Sport Change promised some baseball posts in April, and it looks like they’re coming toward the end of the month. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up the ranks. Time to catch up with the summer collegiate Northwoods League.
The Northwoods League is the most successful summer collegiate baseball league in the country, and has helped many college ballplayers keep their skills sharp throughout the summers between school years. Sport Change has weighed in on the NWL a few times before, and this postlays out the details of the league pretty well. For now, we’re going to catch up on off-season developments and throw in our two cents.
The biggest piece of news in the Northwoods League is that an expansion franchise will be placed in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for the 2014 season. Kenosha was ranked third in Sport Change’s list of potential NWL expansion sites, published last summer. Of course, the team needs an identity! Ownership in Kenosha has taken the well-worn (and often treacherous) path of a name-the-team contest. Sport Change specializes in deconstruction of name-the-team contests, so let’s have at it. Here are the name options being put up for consideration:
Kenosha Comets – The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team that played in Kenosha from 1943 thru 1951 was named the Comets. The team played at Simmons Field, where the new Kenosha Northwoods League team will call home, from 1948 thru 1951.
Kenosha Esox -Esox is the name of the category of fish that includes the Pike. Esox also ties into one of the previous names for the City of Kenosha, Pike.
Kenosha KingFish – KingFish offers a unique combination of a tie to Lake Michigan, royalty and even a little nod to the King, Elvis Presley.
Kenosha Coopers – Traditionally, a cooper is someone who makes wooden staved vessels, bound together with hoops, for instance a beer barrel or cask. The name also connects to the Cooper’s Hawk that is native to the area. Lastly Samuel T. Cooper founded the iconic Kenosha company that became Jockey International.
Kenosha Sockets – Sockets connects to the automotive history in Kenosha as well as Snap-on Tool Company, which is another iconic company based in Kenosha.
Kenosha Lake Bears – Lake Bears is a memorable name that ties nicely to Lake Michigan and summertime in Wisconsin.
Ok, that’s quite the range. Here’s the Sport Change take on each one:
Comets is a great sport team moniker in general, and the alliteration is terrific. The name, however, is highly inappropriate. The AAGPBL Kenosha Comets are part of baseball lore, and let’s keep it that way. I have no problem with a team like the St. Cloud Rox borrowing an identity from a bygone team, but this suggestion is too over the top. It’s been about 70 years since the AAGPBL was around, and comparing it with a Northwoods team is like comparing apples and Rockford Peaches. If you want to see the Kenosha Comets, watch A League of their Own. Seriously. That movie holds up. (also currently on Netflix streaming.)
Esox is a great concept, and I tip my cap to whoever came up with that idea. Plays on the ‘sox’ phenomenon are staples in minor league baseball (Everett AquaSox, Amarillo Gold Sox, Utica Blue Sox) and they’re a hoot. That ‘esox’ is the pike family and Kenosha was once called Pike only sweetens the deal.
KingFish isn’t terrible, but there are a few faults here. For starters, I hate the “camel-case” wording; where the capital F is like a camel’s hump. Why? Also, nicknames that aren’t in plural form are terrible. It goes without being said, but the phrase: “a unique combination of a tie to Lake Michigan, royalty and even a little nod to the King, Elvis Presley.” should be an automatic disqualification A better name would be Kingfishers, after the badass blue bird.
Coopers combines two qualities that make for a stellar minor league name: alliteration and reference to a bygone blue-collar trade. If you ever look back at minor league names from around the turn of the century, you get great names like Furnituremakers, Clamdiggers, and Farmers. These names tell a great story, and Coopers lends itself well to the nearby Brewers and the roll out the barrel phenomenon. The Cooper’s Hawk thing is a bit of a stretch, but a hawk perched on a barrel would make a cool logo.
Sockets is certainly fun and ties in with the city, but it’s a tired idea. The Lansing Lugnuts are an uber-popular MiLB team, and Sockets seems like a facsimile of the original. The American Association (independent) team, the Wichita Wingnuts, have already gone this route. That being said, “socket to me, baby” could be a good slogan.
