It’s been a weird year for sports, and even weirder for the lower-level sports leagues that rely on fan attendance to bring in any money. In 2020, minor league baseball canceled its season for the first time in history (the league had even kept playing throughout World War II), resulting in a scramble of young ballplayers seeking teams to play for and opportunities to show scouts what they were capable of. The result was a massive reshuffling of the independent baseball league landscape across Texas. An entire new league popped up in Sugar Land alone.
This year, there’s reason to believe that the summer will look a bit more normal, and watching a ball game in the open air, with a bit of distance in the stands between yourself and the next group of fans, is likely to be a safe and healthy pastime. With major league baseball having just begun its season—and the minors scheduled to resume in May—now seems like the perfect time to update our ranking of the best mascots for Texas’s minor league and independent baseball teams. We’ll count down to our favorite, but really, these are all pretty great.
15. Team Texas
Team Texas was one of a trio of new ball clubs that rushed in to fill the baseball void in the summer of 2020 as part of the Constellation Energy League, joining the established Sugar Land Skeeters at Constellation Field to play as part of a four-team league with a 28-game schedule per team. We’ll get to the other teams later on in this list, which had names and mascots that I thought were among the most charismatic in sports. Somehow, that level of creativity was all used up when it was time to name the fourth team, as “Team Texas” is such a generic thing to call a baseball organization that it’s basically un-Googleable. The logo was a big, serif-y “T” in front of a star, and the lack of inspiration seems to have spilled onto the field, as Team Texas went 11–17 and finished in last place over the season.
14. Round Rock Express
One of the hallmarks of a good minor league baseball team name is a local connection. What do they make in Montgomery, Alabama? Good biscuits! What’s the name of their minor league team? The Montgomery Biscuits! You want to connect with the things your fans care about. The Round Rock Express, though, takes this to an absurdly hyper-local level: the team is named after the train tracks that run near the stadium. Nobody cares about the choo-choo except the people who work in the ballpark and five-year-olds. (The team’s name also honors Texas baseball legend Nolan Ryan, as in “The Ryan Express,” but that logo? All train, buddy.) One potential saving grace? As part of the MiLB’s Copa de la Diversión initiative, in which teams get alternate names and logos to reflect their Latino fanbases, they play as the Round Rock Chupacabras, which is an exceptionally cool identity for a baseball team. If only this team would become the Chups full time, they’d catch the express train to the top of our list.
13. Houston Apollos
On the surface, the Houston Apollos have everything going for them: their name is inspired by something specific to Houston, beloved, and world famous. NASA’s Apollo missions are tied to the city in an unmistakable way—but they also don’t pluralize very well, making the name of this team, which plays in the independent American Association of Professional Baseball, come off as clunky and awkward. It’s specific, but not vivid. Give us a name like the Lunar Modules, with a cartoony lander spacecraft with wide, inviting eyes and a baseball glove on its satellite, and we’d be in love. (Alternately, the Apollos could change their mascot to a caricature of Carl Weathers in his role from Rocky.) The Apollos come close, but they don’t quite stick the landing.
12. Austin Bullies
The Austin Bullies play in the Texas State Baseball League, an independent league that set up shop in the winter to give young semipro ballplayers a chance to continue playing during the pandemic. We’re going to guess that they might have had the logo before they had the name, because this logo would look great airbrushed on the side of a van, but “Bullies” is a weird name for a baseball team. (Bullying is bad; don’t be a bully.) Seems like the sort of thing where they should have just called themselves “Bulldogs” and let the fans call them “Bullies,” if they were feeling affectionate.
11. Coastal Bend Rampage
Good stuff here—nothing wrong with a big ol’ gorilla so full of baseball rage that he’s cracking a bat in half. The Coastal Bend Rampage played in the winter in the Texas State Baseball League, and they’re sticking around looking for opponents. They have a solid team name, and using “Coastal Bend” as the home region to avoid competing with the MiLB team out of Corpus Christi is a thoughtful touch. We are big admirers of what the Coastal Bend Rampage have going on here, and the fact that they place at number eleven on this list is strictly an indication that Texas is absolutely loaded when it comes to independent and minor league baseball team names and mascots.
10. Corpus Christi Hooks
Proof that we’re spoiled for memorable mascots: the Hooks! That’s for “Fishing Hooks,” which is a real strange thing to name your baseball team after—but in a coastal city like Corpus Christi, it makes sense. The scrappy, determined fishing hook on the team’s logo is really delivering some personality—and the team’s Copa alter ego is extremely good, too (they play as the Raspas, a very strong choice in sweltering Corpus Christi).
9. El Paso Chihuahuas
Nothing wrong with the Chihuahuas! The minor league Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres were a bit controversial when they were first named in 2013. But in the years since—which have seen them embrace the majesty of their absurd novelty uniforms and the charm of being named after a small-breed pup, rather than some tough-guy dog—the Chihuahuas have built a connection to their community. Chico, the mascot, even made virtual classroom visits and drive-by appearances at birthday celebrations (“Chico’s Party Parade”) amid the COVID-canceled 2020 season. As part of the Copa initiative, the team also evolves on occasion into the El Paso Margaritas, a lime-green-uniformed collection of athletes paying tribute to a drink that goes great with watching a game on a hot summer day at a stadium along the border.
8. Midland RockHounds
This Double-A minor league club has a locally relevant name that connects the organization to the Midland region’s oil business. (A “rockhound,” in the local parlance, is a geologist.) The degree of difficulty in finding an oil-themed mascot that is still cute and cuddly enough that a little kid would want to see it at a birthday party is very high. However, the Midland RockHounds thread this needle perfectly by going literal with the “hound” part of the name, favoring a big puppy dog with a hard hat and a baseball bat. (His name’s Rocky.) Good work, RockHounds!
