The Wichita Wranglers of Wichita, Kansas, played nineteen seasons in the Texas League. During that time, they served as the Double-A affiliate of two major league teams–the San Diego Padres and Kansas City Royals. The Wranglers identity began after the 1988 season, when the former Wichita Pilots changed their identity; pivoting from the local aviation theme to a wild west aesthetic.
They took to the field in 1989 with a conservative brand. Team colors were midnight blue and red, and the team’s cap logo was a simple italicized W. They maintained their affiliation with San Diego, which had started while the team was still the Pilots, and continued it through the 1994 season. In the Padres days, a reasonable group of future big-leaguers come through Wichita, including Andy Benes, Ricky Bones, Dave Hollins, and José Valentín.
In 1995, two big changes came for the Wranglers. First off, they redesigned their entire visual aesthetic, and trotted out some of the more audacious and iconic duds of the decade. If you were a minor league team looking to freshen up your brand in 1995, your options were as wide open as a Kansan prairie. The Wranglers kept their name, but changed their team colors to purplish-blue, teal, and pinkish-red. Throw in some gold trim, and you certainly have an eye-popping ensemble. The team’s primary uniform consisted of black vests with the pinkish lettering over teal undershirts. They might as well have worn Zubaz pants. Their new team logo was actually pretty sharp and dignified–a grimacing cowboy. Perhaps his pained expression is due to being subjected to a style he wasn’t prepared to model.
The other big change to come that year was when the Wranglers were able to rope up an affiliation with the relatively local Kansas City Royals–a relationship that would continue through the rest of the Wichita’s existence. The Royals years were rich with future talent, starting with Johnny Damon donning the black vest in that first year of ’95. They struck gold a few more times over the years; with Carlos Beltrán in ’98, Zack Greinke in ’03, and Alex Gordon in ’06. These are the big-names alums, and there were many other useful MLB players to pass through, not to mention the big-name rehabbers and last-gaspers that Kansas City sent westward to get their reps.
The Wranglers updated their look once more in the mid-Aughts, changing their team colors to a stark black, red, and tan combo and doubling down on the western motif. The new primary logo was a wrangler, busy at work roping cattle. Their new cap logo was a bizarre design featuring an intense and somewhat cartoonish rendering of a cowboy’s eyes peeking out under his ten-gallon hat. The letter W forms his neckerchief. Or is it his mustache? Or his mouth? Boy howdy, I really hope it wasn’t supposed to be his mouth.
Either way, it wasn’t around long enough to matter much. After the 2007 season, the team was lassoed and dragged away to Springdale, Arkansas, where they now play as the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The state of Kansas hasn’t seen affiliated baseball since, but there are rumblings on the horizon, and a distant possibility that the Wranglers could rise again, like the morning sun across the heartland plains.