Leading the Charge: The Story Behind the Frisco RoughRiders

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On July 1, 1898—117 years ago this Wednesday—the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry charged alongside other military regiments (most notably the Buffalo Soldiers) into the bloody Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba, helping to deliver a decisive blow in the Spanish-American War. With Spanish troops retreating and ultimately leaving Cuba shortly after the battle, the U.S. would declare victory in the war just weeks later.

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Col_roosevelt_rough_riderThe 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, which was commonly referred to as the Rough Riders, was led by former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. History remembers the volunteer cavalry as a hodgepodge band of outdoorsmen, ranchers, cowboys, Ivy League athletes, Texas Rangers, Native Americans, and others—many of them from Texas. They would see action in two other battles, but it was their role in the charge up San Juan Hill in support of Cuban independence from Spain that has become the stuff of legend.

More than a century after that battle, the world was reintroduced to the Rough Riders, this time in the form of the Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, the Frisco RoughRiders. (I should point out here that the volunteer cavalry from 1898 is called the Rough Riders, with a space, and the 21st-century minor league baseball team is called the RoughRiders, with the words jammed together, because it’s minor league baseball and that is how it’s done.)

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6685The RoughRiders, who had previously been the Shreveport Swamp Dragons, were relocated to northern Texas in 2003 by a new ownership group that included Tom Hicks, then part-owner of the Texas Rangers. The RoughRiders’ name reflected the historical tradition of their Major League parent club, named for the law-enforcement agency, the Texas Ranger Division.

This past offseason, the RoughRiders, ranked in 2012 by Forbes magazine as the fourth-most valuable franchise in minor league baseball, were sold to an ownership group led by Chuck Greenberg, who also owns the State College Spikes and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The new ownership group wanted to update the team’s identity and reinforce its Roosevelt roots.

“We started with the premise that we loved the name but everything else was up for grabs,” Greenberg said. “We thought that the current marks at that time, while being a little tired after a dozen years, were also more generic than we would like.”

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The new look was decidedly not generic. “What we decided to do was focus on the name, RoughRiders, and in this instance, take it back to the true roots of the name,” Greenberg said. “And the roots of the RoughRiders begins with Teddy Roosevelt.”

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Working with Brandiose, the RoughRiders came up with two Teddy Roosevelt-themed logos, which the team refers to internally as Smiling Teddy and Swinging Teddy. Those who follow minor league baseball logos know that one of Brandiose’s signatures is the logo character awkwardly swinging something that is not a bat like a bat (see the Inland Empire 66ers‘ mechanic swinging a wrench, the Eugene Emeralds‘ sasquatch swinging a tree, and the El Paso Chihuahuas‘ chihuahua swinging a dog bone, to name a few). In the case of Swinging Teddy, who is swinging an actual baseball bat, there’s a reason for the technically unsound swing.

“Teddy was not a baseball player, but he was a very gregarious, physically active fellow,” Greenberg said, “and so he took a mighty, if not altogether skilled swing.”

And not only that, but this, too: “He’s taking his first step towards first base,” Greenberg said. “He’s going to charge down the first base line as though it was San Juan Hill.”

One of the things that makes the new identity distinct is how easily caricatured Teddy Roosevelt is. “No doubt, if James K. Polk had founded the Rough Riders, it would have been a lot more challenging,” Greenberg said, “but Teddy is such a larger-than-life figure in a magnitude of ways and so universally recognized.”

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outpost-storeTo that end, the team immerses fans in a Teddy Roosevelt experience at the ballpark. Photo murals featuring Roosevelt in various stages of his life are featured throughout the stadium, such as in the team store (pictured above) and in lounges or restaurants, like the Bull Moose Saloon. The team colors and typeface, which are meant to evoke Roosevelt’s era, are used consistently in the ballpark, as with the sign for the team store, the Riders Outpost.

Speaking of the team colors, they might look like red, white, and blue, but they are in reality scorched red, cream, slate blue, and Texas navy. This is, of course, intentional.

“We didn’t want it to be the same red, white, and blue that you see in a lot of uniforms, including our Major League affiliate, the Texas Rangers,” Greenberg said. “We decided to have a red, white, and blue that would be more fitting for Teddy Roosevelt’s era, and in that era, things were left out in the sun, they’d become baked, they’d become bleached, they’d become faded a little bit.”

RF Nomar Mazara, via Facebook
RF Nomar Mazara, via Facebook

The RoughRiders play just 35 miles from their parent club, but that creates more opportunity than competition, according to Greenberg. “In every other market that’s larger than this, there are two Major League teams, and here there’s one,” he said. “We think it’s a perfect fit, it’s a perfect complement.”

That said, the proximity to the Rangers is all the more reason for the RoughRiders to cultivate a distinct, fun logo. “It did further our resolve to have a look that was completely unique,” Greenberg said. “We wanted a look that didn’t recall another college or another professional team or our Major League affiliate. We wanted it to be unique to the Frisco RoughRiders.”

By featuring a well-known and easily identifiable historical figure in their logo, the RoughRiders have achieved that unique look. With the new identity being well received by fans and critics alike in its first season, the RoughRiders are already looking to expand their spectrum of marks in the offseason. We’re just days away from the 117th anniversary of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry charging up San Juan Hill, but in Frisco, Texas, Teddy is leading the charge to this day.