Minor league baseball is a curious world. Sure, at the Triple-A level, with MLB affiliation, some of the guys on the team have sizable contracts and the expectation that they’ll be moving up to the majors. But if you go lower down the ladder, the odds that the guys on the field are doing much more than making around $1,000 a month to chase a dream go way down. Even the name “minor league” is kind of a tempering of expectations.
But “will they make it to the big leagues?” isn’t the reason that people love minor- and independent-league baseball. They love it because it’s a part of their communities—a good excuse to cheer, stretch, eat hot dogs, and root for the local boys. And nothing exemplifies that more than the mascots, who take photos with kids and dance on the field in a heavy head-to-toe suit even during the sweltering days of the Texas summer.
But even as we agree that all minor-league baseball mascots are beloved parts of their communities, we must also consider that some are better than others, because that is true of everything in the world. To that end, we’ve assembled rankings of the mascots of all eleven minor- and independent-league baseball teams in Texas, ranked by our own methodology, which is secret. (We’ve left out the mascots for the United League Baseball teams, since the league folded in January—sorry, WildWing, Casey the Colt, and Dodger.)
11. Alpine Cowboys Bull
MLB-affiliated operations like the Round Rock Express and El Paso Chihuahuas have resources to devote to everything from mascot costumes to websites, while small-scale teams like the Alpine Cowboys, of the independent Pecos League, are often struggling. It’s not their fault, but it also means that an attempt to reach team management can lead to a cell phone’s voicemail, and the only verifiable proof that the team even has a mascot is a photo on some dude’s blog. We do not know much about this Bull here, is what we are saying, and thus he ranks last on our power rankings. He is probably a good mascot, but so are the rest of them.
10. Corpus Christi Hooks – Rusty Hook and Sammy the Seagull
Well, most of the rest of them: The Houston Astros-affiliated (AA ball) club in Corpus Christi is represented by Rusty and Sammy. Sammy’s fine—a cool, laid-back seagull who wears his ballcap backward and runs a birthday club. But Rusty is a fish hook. Seriously, just an anthropomorphized fish hook that can give you tetanus. The Hooks do their best to make Rusty friendly—his hook is more like a tail, and he wears a big smile—but he’s still definitely a bummer. Sammy the Seagull is a good mascot—local flavor, an animal you don’t see a lot of, etc.—but Rusty is bringing him down.
9. Midland RockHounds – Rocky, Juice, and Junior
Rocky the Hound is just a big ol’ dog. Nothing to not like about a big ol’ dog, but not particularly interesting. Juice, meanwhile, is a moose, which is kind of off-brand for a team called the RockHounds. But it’s Junior who drags down the rankings here—Rocky and Juice are fully personified mascots played by people in big animal suits, while Junior is merely an inflatable balloon shaped like a dog. That’s lazy mascotting, and we disapprove.
8. Amarillo Thunderheads – Storm (tentatively)
The Amarillo Thunderheads replaced Amarillo Sox this past December, so their mascot is still a bit unsettled: They’ve got a Coyote, and they’ve tentatively nicknamed him Storm, but fans will vote to settle on a final name for the guy this season. With so much up in the air, it’s hard to rank the unnamed mascot higher than #8—but we’ll call him one to watch in the future.
7. Round Rock Express – Spike
We’ll give the Express some credit: collective nouns like “Express” are tough to come up with a mascot for to begin with. It’s an abstract term that doesn’t lend itself to easy mascotting, and Spike—a bulldog who is also a train conductor—is both a friendly animal figure and ties thematically into the team name. At the same time, a bulldog is a pretty random choice for a team that could have had literally any animal it wanted. You’re restrained only by your imagination in the mascot game, and “bulldog” is a pretty unimaginative choice.
6. Frisco Roughriders – Daisy and Deuce
The Roughriders are a curious organization, mascot-wise: The team’s logo is a cartoony Teddy Roosevelt, which is awesome—in one of the logos, he’s swinging a bat!—and they occasionally have a lookalike promote the team. But an older gentleman who looks a bit like the 26th President of the United States isn’t a great character to invite to, say, a kid’s birthday party, so we get Daisy and Deuce instead. They’re a pair of goofy prairie dogs, which we approve of, but the confusion between the Teddy Roosevelt mascot and the prairie dogs keeps them from cracking the top five.
