My father and I had our own little tradition every summer when I was a kid, starting when I was 11 or 12 up until I went off to college. Starting from our home in New York City, we would drive to a cabin just north of Portland, Maine. Instead of making the trip in one day, we would drive through New England and make stops along the way to take in local minor league baseball teams.
It was on these trips I got to watch teams like the Pawtucket Red Sox, Portland Sea Dogs, and the now-defunct New Haven Ravens and Norwich Navigators. Some of the players I watched ended up making the major leagues, where they have since become stars.
These trips don't happen anymore, but they still remain fond memories that I will carry with me forever. Watching these teams (among others) were fun not only because of my love for baseball, but because their names reached out to the local community in some way, shape or form.
For example, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs' name comes from the area's history in the steel industry.
Here are the 25 best franchise names—Iron Pigs included—in minor league baseball today.
Based in Hickory, North Carolina, the Single-A Hickory Crawdads play in the South Atlantic League and are affiliated with the Texas Rangers. Besides having an awesome logo, this team's name is great for another reason.
For the longest time, the Carolinas have been home to some of the best deep-sea and freshwater fishing in the country. Given Hickory's location in the western area of North Carolina, one can determine which fishing happens there.
The crawdad, also known as the crayfish, is a freshwater crustacean found in its greatest numbers in the southeastern United States. Thus, it's a pretty safe bet that if you're freshwater fishing in North Carolina, specifically in a shallow river or stream, you'll end up going home with some of these.
The fact the franchise is named after these critters is proof positive that team ownership has a great respect for the local fans. Hunting and fishing are a big part of western Carolina culture and by having the team named after one of the most prominent local game, Crawdads' team management gets my recognition in kicking off this list.
Most Notable Alum: Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee
Currently, this Single-A team plays in the Midwest League as an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays since 2007. Yet it has had a colorful history that began back in 2001.
The team was then known as the Wilmington Waves and played in Wilmington, North Carolina, as an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was then moved to southern Georgia a year later and became the South Georgia Waves before becoming the Columbus (Georgia) Catfish in 2004.
Finally, in 2008, the franchise moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and became the Hot Rods.
In all honesty, this is why the franchise name is awesome. Having traveled through the south many times, I've come to realize that if there's one thing that all of the locals love, it's car racing. Whether it's watching NASCAR or racing each other in souped-up cars they've put together themselves, one quick way to a southerner's heart is complimenting his car.
The case is no exception in Bowling Green, home to the National Corvette Museum as well as Beech Bend Raceway. In fact, Bowling Green is the only city in which Corvettes are manufactured, so this team name is quite fitting for the community.
Most Notable Alum: Shane Victorino
Besides having possibly the funniest-looking mascot I've ever seen, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have one of the most badass-sounding names in minor league baseball. They play in the Midwest League and have been affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers since 2009.
The team's name comes from a breed of rattlesnake that can be found in the area, specifically in forests. Given the Timber Rattlers' location in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, close to the towns of Oshkosh and Appleton, there are definitely some woods nearby.
I don't know about you, but rattlesnakes scare me pretty bad. Thus, with an intimidating name, this team makes the list.
Most Notable Alum: Alex Rodriguez
The Portland Sea Dogs are one of the youngest franchises in all of minor league baseball, having been founded in 1994. From their inception up until 2002, they were the Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins before being picked up by the Boston Red Sox.
Regarding the name, it's tough to say how it originated. Looking at the logo, the animal present is definitely some sort of dog and seal hybrid. The "sea' aspect of the name I can understand, as the team is located in Portland, Maine, and close to some of the most beautiful beaches on the East Coast.
Despite the name's origination being shrouded in mystery, the Portland Sea Dogs are not only one of the most beloved franchises in minor league baseball, but also one with one of the best names.
Most Notable Alum: Josh Beckett
Ever since its inception in 1969, the Omaha Storm Chasers have been the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. They started out as the Omaha Royals and held that name until the 1998 season when the name was changed to the Golden Spikes, only to revert back to Royals in 2002. This season, however, the name changed again.
Following the 2010 season, team management decided to let the fans pick what the new name would be. After taking the top 24, whittling that down to nine and then having an online vote, it was announced that the team would be called the Storm Chasers.
Given how Nebraska is in the heart of the Great Plains and prone to some of the most violent dust storms and tornadoes, Storm Chasers captures the essence not only of the state, but the tenacity of native Omahans in dealing with the aforementioned storms.
