Friday, August 14, 2009

The Best Team Names of the Minor Leagues

Earlier this week, my terrific girlfriend introduced me to what has to be the best team name in professional baseball. Playing in the Stedler Division of the New York-Penn League and located in Burlington, Vermont, the Short-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals are known as the Vermont Lake Monsters. Originally the Vermont Expos, the team had to change its name after the big league club's move to DC. After a contest, they settled on the Lake Monsters, named after their longtime mascot Champ, the Lake Champlain lake monster, itself named after a local Loch Ness-style superstition. Whatever the etymology, it's a fantastic name. I love the idea of going to a Lake Monsters game three nights a week.

It's the type of thing that you can only get away with in the minors and independent leagues. With only thirty big league franchises that have to serve millions of fans, the names are far from daring. Plus, with generations of fans having grown up with the one ballclub, there isn't really any room for name changes. In the minors, though, that's just not the case. Teams are sold, affiliates are changed, and owners are constantly looking for ways to excite their fan base. It's the perfect storm for creative team names and mascots.

With that in mind, I thought it'd be fun to take a look at the various minor leagues (and only the minor leagues - there are just too many independent leagues to try to weed through) and see what the most creative club names were. Clubs like the Pawtucket Red Sox or Helena Brewers, then, won't be included here, and even names like the Columbus Clippers and Portland Beavers are a little too pedestrian to make the list. I'm looking for the really unique names because, after all, that's just one of the charms of the minor leagues.

Using the list of minor leagues over at Wikipedia, I went through each of the leagues and chose the ones that seemed most interesting. Here, then, are the most creative club names in each of the affiliated minor leagues:

Pacific Coast League: Round Rock Express [nice homage to owner Nolan Ryan] & Reno Aces [one of the better dual-meaning names I came across]; special "crappy name honor" to the Albuquerque Isotopes & Las Vegas 51's

Eastern League: Connecticut Defenders [not a lot to choose from here, but it's still a pretty good name]
Southern League: [quite a few good names here] Montgomery Biscuits, Tennessee Smokies, and Chattanooga Lookouts; special note to the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx and their stadium, Pringles Park
Texas League: Northwest Arkansas Naturals [named after noth the "Natural State" and the Robert Redford film] & San Antonio Missions

California League: Lancaster JetHawks [the city is home to Edwards Air Force base] & the Visalia Rawhide; special "crappy name honor" to the Inland Empire 66ers of San Bernadino [I guess it's a Southern California thing]

Midwest League: Lansing Lugnuts & Fort Wayne TinCaps [apparently named after Johnny Appleseed, who's buried in town]


Advanced Rookie
Pioneer League: Casper Ghosts & Ogden Raptors [not too original, but I love that their mascot is a freakin' dinosaur]

There are three more minor leagues, but every team in them is named after their affiliate, like the Bristol White Sox or Bluefield Orioles: the Appalachian League (Advanced Rookie), the Gulf Coast League (Rookie), and the Arizona League (Rookie).

Besides the Lake Monsters, my favorite of these teams are probably the Lansing Lugnuts, Montgomery Biscuits, and the Jupiter Hammerheads, each fantastically unique team names (check out that cap!). The Volcanoes, Ghosts, and Sand Gnats are all pretty great names too. It's no surprise, really, that they are all in the lower-level leagues, as that's where the financial needs of a team are most apparent. They're like independent leagues in that respect.

Whatever the reasons, though, it's easy to agree that there are some fantastically creative and fun team names and mascots in the minor leagues. It makes me wish that I had more opportunities to travel around the minors and go see the different teams and their stadiums. A summer of that, seeing games from triple-A to low-A, would be a blast (imagine the collection of hats and t-shirts you could get!). Until then, though, it's nice to know that there are so many fun and unique teams around the leagues.


Rick said...

The Albuquerque Isotopes is a Simpsons reference. Maybe it's not the most original team name but in context it's not bad

lar said...

Thanks, Rick. Always nice to see new commenters.

I know it's a Simpsons reference and, as a Simpsons fan, I can appreciate why people like it. But I still don't. I guess because a) I think it's a silly name and b) it seems a little too blatant in its Simpsons-origins. Plus, knowing that it was chosen in an online poll, I can just see a bunch of Colbert-esque Simpsons geeks stuffing the ballot box.

Now, if you want to be cute and blatant in your Simpsons-ness, I think a name like the Dancin' Homers or the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant All-Stars (or, for short, the Albuquerque SNPPAS) works better... ok, maybe not, but at least they're unapologetic...

Erik said...

I've always been semi-fond of Batavia Muckdogs. What exactly is a Muckdog, anyway?

Steve said...

Fantastic post, some incredible names there. Some wouldn't sound out of place in Philip Roth's Great American Novel.

I always thought the Wisconsin Badgers football team had a great name...

Jared said...

Cool. I've always loved the Brevard County Manatees name. The Manatees. I mean, how cool is that? I like it so much my buddy bought a BC hat, but not for me. He kept it for himself. Now I'm sad.

lar said...

Those are all great names. It always seems so random when they choose names like Manatees or Muckdogs (Muckdogs?!) but, the funny thing is, they're usually chosen by some sort of fan vote. It's just a good look at small-town America, I guess - how those communities view what's important to them and such.

Ron Rollins said...

Inland Empire 66ers of San Bernadino

That's a reference to Route 66, which runs through San Bernadino into LA.

It used to be famous, once in the long ago.

AM said...

As a semi-pro team, the relevance to the original post is questionable, but in order to ensure the toilet humor quota is met, let us not forget the Liberal Beejays.

lar said...


You're absolutely right about the Route 66 thing. I have nothing against that part of the name. It's as good as the 49ers, in my mind. What I don't like is the "Inland Empire _____ of San Bernadino" part that bothers me. That's like the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" to the 10th power.

And, AM, wow. That's quite the team name. Cracked me up. I wonder how everyone in good ol' Kansas reacted to that name. Thanks for the comment.

Ron Rollins said...

Lar, I didn't realize that was the used name. I thought it was just the Inland Empire 66ers, which I could deal with. San Bernandino used Inland Empire as a marketing and recongition tool, but to used both Inland Empire and San Bernadino is too much.

I'll have to agree with you on that one.

Jorge Says No! said...

Vermont Lake Monsters: MONSTER SIZED FAMILY FUN!