The 31-year-old electronic board that tells the time and temperature in center field at Historic Sam Lynn Ballpark might actually work, but the team does not turn it on. It’s not an energy-saving technique; it’s more about keeping fans in the stands sane.
“We don’t use it,” said Bakersfield Blaze assistant general manager Philip Guiry, “because we don’t really need to tell people that it’s 110 degrees outside and it’s 8:00 at night.”
But if the team is trying to keep from reminding fans about the sometimes insufferable heat in central California’s San Joaquin Valley, it’s a little incongruous that their mascots are named Torch and Heater, and the actual team name conjures Bakersfield’s crazy hot temperatures.
“There’s not much behind our name,” Guiry said. “It’s hot in Bakersfield. Blazing hot, some would say. Bakersfield Blaze. The end.”
It also doesn’t help that Historic Sam Lynn Ballpark was built in 1941 “facing backwards,” as Guiry puts it. That is, during an evening game, the batter looks west, right into the (blazing) setting sun. This means that games in the dead of summer have to start as late as 8:00 to avoid blinding batters. The photo above was taken last night just before first pitch, with umpires and managers waiting for the sun to set enough to start the game.
Perhaps because fans of the Blaze want to avoid the reality that their team is named for extreme temperatures, there are other origin stories. One such story, according to Guiry, is that during a game against Visalia in the early 1980s, the field’s sprinklers went off. The team’s mascot tried to stem the tide by stepping on a sprinkler head, and ended up flooding the third-base side of the infield.
“And so Visalia’s pitching coach, I think, was like, ‘If you just pour a little gasoline on that, it will just burn off all the water, dry it right up,’” Guiry said. “They did that and they just burned the field. So for half the season, we just played with a scorched third-base side. People have told me that’s why they changed the name to the Blaze.”
The only problem? “It’s not true,” Guiry said, “but it’s a fun story.” (Don’t misunderstand: The fire happened. It’s just not why they’re called the Blaze.)
That said, there may yet be a little more to the team’s identity than just the blazing heat. The use of black as a team color relates to the area’s substantial oil industry (“Bakersfield is the Texas of California,” Guiry said) and the orange has to do with nearby agriculture, specifically those addictive, tiny citruses called Cuties that my children eat like popcorn.
The Blaze’s primary logo, pictured at the top of this post, is a simple, traditional baseball script set in a typeface called MVB Mascot. Their original logo from 1995, pictured at left above, was sketched on a napkin by a season-ticket holder when the team adopted the new name, then refined by a professional designer, according to Guiry. Other logos along the way have included what I thought was a Toronto Maple Leaf homage (center) and what Guiry calls the “graffiti logo” (right), which was not exactly met with much critical acclaim. “We try to distance ourselves from it because it’s kind of ugly,” Guiry said. (Regarding my theory on the Maple Leafs logo: The Blaze, currently the single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, have changed affiliations more than a dozen times since the 1940s, but they have never been affiliated with the hockey team from Toronto.)
In 1978, the team (then unaffiliated) sported what Guiry calls “the best logo in baseball history.” The Bakersfield Outlaws (one of nine names the team has had since 1941) wore pill box hats and had the name of a commercial sponsor on the front of their uniforms. And yes, the logo is classic. As Guiry puts it: “SPURS AND CLEATS! I love that damn logo.”
The Blaze hosted a reunion of Outlaws players and gave away retro T-shirts at a game last season. But for Guiry, one throwback night during the season might not be enough. He’d like to see the team consider adopting the name Outlaws again, if only just to get fans’ minds off the blazing heat. “I’m trying to get us to go back to that,” he said.
The Blaze’s current identity, the traditional baseball script, is fairly bland (it’s a dry heat), but the team’s rich and varied history gives them a lot to tap into for throwback promotions. They have been the Badgers, Boosters, Bears, and, of course, Outlaws, among many other names over the years.
While the Blaze have gone away from literally representing fire on their logo, their name and mascots still embrace the region’s high temperatures. Fans know that it’s hot out, but they never know what they’re going to see at a game—it could be a hot young prospect, a pitcher hurling fireballs, blazing speed on the basepaths, or third base spontaneously combusting. Of course, they won’t be seeing any of that until the sun goes down.
One final note: One way to cool off at a Blaze game is to participate in the ALS ice bucket challenge on the field during a game, which I did with the help of Philip Guiry and mascot Heater last night. (The photo above is courtesy of the Blaze’s Facebook page.)