Most Notable Alum: David Cone
Like their fellow Eastern Leaguers the Portland Sea Dogs, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats have only been in existence since 1994. They were initially founded as the New Haven Ravens and in their history have been affiliated with the Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals and most recently the Toronto Blue Jays.
The team moved from New Haven to Manchester, New Hampshire (referred to as Manch-Vegas by some of the locals), in 2003 and initially was called the New Hampshire Primaries after the event that kicks off the presidential election season. Fans quickly shot that idea down and as was the case with the Omaha Storm Chasers, team management decided to let the fans decide. The name Fisher Cats was decided upon shortly after.
The team name comes from a local weasel-like forest dweller called the fisher, or fisher cat in New Hampshire. Though I miss the lively colors and awesome logo of the New Haven Ravens, you have to admit Fisher Cats has something of a badass ring to it.
Most Notable Alum: Todd Helton
The Carolina Mudcats have a long history dating back to 1959, when they were the Charleston White Sox. Since 1991, they have been the Double-A team for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins and currently the Cincinnati Reds.
Like most teams on this countdown, the Mudcats' name comes from something to do with the local regional culture. The team is based in Zebulon, North Carolina (a suburb of Raleigh), and if there's one thing that area is known for, it's having some damn good catfish.
That being said, what better way to honor the local grub than have the team logo be a goofy-looking catfish?
Sadly, this is the last season for the Carolina Mudcats as they will move to a different city and state to become a team that will be featured on this list later. The Single-A Kinston Indians will move to Zebulon next season and become the Mudcats, but it simply will not be the same.
Most Notable Alum: Miguel Cabrera
Corpus Christi, Texas, is one of those cities that everyone seems to forget. It is a coastal city in southeastern Texas and home to some of the best deep sea fishing in the country. Thus, the local minor league team just happens to be called the Corpus Christi Hooks, founded in 2005.
The Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, the Hooks are another prime example of a team that reaches out to its local culture. Despite being a city of over 300,000 people, Corpus Christi carries a very outdoorsy feel with itself. Its residents love hunting and fishing, so it makes perfect sense that the team is called the Hooks.
Combine that with a cool logo, and this team makes the list.
Most Notable Alum: None
We're going to stay in South Texas for now and move on to the Hooks' biggest rivals, the San Antonio Missions. This city is home to one of the greatest national landmarks of all time: the Alamo. For those unaware, the famed building was once a Roman Catholic mission. Looking at the logo, one can tell that the mission featured there bears a great resemblance to the Alamo.
What is also incredible is that the San Antonio Missions' history with Major League Baseball also goes back nearly 80 years. The team has been affiliated with legendary squads such as the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and most recently the San Diego Padres.
With its giving a shoutout to one of the greatest moments in American history, the San Antonio Missions definitely make this countdown.
Most Notable Alum: Brooks Robinson
Based in Port Charlotte, Florida, the Charlotte Stone Crabs are a fairly new team based on name alone. Starting back in 1980, they were the Vero Beach Dodgers until being taken over by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007 and becoming the Vero Beach Devil Rays. In 2009, they moved to Port Charlotte and became the Stone Crabs.
The team is named after the local delicacy, the Florida stone crab. These creatures are relatively small in size, but their claws are gigantic and capable of crushing an oyster.
That description is pretty dead-on in terms of the Rays franchise itself: small market and not exactly taken seriously by other teams, but they pack a mean punch more often than not.
Most Notable Alum: Jeremy Hellickson
Based in the small city of Clinton, Iowa, the Clinton LumberKings (yes, that's how it's actually spelled) have a history that goes back to 1959. Over that span, they have been affiliated with a number of teams including the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and, since 2009, the Seattle Mariners.
In terms of the name, adopted in 1994, the answer is rooted in the city's commercial history. For the longest time, Clinton was home to some of the largest lumber companies in the United States including Curtis, Lamb and many others. As the readers have probably noticed up to this point, I just love a minor league team that appreciates the local history and culture.
Thus, the LumberKings make this list along with my hope that they'll change the spelling of their name.
Most Notable Alum: Neftali Feliz
Playing in the Single-A level South Atlantic League, the team first adopted the name RiverDogs in 1994 after being known as the Charleston Rainbows from 1985-1993. Why they chose that name is a mystery. Still, it's a pretty cool name.
