Seventh Heaven: The Story Behind the Lynchburg Hillcats

The city of Lynchburg, Virginia, is surrounded by hills—seven of them, to be exact. The identity of the city’s minor league baseball team, the Lynchburg Hillcats, High-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, has been tied to those hills for more than two decades.

“The reason we’re called the Hillcats is that we’re in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains,” said Ronnie Roberts, the team’s general manager. “There are seven hills in Lynchburg that are named Federal Hill, Garland Hill, Diamond Hill, College Hill, White Rock Hill, Daniel’s Hill, and Franklin Hill…. We’ve been known as the city of seven hills a long, long time.”

And as you might suspect based on the team’s name, these hills are alive with the sound of meowing. The term hillcat does not identify a specific species of animal, though if you were to press anyone who uses the term, it’s probably most closely associated with bobcats or lynxes

“In the foothills of the mountains, there are bigger-than-normal cats that roam around,” Roberts said. “They’re not house cats, but kind of wild cats—not huge cats. Some people call them mountain cats or hill cats.” (As an aside, the Hillcats get points for not choosing the name Wildcats, which is the single most generic and boring sports team there is. And I say this as a lifelong fan of Villanova basketball.)

Baseball in Lynchburg dates back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the city fielded teams called Hill Climbers and Shoemakers in the Virginia League. The majority of Lynchburg’s teams over the years have been named for their Major League parent club, including the Cardinals, Senators, White Sox, Twins, Rangers, Mets, and Red Sox. When the team’s parent club changed in the mid-1990s, they took the opportunity to rebrand.

The Hillcats’ original logo

“We had a name-the-team contest back in 1994,” Roberts said. “That name was submitted, and we liked it so much we decided to go with it.” (It’s worth noting that the Lynchburg Hillcats adopted their nickname a full 20 years before the student of Rogers State University in Oklahoma chose Hillcats as the nickname for their sports teams.)

Fans of the Hillcats recently put their stamp of approval on the team’s name in a resounding way. In 2016, the team considered changing names, going as far as conducting a name-the-team contest that produced six final choices: Derechos, Doves, Lamb Chops, Love Apples, River Runners, and Hillcats. Fans voted overwhelmingly to keep the nickname the team adopted in 1995.

“We are not surprised in the least by the passion and loyalty of our Lynchburg baseball fans,” said Team President Chris Jones in a statement after the results were announced. “This was an opportunity to see if the name Hillcats resonated with the fans, look at other options, and leave it up to our dedicated supporters to decide the identity of the team in 2017. We are pleased that Hillcats is a name that Lynchburg fans support so strongly, and we are looking forward to remaining the Lynchburg Hillcats.”

While the team’s name didn’t change, they did enlist the help of Brandiose to develop a new look. The colors in the updated logo—officially called Seven Hills Green, Blue Ridge Blue and Midnight Blue—are meant to represent Lynchburg’s seven green hills as well as the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“The sunsets behind first base, over the Blue Ridge Mountains, are just unbelievable,” Jones said, quoted on “The mountains look so blue, so we had to have blue in there. And then the green made sense, because if you drive around town you see a lot of bright greens—the trees, the bushes, the grass. And it’s not a neon green; it’s more of a lime green.”

The primary logo features a stylized cat with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. Alternates include a leaping cat (pictured earlier in this post) and a capital L with a cat’s paw for its horizontal stroke.

The Hillcats had not exactly been a mover and a shaker in merchandise sales prior to last season. A much-needed rebrand has boosted sales online, and their in-stadium store, the “Catty Shack,” saw more sales per day than in any previous season. The team’s name has built more than 20 years of equity, and now with a new look to go with it, the Hillcats are well positioned for the foreseeable future.