7. Frisco RoughRiders
The RoughRiders are a curious case. They’ve got an extremely specific name and visual identity, but it’s not one that has a particularly strong connection to the Dallas suburb of Frisco. The First United States Volunteer Cavalry did draw heavily from the Lone Star State, though the connection is more prominent in San Antonio than North Texas. But also: the team’s logo is a daffy, cartoony Teddy Roosevelt taking a wild, joyful swing at a fastball, and we have no choice but to admire it. There aren’t many U.S. presidents who would make a good baseball team mascot (Roosevelt, Washington, Lincoln, and Martin Van Buren—those sideburns!—are pretty much the whole list), so while the RoughRiders might be a more fitting name for a team in another city, we have to give Frisco credit for seizing an opportunity.
6. Amarillo Sod Poodles
The Amarillo Sod Poodles are a relative newcomer to minor league baseball. The Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks only started playing ball in 2019 (and switched affiliation from the San Diego Padres in December). As a new team, the Sod Poodles had the advantage of history in knowing how fans had taken to other quirky team names in choosing their identity, but we can’t argue with the results: prairie dogs are certainly plentiful out near Amarillo, and the old settler term “sod poodles” is definitely a fun way to refer to them. Locals didn’t exactly cotton to the name at first—in fact, all five finalists for the team’s name drew eye rolls in the town—but can you really look at the family of grass-chewing, Stetson-wearing prairie dogs in the team’s logo and not find yourself rooting for the lil’ guys?
5. East Texas War Pigs
The independent East Texas War Pigs, based out of Sour Lake, have existed for less than a month, but we know a good team name when we see it. “War Pigs” (a) sounds tough as heck; (b) acknowledges the rampant feral hog population throughout rural Texas (thirty to fifty hogs can appear in a person’s yard at a moment’s notice); and (c) honors the legendary Black Sabbath, whose 1970 masterpiece Paranoid opens with a song of the same name. Is Black Sabbath a Texas band? Not even close—they’re from Birmingham, England, but it is indisputable that a lot of people from Texas enjoy listening to Black Sabbath, and this is a situation where being extremely cool triumphs over having a specific local tie. Satan, laughing, spreads his wings, indeed.
4. Sugar Land Skeeters
After nearly a decade as an independent team, the Skeeters just entered minor league baseball as the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. They’ve earned it both by winning three league titles in that time and also by having an outstanding name and mascot. They’re mosquitos, yes, and everyone hates mosquitos—but that just adds a rich note of complexity in contrast to the team’s friendly, colloquial “Skeeter” branding, like that of an aged wine or a civet coffee. The Skeeters are represented by a pair of mascots—Swatson and Moe, both fuzzy green mosquitos—and while we hope to avoid their bites, we’d also be happy to see them on the field any day of the week.
3. San Antonio Missions
Normally a name like the “Missions” is a bit too abstract for our tastes. These are . . . baseball-playing historic Spanish churches? But San Antonio’s Double-A minor league team has the weight of history on its side, as the first team to bear the Missions name began playing ball way back in 1933. World wars and the vagaries of major league team affiliations resulted in the occasional missed season or name change, but the Missions have represented the Alamo City continuously since 1988, and—most critically for our purposes—they’ve got the dueling mascots of Ballapeño and Henry the Puffy Taco, who’ve cheered for the team (and battled each other) since 2000 and 1989, respectively. A coonskin cap–wearing, anthropomorphic jalapeño and his walking taco nemesis, complete with an extensive mythology (Henry has a taco son, Henry Jr., whom he mentors), embody everything that is great about minor league baseball.
2. Sugar Land Lightning Sloths
The 2020 Constellation Energy League consisted of the Skeeters, Team Texas, and two additional newcomers. The first of them, the Lightning Sloths, is just an extremely courageous example of how to name an independent baseball team. As the Sloths were one of four Sugar Land–based teams for the pandemic-shortened season, they faced relatively low stakes, encouraging innovation and creativity. Locals in Amarillo and El Paso who bristled at their team names at first blush were stuck cheering for the Sod Poodles and Chihuahuas anyway; Sugar Landers had four options to choose from, and there was no guarantee that any team besides the Skeeters would stick around anyway. From this crucible was forged the Lightning Sloths. What is a lightning sloth, you ask? It’s cute, is what it is. It’s a sloth that hangs from a lightning bolt. It may not even know it’s at a baseball game. It is our chonky boi, and we love him.
1. Eastern Reyes del Tigre
Every so often, the right idea strikes at the right time. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s magic. The final team of the Constellation Energy League’s inaugural array of ball clubs, the Eastern Reyes del Tigre, was such a concept. In the early months of the pandemic, when everyone was still thinking about Tiger King, the Eastern Reyes del Tigre emerged as a Joe Exotic–themed organization, its mulleted mascot drawing from and then further building the iconography of the, uh, convicted felon who became a national sensation. Why choose Joe Exotic as the foundation of your independent league baseball team? Because it was 2020, baby—why not! Why was the name in Spanish? Because it’s cooler. The shelf life on the Eastern Reyes del Tigre name and branding may be short—honestly, if the team had been announced this year, we’d roll our eyes—but the Constellation Energy League recognized the opportunity laid out before them, seized it, and created something that was perfect for the moment. That’s the essence of a great baseball team name and mascot: to capture something unique, maybe whimsical, that meets your fans where they are. Some Texas teams have done that for years—see the Missions and the Skeeters—while others attempt to catch lightning (sloths) and tiger kings in a bottle. Either way, the Eastern Reyes del Tigre nailed it, and if they never return, it’ll be so much the better.