The Louisville RiverBats of Louisville, Kentucky, played three years in the International League. In that brief time, they served as the Triple-A affiliate of two MLB teams–the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds.
The RiverBats were born following a series of movements in the late nineties at both the Triple-A and Double-A levels. Following the 1997 season, the Southern League’s Memphis Chicks relocated to become the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, vacating the very large Memphis market. This move dovetailed with Triple-A expansion as a result of MLB expansion in Arizona and Tampa Bay. One of the new franchises created for the Pacific Coast League was the Memphis Redbirds, a team that was aligned with the St. Louis Cardinals from the get-go. This meant that the International League’s Louisville Redbirds needed both a new parent club and a new identity.
Adequate turnaround time for rebranding must not have been available, because the Louisville Redbirds played the 1998 season as a vestigial DimDer; affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers. In that season, there were two Triple-A teams called the Redbirds, with the other being the aforementioned Memphis club. For 1999, the new RiverBats identity was unveiled. The team’s nickname used camel case, with the common geographic feature + animal formula. The River in question is the Ohio River, which flows by Louisville, and the Bats was an indirect reference to the baseball bats produced by the Louisville Slugger company. The team had a unique color scheme based around purple and black, with elements of green and gold mixed in. Vested, pinstriped jerseys had the team’s wordmark underlined by a lightning bolt. The cap logo was the team mascot, a purple bat in mid-flight, clutching a bat in its wings and wearing a gold cap with an L on it.
In the RiverBats’ inaugural year, the Brewers affiliation carried over from the Redbirds days. Though Milwaukee taxied a fair amount of big-leaguers to Triple-A, the 1999 roster really didn’t feature much on the prospect alumni list. In 2000, the RiverBats linked up with the nearby Cincinnati Reds for an affiliation built to last. Adam Dunn was the only big name player to wear the RiverBat vest while climbing the developmental ladder, but it bears mentioning that Deion Sanders played a total of 44 games for Louisville–split between the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
After that 2001 year, the team did a soft rebrand. They hacked the River off their nickname and came up with new logos and a simplified color scheme. Though the change wasn’t too drastic, by MLG standards, it was enough to mark a division between two distinct identities. The Louisville Bats represent the Reds in the International League to this day, while the RiverBats identity floated downstream long ago.