For 22 seasons, the Florida State League was home to the Daytona Cubs. But after the 2014 season, when Chicago switched its High-A affiliate from Daytona to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the team in Daytona signed on with the Cincinnati Reds and started the process of developing a new identity.
“We were with the Cubs for 22 years, and so for 22 years, being the Daytona Cubs, it worked,” said Jim Jaworski, the team’s assistant general manager. “To be the Cubs for 22 years, and especially, to have that Cubs brand, which is obviously a fantastic brand, you know, it was a pretty tough transition.”
Not only is the Cubs brand a solid one for a minor league baseball team that wants to ride the coattails of its parent club, but Daytona had just refreshed its logo three seasons prior. Forced into coming up with a new identity, the team approached Dan Simon of Studio Simon, who had created the Daytona Cubs identity that the team used from 2012-2014.
“They weren’t coming to me because they didn’t like their old identity,” Simon said, “they were coming to me because they had to come up with a new identity, which is really a shame, because they really loved the new Cubs identity that we did for them. I really loved it. It’s a shame that it had to die an early death.”
In searching for a new name, the team explored a lot of options.
“Being in Daytona Beach, there was a lot of different ideas that came to the floor,” Jaworski said. “Do we want to associate ourselves with being by the beach, do we want to associate ourselves with NASCAR, with Bike Week, with different things that are going on here in the area?”
In the end, the team went with what is becoming something of a tradition in their league.
“We have the Manatees, we have the Threshers, we have the Hammerheads, so there’s definitely a theme down here in the Florida State League,” Jaworski said. “Because of the turtle population that’s here in Volusia County, because of nesting season that ties in with our season, it seemed to be a pretty natural fit.”
Once the team decided on the sea turtle as the main visual identity, there was still the business of deciding which sea turtle to adopt. Of the five species of sea turtles in the area—loggerhead, leatherback, green turtle, hawks bill, and Kemp’s ridley—only two seemed like they might make good names for a minor league baseball team.
General manager Josh Lawther approached Dan Simon with the options of Loggerheads and Leatherbacks.
“As soon as they came to me with those names, I said, those are great names, but I’ve got one that’s even better for you,” Simon said.
Simon’s friend Kurt Hunzeker, who is currently vice president for marketing strategy for Minor League Baseball, had once during a casual conversation suggested Tortugas, the Spanish word for turtles, as a great name for a team. Simon suggested the name to Lawther, and the rest is history.
One of Simon’s early concepts was to combine the sea turtle idea with another idea that had come up in conversations.
“They were considering motor sports,” Simon said, “what with Daytona being a motor sports Mecca with Dayton International Speedway, the Daytona 500, and a long history of motor sports in Daytona.”
After getting a quick sketch on paper, though, everyone involved decided that was not the path to take.
“I had drawn the turtle with the helmet, liked it, but then I realized, now I’ve got to bring baseball into it as well,” Simon said. “You’re going to have a turtle with a racing helmet and a baseball bat. It’s too much.”
Another idea was to celebrate Ponce de León, the first Spanish explorer to set foot in present-day Florida. In fact, Ponce de León Inlet is located just 12 miles from the Daytona Tortugas’ home field, Jackie Robinson Ballpark. It’s worth noting here that one of Ponce de León’s most celebrated achievements was the 1513 discovery of the Gulf of Mexico’s Dry Tortuga islands, so named for a preponderance of sea turtles and their lack of fresh water.
The Tortugas came about out of necessity following a somewhat unexpected affiliation change, but the result has been one of the sport’s most popular identities. Now in their second season, the Tortugas have been celebrated as one of minor league baseball’s top new brands.
“We won Minor League Baseball’s Clash of the Caps last year, we won Ballpark Digest’s best rebrand last year,” Jaworski said, “so it’s starting to get noticed.”
The logo’s success is likely the result of a number of factors. There’s a certain cool factor to the name itself, which Simon said he first heard in reference to the Haitian island of Tortuga in Pirates of the Caribbean. (“I remember watching that movie and thinking, what a cool word,” he said.) Also, pretty much everyone likes sea turtles—have you ever heard of someone having a turtle phobia? Finally, the logo itself, has a soothing, tropical feeling about it.
“It was a fresh color palette—fresh both in its uniqueness as well as in the feel of those colors. They feel fresh,” Simon said. “It wasn’t like, what can we do that hasn’t been done before? It was based on, what’s going to feel like a sea turtle? And those colors just felt right.”
Whether it’s the name, the turtle, or the colors, the Tortugas have tapped into something that’s captured the imagination of baseball fans. The exact reason is something of a mystery, perhaps best summed up by Crush, the sea turtle in Finding Nemo: “Well, you never really know, but when they know, you know, y’know?”