After undergoing a substantial reorganization, Minor League Baseball is embarking upon a new era in 2021. There are now 120 teams competing in 11 newly-named leagues, comprising four levels of play (Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A). This is the first in a series of league-by-league articles, highlighting one unique fact about each team.
The Triple-A East is the largest circuit in Minor League Baseball, featuring 20 teams within three divisions operating out of 14 states. It includes all 14 members of what had been the International League, four from the Pacific Coast League, one previously independent team (the Saint Paul Saints) and one previously Double-A entity (the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp). There are innumerable nooks and crannies to explore within this sprawling entity, and this article is dedicated to doing just that. What follows is one unique, and often surprising, fact about each Triple-A East club.
Toronto Blue Jays affiliate since 2013
Over Labor Day weekend, the Bisons will play on the road against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. This is no surprise, as the Bisons are always on the road during Labor Day weekend. The Bisons’ home of Sahlen Field is also the home of National Buffalo Wing Festival, a Labor Day weekend tradition for the past two decades. Hosting a Buffalo Wing Festival is a natural fit for the City of Buffalo, but it manifested itself in a most unexpected way. The National Buffalo Wing festival website explains that the idea came from the 2001 Farrelly Brothers comedy “Osmosis Jones.” In the film, Bill Murray’s character is a compulsive eater whose goal is to attend the National Buffalo Wing Festival. This inspired Drew “Wing King” Cerza, a Buffalo native, to stage the festival in real life.
Lehigh Valley IronPigs
Philadelphia Phillies affiliate since 2008
As longtime readers of the Iron Pigs’ Pork Illustrated magazine can attest, the team has always put a premium on punning pig promos. Here’s one that all but the most fervent fans have probably forgotten: In 2010, the IronPigs honored a man named Jeff Olson, who had saved a pig’s life by giving it mouth-to-snout resuscitation. For “porksonally” going beyond the “call of suey,” the IronPigs sent Olson an IronPigs sweatshirt, a bottle of Listerine and a tube of ChapStick.
Rochester Red Wings
Washington Nationals affiliate since 2021
The Red Wings have retired several numbers over the course of their long history, including 26 for Joe Altobelli (Rochester’s recently-deceased “Mr. Baseball”) and 36 for Luke Easter. They also retired a unique four-digit number: 8,222, the number of Red Wings shares sold by team president Morrie Silver to ensure the team stayed in Rochester. This effort occurred in 1956, and Silver remained the majority stockholder until his death in 1974. (His daughter, Naomi, is currently the President, CEO and COO of Rochester Community Baseball, which owns and runs the Red Wings.)
New York Yankees affiliate since 2007
Consisting of 31 characters, “Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders” is the longest team name in all of Minor League Baseball. The RailRiders’ home of PNC Field is not located in Scranton or Wilkes-Barre, however. It instead is found in the town of Moosic, Pennsylvania, which is located just south of Scranton and to the northeast of Wilkes-Barre. In addition to being the home of the RailRiders, Moosic was also once home to reliever Joe Grzenda, who threw the last pitch in Washington Senators franchise history. Grzenda graduated from Moosic High School in 1955.
New York Mets affiliate since 2019
For one game in 2018, Syracuse’s long-running Triple-A entity changed their name to The Devices. This was in honor of the Brannock Device, the anonymous yet ubiquitous metal foot-measuring tool invented in Syracuse in 1927 by Dr. Charles Brannock. (If you’ve ever bought shoes at a shoe store, then you’ve slid your foot into a Brannock Device.) The team took the field wearing black jerseys emblazoned with “Devices” in a red-accented metallic font, while their hats featured an anthropomorphic Brannock Device named Chuck.
Worcester Red Sox
Boston Red Sox affiliate since 2021
The Worcester Red Sox — commonly known as the Woo Sox — are set to make their debut after relocating from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The city hasn’t fielded a Minor League Baseball team since the 1933 Worcester Chiefs, but professional baseball in this central Massachusetts locale dates back much further than that. The Worcester Worcesters played in the National League from 1880 through 1882, before being dropped from the circuit due to lack of support. This opened up the door for a new National League franchise in 1883: The Philadelphia Phillies, who have operated in every season since.
