Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is part of professional baseball’s hierarchy of leagues in the Americas. Although players compete at a level below Major League Baseball (MLB), MiLB teams prepare players for the majors, and, as an added bonus, bring baseball to smaller cities and areas that don’t have MLB teams.
As of the 2021 season, there are over 100 teams in MiLB across the United States and Canada. In addition to MLB-affiliates, there are independently operated clubs, too. But, no matter their structure, many of these teams have one major thing in common: weird team names.
Often, minor league teams rely on local “in-jokes” and references to an area’s history in order to connect with fans and build a community feel. Plus, a strange name — what is a “yard goat,” for example? — can go a long way when it comes to marketing and sales efforts.
Whether honoring a city’s spirit and history or capitalizing on a cheesy, fan-sourced moniker, most of these team names are at least just a little bit strange, though a few really stand out from the pack. With this in mind, we’ve rounded up 12 of our favorite weird minor league baseball team names. So, let’s play ball!
12. Columbia Fireflies
The Columbia Fireflies are the newest member of the Kansas City Royals’ family. This Low-A affiliate promises fun for all; their motto is even “Let’s Glow!” Honestly, we can’t help but love a team that really leans into its uniqueness.
Based in Columbia, South Carolina, the Fireflies were previously affiliated with the New York Mets, but kicked off the 2021 season under the Royals. After receiving over 2,000 submissions, the team landed on the Fireflies, a moniker inspired by the Photinus frontalis (you know, fireflies) that light up the nearby Congaree National Park. To honor their insect namesake, parts of the team’s uniforms actually glow in the dark.
11. Binghamton Rumble Ponies
This Double-A New York Mets affiliate also found its name through a name-the-team fan contests. Some of the finalists included the Binghamton Bullheads, which referenced the abundance of catfish in the Susquehanna River; Gobblers, due to the area’s hunting culture and number of wild turkeys; and the Rocking Horses or Rumble Ponies, both of which honor the city’s “Carousel Capital of the World” nickname.
After landing on the Rumble Ponies, the team officially rebranded in 2016. Just three years later, MLB announced plans to sever ties with over 40 teams, but the Mets announced that they’d continue their relationship with Binghamton, which saved the Rumble Ponies from being permanently stabled.
10. Richmond Flying Squirrels
Another product of a fan-inspired, name-the-team contest, the Richmond Flying Squirrels are a Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. After receiving upwards of 6,000 entries, the Virginia-based team’s front office narrowed it down to several options.
In the end, the former Connecticut Defenders, became the Flying Squirrels — but was it the right call? We’re thinking so. In their debut season, the team had the highest merchandise sales across all of Minor League Baseball. After all, who doesn’t want a ruthless, cape-wearing squirrel on their baseball cap?
9. Toledo Mud Hens
Located in Ohio, the Toledo Mud Hens have always been the Mud Hens. Well, almost always. First used back in 1902, the Mud Hens moniker went strong for 10 seasons, and was used again from 1919 to 1952. And, since 1965, this Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers has maintained the Mud Hen name.
So, why the Mud Hens? The team name came about because of a swamp that was near their home ballpark. Before the 1902 season, the Mud Hens’ first iteration, a team that played in the Interstate League, was dubbed the Swamp Angels.
8. Lehigh Valley IronPigs
For those who aren’t familiar with the area, the team’s name comes from the term “pig iron,” a main component in steel manufacturing. The Lehigh Valley region is known for steel, not pigs, but playing with the term and introducing some cleverly named swine mascots feels like a home run to us.
7. Albuquerque Isotopes
Do the Albuquerque Isotopes sound a little familiar? We’ll give you one hint: “D’OH!” That’s right, if you’ve ever watch The Simpsons, you have have seen the Springfield Isotopes take the field in a 2001 episode of the long-running series.
This Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies was also the byproduct of a naming contest — one that ended in much success. In fact, when the name was announced, the New Mexico-based Isotopes went on to sell more merch before playing a single game than the previous team (the Cannons) did over the course of an entire season.
