The Kannapolis Intimidators of Kannapolis, North Carolina was a team identity that existed in the South Atlantic League for nineteen seasons. For that entire duration, they were the Single-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
The franchise that became the Intimidators first moved to Kannapolis in 1995. Rather than take on the city’s name, they used a regional place name, calling themselves the Piedmont Phillies. They spent that year developing a unique brand, and from 1996-2000, they were known as the Piedmont Boll Weevils. After the 2000 season, NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt (who grew up in Kannapolis) purchased a share in the franchise, and the decision was made to change the team’s name to the Intimidators, based on Earnhardt’s nickname, “the Intimidator.” Tragically, Earnhardt died in a racing accident at the Daytona 500 in February 2001, and never got to watch his new team play a game.
The Intimidators brand was developed by Sam Bass, a noted graphic designer in the racing world. He employed a black, red, and white color scheme that was similar to the design of Earnhardt’s cars over the years. Team uniforms were typical of their time period, with varying use of vests, pinstripes, and solid red or black tops. Kannapolis’s primary logo was an anthropomorphic capital letter K with menacing eyes and pointed teeth that make the bottom portion of the K into a mouth, also creating the effect of the lower right line of the K resembling a long pointed nose or snout. Positioned atop the letter was a baseball clutched by five claws, though there was no distinguishable hand or arm. Perhaps the top left line of the K was the arm, though the two upper lines were both bent sideways the top and gave an impression of long, floppy ears. If one didn’t know the logo was a letter K, they could be forgiven for thinking it was a monstrous hybrid of a rabbit and pig, with claws protruding from its head. It may or may not have been intimidating, but the Intimidators’ primary logo was undoubtedly one of the more bizarre in minor league history.
Another big change that occurred simultaneous with the brand change was on the affiliation side, where the team switched from years of having the Phillies as a parent club to forming a new alliance with the Chicago White Sox. This relationship lasted through all nineteen years that the Intimidators name/identity was used. The list of future big notables to have passed through Kannapolis in these years isn’t as impressive as one would expect, but there were a few Intimidators who would go on to have success in the majors: Chris B. Young, Gio González, Brandon McCarthy, Eduardo Escobar, Daniel Hudson, Marcus Semien, Chris Devenski, and Tim Anderson. It’s certainly worth noting that in the latter years of the Intimidators, the White Sox were going through a major rebuild, and some of the brightest young prospects of Chicago’s system passed through Kannapolis and may yet break out at the big league level.
In 2011, the Intimidators unveiled some new alternate logos to complement the rabbit-pig. One was a simple red capital letter I, presented in a such a was as to sort of resemble flags blowing in the wind. In another version, the same I had a graphic of Earnhardt tucked into it, with both arms raised in victory. These logos were about the extent of Kannapolis’s tentative use of the Intimidator’s image for branding purposes.
The end of the Intimidators came following the 2019 season, as they prepared to move into a brand new stadium. In anticipation of the move, the team announced that it was changing its name. There was significant backlash from fans (including Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) regarding the turn away from Dale Sr.’s legacy. Team brass pointed out that they were very limited in the creative use of the brand due to trademark restrictions from the Earnhardt estate. As such, they shot out in a new direction, calling themselves the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, a reference to Cannon Mills, the manufacturing company around which the city was founded. The new mascot was a daredevil wearing a helmet and being shot out of a cannon, and the daredevil sports a mustache and overall look that is suspiciously similar to that of Dale Earnhardt. The Cannon Ballers are booming in the Sally League to this day, and the Intimidators exist as a footsnout in minor league history.