On top of that, the RiverDogs have associated with some very storied franchises in their history including the San Diego Padres and the Kansas City Royals. Since 2005, they have been affiliated with the New York Yankees.
With a great name in a great city, the RiverDogs make the countdown.
Most Notable Alum: Roberto Alomar
The Jupiter Hammerheads are one of the youngest teams in minor league baseball, having been founded in 1998. They have never undergone a name change and have only ever been affiliated with two teams: the Montreal Expos from 1998 to 2001 and the Florida Marlins ever since then.
Based on the logo, it seems pretty obvious what team management was going for when they picked the name "Hammerheads." Jupiter is located in Palm Beach County, right on the southeastern coast of Florida and pretty close to the beach.
It's a pretty safe bet that somewhere out in that water, some hammerhead sharks are circling a boat just waiting to strike. If that's the case, those people are going to need a bigger boat.
Most Notable Alum: Milton Bradley
Many minor league baseball fans will recall the days of a team known as the Edmonton Trappers, who were active from 1981 to 2004. This team served major league squads including the Florida Marlins, Anaheim Angels and Seattle Mariners. In 2003, a group led by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan bought the team and moved it to Round Rock, Texas, in 2005.
Here is where the naming aspect gets interesting. The name Express comes from Ryan's nickname as a player, "the Ryan Express."
I don't know how to feel about this team's name. It's pretty awesome with a great logo to go with it, but at the same time presents Nolan Ryan as someone with a huge ego. Either way, no matter how you look it at, it's a name that rolls off the tongue well.
Most Notable Alum: None
The New Orleans Zephyrs' name dates back to the 1980s when the team played in Denver. Before 1985, they were known as the Denver Bears before changing their name to honor the famed passenger train, the Denver Zephyr.
Since then, they have associated with teams such as the Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets and, most recently, the Florida Marlins.
Putting the historical significance of the name aside, there's just something intimidating about the term "Zephyrs." It's shrouded in mystery and carries a bit of a dark essence to it. Throw in the old logo for good measure, and the Zephyrs make the list.
Most Notable Alum: Logan Morrison
For those of you who are fans of "The Simpsons," you probably remember that the name of Springfield's local baseball team was the Isotopes. In the 2001 episode "Hungry Hungry Homer," Homer uncovers a secret plan by the new team ownership to move the team to Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2003, team ownership adopted the name after moving the Calgary Cannons to Albuquerque.
In reality, despite there being statues of Homer and Marge Simpson at the ballpark, Isotopes is a fitting name for the team given the location. Albuquerque is home to many scientific testing facilities like Los Alamos National Lab.
Since 2009, the Isotopes have been the Triple-A affiliation of the Los Angeles Dodgers. From when they first moved to Albuquerque up until 2008, they were affiliated with the Florida Marlins.
With a fitting name associated with the city as well as one of my favorite TV shows, the Albuquerque Isotopes kick off the Top 10.
Most Notable Alum: Josh Willingham
On top of those road trips I took with my father back in the day, I also went to summer camp in the New England area. Every summer, we would drive from the camp in New Milford, Connecticut, to the nearby city of New Britain to see the local team, the New Britain Rock Cats. Since joining the Eastern League in 1996, the team has been the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
The name comes from New Britain's nickname, "The Hardware City," and it makes sense. Hardware manufacturer Stanley Black & Decker has its headquarters in New Britain. On top of that, think of the word "hardware." It brings thoughts of roughness and grittiness.
For those who have been to New Britain, it is a very blue collar city despite being located just nine miles southwest of Hartford.
Yet the Rock Cats' name also brings memories of America's love for good old fashioned rock & roll. In one game I attended, the first pitch was thrown out by Dee Snider of Twisted Sister. In another, that duty was given to Motley Crue's Vince Neil.
It appears that the name "Rock Cats" could have a double meaning but despite that, the name is awesome.
Most Notable Alum: Joe Mauer
One of the first minor league teams I ever saw was the Norwich Navigators, who at the time were the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The San Francisco Giants took over in 2003 and changed the team's name to the Connecticut Defenders in 2006. Following the 2009 season, they moved to Richmond, Virginia, and became, of all things, the Flying Squirrels.
The name was picked through a "name the team" contest, but that doesn't take away from the hilarity of the name. What's so intimidating about Flying Squirrels? They bite, but that's about it.
