The Yakima Bears are Headed to Oregon and They Need a New Identity

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.

_

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

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2 comments
  1. Maria Maccamini-Cowan said:

    For the Jalapenos/Habaneros, what percentage of the potential fanbase will be Spanish speakers? In Spanish “J” is pronounced “H” and “H” is not pronounced–like English “honor” or “honest.” Of course it would depend on if Spanish speakers call the city “Eelsbooro” or not as far as which pepper wins the alliteration battle.

  2. According to good old Wikipedia, about 22% of Hillboro’s population is Hispanic; about twice as much as Oregon’s state average of 11% This seems evident from the suggestions of the peppers as well as the Lobos.

    I think you’re splitting hairs with the alliteration. The silent H and the hard H are close enough to constitute alliteration in both cases.

    I choose Habaneros because it has more teeth and more mystique as a nickname. Jalapenos are so ubiquitous, that it’s more akin to calling a team the Tomatoes or the Lettuce.

    What would your top ten be?

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