Minor league baseball's best nicknames: From the bold to the wacky to the 'huh?'

·7 min read

Minor League Baseball has a history of wonky team names – in the best way.

You don't have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the uniqueness of names such as the Modesto Nuts (Seattle's Low-A affiliate team) or the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Miami's Class AAA team). Many teams have come by their unconventional monikers thanks to fan suggestions, especially in recent years due to the power of social media.

But the Modesto Nuts and Jumbo Shrimp didn't even make USA TODAY Sports' list for the top 15 minor league team names being used today. The competition was fierce. Here's who we picked:

15. Binghamton Rumble Ponies (New York Mets, Class AA)

Tim Tebow was a Rumble Pony, spending the 2018 season in Binghamton, and is pictured here at that year's Eastern League All Star Game.
Tim Tebow was a Rumble Pony, spending the 2018 season in Binghamton, and is pictured here at that year's Eastern League All Star Game.

The Mets’ Double-A team has been in Binghamton since 1992 but only adopted the Rumble Ponies moniker ahead of the 2017 season. The mascot pays homage to Binghamton’s reputation as the Carousel Capital of the World, as the area is home to six of the last standing hand-carved vintage carousels. Binghamton was one of 42 minor-league teams that the MLB proposed cutting ties with, but the Mets renewed their affiliation, and the Rumble Ponies live on.

14. Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Miami Marlins, Class AA)

The Blue Wahoos were picked up by the Marlins in 2021 but has soaked up the sun in Pensacola since 2012. The mascot’s origin comes from a local fish species called a wahoo, a highly valuable game fish. Legend has it that "Kazoo" the wahoo visited the ballpark construction site from the adjacent bay, immediately fell in love with baseball and never left.

13. Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays, Class AA)

The Biscuits feature two mascots – “Big Mo,” a biscuit-eating orange beast, and “Monty,” a personified biscuit with a butter-pad tongue. Prior to their move to Montgomery, Alabama, the Biscuits were located in Orlando, where they had been known as the Twins, SunRays, Cubs and Rays across 31 years. Biscuits was chosen as the team name in part for regional history, but also pun potential.

12. Missoula PaddleHeads (Independent, Pioneer League)

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From 1999 to 2019, Missoula’s sole professional sports team was known as the Osprey. But after 21 years, there was a desire for change. The team picked a new name, settling on something that reminds fans of life in Missoula, Montana, and their four-legged, paddle-horned neighbors, the moose. The name “Paddlehead” relates to the canoeing and kayaking locals love while playing on how moose antlers look like, well, paddles. Paxton the Paddlehead wears number 406, which is the area code for the entire state of Montana.

11. Asheville Tourists (Houston Astros, High-A)

The Asheville Tourists have played under their nickname for more than a century. The team used to play as the Asheville Mountaineers. However, in 1914, sportswriters began to call the team "tourists" because none of the players were from Asheville. The name was adopted full-time in 2015.

10. Albuquerque Isotopes (Colorado Rockies, Class AAA)

Isotopes Park might be nicknamed “The Lab,” but its name has less to do with science than it does animated TV sitcoms. Formerly the Albuquerque Dukes, the ‘Topes got their name from an episode of “The Simpsons” in which the owner of the fictional Springfield Isotopes plans to move the team to Albuquerque. The park even features statues of the show’s main characters: Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa.

9. Quad Cities River Bandits (Kansas City Royals, High-A)

This minor league team in Davenport, Iowa, has held three “Name the Team” contests, and River Bandits has won twice. The nickname for raccoons first won in 1992 before losing in 2003 and then returning as the team’s name in 2008. "Rascal" is the team's mascot.

8. Lansing Lugnuts (Oakland Athletics, High-A)

The Lugnuts’ time in Lansing hasn’t always been easy, with a poll in the Lansing State Journal showing that 90% of fans disliked the name . That tune has changed over time though, and even led to an original song about the Lugnuts – an ode to the city’s automotive history – being played after the national anthem at all home games. The Lansing Lugnuts also play at Jackson Field, one of the most accessible ballparks in the country.

7. Aberdeen IronBirds (Baltimore Orioles, High-A)

When Cal Ripken Jr. purchased the team formerly known as the Utica Blue Sox and moved them South to his hometown of Aberdeen, Maryland, he wanted to give his new club a facelift. It didn’t take long for him to name them after his nickname “Iron Man.” Ripken holds Major League Baseball’s record for most consecutive games played with 2,632. Thus, after some conversations with Marvel and an intern’s creativity, the IronBirds were formed.

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6. Westside Woolly Mammoths (Independent, United Shore Professional Baseball League)

The fourth team to join the United Shore Professional Baseball League, the Woolly Mammoths were supposed to make fans think of “The Flinstones” with the ancient beast stepping on a base and the team’s name spelled in a chunky, rugged font. The name’s inspiration originates from the numerous mastodons found in Michigan. In fact, the state fossil is a mastodon.

5. Rocket City Trash Pandas (Los Angeles Angels, Class AA)

This moniker for raccoons was coined on Reddit in 2015, gaining so much popularity that it was used by Starlord, Chris Pratt’s character, in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” to describe Rocket the Racoon. Matthew Higley, the Lacey Springs, Alabama resident who suggested the name as part of the team’s rebranding, said his inspiration didn’t come from the movie. “I was just thinking of animals local to the area and nicknames for them,” he told WHNT News 19 in 2018. The team took the name officially in 2018.

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4. Hartford Yard Goats (Colorado Rockies, Class AA)

What exactly is a yard goat? It’s not a goat that hangs out in your front yard, but rather railroad jargon for a small locomotive that changes cars between trains. Dunkin Donuts Park was built on top of land that used to be a railroad yard, part of the reason the team name beat out 6,000 other entries in a 2015 naming contest.

3. Rocky Mountain Vibes (Independent, Pioneer League)

A former affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, when the Helena Brewers moved to Colorado Springs in 2019, management decided to completely rebrand the team’s identity. They held a contest to determine the name and, despite the Vibes not being a finalist, the reference to the “good vibes” felt when enjoying the outdoors won out. Rocky Mountain tops off its name with an equally impressive mascot: a flaming s’more.

2. Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland Indians, Class AA)

No, the RubberDucks aren’t named after Akron’s ducks, real or rubber. Instead, the nickname was born from owner Ken Babby’s desire for change. They used to be named the Aeros, but Babby wanted something that represented Akron’s history as the Rubber Capital of the World. The RubberDucks were the one. All four of America's major rubber companies were based in Akron in the early 20th century, and the city is still home to Goodyear headquarters as well as Bridgestone-Firestone's technical center.

1. Amarillo Sod Poodles (Arizona Diamondbacks, Class AA)

Ruckus, dressed in full cowboy attire, represents the Amarillo Sod Poodles, a Double-A affiliate team of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Ruckus, dressed in full cowboy attire, represents the Amarillo Sod Poodles, a Double-A affiliate team of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Sorry to disappoint, but the Amarillo Sod Poodles have nothing to do with dogs. Instead, the unusual mascot is an old nickname for prairie dogs, which are common in West Texas. The Sod Poodles' fanbase extends far outside of Amarillo, with the team shop sending gear to all 50 states, Canada and the United Kingdom in its inaugural season. Even Amarillo’s players are living up to the hype surrounding their mascot, bringing home the league title in their first season (2019) as the Sod Poodles.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best minor league baseball team names: From the wacky to the bold