The Richmond Flying Squirrels make this list on the fact that their name is so unbelievably bad that it's awesome.
Most Notable Alum: Pablo Sandoval
At first hearing, the Modest Nuts sounds like the result of another "name the team" contest. In fact, it is a great homage to the Modesto, California area.
Believe it or not, Modesto is home to a great number of nut farms.
After nearly 30 years with the Oakland Athletics, the Nuts have been the Class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. They have a great fan base and a great relationship with the community.
On top of that, they have two mascots: Al the Almond and Wally the Walnut. How funny is that?
That alone is reason for this team to make the list.
Most Notable Alum: Dexter Fowler
Despite the fact that my cousin has lived near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for nearly 10 years, we have never gotten to a Myrtle Beach Pelicans game in all the times I've gone down to visit. From 1999 up until this season, they were the Single A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. This season, they are with the Texas Rangers.
If team management was looking to add some of the local culture to the team's name, they hit the nail right on the head. For those who haven't been to Myrtle Beach, walking along the boardwalk might as well be a pelican sanctuary. Seriously, those birds are EVERYWHERE.
With a shout-out to the local culture and wildlife as well as being in one of the most beautiful cities in the country, the Pelicans are a perfect fit for this list.
Most Notable Alum: Brian McCann
Based in Everett, Washington, the Everett AquaSox are the Single-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. They definitely have the craziest logo to go with a crazy name.
In all honesty, I have no idea where the name comes from. My best guess is that it's a shout-out to the nearby Puget Sound.
Either way, it's an awesome name and the perfect one to kick off the Top Five.
Most Notable Alum: Asdrubal Cabrera
This team began play in Orlando, Florida, as the Orlando Twins in 1973. In 1993, they switched affiliation from the Twins to the Chicago Cubs and then the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. Team management moved the team from Orlando to Montgomery, Alabama. The name "Biscuits" came from a "name the team" contest and as goofy as it is, it actually makes sense given the region.
Think about it. In the southern states, a staple of almost every meal, specifically breakfast, is buttermilk biscuits served with a side of sausage gravy. In a sense, this is one of the biggest honors to the local culture that a team could give.
On top of that, during games, biscuits are literally shot into the stands via air cannons.
With a name that honors southern culture as well as free biscuits at games, the Montgomery Biscuits definitely get recognition from this writer.
Most Notable Alum: Evan Longoria
For 14 years, there was a minor league team called the Ottawa Lynx. In 2007, the Lynx began a partnership with the Philadelphia Phillies and in 2008 began playing in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. Out-of-state residents might not know it, but this is easily the biggest honor to local culture out of all the minor league teams on this list whose name reaches out to the towns.
The name "Iron Pigs" comes from pig iron, which is used in the manufacturing of steel. For all of you out there who aren't familiar with the song "Allentown" by Billy Joel, both the Lehigh Valley and Allentown itself are known for their steel mills and factories.
Even cooler, the Iron Pigs, or "Piggies" as some of the locals call them, are managed by Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. He may be best known for his playing days with the Chicago Cubs, but before being traded there he was actually a top prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies. Talk about a homecoming!
Most Notable Alum: Orlando Cabrera
Remember earlier when I said that the Carolina Mudcats were relocating? This is who they're becoming. They will move to Pensacola, Florida, and become the Blue Wahoos, a result of another "name the team" contest in which the future fans participated.
The logo hasn't been released yet and the team won't play a season until next year, but this name is just flat-out awesome. I've never been to Pensacola nor do I know anybody from there. Yet to pick a name like the Blue Wahoos, Pensacolans must be a fun bunch of people.
Even if you aren't a follower of minor league baseball, you know about the Toledo Mud Hens. This team has been around for over a century and has been the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers since 1987. The name originated upon the team's founding in 1896, after the birds that lived in a swamp adjacent to the home ballpark.
Despite a hilarious name and long, storied history, the Mud Hens make this list because despite being in a relatively small city whose population tops out at around 287,000, they have a huge fan base. Fans attend games regularly to watch the team and laugh at the antics of their two mascots, Muddy and Muddonna.
On top of all that, one of the greatest athletes of all time played for the Mud Hens. This team has seen likes of Kirby Puckett and Justin Verlander, but this man is easily the most notable alum. Here he is...
Most Notable Alum: Jim Thorpe