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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.