The Danville 97s of Danville, Virginia, was a placeholder team that existed in the Carolina League for one season in 1998. That year, the 97s were the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
The 97s were a convenient solution to a few different problems that cropped up (appropriately enough) after the ’97 season. To accommodate the affiliation needs of the expansion Diamondbacks and Devil Rays, minor league baseball expanded significantly in the later nineties. The Durham Bulls leveraged a decade’s worth of unprecedented minor league brand exposure into a new ballpark and a promotion to Triple-A. Up until then, the Bulls had been the Atlanta Braves’ High-A affiliate in the Carolina League, but the “expansion” Triple-A Bulls were able to continue to use the famous trademarks and Carolina League history. As such, the former Bulls franchise was stuck without a home and without a name.
The Carolina League needed to buy time in order to find their next suitable market, and Atlanta stepped up with a stopgap solution for that one season. Their Rookie level Appalachian League affiliate was (and is) the Danville Braves, and Danville conveniently fit within the Carolina League’s geographic footprint–a stone’s throw from the NC border and also close to cities like Salem and Lynchburg in Virgina. It was an ideal placeholder situation for Atlanta, who were able to host two of their affiliates in Dan Daniel Memorial Park. For a name, the owners chose 97s, which wasn’t so much a tribute to the year that had just passed as it was an homage “The Wreck of Old ’97,” an infamous mail train derailment near Danville that was immortalized into a folk song.
A brand aesthetic was hastily assembled, but came together relatively well considering the temporal nature of the team. The color scheme was a very Braves-like navy and red with gold embellishments. The primary logo had the team name next to a locomotive faced sideways, revealing baseballs for wheels. One cap logo had the steam engine wedging between a 9 and a 7, rushing straight at your face. Another cap logo was a titled letter D grasping a train as if it were a model.
Perhaps naming the team after a train wreck was fortuitous, because Danville went 58-82 in their only season, good for worst record in the circuit. But compared with player development in the lower affiliated minors, a win/loss record ride rides in the caboose. And the 97s had a very respectable nine future big leaguers on their roster, including All Star Jason Marquis.
By design, the Danville 97s crashed to their quick finish after the 1998 season. By that time, Myrtle Beach had secured its future as host of the next vital Carolina League franchise, building a sparkling new ballpark in time for the ’99 season. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans play to this day, while the Danville 97s went off the rails of minor league history long ago.