Scranton's New Era Begins To Take Focus




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It has been an interesting year in the minor leagues, and for no team has that been more true than the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Empire State Yankees.

As we chronicled earlier in the season, the Yankees are a team without a home this year because their home in Scranton, PNC Park,  is going through a top-to-bottom renovation. The project is more akin to new construction even though the park will have the same name and be on the same site.

The assumption was that this would be a nightmare season for the team, which is based in Rochester but using various ballparks for its "home" dates. With a season on the road, it would just be a matter of survival. That didn't prove to be the case, though, with the Yankees clinching the International League Northern Division title with about a week left in the regular season. Fittingly, the IL announced that Dave Miley won its manager of the year award on the day the team clinched.

"It is really difficult to adequately describe the job Dave Miley has done in the 2012 season," Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. "Dave has met the extraordinary challenge of leading a team playing 144 games on the road with extraordinary success. No one could be more deserving of this award."

Time For A Change

At the same time, back in Scranton the franchise was getting ready for the 2013 season, with a new general manager taking over and a name-the-team contest completing the franchise's makeover. The team said it will keep the Scranton/Wilkes-Barrre part of its name, recognizing its ties to both cities. After 2,700 fan suggestions, it created a list of six nickname finalists: Blast, Black Diamond Bears, Fireflies, Porcupines, Rail Riders and Trolley Frogs—which refers to a mechanical part of a trolley but also would allow for cartoon frog imagery. (Scranton apparently was home of America's first electric trolley car.)

"Everyone has got their opinion and we truly appreciate everyone's opinion," said new Scranton/Wilkes-Barre general manager Rob Crain, who took over in July after spending six years with Omaha (Pacific Coast). "We'll be able to tie this team name into the local community better than we ever have in team history."

The fans voted on their favorites—sorry, voting is now closed—and the team will announce the results 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."

At least judging by social media, local fans weren't head over heels about the six new choices, with some calling for a return to the old Red Barons name and others asking to keep the Yankees name. The franchise was the Red Barons for the first 18 years of its existence before changing to the Yankees in 2007, so it's understandable that people have an affection for the name.

But it's more likely that with a new administration and a new stadium, the franchise will want to start with a clean slate, and it's hard to argue with that. Crain went through a similar process in Omaha, which was known as the Royals for most of its history before switching to Storm Chasers.

"I've been down this road before," Crain said. "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."

That's a good idea in the Scranton market, where attendance had not only been on a long decline but fans had grown cynical about the franchise's future there. A $43.3 million renovation would seem to send a clear message that the team is secure, but a new name and image is a more outward signal to fans.

"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 . . . And it's going to be different than the past. We're excited and anxious to get going."

Contributing: Josh Leventhal.