The Story Behind the Modesto Nuts: Now with More Nuts!

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Modesto, California, is known for producing nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and George Lucas. And since they couldn’t make a logo out of George Lucas, who was born and raised in Modesto and set his film American Graffiti there, the local baseball team decided to pay homage the industry that dominates the surrounding Central Valley with its logo.

“It’s really an ode to the agricultural community in the Central Valley and Stanislaus County,” said the team’s general manager Tyler Richardson, who is himself a product of Modesto. “Agriculture—specifically almonds and walnuts­—make up a huge part of who we are.”

RoadFront_300The single-A Nuts debuted in 2005 after the then-Modesto Athletics switched affiliations to the Colorado Rockies. As is the trend in minor league baseball, the team rebranded with a nickname and logo appropriate to their own region rather than simply adopting the name of their Major League affiliate.

“One of the main benefits now is no matter who our affiliate is, our team name will always be the same,” Richardson said. “We’ve always marketed ourselves as Modesto’s team, Stanislaus County’s team, and so to have a name that reflects who we are, which is agriculture, it just deepens those relationships even further.”

These particular Nuts of Modesto are Wally the Walnut and Al the Almond—whom I have always thought of as the Bert and Ernie of the baseball logo world—along with the newest member of the team, an as-of-yet unnamed female pistachio. In an announcement on the team’s website, Richardson said, “We feel a strong, independent female character will resonate with all of our fans.” The Nuts are asking fans to vote on a new name for the pistachio on their website right now. The options, selected from suggestions that fans submitted online, are Penny, Patty, Shelley, Bella, and Polly. (The official stance of this author is that fans should shake things up and go with Shelley. Let’s branch out from the alliteration.)

Nuts-Mascots

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Via Fun While It Lasted.

Al and Wally wear red caps with a white capital M, an homage to the erstwhile Modesto Reds, the local team from 1966 to 1974. (The pistachio, I think, is wearing a makeshift bandage to keep her head from splitting further.) This means that the caps that Nuts players wear as part of their uniforms feature a mascot wearing a cap. It makes you wonder, if Wally were wearing a cap with the current Nuts logo—a picture of himself wearing a cap—would we be caught in an Inception-style infinite loop of cap logos?

The Nuts’ identity features another design element that might be lost on the casual observer, but is significant to people who know the area. The team’s primary logo features the word Modesto in an arch—a nod to the actual Modesto arch, which has welcomed motorists to the city with its motto, “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health,” since 1912.

The Modesto arch is reflected in the Nuts’ logo. Photo by Carl Skaggs.
The Modesto arch is reflected in the Nuts’ logo. Photo by Carl Skaggs.

“Everyone who knows Modesto knows about the arch,” Richardson said, “and so we wanted to put ‘Modesto’ in the arch to signify our arch.”

These place-specific details in the Nuts logo don’t restrict its marketability. “Although the name is local, it has national appeal,” Richardson said. “We get requests and comments and merchandise orders from all over the country.”

The Nuts logo is highly regarded among minor league baseball fans for being lighthearted and well-designed—though botanists might complain that almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are technically drupes rather than nuts. That said, if anyone does complain about the technical definition of a nut versus a drupe, they don’t do it at Nuts games. When I asked about it, Richardson told me, “You’re the first person that’s ever mentioned that.” (For the record, a drupe is a fruit with a pit inside it, like cherries or plums. In the case of almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, we actually throw away the fruit and eat the pit.)

The Nuts seem to be a fixture on lists of people’s favorite wacky sports logos. A strong color scheme, a unique mascot, and an identity that is meaningful at multiple levels—from the place-specific, agricultural roots of the name right down to details of the actual design—make the Nuts one of the most distinct logos in minor league baseball.