Minor League

On February 17, 2016 · 9 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle examined piles of sports teams while researching Other State Nickname Thingies. Generally I stuck with university teams although professional basketball’s Golden State Warriors provided the best example. Then I gazed at other sports and fell into the weirdness that could only be described as the names of minor league baseball teams. I wasn’t the first one to notice these unusual designations. The Intertubes were filled with articles about the strangest team names so I decided to take a slightly different tack.

The team volatility also surprised me. They changed names, affiliations, and cities with abandon. I examined a minor league team closest to me geographically, the Potomac Nationals. There wasn’t anything particularly creative about the name for this High-A farm team for the Washington Nationals. However, in less than forty year of it existence it had gone by Alexandria Dukes, Prince William Yankees, Prince William Cannons, Potomac Cannons, and then Potomac Nationals. It also changed affiliations between the Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and currently the Washington Nationals. I noticed this wasn’t unusual as I examined other teams.

Frederick Keys

Frederick Keys vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Frederick Keys vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans by Mark Poblete on Flickr (cc)

The nearest team to me while I grew up was the Frederick Keys, a High-A team affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, based in Frederick, Maryland (map). The name "Keys" certainly qualified as an odd choice, in this case honoring historical resident Francis Scott Key, of Star Spangled Banner fame. I’d attended many games over the years when, completely by change, I happened to enter the ballpark on August 14, 1992. It was a Friday. I knew that only because I found a record of game online. Something piqued my curiosity as we approached the stadium gate. I never had to walk through magnetometers like I were entering an airport before, although I suspected what might be brewing. Sure enough, two military helicopters landed next to the field and out walked President George H. W. Bush and family into the stadium. They’d been vacationing at nearby Camp David. Presidential sightings in the Washington, DC area weren’t particularly unusual, however it was still pretty cool.

There was a long tradition with the Frederick Keys at the 7th inning stretch. The team’s theme song always played over the stadium speakers, a hokey event involving everyone shakes their keys, because this was the Keys. A bad pun, I know. Anyway, here was the best part — President Bush didn’t have any keys! He had to borrow a set of keys from someone in his party so he could play along. That notion stuck with me ever since — an amazing realization that the presidency was so powerful that no door ever locked in its path.

Classic Match-Ups

Monty by Chris Murphy on Flickr (cc)

The bizarre variety of minor league baseball team names offered plenty of fodder for fictional match-ups. I didn’t consider whether they made any sense from a competitive standpoint because it hardly mattered, although I’d still love to see some of these games fielded. For instance, how about the Montgomery Biscuits (map) vs. the Kansas City T-Bones? A lump of dough battling a hunk of meat. Nice.

The most laid-back game would have to be the Traverse City Beach Bums vs. the Asheville Tourists. I almost went to an Asheville Tourists game when I was in Asheville last summer. I gave it up after spending most of the day hiking and driving, just too tired from being a real tourist to see the baseball Tourists.

A battle of crustaceans might also be amusing. I’m not sure which team would come out on top in a tournament between the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, the Charlotte Stone Crabs or the Lakewood BlueClaws. Maybe the two teams named for Blue Crabs would gang up on the Stone Crabs. It’s hard to tell.

Beaks and talons would fly if the Nuevo Laredo Owls ever played the Orem Owlz. And no, I didn’t understand why it was Orem Owlz instead of Owls. Maybe the team was trying to connect with a younger demographic although trying a little too hard to be edgy. If that was the case then it fell miserably short when the team announced Caucasian Heritage Night in 2015: "Our night was to include Wonder Bread on burgers with mayonnaise, clips from shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ and trying to solve the vertical leaping challenge." The Owlz canceled its plans after the inevitable uproar. The Director of Media and Communications resigned.

Talk about nuts, what if the Modesto Nuts, Lansing Lugnuts and Wichita Wingnuts all got a chance to play each other? Games could take place at Dunkin’ Donuts Park (the future home of the Hartford Yard Goats — another ridiculously named team).

A good dogfight might include any combination of the Portland Sea Dogs, Charleston RiverDogs, Batavia Muckdogs, Glendale Desert Dogs, Lincoln Saltdogs, El Paso Chihuahuas, Erie SeaWolves, Midland RockHounds, or New Jersey Jackals. And a good catfight could include the Carolina Mudcats, Gary SouthShore RailCats, Lynchburg Hillcats, New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Sacramento River Cats, Tri-City ValleyCats, Connecticut Tigers, Kane County Cougars, Lakeland Flying Tigers, Quintana Roo Tigers, or Yucatán Lions.

My Favorite

Hillsboro Hops opening game, with rainbow
Hillsboro Hops opening game, with rainbow by ryan harvey on Flickr (cc)

There could be only one favorite. Regular 12MC readers wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I preferred the Hillsboro Hops. This was a Single-A team in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon (map) affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Its physical placement on the northern fringe of the Willamette Valley and its location outside of Portland made the name a perfect choice. Portland was famous for its heavy concentration of breweries and hops were an essential brewing ingredient grown right in the valley. The team’s logo literally featured a hop cone wearing a baseball cap.

