Our long national nightmare is over. I’ve gotten through the winter with halfhearted attempts at being interested in professional football and college basketball, repeated viewings of the United Breaks Guitars video on YouTube, and even interacting with my wife and children. As of today—Opening Day for Major League Baseball—baseball is back and so is the bounce in my step.
Regular readers of this site know that when it comes to sports, Shea and I are primarily fans of Major League Baseball, and write about it often. I root for the Phillies because I grew up in the Philadelphia area and still enjoy my connection through family and friends to a community that supports the local team. Shea roots for the Yankees because they have the most money and are therefore likely to win every year.
Way back in the 1990s, I lived in Richmond, Virginia, for three years between college and graduate school, mostly working part-time jobs that either paid terribly or that I hated (frequently both). One job that I actually liked (but that paid the worst of all) was as the sports editor for a short-lived weekly newspaper called The Richmond State. As sports editor, I had a press pass to cover the Richmond Braves, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the hateful Atlanta Braves. Covering the Richmond Braves primarily entailed eating a free dinner in the press box with real sports writers during the first two innings, watching the rest of the game with friends in the left field upper deck seats, and then once a week writing 200 words pulled mostly from press releases. (No wonder The Richmond State wasn’t around long.)
Another job that I had in Richmond was as a video editor for a local news station, NBC affiliate WWBT Channel 12, where I worked alongside (okay, near) now-famous CNN news hottie Campbell Brown. We would have conversations like this:
Campbell Brown: Hey, fat, red-headed video editor. I need this video edited in time for the 6:00 news.
Me: Wow. Hi, Campbell. You’re attractive. It’s Paul, actually. Will you go out with me?
Campbell Brown: No. Will you edit this tape please?
Me: How about just being seen near me in public?
Campbell Brown: No. Edit the tape.
Me: You know, you may go on to be a wildly successful news personality with your own show on a national network some day, but I’m going to write a blog on the Internet and I may not actually know what those words mean right now but we’re going to get literally DOZENS OF HITS EVERY DAY. And then you’re going to wish you were NICER TO THE LITTLE PEOPLE!
Campbell Brown: Phil, will you please edit this videotape?
Anyway, the point is, I think, that I really enjoyed being close to minor league baseball. As much as I love baseball played at its highest level (as it is in Philadelphia and the Bronx these days), I also love the local, friendly atmosphere of minor league ball. So I was a little sad when I learned recently that the hateful Atlanta Braves had relocated their Triple-A affiliate from Richmond to somewhere in Georgia.
Then I learned that Richmond was getting a new team, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. And as with any new minor league team hoping to maximize its marketing potential, they weren’t going to be called something boring like the Richmond Giants. No, they were going to be called something strange and meaningless. To that end, the team opened the naming process to a public competition, which dutifully selected a bizarre mascot that has nothing to do with Richmond—the Flying Squirrels. (When the National Association for Interpretation unveiled its new logo in 2007, one disappointed member wrote to say that the new logo should have been designed as a part of a competition and selected through a vote by the membership. Had we done that, I wonder if NAI would have ended up with something like a flying squirrel as the new identity of the organization.)
The Flying Squirrels unveiled their logo, which includes the primary version at the top of this post as well as the three alternate versions here, at a press conference late last year. A minor league baseball website had this to say about it:
The logo, designed by San Diego-based ideas company Plan B Branding, features what the team describes as a “sleek, angular flying squirrel in mid-flight.” This logo utilizes the team’s color scheme, which consists of black, “radiant red” and a previously unquantifiable hue now known as “squirrels silver.”
I don’t mind odd names for minor league teams. The minor leagues are filled with teams with names like the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Lansing Lugnuts, Savannah Sand Gnats, and NAI Interpretators. (Okay, that last one is just a softball team I’ve been trying to start, but the others are real.) Though many of these wacky names seem like thinly veiled attempts to sell gear, most of them seem to have at least some small connection to a local cultural element or natural feature.
Richmond’s new baseball team’s logo was designed by a firm on the other side of the country and the mascot has nothing to do with the city or the area. I’m not sure what a more appropriate name would have been (maybe the Tobacco Hawks or the Civil War Runners-Up—I’m still working on it), but sports teams can represent cities in many ways and Richmond’s does not.
If an interpreter had been involved in making this decision, he or she would have pointed out that the name of a sports team is an opportunity to make a thematic choice, to say something meaningful. Instead, when the Richmond Flying Squirrels take the field for the first time ever this Thursday, what the city will get is a wacky novelty that may sell a few T-shirts, but says nothing about the place.