The city of Lincoln, Nebraska, has a lot going for it. With a quarter-million residents, it’s the state capital (its skyline is highlighted by the nation’s second-tallest capitol), it’s home to the University of Nebraska, it hosts an expanding tech industry, and it’s named for a president who guided the United States through its most turbulent era.
So you can forgive fans of the Lincoln Saltdogs, one of twelve teams in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, if they have a certain question about their hometown team.
“When people come take tours,” said Charlie Meyer, the team’s president and general manager, “that’s one of the most frequently asked questions—what is a Saltdog?”
If you Google the question (depending on your “safe search” settings), you might stumble across “salty dog,” which is either a slang term for lifelong Marines or a cocktail made of grapefruit juice mixed with vodka or gin. The baseball team has nothing to do with either of those.
The actual answer goes back to the mid-1800s, when the area was called Lancaster County and had a population of 500 people.
“When we were putting the team together back in 2000 and trying to identify what the name of the team was going to be, we were really looking to the history,” Meyer said.
In coming up with a name, the team considered going by Capitals, playing off the fact that Lincoln is the state capital. However, at the time of their founding, the team was part of the Northern League (which disbanded and kind of reformed as the Northeast League, which is now the CanAm League) and the Northern League already had the Québec Capitales, so that idea was taken and it was back to the drawing board. (The Saltdogs would leave that league to become one of the founding members of the American Association after the 2005 season.)
“What we were trying to do was tie it to the history of Lincoln,” Meyer said. “A lot of people didn’t realize it was founded on a salt flat back in the mid-1800s.”
Basically, from 1853 to 1887, the area that is now Lincoln was settled by individuals and companies who couldn’t help but notice that the ground was covered in salt. In addition to the fact that the ground was covered in salt, two local bodies of water, Salt Creek, which fans have to cross in order to reach the Saltdogs’ home, Haymarket Park, and a basin that now goes by Capital Beach Lake, are naturally salinated through deposits left by the vast inland sea that once covered the area.
The salt mining industry would never really pan out it Lincoln, but the town took root and continued to grow. More than a century after any serious attempts at salt mining in the area, the local baseball team brought that history back to the forefront.
So that explains the salt part of the name. But the question remains, what is a Saltdog? It turns out that the team turned to that time-tested minor league baseball team-naming formula to round out their moniker:
City + Geological Feature + Any Animal = Your Team Name!
“It was a matter of whether we were going to be called Saltcats or the Saltdogs,” Meyer said. “And our owner has dogs.”
Given that the history of Lincoln as a salt resource has been obscured by time, and the fictional animal Saltdog is an invention of the team, I asked Meyer if the name often required explaining.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said.
But it’s not without precedent! Meyer invoked the names of some other teams in minor league baseball whose names require a little explaining.
“It’s kind of like, what’s a River Cat?” he asked. “I think that’s the uniqueness. It’s kind of like a Mud Cat. Spinners. All those types of things.” (For the record, we’ve written about the origins of all three of those teams here, here, and here.)
Of course, as with all brands, consistency and persistence rule the day. The Saltdogs have had the same name and identity for 16 years. While the team added a front-facing logo last year to celebrate their 15th anniversary (above), the primary logo, created by Dick Sakahara, who was with the Lincoln-based agency Swanson Russell at the time, still remains.
From the get-go, the team had to pick a direction—do we go adorable or intimidating. While the team’s mascot, Homer, is decidedly adorable—he makes regular appearances in the community and he’s the namesake for Homer’s Heroes, a baseball program for disabled children in the area—the logo has a bit of an edge to it for a reason.
“The ferociousness of the logo is because we’ve got guys playing baseball,” Meyer said.
The Saltdogs’ branding is complicated somewhat by the fact that they share Haymarket Park with the University of Nebraska. It’s a great park (named best playing field in the Northern League and the American Association for every year that the Saltdogs have existed), and its location half a mile from the University of Nebraska’s campus is ideal, but the teams share the branding that fans see when they attend a game.
“There are Husker things around the concourse as well as Saltdogs, so it’s more a community ballpark and we share the facility,” Meyer said. “Their season ends here in May, we start up in May. We run through early September, so it’s been a great partnership for 15 years.”
The Saltdogs’ name was basically created out of thin air—or at least salty ground—but a decade and a half of consistent branding have made it a household name throughout Nebraska. Fans will continue to ask what a Saltdog is, and those in the know will tell them, it’s not a sailor or a drink, all that matters is that it’s a baseball player.