The Norwich Navigators of Norwich, Connecticut, played 11 seasons in the Eastern League. In that time, they served as the Double-A affiliate of two major league teams–the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants. The Navigators were born following the 1994 season, when the Albany-Colonie Yankees were moved to Norwich, where brand new Dodd Stadium was built.
Their brand identity was built for its era, and everything about the new team screams nineties. The Navigators nickname was a lesson in wordplay. Not only was it alliterative, but the team played up the gators portion of the word to its fullest extent. They introduced an alligator mascot wearing the uniform of an an old mariner, and in the primary logo, he was looking through a baseball bat like it was a telescope and giving a thumbs up. The logo was designed by Nancy cartoonist Guy Gilchrist, who also designed the logos of the Portland Sea Dogs and New Britain Rock Cats. The gator was also rendered as a large statue that would be placed in the Dodd Stadium parking lot during games. The inaugural team uniforms were heavy on black and purple, and alternate caps were regularly employed. Their primary uniform set featured vests with Yankees-style pinstripes.
Just about every top Yankees prospect from that era played for the Navigators, including many contributors to their World Series teams. Some alums from the Yankees days are Ramiro Mendoza, Ricky Ledée, Shane Spencer, Alfonso Soriano, and multi-sporter Drew Henson. New York also sent many big names to Norwich for rehab stints and last ditch efforts.
In 2003, the Yankees ditched Norwich in favor of the Trenton Thunder, and the Navigators signed on with San Francisco. They immediately dropped the color purple from their brand, and replaced it with Giants orange. This affiliation lasted for three years, and produced (among others) two key hurlers from the Giants’ early teens dynasty: Matt Cain and Brian Wilson.
By the mid-aughts, the ‘gators had lost much of their bite, and absent the Yankees connection, fan interest waned. They were sold to new owners in 2005, and after the season, were rebranded into the Connecticut Defenders. That team would eventually be moved to Richmond, where they now play as the Flying Squirrels. After that move, the New York-Penn League’s Oneonta Tigers were moved to Norwich and called the Connecticut Tigers. After the 2019 season, the franchise was renamed the Norwich Sea Unicorns. The Sea Unicorns navigate the waters of Dodd Stadium today, and the Navigators are lost to the ages.