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 third 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 third 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 installments: International League, Pacific Coast League.
Baseball's first Eastern League appeared in 1884, but that 19th-century circuit has no connection to the Eastern League of today. Today's Eastern League began life in 1923 as the New York-Pennsylvania League, which should not -- of course -- be confused with today's New York-Penn League. Today's Eastern League, a Double-A circuit, features 12 teams. The dozen squads play in two divisions, the Eastern League Eastern and the paradoxically named Eastern League Western.
Minor League Baseball can be confusing. That's all the more reason to love it. So let's get to some Eastern League facts, lest the facts get to us.
Before the RubberDucks became the RubberDucks, they were the Akron Aeros. The Akron Aeros, who went by that moniker from 1997 through 2013, were the only Double-A Eastern League team to sport "double-A" initials. The only other "double-A Double-A" team this writer can identify is the Alexandria Aces, who played in the Texas League from 1972-'75. At any rate, Akron experienced a lot of success during the Aeros era, winning four championships (2003, '05, '09, '12) over a 10-season span.
Peoples Natural Gas Field, the memorably named home of the Curve, features a memorable backdrop. The Skyliner roller coaster, located at adjacent Lakemont Park, looms just beyond right field. The Skyliner debuted at New York's Roseland Park in 1960 and was relocated to Lakemont Park in 1985. It's a veritable spring chicken when compared to Lakemont Park's Leap-the-Dips coaster, which debuted in 1902 and is considered to be the oldest roller coaster in the country.
Binghamton Rumble Ponies
Rod Serling grew up in Binghamton, and a memorial plaque in the city's downtown honors him as an "award-winning dramatist, playwright and lecturer" as well as, of course, "creator of The Twilight Zone." Over the years, Binghamton's baseball team has paid tribute to Serling with a variety of promotions. In 2017, the Rumble Ponies took the field in The Twilight Zone theme jerseys, paying homage to a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.
The longtime Baysox home of Prince George's Stadium was not ready in time for their inaugural 1993 campaign. The team instead played the entire season at the Baltimore Orioles' former home of Memorial Stadium. Prince George's Stadium still was not ready in time for the start of the 1994 season, so the Baysox played home games at the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of Maryland and the Frederick Keys' home of Harry Grove Stadium. Prince George's Stadium finally opened on June 16, 1994, giving the Baysox their fifth and final home to date. Its dimensions are the same as those at Memorial Stadium.
In 2016, the Erie SeaWolves went 62-79 and finished in fourth place in the Western Division. Or did they? The following season, on Alternative Facts Night, the SeaWolves gave away 2016 championship replica rings in celebration of their undefeated campaign. They reported that over 1.2 million fans were in attendance on this special evening, during which the SeaWolves unapologetically celebrated "facts that the team knows to be true."
Many Minor League teams maintain a franchise-specific Hall of Fame. But only one team maintains a Life-Size Bobblehead Hall of Fame. That team -- of course is the Senators. Vlad Guerrero was the first player inducted in 2016. Since then, Cliff Floyd, Bryce Harper, Matt Stairs, Brandon Phillips, Stephen Strasburg and Jamey Carroll have been similarly honored.
Hartford Yard Goats
The 2016 arrival of the Yard Goats marked the return of Eastern League baseball to Hartford after a 54-year absence. The city was a charter member of the Eastern League, fielding a team from 1938 through 1952 in the form of the Bees, Laurels and Chiefs. 1938 wasn't the first year that Hartford became a circuit's charter member, however. The Hartford Dark Blues of 1876 were one of the original eight teams in the National League. The Dark Blues went 47-21, finishing second in the league behind the Chicago White Stockings.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
These days, Minor League teams court controversy when they rebrand. But the early years of the 21st century were a different, far more skittish time. On Nov. 6, 2003, it was announced that Manchester's new Eastern League team (formerly the New Haven Ravens) would be renamed the New Hampshire Primaries. This, of course, was a reference to New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary election voting status. After an uproar, the team reneged on the Primaries moniker and held a "Name the Team" contest. In a popular vote, the Fisher Cats triumphed over the Manchester Millers, the Granite State Mountain Men, the New Hampshire Granite, and coming in last, the New Hampshire Primaries.
Portland Sea Dogs
Portland's Eastern League team debuted in 1994, and in that time, it's always had the same name and logo. The logo was courtesy of cartoonist Gary Gilchrist, perhaps best known for his 22-year-run as the author-illustrator of the comic strip Nancy. Prior to that inaugural 1994 Sea Dogs season, Gilchrist was approached by team president Charlie Eshbach and a collaboration began. "Gilchrist did a real nice drawing of a puffin," Eshbach told News Center Maine in 2017. "The Portland Puffins. The more we thought about it. ...It didn't have that pizzazz." That puffin morphed into the Sea Dog still in use today. Gilchrist went on to create logos for two defunct Eastern League teams, the Norwich Navigators and the New Britain Rock Cats.
Reading Fightin Phils
Ryan Howard hit 37 home runs for the Reading Phillies in 2004, establishing what was then a Reading franchise record. Two years later, Howard blasted 58 long balls as a member of the parent Philadelphia Phillies. Howard's total in 2006 wasn't the most Major League homers hit in a season by a Reading alumnus, however. That honor belongs to Roger Maris, who played for the 1955 Reading Indians. Six years later, Maris achieved baseball immortality by belting 61 home runs as a member of the New York Yankees.
*Richmond Flying Squirrels *
The Richmond Flying Squirrels are the only Eastern League team -- and perhaps the only team, period -- to have thrown a retirement party for a pig. The esteemed swine in question was Parker, who spent five seasons (2011-'15) as the Flying Squirrels' "Rally Pig." During this time, the team posted a home record of 206-148. Parker retired in 2016, and three years later, wishing to say a proper goodbye, the Flying Squirrels brought Parker back to the ballpark for a retirement party. Fans signed his retirement card and surely reminisced about his most memorable moment.
Trenton's Arm & Hammer Park is located on the banks of the Delaware River, which separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania. Therefore, it just may be possible to hit a home run into the next state. The first player to hit a "river shot" for the Thunder was Tony Clark, who did so during the Thunder's inaugural season of 1994. According to NJ.com's Paul Franklin, Clark's shot "went over a sidewalk and then the river bank before plopping into the water and presumably freaking out a school of unsuspecting shad."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.