Regional place names

From time to time, minor league teams will claim a region or other chunk of land as their place name. Usually, this is either an effort to broaden the appeal of the team brand, but sometimes it is basically paying homage to the tax base that ponied up for a stadium. This live page is for keeping track of those place names (1963-present) that fall somewhere between city/city cluster and whole state place names.

 

 

Counties

Let’s start with a place name choice that is easily defined and delightfully bland: the humble American county. There have been a handful of teams that have simply gone with their local governmental district for their place name.

Brevard County Manatees. The Manatees called Florida’s eastern Space Coast home from 1994 to 2016, when they moved and became the Florida Fire Frogs.

Grays Harbor Loggers/Mets/Ports.  In 1976, an independent team in the Northwest League started up, and split their home games between Olympic Stadium, an old WPA project located in Hoquiam, Washington, and Pioneer Park in neighboring Aberdeen, Washington. Hoquiam is a small city of about 8,000, but Aberdeen is about twice as big. Both of these cities are in Grays Harbor County, and a county-based regional nickname was perfectly appropriate in this instance, even when Olympic Stadium became their exclusive home. That first club in ’76 was a one-year wonder called the Grays Harbor Ports, though they changed their name to the Loggers the next year. The Loggers, notable for having actor Bill Murray on their ’78 roster, kicked around until 1981–excluding one aberrant season as the Grays Harbor Mets.

Gwinnett. Atlanta moved their Triple-A team from Richmond to the northeast Atlanta suburbs in 2009. They opted to go with just Gwinnett rather than Gwinnett County, giving the place name an awkward look alongside other International League metros like Charlotte and Indianapolis. In 2018, the Gwinnett Braves took on the current Stripers brand.

Kane County Cougars. The triple-alliterative Cougars are based in the Chicago ‘burbs, and have been a mainstay of the Midwest League since 1991.

Lake County Captains. In 2003, the South Atlantic League’s Columbus RedStixx relocated to the decidedly non-South Atlantic Eastlake, Ohio, next door to their parent club in Cleveland. They were finally bumped north to the Midwest League in 2010.

Palm Beach Cardinals. The Florida State League Cardinals play in Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. They share the park/spring training facility with the FSL’s Jupiter Hammerheads, but use the vague Palm Beach moniker in reference to Palm Beach County.

Prince William. The soon-to-be-vacated Pfitzner Stadium opened in Woodbridge, Virginia in 1984. Their first tenant was the Prince William Pirates, who took their name from Woodbridge’s Prince William County. In ’87, they became the Prince William Yankees. After two years, they went unique and took on the Prince William Cannons identity.

Ventura County Gulls. In 1986, a new California League team landed in Ventura, and they opted to roll the whole county in the place name. The Gulls were a Blue Jays farm club in that one season of existence before they flew away to San Bernardino.

 

 

Directional place names

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a team will decide to not take their city name, not take their state’s name, or not take a specific regional nickname such as a county. Instead, they claim an undefined chunk of the state that they play in.

Central Oregon Phillies. After the 1978 season, the Bend Timber Hawks moved south to Medford, Oregon. To take their place, the Philadelphia Phillies set up shop in Bend with a new affiliate. (Within the NWL, the franchise replaced the one-year wonder Boise Buckskins, who filed for bankruptcy.) The new COTOB club took on the Central Oregon place name, claiming a nebulous chunk of the state’s interior as their territory. It only lasted two seasons, though, and by 1981, they were simply called the Bend Phillies.

Southern Oregon. For reasons unknown, the Medford Athletics changed their name to the Southern Oregon Athletics in 1988. If pressed to guess, I’d say it was probably an effort to draw more fans by identifying with a broader region. Another effort to stir interest came in 1996, when the Medford club became the Southern Oregon Timberjacks. That didn’t work too well either, and after the ’99 season, the franchise was moved to Vancouver.

South Georgia Waves. This is a pretty weird one. After the Wilmington (NC) Waves crashed and burned after only one season (2001), the franchise was moved to Albany, Georgia. They took on the South Georgia designator, possibly because they knew the Albany location was temporary. In 2003, they moved to Columbus, Georgia, but kept the same name and brand elements, even though Columbus is only southern Georgia in a general south-of-Atlanta-metro sort of way. It was only temporary anyway, as they rebranded into the Columbus Catfish in 2004.