Go Hops!

California Tangential

On January 6, 2016 · 4 Comments

Article research doesn’t always go as smoothly or as cleanly as one might imagine. I fall headlong into rabbit holes, sometimes finding inspiration for future articles that continue the cycle. Rarely, however, do I find the sheer volume of factual oddities I encountered while investigating places "Outside of California." I supposed it was enough to create a nice entry for the ongoing series of Odds and Ends that appear sporadically on Twelve Mile Circle, however I decided to call it California Tangential to honor its source instead.

Hooray for Hollywood

California was notable for so many things although perhaps best known for Hollywood, at least from a worldwide cultural perspective. Appropriately, the California locality in southern Maryland referenced in the previous article practically abutted another settlement named Hollywood. Only 6.3 miles (10 kilometers) separated Hollywood from California. This happy juxtaposition was completely coincidental:

It was named in 1867, when a storeowner at Thompson’s General Store near the Uniontown section of Hollywood required a name for the post office inside the store. The storeowner was inspired by the gigantic holly tree planted in front of the store and named the post office Hollywood.

The Hollywood in Maryland (map) predated it’s California cousin by more than twenty years as well as the movie industry’s establishment on the west coast by nearly half a century. Still, it put a smile on my face to imagine the possibility of a Patuxent River Walk of Fame.

Coney Island

Coney Island 003
Coney Island 003 by Jeremy Thompson on Flickr (cc)

I found another bait-and-switch at the California neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. It seemed strange that they select a name from the west coast. A later entrepreneur drew his inspiration from the opposite coast in an attempt to recreate New York’s Coney Island.

In time for the opening on June 21, 1886, the name was officially changed to "Ohio Grove, The Coney Island of the West" in an effort to link the park with the famous New York destination. Fortunate enough to be on a riverfront location, riverboat soon became the most popular method of transportation for park visitors. In 1887, "Ohio Grove" was completely dropped from the name as the park became known simply as "Coney Island."

The attraction still exists. However, just as California, Ohio fell short of its original namesake, so too did its Coney Island (map).


Jackass Flat, Victoria, Australia

I’m too easily amused. I smirked when I spied Jackass Flat adjacent to California Gully in Victoria, Australia. Jackass Flat simply sounded silly because I lacked decorum and maturity. At least people elsewhere had the good sense to change their Jackass to something slightly more sensible. Pity the 224 people who lived in Jackass Flat. Still it could have been a lot worse as I was reminded by an 1860 book I uncovered, Two Years in Victoria

In our walk through the diggings, we could not help noting the names of places and signs as indications of the character of mind of the people who give such names — Jackass Flat, Donkey Gully, Dead horse Gully, Sheepshead Gully, Tinpot Gully, Job’s Gully, Poverty Gully, and Piccaninny Gullies without end. These however are not quite so bad as Murderer’s Flat and Chokem Gully.

I agreed that Murderer’s Flat would have been dreadful. Chokem Gully had a nice ring to it though, ignoring what it actually referenced.

California and Chicago Flip-Flop

California Renovated (Your New Blue)
California Renovated (Your New Blue) by cta web on Flickr (cc)

I found a California Avenue in Chicago. Actually I’d known about the California station (map) on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line for many years because I’d passed it many times taking the train from O’Hare International Airport. I didn’t realize that the station was named for a street until now, though. Conversely there was a Chicago (actually several of them) in California. The most well known may have been Port Chicago, on Suisun Bay northeast of San Francisco (map). It was the site of the horrific "Port Chicago Disaster"

Port Chicago… was developed into a munitions facility when the Naval Ammunition Depot at Mare Island, California, could not fully supply the war effort. By the summer of 1944, expansion of the Port Chicago facility allowed for loading two ships at once around the clock. The Navy units assigned to the dangerous loading operations were generally segregated African-American units…. Approximately 320 workers were on or near the pier when, at 10:18 p.m., a series of massive explosions over several seconds destroyed everything and everyone in the vicinity.

These events exposed racial inequalities in the U.S. Navy although reforms took many more years. Port Chicago also no longer exists. The government declared eminent domain in 1968 and tore it down to create a safety buffer zone.

Back to the United Kingdom

I’d forgotten about an English California featured previously on 12MC in Wrong Side of the Atlantic. Then another California appeared in Ipswich (map) courtesy of a comment posted by reader Mark. He also provided a document link with much more information about the Ipswich California. That led me to examine the Gazetteer of British Place Names for more California locations. It included several; five in England and one in Scotland. I was surprised by the prevalence.

Outside of California

On January 3, 2016 · 5 Comments

There was a town in Maryland I spotted named California. I’d known about it for awhile. It always seemed odd to have a town in one state named for another, especially one located an entire continent away. I figured there was a connection and further speculated that it had its roots in the California Gold Rush that captured the imagination of the nation in 1849 and thereafter.

