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What’s in a name?

Behind the new logo and moniker of Fort Wayne’s minor league baseball team

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


The Harrison Square and Parkview Field projects have met with considerable public controversy.

That statement comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has glanced at a local headline or listened with half-an-ear to a news report over the past two years. The projects have their supporters, plenty of them, including (obviously) local government. But they also have a vocal legion of detractors whose glee at any sign that all is not going forward as smoothly as planned dominates the letters pages and local blogs.

The past few months have given the project detractors a wealth of “I-told-you-so” moments. There was the news that the condos were failing to sell and would have to be scaled back. Perhaps even more alarming, it was revealed in November that financing for the proposed hotel was in jeopardy and that the general contractor, White Lodging Services, had not moved forward on the project.

But a prime moment came in early October, when after a month or so of rumor and speculation, Hardball Capital CEO Jason Frier and team general manager Mike Nutter announced that the new of name of Fort Wayne’s Class A minor league baseball team would be the TinCaps.

The name, it was explained, was a Johnny Appleseed reference; as any good Fort Wayne resident knows, Johnny Appleseed is a local hero with a national profile, and is popularly perceived to have wandered the Midwest with a tin pot on his head. The team’s logo was revealed at the same time, and though the angry-looking red apple with a tin pot angled thug-style on its head made the Johnny Appleseed connection much clearer (well, Your Humble was completely baffled by the name until he saw the image), the fact that name had to be explained at all probably didn’t bode well. “In Minor League Baseball you have the opportunity to create a brand that with a true regional flavor,” said General Manager Mike Nutter in the press release. “Johnny Appleseed is a regional pioneer and folk hero. His story, and the history of this area, gives us an identity that is distinctively Fort Wayne.”

If Johnny Appleseed’s story is distinctly Fort Wayne, then so was a great deal of the reaction to the new name. It seemed even supporters of the Harrison Square and Parkview Field projects were reaching for their Thesaurus to find new synonyms for failure, like “disaster” “catastrophe” “debacle” ”train wreck” “calamity” and other words more commonly used to describe events like the Battle of Little Big Horn or any military campaign that ended in ignominious defeat.

A sampling of some of the local blogs provides a good picture. “Mr. Yan,” a poster on the blog Fort Wayne News (www.fortwaynenews.com) wrote. “I can’t believe they didn’t choose my entry… the Fort Wayne Boondoggles. It’s better than the Tincaps and at least everyone will understand the inspiration thereof. And a mascot of a taxpayer with his pockets inside out being chased by an out-of-touch, insane bureaucrat.”

“This logo and name is an embarrassment to the people, the history and the establishment of Fort Wayne,” writes another poster on the Fort Wayne News site. “TheTinCaps and the Mad Ants. WHO is coming up with this poor marketing? It isn’t funny. This could have built the community and helped developed Fort Wayne’s identity. The opportunity is lost.”

And on Common Sensibilities (cadee.blogspot.com), local blogger Cathy Dee starts off her post on the name change with the headline: “The TINCAPS???!!! God save us from Atlanta ad agencies.”

Those are some of the more mild reactions. The letters pages of the local dailies had similar responses, though with far fewer swear words.

Within hours, the team had its own nickname— the Potheads.

Of course, the reaction wasn’t all bad. Chad Gramling runs the website Baseball in Fort Wayne (www.baseballinfortwayne.com), a site dedicated to Fort Wayne’s baseball heritage. A sort of appendum to Gramling’s book Baseball in Fort Wayne (Images of Baseball), the website has been covering the development of the downtown ballpark and the team formerly known as the Wizards. Gramling was not happy with the new name initially. “When I first heard that the Wizards would become the TinCaps, I had hoped it was a joke,” he says. “But as I have thought about it more, I've accepted it about as much as I ever did the Wizards' moniker.”

“The only thing that bothers me about the TinCaps' name is the folks who can't resist calling them the ‘potheads’ or ‘bedpans,’” he adds. “The first pitch hasn't even been thrown yet and the jokes are already growing old. Hopefully, when everyone stops to observe what the organization is doing to bring a top-notch, family friendly product to market, they'll also care less about the name.”

That’s what Assistant General Manager Mike Limmer and the rest of the organization are hoping for with the TinCaps. “There’s no experience to connect it with yet,” says Limmers. “People have never been to a TinCaps game. We feel that when people have something to associate with that name and it’s not just floating out there with a logo, they start to kind of put the pieces together and say ‘okay, I see how this all fits.’ It’s hard, because when you unveil a logo, you know how all those pieces are intended to fit together, but you have to piece-by-piece see how all that comes together.”

Limmer adds that people may always think the name is goofy. “We talk to people who go to Lugnuts games in Lansing, Michigan, and they say ‘hey, we’ve got a silly name, but I love going.’ It’s part of the fun. It’s a minor league baseball team, and we want people to have a really strong affinity to the experience, to the value, to affordable family entertainment.”

And when it comes to minor league baseball, unique, fun and distinctive are big parts of the picture. There were 2500 names submitted, and Limmer says the most popular name was the Generals… “But there was already a minor league baseball team called the Generals in North Carolina,” Limmer says. “The team that the Komets play against all the time is the Flint Generals. The team the Harlem Globetrotters always played against, and beat, was the Generals. So, we can’t do the Generals, we can’t do the Falcons. If no one else would have used these, it would be great, but…”

The name “TinCaps” and the logo were part of a shortlist, and the more the owners and management thought about it and ran it by other people in minor league baseball (there are some 180 minor league baseball teams in the U.S.), the more TinCaps and that apple continued to stand out. Limmer says he was discussing color and stitch count and cost with his contact at New Era, the company that manufactures caps for many sports teams. The rep took one look at the logo and immediately said “hey, it’s Johnny Appleseed.” (the rep was from Buffalo, New York, by the way, and didn’t have an affiliation with the Midwest). “People who look at this stuff all the time and have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on out there, they kept saying, ‘this is going to be a winner for you guys’,” Limmer says. “It’s unique, and on top of that, we think it looks great.”

