The Baltimore Orioles are unique in minor league baseball in that all but one of their farm teams play in the same state as their parent club, and the one that doesn’t is the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, who play in neighbouring Virginia. But even with all those Orioles affiliates nearby, the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds, who play just 25 miles from their parent club in Baltimore, have a special claim to the hearts of O’s fans. Their team is named in honour of its owner, one Cal Ripken, Jr.
The team’s happy-go-lucky original logo, unveiled with the team’s inception in 2002, features a smiling jet plane, a reference to a nearby military facility used for testing military equipment.
“We’re so close to Aberdeen Proving Grounds military base here in Hartford County,” Cox said. “That’s where the plane part of the logo came about.”
The plane has the number 8 splashed prominently on its tail. It’s not a reference to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but rather the uniform number of the Orioles most famous alumni. (Unresolvable baseball debate alert!)
“We’re in the market for the Orioles, so we wanted to tie in somehow the team, so that’s how the ‘Birds’ part of it came in,” said the team’s assistant general manager Brad Cox, who has been with the team since its beginning. “And the ‘Iron’ part with the ownership of Cal Ripken and Bill Ripken, Cal obviously being the Iron Man, that’s how the IronBirds came about.”
Ripken has owned the team since before the 2002 season, when he purchased the Utica Blue Sox and moved them to Aberdeen.
After the sale and the move, the team looked into a name that more directly named their owner’s nickname. Cal Ripken Jr.’s 16-year streak of 2,362 consecutive games played earned him the nickname Iron Man, but Marvel Comics had something to say about a team using the name of one of their signature characters.
“We had to get some approvals from Marvel Comics,” Cox said. “We needed approval on IronMen, trying to do that type of having Iron in the name.”
So the front office staff knocked their heads together trying to come up with a name that fit the bill (as it were!). They engaged Ripken himself in the conversation, but the idea that finally clicked came from an unlikely source.
“We swung names by [Cal Ripken Jr.] all the time,” Cox said. “The actual name itself, IronBirds, was come up with by an intern.”
Of course, Mr. Ripken did have to sign off on the name.
“Once we threw it by him, he was good with it,” Cox said.
“It’s still similar with the plane in there, but it’s more of a—I don’t want to say menacing with the bird head in there—but it’s more regal looking,” Cox said. “The original plane was kind of a happy-faced plane.”
The new look has something else that the old one didn’t
“The plane has talons on it, unlike the original one, which didn’t have anything of the physical bird,” Cox said.
In tying the team even more closely to its parent club, the new look shifted the colour scheme somewhat.
“This one, we even changed the colour scheme a little bit, kind of phased the blue out to keep more in line with the Orioles with the orange and black,” Cox said. “Our uniforms now, we have an orange and black, and a white and a grey. We don’t have a blue uniform anymore.”
The team’s cap logo features the head of a bird, the specific species of which is unclear. (“It looks more like an eagle if you look at it close,” Cox said, “but it’s not meant to represent any specific kind of bird.”)
That said, the angry bird in the logo is meant to reference the Orioles’ 1968 “Cuckoo Bird” (also called the “Psycho Bird”). And while I’m sure the team will deny it, it’s clear that the logo is influenced by America’s greatest hero, Sam the Eagle.
Maryland is crowded with minor league teams clamouring for the attention of Baltimore Orioles fans, but the Aberdeen IronBirds, even though they play at the lowest of levels, just may have found the secret to the hearts and minds of the state’s baseball fans. The IronBirds staked their claim to Orioles credibility by tying their identity to one of the most beloved players in team history.