First I needed to examine the etymology of California to understand if the name might have arisen independently. However, nobody was completely sure what influenced the original California name. Most sources tended to speculate that it derived from a romantic novel published in Spain in the early Sixteenth Century, "Las Sergas de Esplandián." The book described a fictional island found east of Asia. Early Spanish explorers, mistaking Mexico’s Baja Peninsula for an island, noticed a similarity and applied California both to the peninsula and to lands farther north. The theory seemed plausible although plenty of other ideas existed too.

The name spread throughout parts of the New World. However, I was interested specifically in places named because of the Gold Rush influence. Therefore I declined to examine places named California in Central and South America. Those would have likely traced back to the Spanish colonial era. I stuck to English-speaking areas.

California, Maryland

Patuxent River
Patuxent River by N8ure Lover on Flickr (cc)

I didn’t resolve the mystery in Maryland completely. Indeed, the California (map) in St. Mary’s County was named for the west coast state of the same name. However I never discovered what year that happened. I also learned that this once sleepy hamlet had been growing rapidly in recent years due to its proximity to adjacent Naval Air Station Patuxent River while also becoming popular with commuters to Washington, DC. It experienced an explosive 25% population growth in the previous decade, now approaching twelve thousand residents. That recent surge probably made it the largest U.S. California outside of the state of California.

This same general area made an appearance in Twelve Mile Circle about three years ago in Three Notches for an entirely different reason.

California, Pennsylvania

California University of PA
California University of PA by Jon Dawson on Flickr (cc)

The California in Pennsylvania (map) sparked similar déjà vu. I knew I’d encountered the place previously. Sure enough, the university located in town — California University of Pennsylvania — appeared in a 12MC article called Résumé Bait and Switch a couple of years ago. I’d even speculated on the potential Gold Rush nature of its name. The conjecture was well founded since the borough of California confirmed it:

California Borough is a community of approximately 5200 people that covers nearly 13 square miles of land. California was founded in 1849 and incorporated as a Borough in 1853. It is named after the state of California because the town’s founding coincided with the California Gold Rush of 1849. Naming the town after the state was meant to symbolize our town’s future growth and prosperity.

That seemed pretty definitive.

California, Missouri

California, Missouri 65618
California, Missouri 65618 by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

The third largest non-California California seemed to be a town so named in Missouri (map). It also had the distinction of being the seat of local government for Moniteau County. This California was named for its west coast cousin although I’d have to call it a near-miss on the Gold Rush connection. It actually predated the Gold Rush by a couple of years.

California, county seat of Moniteau county, …was first called Boonsborough but by act January 25, 1847, changed to California. The new country on the Pacific Coast was just then attracting attention and the overland railroad was being agitated and during this agitation the name was given for the state of California

The name change may have had something to do with a Post Office issue; the original name already having been applied to another Missouri town.

California, Cincinnati, Ohio

California, Ohio
California, Ohio by Henryr10 on Flickr (cc)

Most of the other towns of California were nothing more than flyspecks. There was one former town however, now a neighborhood within Cincinnati, that seemed to have some significance (map). The village claimed a Gold Rush derivation, albeit indirectly.

In the year of the Gold Rush, three friends… shook off the desire to become gold miners and decided instead to make money in an "easier" way. Their idea was to lay off a town that would become one of the greatest industrial cities along the Ohio River… Unfortunately, their dreams were never fully realized and California was to remain a small rivertown until it was later annexed by Cincinnati in 1909.

California eventually packed a lot of activities within its tiny neighborhood boundaries including a golf course, a nature preserve and an amusement park. It was also the city of Cincinnati’s southernmost point.

Farther Afield

Bendigo Miners' statue
Bendigo Miners' statue by Tim Gillin on Flickr (cc)

I did discover a couple of California place names in English-speaking countries outside of the United States with potential Gold Rush connections. The larger was California Gulley (map), a suburb near Bendigo in Victoria, Australia. Bindigo was noted for its goldfield.

People came from across the world to seek their fortune in Bendigo in the mid to late 1800’s. Alluvial gold was discovered along the banks of the Bendigo Creek in 1851 and resulted in a major gold rush… In Christmas 1851 there were 800 people on the field and by the following June, 20,000 diggers had arrived in the alluvial field. Alluvial gold production was dominant in the first ten years of the field to 1860 and is estimated to account for up to four million ounces or almost one fifth of the total gold won from the Bendigo goldfield.

It didn’t seem surprising that an area on the outskirts of Bendigo came to be known as California Gully given the timing of the Bendigo Gold Rush, just a couple of years after the similar rush in the United States.

There was also a California in England, an area within Derby (map) in Derbyshire. The etymology was unclear although speculation existed that it may have had ties somehow to the California Gold Rush.

My search showed that many California place names did seem draw their influence from the state of California in the United States. Connections to the Gold Rush often existed, although not ubiquitously.

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