Minor league names, major league stories
When minor league baseball returned to Lansing, Mich. in 1996, the new owners went searching for a name.
They were presented with the following facts:
Lansing is the birthplace of Ransom E. Olds, whose company made the first assembly-line automaker in 1901. Three years later, Olds was the nation’s top automaker, thanks to the wildly popular Curved Dash sedan. It was so popular, it inspired the hit song “My Merry Oldsmobile.” The team, a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate, would host games in then-Oldsmobile Park.
Easy, right? The Lansing Olds? Lansing Dash? Lansing Ransom? Lansing Sedans?
Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong. Try again. Think General Motors, the NBA and the Detroit Pistons.
If you guessed “The Lansing Lugnuts,” you are correct, but you probably cheated via a quick Internet search.
The logo for the team is a cartoon lug nut with one tooth showing. The team mascot Big Lug is blue cow with teal freckles, resembling a lovable hallucination more than anything else.
And if you find yourself in Lansing and suffering from amnesia, team spokesman Jesse Goldberg-Strauss says, look to the sky. There, atop a 615-foot-tall, brick smokestack of the Lansing Board of Water and Light, sits a 5,000-pound titanium lug nut, paid for by the team’s booster club.
“We’ve got some great fans,” Goldberg-Strauss said proudly.
Weird, yes. But the Lugnuts are far from the strangest MiLB team out there. Not even close.
There are the Portland (ME) Sea Dogs, the Traverse City (MI) Beach Bums, the Reading (PA) Fightin Phils and the Idaho Falls (ID) Chukars.
Then there are the Modesto (CA) Nuts. Are they really outrageous? Are they a good nutritious snack? Or are they the most politically incorrect team name not disparaging Native Americans?
The American sports market has become overrun by horrible team names. Some, such as Eagles, Panthers, and Bulldogs are overrused. Others, like Kings, Jazz or Sun, are just dumb. The newest non-innovation would be soccer team names, all of which stolen from other leagues.
Minor league baseball, the oldest organized sport of them all, remains unique. Faced with markets that are typically small and stagnant; a rotating inventory of inexperienced players; and the usual competition for the consumer dollar, minor league baseball has always had to fight for business. And for some teams, the battle begins with the team name.
Some teams have taken the easy way out and kept the name of the affiliated Major League Baseball Club, such as the Port St. Lucie Mets, South Bend Cubs or Oklahoma City Dodgers.
A few names seem logical. The Akron Rubber Ducks play in a city famous for rubber factories. The San Antonio Missions is a no-brainer. The Corpus Christi Hooks, Biloxi Shuckers and Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp all play in coastal cities with fishing industries.
A few names are, uh, sketchy.
The Great Lakes Loons play in Midland, Michigan, which is 85 miles from Lake Huron. And since it is a wetlands bird, that means beyond Midland’s city council, there aren’t any loons anywhere near the ballpark.
The Fort Wayne (IN) Tin Caps are tangentially named after the mythical Johnny Appleseed, who wore an imaginary metal pot on his non-existent head while not throwing apple seeds everywhere. Metal pot. Tin cap. Get it?
The Quad Cities River Bandits play in Davenport, Iowa, which is located on the banks of the Mississippi, so part of the name checks out. I’ve never been there, but I’m certain the ballpark overcharges for a beer just like every other ballpark, so they’re definitely bandits. That checks out, too. But that area encompasses five cities there, not four, so that’s weird.
Many team names are just strange. The Binghamton (LI) Rumble Ponies, are named ostensibly after a carousel. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats pay homage to a regional critter described as being “similar to a weasel or a wolverine.”
The Las Vegas 51 drew its inspiration from Area 51, the secretive military installation where all sorts of weird things have allegedly taken place. The team logo was an alien, says spokesman Jim Gemma, but is now only “51.” The team’s alien-logo hat, however, remains a huge seller. That means the hats, like the truth, are out there.
The Altoona (PA) Curve is not, surprisingly, named after a baseball pitch. Rather, says team spokesman Trey Wilson, it’s named after a historically significant stretch of curved railroad track outside of town, which cut through the Alleghany mountains and brought progress to much of the state.
The railroad played a big part in the nation’s history, and it plays a prominent role in minor league baseball names, too. There are the Scranton Wilkes-Barre (PA) Railriders, the Round Rock Express, the Gary (IN) Southshore Railcats, and the Cleburne Railroaders.
Ah, trains. That was the thinking in Hartford, Ct., where the ballpark’s theme comes from the New York-New Haven Railroad, a regional carrier that had a significant local presence. The park has train decor, and the team uses an old railroad company font in its marketing.
The team name comes from a particular type of locomotive used in the rail yard in the same way that a tugboat works in a harbor. This little engine muscles through the yard, spokesman Jeff Dooley said, shuffling rail cars from track to track and keeping things in order.
It’s called a Yard Goat, so of course, the Hartford Yard Goats logo is an angry ram with big horns instead of a railroad cap.
In minor league baseball, that kinda makes sense.