacent to Lucas Oil stadium and the Pacers’ arena.  Baseball America and Sports Illustrated named Victory Field the best ballpark in America, and the AAA tenants (the Indianapolis Indians) do very well.  I’m not sure about parking, but if more seat were added, this sounds like a reasonable idea.  As far the brand goes, I think Indiana Rays has a nice ring to it.  Obviously the sting ray would be replaced by an ear of corn or something, but the sun shine element could be emphasized.  Maybe yellow or brown uniforms.

2. Louisville Rays.  This is a long shot, considering the lack of a pro precedent.  But wouldn’t it be nice to have a pro club in the land of the Slugger?  The AAA Bats draw an average of 9,000 fans per game.  That’s already about half of Tampa’s total, and the Bats are in the minors.  Slugger Field seats about 13,000 already and Louisville is a larger city than most people seem to realize.  The combined statistical area houses over 1,450,000 souls–about as much as Milwaukee, Memphis, and Oklahoma City.  I’d love to see it.  Brand wise, it would be cool if they co-opted the Bats name and kept the furry, flying mammal as a mascot.  I see red as a color, but maybe that’s just because I still associate Louisville with the Redbirds.

The Bats in the bigs? Why not?

3. Portland (G)rays.  Portland is always brought up in these conversations, so this is due diligence.  Unless they were holding out for a pro stadium, Portlandians sent a strong message when they let the AAA Beavers leave town.  But who knows?  If they get the Rays, I think they should change the name to the Grays.  I like color names like Reds, Browns, and Blues, and the mascot could switch from a devil ray to a gray whale.  Also, the sun rays don’t shine much in Portland.  It’s often gray, just like Portland’s prospects for a pro team.

4. Oklahoma City Rays.  With the success of the Thunder, you can bet that there are Clay Bennett types salivating over the Rays.  It’s a reasonable proposition, and OKC would probably work better than St. Pete.  Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of the RedHawks has seats north of 13,000.  I could see it.  I don’t like Rays for an OKC nickname, but can’t think of a better one off the top of my head.  If you’ve got suggestions, post them in the comments.  Maybe the Tornadoes?

Look out, Tampa. Clay Bennett and his ilk could have you in the crosshairs.

5. Utah Rays.  If Utah kept the Jazz moniker, I’m going to keep it here.  But can SLC support a pro ball team?  Probably, but they would likely be middling in attendance and payroll.  The AAA Bees have a nice big stadium (15,500 seats!) and I could see folks coming out to see the Utah Rays.  At least in moderate numbers.

So there we have it.  Sport Change’s take on Ray-location.  Share your thoughts in the comments.

SPORT CHANGE

Sport Change has been bingeing on MiLB posts lately, but who can resist a juicy bit of gossip?  For those of you who have been following our “Boys of Summer” stretch here on Sport Change and are anxious for posts about Major League Baseball: hang tight.  They’re in the on-deck circle.

Reports are out that KC is leaving KC

Though it’s all in the rumor stage, it seems that the Chicago Cubs are looking switch their A-Ball Midwest League affiliate from the in-state Peoria Chiefs to the even closer in-state Kane County Cougars.  This could mean a little reshuffling in the Midwest League, so it’s the perfect opportunity to discuss Midwest League reaffiliation.

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Background

Peoria has represented the Cubs on-and-off since 1985.  Greg Maddux and Mark Grace are among the notable alums of the Chiefs.  It seems to be a healthy affiliation with an in-state farm club, so why the change?  Hard to say, but I can offer a few possibilities:

1. It’s closer to home.  The Cougars play in Geneva, a western suburb of Chicago about an hour’s drive from Wrigley.  Peoria is about a three hour drive.  There has been a trend in the minors of parent clubs wanting farm clubs close to home.  This makes sense for GMs and scouts who travel back and forth to check out talent.  It also makes sense for rehab assignment players who can sleep in their own beds and drive to the MiLB stadiums for games.  In the grand scheme of things, the Cubs already have it pretty good in Peoria, so I suspect something else…

What is really turning the gears?

2. Money.  The Cougars already do a very admirable job of filling many of the 7,400 seats in Fifth Third Bank ballpark.  Their 2011 per game average of 6,123 fans was 24th highest in all of the minors, more than many AAA and AA teams.  Switching their allegiance from the Kansas City Royals to the hometown Cubs could push Kane County up into the top 12.  If they build more seats, they could even give the IronPigs a run for their money.