Limmer continues: “Some people say you need to have a name that strikes fear into your opponent, but you know… White Sox? Red Sox? Cubs? Dodgers? Angels? It’s not always about that, even at the major league level.”

Besides, even the negative reaction to TinCaps hasn’t been all that bad, relatively speaking. It was far better than the reception the Montgomery, Alabama minor league baseball team got when its new name and logo were revealed on stage in front of 60,000 people at the Jubilee City Fest, a massive music festival. They were expecting a great reception — “baseball returns to Montgomery!” etc. — but when the name and new logo were unveiled, they were met with complete silence. Then the “boos” started…

But as Limmer points out, the Montgomery Biscuits and the Lansing Lugnuts (also initially panned) have not only gone on to be very successful as far as game attendance and community support, but their merchandise is a huge seller. “We were prepared for negative reaction, backlash, whatever you want to call it, because that’s just what happens at first,” he says. “All we can do is wait until they come out to a game, and have an association with it.”

Probably one of the most interesting responses came from the website What’s Going Down(town) (www.whatsgoingdowntown.com), formerly called Downtown Fort Wayne Baseball and maintained by brothers Brian and Scott Spaulding. Big supporters of Harrison Square and Parkview Field, the Spaulding Brothers went back to the “letters” pages of the Fort Wayne newspapers circa late 1992, when Fort Wayne’s new baseball team was named the Wizards in response to a “Name the Team” contest, and posted what they found on their site.

The reactions from back then are as funny and familiar as they are unsurprising. “Amen to the many readers expressing their dislike of the name Wizards for our new baseball team,” says one writer. “I, too, think the name Wizards is a joke. Who is going to take our team seriously with a name like that? Quite the opposite is true. Since the day the name was published, I have heard numerous jokes about it. I haven’t talked to one person who liked it.”

Another writes: “As if this name isn’t ludicrous enough, those of us who mailed entries into the contest were led to believe that our opinions actually mattered. Though it was clearly stated in the articles I read… that Falcons was the front-running name, I correctly reasoned that this name would never fly because it made too much sense… No one I’ve spoken to cares for this name. Most hate it. So who picked it? A bunch of whimsical hairdressers and dysfunctional choreographers? Didn’t we learn anything from the Peoria Prancers? We don’t want cute. We don’t want creative. Don’t you wizards on the selection committee realize that baseball is loved by those who would name a team something like, oh say, Falcons?”

Then there were some that objected to the name on moral or religious grounds. One writer says it promotes “spiritism” and worship of the supernatural, and goes on to site Deuteronomy 18:10-12. Similar sentiments are echoed in another letter: “What are we doing Fort Wayne? Are we skipping ‘down the yellow brick road’ to the Wizards? The name is obscene and degrading to those of us with morals! I was born and raised in this city and have lived here all of my life, and I am dismayed at the change of my hometown. We seem to have become a city of drugs, crimes and now Satanic spirits.”

Though to be fair, most of the detractors merely thought the name was goofy. “Yes, a bit of a dumb name for a baseball team,” says one writer. “Yes, there’s a hint of ancient mysticism involved, dating back to a time when man feared nature, and the less literate had no education of God. Yes, it invites a plethora of jokes, especially the one I heard of putting yellow brick on the base-paths… But I can’t help but wonder if the reaction was the same when the Komets were born… It’s just a name folks, and people are forgetting that we’re lucky to have a baseball team at all. I say best of luck to the team, and who cares what the name is.”

“The point of posting the old letters was to point out how initial reactions are, to quote Shakespeare and Faulkner, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” says Scott Spaudling of What’s Going Down(town). “People will get over (the TinCaps) just like they did with the Wizards.”

And several of the letters from 1992 also caught on to the marketing potential of a name like “the Wizards.” There’s the obvious alliteration, plus the fact that it lends itself well to a choice of mascots, logos, and merchandising. (The Wizards had two mascots during their run: Wayne the Wizard and Dingle the Dragon).

“(TinCaps) fits well with the quirky minor league name market,” Scott Spaulding says. “I've been reading out-of-market reactions and people are talking about getting a hat ASAP. If that was the goal (and I'm sure it was to an extent) then they've already been successful.”

As we said above, the site Scott and his brother Brian maintain — What’s Going Down(town) — is extremely supportive of most things related to downtown revitalization. Spaulding says he doesn’t care all that much about the name TinCaps; it’s the split with the old set-up that interests him. “The reason I like the name change is that it further sheds any association with Memorial Stadium,” he explains. “This will be a completely new experience. The team is moving from a concrete slab on the side of the busiest road in Fort Wayne and in one of the biggest parking lots in Allen County to an urban ballpark in a dense neighborhood.”

Chad Gramling of Baseball In Fort Wayne agrees. “I'm tremendously excited to go to Harrison Square and Parkview Field with my friends and family to spend time with them and enjoy the atmosphere, the game, the food and the on-field promotions that are second to none,” he says. “The name of the teams that are playing really doesn't matter.”

And once again, it’s the experience and the association that crowds will (hopefully) develop with going to see Fort Wayne’s minor league baseball team that Limmer says is important. “When we first started the ‘Rename the Team’ event, we heard a lot of people saying ‘I’ve gone to a Wizards game, I love the experience of going to a Wizards game, and I don’t want to lose that experience’,” says Limmer. “It wasn’t so much the name or the logo, it was the experience about a game. Not only are we going to have that same family entertainment feel downtown, it’s going to be an even better experience.”

Play ball.

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