Lake Bears makes we want to run for a barf bag. Don’t get me wrong: I love lakes and I love bears. The problem here is that this epitomizes the bland minor league brands that are ubiquitous from coast to coast. Lake Bears is not much different than Bay Bears, Hillcats, RiverDogs, SeaWolves, River Cats…on an on. Just say no.
Kenosha Coopers. (A-)
Kenosha Esox. (B+)
Kenosha Sockets. (C)
Kenosha KingFish. (D)
Kenosha Lake Bears. (D-)
Kenosha Comets. (disqualified)
Let’s keep a clean history here.
Look for the name-the-team results this summer.
In other Northwoods naming news, the Alexandria Beetles were recently “saved” by the league taking control of the struggling team and reselling to a new ownership group. Great! Except that the new group is changing the team’s name from the terrific Beetles to the bland and perplexing Blue Anchors. All I’ve got to say is…ugh. Sport Change identified the Beetles as having one of the top Northwoods League nicknames, and one of the best in non-affiliated baseball. It’s just a disappointment when people throw the baby out with the bathwater. If the team couldn’t sell tickets, it was probably because Alexandria, Minnesota is a small city. I have a hard time seeing the Blue Anchors doing a better job in the long-term.
R.I.P. The Alexandria Beetle. 2001-2013.
Now we’ll just get in to the realm of rumor and talk about some cities that may someday host a Northwoods League team. First up is Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was ranked fourth in last summer’s Sport Change rankings of potential cities. The city recently issued an RFP (request for proposals) regarding use of the ballpark, and the Northwoods League was the sole bidder. It’s a bit surprising that the Frontier League made no efforts, but they tried and failed with the Kalamazoo Kodiaks in the nineties and the Kings, more recently. Let’s see this happen! Right now, Battle Creek is the lone Michigander franchise, and Kalamazoo is right near by just waiting to be a rival. This would be a big step in expanding the league’s footprint, and may work to lure the successful Traverse City Beach Bums away from the Frontier League. If Kalamazoo does get a team, the branding options are bountiful. Many ideas could surface, but here are a few thoughts. Kodiaks is solid, and could be reactivated, potentially. Kalamazoo Kazoos was the name of an old MiLB team that played about 100 years ago. Kalamazoo Kangaroos would be fun, though the name was used thirty years ago for a soccer team. Kalamazoo Keepers is fun for the pun-loving among us. In reference to Bell’s brewery, what about the Kalamazoo Brews?
Bismarck, North Dakota, may get a ballpark together. If they do, the NWL would love to expand westward. Bismarck would be pretty far from current NWL teams, but then again, so is Thunder Bay. Perhaps there is a master plan to add say, a team in Grand Forks or to poach teams form Fargo, Winnipeg, Sioux Falls…we’ll see.
ELKHART OF GOLD
Elkhart County, Indiana (near South Bend), may get a stadium deal; making the area an ideal candidate for the NWL. This move would bring the NWL to a new state and also help with furthering the establishment of a colony of teams on the eastern side of Lake Michigan. Only time will tell.
Yes, yes. Many changes afoot for our growing Northwoods League. It’s a brave wide world–the breathtaking endeavor of summer collegiate non-affiliated independent baseball.
I said that basketball posts would go up in March, but here’s one just a day late. Let’s call it April Fool’s. Here’s the natural companion to the Ideal NBA: the Ideal NBA Developmental League.
For the uninitiated, the NBA’s Developmental League, or D-League, is a minor basketball league that currently consists of 16 teams in mid-sized cities scattered across the nation. It functions somewhat like baseball’s AAA level of minor league play, wherein each D-League team is affiliated with one or more teams. The D-League is over ten years old, and has been a considerable success. Expansion is inevitable, so Sport Change will take the opportunity to expound for the league expands. Here we go.
Scenario 1: Realistic Suggestions.
This would be the status of the NBA D-League if Sport Change were to make at least halfway realistic suggestions for the league. Let’s do it team by team:
Good to Go (same name, same place, same affiliation as present)
Los Angeles D-Fenders (Los Angeles Lakers) This is simple, yet effective. The nickname is a play on ‘D-League’ and the franchise plays in the same city as the parent.
Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers) As much as I dislike nicknames that don’t end in ‘S,’ the Charge get a pass for making an allusion to their parent club, as well as linking the name to a popular sports game cheer.
Maine Red Claws (Boston Celtics) Portland, Maine is a terrific location for a minor league team in any sport, and the Boston parent is the only logical choice. Red Claws is fun and regionally relevant.
Austin Toros (San Antonio Spurs) Firing on all cylinders–great minor league city, great name, appropriate parent club.
Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets) Royce White’s former team works very well. Vipers is a great nickname, and the alliteration with ‘Valley’ sounds great.
Good to Go, but Change the Name (appropriate parent club, but questionable brand)
Texas Legends (Dallas Mavericks) I like ‘Legends’ quite a bit as a minor (or even major) league brand, and baseball’s Lexington Legends also wear it well. However, the Legends can’t justify claiming the whole state, when a total of three Texan teams play in the D-League. We’ll just give them the place-name of their location. New name: Frisco Legends.
Tulsa 66ers (Oklahoma City Thunder) Perfect place for an OKC affiliate, but that moniker has to go. It’s a reference to Route 66, but that doesn’t work for a few reasons. 1.) MiLB’s San Bernardino team already uses it. 2.) Calling a basketball team the “Sixers” is already used. Let’s give them a name that humorously complements their parent club. New name: Tulsa Rumble.
Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State Warriors) This is the only team that uses a ‘chip-off-the-old-block’ nickname, and it seems awkward next to nicknames like Bighorns and Vipers. Let’s get more creative and regionally relevant–allierative, too! New name: Santa Cruz Surfers.
Idaho Stampede (Portland Trail Blazers) I love that there’s a team in Idaho and that the team is the farm club of nearby Portland. Not a fan of the nickname, though. “I’m a member of the Stampede.” It’s a stretch, plus it’s too close to the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders. Let’s give Idaho a real farm club name. New name: Idaho Taters.
Good to Go, but Pare it Down to One Parent (terrific franchises that have 3 or 4 parent clubs)
Reno Bighorns. Probably the top overall brand in the D-League, Reno is shared by Memphis, Utah, and Sacramento. Since the future of the Kings is in jeopardy, we’ll go with the state to the east. (Utah Jazz)
Fort Wayne Mad Ants. I love this brand, and am glad to see that Fort Wayne has a team. There are currently four parent clubs (Bobcats, Bucks, Pacers, Pistons) and it’s a choice between Indiana and Detroit. We’ll keep it in-state. (Indiana Pacers)
Change the Name and Pare it Down to One Parent
Iowa Energy. The Energy (ugh!) currently represent the interest of the Bulls, Nuggets, Hornets, and Wizards. Of those, the Bulls are the obvious and logical choice of parent. Iowans tend to be fans of Chicago sports teams, as evidenced by baseball’s Iowa Cubs. For the name, let’s go with a diminutive of Bulls. New name and parent: Iowa Calves (Chicago Bulls)
Sioux Falls Skyforce. It’s cool that South Dakota has a team, but as of today they are the affiliate of the Heat, Timberwolves, Magic, and 76ers. Only Minnesota makes geographic sense. The name Skyforce is sort of the quintessential bland minor league name. I say we take a great name that was recently abandoned by an American Association baseball team. New name and parent: Sioux Fall Pheasants (Minnesota Timberwolves)
When one sport abandons a great brand, another swoops in to pick it up.