So there are incentives on both ends, and the switch makes sense.  The loser here is the Peoria Chiefs and the people of Peoria.  Unfortunately, the Chicago White Sox are signed up with the low-A club in Kannapolis, North Carolina through 2014.  That’s a bummer for both Peoria and the ChiSox.  I expect that the Peoria Chiefs will simply switch to Kansas City now that the Cougars have leapt to the Cubs.

Damnation for the Dalmatians!

Keeping it real.

I tend to get a little fantastical with MiLB reaffiliation or realignment scenarios, but I vow to ground this one in something resembling reality.  The only teams we will explore are teams that have their PDC (player development contract) with their parent clubs expiring now, in 2012.  September is the season for reaffiliation.  It’s coming soon, so teams are busy re-signing PDCs.  The Midwest league has an exorbitant amount of expiring PDCs, so let’s go nuts and reaffiliate at will.

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Midwest League teams with PDCs expiring in 2012:

Beloit Snappers (Minnesota Twins)

Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays)

Burlington Bees (Oakland A’s)

Cedar Rapids Kernels (Anaheim Angels)

Clinton Lumber Kings (Seattle Mariners)

Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds)

Fort Wayne Tin Caps (San Diego Padres)

Kane County Cougars (Kansas City Royals)

Peoria Chiefs (Chicago Cubs)

Quad Cities River Bandits (St. Louis Cardinals)

South Bend Silver Hawks (Arizona Diamondbacks)

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The Reds and the Dragons haven’t gotten around to renewing their PDC, but that’s because they’re too busy selling tickets.

For starters, I want to take the Dayton Dragons out of this conversation as they will almost definitely re-sign with the Reds.  The Dragons/Reds tandem is a no-brainer with the close proximity and the success of both teams.  I’m also assuming Cubs and Cougars is a done deal.

I’m also going to mostly ignore teams switching affiliates back and forth between the MWL and the other Low-A league, the Sally League.  The White Sox with Kannapolis, NC as well as the Giants with Augusta, GA make zero sense, but it’s too late.  These PDCs are signed through till 2014.

By jumping the gun and reupping with a North Carolina club, the White Sox missed their chance at the Chiefs. Almost as bad of a decision as this logo.

The one exception I’m going to make is shipping the Rays out of the MWL (Bowling Green) and adding the Rockies (Asheville).  I’ll reaffiliate the Sally League some other day, but for this exercise both Colorado and Bowling Green are without partners.

Kansas City and Peoria are also without partners.  It’s likely that they will couple up, but until it’s official, we’re going to fiddle around.

Take a minute to look at this map

We have nine Midwest League teams and nine MLB teams.  Let’s play matchmaker!

First, a few criteria:

-Teams should have some degree of geographic common sense.  In this case of the Midwest league and the West Coast MLB teams, it’s less important because honestly: does it really matter if a team in central Iowa or a team in southern Iowa is affiliated with the Mariners or the A’s?  No.

-If it comes to splitting hairs, teams will remain with their current affiliate.  The GMs and scouts have already visited these little towns.  They know how to get from the airport to the hotel to the stadium.  They know where to get a good sandwich and cup of coffee.  You get the idea.

-If there’s any chance, farm teams within the fan market region of a parent team will be paired up.  Example: Kane County and the Cubs.

-Conversely, MLB teams whose parent club is a rival of the team in that fan market will be avoided.  Example: Kansas City may want to avoid the White Sox fans in Peoria.

-As a last deciding factor, if the MWL team was once an affiliate of a parent club, the reunion will be honored.  Though it’s unlikely, perhaps some fans of say, the Kane County Cougars are also Baltimore Orioles fans from back in the early nineties when the two teams were paired up.

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Without further ado, here it are the results of the Sport Change shuffle:

-Beloit Snappers and Kansas City Royals.  Beloit is Brewer country, and the Crew haven’t been in the AL since the nineties.  A rivalry with the Royals is largely water under the bridge.  A rivalry with the Twins, however, is still on the periphery due to interleague “rivalry” games and the natural rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin in many aspects of life.

To fill their Cougar-sized void, the Royals snap up the Snappers.

-Bowling Green Hot Rods and St. Louis Cardinals.  The current Cards affiliate (Quad Cities) is in Cubs country.  With the Hot Rods being spurned by the Rays in our fantasy, the Cards tuck the Rods under their wing.  The two cities are actually pretty close to each other, and I bet that there are plenty of Cardinal fans in Kentucky.

