The remarkable thing about a sophisticated and elegant team name like the Naturals is that voters in northwest Arkansas chose it (by six percent) over the second-place option, the Thunder Chickens. The Naturals’ team name is an homage to Arkansas’s state slogan, “The Natural State,” as well as the classic baseball movie The Natural. The Thunder Chickens would have been an homage to chicken purveyor Tyson Foods, which is headquartered in the team’s hometown of Springdale. So kudos to the good people of northwest Arkansas for that one.
When the Naturals, a double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, relocated to northwest Arkansas from Wichita before the 2008 season, there was a conscious decision to steer clear of some of the wackiness that’s typified the minor league baseball landscape of late.
“We wanted a nice clean look,” said the team’s general manager Justin Cole. ”We wanted something that played to our team name. Being the Naturals, we didn’t want to have some crazy, what-is-this, in-your-face logo.”
After a long, dark offseason, just being in a professional baseball stadium—even an empty one—on a sunny Thursday morning at the end of February is uplifting. But everything about a recent visit to Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of the triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks, exceeded my expectations.
Maintenance workers ready the park for the upcoming season.
The centerpiece of Oklahoma City’s hopping, rejuvenated Bricktown entertainment district, the ballpark itself is beautiful—you can see why it was voted one of the top 10 in minor league baseball last year. An hour-long tour by the team’s award-winning radio broadcaster and media guy Alex Freedman covered the depths of the stadium, from the clubhouse and dugout to the suites and media booths at the top of the stadium.
And I don’t know if Alex Freedman knows that I’m the sort of person who will show up at a game two hours early on free fridge magnet schedule day (or whatever) to make sure that I get mine, but being sent on my way at the end of the tour with an armful of RedHawks promotional giveaway items was like winning the lottery.
In 2001, the Lake Elsinore Storm, single-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, took their unremarkable storm cloud logo and made a terrific decision: They scrapped most of it. But they didn’t scrap all of it. They ditched the cloud and the breezy type and the lightning bolt and even the words “Professional Baseball Team,” but they kept one thing—the eyes—the eyes of the storm, as it were.
If brevity is the soul of narrative and a picture is worth a thousand words, then the Lake Elsinore Storm’s logo tells a powerful, soulful story. The Storm play in southern California, roughly an hour from San Diego and Los Angeles—a part of the country where it does not rain much—so the shift away from a literal storm cloud to a more figurative storm was appropriate.
“We don’t get a lot of weather other than sun and heat,” said the Storm’s director of media relations Eric Theiss. “It is warmer than most places and a little bit drier than most. When it comes to storms, people might chuckle about that.”
In March of 2001, Homer Simpson staged a nine-day hunger strike to thwart plans by Springfield Isotopes owner Howard K. Duff VIII (of Duff Beer fame) to move the local baseball team to Albuquerque, New Mexico. When the ordeal ended with a victorious Homer Simpson on the outfield grass being showered with food by grateful fans for exposing the threat, it seemed it was safe to believe that the dystopian future pictured here was never meant to be.
But just two years later, Homer’s worst nightmare came to fruition in real life when the Florida Marlins’ new triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes, debuted in New Mexico. (They’re a Dodgers affiliate now.) Even worse for Homer, it seems that the move from Springfield to Albuquerque has paid off, because according to Forbes magazine, the real-life Isotopes are the fourth-most valuable franchise in minor league baseball.
The Inland Empire 66ers, an affiliate of the LA Angels and reigning champions of the single-A California League, are located in San Bernadino, California, a town noted for its place along the iconic highway Route 66. Since their inception in 2003, the 66ers have played on their relationship with Route 66 in the most literal way possible—with a logo that looked like a highway sign.
In a minor league baseball landscape littered with Chihuahuas and RubberDucks and Flying Squirrels, among much else, the road sign did not exactly stand out, and the team felt it was time for a change.
“We really felt one-dimensional with what we could do,” said 66ers’ general manager Joe Hudson. The team reached out to the San Diego-based firm Brandiose, which has developed new identities for lots of teams in recent years. “One of the things that we brought to Brandiose was that feeling that we wanted to be able to have fun with this thing.”