Change it All! (new name, new city, new parent)
Bakersfield Jam. The Jam currently feed the rosters of the Hawks, Clippers, Suns, and Raptors. Los Angeles makes the most sense here, so we’ll pare it down. Why does Bakersfield have such terrible nicknames? Their MiLB team is called the Blaze. Ew. Additionally, the ‘Blaze’ are the lowest draw in baseball, and I question Bakersfield’s ability to sustain a franchise. So…we’re moving the team to San Diego and resurrecting the old ABA nickname. New name and parent: San Diego Sails (Los Angeles Clippers)
Erie BayHawks. Why is Erie, Pennsylvania representing the New York Knicks, when the 76ers have to go to South Dakota on scouting trips? Even Toronto would be better, and the Raptors’ front office needs to travel to California. Additionally, I take back what I said earlier about the Skyforce. ‘BayHawks’ is the quintessential terrible minor league nickname. Attaching a geological formation to an animal using “camel-case” capitalization = vomit on the shoes. Especially when wordplay is so much fun. New name and parent: Erie Ghosts (Philadelphia 76ers)
Springfield Armor. A couple of things here. Though I truly do appreciate the fact that there is a D-League franchise in Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of the basketball hall of fame, it just doesn’t work. It’s unfair for Springfieldians to have to cheer for future members of teams that compete in the same division as the Celtics. However, there are no other good options for parent clubs with geographic proximity–hence the current linkage with the Nets. Armor is a terrible name too, of course. Even if they were to stay in Springfield, they should be renamed the Springfield Hall-Ballers. I say we move the Armor to Hartford, Connecticut, name them after the Charter Oak, and affiliate them with nearby New York. New name and parent:Connecticut Oaks (New York Knicks)
The Charter Oak: it means something to Connecticut.
Fabrications! (new teams created by Sport Change)
Now comes the fun part. In some fashion, we’ve accounted for all sixteen current D-League teams. However, since we pared down several of the teams to one parent club, there remains an additional 14 NBA teams that need an affiliate. Let’s toss the serious book out the window and try to create best matches for each NBA team. Place preference will go to cities that don’t have an NBA team, but are certainly large enough to deserve a D-League team. Geographic proximity is a no-brainer, for many reasons. Naming is pure fun. Let’s do this:
Miami Heat. Why fly to South Dakota when in-state Tampa is available as a market from which to build a stronger fan base. For a name, let’s go with an alliterative handle that was once used in a Will Ferrell movie. D-League Affiliate: Tampa Tropics.
Orlando Magic. While we’re in the Sunshine State, let’s not forget about the largest city: Jacksonville. A natural farm club for the parent in Orlando. I’m not sure about an ideal nickname. You could go with Mystery, as the name is similar to Magic. In a similar vein, Sorcerers might work. Local fauna include Lizards and Snakes, but nothing is particularly striking. For now, we’ll call them the Jacks, until something better comes along. Vote now or offer a write-in. D-League Affiliate: Jacksonville Jacks. (temporary)
Washington Wizards. The obvious farm club should be based in the nearby city that should (by all rights) host an NBA team: Baltimore, Maryland. For a nickname, let us simultaneously pay homage to the Charm City while creating a diminutive for Wizards. D-League Affiliate: Baltimore Charms.
Sacramento Kings. This will have to remain somewhat goofy until we know for sure whether or not the Kings are moving to Seattle. If they are, then for the record, the Sonics’ farm club should be based in Vancouver, BC, or Spokane, Washington. For now, we’ll put Sacramento’s farm club in a large city that is void of an NBA franchise: Seattle. A nickname should be diminutive here. D-League Affiliate: Seattle Princes.
Denver Nuggets. Another major Missourian city, Kansas City, needs a team, We’ll give KC to the Nuggets. That sentence made me hungry for some reason. ‘Cyclones’ is tempting for a nickname, but we’ve used that a few times in the Ideal League process. Let’s go with a big nugget that flies through space. D-League Affiliate: Kansas City Comets.
Toronto Raptors. Ottawa is tempting, but Buffalo is more promising. For a nickname, let’s continue in the dinosaur theme, and be alliterative at the same time. D-League Affiliate: Buffalo Brontos.
Atlanta Hawks. Since Atlanta is the major city for a vast swath of the South, I think we can just pick a southern city to pair with the Hawks. Alabama would be interesting, but interest in basketball is minimal. Let’s go with the Tidewater Region (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton) of Virginia and bring back an old ABA brand. D-League Affiliate: Virginia Squires.
Phoenix Suns. Albuquerque, New Mexico received strong consideration here, and it was very close. For now, however, we’ll agree to award Las Vegas a franchise and we’ll pair them up with the Suns. For a nickname, we’ll take an old MiLB name (Las Vegas Stars) and add a fun touch. D-League Affiliate: Las Vegas Neon Stars.