West Michigan Whitecaps.  Considering how large and sprawling the Midwest League is these days, it’s easy to forget that as recently as the early nineties, all the teams were tightly clustered in the region now occupied by the league’s Western Division. One of the early adventures eastward came when the Madison Muskies were moved to the Grand Rapids, Michigan area after the the 1993 season. The new team opted to claim the western half of the state, making it a little awkward one year later when another team (the Michigan Battle Cats) set up shop in Battle Creek–decidedly within the western half of the state. The Whitecaps’ identity remains unchanged to this day, and they now share the Great Lakes State with two other MWL clubs.

West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. When the Double-A Memphis Chicks were displaced by the Triple-A Redbirds, the franchise moved to Jackson, Tennessee. They decided to go with West Tennessee, which is a legitimately defined region (one of Tennessee’s three “Grand Divisions“) rather than just a vague directional descriptor. In 2011, the Diamond Jaxx changed their name to the Jackson Generals, not to be confused with the Jackson (MS) Generals, a different Double-A team that coexisted in the minors with West Tennessee for two seasons.

Even more rare are double-direction place names, where only a corner/quadrant of the state is claimed.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals. In 2008, the Texas League’s Wichita Wranglers packed up their saddles and moved to Springdale, Arkansas, in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. With the Arkansas Travelers already holding down the whole-state place name, they opted to claim only a corner of the Natural State. Northwest Arkansas has been a Double-A staple ever since.

Southwest Michigan Devil Rays. Midwest League teams in Battle Creek, Michigan always had a hard time sustaining fan interest, and they tried a few different branding tacks. The whole-state Michigan Battle Cats are now an iconic nineties identity, but at the time, they felt compelled to become the COTOB Battle Creek Yankees. After a short time in the early aughts, New York left town and that identity was no longer an option. When Tampa Bay came calling, they switched to a place name that claimed an area of land south of the Grand Rapids area (West Michigan Whitecaps) and east of central Michigan, where the Lansing Lugnuts are secured. The Southwest Michigan Devil Rays were only around for two seasons before moving to Midland and going Loony.

 

 

Valleys

Sometimes a region goes by a name inspired by a valley, whether a river valley or otherwise. This offers the nice opportunity for a team to pull in the regional identity while still showing a little poetic flair. 

Central Valley Rockies. The Visalia Oaks started an affiliation with the brand new MLB team in Colorado in 1993, and they went with a full makeover. They expanded their place name to include California’s Central Valley, the rich agricultural region nestled between the Sierra Nevada and Coast mountain ranges.

Hudson Valley Renegades. This NY-Penn League team booted up in 1994, playing in Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, New York, on the east bank of the Hudson River.

Lehigh Valley IronPigs. When Triple-A came to steel-producing cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton, the owners could’ve gone with a city cluster place name. Instead, they opted to go with the regional reference to the Lehigh River, nestled in the Appalachians.

Magic Valley Cowboys. Twin Falls, Idaho is the largest city within the whimsically-named Magic Valley. In 1952, the Pioneer League’s Twin Falls Cowboys (who were incidentally once an affiliate of PCL’s Seattle Rainiers) changed their place name to include the entire enchanted region.

Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The Scrappers, hailing from Niles, Ohio, joined the NY-Penn in 1999. Niles is situated along the Mahoning River, not far from Youngstown.

Rogue Valley Dodgers. When a city with a boring name is situated near a river valley with a cool name, you kinda gotta go with the regional place name. When the Medford Giants of Medford, Oregon switched to being a Dodger affiliate, they spent the 1969 season as the Rogue Valley Dodgers.  This would prove to be only a one-year wonder identity, and by ’70, they had reverted to being merely the Medford Dodgers.

Treasure Valley Cubs. Caldwell, Idaho is situated in the Treasure Valley, a regional nickname straight out of the tourist bureau that encompasses a big chunk of the Gem State, as well as a bit of eastern Oregon. When the Pioneer League came to Caldwell in 1964, they went with the Treasure. After a few seasons, they narrowed their focus and became the Caldwell Cubs.

 

 

Natural feature

Sometimes teams will hitch their place name to a river or a mountain or some other natural feature in their area. This can be a modest that is only locally relevant or a large feature that encompasses a huge geographic region. 

Blue Mountain Bears. The full story of the Northwest League team that played in Walla Walla, Washington in 1983 remains something of an unsolved mystery, but at this point, I think there is strong enough evidence to suggest that the full name of the team was the Blue Mountain Bears, with Blue Mountain as the place name. This place name is a reference to the Blue Mountains, just east of Walla Walla. The Blue Mountain Bears were a very weird one-year wonder, and by ’84, the team had moved to Everett, Washington.

