I write this OMNI on Leap Day 2020, the first OMNI of the new year and the new decade. It’s also the two-year anniversary of the first ever OMNI, a simpler time when the inception of the Greeneville Reds was exciting news and there were vague rumors of teams moving to places like Madison, Alabama and Wichita, Kansas. Hmm.
I bet that if I go back and look at the archives, I would find that most (if not all) OMNIs have me making some statement along the lines of “I’ve been really busy in my personal life and haven’t had as much time to work on this site as I thought.” That’s probably always true, but January and February were especially busy months for me, so there hasn’t been much new material to chew on here at Minor League Geek. One bigger project that I just completed is a 7,000+ word overview of the past decade in the minor leagues. It was one of those things where once I started, I felt compelled to sink way more time into it than originally intended, but I think the results are worth it. I call it “The Minors in the Teens: A Decade in Review.”
I’ve also been trying to keep up with my ongoing coverage of the hot topic in the minors these days, that being the MLB Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) and the discussion of reduction of Player Development Contracts, league contraction, realignment, etc. In the fall, I was on an article-per-month clip, but now it seems more like an every-few-month situation–at least until news becomes more pressing and interesting. Still, my latest installment is a pretty good overview how this story has unfolded. It’s tedious to write such articles, but I think it will be worth it for me to look back on years down the road and remember a time when Bernie Sanders took time, in a hotly-contested presidential race, to outwardly express rage about minor league teams losing their PDCs.
One other awesome (and totally unexpected occurrence) was that an ebay seller listed hundreds of “deadstock” 90s-era Pro-Line dual-logo caps. I’ve been collecting images of these caps for over two years and adding them to the gallery, but new additions had slowed to a trickle. Then suddenly, here were all these gasp-inducing caps. Most of them were already in the collection, though the seller took good photos so I’m replacing a few images. But the real surprise was a whopping ten new additions to the collection. Eight were completely new teams: Appleton Foxes, Buffalo Bisons, Knoxville Smokies, Memphis Chicks, Midland Angels, Oklahoma City 89ers, Omaha Royals, and Vero Beach Dodgers. There was an older (early nineties) Wichita Wrangers to go alongside the mid-nineties version I have. The seller also had listed both green and teal-billed Salt Lake Buzz caps, whereas before I had one weirdly-lit teal cap. It was satisfying to see teams like Appleton, Buffalo, and Knoxville, who I sort of knew existed somewhere. Also, the Smokies cap had the Blue Jays logo on the back, so that means that every MLB team (of the era) is represented, except for the Phillies.
News of Minor Interest
Excluding the steady trickle of confounding PBA news, there hasn’t been much to report in the minors over the last few months. But let’s dig and see what we’ve got.
Probably the biggest bit of news is that, as expected, the Florida Fire Frogs will be moving from Kissimmee to North Port, where they’ll spend 2020 playing in the Braves’ new spring training facility. They are not expected to change any elements of their name or brand, so going by the 3 of 4 Rule, this will not be a new team identity. The interesting thing is that the North Port arrangement is only expected to be for this season. I’m not sure why the Braves haven’t embraced the idea of keeping the Frogs at North Port. It’s the norm in the Florida State League and you’d think Atlanta would like to keep their High A prospects close at hand. Maybe the owners aren’t keen on the idea, but that seems unlikely. Either way, there are a few factors to consider here. One is that the Fire Frogs were on the initial list of 42 teams slated for PDC severance in the new PBA, and the team may simply phase out of existence. In that scenario, though, what team would be the Braves’ new high A affiliate? Would they go back to the Lynchburg Hillcats? The Ballpark Digest article also says this: “Should the team avoid contraction after the 2020 season, the preferred option remains to move to Cocoa’s Coastal Florida Sports Park (the former Coca Expo Stadium). Co-owner David Freeman recently confirmed his interest in placing the Fire Frogs there as early as 2021.” This is probably the most likely outcome. The funny thing here is that the brand would likely remain in place, at least at first. So we could have a team with one continuous identity that will have played in three different cities. I scratched my head when the Fire Frogs were given the whole-state place name, but maybe they were hedging their bets the whole time, knowing they had no permanent home secured.