6. Lansing Lugnuts
Lansing, Michigan has cemented its place as an industrial center for over 100 years. And it all started with the Oldsmobile and the Olds Motor Company. Since 1897, the Michigan company has produced over 14 million cars at their Lansing factory.
Although Oldsmobile production stopped in 2004, the baseball park at the Cooley Law School Stadium at the Western Michigan Campus was named after the popular car brand for some time. Another way to honor the city’s auto-centric legacy? With the Lansing Lugnuts, the High-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.
5. Akron RubberDucks
This Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland MLB team certainly honors Akron, Ohio’s history. As you can imagine, the city has a strong connection to the rubber industry — more specifically, it was the birthplace of tire and rubber companies like Goodyear, General Tire, Goodrich, and Firestone.
While the Akron RubberDucks certainly didn’t go the inanimate car par route (a la the Lugnuts), the team’s name and mascot still convey this legacy, with a side of humor. Before rebranding as the RubberDucks in 2013, the team had been the Akron Aeros for decades, but we appreciate the more direct reference to the “Rubber Capital of the World” thing. And, as the team’s owner points out, that fierce-looking duck also “represents the grit” of the area’s blue-collar market and spirit.
4. Hartford Yard Goats
Yep, you guessed it: we have another winner of a name-the-team contest on our hands. According to the team’s website, the Yard Goats was chosen in honor of Hartford’s rich railroading history. So, what’s the connection between goats and trains?
Well, according to this Double-A Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, a “yard goat” is a slang term used to describe “an engine that switches a train to get it ready for another locomotive to take over.” Honestly, we think the relocation and rebrand is a real step up from the New Britain Rock Cats, especially when you consider the team’s colorful mascot, Chompers, and the giant Dunkin’ coffee cup that looms over the ballpark.
3. The Montgomery Biscuits
The Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Montgomery Biscuits aren’t named after your favorite cookie or KFC side. As it turns out, Montgomery’s owner decided on the name after a fan-inspired, name-the-team contest.
That owner noted that the Biscuits name would allow the team to capitalize on creative marketing opportunities. For example, the team renamed its souvenir store the “Biscuit Basket,” which just sounds incredibly charming. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, the team also has unique mascots — Big Mo, a biscuit-loving creature, and Monty, an anthropomorphized buttermilk biscuit.
2. Normal CornBelters
When the organization was going through possible name changes, they played with the idea of going by the name Nuts. Then, a name-the-team contest was axed because a certain late-night television show got wind of the contest and wanted to call them the Normal Coal Bears — similar to Colbert.
Instead, this Prospect League team ended up going with Normal CornBelters, which is in reference to the Illinois town’s location in the heart of the corn belt. In addition to honoring the area’s agriculture and doing something unique, the CornBelters landed on the name because, “Independent baseball teams don’t have access to some of the resources that affiliated teams benefit from, so a strong brand is essential if you want people to take notice” (via SportsLogos.net). Without a doubt, there’s nothing “normal” about the name.
1. Rocket City Trash Pandas
“Yes, this is our real team name,” states the Twitter bio of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The Double-A Los Angeles Angels affiliate clearly fields a lot of name-related questions — and we love them for just going with something so weird yet so endearing and fun.
When the Southern League’s Mobile BayBears relocated to Madison, Alabama, a few years ago, it was time to rebrand. So, why Trash Pandas? No, the team isn’t just trying to cash in on the Rocket Raccoon fandom. In fact, the name is a reference to the area’s association with the space industry. “Our community is known for engineering,” the team noted upon the rebranding announcement, “and no creature in our galaxy is as smart, creative, determined and ingenious a problem solver — dedicated to the challenge at hand — as our local raccoons!”
In December 2019, the Trash Pandas had sold over $2 million worth of merch in just over 13 months. Now that’s what we call hitting it out of the park.