Idaho Falls Braves
The Idaho Falls Braves of Idaho Falls, Idaho played thirteen seasons in the Pioneer League, in two separate eras. Over that span, they served as the Rookie-level affiliate of two major league teams, the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres.
The Braves identity began in predictable fashion. In 1985, the Pioneer League’s Idaho Falls franchise (was it called the Eagles or the Nuggets?) was independent of MLB affiliation. Following that season, the franchise linked up with the Atlanta Braves and took on a COTOB identity.
In those days, it was common for the parent club to furnish their affiliates with uniforms that were essentially carbon copies of the big club, and this seems to be the case for Idaho Falls. In the eighties, the caps even had the A for Atlanta, despite being two time zones away. In 1990, they flashed a little flair with a cap that had the initials IF in a fancy font.
The Braves had another Rookie-level affiliate in the Appalachian League in those years, and there are only so many top prospects to go around. Maybe owing to the fact that Pulaski, Virginia is a little closer to Atlanta than Idaho Falls, the Pioneer League club seemed to get slim pickins. From 1986-1991, the biggest name players to pass through McDermott Field are Tony Graffanino, Tony Tarasco, and Al Martin.
In the early nineties, minor league baseball was quickly gaining popularity and independent marketability. In modest fashion, Idaho Falls tried to jump on that bandwagon by renaming themselves the Gems for the 1992 season. It didn’t stick, and the Gems were a one-year wonder.
The Braves identity returned in 1993, but with a tweak. Though the jerseys were still Atlanta duplicates, a new logo was created and featured prominently on their caps. The logo was a side profile of a Native American brave’s face, rendered in a simplistic form that makes one wonder if there are secret letters hidden somewhere. As much as I squint at it, I can’t see anything hidden. The brave has one feather in a headdress, anchored by a baseball and positions at a 90 degree angle, framing the IF initials. It’s relatively rare for COTOBs to have logos or branding with no real connection to the parent club. It’s almost as if Idaho Falls had one foot in the independent world, but couldn’t quite jump in fully. This phenomenon would later manifest itself in another form, making the Idaho Falls Braves an historical outlier.
The affiliation with the Braves only lasted for two more post-Gems seasons. It seems that Atlanta was content with the Appalachian League (at that point in Danville) and their GCL Rookie affiliates, an arrangement that continues to this day. In those last few days of Atlanta’s final foray in the Pioneer League, they didn’t send any big-time prospects or notable young players to the Gem State.
In 1995, Idaho Falls started an affiliation with the San Diego Padres, yet kept the Braves nickname. This makes the Idaho Falls Braves a “vestigial COTOB,” and one of only a handful that I’ve discovered as I comb through minor league history. Maybe the break from Atlanta happened abruptly, and Idaho Falls couldn’t take the sunk cost from developing the new logo only a few years hence. That’s pure speculation, but the team did continue to use that logo and cap, including the Atlanta-esque color scheme, despite wearing San Diego-inspired pinstripes with the Padres’ font and orange accents. This made for a weird combination of navy blue paired with accent colors of two National League teams.
Perhaps owing to San Diego being only one time zone away from Idaho Falls, they were a bit more generous on the prospect front. The Braves continued to be affiliated to with the Padres through the second half of the nineties decade, and notable future big leaguers include Cy Young winner Jake Peavy and future All-Star Matt Clement. It also bears mentioning that basketball player Trajan Langdon spent parts of a few summers in Idaho Falls, in between playing for Duke en route to career as an NBA player and exec.
At the dawn of the new millennium, the Idaho Falls Braves finally let the old vestigial COTOB identity go, with their five seasons narrowly edging out the San Antonio Brewers (1973-1976) for longest stretch of post-breakup-with-namesake among straight COTOBs. We have no way of knowing why this went on for so long, or what spurred the long-overdue switcheroo, but in the year 2000, the team rebranded to become the Idaho Falls Padres. They later went the unique route as the Idaho Falls Chukars, an identity that we see in the Pioneer League to this day.