The Double-A Oakland A’s affiliate in the Texas League is called the Midland RockHounds because it sounds better than the Midland Geologists. And Rocky the RockHound is definitely a better mascot than some guy named Ted (or whatever) in a white lab coat. When I spoke with Brian Smith, Midland’s director of public relations, he said that the first thing people want to know about the team is just what a Rockhound is.
“It’s simply just a nickname for a geologist,” he said. “Out here in west Texas, the oil and gas industry has been the way of life for years, for a century. And so, when we were coming up with the new nickname in 1999, we wanted to have a name that would honor our local tradition, and be unique, so we went with RockHounds.”
The logo features a dog named Rocky wearing a hard hat and holding a bat and a baseball-shaped rock. The word “RockHounds” is set in a cracked-rock typeface, while the name of the town, Midland, is set in a stretched-out approximation of the typeface from Jurassic Park. With all that going on, you might not notice the oil rigs over Rocky’s shoulder, but locals recognize them right away.
“If you were ever out here in west Texas,” Smith said, “that’s what you would see. You would see the rigs everywhere, the pump jacks and the gushers. That’s definitely a ubiquitous symbol for us.”
Another detail that casual observers might overlook is a subtle homage to the RockHounds’ home state worked into the logo. “If you look on the hound’s arm that’s holding the baseball,” Smith said, “he has the sundial, the old-fashioned geologist’s watch. And then the two shapes on the band are actually a rough outline of the state of Texas.”
Because my journalistic integrity compels me to ask the tough questions, I had to follow up on a hunch I had about this logo. The first time I saw Rocky the RockHound, I immediately thought that he was the older, burlier brother of Poochie the Dog from the Simpsons. Poochie first appeared on the Simpsons on February 9, 1997—two years before the RockHounds arrived on the scene—in an episode called “The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show,” and it’s my professional opinion that they look like they might be related.
I asked Brian Smith if there was a connection. He laughed, and said, “No, I’ve actually never heard that.”
So that answers that.
“The ‘M’ is our away logo,” Smith said. “When we’re outside of our market, it’s just a way to promote Midland and promote west Texas and show our city off. Our away jerseys say ‘Midland’ across the front. It’s just a natural tie-in there.”
The RockHounds are the western-most double-A franchise in baseball, so while they are not close to their Major League affiliate in Oakland, they’re closer than any other Double-A team is. When they were affiliated with the Cubs (1972-1984) and Angels (1985-1998), they adopted the identities of their parent clubs. Some minor league teams that are close to their parent clubs, like the San Jose Giants or Binghamton Mets, can get away with that. But when the RockHounds switched affiliations to the A’s in 1999, they saw an opportunity—and the need—to rebrand with something more appropriate to the local community.
“Although the A’s are a fantastic organization, they’re just very far away from here. It’s tough for our casual fans to keep that connection,” Smith said. “When your parent club is too far away, then having your local brand is really what drives your casual baseball fan and your entertainment fan.”
With that in mind the RockHounds became one of the early adopters in the current wave of fun, kid-friendly, location-specific minor league nicknames. Recent years have seen a growing wave of teams taking a similar approach. Rather than feeling threatened by the competition, the team feels a certain amount of pride in seeing the increasingly wacky logo landscape.
“We had our chance to create our own brand and become very unique and have a very distinct identity, and it was something we were very excited about,” Smith said. “Now, you see a lot of other teams that are trying to come off of that. You’ve got teams like the Chihuahuas, the RubberDucks—the Storm have been fantastic. You see a lot of new creativity there. If you look back over the last 15 years, you see that ours has been consistent, because it was so bold at the beginning.”
They’ve been around for a decade and a half, but the Midland RockHounds are still regularly included on minor league baseball’s annual list of the top 25 top merchandise sellers (including this year). This requires not only support from the local community—which they have, setting attendance records the last three seasons—but nationwide. One of the ways this national support manifests itself is in little league teams that adopt the RockHounds nickname and logo from as far away as California and Vermont.
“All the post cards we get from kids all over the country wearing their RockHounds gear and being part of the team,” Smith said, “it’s just fun. Because you know, even if they never set foot in west Texas, you’ve made a RockHounds fan, you’ve made a baseball fan.”
You don’t necessarily think of west Texas when you go looking for fashion makers, but the Midland RockHounds are the poster team for the location-appropriate, kid-friendly, cartoonish logo that you see everywhere now. It’s not unusual to see a Rock Hounds cap (or a whole bunch of them on a little league team) at Major League or minor league games anywhere in the country—and it’s a pretty safe bet that that was not the case when they were the Midland Angels or the Midland Cubs. They took a deliberate approach to their branding and their success has exceeded even their own expectations.