The Single-A California League will lose two long-tenured teams at the end of the season. The Bakersfield Blaze and the High Desert Mavericks, the league’s lowest-attended teams, will cease operations and be dissolved when the 2016 season comes to an end. To keep the equilibrium throughout Minor League Baseball, two new teams will be added to the Single-A Carolina League.
The new teams in the Carolina League will surely have wacky nicknames and fun logos (which fans will hate at first, then embrace and love, shooting them to the top of the merchandise sales charts), but Minor League Baseball is losing a couple of long-standing brands with a lot of history behind them. The Blaze and the Mavericks are down to their final few weeks before becoming one of the many casualties of MiLB’s constantly shifting landscape.
Bakersfield has been home to baseball since 1941, when the current franchise debuted as the Bakersfield Badgers. They’ve been through nine nicknames, including the likes of Boosters, Bears, Outlaws, and since 1995, the Blaze, but they’ve played every home game in 75-year-old Sam Lynn Ballpark, which is best known for facing backwards (so that batters stare into the setting sun at the beginning of night games). The Blaze, whom we featured in our Story Behind the Nickname series in 2014, are averaging only 858 fans per game this season (one of whom, I’m told, is occasionally Fred Willard), and were designated to be dissolved after attempts to move the team or build a new stadium fell through.
The High Desert Mavericks, who have been around since 1991, are the second-lowest team in terms of attendance this season, with an average of 1,056 fans per game, and have had stadium issues of their own following a protracted and ugly legal battle between the team and its landlord, the city of Adelanto.
The likely candidates to host the Carolina League’s new teams in 2017 are the towns of Kinston and Fayetteville, both in North Carolina. The last affiliated team to play in Kinston was the Kinston Indians (that logo, ick), who relocated after the 2011 season to become the Single-A iteration of the Carolina Mudcats. Fayetteville’s most recent affiliated team was an Expos farm club called the Cape Fear Crocs, who are now the South Atlantic League’s Lakewood BlueClaws.