When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the second installment in a series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique, weird,
When it comes to size, scope and longevity, few, if any, sporting bodies can rival Minor League Baseball. With 160 teams in nearly as many markets, there are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore. This marks the second installment in a series dedicated to such explorations, providing one unique, weird, poignant or otherwise memorable fact about each team or city in each of Minor League Baseball’s 14 admission-charging leagues. Remember — it’s about the journey, not the destination. To share your own favorite team or city facts, please reach out via email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@bensbiz). Previous installment: International League
In last week’s column, we established that the International League is no longer international. Similarly, the Pacific Coast League is no longer defined by the Pacific Coast. This venerable circuit was founded in 1903 and grew to become a de facto third “Major League” before Major League Baseball arrived on the West Coast. These days, it’s a sprawling Triple-A entity with 16 teams spread out over 11 states and three time zones.
Did you know? There are now more PCL teams in Texas (three) than there are in California (two). There’s plenty more where that came from. Let’s get to the facts.
You probably know the Isotopes’ team name was inspired, in part, by an episode of The Simpsons in which the Springfield Isotopes threaten to move to Albuquerque (and Homer goes on a hunger strike to try and save them). You also may know that statues of Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa can be found on the concourse of Isotopes Park. (Where’s Maggie?) But you probably did not know that these statues were purchased by Isotopes general manager John Traub at a Los Angeles vintage store (Nick Metropolis Collectible Furniture), driven to Albuquerque in a rental SUV and refurbished at a local auto body shop. Homer, originally holding a remote, now clutches a game ticket.
El Paso Chihuahuas
Morgan Burkhart played professionally for 12 seasons, including parts of three in the Majors, before moving on to a coaching career. His younger brother, Lance, also took the field as a pro for 15 seasons before transitioning to the coaching ranks. Despite their lifelong dedication to the game of baseball, the Burkhart brothers were never on the same team at the same time, amateur or professionally, until 2019. It was then that 47-year-old Morgan suited up as El Paso’s hitting coach. Lance, 44, meanwhile, served as the Chihuahuas’ fielding coach.
In 2015, the Fresno Grizzlies became the first Minor League team to adopt a regionally specific food-based identity. That identity was, of course, the Tacos. In 2017, the team took things a step further by purchasing the taco emoji via a $5,000 donation to the Unicode Consortium. At a news conference announcing this momentous occasion, general manager Derek Franks said the taco emoji was a gift to the people of Fresno. He then offered to sell the emoji to Taco Bell — or any other interested buyer — for one million dollars. Thus far there have been no takers.
BREAKING: We are the official owners of the taco emoji. We did it for you, Fresno, because it belongs here. ????????????????????????????????
— Taco Truck Throwdown (@FresnoTacos) January 17, 2017
Over the course of baseball history, no one has been involved in more transactions than the enigmatic “Player to be Named Later.” On the final day of the 2010 season, the Iowa Cubs gave this mysterious figure his due. Fans received bobbleheads of a player named Later, whose moment had finally arrived.
— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) January 7, 2016
Las Vegas Aviators
The Las Vegas Aviators offer a staggering array of concessions at their home of Las Vegas Ballpark. One of the team’s endeavors in this regard is unprecedented in the Minor League ‘sphere — burger buns branded with the ballpark name and logo. These buns are produced for the team by local Granello Bakery, who employ a “top-secret caramelization process” in order to achieve the desired result.
The branded buns of Las Vegas Ballpark. pic.twitter.com/xSkImykn2V
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 25, 2019
The most famous nachos in Minor League Baseball — perhaps the most famous in all of sports — are the Memphis Redbirds’ BBQ Nachos. The tasty dish, a collaboration with nearby barbecue establishment Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, is topped with pulled pork and dry rub seasoning. The Redbirds did not offer this iconic creation in 2015 and 2016, electing to go in-house with all of their concessions. The nachos returned to AutoZone Park in 2017 to much fanfare, with fans making ample use of the hashtag #RendezvousReturns.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) March 6, 2017
There have been 10 perfect games in Pacific Coast League history, starting with Oakland’s Cotton Pippen on May 31, 1943, and running through Colorado Springs’ Brandon Hynick on June 30, 2009. The only PCL franchise with two perfect games is the Nashville Sounds, and both of those historic events occurred in the 21st century’s first decade. This immortal Sounds duo consists of John Wasdin (against Albuquerque on April 7, 2003) and Manny Parra (against Round Rock on June 25, 2007).
