The Visalia Oaks of Visalia, California, played a cumulative total of 30 seasons in the California League. Over that span, they served as a Single-A affiliate of several major league clubs, as well as a brief period of being independent and unaffiliated. By MLG standards, the Oaks identity existed in two, non-consecutive eras, though the franchise itself has played continuously (to this day) in Visalia since the inception of the original Oaks in 1977.
Visalia had been without a team in 1976, after the Visalia Mets went belly-up the prior year when the Cali League shrank from 8 to 6 teams. Though I am not sure if it was a relocation, or what the ownership situation was, it seems that the Oaks took the place of the original San Jose Bees for the 1977 season. They affiliated with the Minnesota Twins, and took on a similar red and blue color scheme. Their caps were dark blue and featured a stylized white V for Visalia. Polyester pullovers were white with a large cursive Oaks across the chest. Though I wouldn’t call it an “official” logo, baseball cards in this inaugural year featured a drawing of a remarkably elegant and detailed oak tree. This basic look continued well into the eighties, though the red, white, and blue were used interchangeably.
Though there weren’t any future All-Stars on the seventies squads, two would-be American League rookies-of-the-year passed through, in John Castino and Joe Charboneau. As far as I can tell, future Twins manager (and two-time World Series champion) Tom Kelly served as both coach and occasional pitcher for the Oaks in ’79 and ’80. In the early eighties, bigger names took the field, including Mark Portugal, Kent Hrbek, and Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett.
In the mid-eighties, they branched out a bit with their branding and updated their team logo to an acorn embellished with two leaves. Within the nut was a baseball that was used to form the O in the word Oaks. They wore this busy emblem on their caps through the 1989 season. Some notables to come through in this era were Jay Bell, Scott Erickson, and Chuck Knoblauch.
In 1990, they introduced yet another cap logo, this one featuring a simplified script Oaks, with a baseball-in-motion forming the O. It was a clunky look overall, with the baseball-O appearing too far away from the cluster of the other letters. The early nineties teams saw players like Pat Mahomes, Denny Neagle, and Marty Cordova wearing these garish threads. Fortunately, it didn’t last for long.
The Oaks went dormant following the 1992 season, when the franchise affiliated with the MLB expansion team in Colorado, and took on a COTOB identity. Though they still played in Visalia, the team was known as the Central Valley Rockies through the 1994 season.
In 1995, the Colorado Rockies shifted their Class A-Advanced affiliate to the Salem Avalanche, and Visalia was left in the woods. They quickly resurrected the old Oaks brand, but updated it in a truly unique way. Team colors were burgundy and forest green with gold trim, and they introduced a logo featuring a two-dimensional squirrel in baseball gear peeking through a wide letter V. The Oaks operated independently and without affiliation that first year back, and the team was composed of Japanese players and other random characters who had been drafted by a handful of major league teams. These characters included two sons of famous ballplayers: Nolan’s son Reid Ryan and Bobby Bonds Jr. In ’96, they were more of a “co-op” team, with the roster split between the Detroit Tigers and the yet-to-exist Arizona Diamondbacks.
By 1997, the Oaks were planted in stable ground with the regional Oakland Athletics. To the untrained eye, it would appear that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, with Oaks being a DimDer–a play on the home city of the A’s. As we know from the team’s history, this is not the case, and the Oak-A connection was a mere coincidence. Perhaps we can call Visalia a non-DimDer free agent. Regardless, Oakland and the Oaks stayed together for six seasons, a time period that saw Eric Chavez, Ramon Hernandez, Nick Swisher, and Barry Zito added to the Visalia alums list.
Around the turn of the millennium, the A’s were the last major league team to still have to two “high A” level teams: the Oaks and the Modesto A’s, who were also of the Cali League. After the 2002 season, it was standardized to the point where each MLB team had one affiliate each at the high and low Single-A levels. Oakland chose Modesto, and the next thing you know, the Rockies’ prospects were back in Visalia. This kicked off a period where the Oaks kind of went nuts with their affiliations. The time with Colorado only lasted for two seasons, with Juan Uribe and Ubaldo Jimenez being the biggest names in this time. Then came two years with the Devil Rays, and the window was open just enough to see Evan Longoria man the hot corner in Visalia. The Oaks then joined up with the Diamondbacks, and in two years, Gerardo Parra, Justin Upton, and the great Max Scherzer all wore the burgundy cap with the sneaky squirrel.
Speaking of caps, at some point in the later years of the team, the team introduced an alternate logo featuring an anthropomorphic acorn gritting its teeth and grimacing with a deeply pained expression. Perhaps, like so many washed-out prospects, he had fallen from the Oak tree with a painful thump. The new logo wasn’t enough to revitalize the brand, and after the 2008 season, the Oaks were chopped down. Upon the stump stood the Visalia Rawhide, who play in the California League to this day.