Battle of the Birds features classic MLB, MiLB brands

When the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds hosted their parent club, the St. Louis Cardinals, for their final Spring Training game of the season March 25, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make my way to the home of the blues, the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, to see two of baseball’s classic identities on one field.

There are the Cardinals, of course, whose birds-on-a-bat logo and timeless uniforms are routinely ranked at the top of the sorts of polls that rank these things. And then there are the Redbirds, whose 2017 rebrand eschewed the minor league baseball trend toward the wackiest possible logo in favor of a more classic feeling. That rebrand would take home two of the annual Creamer awards on this site in 2017, for both the outstanding new primary and alternate logos.

While other media at the game were plying players and coaches on the rapidly approaching regular season and the unique nature of this mixed MLB-MiLB exhibition, my interest was in the two classic looks on the field.

First up was newly minted Cardinals star Paul Goldschmidt, who the last time I spoke with him was vouching the Arizona Diamondbacks’ startling new duds. Now in Cardinal red, the juxtaposition was not lost on him.

“I think it’s cool that I’m going to get to experience both of them. The Diamondbacks are maybe the newest team in Major League Baseball, to now one of the oldest,” he said. “Getting to wear the uniform in Arizona was special.” Then, with a tug on his Cardinal-red batting practice jersey, he continued, “A lot of Hall of Famers have worn this uniform.”

Cardinals youngster Tyler O’Neill, who batted .254 in 61 games in 2018, has suited up as both a Redbird and a Card.

“My favorite color is red, so it’s great to be able to throw that on every day along with the bird and the bat,” he said. “It’s an honor to play for this organization, to be a part of it, to have some success with this logo across my chest and on this hat. It’s a beautiful world.”

Asked which is his favorite logo that he’s worn, O’Neill went with another red: “Team Canada. Always got to represent the home nation.”

The importance of this moment was not lost on Memphis native Ben Johnson, who take over as Redbirds manager in 2019.

“I grew up here, and we grew up, my family, diehard Cardinal fans,” he said. “To have them here in the city of Memphis that loves the Cardinal organization, it’s great. It’s good for the city.”

And which logo does he prefer between the Cards and the Redbirds? “Today it’s the Redbirds logo, because we want to prove ourselves against this team here.”

Finally, the man Johnson replaced as manager, now Cardinals first-base coach Stubby Clapp, had thoughts on the importance of the parent club’s brand.

“That’s an iconic logo,” he said. “We represent not just the Cardinals of 2019, but the Cardinals of the past and the traditions that they started and carried on. We’re just looking to add to it and continue such a high standard.”

As an exhibition featuring players who had been playing together in Florida for the last month, there was a certain amount of familiarity between the squads, so much so that players were switching dugouts midgame depending on who needed playing time. The contest started with Adam Wainwright (who was scheduled to get some work in) pitching for the Redbirds wearing the Cardinals’ Spring Training red jersey while his Memphis teammates wore white on defense behind him. The Cardinals would go on to win 6-3, with fans in the stands cheering for both teams.

For me, of course, the ultimate test of a brand is how it looks on a helmet sundae. Predictably, that award-winning alternate music note M looked great on my first helmet sundae of the season.