Oklahoma City Dodgers
The Dodgers’ home of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark is bordered to the south by Johnny Bench Drive. Mickey Mantle Drive is located on its west side, with Joe Carter Avenue on the east. All of these streets are named for notable Oklahoma natives, and so is the street bordering the north side of the ballpark. Here one can find Flaming Lips Alley, named for Oklahoma City’s best-known troupe of psychedelic rock weirdos.
Omaha Storm Chasers
The Storm Chasers were established as the Omaha Royals in 1969. Three of the team’s four retired numbers also have been retired by the parent Kansas City Royals: George Brett (5), Dick Howser (10), Frank White (20). The outlier in Omaha’s retired number pantheon is 23, worn by Mike Jirschele. “Jirsch” played for Omaha in 1988 and 1989, then returned to manage from 1995 through 1997 and again from 2000 through 2013. He got his long-awaited big league callup prior to the 2014 season, when he was named Kansas City’s third base coach.
The Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, played their inaugural season in 2009. Twitter was just gaining prominence at the time, but the Aces were prepared. Brett McGinness, then the Aces’ marketing director, had the foresight to snag the @Aces Twitter handle. This is, and will probably always be, the shortest Twitter user name among Minor League Baseball’s 160 teams.
At the Tweetup meeting, other Reno Aces baseball fans. Looking forward to twittering about Reno’s new Triple-A ballclub!
— Reno Aces – STAY HOME (@Aces) October 22, 2008
Round Rock Express
Feeling apocalyptic? The Round Rock Express sure were during the 2017-18 offseason, when their home of Dell Diamond was transformed into a “makeshift refuge for a band of survivors” for season 4 of the AMC series Fear the Walking Dead. In the series, the ballpark formerly had been home to a team called the Armadillos. This prompted the Express to suit up as the Armadillos for one game in 2018.
— Round Rock Express (@RRExpress) May 6, 2018
Sacramento River Cats
Sacramento’s PCL team, established in 2000, is called the River Cats. Two words, both capitalized, with a space in between. In 2013, the River Cats got fed up with being referred to as the RiverCats or, worse, the Rivercats. Therefore, they declared in a press release that “Effective immediately, all members of the local and national media, River Cats corporate partners, full or part-time River Cats staff, and season, flex, and mini-plan ticket holders will be fined $1 for spelling “River Cats” incorrectly. All money collected will go to the River Cats Foundation.” It is unclear how much money was raised by this initiative, but it was at least $7.
Salt Lake Bees
The current iteration of the Salt Lake Bees debuted in the PCL in 1994, playing as the Buzz (1994-2000) and then the Stingers (2001-2005) before adopting the Bees moniker. That name, a reference to Utah’s status as the “Beehive State,” was first used by a Salt Lake-based PCL club in 1915. It is the oldest unique team name still in use in the league and among the oldest in all of Minor League Baseball.
San Antonio Missions
Last year marked the first season in which San Antonio fielded a Pacific Coast League franchise. The city previously had been the home of a long-running Texas League entity, also named the Missions. Over the Missions’ 41 consecutive seasons in the Texas League (1968-2018), they played 620 games against the Arkansas Travelers. The final record between these two clubs? 310-310.
This was also scheduled to be the final meeting between the Travs and Missions franchises with San Antonio leaving the league after this season.
The all-time series, dating to 1966, ends in a tie 310-310.
— Arkansas Travelers (@ARTravs) July 9, 2018
The Rainiers’ home of Cheney Stadium is named after Ben Cheney, a local businessman who led the drive to get the ballpark built. A concourse plaque in his honor denotes that his “dedication to baseball will long be remembered.” Indeed, it will. Ben Cheney, in statue form, can be found watching each and every game. The statue sits behind home plate, surrounded by original stadium seats, with bronzed peanut shells on the concrete beneath its feet. It’s a unique and memorable tribute.
Wichita Wind Surge
The Wind Surge relocated from New Orleans following the 2019 season, and are waiting to play their first game in Wichita. The franchise does have roots in Kansas, however, dating back well over 100 years. The Wind Surge were formerly the New Orleans Zephyrs/Baby Cakes (1993-2019), who were formerly the Denver Bears/Zephyrs (1955-92), who were formerly the Kansas City Cowboys/Blues (1900-54). Everything old is new again.