Chicago White Sox affiliate since 1999
BB&T Ballpark, home of the Charlotte Knights, opened in downtown Charlotte in 2014. This marked the first time the franchise played a Triple-A home game in North Carolina, the state in which Charlotte is, of course, located. The Double-A Eastern League’s Charlotte O’s rebranded as the Knights prior to the 1988 season, and in 1989 the team moved across state lines to Fort Mill, South Carolina. That season was spent in a temporary facility (Knights Castle), and from 1990 through 2013 Charlotte’s team played at Fort Mill’s Knights Stadium. The Knights joined the International League in 1993, and have been a Triple-A team ever since.
Tampa Bay Rays affiliate since 1998
Like Buffalo’s chicken wing festival, the Durham Bulls’ iconic “Hit Bull Win Steak” outfield sign is a case of real life being inspired by Hollywood. The sign was the invention of Ron Shelton, a Minor League Baseball player who went on to write and direct the classic 1988 film Bull Durham. The original “Hit Bull Win Steak” sign was a movie prop, installed in right field at the Bulls’ then-home of Durham Athletic Park. It’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ gameday experience ever since. The current “Hit Bull Win Steak sign, located in left field at the team’s current home of Durham Bulls Athletic Park, was installed in 1998. It is the sign’s third iteration. To get rid of it now would be a big missed steak.
Atlanta Braves affiliate since 2009
You’ve probably heard of the Freeze, the Atlanta Braves’ warning track racing sensation who routinely overcomes huge deficits en route to victory. The Stripers have established their own version of this ballpark icon: The Fridge. Wearing basketball shorts over, yes, a skin-tight bodysuit, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Fridge is an everyman’s alternative to The Freeze. The Fridge, the alter-ego of Stripers Director of Fun Nabih “Nino” Dandan, is granted a five-second head start in every race. This built-in advantage — largely squandered by the Fridge’s limping, stuttering starts — lulls his adversaries into a false sense of complacency. They are able to pass The Fridge with ease, only to be stunned later in the race as his glistening spandex-enclosed frame overtakes them at the finish line.
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
Miami Marlins affiliate since 2009 (2021 marks first season at Triple-A after three decades in the Double-A Southern League)
2021 marks the Jacksonville’s first within the Triple-A ranks, but it’s a veritable certainty that the team’s commitment to attention-grabbing promotions will continue unabated. Some of the Jumbo Shrimp’s most successful endeavors in this regard have involved pillows. After 2017’s neck pillow giveaway went viral, the Jumbo Shrimp upped the ante with 2019’s Shrimp Ramen Pillow giveaway. This unorthodox sleep aid offering was part of the team’s Ramen Noodle Appreciation Night, a celebration of the versatile foodstuff’s 4,000th (give or take) anniversary.
St. Louis Cardinals affiliate since 1998
The most famous nachos in Minor League Baseball — perhaps the most famous in all of sports — are the Memphis Redbirds’ BBQ Nachos. The tasty dish, a collaboration with nearby barbecue establishment Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, is topped with pulled pork and dry rub seasoning. The Redbirds did not offer this iconic creation in 2015 and 2016, electing to go in-house with all of their concessions. The nachos returned to AutoZone Park in 2017 to much fanfare, with fans making ample use of the hashtag #RendezvousReturns.
Milwaukee Brewers affiliate since 2021
After nearly four decades at Greer Stadium, the Sounds moved into their current home of First Horizon Park in 2015. These two facilities are worlds apart, but united by one signature element: a guitar-shaped scoreboard. First Horizon Park’s iteration of such is located in right-center field. The body of the guitar is the equivalent of 860 32-inch televisions, and additional digital square footage can be found on the guitar’s neck (which displays the line score), headstock and even the six tuners jutting out of the headstock. Greer Stadium’s low-tech but iconic guitar scoreboard was sold for nearly $55,000 at a city auction in 2019.