-Burlington Bees with Oakland Athletics.  This one remains the same.  The A’s and Bees are a good fit.

-Cedar Rapids Kernels with Minnesota Twins.  Iowa may be Cubs country, but the Twins play in the AL.  Cedar Rapids is the closest farm team to the Twin Cities, so there’s incentive for the Twins.  There’s quite a bit of crossover between Minnesota and Iowa, and little reason for interstate rivalry.  Unless you’re a corn farmer, that is.

The Kernels are gobbled up by Minnesota.

-Clinton LumberKings with Seattle Mariners.  Another West Coast-Iowa connection that remains.  Why not?

-Fort Wayne Tin Caps with San Diego Padres.  I guess Peoria is slightly closer to San Diego than Indiana is, but once the GM is up in the air, what’s an extra ten minutes in the plane?  This one remains the same.

-Peoria Chiefs with Los Angeles Angels.  Peoria may have lost the Cubs, but they find a good MLB team in the Angels, who were the Chiefs original parent club in 1983.  Are any Angel fans left in Peoria?

Rockie Raccoon

Why Quad Cities with Colorado? If nothing else, the mascot can be called Rockie Raccoon.

-Quad Cities River Bandits with Colorado Rockies.  Just matching up the teams who are left.  The Rockies have less travel time, there are no real rivalry issues, and the River Bandits have a sort of Wild West appeal.  It works.

-South Bend Silver Hawks with Arizona Diamondbacks.  No need to change this.  The D’Backs scouts are used to travelling coast to coast in order to scout talent.  Let’s keep that way.

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These are pretty modest proposals, and they should happen in September.  Of course, they won’t.  Reality always beats fantasy, even when fantasy makes more damn sense.

Sport Change will keep you posted on real reaffiliations and PDCs left unsigned as we move in to football season.

Thanks for reading.  Comments welcome.

SPORT CHANGE

Here’s a post that should dovetail nicely with previous one about Scranton.  Let’s call it a double-header.  Earlier this summer, it was announced and confirmed that the Northwest League’s Yakima Bears would be relocating from Washington’s Columbia Valley to suburban Portland, Oregon: specifically the city of Hillsboro.

The Bears have died on the Oregon trail, but Hillsboro can only carry 2,000 pounds of meat in the wagon.

Background

With the Beavers abruptly leaving town, the Portland area has a farm-club shaped hole in it’s heart just waiting to be filled.  With the denizens of Portlandia apparently unwilling to pony up for a stadium, the nearby city of Hillsboro rose to the challenge.  Hillsboro is a high-tech city with close to 100,000 souls willing to subsidize a brand new stadium, and is well positioned to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Northwest League affiliate.  The NWL currently has two other potential-rival Oregonian teams, the Eugene Emeralds and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

I’m sure there will be a few fans in Yakima that will be sad to see the Bears go, but  if ticket sales are any indication, it will only be a few.  In 2011, the Bears sold an average of 1,751 tickets per game.  That was last in the NWL, and dragging down the league’s average per game of about 3,000.  Perhaps if the team had been blessed with a great name that was unique, regionally-relevant, and fun they would have done better.  Bears is about as broad and overused as sports nicknames get.  In honor of the famous fruit of the Columbia Valley, Pears would have been better than Bears.

The Yakima Pears

If the B had been a P, would Yakima have enjoyed the same success as the Modesto Nuts or Montgomery Biscuits?

A New Identity

Will the new Hillsboro franchise hold it’s ground in a new home or will it go the way of the Bears in 10-20 years?  Teams in the minors move and change so often that’s hard to even keep track.  Having a good brand is crucial to getting the fans, especially the families, on board.  With a new city comes the new opportunity to pick out something new.  In previous posts, I’ve gone on about what makes a good MiLB brand, but I’ll give you the short notes:

1. It should be fun and family friendly.  2. Relevance to the host city or region is huge plus.  3. Alliteration is a bonus.  Since the Northwest League is short-season ball (below level A) it’s cool to be as goofy as desired.  The NWL’s Everett Aquasox are about as silly as any team in among the 150+ minor league affiliates, and they draw fans and have been around for a few decades.

Get goofy: it works for the A-Sox.

An official name-the-team contest hasn’t been announced yet, but that hasn’t stopped the Hillsboro Argus online newspaper from soliciting suggestions from the public and compiling a list.  It’s unclear what the place-name will be, but for now we’ll assume that it’s going to be Hillsboro.

