Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is preparing to drop one of the most iconic names in baseball for a new one that promises to be a bit, well, less traditional.
So long, Yankees.
The Triple-A International League franchise, which is set to debut a new ballpark next season after spending all of 2012 on the road, announced late last week that a new team identity will be coming to town as well. They’ll remain Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, as the team hopes to draw fans from both cities. They sought fan input on potential new nicknames and received over 2,700 submissions before narrowing that list down to six. Though they are again asking the public to vote for its favorite, the team plans to make the final decision on their future moniker.
“Everyone has got their opinion and we truly appreciate everyone’s opinion,” said new Scranton/Wilkes-Barre general manager Rob Crain, who has been on the job for about a month after spending six years with Triple-A Omaha. “We’ll be able to tie this team name into the local community better than we ever in team history.”
And just how does Scranton/Wilkes-Barre plan to connect local tradition to baseball? Will they follow the Albuquerque Isotopes’ model and incorporate some pop-culture references—perhaps the Dunder Mifflins?
Not exactly, but there does appear to be a couple of winners among the six candidates listed below. (Descriptions of each name were written by the team, not this author. Fans can vote for their favorite at the team’s website.)
“The Blast combines the over-the-top fun of MiLB with the tough miners who unearth coal to fuel America's industrial revolution. It's also the sound of the Yankees of tomorrow blasting home runs in front of a packed house at PNC Field.”
• Black Diamond Bears
"Paying homage of the rich coal mining history of the SWB area combined with the ferociousness of the black bear, no one will want to mess with them on the field. The natural setting of PNC Field will be the perfect den for the Black Diamond Bears."
"Watch the Fireflies light up the night sky at PNC Field in 2013. The state insect of Pennsylvania is a sure sign of summer time in NEPA. Families will have a glowing good time at the ballpark!"
"All aboard! We’re not just blowing steam with this one. The SWB express isn’t your ordinary ride on the rails. We’ll be charting our own course as we speed our way into the minds and hearts of NEPA baseball fans. Kids can join the Lil’ Conductors Club or you can shop for your favorite team gear at the Station."
"This tough as “Quills” animal is a renegade native to Northeast Pennsylvania. The fighting, resilient spirit of the porcupine is the same spirit indicative to our area. With Pulled Porky-Pine Sandwiches, fans are sure enjoy the fun, creative nature that only Minor League Baseball can bring to the community."
• Trolley Frogs
"Known as the "Electric City," Scranton is home of America's very first electric trolley car. A trolley frog is not only a mechanical part of a trolley, it takes us into a creative world of frogs, lily pads and snapping tongues."
Fans have until Aug. 24 to cast their vote for a new name. Crain says the team will make its decision and announce it at a launch party in the fall.
“What we look for in a good team name is extension,” Crain said. “How can we name the brand? How can we name the kids club, merchandise, specialty food? How can you extend it? I think all six of these team names can do that.”
Handicapping The Field
“Blast” and “RailRiders” seem to be the best of the bunch. While contending “Blast” has a connection to the local community is a bit of a reach, it does roll nicely off the team’s long city name and it can be used in a variety of ways for logos, mascots, promotions, etc. Besides, it has worked well for Baltimore’s indoor soccer team.
“RailRiders” does have a genuine tie to the area and could appeal to fans in that regard. It also has possibilities for a logo (kids love trains), a mascot (baseball-playing conductor?) and concession areas around the ballpark (how about the Depot Bar and Grill?).
The others are either too generic (Porcupines and Fireflies should be Disney characters, not team names), too nonsensical (not even kids could imagine what a Trolley Frog is) or simply too long (the nine-syllable Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Black Diamond Bears would be tied for the longest name in the minors).
But why take my word on it? Let’s turn to an expert, who happens to fit in the demographic minor league teams try hardest to please: my 8-year-old son Griffin. If you remember, then 5-year-old Griffin correctly predicted that Richmond would choose Flying Squirrels for its new nickname back in October 2009.
After reading through the options, Griffin narrowed his choices down to “Blast” and “RailRiders” (smart kid) before settling on “Blast” as his favorite. Why?
“Because it sounds cool.”
It's just that easy.
So there you have it. Get ready to meet your Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Blast.
While local fans can be fickle when it comes to re-naming a team, they’re not always right. And the response of local Scrantonians to these six choices has not been overly positive. “Scrap ‘em all,” “Stick with Yankees,” or “Go back to Red Barons” has been common responses in print and on Twitter.
Scranton's team had been named the Red Barons for 18 years before changing to Yankees in 2007, so it is understandable why locals are reluctant to change. Yet, the sentiment is hardly unusual. As this author notes, the Lehigh Valley community was not overwhelmed when the newly relocated franchise unveiled the name Iron Pigs before the start of the 2008 season. All Lehigh Valley has done since then is top the minors in attendance the past two seasons and creatively use its nickname in its marketing campaigns (“Laugh. Cheer. Oink.”) and ballpark attractions (Coca Cola Field features the “Pig Stop Carving Station” and “Pork N Chips” concession stands).
Lehigh Valley is not alone. Double-A Richmond held its own name-the-team contest three years ago and got plenty of raised eyebrows when it settled on Flying Squirrels. Fort Wayne’s decision to rename its team TinCaps in 2009 was not met warmly, and even Crain’s former team was questioned after changing their name to Storm Chasers.
How have those teams fared under their new nicknames? Each one ranked among the top 25 minor league teams in merchandise sales last year.
“I’ve been down this road before,” Crain said of renaming a team. “With this one, if we’re going to decide not to be the Yankees, we want to do it from the beginning so the market knows we’re going to have a new team name.”
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre certainly has a lot riding on next season. And more than just the team name will have changed. The Yankees are essentially undergoing a franchise makeover, as it will begin next season under new ownership, with a new general manager while playing at a new ballpark.
But will all of these changes be enough to win back a fan base that had largely stopped coming to games in recent years (average attendance dipped 47.9 percent from the Yankees first year in Scranton in 2007 to last season) and was left without a team to root for this season while the ballpark undergoes a $43.3 million renovation?
Crain is confident they’re ready to Blast into a new era (see how good that sounds?).
“I’ve been talking to a lot of people during my month here,” he said. “It’s like the old saying, ‘You don’t know what you have until it is gone.’ People are missing baseball. They are missing what they had . . . To be able to bring baseball back in a state-of-the art facility, in a complete minor league atmosphere, is going to be just an absolute blast . . .
“It’s all about creating the right atmosphere. We’re going to put on 72 events where families can bring out children and have a good time. It’s all about affordable, family-friendly fun that minor league baseball is able to provide across the country . . . And it’s going to be different than the past. We’re going to do promotions every night. We’re all just so anxious for Opening Day. We’re excited and anxious to get going.”