Bakersfield Blaze

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1995-2016

 

The Bakersfield Blaze of Bakersfield, California played 23 seasons in the California League. In that time, they variously served as Class A affiliate for the San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, and Seattle Mariners. They also had a stint as an independent/co-op team.

The Blaze were ignited after the 1994 season, when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Bakersfield Dodgers broke their affiliation. As occasionally happened in those days, the Bakersfield team did not sign a PDC with another MLB team and operated independently. Without the opportunity to use a big league team’s identity, Bakersfield was compelled to forge their own.

For their first independent season, the Blaze adopted a simplistic brand identity, with a navy, red, and gold color scheme and logos based around a flaming baseball. IMG_6731The Blaze operated as an unaffiliated “co-op” team for two seasons, and the best I can tell from Baseball Reference records, the Dodgers still sent players (including Japanese phenom Hideo Nomo for one game) to Bakersfield, but other teams such as the Indians, Blue Jays, and Astros did as well. The unaffiliated stretch only lasted two seasons, and excluding Nomo’s single appearance, none of the players on the roster would go on to make a significant impact at the major league level.

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Hamilton blazed a path through the minors.

In 1997, the Blaze linked up with the Giants, and that relationship would continue for four seasons. These years were remarkably devoid of talent, with a rehab stint by Joe Nathan in 2000 being the most notable roster development. Following that, the Blaze linked up with the then Devil Rays for four years, a more fruitful era that saw Josh Hamilton, James Shields, Rocco Baldelli, and Jason Hammel pass through Bakersfield.

From 2005 through the 2010 season, the Blaze were affiliated with the Texas Rangers, a time that yielded future standouts like C.J. Wilson, John Danks, Elvis Andrus, Chris Davis, Edinson Vólquez, Tanner Roark, and Mitch Moreland. At some point around the beginning of the Rangers era, the Blaze made significant changes to their visual identity. Gone were the navy blue and red, and in were blaze orange and black. According to an article by Paul Caputo, the black was for Bakersfield’s oil industry, and suujhlufuc3djpuup20ws5lv6the orange was, believe it or not, for the mandarin oranges that are grown in the nearby Central Valley. Also introduced around this time were an avant-garde typeface and a bizarre logo featuring mirror-image letter B’s in front of a five-pointed burst of flame. To the untrained eye, it resembled a maple leaf with a butterfly alit on it.

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Blazing down the basepaths.

Some time in the later aughts, the Blaze switched to a subtler design with an attractive cursive-script and a letter B as a cap logo, while keeping the orange and black as primary colors. This is the set that they would wear through the rest if their time.

In 2011, the Blaze signed a PDC with the Reds and were managed by Ken Griffey, Sr. The Cincy affiliation lasted four seasons, and alums from this time include Didi Gregorius, Yasmani Grandal, Tucker Barnhart, Billy Hamilton, and Michael Lorenzen. This period was followed by two with the Mariners, and Edwin Díaz is probably the biggest name from those years.

By the 20-teens, the Blaze were in pretty bad shape as a franchise. Despite playing in the relatively populous city of Bakersfield, the Blaze perennially ranked last in attendance in the California League. In fact, their average per-game attendance from their final 5 years (782 fans) was nearly exactly half of that of the next lowest Cali League team; the similarly-fated High Desert Mavericks. By all accounts, the orientation of Sam Lynn Ballpark was something of a no-shade nightmare, and the heat that fans had to endure in the Southern California summer gave special meaning to “Blaze.” When the rumors were swirling about the Carolina League expanding and California League contracting following the 2016 season, it wasn’t difficult to identify Bakersfield and the aforementioned Mavericks as top candidates for the chopping block. The Blaze flamed out for good after that season, and left the bustling burgh of Bakersfield without minor league baseball for the first time in the better part of a century.

 

 

 

Ephemera

 

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My 1995 New Era cap poster lists the Blaze as both an “independent” club and a Dodgers affiliate. In a way, they were both. In a way, they were neither.

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Grandal

 

 

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Didi, 2011

 

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Airborne Billy Hamilton

 

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