When the gates open before a High Desert Mavericks baseball game, the loudspeakers play the song “Ride Ranger Ride” by iconic cowboy actor Roy Rogers. As staff puts the finishing touches on pregame preparations, the song’s harmonies ring throughout the stadium, indicating that it’s time for everyone to get their game faces on. When the Mavericks lose a game, the team plays the melancholy “Happy Trails to You” by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans as fans file out of the stadium.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans made their home in Apple Valley, California, on the southern edge of the Mojave Desert, known colloquially as the high desert because of its altitude (as differentiated from the low desert, the Sonoran). The heritage of the high desert is defined by the rugged ranchers who made a living in the sparse environment. (Some of the area’s ranchers are still active, but most have gone. According the US National Park Service, the largest Historical Ranching District recorded in the National Register of Historic Places will be located in Mojave National Preserve.)
Not far from Roy Rogers’ home in Apple Valley is Adelanto, another dusty high desert town whose only green spot might be the baseball field that plays host to the High Desert Mavericks, an affiliate of the Texas Rangers in the High-A California League.
The word maverick means a lot of different things to different people—fans of US politics might think first of John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid; children of the 1980s will associate it with Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun; and anyone who watched TV in the mid-20th century will hearken back to a comedy series featuring poker-playing brothers Bret and Bart Maverick.
The word has its roots in the American Southwest, where it first referenced a steer who wanders away from its mother, and eventually became associated with loners or rebellious individuals. The term came to be synonymous with the cowboys who roamed the high desert.
The team’s current leadership inherited the original logo, which was unveiled with the team’s debut in 1991 and is still in use today. It features a cowboy hat adorned with tiny baseballs.
Additional logos unveiled in 2012 highlight the area’s desert scenery and cowboy heritage. (The cowboy logo, which the team internally calls “The Dude,” looks a bit like Bret Maverick, if you ask me.)
“When they did it, they saw the mountains, they saw the sun setting, they saw the vast desert up here,” surmises the team’s general manager Ben Hemmen. “You could really kind of see this as the Wild West frontier, and so they ran with it.”
Speaking of running with it, the team has embraced its cowboy roots in all sorts of branding around the stadium. There’s the Maverick Grill down the third base line and on the first base side, the Chuck Wagon (“because when you think of the Wild West, the frontier, you called it the Chuck Wagon because that’s where you got your chow,” Hemmen said). The kids’ club is called the Little Deputies and, if things had worked out differently, a proposed senior fan group was going to be called the Silver Sheriffs.
With the recent news that the Mavericks are one of two California League teams that Minor League Baseball is dissolving after the 2016 season, High Desert is playing the final homestand of its existence this weekend. The team has already clinched a spot in the playoffs, so a brand that’s been around for a quarter century has at most a few weeks left. Hemmen takes solace in knowing that the team is beloved locally and will live on on the hats and T-shirts of locals who supported team.
“The bottom line is whether you’re the players or fans in the stands or the front office, you’re creating lifelong memories,” he said. “You’re always going to remember a place, and that involves the brand. Even though the brand is going to cease to exist here in about a month or so, the brand will live on. Any time you say Mavericks around this area, people will get a smile on their face and they’ll remember it.”
As of this moment, the Mavericks are alive and kicking, but the day when the sun sets on the team is coming soon, and when it does, it’s not hard to imagine fans streaming out of the stadium, their caps and shirts suddenly collectors’ items, while Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sing, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smiling until then.”