A large part of the charm and allure of baseball rests in how we are able to form a relationship with the teams we follow. This could be a Minor League Baseball team, an international team, or a Major League Baseball team. Whether it’s right or wrong we decide that a certain team, or teams if we follow multiple leagues, is ours and we invest ourselves in that team’s identity. In MLB it’s not hard to identify with a person’s team of choice, there’s so much history already at play. This is also the case in most other leagues throughout the world. There are though, some teams in some leagues that are more a product of a professional relationship than a personal one.
Before I get into what I mean by that, I give you a few of the teams who will be playing in the International League come 2019. Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Charlotte Knights, Louisville Bats, Toledo Mud Hens, and the Syracuse Mets are but a few of the teams the IL will field in the league’s 133rd season. Some of these teams have history, some have ties to their local culture, and others simply went for the fantastic with their name, mascot, logo, etc. One of those teams is not like the others though. It shares neither history or local culture, and there is nothing fantastic about the name this franchise has chosen.
The Syracuse Mets are a baseball team, that much can’t be contested. They were formerly known as the Syracuse Chiefs (I have a longstanding policy of not writing out team names I consider to be racist or bigoted. But, for this article, I’ll be suspending that policy as it’s important that I provide the actual franchise names). For the obvious reason of racism, it’s a good thing the Chiefs name is no more. However, that’s not why the name went away, and that doesn’t sit well with me for a few different reasons.
The reason that matters the most, that I should be writing about here is that no one involved with the Syracuse franchise had any issue with the Chiefs name. They didn’t change the franchise’s name because it was the right thing to do when faced with an indigenous people tired of being disrespected by racist team names and racist mascots. No, the executives with Syracuse changed their name to ensure that they would please their new parent team and form a long-lasting relationship. MLB and MiLB really have no interest whatsoever in confronting their own racism, that’s why it was straight dollars and cents that brought about this name change instead of anyone doing the right thing.
As much as it matters to me, I’m not here to write about the racism issue. Rather, I’m here to write about local culture and why that matters so dearly in the minors. The relationship that is formed between fan and team is perhaps never more important than in the minor leagues. Teams in the IL are selling baseball, but they are selling the baseball experience. They are selling a team that ties into the local culture and history. Wacky games, silly actions by the mascot, a logo that is either fantastical or calls back to the community the team resides in; those are the bread and butter of MiLB teams.
Yet, a team like the Syracuse Mets exist, and they are not alone. Most MLB teams have affiliates that have taken on their parent team’s nickname. In the case of the Chicago Cubs they have two MiLB teams with the Cubs moniker as their nickname; South Bend and Iowa. Iowa was previously the Oaks while South Bend had been known as the Silver Hawks. Both are names that are unique, that can be used for a fan to form a relationship with the team. It seems, to me at least, that a franchise should rather have that fan relationship be about the actual franchise and not the MLB team I am affiliated with.
I’m realistic, I know that naming MiLB teams after their MLB affiliate team will continue to be a thing. As the years go on I’m sure we’ll have fewer teams like the Buffalo Bisons and more teams like the Oklahoma City Dodgers. It’s sad to say, but brand recognition has become more important than originality, identity, and individuality. Baseball is a business, a big business, and if there is ever a day where the Buffalo franchise believes they can sell more merchandise and secure an affiliation that lasts a very long time by becoming the Buffalo Blue Jays, then they will become the Buffalo Blue Jays.
I’m still gonna go to an Iowa Cubs game and enjoy myself, but that’s because it’s a baseball game. We shouldn’t let MiLB teams skate by on the fact that baseball fans are going to enjoy themselves at a baseball game. Keep the flare and pride in the local community present in the MiLB universe as well. Affiliated namesakes have never been and never will be cute. Give me the Syracuse Orange Goons and keep your Mets in New York, where they belong.
Lead photo courtesy of Rick Moriarty – syracuse.com