Interviewing Matt Shannon, the Pleasanton native who played minor-league baseball for the Class A Lansing Lugnuts this year, reminded me of the fun and creativity that bursts through minor league baseball.
The Lugnuts are among the creatively named teams that I saw while growing up as I sometimes was able to take the South Shore train to South Bend, Ind., to watch the South Bend Cubs.
Besides the Lugnuts, other wonderful names in the Midwest League include the West Michigan Whitecaps, Fort Wayne Tin Caps, Quad Cities River Bandits and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
Even the South Bend team, when I was very young, was called the Silver Hawks before they were affiliated with the Chicago Cubs.
Some of these nicknames make more sense than others. The Whitecaps refer to tall waves on Lake Michigan.
I wondered for a few minutes what River Bandits could be before recalling Modest Mouse lead singer Isaac Brock in a commetary for the song “Sugar Boats” describe a Mississippi River history book, “Wicked River,” by saying, “It’s a bit like if ‘Game of Thrones’ was about a river.”
When I lived in Camden, N.J., in 2010, Camden had a minor league team called the River Sharks. Sharks do not live in rivers, but a shark occasionally finds itself itself in a river.
One of the truisms of business is that there is less creativity in large corporations and the smallest local businesses.
Here, this is seen as far fewer pro and high school sports teams have outsidethe box names than the minor-league ranks. Creativity in small business sometimes comes from necessity. In the middle, where minor-league teams reside, creative names and promotions foster identity and breathe life into the game.
Team nicknames are one example. Do you realize the Boston Red Sox got their name because the owner’s son liked their red socks?
Also, tell me when you finish counting the number of high-school with the Eagles, Lions and Tigers as their mascots. Someone years ago should have thought of a 100-mile radius rule on high-school mascots.
Meanwhile, minorleague teams have thoughtful nicknames that often have greater significance, nicknames with which people in the region more likely can relate.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats have a cool name and a cool logo — featuring its sharpened paws and angry eyes peering over the team name — but not nearly as cool as the simple hometown joy of seeing Shannon being promoted to the next level of the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system, wearing that jersey in hopes of a further journey to the major league. His power sinker-power slider combination is ideal in this era.
A Fangraphs.com article in July describing the trends in pitching noted that sliders are disappearing from the game and becoming more like sinkers. Meanwhile, sinkers are becoming more prevalent. Shannon’s sinker hits between 92 and 94 miles per hour, a level that’s attractive in the major league.