Root For the Home Team

In 1988 Orion Pictures released Bull Durham, a relatively low budget film that went on to became one of the more iconic baseball films in history.

Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball's Most Off-the-Wall Team Names and the Stories Behind Them
Tim Hagerty
95 pages, Cider Mill Press Book Publishers

Most fans can recite various scenes of the film verbatim but it also fundamentally changed minor league baseball as we know it.

In the early 1950s the major leagues consisted of sixteen teams tightly confined in the eastern and midwestern parts of the country. If you didn't live in one of its eleven cities chances are the only professional game you regularly viewed was in your hometown. In 1949 this consisted of 438 teams spread out over 59 leagues; most with their own unique nicknames and colors.

Television and big league expansion changed this model. By 1963 the 59 leagues were now 15 and non-major league baseball had evolved into a near sole purpose of feeders of big league talent.

The subsequent decades were even worse as fans became reluctant to attend games that provided little local color, run down stadiums and teams with hand-me-down uniforms that seemed to offer little other than baseball.

Bull Durham changed all this.

With the success of the movie businessmen began to realize there were profits to be made in the minor league parks. Local owners put unique names on their teams, ran wacky promotions that were not at major league stadiums and got cities to build little stadiums that were temples to baseball's past and memories across the country.

Tim Hagerty, ironically a broadcaster for one of the few remaining teams named after its parent club, the Tucson Padres, chronicles the unique history of minor league teams from every state and Canada in his book Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball's Most Off-the-Wall Team Names and the Stories Behind Them. For each team reviewed he offers a brief history of it along with some other related factoids.

Root for the Home Team is a type of companion for Bull Durham. Its not about the history of every team or even all of the current members of a particular league, but a sampling of the the stranger names and stories behind them.

Watching minor league baseball is different. While its true that some players receive bonuses at eighteen larger than many people will make in their lifetimes, most don't and are essentially signed for a plane ticket and a promise. Its the last professional sport where its fans believe that the players are involved with the game for the reasons they would, because they love it and an opportunity to realize the dream of playing big league baseball.

Like one of Bill James many quality books, Root for the Home Team is not meant to be read straight through. Its something to keep with you and come return too. Place it next to the recliner while watching a game and leaf through between innings as you try to recall various tidbits of what you may have heard your father or grandfather talk about or that funny team name you saw on the t-shirt the other day.

So if you are curious about knowing how the current Montgomery Biscuits came to be or the history of Deadball era Beatrice Milkskimmers; its a worthwhile addition to any seamhead's library.

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