Piedmont Boll Weevils
The Piedmont Boll Weevils of Kannapolis, North Carolina, played five seasons in the South Atlantic League. For that entire span, they served as a Single-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.
The franchise that would become the Boll Weevils was founded in 1963 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In 1995, after a few decades of impressive consistency, the Spartanburg Phillies moved one state north and set up shop in Kannapolis, NC. They decided to take on the Piedmont place name, a reference to the Piedmont plateau region, nestled between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Coastal Plain; stretching from Alabama to New Jersey, with Kannapolis smack dab in the center. This incredibly broad place name was paired with a COTOB nickname, and the Piedmont Phillies were a one-year wonder identity in 1995.
Before the ’96 season, the team, like so many others in the nineties, decided to create a unique identity. They opted to keep the Piedmont place name, but changed their nickname to Boll Weevils, in reference to the little beetles that plague cotton crops. This tied in with Kannapolis’s history of textile production. The team kept a Phillies-based color scheme, making ample use of bright red and blue hues. Their logos and wordmarks were reminiscent of old produce shipping crate labels and seed packets, and centered around a memorable mascot–a weevil in baseball gear holding a ball and bat; turned with left foot lifted as if ready to hit a fungo. Hovering behind the weevil was a boll of cotton with red baseball seams. This popular character was featured on Piedmont’s caps, which continue to be replicated to this day.
On the ballfield, it was quality over quantity. Despite a relatively low number of Boll Weevils who would go on to crack the majors, Piedmont suited up a number of notable alums–starting with Heisman Trophy winner (and NFL standout) Ricky Williams in their inaugural year. The other big name is Jimmy Rollins, who would go on to World Series success in Philly, along with other Boll Weevils like Ryan Madson and Brett Myers. Other future MLB All-Stars to play for Piedmont include Johnny Estrada, Derrick Turnbow, and Marlon Byrd.
The Weevils popped up a few times in the 1998 film Major League: Back to the Minors. That movie was filmed in South Carolina, and used many real-life teams from the Sally League to serve as opponent to the South Carolina Buzz. In one scene, we have a Weevil on base, and he is wearing a helmet with the letter B on it, formed by adding a loop to the Phillies’ P. Before I had seen this movie, I associated that logo with the Batavia Clippers, a Philly affiliate of the New York-Penn League in the nineties. Indeed, that is Batavia’s logo on my 1995 cap poster. Any other images that I’ve seen of Piedmont’s helmets simply have the P. I’m not sure how the B helmet ended up in the film, but it could be that the filmmakers added some paint themselves so that they could avoid copyright issues with the Phillies.
The end of the Piedmont Boll Weevils identity was spurred on by a notable change in ownership, when NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt purchased a stake in his hometown team after the 2000 season. It’s unclear whether the decision was made by others who wanted to pay tribute, or if the Boll Weevils brand simply bugged the Intimidator, but the team was renamed the Kannapolis Intimidators in honor of Earnhardt. After the 2019 season, the franchise rebranded as the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers. The Cannon Ballers have a blast in the South Atlantic League to this day, and the Piedmont Boll Weevils were squished out of existence long ago.