Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre applied the first strokes of a franchise makeover last night by replacing its Yankees nickname of the past six seasons with a new moniker that, while short on the tradition that the team’s previous name carried, offers plenty of creativity.
The third team name in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s franchise history is the RailRiders. It is the one team management is counting on to help erase the struggles of the past few seasons and kick off a new era at a newly renovated ballpark scheduled to debut on Opening Day next season.
The name intends to serve as a tribute to Scranton’s rail history, in particular the Laurel Line that once connected Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, and was the winner of a name-the-team contest that also included underwhelming finalists like Blast, Black Diamond Bears, Fireflies, Porcupines and Trolley Frogs. (For the record, RailRiders also was the favorite of Baseball America readers who participated in a poll on our Facebook page.)
RailRiders management kept the new name a secret since voting concluded in late August and unveiled it last night at a coming-out party in which it also displayed their new logo, designed by the sports marketing firm Brandiose, depicting a grimacing Porcupine riding atop the name RailRiders in the shape of a locomotive. The porcupine will be the team’s mascot after it finished on the most number of ballots in the name-the-team contest. [...] Continue Reading »
It may not have earned a projection on cable news or made a blip on John King’s interactive map, but ballpark ballot measures certainly got the vote out in Wilmington, N.C., and El Paso, Texas.
Wilmington residents overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to pay for a $37 million ballpark project through an increase in property taxes, with about 70 percent of voters opposing the referendum. The vote grinds to a halt the Atlanta Braves’ plan to purchase the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina) and move the franchise to Wilmington as part of a partnership with Mandalay Baseball Properties, which would have operated the franchise.
The vote brings to an end the nearly year-long Mandalay-Braves joint effort to bring affiliated baseball to Wilmington. The group first announced its plans in February, and made it clear then that public funding would be required to complete the deal. Ultimately, that ended up being the road block that killed it.
"We're very disappointed with how it went, both Mandalay and the Atlanta Braves," Mandalay Baseball CEO Art Matin said of the vote. "We thought it was a terrific opportunity for people in the city of Wilmington because we have seen it work so many times throughout minor league baseball. We think it is a lost opportunity."
The Braves and Mandalay have no plans to further pursue the project and any efforts for a new deal would have to come from within the city, Matin said. "There is not a Plan B and we're not trying to draw one up. We're not anticipating trying to resurrect the effort. This was the effort . . .
"We have stated why this (plan) makes sense and people in Wilmington have decided not to support it. We're not going any place. If someone comes up with a great idea, then we'll listen. But there is no fallback plan. There is no Plan B."
The Reading Phillies have little reason to change.
After all, this is the franchise that topped the Eastern League in average attendance last season for the sixth time in the past seven years. This is one of the best-run operations in the business, which has transformed a 61-year-old stadium into one of the premier venues in the minors through a series of renovations—including a $10 million facelift before last season. And this team, beloved in its community, puts on one of the best shows in the minors with a cast of characters that includes the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor and the Mascot Band.
Yet, ready or not, change is coming to Reading. For the team announced over the weekend that, after 46 years as the Phillies, it is changing its name as part of a major rebranding effort.
"We've come to realize we want our fans to be able to have their own brand," Reading general manager Scott Hunsicker told the Reading Eagle. “We want to be able to celebrate our association with the Philadelphia Phillies, yet at the same time give our fans their own name so that they can wave their flag even more proudly as fans of the Reading franchise."
The team will unveil the new name, logo and uniforms on Nov. 17. They’re partnering with the sports marketing firm Brandiose (formerly Plan B Branding), which they have worked with on previous projects including new logos and jersey prior to the 2008 season. Brandiose is a creative outfit that was behind the name and logos for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Richmond Flying Squirrels—a pair of the more unique monikers in the competitive minor league landscape, but also two of the more successful franchises in the sport. Klein indicated that Reading’s new name won’t be quite as outlandish as those two, but rather will play off of Reading’s history and tradition.
Charlie Blaney has often said that Bakersfield could be the best market in the California League, if only it had a new ballpark. The former Dodgers farm director and third-year Cal League president will now get a chance to prove his point.
The Blaze are building a new ballpark.
The privately financed venue is expected to cost $20 million and is scheduled to open during the 2014 season as part of a larger mixed-use community to include retail, entertainment and residential. The ballpark will include the typical bells and whistles of modern stadiums—including luxury suites, group-seating areas, a playground and special-event space that can be used year-round—and has been in the works since local businessmen Gene Voiland and Chad Hathaway purchased the club from the Elmore Sports Group in early March. The Blaze plan on breaking ground early next year. They'll spend 2013 at Sam Lynn and could open 2014 there if the new venue is not completed in time for Opening Day.
“If you and I were starting a California League today, Bakersfield would be one of the first places we would put a team,” Blaney said. “It’s centrally located in the state. It has its own media market. It has a population of 450,000 people within an hour’s drive . . . This is why the league been so patient with trying to keep affiliated baseball there.”
Specifically, it is why Minor League Baseball has allowed the Blaze to stay at Sam Lynn Ballpark, the team’s 71-year-old home that no longer meets facility standards and is considered among the worst stadiums in the minors. Bakersfield averaged just 637 fans in 2012—which was actually an 11 percent increase from the previous season and was the lowest among full-season teams. The new owners spruced up Sam Lynn before this season with fresh paint, an expanded home clubhouse and a renovated playing field. But Voiland and Hathaway vowed that it would not remain the team’s long-term home in its current condition.
"Things have changed from when I was a kid going to games with my dad," Blaze owner Gene Voiland said at a press conference today announcing the deal, according to the Bakersfield California. "It's family-focused entertainment."
It was just four years ago that Bakersfield appeared on the verge of losing its team. In late 2008, Cal League owners were considering a proposal from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner to send the Blaze and High Desert Mavericks to the Carolina League. Several major league teams in the East and Midwest had requested to expand the Carolina League from eight to 10 teams in order to keep their high Class A affiliates closer to home, and moving Bakersfield and High Desert would also remove the Cal League’s two worst-performing franchises. Ultimately, the deal was doomed by money—how much the Carolina League would require for an entry fee and how much Cal League owenrs wanted to be compensated—as well as a lack of two viable markets in the Carolina League.
Blaney took over the reigns of the Cal League from longtime president Joe Gagliardi two seasons later and said the league would no longer consider shifting two teams to the Carolina League. Solving the Bakersfield and High Desert issues would become his top priority. And it appears that his mission has been completed, as High Desert signed a lease extension at Mavericks Stadium with plans for a significant ballpark renovation.
“This is something that we’ve been working on the past three years,” Blaney said. “This has been a top priority for the league. It’s a great day for the California League and a great day for Bakersfield and a great day for Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball.”
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