The story behind the brand-new Down East Wood Ducks, a brand-new Single-A team in the Carolina League, needs to be addressed in two parts: 1. Where exactly is Down East? and 2. What is a Wood Duck?
First, as a geographic signifier for a sports team, “Down East” is probably as non-specific as it gets. There are a couple minor league teams that use “Tri-City” (the Dust Devils in Pasco, Washington, and the Valley Cats in Troy, New York) and there is one NBA team of note that indicates its whereabouts with the cryptic descriptor “Golden State.” But “Down East” is even more vague than those.
The team plays in Kinston, North Carolina, with just over 20,000 residents, but using the city name as a locator did not do justice to the reach the team hopes to achieve. When Brandiose partners Jason Klein and Casey White visited the town to research the project, one of their goals was to figure out the geographic signifier.
“They draw so well from outside Kinston and they want to be a real regional brand,” Klein said. “We just started talking with people about how they would describe this area and how it relates to other parts of Carolina, and Down East was the one that prevailed.”
As for the nickname, Wood Ducks are not, as I assumed, another name for the decoys hunters use, but rather a living, breathing species of real bird. Given that my own personal classification system for birds consists of three categories (Big, Pretty, Other), I thought I’d consult a legitimate source on just what a Wood Duck is.
“The Wood Duck is one of the most stunningly pretty of all waterfowl,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a website written by bird scientists. “These birds live in wooded swamps, where they nest in holes in trees or in nest boxes put up around lake margins. They are one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws that can grip bark and perch on branches.”
That telltale Wood Duck bark grip is on evidence in two of the four logos Brandiose created for the team. (Yes, Brandiose created a logo with a mascot swinging a thing. No need to mention it in the comments.)
Wood Ducks are common targets of hunters, and hunting is a big deal in Kinston, so it played a big role in the selection of the team name. On Brandiose’s visit to the area, a trip to Kinston’s noted Neuse Sport Shop cemented the choice for the team name.
“We went to this huge hunting store,” Klein said. “That was very inspirational, a local place that the community is famous for.”
In addition to inspiring the nickname, hunting played a role in the selection of the team’s colors.
“We hadn’t done a whole lot with orange—hunting orange—so we brought that in,” Klein said.
And further, the hunting theme allowed the team to justify the existence of what would otherwise be a gimmicky cliché.
“Of course, like a lot of teams, we brought in camouflage,” Klein said. “They have a camouflage alternate jersey.”
The script lettering is meant to evoke neon signs in diner windows, according to general manager Wade Howell.
“That’s right in line with where we are here in eastern North Carolina, comfort food and a welcoming atmosphere,” Howell said, quoted on MiLB.com.
In a minor league baseball season that has brought us wacky new team names like the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, and New Orleans Baby Cakes, Down East Wood Ducks doesn’t seem too outrageous. The explanation for that might be that the team is owned by the Major League parent club, the Texas Rangers.
“It’s the beginning of a trend that we’re seeing which working with with Major League Baseball teams on minor league identities,” Klein said. “I think it was cool to see them get out of their element and into minor leagues and switch things up and do things they’re not able to do at the Major League level.”
Before they even took the field, the Wood Ducks had formalized a nickname for their nickname. Their home uniforms, unveiled about a month before the start of the season, feature the script “Woodies” across the front. Green road uniforms feature the name “Wood Ducks” (not the geographic signifier “Down East,” which would be more typical, according to baseball tradition). The alternate camo jerseys worn mostly on Mondays, also feature the text “Wood Ducks.”
The Wood Ducks were conjured into existence this season to replace the California League’s High Desert Mavericks, who were disbanded by Minor League Baseball after last season. Their debut in front of more than 4,200 fans at Grainger Stadium marked the first professional baseball in Kinston since 2011, when the High-A Kinston Indians relocated.