5. Grand Prairie AirHogs – Scout
“AirHogs” is the sort of nickname that only appears in independent and minor league baseball—you would never find an NBA team with so inexplicable a name, for example. But in Grand Prairie, it makes sense, since the city is the headquarters for Lockheed Martin, and the term is a nickname for military pilots. To rep the AirHogs, the organization, which plays in the independent American Association league, has Scout—a hog who wears aviation goggles. A literal AirHog. Perfect.
4. Laredo Lemurs – Poncho the Lemur
The AirHogs’ fellow American Association team in Laredo ranks a step above them in the mascot game because lemurs are woefully underutilized in professional sports, and they’ve got one who—with those giant eyes—is just perfect for photobombing. The fact that the Laredo Lemurs have recognized that, and apparently are fond of deploying Poncho for that purpose, is some A-game mascot work.
3. Sugar Land Skeeters – Swatson and Moe (pictured)
So, the Sugar Land Skeeters are named for “mosquitoes,” right? And everybody hates mosquitoes. They spread disease, make you itch, and far from disrupting the ecosystem, destroying every last one of the little bloodsuckers would actually make the world better. But if that’s your team name, you gotta make it work—and the Sugar Land Skeeters have, by making Swatson (“Swat,” as in both “mosquito” and “baseball”—nice work, y’all) a big, friendly version of an evil green mosquito. He’s joined by his pal Moe, another giant mosquito, both of whom are much more interested in baseball than spreading diseases. Thank goodness they’re friendly, too—can you imagine a 7’ mosquito who wasn’t?
2. El Paso Chihuahuas – Chico
When the El Paso Chihuahuas were announced, their name was controversial. That was nothing compared to the outcry when they unveiled Chico, though—CBSsports.com declared the dog “a menace to society,” based on his red eyes and torn ears. But Chico is a brilliant mascot for the chihuahuas. He mitigates the concerns that the franchise’s mascot is too wimpy by being literally the toughest-looking chihuahua a person can imagine, his name recalls the city’s most famous taco place and, slyly, it’s phonetically similar to El Paso’s semi-offensive nickname. Chico is a friend to children, but mean to everybody else. That’s how a mascot should work.
1. San Antonio Missions – Ballapeño and Henry the Puffy Taco
Were Ballapeño merely a solo act, he would probably still take first place on this list: Look at him! He’s a mean-looking jalapeño who dresses like Davy Crocket, a boldly creative way to personify the abstract concept of “Mission”—the Round Rock Express could take a lesson—by reminding fans of one of the heroes of the city’s most famous Mission. He’s got a permanent sneer on his face! Those monstrous eyebrows! Baseball isn’t a tough-guy sport, but who wants to mess with Ballapeño? Definitely not Sammy the Seagull or Rocky the Hound, that’s for sure. But Ballapeño isn’t alone, which is what makes him so remarkable: he’s also got an arch-nemesis in the form of Henry the Puffy Taco.
Henry the Puffy Taco actually pre-dates Ballapeño as the Missions’ mascot—Ballapeño was introduced in 2000, after the team recognized that they weren’t interested solely in co-branding with local restaurant Henry’s Puffy Tacos. But people tend to like Henry better, thus spurring on a rivalry between the two mascots that Missions assistant GM Mickey Holt says has cooled a bit—but which still defines both mascots. “They used to really have this hatred for each other, but they’ve grown together,” he told a reporter for the team’s website last year. “We even have a junior jalapeño that will come out once in a while, and they’ll all dance together. They respect each other now—they’re both food items that everyone wants to beat up.”
“Food items that everyone wants to beat up” is the platonic ideal of a minor league baseball mascot, and you can only find it in San Antonio.
(update: an earlier version of this post misidentified “Moe” as “Swatson.” We deeply regret the error, and wish to assure readers that we recognize the distinctiveness of each giant mosquito mascot.)