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:
International League: Toledo Mud Hens [old, but still classic] & Lehigh Valley IronPigs
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, andChattanooga 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]
Florida State League: Jupiter Hammerheads & Brevard County Manatees
Carolina League: Myrtle Beach Pelicans & Frederick Keys
South Atlantic League (“Sally League”): Savannah Sand Gnats, Bowling Green Hot Rods, & Hickory Crawdads
Midwest League: Lansing Lugnuts & Fort Wayne TinCaps [apparently named after Johnny Appleseed, who's buried in town]
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.