St. Catharine’s Stompers
The St. Catharine’s Stompers of St. Catharine’s, Ontario, was a team identity that existed in the New York-Penn League for five seasons. For that half decade, the Stompers were the Class A-Short Season level affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Stompers were a product of the 1990s minor league branding revolution. Before the 1995 name change, they were simply the St. Catharine’s Blue Jays, a content COTOB team that developed players for the big city just up the road. While some minor league teams (then and now) are compelled to develop their own unique identities as a result of affiliation loss, St. Catharine’s had no such inherent mandate and apparently did it for merchandising and/or fun.
The city of St. Catharine’s is located in Ontario’s Niagara Region, which is apparently noted for its grape-growing and wine-making. The “Stompers” concept came out of the ancient tradition of crushing grapes with one’s bare feet. The team logo featured a uni-browed, baseball cap-wearing, Caucasian stomper with feet and ankles stained purple by grape juice. This character bore more than a passing resemblance to Charlie Brown. Charlie Purple (if you will) appeared on the team’s cap logo intertwined with the place name initials “STC,” and with his extended colorful foot prominently pushed forward in the foreground. Team colors–purple, hunter green, gold–met at the intersection of appropriate vineyard hues and the 90s zeitgeist. Jersey script and other wordmark/alternate logos used a spherical purple baseball-seamed grape, replete with grapevines and tendrils. Some jerseys included a Jays logo patch on one sleeve and a Canadian flag patch on the other. Now that is what minor league branding is all about.
Baseball was also played. Stompers fans were fortunate enough to have their local club share the terroir with the popular team in Toronto. Perhaps owing to parent club proximity, the Jays sent many future big-leaguers to St. C–anecdotally more than you’d expect in a five year sample for a low minors club. Four future All Stars proudly wore the Charlie Purple cap: Vernon Wells, César Izturis, Michael Young, and Felipe López. Furthermore, the Blue Jays had some of their own take rehab stints at Community Park, including Woody Williams and Chris Carpenter.
In the late Nineties, Rudy Giuliani and New York Mets’ brass were scheming to build a new ballpark in Coney Island to pair with the newly-minted Staten Island Yankees. But first, a New York-Penn League franchise was needed. St. Catharine’s, meanwhile, was keeping afloat as the last remaining Canadian team in a what used to be called the PONY (Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York) League, at a time when Canadian minor league clubs were disappearing south of the border at an alarming rate. After the 1999 season, the sale was completed and the Stompers were stomped out of existence. It would take another year before the Brooklyn ballpark was completed, so the franchise was temporarily stashed in another NYC borough. The Queens Kings were a very weird placeholder team, but they were only around for one year. The Brooklyn Cyclones play in the New York-Penn League to this day, while the St. Catharine’s Stompers died on the vine long ago.