Cape Fear Crocs. Cape Fear is the name of the North Carolina promontory that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, and the surrounding area is often called the Cape Fear region. Cape Fear also the name of a river that flows from central North Carolina to the coast, passing by the city of Fayetteville. Cape Fear is also the name of a popular 1991 thriller starring Robert DeNiro. When the South Atlantic League’s Fayetteville Generals refreshed their brand in 1997, they opted to go with the name of the neighboring river, in the process adding Hollywood intrigue to a unique identity that could only exist in the late nineties. In 2000, they were moved north to New Jersey.

Great Lakes Loons. A new stadium was built in Midland, Michigan in 2007, and the Midwest League’s Southwest Michigan Devil Rays were moved there. Now, Michigan is the Great Lakes State, but the new Midland team took some major liberties with their place name–claiming a significant chunk of the United States as their own.

High Desert Mavericks. The city of Adelanto, California is located in the Mojave Desert, part of an undefined region called the “High Desert.” The arid, high-altitude city hosted the California League’s Mavericks from 1991 to 2016, when they were contracted from existence.

Inland Empire 66ers (of San Bernardino). When the California League’s San Bernardino Stampede reinvented themselves in 2003, they decided to expand beyond just the city to include the broader Southern California region that also features burgs like Riverside and Ontario. Inland Empire isn’t specifically a natural feature, but we’ll lump it here anyway. If nothing else, the “inland” part references the Pacific Ocean, so that’s something. At some point, the club switched over to the 66ers of San Bernardino moniker, a cheeky allusion to the former Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Peninsula.

Piedmont Boll Weevils/Phillies. The Piedmont is a name given to the chunk of land situated between the Appalachians and the Atlantic Coastal Plan, ranging from New Jersey to the Deep South. Kannapolis, North Carolina is sort of smack dab in the middle of the Piedmont, and when the city got a Sally League franchise in 1995, it was called the Piedmont Phillies. After a year, they came up with the iconic Boll Weevils identity.

Potomac Cannons/Nationals. The Carolina League’s Prince William Cannons took their place name from Virginia’s Prince William County, in the suburbs of the nation’s capital. For reasons unknown, they made a switch in 1999 to the Potomac Cannons, maintaining their branding elements through the transition, and thus, keeping identity continuity. The Potomac place name was a regional reference to the Potomac River Valley at large. In 2005, they became an affiliate of the new local team in DC, and kept the place name, taking the field as the Potomac Nationals.

Redwood Pioneers.

Rocky Mountain Vibes. After the 2018 season, the Pioneer League’s Helena Brewers were moved to Colorado Springs, seamlessly filling the void left with the Sky Sox moving to San Antonio. There was a lengthy name-the-team contest, but ultimately they chose a name that wasn’t even among the final options. All but one of the finalists used the Colorado Springs place name, while the other was the Rocky Mountain Oysters, a publicity stunt in which the place name and nickname are inseparable. The name they chose was sort of a mishmash of the Colorado Springs Happy Campers branding elements and the Rocky Mountain place name, sans Oysters. They plucked the Vibes nickname out of thin air, and paired it with a place name that claimed the entirety of America’s largest mountain range.

 

 

Other stuff

Here are a few other teams that don’t really fit in another category.

Delmarva Shorebirds. 

Down East Wood Ducks. When the Carolina League expanded with a new franchise in Kinston, North Carolina in 2017, they chose a surprising place name. At first, Down East seems like a directional (or even double-directional) place name, but “down” doesn’t mean south, and this is really a reference to the North Carolina coast’s colloquial nickname. At the time of the name unveiling, many objected to Kinston claiming this name despite being well inland.

Tidewater Tides.

 

 

Regional nicknames

Evansville Triplets. This is a wacky name all around, as Triplets was originally (mostly) a DimDer of the Minnesota Twins, later becoming a vestigial DimDer with the Brewers and Tigers. Other reasons cited for the Triplets moniker are “triplet” sounding kind of like Triple-A and also how Evansville, Indiana is nestled into a tri-state region with Illinois and Kentucky. That’s why I mention it here–the nickname alludes to a region, somewhat similarly to how teams like the Binghamton Triplets and Raleigh-Durham Triangles alluded to city clusters.

Tri-City ValleyCats. Here we have a city cluster place name paired with a CamelCase nickname that references the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. The ValleyCats play alongside the Hudson Valley Renegades in the New York-Penn League, and I wonder if they would’ve claimed the Valley-based place name had it been available at the time of their inception.

 

 

 

 

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