I also spent some time looking through suggestions posted in online message boards.  Most posts are worthless…it seems that many Hillsboroans have no idea what a minor league team is.  However, I did find seven names that I think are at least worthy of a Sport Change Critique.

Combining the two lists gives us twenty teams, and quite a range.  We’ll toss out ten throwaways and then make a top ten.  Let’s assess and rank:

Newspaper Compilation List:

-Rangers.  I can’t believe the newspaper would put this in their list.  THROWAWAY

-Hound Dogs.  No.  Do some research, Hillsboro.  There are already way too many cat and dog nicknames in the minors.  The Midland RockHounds is way too close.  THROWAWAY

-Hawks.  We are not off to a good start.  The Boise Hawks currently play in….the Northwest League.  Not to mention the RedHawks, the Silver Hawks, the JetHawks, and oh yeah, the Atlanta Hawks.  THROWAWAY

-Hedgehogs.  Now we’re getting somewhere.  It’s fun, unique, alliterative, and family-friendly.  Maybe not regionally-relevant, but excellent nonetheless.  KEEP

-Harrier Hawks.  I’m just going to take the liberty of shortening this to Harriers.  Now it’s a good name.  A fierce bird of prey, yet still unique.  Reminds me of the Missoula Osprey.  KEEP

-Silicons.  No.  Regionally-relevant, yes, but a terrible name nonetheless.  THROWAWAY

-Sunsets.  I don’t like it much at all, but the uniforms might look cool.  KEEP

-HiTechs.  Better than the Silicons, but still doesn’t seem like a ball club.  THROWAWAY

-Plainsman.  Really?  That is a very plain name.  Literally.  THROWAWAY

-Harvest.  Interesting thought, but no.  It’s hard to imagine a ten year old kid getting excited to watch the Harvest.  THROWAWAY

-Jalapenos.  It’s fun, alliterative, and referential to the region’s agriculture.   Also seems kind of cheap and pandering.  THROWAWAY

-Coyotes.  Have we learned from the Bears?  Go for unique.  THROWAWAY

-Vines.  “An homage to the region’s wine industry.”  I like the idea, but Grapes would be better.  KEEP

Here are the eight teams I found while lurking in the message boards:

-Aviators.  Hillsboro has ties to aviation, so there’s regional relevance.  Not bad, but somewhat boring.  KEEP

-Billies.  As in billy goat.  I like it pretty good.  Animals are fun, and the logos/mascot would be good.  The name Hillsboro Billies also rolls off the tongue pretty well.  KEEP

-Habaneros.  In the same spirit as Jalapenos, but with more uniqueness, better alliteration, and more…spice.  KEEP

-Herons.  Another nice alliterative animal name.  Blue unis for blue herons would look good.  KEEP

-Homers.  Kind of bland, but also fun.  “Let’s go to the Homers game.”  It works.  KEEP

-Hooligans.  Another fun name, but one that isn’t necessarily rooted in place or that creative.  I would love to see the logo, though.  Something similar to the Fighting Irish?  KEEP

-Lobos.  Wolves, en espanol.  Like the New Mexico University sports teams.  I don’t like it here.  I think Lobos should be saved as a possible name for oh, say a new NFL team in Los Angeles.    THROWAWAY

Hillsboro would be loco to choose Lobos. Let’s save that name for the NFL.

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Rankings:

10. Hillsboro Sunsets.  It’s just a very bland nickname.

9. Hillsboro Hooligans.  Fun, but not too creative.

8. Hillsboro Vines.  Put Grapes in the contest, and we can talk.

7. Hillsboro Aviators.  Alright, but try saying it aloud.

6. Hillsboro Homers.  Fun, but too general.

5. Hillsboro Harriers.  Dignified, yet quiet.

4. Hillsboro Billies.  Pretty solid all around.

3. Hillsboro Herons.  Fun, yet dignified.

2. Hillsboro Habaneros.  This one has it all.

1. Hillsboro Hedgehogs.  Pure fun.  To fans, what the minors is all about.

I hope Hillsboro recognizes an opportunity when it’s poking them in the face.

Summary

I expect that the club will launch a name-the-team contest this fall, and I’d say that the top seven on this list would all make worthy candidates.  I’m sure there’s plenty that we all haven’t thought of yet, as well.  Feel free to post them in the comments.  Sport Change will follow this story as it unfurls.

SPORT CHANGE

If you haven’t heard the news, the Minor League Baseball AAA International League Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees of Pennsylvania are now hosting a name the team contest.  The voting ends on August 24th, so in the words of Puff Daddy…Vote or Die!