Memphis Grizzlies. St. Louis, Missouri, just up the river from Memphis, is a larger city that would make an ideal home for a D-League franchise. As tempting as it might be to revamp the ABA’s old ‘Spirits’ brand, we’ll go with a tip of the hat to the Lou’s most famous landmark. D-League Affiliate: St. Louis Archers.
Milwaukee Bucks. As tempting as ‘Green Bay Fawns’ would be, let’s go with nearby Madison, Wisconsin in an effort to sell tickets to students in the winter. We’ll give them a nickname that was once a minor league baseball team paying homage to the state fish, the muskellunge. D-League Affiliate: Madison Muskies.
Detroit Pistons. This is a pretty simple game. Pick a decent-sized city in Michigan and pair it with an alliterative and humorous car part a la the Lansing Lugnuts. D-League Affiliate: Kalamazoo Crankshafts.
Charlotte Bobcats. Raleigh/Durham would be the obvious choice, but we just can’t look the other way when alliteration, diminutive forms, and absurdity collide. D-League Affiliate: Kentucky Kittens.
Brooklyn Nets. Where else would the Nets’ affiliate play but for Newark, New Jersey. Keep the fan base alive and continue with the nickname theme. D-League Affiliate: Newark Backboards.
New Orleans Pelicans. Let’s go with the Louisiana state capitol and make an effort to attract LSU college students to the games. What’s a diminutive form of Pelicans? D-League Affiliate: Baton Rouge Chicks.
Those are all 30 current NBA teams. Let’s recap while simultaneously taking a look at what divisional alignment would look like if the alignment followed that of the parent clubs.
Atlantic D-Vision: Maine Red Claws, Newark Backboards, Connecticut Oaks, Erie Ghosts, Buffalo Brontos
Central D-Vision: Iowa Calves, Canton Charge, Kalamazoo Crankshafts, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Madison Muskies
Southeast D-Vision: Virginia Squires, Kentucky Kittens, Tampa Tropics, Jacksonville Jacks, Baltimore Charms
Pacific D-Vision: Santa Cruz Surfers, San Diego Sails, Los Angeles D-Fenders, Las Vegas Neon Stars, Seattle Princes
Southwest D-Vision: Frisco Legends, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, St. Louis Archers, Baton Rouge Chicks, Austin Toros
Scenario 2: Playing off the Ideal NBA (aka getting even more goofy)
For this scenario we’re imagining the Ideal D-League as it pertains to the Sport Change Ideal NBA. Click here to open the Ideal NBA in a new tab.Without getting into too much detail, here are the differences between the current NBA and the Sport Change Ideal NBA:
-There are 32 teams instead of 30
-Each conference features four divisions, like the NFL
-The Orlando Magic never existed…or we can imagine that they moved.
-Baltimore has a team called the Ravens
-The Kansas City Kings never moved to Sacramento.
-Minnesota is called the Lakers and Los Angeles has the Wolves
-The Charlotte Hornets still exist.
-Pittsburgh has a team called the Ironmen and Toronto is called the Huskies
-New Orleans Jazz still exist and Utah goes by Raptors
-The Clippers are still in San Diego
-Washington is called the Stars
-Oklahoma City goes by Cyclones, and Memphis goes by Monarchs
Some things are too good to change.
Alright. Now let’s get in to it. Several of the teams that we covered in Scenario 1 stay the same. These are the: Canton Charge, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Maine Red Claws, Austin Toros, Reno Bighorns (with Utah Raptors), Frisco Legends, Idaho Taters, Iowa Calves, Sioux Falls Pheasants (with Minnesota Lakers), Connecticut Oaks, Madison Muskies, and Newark Backboards.
Now we’ll take a look at the other 20 teams.
Flint D-Fenders (Detroit Pistons) For this scenario, we steal the clever D-Fenders moniker from L.A. and transplant it in Flint, Michigan. The Fenders follow in the car part tradition of their parent club.