The Winston-Salem Dash unveiled redesigned their logos and uniforms, opting for a simplified look that relegates their notable purple to an accent color and swaps out the angry baseball logo for an interlocking W and S. I don’t have much to say about this. Pretty cool, I guess. It’s a little bizarre the way the two letters merge together, with the W kinda losing a foot in the process.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats were originally called the New Hampshire Primaries when they were announced as a new team in 2003, and they even paid a design firm to draw up a cool logo featuring a donkey and elephant playfully glaring at each other. Fans were upset about the mixing of politics into sports, and pressured the team to pick a different identity. But these days, alternative identities (and especially edgy identities) are common. In an election year, it makes good sense for the Fisher Cats to announce that they’ll be suiting up as the Primaries for a game this summer.
I am getting a bit tired of the “alternate identity” promotions throughout the minors, but it seems that every year one or two stand out to me as being especially creative and neat. This year, it was the Inland Empire 66ers, who announced around Valentine’s Day (of course) that they will play as the Inland Empire Cherubs for a game in May. The 66ers are an Angels affiliate, and Cherubs is a diminutive form of Angels. This makes the alternate identity a promotional DimDer of sorts. Supposedly, a rebranding to Cherubs was a possibility in 2014, but the team decided to keep the name and merely change their logos and uniforms. I doubt it was seriously considered, since teams are generally wary of aligning their identity to the parent club, but it’s cool to see the Cherubs take flight for a game.
Ebbets Field Flannels rolled out some new T-shirts and caps. Whenever Ebbets does a rollout, there are always a few that catch my eye. The logo for the 1948 Boise Pilots of the Pioneer League is an outstanding cartoon fowl struggling to fly while wearing a WWII-era pilot cap. A 1956 Charlotte Hornets logo has a cap tilted atop a beehive. The caps are great too. The Pacific Coast League’s Sacramento Senators apparently had a great logo in 1927 that had the team monogram surrounded by a heart. The Burlington Bees, an identity still used today, had a zoologically correct bee on their 1932 cap. The Tri-City Braves were a Northwest League team identity in the fifties and sixties, and Ebbets recreated the 1954 cap, with a similar logo to the Minnesota Twins. Finally, they put together the 1968 Buffalo Bisons cap, which was bright red in their years as a Reds affiliate. I may have to add that to my Bisons page.
One last thing I’d like to do here is take a moment to recognize Tony Fernández, who died at the age of 57. Fernández put together a heck of a career, including five All-Star games, four Gold Gloves, and a World Series Championship in 1993. Though he could yet reach the Hall of Fame by way of the Veteran’s Committee (hey, it worked for Harold Baines) he generally does not have the career stats to be voted in. Since we probably will not see him on the Hall-of-Famers page here at MLG, let us take a moment to consider Fernández’s minor league career. The Blue Jays signed him out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager, and he made his minor league debut with the 1980 Kinson Eagles of the Class A Carolina League. He spent most of ’81 with Kinston, but received a promotion to Triple-A with the Syracuse Chiefs by season’s end. He spent the entire 1982 season with Syracuse, playing alongside the likes of George Bell. In ’83, he returned to the Chiefs but was a September call-up with the Jays. By the middle of 1984, he was fully entrenched in the Toronto infield. He was a perfect example of a solid all-around ballplayer, and he will be remembered fondly by many.
Alright, that’s about all I have right now. I know the next two months are going to be very busy for me, so I’m not going to make any promises of more content to come before the next OMNI. But I sure would love to get cracking on more team pages and updating a lot of the other stuff here on this site. It will happen when it happens. Maybe May? Till then, thank you.