The S/W-B Yankees Name the Team Contest. The most important vote of the fall.

Background

Before the Yankees were around, Lackawanna County was home to the AAA affiliate of the Phillies, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons.  A long-winded moniker, no doubt, but they were a respectable organization.  Then came the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.  The ‘Pigs built shiny new Coca Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the Phils licked their chops and sliced off a hunk of IronPork.  Now Lehigh Valley is the top ticket-seller in all of MiLB, and the vacuum in Moosic was filled with the new Yankees affiliate, cleverly named: The Yankees.

Flash forward to 2012.  The S/W-B Yankees will be moving back into their newly-renovated stadium and found it an opportune time for brand new brand.  A new name, new logo, new uniforms…in short: a new identity.

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Evaluation of the Brand

This is an interesting situation.  You’d think that a team would be plenty proud to not only be the AAA affiliate of the most storied franchise in sports, but to share the same name.  The Yanks have two other affiliates with the Yankees handle, in Tampa and Staten Island.  If you read my previous post on Minor League brands, you’ll know my stance on “chip off the old block” nicknames.  I think it’s fine, but if a team chooses to go down that path a little, they should go all out: have all of their affiliates with the parent club name.  In the Yankees’ case, the Tampa team is easy to ignore since they play in the advanced-A Florida State League, which is something of a joke of a league consisting of teams playing in spring training facilities and drawing meager crowds for the most part.  The Staten Island Yankees, on the other hand, are a very popular club in the short-season New York-Penn League.  They will remain the Yankees, while Scranton/Wilkes-Barre changes.  No big deal.

While the team is changing their nickname, they should absolutely change their place name.  It’s ridiculous.  No problem that Wilkes-Barre is a hyphenated town.  If it we’re just the Wilkes-Barre Yankees, it would be comparable to the Winston-Salem Dash.  Of course, with the largest city in the market attached, it gives us Scranton Slash Wilkes Dash Barre.  The “Slash and Dash” has got to go.  To make matters goofier, the stadium isn’t located in Scranton or Wilkes-Barre.  It’s in a suburb called Moosic, which is a great name for a town, incidentally.

Slash and Dash brought this to mind…

The Sport Change suggestions for a new place name:

1. Scranton.  It’s not the most pleasant word in the world, but this is the major city in the area.  The NFL’s New York Giants play in the Meadowlands, but there’s no need to call them the East Rutherford Giants or the New York/New Jersey Giants.  Scranton’s the predominate city, and everybody knows the name from the antics at Dunder Mifflin.

2. Lackawanna County.  There are plenty of “county” names in the minors, including the Brevard County Manatees, Kane County Cougars, and Lake County Captains.  The IronPigs prove that a broader geographic name can work.  Lackawanna just so happens to have one of those names that is fun to say.

3. Moosic.  Speaking of fun names to say, if the team is grasping at straws they could just go with the the town that hosts PNC Field.  Of course, that may not command the level of respect that AAA should have as the level one step below the majors.

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Contest

In order to help the team select a new nickname, Scranton has opted for the time-honored, democratically-minded sports tradition: the name-the-team contest.  The list is narrowed down to six.  The descriptions are copied from the team’s website:

-excerpted-

Blast 
The Blast combines the over-the-top fun of MiLB with the tough miners who unearth coal to fuel America’s industrial revolution. It’s also the sound of the Yankees of tomorrow blasting home runs in front of a packed house at PNC Field.

Black Diamond Bears
Paying homage of the rich coal mining history of the SWB area combined with the ferociousness of the black bear, no one will want to mess with them on the field. The natural setting of PNC Field will be the perfect den for the Black Diamond Bears.

Fireflies
Watch the Fireflies light up the night sky at PNC Field in 2013. The state insect of Pennsylvania is a sure sign of summer time in NEPA. Families will have a glowing good time at the ballpark!

RailRiders
All aboard! We’re not just blowing steam with this one. The SWB express isn’t your ordinary ride on the rails. We’ll be charting our own course as we speed our way into the minds and hearts of NEPA baseball fans. Kids can join the Lil’ Conductors Club or you can shop for your favorite team gear at the Station.

Porcupines
This tough as “Quills” animal is a renegade native to Northeast Pennsylvania. The fighting, resilient spirit of the porcupine is the same spirit indicative to our area. With Pulled Porky-Pine Sandwiches, fans are sure enjoy the fun, creative nature that only Minor League Baseball can bring to the community.