Baltimore Orioles affiliate since 2007
Dave Rosenfield, who passed away in 2017, was a legendary Norfolk Tides executive who spent over 50 years with the franchise. One of Rosenfield’s most unique claims to fame was that he was depicted in what is arguably the greatest television show of all time. In a 1990 episode of The Simpsons, “Dancin’ Homer,” the owner of the Capital City Capitals is a short-tempered individual named, you guessed it, Dave Rosenfield. The episode was written by Ken Levine, who had served as the Tides’ broadcaster before transitioning to the television industry.
Cleveland Indians affiliate since 2009
The history of baseball in Columbus goes further back than a Chris Berman home run call. Luckily, the Clippers have historian Joe Santry to make sense of it all. When this writer visited the Clippers in 2013, Santry relayed these amazing facts about the 1884 Buckeyes, one of Columbus’ most interesting teams: The Buckeyes’ roster included the man who inspired the term “southpaw” (Eddie “Cannonball” Morris), a deaf player who prompted umpires to invent “safe” and “out” calls (Eddie Dundon), the inventor of the chest protector (Rudy Kemmler) and the inspiration for Ernest Thayer’s poem “Casey at the Bat” (Patsy Cahill).
Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate since 2005
The Indianapolis Indians were established in 1902 — 13 years prior to the Cleveland Indians — and have operated in every season since. No Minor League team has used the same name for as long a period of time and only one (the Rochester Red Wings) has enjoyed more years of continuous operation. Indianapolis is currently in its second period of Pittsburgh Pirates affiliation. The first took place from 1948 through 1951, when the team was a member of the American Association.
Chicago Cubs affiliate since 1981
Over the course of baseball history, no one has been involved in more transactions than the enigmatic “Player to be Named Later.” On the final day of the 2010 season, the Iowa Cubs gave this mysterious figure his due. Fans received bobbleheads of a player named Later, whose moment had finally arrived.
Cincinnati Reds affiliate since 2000
The Louisville Bats were established as the Louisville Redbirds in 1982, upon relocating from Springfield, Illinois. The Redbirds played at cavernous Cardinal Stadium, which boasted a capacity of over 30,000. This ballpark didn’t seem so cavernous once Louisville’s faithful fans began flocking to the ballpark. The Louisville Redbirds drew 868,418 fans that inaugural 1982 season, setting an all-time Minor League Baseball attendance record. They broke that record in 1983, when they drew a whopping 1,052,438. That mark stood for five years, until the Buffalo Bisons brought in 1,186,651 in 1988 (their inaugural campaign at what is now called Sahlen Field).
Omaha Storm Chasers
Kansas City Royals affiliate since 1969
The Storm Chasers were established as the Omaha Royals in 1969. Three of the team’s four retired numbers also have been retired by the parent Kansas City Royals: George Brett (5), Dick Howser (10), Frank White (20). The outlier in Omaha’s retired number pantheon is 23, worn by Mike Jirschele. “Jirsch” played for Omaha in 1988 and 1989, then returned to manage from 1995 through 1997 and again from 2000 through 2013. He got his long-awaited big league callup prior to the 2014 season, when he was named Kansas City’s third base coach.
St. Paul Saints
Minnesota Twins affiliate since 2021
The Saints are one of three previously independent entities entering the affiliated ranks in 2021 (the Sugar Land Skeeters and Somerset Patriots are the others). Among the team’s many claims to fame is that their most beloved gameday employee is a nun masseuse. Sister Roz, a woman of the cloth and a licensed massage therapist, has been a Saints ballpark staple since the team’s inaugural season of 1993. Bill Murray, a Saints co-owner, is among her many fans.
Toledo Mud Hens
Detroit Tigers affiliate since 1987
Many great Americans hail from Toledo, a great American city. Three such Americans are Jim Leyland, Katie Holmes and Jamie Farr (who famously wore a Mud Hens hat while playing Corporal Klinger on MAS*H). During the 2008 season, the Mud Hens staged a nightly “Racing with the Stars” promotion that featured Jim Flealand, Kitty Holmes and Jamie Farrmadillo taking part in an on-field between-inning speed competition. This marks the first, and thus far, only time — but hopefully not the last time — that a Minor League Baseball mascot race featured notable city natives reimagined as a flea, a cat and an armadillo.