Here’s how much I like the nickname and logo of the triple-A Las Vegas 51s: I bought myself a 51s hat and shirt, even though I am a Phillies fan and the 51s are a Mets affiliate. I love their primary logo (above), the stand-alone alien head with the baseball seam forehead, and what I just recently learned is called their “orbitron” logo (at right).
The 51s’ nickname and the alien-themed identity derive from nearby Area 51 (okay, it’s 83 miles away), where the US government secretly stores spaceships and actual, living extra-terrestrials who have crash landed in the desert. (Legal notice: *Allegedly.) The 51s, however, are suffering one of the worst fates known to minor league baseball: The novelty is wearing off.
“Compared to some of the other nicknames now, really, to be honest with you, 51s is really not that wacky of a nickname,” said 51s media relations director Jim Gemma. “It’s really not that far out.”
The 51s franchise dates back to 1919, when they were founded as the second iteration (of many) of the Portland Beavers. They moved to Spokane in 1972, where they played under the moniker Indians through the 1982 season before moving to Las Vegas. For 18 years beginning in 1983, the triple-A baseball team in Las Vegas was a San Diego Padres affiliate called the Stars. When the team’s affiliation changed to the Dodgers in 2001, they seized the opportunity to rebrand with a not-uncommon goal in mind: “The kids really do love the alien stuff,” Gemma said.
To that end, the 51s introduced a mascot named Cosmo, whom Gemma says has been very popular. According to the 51s website, Cosmo is from a planet called Koufaxia and crashlanded on Earth, where he spent time in Area 51. (My theory is that Cosmo is actually Jar Jar Binks in an intergallactic Witness Protection Program. Cosmo—just coincidentally—debuted two years after Star Wars Episode 1 hit the theaters.)
Of course, people fear change, and the reaction to the new identity was not universally positive. “It’s kind of weathered the storm,” Gemma said. “People hated it, and a lot of people liked the Stars.”
But time heals all wounds, and now after more than a decade in Las Vegas, the 51s are a fixture.
“We’ve been the 51s for 13 years,” Gemma said, “so like it or not, if you say 51s to somebody … they know it’s triple-A baseball, Pacific Coast League, they play at Cashman Field.” (As if it’s totally normal for a minor league baseball team to base its identity on the sort of government conspiracies they make Will Smith movies out of.)
Given that they are named after a controversial, alleged, top-secret government facility, the team’s uniforms are fairly traditional. In fact, the only place the 51s’ wackiest visual element, the baseball-alien head, appears on the uniform is on the primary logo cap. And this is just fine with Gemma, who has players wear alternate LV logo caps when he takes player photographs.
“Our alternate hat is the LV hat, which we wear occasionally,” Gemma said. “I think the LV hat looks better, but the alien head sells, and that’s our primary hat.”
The only change to the 51s’ uniforms in recent years came when they switched affiliations to the Mets in 2013, after being a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate from 2009 to 2012. “We kind of had the standard blue and red and we decided to change the number on the front to orange,” Gemma said.
Gemma is happy with the team’s traditional look when it comes to the uniforms and the placement of the various logos. “To me, the cleaner the better,” he said. “Our 51s orbitron logo I think looks great. The alien head on the hat, it’s simple, but it’s good.”
The orbitron logo appears on the shirt sleeves. (I point this out primarily because I like the word orbitron.)
The 51s play in a 30-year-old stadium, Cashman Field, which has held up fairly well over the years, though it does not have much of the glitz and glamor you’d expect in Sin City. One devastating detriment to Cashman Field: They do not sell ice cream helmet sundaes with the 51s logo—no soft serve helmets, no Dippin’ Dots helmets, no shave ice helmets, and no cheese curd or nacho helmets. Here they have one of the most popular and distinctive logos in minor league ball, and fans are sent home with no helmet sundaes to add to their collection.
Since becoming the 51s in 2001, they have had multiple ownership groups. The current ownership group, Summerlin Las Vegas Baseball Club LLC, is exploring the possibility of a new stadium in the Vegas suburbs in the next several years, which may signal more change: “They’re trying to get a new ballpark,” Gemma said, “and when the new ballpark goes up, maybe they will change the name.”
And what would become of the popular Cosmo if the team name did change?
“We’d probably just keep him,” Gemma said. “That would be my vote. Just tell everybody the spaceship left without him.”
If they do change the name, they have a high standard to meet. After all, the current one made a Phillies fan buy Mets stuff.