Trolley Frogs
Known as the “Electric City,” Scranton is home of America’s very first electric trolley car. A trolley frog is not only a mechanical part of a trolley, it takes us into a creative world of frogs, lily pads and snapping tongues.

-end excerpt-

“The future Yankees will be Blasting off all over Scranton.” That’s what…

The Sport Change Reaction

Wow, that is quite the spectrum of names.  All of them sound like they would fit in with other nicknames in the minors, but there is certainly a spectrum of quality.  Here are a few qualities that Sport Change likes in a nickname:

-Regional relevance.  Many of the best brands in the minors someway reflect their city or region, whether historically, geographically, or otherwise.  The Modesto Nuts, for instance, can get away with their name because the Modesto area grows a ridiculous amount of nuts.

-Appropriate respectability.  In pro sports, nicknames should be broad and respectable.  Tigers is a good pro name whereas Bengals is terrible.  In the minors, there is a great deal more freedom.  However, too much freedom has led to dozens and dozens of terrible MiLB nicknames.  For AAA, some goofiness is OK, but a team like the Columbus Clippers has good respectability.

-Alliteration.  Columbus Clippers is a good example of how a name can roll off the tongue and be fun to say.  This a moot point in this exercise as all three of our place names have no corresponding alliterative nickname.

-Fun.  It’s the minors.  Be goofy and make kids smile.

Let’s examine each:

Blast.  A terrible idea.  Non-pluralable/non-singularable nicknames are the worst, and this one reminds me too much of the Bakersfield Blaze.  If this name gets picked, somebody should be fired for suggesting it.  If it is picked, Sport Change will write an article blasting the Blast.

Black Diamond Bears.  Excuse me, I have to puke.  No.  Where to start?  O.K., if you want to honor coal, how about just Black Diamonds?  It’s not a bad name, especially considering the baseball-diamond connection.  But Bears?  Why try to get two nicknames in one?  The Yakima Bears are moving, so that name will soon be unused, but just Bears would be boring.  There’s already the Mobile BayBears and Fresno Grizzlies.  Black Diamond Bears.  Seriously?

Fireflies.  I like it.  That’s a fun fact that fireflies are the state insect of Pennsylvania.  This would be a good nickname, comparable to wildly successful Greensboro Grasshoppers.  I could see black uniforms with reflective/glow-in-the-dark lettering and a fun cartoonish logo.  The only disadvantage is that you would have to hear that Owl City song at every game

RailRiders.  That is about as mediocre of a nickname that they could come up with.  You can’t fling a jockstrap in America without it hitting a MiLB team with a similar name.  In PA, there’s already a railroad nickname: the Altoona Curve.  RailRiders reminds me of a mashup of two Rangers affiliates: the RoughRiders and the Round Rock Express.

Porcupines.  I love animal names, but meh…this just doesn’t seem that exciting to me.  Kind of like naming your team the Raccoons.  The Pulled Porky Pine sandwiches sound pretty good, though.

Trolley Frogs.  Brilliant.  A great reference to something that makes Scranton unique.  A trolley frog is apparently part of the overhead wire trolley switching system, but more importantly: it’s fun.  The Everett Aquasox have a frog on their caps, but amphibians in general rarely crawl their way out of small leagues and into the light.  One step below a Yankee is a Trolley Frog?  It may take some getting used to, but if the Las Vegas 51s can exist, then let’s get slimy.

Rankings:

1. Trolley Frogs

2. Fireflies

3. Porcupines

4. RailRaiders

5. Blast

6. Black Diamond Bears

On the website of the contest, you can vote for your top three.  I would be pleased to see either Trolley Frogs or Fireflies win.  Porcupines would be OK, and maybe they would do it right.  RailRiders is a snoozer.  Blast is terrible and would be last if not for the head-scratching, puke-inducing, coal dust-coated, furry monstrosity that is the Black Diamond Bears.  Though now I feel like listening to the Bob Dylan song Black Diamond Bay.  A good song.  Wait!  Bay + Bears = the Mobile BayBears.  Now that is strange.

The BayBears will be part of an upcoming minor league rebranding post–one of many more baseball posts to expect during our two-week “Boys of Summer” baseball blast.  I shouldn’t use the term “blast.”  Ugh.

So get to that website and give Scranton (or Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) a new nickname.  The voting ends Friday with the results announced this fall.  Stay posted.

SPORT CHANGE