While its Major League parents continue to struggle to maintain their place on the big league sports landscape, trailing at least perceptually behind the NBA and way behind the NFL, minor league baseball continues to be a solid, growing (albeit slowly in some places, but growing nonetheless) business.
There are a variety of reasons why minor league baseball is thriving, and in my feature article in this week's print edition of the Houston Press I examine several of those reasons in discussions with current executives of minor league and former Astros executive Tal Smith, an advisor to the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, a team that, coincidentally, clinched an Atlantic League postseason berth yesterday, its first ever.
One very underrated aspect of the minor league marketing "experience" is in its logos and merchandise.
There was a time a couple decades ago, when virtually the only way to get your hands on minor league gear was to actually go to the ballpark, that sporting a Toledo Mud Hens jersey or a Tidewater Tides lid was unique, a sign of some serious hardcore fandom or some equally hardcore resourcefulness.
With the advent of the Internet, however, it became easier. You just had to merely browse a team's website, handpick your gear, order some merchandise online, and have it shipped to your home. But even though the uniqueness of having a Durham Bulls T-shirt was dead and gone, people still couldn't get their hands on minor league gear fast enough.
As it turns out, funny, creative, oftentimes cartoonish mascots equate to a nice profit center.
However, even having just written roughly 3,500 words on the industry of minor league baseball, I realized I have no goddamn clue what some of these mascots even mean. And quite frankly, if you're going to wear a team's gear, you should at least know what noun it is you're repping, so in an effort to assist you, the minor league merch buyer, here are a handful of minor league mascots on whom I was clueless until I looked up what they meant: 10. SCRANTON-WILKES BARRE RAILRIDERS (Yankees AAA) "RailRider" would seem to be self explanatory, but I look it up on dictionary.com and it says it's a "a horizontal bar of wood, metal, etc, supported by vertical posts, functioning as a fence, barrier, handrail, etc." Um, ok. I like Urban Dictionary's definition better:
"Straight, 9-5 working male, living in Chicago, taking full advantage of the train's budget weekend pass and riding up to the North Shore to walk the quaint "downtown" streets while dressed to the nines in drag."
I'm gonna pass on any RailRider gear.
9. TACOMA RAINIERS (Mariners AAA) As it turns out, this logo is an homage to a Seattle minor league team from the 1940's and likely named after the people in that area of Washington (i.e. near Mount Rainier). Again, like the RailRiders, Urban Dictionary comes in with a less than flattering definition:
"A small hicktown East of Clatskanie, Oregon; south of Longview, Washington; west of St. Helens, Oregon. Usually populated with illiterate humans that love to go out drinking and mudding, occasionally at the same time. The teenage populace tends to 'chill' at the local gas station."
8. CHATTANOOGA LOOKOUTS (Dodgers AA) "Lookout" is exactly what it sounds like it is, it refers to a person whose job is to keep an eye out for the enemy. Again, we go to Urban Dictionary for a much more colorful definition:
"Someone who is instructed to keep a watchful eye for popo and intruders, while someone or a group engages in illicit activity."
I'm beginning to realize that it's much more fun to imagine these minor league teams being named after the Urban Dictionary definitions of their mascots. Which brings me to....
7. CAROLINA MUDCATS (Indians A) So do I choose to believe the Mudcats are named after a catfish indigenous to the Carolina region, OR do I choose to believe that the Mudcats are named after the Urban Dictionary definition of "mudcat":
"One fat black, ugly mumma of questionable background. Caution should be taken if approaching a suspected Mudcat as consequences can vary and result in grievous bodily harm."
Their mascot indicates the former, but I sure would love to see someone with a sense of humor sketch up a mascot for the latter.
6. FORT WAYNE TIN CAPS (Padres A) According to Wikipedia, the Tin Caps are named after Johnny Appleseed and the legend of his wearing a tin pot on his head when he was marching around doing his Johnny Appleseed things, and let's just go ahead and believe that because there's no chance in hell any marketing department would name their team after Urban Dictionary's definition of "Tin Cap." 5. AUGUSTA GREENJACKETS (Giants A) I'm just going by the logo that the GreenJacket is some sort of insect, likely an insect that would sting your ass if you pissed it off, which is the polar opposite of the wussy little prudes that Urban Dictionary defines as "green jackets":
"An annoying group of teenagers who are immature little brats who are prude and scared of any sexual references."
Also, that little golf tournament in August as well where they give a green jacket to the winner. Moving on...
4. TRI-CITY DUST DEVILS (Rockies A) Weather related mascots have had a nice run recently in basketball (see: Heat, see: Thunder), so why wouldn't you name your minor league baseball team after a small whirlwind seen in flat areas? Even better, if you choose the Urban Dictionary definition, the Dust Devils named their team after a fart on another person's head.
3. MISSOULA OSPREY (Diamondback A) By definition, an osprey is a sea hawk of some sort, but Urban Dictionary defines it as a slang term for an older lesbian that likes to hit on younger lesbians, like a lesbian version of a "cougar," which would make for some fascinating promotional nights and celebrity appearances, but not as good as the celebrity appearances for the.....
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2. LOWELL SPINNERS (Red Sox A) ....not even close (assuming it's the second definition for "spinners" on Urban Dictionary).
1. IDAHO FALLS CHUKARS (Royals Rookie League) A chukar is apparently some sort of partridge-like game bird that lives in the mountainous regions of the Western half of the United States (like Idaho!). If you choose to believe the team is named after a partridge, that's fine. I choose to believe they're named after George Costanza....
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.