Back in 1993, the Eastern League baseball team that sold the most merchandise didn’t win a game, didn’t even have a roster.

The Portland Sea Dogs wouldn’t begin their first season until a year later.

It helped that the Sea Dogs had a fan-friendly logo – a seal pup chomping on a bat – and a team nickname that stood out from the crowd. Most other teams in the league employed the nicknames of their major league affiliates: Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies, Indians.

Now? Quirky nicknames are becoming the norm across minor league baseball as franchises try to distinguish themselves and boost revenue. The Sea Dogs’ 2017 schedule features the likes of the RubberDucks, Flying Squirrels and – Tuesday’s opponent at Hadlock Field – the Hartford Yard Goats.

So what is a Yard Goat, you ask? It’s a small locomotive that works in a railroad yard moving cars to their proper tracks, said Tim Restall, the team’s general manager. The team has 7-foot-tall mascots named Chompers and Chew Chew, and Sunday home matinees feature live goats in a makeshift petting zoo.

The Yard Goats had to play all their games on the road last year because of stadium-building delays during their inaugural season. But the team name and logo proved an instant hit with fans. Hartford ranks third among the league’s 12 teams in attendance since the opening of its new ballpark in April.

“We did great with our merchandise sales online and in the (team’s Hartford) store,” Restall said of the 2016 season. “But this year it’s amazing, walking through the ballpark and seeing so many people wearing Yard Goats apparel.”

The latest team to toss its hat into the weird-name ring is the former Binghamton Mets, renamed this season as the Rumble Ponies. Last week during a series at Hadlock Field, their etymology remained lost on Binghamton second baseman Dale Burdick.

“It’s just something that you laugh about,” he said. “It’s nothing real serious.”

And does he know what it means?

“I don’t,” Burdick said. “I kind of should. I mean, I want to know why they came up with the Rumble Ponies.”

Teammate Cody Decker, a former Sea Dog, leaned into the conversation.

“Carousels,” he said. “It’s the carousel capital of the world.”

Decker, 30, delivered the information as if everyone knew that Greater Binghamton is home to six antique merry-go-rounds still in operation.

If there’s an expert on quirky minor league nicknames, Decker might be it. Not only has he been a Rumble Pony and a Sea Dog, he was an Isotope, a Storm Chaser and a Chihuahua (in Albuquerque, Omaha and El Paso, respectively).

“As long as a city embraces it, it’s great,” Decker said. “It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of. Our job is to play baseball and not complain about team names. And trust me, this is not that bad of a team name. It’s a fun team name. It’s a cool logo.”

Sea Dogs President Charlie Eshbach, in his 44th season of professional baseball, said merchandise sales are the primary driver of name changes. But there also is a desire to be closely identified with your hometown, to differentiate yourself.

JUMBO SHRIMP AND BABY CAKES

Not every rebranding succeeds. The Akron Blast and New Hampshire Primaries quickly gave way to the RubberDucks and Fisher Cats, respectively. Elsewhere in the minors, Jacksonville ditched its Suns nickname in favor of becoming Jumbo Shrimp and saw a 73 percent increase in average attendance from April 2016 to April 2017. Likewise, New Orleans replaced Zephyrs with Baby Cakes and April attendance rose from 3,576 per game last spring to 5,854 this year.

“It’s hard to attribute all of that to a new logo and a new team name,” said Jeff Lantz, a spokesman for Minor League Baseball, “but it gets them in the public eye and gets people thinking about baseball.”

Later this month, Lantz expects to release the annual Top 25 list of minor league teams’ merchandise sales, which totaled $65.1 million in 2015, up from $60.3 million in 2014 and $55.4 million in 2013. That comes from all 160 teams in domestic-based leagues that charge admission to games.

The Sea Dogs had been on that list every year of their existence until the 2015 figures came in, but that, Eshbach explained, was because of a late vendor report about one of the team’s biggest-selling licensed products: Sea Dogs biscuits. When the 2016 list comes out, Eshbach expects the Sea Dogs to be on it.

Jim Weed, general manager of the Rumble Ponies, said an ownership change prompted the rebranding effort, and the carousel theme allowed Binghamton to tie into the local community.

“In the beginning there was some pushback,” he said, “but now it’s mostly positive. I have some of our season-ticket holders and regulars come up to me and say, ‘I was wrong.’ I say, ‘You weren’t wrong. You were apprehensive.’ When it comes down to it, it’s their hometown team and still an affiliate of the Mets.”

Peter Gray of Old Orchard Beach played on the field that Binghamton now calls home back when he was an infielder for Nyack College. Now 70, Gray had read about the inspiration for Rumble Ponies.

“I think it’s perfect,” he said while watching the Ponies at Hadlock Field last week. “It’s part of history.”

Jenn Daniels, 42, a season-ticket holder from Rockland, said she appreciates the historical connection, but figures Binghamton could have come up with something better.

“I didn’t find a lot of strength in Rumble Ponies,” she said. “Rumble Horses maybe, or Rumble Quarter Horses. But Ponies? That seems a little weak.”

EARLY RESISTANCE TO ODD NAMES

Then again, Daniels visited Binghamton two years ago and said she found a ballpark in disrepair and concessions poorly run. If new ownership believed a name change could help turn things around, she’s on board. If economics drove the decision, however, then she’s wistful.

“There’s a part of me that still likes to believe in all things good,” she said. “I sort of have that ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality and baseball is just the last good and pure thing. So to know that it crosses that line, it hurts, but I understand it.”

A year ago, when Binghamton released the six finalists for its new name (the also-rans: Bullheads, Gobblers, Rocking Horses, Stud Muffins, Timber Jockeys), Eshbach said he wasn’t enamored with Rumble Ponies.

“Then again,” he said, “there were a lot of people, when we named ourselves the Sea Dogs, who weren’t pleased with that initially.”

It’s fair to say the name took root. Now Binghamton seems ready for Rumble.

“It’s baseball. It’s supposed to be fun,” Decker said. “I don’t care what you call my team name, just make sure it’s interesting.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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