Name changes are becoming a “thing” in minor league baseball. If you haven’t noticed, there have been a plethora of minor league name changes the since the World Series ended. Not “minor changes” but “Minor League Baseball” name changes. This happens more often in MiLB than anywhere, partly because there are 120+ teams that make up the minors. Despite the turnover ratio of team names, logos, and uniforms, these changes are not always warranted. Let’s take a look at some of the new minor league name changes.
Old team: Jacksonville Suns
New team: Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
We’ll jump right in with the minor league name change that upsets me the most, because it involves my hometown team. New owner Ken Babby rebranded the Jacksonville Suns as the Jumbo Shrimp. The Suns have been around since 1962, with a brief stint as the Jacksonville Expos from 1985-1990. Despite going through nine different MLB parent clubs, the Suns remained the Suns for all but five seasons of their 54-year existence… until now.
Advocates of the new name and logo, mainly the Jumbo Shrimp cooking baseball staff, say that the name is a nod to the Jacksonville marine life community. The colors all have unique names to make them sound more local and patriotic. What else would you expect from people changing something that has been a stable in the city for over 50 years?
Locals, including myself, have been more than outraged. The complaints range from an embarrassing logo, to an irrelevant team name for the city, to erasing part of Jacksonville’s history. Babby made a similar move with his first minor league team, the Akron Rubberducks. While the Rubberducks name change increased attendance and merchandise sales, the two towns are more different than they are alike. The Jumbo Shrimp name has a lot of work to do to be as accepted as the Rubberducks.
Old name: Binghamton Mets
New name: Binghamton Rumble Ponies
This is probably the worst mascot of all the new ones unveiled this offseason. The team formerly known as the Binghamton Mets is now known as the Rumble Ponies. Granted the logo looks a bit more intimidating than the My Little Pony toys, the name itself is quite the change from a traditional parent club name such as the Mets.
The new team name was chosen from over 1,500 fan submissions. Other finalists included Bullheads, Gobblers, Rocking Horses, Stud Muffins, and Timber Jockeys. Stud Muffins seemed to be a popular pick amongst social media posts, but Binghamton baseball fans will have to settle for an armor-clad horse on steroids.
There are close alternatives that could have sounded more like an actual sports teams – Broncos, Mustangs, the Black Beauties. Instead, the Rumble Ponies are the Double-A pit stop for New York Mets prospects on their way to The Show.
Aside from the absurd team name, one of the common themes is the naming of the colors in a way that is supposed to pay homage to something important. The official colors of the Rumble Ponies are Carousel Silver, Fire Red, and Binghamton Blue. Showing tribute to local heritage through new mascots and naming of regular colors is the last thing that teams should be doing. That is what giveaways and themed jersey nights are for – not ceremonies renaming entire organizations.
Old name: Brevard County Manatees
New name: Florida Fire Frogs
The new Atlanta Braves Class-A affiliate also had a fan contest to decide on a team name. The winner was the Fire Frogs, another non-traditional, yet more seemingly acceptable mascot.
Perhaps the TCU Horned Frogs have made the “frogs” part tolerable. Fire seems to be an intimidating factor that could be added to any mascot to amp up the logo. Combine the two and you have a unique (but not outrageous) new minor league baseball team. The name also has nice alliteration with the team choosing to use Florida instead of Kissimmee as its team location.
A new parent club and a new location give this team name zero expectations, except for the fact that they are the only Braves’ affiliate to not also be named the Braves. The team is also playing its games at Osceola County Stadium, which has been the spring training home of the Houston Astros.
Remember how I told you about teams needing to feel connected to the community by naming the team colors? The Fire Frogs are no different and will officially be donning Fire Red, Navel Orange, and Golden Sun in their logos and uniforms. Of the minor league name changes for 2017, the Florida Fire Frogs sound the most reasonable and are actually a team whose hats won’t be embarrassing to wear by its players.
Old name: High Desert Mavericks
New name: Down East Wood Ducks
The Down East Wood Ducks are an expansion ball club who will be a Class-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Texas is moving its minor league club from the California League to the Carolina League and has a 12-year lease with the facilities in Kinston, North Carolina (Down East).
