The hottest team in baseball is the Kansas City Royals, and their surge to the World Series has been sparked by players who came up through their minor league system. Players like Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and American League Championship Series MVP Lorenzo Cain are among 13 out of 25 players on the Royals postseason roster who played in recent years with the franchise’s double-A affiliate, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
The remarkable thing about a sophisticated and elegant team name like the Naturals is that voters in northwest Arkansas chose it (by six percent) over the second-place option, the Thunder Chickens. The Naturals’ team name is an homage to Arkansas’s state slogan, “The Natural State,” as well as the classic baseball movie The Natural. (The team’s owners have close ties to the movie, as much of it was filmed at the home of one of their other teams, the Buffalo Bisons.)
The Thunder Chickens name would have been an homage to chicken purveyor Tyson Foods, which is headquartered in the team’s hometown of Springdale, Arkansas. So kudos to the good people of northwest Arkansas for going with their first choice.
That said, the Naturals have wondered what might have been, and in fact played a game in June 2012 in Thunder Chickens uniforms. But for the most part, the Naturals’ visual identity is somewhat understated and unassuming—a far cry from the typical new minor league identity.
The Naturals franchise, which plays in the double-A Texas League, began as the Amarillo Gold Sox in 1976, then became the Beaumont Golden Gators in 1983, the Wichita Pilots in 1987, and the Wichita Wranglers in 1989. When the team relocated to Arkansas before the 2008 season, there was a conscious decision to steer clear of some of the wackiness that’s typified the minor league baseball landscape of late.
“We wanted a nice clean look,” said the team’s general manager Justin Cole. “We wanted something that played to our team name. Being the Naturals, we didn’t want to have some crazy, what-is-this, in-your-face logo.”
The specific design elements in the peaceful scene pictured in the Naturals’ logo are not an accident. “Arkansas has the most naturally occurring waterfalls in America,” Cole said. “They’re not Niagara Falls. Some of them are just little ones in creeks and streams and small rivers, but that’s what went into incorporating that into our logo.”
The non-specific nature of the team name did present one particular challenge. “Coming up with the mascot was a little difficult, because what is a Natural?” Cole asked. “We figured a sasquatch, the mythical creature that lives in the forest, the woods—we figured that would be a fun take on it.”
The concern about Strike the Sasquatch, who is basically Washington National Jayson Werth, was whether he would scare children. “We were actually worried when we unveiled it,” Cole said. “Would it be kid friendly? And outside of a few very isolated examples, generally people love it.” And that’s more than noted baby-scarer Jayson Werth can say.
The Naturals franchise was a Padres affiliate from its inception in 1976 through 1994, after which they signed on with the Royals. They are unusual among new minor league teams in that they pay specific tribute to their Major League affiliate in one of their logos. While their primary cap logo (right) is the letter N with a lightning bolt as the diagonal stroke, their secondary cap logo features the Naturals N with a Royals crown on it. While northwest Arkansas is generally considered to be Cardinals country, the Royals are second favorite, and it doesn’t hurt that Royals owner David Glass lives in the area.
“We wanted to, for lack of a better way of saying it, tip our cap to them and have that crown aspect be part of what we’re doing here,” Cole said. “For us, that’s been one of the most popular parts of our logo, that crown.”
The Naturals demonstrate that a new minor league logo can be effective and successful within the confines of being traditional or classic. The team and its identity have been well received by fans in northwest Arkansas, and perhaps even more importantly, the baseball world was not subjected to a team named after a chicken company.