Although the pandemic has changed our summer rituals, these 7 park-inspired ball teams still bring smiles to our faces and remind us of some of the traditions we miss.
It goes without saying that COVID-19 has upended every aspect of daily life, putting a damper on some of our favorite summer traditions — from visiting national parks to spending a day at the ballpark.
But that’s not all the national pastime and America’s favorite places have in common. Minor League baseball teams — whose seasons have been cancelled entirely amid the pandemic — often have colorful names rooted in local and regional history and culture. So it should come as no surprise that many of them have monikers inspired by national park sites and the places and stories they preserve.
Here are 7 we hope bring a smile to the faces of wistful fans — of parks, baseball, or both.
(Click photos to enlarge.)
The Pacific Coast League team based in Tacoma, Washington went by several names over four decades before becoming the Triple-A affiliate of MLB’s Seattle Mariners in 1995 and officially adopting its longtime nickname: The Rainiers. Visitors to Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium can, in a way, enjoy two parks at once. The 6,500-seat ballpark is just 45 miles northwest of Mount Rainier National Park, and visitors can enjoy dramatic views of the park’s namesake peak from much of the stadium.
The cradle of America’s Industrial Revolution lies 20 miles northwest of Boston on the Merrimack River, where Lowell National Historical Park preserves the history of the city’s textile mills and the people — many of them young women — who operated them. That history is also honored by the name of the Lowell Spinners, the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, who play less than a mile away in LeLacheur Park — where visitors can take in the sights of the game as well as the historic mills and smokestacks that lie just beyond the ballpark.
San Antonio Missions
The identity of San Antonio, Texas, is so closely tied to the Spanish Colonial structures that comprise San Antonio Missions National Historical Park that there really could be only one choice for the name of the city’s ball club. The identity of the San Antonio Missions, the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, is also linked to the historic buildings. The team’s logo evokes architectural elements of the original Spanish missions — as does the scoreboard in Wolff Municipal Stadium, where the Missions play their home games.
Located just 20 miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park — fittingly, on a street named Line Drive — Smokies Stadium is a scenic venue for baseball in the shadow of America’s most-visited national park. As the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, the Smokies wear their pride for the region with a logo featuring two of its natural icons: a black bear and blue mountains.
Located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal country, Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton helps to preserve the region’s rich transportation history, which includes steam locomotives and the nation’s first electric streetcars. It’s a history that local residents are proud of, and when the ball club that plays just a few miles away needed a new name in 2012, the RailRiders was a popular choice. (So, too, was the Porcupines, which is why one version of the team’s logo features the quilled rodent straddling railroad tracks.) On certain summer Sundays during a normal season, fans can even catch a trolley from downtown Scranton to the ballpark to see the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees in action.
When the Major League Baseball season ends after October each year, the action continues in the Arizona Fall League, where top prospects vie for the attention of big-league clubs. The six teams that comprise the league have names inspired by their Sonoran Desert setting — such as Scorpions, Javelinas and Desert Dogs — but none is quite as iconic as the Saguaros, based some 120 miles northwest of their namesake national park in the town of Surprise.
America’s nuclear history is rooted in New Mexico, home of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Los Alamos, the Trinity Site near White Sands National Park, and the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque. But that’s only the backdrop of the story of how the Isotopes, the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, got their name when moving from Calgary (where they were known as the Cannons) to Albuquerque in 2002. In a case of life imitating animated art, a recent episode of The Simpsons had centered on the fictional Springfield Isotopes baseball team’s possible relocation to Albuquerque. When the real-world team’s owner ran a naming contest the following year, Isotopes was the overwhelming favorite — selected, he said, because “over the past year it has become a popular name, and it does have something to do with Albuquerque.” For such a quirky but fitting name, we agree that it’s close enough.
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About the author
Todd Christopher Senior Director, Digital & Editorial Strategy
Todd guides NPCA's content strategy and leads the team that produces our website and magazine. He is also the author of The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids.