What To Rename Teams in the Appalachian League?

Marky Billson
5 min readJun 16, 2018


Good nicknames are not difficult to find. Just follow a few simple rules and you’ll have a team beloved by all instead of a passing fad.

Marky Billson, Host of Tri-Cities Sports NOW

With the start of another Appalachian League season about to get underway it should be mentioned the Appalachian League is the only pro baseball league designed to draw fans where the teams all have the nicknames of the parent clubs.

It isn’t an absolute rule. Bristol’s team was once called the Twins, long before the Washington Senators ever considered moving to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Their affiliation was, like it is now, with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Johnson City was the Soldiers in the 1930s. Erwin had a team called the Moonshiners in 1940. Greeneville had not the Cubs, but the Burley Cubs that same year. And Princeton, West Virginia was once the home of the Patriots in the early 1990s.

Why couldn’t the Johnson City Yankees have the Uncle Sam hat, too?

There’s no real reason why Appalachian League teams don’t have their own nicknames other than a lack of marketing skill. Historically many of the teams have been run on a non-profit basis, so just getting the parent club to supply uniforms is a cheap way to cut costs.

But if it was the best thing in the long run, it would be implemented everywhere.

Often times teams try to be too cutesy when selecting a nickname. The Albuquerque Isotopes, who changed their nickname from the good, honest Dukes to honor a forgotten episode of The Simpsons, is an example of this. After awhile the fad of Florida Fire Frogs is going to run out, too.

“We can save a lot of money if we just go with the logo my son drew in his sixth grade art class, Boss.”

Regardless, here are the rules in selecting a nickname for a sports franchise. And if the Appy League won’t take note, maybe the Alliance of American Football and XFL will:

1. The nickname should end in an “S.”

The Boston Red Sox get a pass because it sounds like their name ends in an “S.” Teams like the North Carolina State Wolfpack and Massachusetts Minutemen because they are plural.

In fact, I’d even like the Buffalo Bisons to change their name to the grammatically correct “Bison.”

Poor grammar, but I guarantee you the outfielders are playing deep.

So there are exceptions to this rule if the mascot is some sort of object; a man, an animal, a stocking.

Spare us nicknames like the Oklahoma City Thunder. UGH! Just move back to Seattle already and call yourself the SuperSonics!

The National Basketball Association is filled with nicknames like these, which helps explain the NBA’s negative Q rating. Heat, Jazz, Magic, the latter of which was named after a mouse.

The Charlotte Hornets were originally going to be nicknamed the Spirit, which would have satisfied the NBA’s absurd nickname requirement of not only having nicknames that don’t end in “S,” but they would be named after some sort of cheap, discontinued car!

Mavericks, Cavaliers, Pacers, Hornets, Hawks.

I’m waiting for the Las Vegas Vegas and Pittsburgh Pintos myself.

2. It should have something to do with the location of the franchise.

There are plenty of exceptions to this rule, with many nicknames stemming from the team’s history.

And colleges often seem to share the same nickname as their state. Volunteers. Sooners. Wolverines. Buckeyes. Hoosiers. Tar Heels. Cornhuskers. Beavers. The University of Pennsylvania even takes on that Commonwealth’s secondary nickname; the Quakers.

But a common misconception is that a team should have some sort of violent nickname. No. Nobody wants to root for Criminals, except in Yuma, Arizona, where the high school was once a prison.

But that’s perfect. It had something to do with the school.

The exception to the “team’s history” rule is when a team keeps a nickname that has to do with it’s previous location and can’t be universally transferred to its new locale, as Indianapolis Colts was.

Baltimore Colts. Preakness Stakes. Get it? Now it’s just a universal horse. The Colts lost so much when they moved.

That was even the joke about the Flint Tropics in Semipro. The fact the Utah Jazz, who spent their first four years in New Orleans, still don’t get it speaks volumes.

Los Angeles seems really bad at this. The Lakers were in Minneapolis and the Dodgers were in Brooklyn. While Lakers has the happy accident of alliteration, it fits Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania much better than LA. And where are the trolleys to dodge in Los Angeles?

That said, there are some good, universal nicknames. Atlanta Braves, for instance. The nickname stems from Tammany Hall.

But it honors Native Americans. Ends in “S.” Passes the “When I grow up, I want to be a Brave” test.

“When I grow up, I want to be a Lightning.” Ew! Just, please, Tampa Bay, go to Lightning Bolts! Everyone would be so much happier!

Regardless, what if we were to rename the teams in the Appalachian League?

Personally, I like the old nicknames for Johnson City and Bristol. Soldiers came from the veteran’s center, and if Minnesota and Pittsburgh wouldn’t swap Appalachian League cities for Twins, and Minnesota wanted to put up a copyright stink, then “Bristol Borders” works, too.

It’s even phonetic.

Change Greeneville to “Tailors” to honor Andrew Johnson.

I’m renaming Kingsport the Polecats. Thanks, Eastman!

Elizabethton has got to be the toughest. Even the high school nicknames in the county; Warriors, Cyclones, Rangers, and Bulldogs, are pretty universal.

Cloudland Highlanders is easily the best nickname in the county. Mountains. That’s appropriate.

Best I could come up with for Elizabethton was Snake Handlers.

Got anything else Carter County is known for?

The motivation of this piece was Kailey Medzadourian’s article in 12Up on teams changing their nicknames for a day, such as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders/Teddy Bears. Wouldn’t it be much nicer if Mercer just went back to “Teddy Bears” for their women’s teams instead?

Marky Billson hosts Tri-Cities Sports NOW 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities. Watch his show live or archived here and here.



Marky Billson

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