On Thursday afternoon in Norwich, Connecticut, there was a confirmed sighting of a heretofore apocryphal aquatic creature. Sea Unicorns have arisen from the briny deep.
During a public unveiling event at a local middle school, the New York-Penn League entity formerly known as the Connecticut Tigers revealed it will henceforth be known as the Norwich Sea Unicorns. This quasi-mythical maritime moniker beat out four other finalists in a "Name the Team" contest, triumphing over Golden Roses, Mill Mules, Narwhals and Salty Dogs. Though they no longer sport a Tigers moniker, the Sea Unicorns remain Detroit's Class A Short Season affiliate.
The Sea Unicorns' home of Dodd Stadium opened in 1995 and has hosted a Minor League team every season of its existence. But this marks the first time Norwich has been used as a geographical signifier since the Eastern League's Norwich Navigators changed their name to the Connecticut Defenders following the 2005 campaign. That team relocated to Richmond, Virginia, at the conclusion of the 2009 season. In tandem with this move, the NYPL's Oneonta Tigers relocated to Norwich and became the Connecticut Tigers. But with a new decade comes a new identity, featuring a snarling, tusk-bearing, tattoo-sporting, spear-toting, captain hat-wearing marine mammal.
"2019 was our 10th season as the Connecticut Tigers and the 25th of having Minor League Baseball in Norwich. Now it's time to bring new energy to the ballpark and new excitement around our team," said Sea Unicorns general manager Dave Schermerhorn. "This also coincides with our new [stadium] lease with the City of Norwich, so it's a good time to bring Norwich back into our name, to strengthen our bond and show how proud we are to be based here."
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After announcing the plan to rebrand in April, the team solicited name suggestions from fans. Schermerhorn said approximately 700 suggestions were received, and those were narrowed down to the five finalists based on two primary criteria: that the name reflect the history of Norwich as well as the family-friendly brand of entertainment that Minor League Baseball is known for. The team worked with San Diego-based logo design team Brandiose throughout the process, researching a wide variety of names before ultimately settling on Sea Unicorns.
"We took a tour of Norwich with city historian Dale Plummer, and it became clear quickly that Norwich's harbor was a massive part of its history," said Schermerhorn. "We had a good indication that that would be the setting of our story, and three of our finalists were set at the harbor -- Salty Dogs, Narwhals and Sea Unicorns. It all revolved around the legends told by these Norwich sea captains, the tall tales they brought back and the creatures they had seen along the way, either real or imagined."
"We were totally captivated by the prominent role that Norwich had in American history," added Jason Klein of Brandiose. "Being a port of call, the commerce, sugar and molasses, textiles being converted after being brought in from the West Indies. ... It ended up being about a tough-as-nails sea captain, combined with some of the lore he'd seen on his adventures."
Schermerhorn acknowledged that Sea Unicorns and another finalist, Narwhals, are "essentially the same thing." Narwhals, colloquially known as sea unicorns, are a living species of whale residing in Arctic waters. Norwich, as well as neighboring New London, were once heavily dependent on the whaling industry. Klein remarked there hadn't been any prominent whales in sports branding since the NHL's Hartford Whalers and they "loved the idea of bringing it back to Connecticut sports."
"The question was, which name resonates more? Which is more unique and more uniquely ours?" said Schermerhorn, explaining the choice of Sea Unicorns over Narwhals. "In our logo set, the main character is a narwhal. The idea is that he's an underdog, tired of being picked on."
"Everything we do is dripping not just with story, but with metaphor. And that's sometimes better understood by the locals," added Klein. "So [the Sea Unicorn] is not just fighting, he's fighting his way back into prominence, restoring Norwich's due right of prominence in American lore. Norwich was a very affluent city."
Gold, prominent in the Sea Unicorns' color scheme, is a reference to this affluence.
"Back in the day, new immigrants [to the United States] were told to go to Norwich because the streets were paved with gold," said Schermerhorn. "And the navy blue, that tells another story. We're close to Naval Submarine Base New London, which is technically in Groton. And the General Dynamic Electric Boat Company, they're on the shores of Groton and produce a good share of submarines for the Navy. That ties into one of our secondary logos, the Sea Unicorn breaching out of the water. It pays tribute, the Submarine Capital of the World."
The Sea Unicorns' unveiling also included a fashion show featuring the team's four uniforms, modeled by local police officers, fire fighters and EMS workers. These included home white and road gray as well as navy blue and gold alternates.
"All four have a rose logo on the sleeve," said Schermerhorn. "The rose is a reference to Norwich history, as it was referred to as both the Rose City and the Rose of New England. And if you look closely at the primary logo, the Sea Unicorn has a tattoo of the rose."
Now that the Sea Unicorns have breached the surface, Schermerhorn and his staff will brainstorm ways to incorporate the new identity into the overall fan experience.
"That's the next step, and there have been lots of ideas thrown around," he said. "It's exciting and I'm looking forward to people's reactions. I think that residents of Norwich and the surrounding communities will gravitate to it, as a brand that's true to the history of Norwich as well as the fun and excitement that Minor League Baseball brings."