Birds of Play: The Story Behind the Oklahoma City RedHawks

Written By:  •  Saturday, November 15, 2014

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The triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks play in Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, the centerpiece of Oklahoma City’s hopping, rejuvenated, brick-covered Bricktown entertainment district. It’s a beautiful ballpark—voted one of the 10 best in the minors by USA Today readers—and everything about it pays homage to the city’s baseball history.

Statues of Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, and Warren Spahn grace the park’s entrances, along with the busts of seven other players, all of whom were either born in the state or spent significant portions of their lives there. Even the ballpark’s location on the map—between Mickey Mantle Drive and Joe Carter Avenue—pays tribute to those with ties to the state of Oklahoma.

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So it stands to reason that a team in a city with such deep baseball roots would choose to represent itself with a brand that feels classic, even if that brand has not been around that long.

“Based on the stadium and the surrounding area, to have more of a traditional name and traditional look is good,” said Alex Freedman, the RedHawks’ play-by-play broadcaster and director of media relations.

4841The franchise adopted the name Oklahoma RedHawks in 1998 when they moved into their new stadium. The nickname references the state’s natural heritage. “The definition really has to do with the state of Oklahoma,” Freedman said. “The formal name is the red-tailed hawk, also known as a red hawk, which is an indigenous, almost raptor-like bird here in Oklahoma that’s kind of similar to an eagle.”

Amazingly, the name was not chosen by fan voting, but was simply chosen by team owners because it was meaningful. “There was not a contest or anything like that,” Freedman said. “They wanted something to do with Oklahoma that was indigenous and would show off a fighting spirit.”

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The RedHawks rebranded in 2009, adding the word “City” to become the Oklahoma City RedHawks. Their new logo embraced the city’s airport code turned nickname, much like a certain NBA team that debuted the year before in 2008.

“They wanted to change the logo more to show off and stress Oklahoma City rather than a RedHawk logo,” Freedman said. “The letters OKC have become a very big deal as a way to identify the city.”

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10419409_10152556557850854_3324975412472399416_nWhile the RedHawks’ primary logo and cap insignia are text-based, an alternate logo that features a hawk with a bat in its mouth is still popular, and appears on the team’s batting practice hat. I asked Freedman, who is from St. Louis, if anyone ever remarked on a resemblance between the team’s mascots, Cooper and Rudy, and the Cardinals’ Fred Bird. He said that no one had, but that the alternate RedHawks logo gets noticed.

“There have been a couple times when I’ve been [in St. Louis] during the holidays and I’ve worn that and just random people would ask, ‘Is that a new Cardinals hat that I don’t know about?’”

The franchise was born in 1962 as the Oklahoma City 89ers, a reference to the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. The name was popular, but the change to RedHawks coincided with a move to Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, so the timing worked.

“I think people were probably pretty accepting of it because they were getting this brand-new stadium, and a really nice stadium at that,” Freedman said.

But whenever there’s change, especially with a team that dates back to the 1960s, there will be some resistance. “There’s still nostalgia,” Freedman said. “When I go out in the community, they’re like, ‘Yeah the ballpark is great, but I remember all these times at All Sports Stadium…’ Even though it was a dump, people have very fond memories of it.”

OCEAnd nostalgia for the old ballpark naturally comes with nostalgia for the old brand. “A lot of them would want to keep the 89ers name,” Freedman said. “Even today, on Twitter, there are people who want us to go back to being known as the 89ers.”

The team addresses this nostalgia with retro giveaways that feature the old name and logos.

While some fans are looking to the past, the team has gone through some exciting changes this offseason, and they are looking to the future. Shortly after the season ended, the Dodgers dropped the Albuquerque Isotopes as their triple-A affiliate and signed on with the RedHawks, who had previously been an Astros affiliate. This precipitated a domino effect that resulted in six triple-A teams switching parent clubs.

As a Dodgers affiliate, Oklahoma City is open to the possibility of changes to their brand, and it’s something they’ve been getting asked about a lot.

“We’d be foolish not to explore it,” Freedman said. “What that will mean is yet to be determined, but we’ll just have to wait and see. I know we’re going to incorporate it somehow.”

With a strong, classic-feeling logo and one of the best ballparks in minor league baseball, it’s a good time to be a RedHawks fan. They have a storied history, a good thing going right now, and a future filled with possibility. And they play in a city with a really cool airport code.



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Paul Caputo

Paul Caputo is a grown man who collects plastic ice cream helmet sundaes from minor league baseball stadiums because he likes logos that much. He is the author of the Story Behind the Nickname Series on this website and can be found on Twitter at @Count2Baseball.