Kinston’s previous minor league team, the Indians, left after the 2011 season and became the Carolina Mudcats. The now defunct High Desert Mavericks are one of two teams that folded in the California League and are part of the equivalent expansion of the Carolina League.
Along with a new team to a new town came… a fan contest to pick the mascot! The finalists for the team in Kinston were the Eagles, Hamhawks, Hogzillas, Shaggers, and Wood Ducks. Only one “normal” finalist made the list and was probably included just for traditional fans. No club seems to be changing to anything remotely customary for team names anytime soon. The fad and trend is weird, crazy, funny, outrageous, etc. If it doesn’t get you 15 seconds of fame on Twitter and a chance to be top five in merchandise sales for a year, it isn’t making the cut.
Although the Down East team has a nickname, it does not yet have a logo. Nor does it have designed uniforms. Maybe the team will make a play off of the Oregon Ducks and go with crazy yellow and green jerseys and pants. They might be closer to the Anaheim Ducks though, since local waterfowl inspires the name. Either way, expect to see something that is Facebook Share worthy.
Old name: New Orleans Zephyrs
New name: New Orleans Baby Cakes
What could be worse than a shrimp or a pony as a team mascot? Try a big angry baby wearing eye black. The New Orleans Zephyrs officially changed their name to the Baby Cakes, another horrendous effort to honor the community.
Any team name with the word “Baby” should be reserved for a Pee Wee football team. Nonetheless, this youthful mascot was the winner from a handful of other nominees that were nothing short of the Bourbon Street Booze. Other finalists included Cajun Crawfish, Po’boys, Tailgators, Night Owls, Red Eyes, and King Cakes.
The name itself is actually a little fun to say. It rolls off the tongue in a weird way. But the logo is what makes this mascot miserable. If you have ever played a video game where you can create a new team and pick your own logo, those games have some interesting choices to say the least. The Baby Cakes would not be one of them. Somebody took the literal meaning of the words in the team name and created “marketable” logos.
Of course, Mardi Gras is kind of a big deal in New Orleans, so green, gold, and purple, are the main colors of the team’s new logo, but the solid color uniforms are navy blue.
Zephyrs was the team name used since the team’s days in Denver, and has been used during their entire tenure in New Orleans since 1993. The Twitter world was not happy about the name change, and that should be expected since this was the most recent rebranding after all of the aforementioned teams.
Minor league logos/name changes
Just because a team is in the minor leagues doesn’t mean it has to look and feel like it’s the minor leagues. Some teams have a short history, or none at all, and are creating new fan bases. Other teams have been established in one location for years and decades. The older ball clubs obviously have older and generational fan bases. Changing logos and team names to these outlandish cartoonish mascots is very bold.
The trend of late has been to create a new logo and name that is more bizarre and unusual than the last. One of the first “weird” names was the Montgomery Biscuits, The Tampa Rays Double-A affiliate. One of the newest changes, the Jumbo Shrimp, will host the Biscuits in, what I will call, the Low Boil Showdown next season.
To be nice about it, these name changes seem focused on the short term merchandise sales and social media marketing hype that has no doubt surrounded them. The owners are inclined to do what is trendy rather than what fans may or may not want. There is always the notion that minor league baseball is about family value and fun rather than the actual players on the field drawing fans to games. That may be the case, but teams already have enough promotions throughout the year to account for that.
To be blunt, these changes are driven by bottom lines and short-term attention spans of fans. Sure, the team names may be catchy and eye-popping, but if that’s the case, then fans are being drawn to the shiny object rather than the game itself.
Major League Baseball is not as popular as it once was, and there have been schemes aimed at getting fans back to the ballpark and interested in America’s pastime. Having ironic team names may get people to the ballpark, but I wouldn’t call the new attendees ‘fans’ of baseball. It doesn’t matter if you like the new name changes or not, because they are not going to change back to what they were. There may be a throwback uniform night at a ballpark near you, but the only merchandise you can buy now is a Rumble Ponies hat or a Baby Cakes koozie.