The Hartford Yard Goats, Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, are named for the most unglamorous, squat, workhorses of railroad locomotives. In the rail industry, yard goats, or switchers, hardly ever leave the rail yard. Instead, they toil in obscurity, spending their days moving trains around to get them ready for long-distance locomotives, who swoop in like big shots and head out on the open rails to be cheered on by children and rail enthusiasts everywhere. It’s like a dystopian episode of Thomas & Friends written by Kurt Vonnegut.
What’s worse is that in their previous life, the Yard Goats were superstars, living a life of glamor and excess. Before moving to Hartford in 2016, the team was based in New Britain, Connecticut, where they had played for two decades as the Rock Cats, with a logo designed by internationally famous cartoonist Guy Gilchrist.
And when it rains, it pours. Not only did the Yard Goats go from a life of luxury and superstardom to one of thankless toil, but they ended up homeless for a year. After moving to Hartford, the team famously played all of its games in 2016 on the road after construction delays and lawsuits delayed the opening of Dunkin’ Donuts Park (which is the most New England name for anything ever). They’ve finally started playing games in Hartford, and the team is settling nicely into its new identity.
The Yard Goats nickname was entered in a name-the-team contest by New Jersey schoolteacher and 1998 University of Connecticut graduate Anthony Castora. His was the only entry out of more than 6,000 with the suggested name.
So what do Yard Goats have to do with Hartford, Connecticut, and why would you name a minor league baseball team after them? The team explains the latter like this: “A minor league baseball player is like that Yard Goat, working hard in his minor league city to keep his Major League affiliate on track.”
The railroad connection is another story. Hartford’s history is tied to an important rail system, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, which operated from 1872 to 1968. The first line in the system was from Hartford to New Haven. While Hartford’s claim to fame now is as the “Insurance Capital of the World,” its growth as a city in the 1800s is the result of manufacturing, which was facilitated by its access to railroads.
Hartford’s railroad history is the inspiration for one of the cleverest and most elegant design elements in minor league baseball branding. The distinctive typeface used in the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad’s logo is the basis for the Yard Goats’ wordmark.
The team’s colors pay homage to a different aspect of the city’s past. Royal blue and kelly green were the the colors of the city’s beloved Hartford Whalers, who left town two decades to the day before the Yard Goats’ first home game.
“That was a no-brainer, to use the Whalers colors,” said Jeff Dooley, the team’s Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations.
The Yard Goats embrace another tradition related to their city’s bygone hockey team: “Sometimes they’ll play Brass Bonanza, the song they played with the Whalers,” Dooley said. “They’ll play that at some games for home runs just to bring back that feeling.”
And because you know you’re already humming it in your head, here it is:
For players in the Colorado Rockies system, it’s a fun trip, branding-wise anyway, through the minors. In addition to the Yard Goats, the Rockies farm teams include the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, High-A Lancaster Jethawks, Single-A Asheville Tourists, and Short-Season Boise Hawks. If we could get the Rookie League Grand Junction Rockies to reprise their moniker from their days in Casper, Wyoming—the Ghosts—the Rockies farm system would be a clean sweep in unique nicknames.
The Yard Goats, whose logos were created by Brandiose, are evidence of how quickly minor league baseball teams can go from outrageous newcomer to an established brand. When the nickname and logo were announced, beating out other name-the-team contest finalists Hedgehogs, Praying Mantis, River Hogs, and Whirlybirds, the reaction from fans was similar to what we’re seeing this year with teams like the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, and New Orleans Baby Cakes. While the Yard Goats nickname was initially criticized, because it’s a wacky minor league baseball logo and that’s the law, the team is fully part of the community in just its second year—and its first year with actual home games.
“We were in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Hartford and there were goats marching with us,” Dooley said. “People wanted selfies with the goat.”
It’s not automatic that wacky nicknames will be accepted by fans and the local community. The Yard Goats have used successful marketing (including a very funny Twitter account) and what is ultimately a solid brand, and now feel—to borrow a term from the Yard Goats’ neighbors, ESPN—something like an instant classic.