High Desert Mavericks
The High Desert Mavericks of Adelanto, California, played 26 seasons in the California League. Over that time period, the Mavericks served as the Class A-Advanced affiliate of eight major league teams–the San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers–as well one season where they were independent of MLB affiliation.
The Mavericks were born when the Riverside Red Wave moved even further inland from the Inland Empire to the high-altitude Mojave Desert, where a new stadium had been built in the city of Adelanto. They chose a regional place name, as High Desert is an informal nickname for the greater Mojave area. With few red waves in the High Desert, the team was obliged to take on a new moniker. Along with the new name came an M-with-a-cowboy hat logo featuring tiny baseball-shaped studs ringing the perimeter of the Stetson. Team colors were red, white, and black, and would remain as such through the team’s entire existence.
The Red Wave had been affiliated with the Padres, and San Diego stayed on with High Desert through the 1992 season. Those years didn’t produce much in terms of future big-league standouts, but it certainly bears mentioning that in their first season the Mavericks were managed by none other than Bruce Bochy. Bochy led the Mavs to a California League championship, en route to a managing career that would see many more trophies come his way.
Right out out of the chute, the Mavericks had a couple of insurmountable challenges to contend with. First and foremost, the high altitude of Adelanto favored hitters so much that both hitting and pitching stats from High Desert were effectively useless. On the team vitality side, reports indicate that the ballpark’s location was remote and separated from population centers. The surrounding countryside was vast and barren, and the ballpark was tucked in among ranches and industrial facilities. Though initial interest was strong, the honeymoon phase was over after a few years.
Things were never much better on the MLB affiliation side. Despite a promising beginning with relatively regional San Diego, the Mavericks soon became an unwanted puppy at the Class A-Advanced level. In 1993, the Padres left in favor of Rancho Cucamonga, and High Desert’s only suitor was an expansion team in desperate need of a placeholder farm club. The affiliation with the Florida Marlins only lasted one season while the Brevard County Manatees could set up shop. This year yielded High Desert’s first notable prospect, as the Fish shipped future All-Star Carl Everett to the west coast after the expansion draft.
After the Marlins left town in 1993, the Mavericks were unable to find a minor league parent club. In those days, it was still acceptable to operate within the affiliated ranks as an independent club, and that is what happened to High Desert in ’94. The roster was composed of cast-offs and unknowns, and it seems that the Red Sox, Royals, Braves, and Rangers knew about the prospect run-off valve in California. Luckily, in 1995, the Baltimore Orioles decided they needed another Class A-Advanced affiliate to pair with the Frederick Keys, and in those days, having two teams at one Single-A level was still allowed. However, the O’s kept their best prospects close to home in Maryland, and in two seasons of affiliation, the Mavs didn’t suit up any players who would go on to notable big-league careers.
1997 brought another affiliation with an MLB expansion team, and Arizona needed a place to send their players a full year before the Diamondbacks played their first game. The Mavericks and D’Backs stayed together for a solid four seasons, and a few prospects would go on to make their mark in the bigs: Travis Lee, Junior Spivey, Vicente Padilla, and Brad Penny.
In 2001, the Mavericks signed on with the Milwaukee, and the Brewers sent their young players to Adelanto for four seasons. JJ Hardy, Corey Hart, and Chris Capuano would all go on to MLB All-Star careers.
2005 brought a two year stint with the Royals, an uneventful period notable only for the presence of Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler and future NFL first round draft pick/short-time Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Brandon Weeden.
In ’07, the Mavericks began an eight-year run with the Mariners, their longest by far. Seattle sent a decent number of future MLB standouts to the High Desert in those years, including Michael Saunders, Chris Tillman, Kyle Seager, Michael Pineda, Chris Taylor, and Ketel Marte.
Over the years, the Mavericks did very little to update their visual aesthetic, and considering the typical minor league branding churn, High Desert could be viewed as an admirable model of consistency. Though they always used the M-with-hat and consistent colors, they did start using two alternate logos at some point during the Mariners era–an HD towering over a mountain sunset and a grim-looking cowboy.
Though it only lasted for two seasons, the affiliation with the Texas Rangers was notable for a few reasons, none of which relate to actual players. (Though there could be some late bloomers, thus far, nobody during the Rangers era has made a significant impact at the major league level.) On the trivial side, the team briefly left their branding comfort zone by introducing an alternate uniform set, mimicking the parent club’s red, white, and blue. The left sleeve featured a Texas flag while the M-hat logo on the jersey was superimposed on an outline of California. As best as I can tell, this set was used sparingly and only in the 2016 season. There was something satisfying about seeing the Mavericks with the Rangers. The ten-gallon identity jibed perfectly with Texan tradition, and the Rangers even share a market with another pro sports team that happens to feature the same nickname and (at one time) a suspiciously similar M-with-hat logo–that being the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. All these factors, especially the use of Rangers colors in that season, might have led some to believe that the affiliation was a serendipitous and sustainable arrangement. This view would prove to be incorrect.
Well before the Rangers came to town, the Mavericks’ stadium lease with the city of Adelanto was making headlines due to its tremendous civic burden. This situation, especially when considered alongside High Desert’s perennially paltry attendance (in the Cali League, better than only the flamed-out Bakersfield Blaze) spelled the end of the line. Another clue was the Rangers’ affiliation. With Texas publicly planning to own an affiliate at the High-A level and put them in Kinston, North Carolina, it was easy to see how the Rangers viewed their time with the Mavericks as merely a stopgap. Indeed, it was announced during the 2016 season that the High Desert Mavericks (as well as the Blaze) would be contracted from the California League following the season. In a concurrent move, two new teams would added to the Carolina League as expansion clubs. One of these new teams would be owned by the Rangers and operate in Kinston, North Carolina where they are now known as the Down East Wood Ducks.