Tulsa Tornadoes (Oklahoma City Cyclones) Rumble may have worked for the Thunder, but Tornadoes works with Cyclones.
Lafayette Zydeco (New Orleans Jazz) Rather than Baton Rouge, we go with the home city of zydeco music.
Hidalgo Javelinas (Houston Rockets) Just a simple name change. Since we have the Pittsburgh Vipers in the NBA now, Rio Grande Valley simply goes by the name of their actual city location and picks a local critter as a mascot.
Ottawa Bobcats (Toronto Huskies) We could go with Buffalo Bobcats, but why not give Ottawa a shot this time around? Now that Bobcats is unused, it works perfect in Ontario. Fun fact: the Raptors were almost named the Bobcats, but Jurassic Park was too popular at the time.
Raleigh/Durham Wasps (Charlotte Hornets) About as basic as you can get.
Las Vegas Coyotes (L.A. Wolves) In this scenario, we’ll have Vegas represent Hollywood. Coyotes is a fun diminutive form, and interestingly–the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes once came close to moving to Las Vegas. Since the Coyotes will not be included in the Ideal NHL (spoiler alert!) we’ll use the moniker here.
Erie Phantoms (Pitt Vipers) We called them Ghosts last time around, but this time we’ll give them a new name to go with their new parent club.
Vancouver Grizzlies (Seattle Sonics) Yes, yes. With the Memphis Monarch no long using the terrifically regional Grizzlies moniker, we can bring it back to where it belongs–north of the border.
St. Louis Archers (KC Kings) Now that Kansas City has a team, we’ll match them up with in-state St. Louis. Wichita is tempting, but Kansas has the Jayhawks–and the Shockers.
Delaware Dinosaurs (Baltimore Ravens) With a team in Baltimore, we turn to a neighbor to the east. Now that the Raptors and Brontos are gone, we’ll have Delaware continue the dino tradition.
Los Angeles Sails (San Diego Clippers) If it seems appropriate for the current D-League to have a team in L.A. despite having two in the NBA, it’s fine to put one there with only one team in the Ideal L.A.
Sacramento Sierras (Golden State Warriors) Sacramento has always been something of a second-tier sports city anyway, so now it’s formalized. The name is a reference to the Sierra Nevada range.
Albuquerque Dukes (Phoenix Suns) It’s fun to have a team in New Mexico, and the Dukes were such a terrific minor league baseball brand that we’ll reincarnate them in another sport.
Orlando Magic (Miami Heat) Orlando never should have had an NBA team to begin with, so they count themselves lucky to have a Heat affiliate.
Jacksonville Jacks (Atlanta Hawks) We’ll keep a franchise in J-ville, but now they represent the Hawks. Until conclusive results are pulled from the above poll, we’ll stick with Jacks.
Lehigh Valley Vultures (Philly 76ers) The Lehigh Valley (Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton) is a densely-populated and sports-crazy region. Why Vultures? I guess it’s something unique, and I was inspired by the Rio Grande Valley Vipers alliterative effect.
Nashville Nightengales (Memphis Monarchs) Named in honor of the Music City songstresses.
Omaha Clods (Denver Nuggets) If Denver is famous for mining and the Nuggets are named for gold….Nebraska is famous for farming, so the team should represent dirt.
Virginia Squires (Washington Stars) We’ll continue with the whole Squires thing, but this time we’ll link them with the Capitol.
There are all of those teams. Now let’s look at the alignment as it relates to the Ideal NBA:
Atlantic: Maine Red Claws, Connecticut Oaks, Lehigh Valley Vultures, Newark Backboards
Northeast: Ottawa Bobcats, Erie Phantoms, Delaware Dinosaurs, Virginia Squires
Southeast: Jacksonville Jacks, Raleigh/Durham Wasps, Orlando Magic, Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Central: Iowa Calves, Flint D-Fenders, Madison Muskies, Canton Charge
Pacific: Sacramento Sierras, Las Vegas Coyotes, Los Angeles Sails, Albuquerque Dukes
Northwest: Vancouver Grizzlies, Idaho Taters, Omaha Clods, Reno Bighorns