Salem Avalanche

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1995-2008

 

The Salem Avalanche of Salem, Virginia, played 14 seasons in the Carolina League. In that time, they served as the Class A-Advanced affiliate of two major league teams–the Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros.

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The Avalanche identity began with the 1995 season, when the former Salem Buccaneers split up with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since the Buccaneers brand was derivative (or as we say here, a DimDer) of the Pirates’ identity, it was only natural that the team choose something new. As it happens, the decision-makers in Salem at the time seemed to have had a DimDer leaning, because when they linked up with the fledgling Colorado Rockies, they took on an identity that was derived from their new parent club. Though I can’t definitively confirm that this was a direct reference, the evidence is strong: 1. they used the Rockies’ team colors/general look, 2. there are no avalanches to speak of in Salem, Virginia, and 3. the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche also debuted in 1995.

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Indeed, the Avalanche brand was very similar to the Rockies. They used black, purple, and silver for base colors, and had pinstriped uniform sets. Their primary logo featured the letter A as a snow-capped peak, with the other letters in Avalanche cascading diagonally downward. Above that was the word Salem with the tail of the S creatively swooped around and dematerializing into a barrage of baseballs rolling down the mountain. The primary logo was typically used as the cap logo, though they also had another alternate cap logo. Images of this logo are rare and tough to discern, but it appeared to be a large lower-case letter a, stylized in some manner. The years with the Rockies did not produce many notable alumni, with Matt Holliday being far and away the biggest major league success. Others include Juan Uribe, Chone Figgins, and Jamey Wright.

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The rare “Vestigial DimDer.” From my 2003 MiLB cap poster.

After the 2002 season, the Single-A level was standardized, and each team would have one Class A-Advanced (“high-A”) and one Class A (“low-A”) team. Most MLB teams had already fallen in line by that time, but there were two holdovers–the Oakland A’s with two high-A California League teams (Visalia and Modesto) and the Houston Astros with two low-A teams–Lexington and Michigan. Oakland chose Modesto, and the newly available Visalia Oaks inked a PDC with the Rockies, who dropped the Avalanche in the process. Meanwhile, the Astros, who were now compelled to get themselves a high-A affiliate, landed in Salem. Surprisingly, the Avalanche did not change their name to accommodate their new parent club. As such, they became a very rare bird in minor league baseball–what I like to call a Vestigial DimDer. At first, the only notable change to the Avalanche’s brand was that the color purple was switched out with the brick red that was used by the Astros in those days.

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Eventually, they added some new marks, including a simplified version of the A-mountain for cap logo and what was apparently a yeti logo on some rarely-seen batting practice caps. I hope to find better images and definitive confirmation of the yeti logo at some point in the future. Ironically, the new A-mountain bore more resemblance to the logo of the NHL Avalanche than the old one, despite Colorado being a distant memory. The Houston era was good to the Avalanche, and future big leagues standouts like Hunter Pence, Ben Zobrist, and Wandy Rodriguez took the field at Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium.

It all soon vanished in a puff of snow, though. After the Cincinnati Reds set up their High-A affiliate in their spring training facility in Sarasota, Florida, the Boston Red Sox (who had previously had the Sarasota Red Sox) were looking for a new affiliate at that level. After the 2007 season, Boston’s ownership group bought the Salem franchise. The Salem Red Sox play in the Carolina League to this day, and the Avalanche were rolled away and buried in the annals of minor league history.

 

 

Ephemera

 

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The mysterious yeti

 

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