Cleburne Railroaders on the right track with new brand

The Cleburne Railroaders, a baseball team in the independent American Association that has played three seasons, this morning unveiled a new brand that pays homage to their hometown’s 115-year railroad and baseball heritage. The team, founded in 2017, has since its inception embraced the importance of the railroad industry in Cleburne, Texas—their logo features an anthropomorphized railroad spike, they play in a stadium called The Depot, and there are actual trains in the ballpark and beyond the outfield wall.

But a new ownership group has doubled and tripled down on that identity.

“You’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not leading with it,” said Alan Miller, one of the team’s new owners, who along with former Seattle Seahawk punter Jon Ryan also owns the Portland Pickles. “This town has lived this for 115 years, this is our heritage.”

The Cleburne Railroaders nickname was first used by a team that played in the early 1900s in the Texas League and the Texas-Oklahoma League. That early Railroaders team owed its existence to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway (the Katy Line, as it’s known to friends), founded in 1865 and headquartered in Dallas.

“In 1906, the real reason they became a viable option was because of the railroad to get to Fort Worth, and to get to their opponents quickly,” Miller said. “You can see this is why you’re a baseball town.”

Railroaders logo, 2017–2020

The current iteration of the Railroaders has played three seasons (2017–2019, with no baseball in 2020) with a logo based on the character Spike, who is the only holdover in the new branding unveiled today. The new suite of logos was created by designer Kevin McLaughlin, whom the team discovered when he won a jersey design contest held by the Portland Pickles.

The first order of business was to let the baseball world know where they can find Cleburne.

“No one knows who we are,” Miller said. “We have to get across that we are from Texas. The team is now the number one independent baseball organization in all of Texas.” (Easier to claim now that the Sugar Land Skeeters are an affiliated team.)

The new logos highlight the team’s Texas roots in blatant and subtle ways. First, the primary logo and some alternates include the actual state of Texas, with a railroad-track letter C leading to a star marking Cleburne on the map. Second, the team’s color palette of Caboose Red, Whistlepost White, and Steel Rail Blue evokes the Texas state flag. Other nuances of the brand are a testament to the team’s attention to detail:

The “Railroaders” script is based on lettering used on signage for the Katy Line Railroad.

The font used for numbers on home and away jerseys derives from the one used on Santa Fe locomotives. The uniform set has numbers on the pant legs, an homage to the original Railroaders, who eventually went on to become the Houston Astros, and stirrups throughout the uniform set mimic those worn by the original 1906 team.

“This is history, this is Texas history,” Miller said. “And that’s why we have all these interesting nuances in the logos. Everything is very purposeful. Every decision, there has to be a reason for it.” (One of my favorite details is railroad tracks serving as stitches on the baseball.)

While you might expect a certain level of wackiness from the ownership group that brought us the decidedly silly Portland Pickles, much of this brand is fairly restrained.

“We’re traditionalists in how we do it,” Miller said. “We really love clean unis, we love the classic whites, we love the classic grays. We’re very conservative in a lot of the traditional elements of it.”

That said, one element of the brand is unapologetically goofy. While Spike the railroad spike is still around, he has a friend now who comes with an extensive backstory. Per Alan Miller:

“Over the last year, Spike spent a lot of time on his own. There was no baseball season, Spike was bummed. He went down to the railroad tracks and he found this old guy Gandy who was really sad and crying…”

Long story short, Spike’s new frenemy Gandy is sad because he’s out of work, so Spike finds him work entertaining fans at the ballpark. (There is a four-page illustrated PDF that tells the full story.)

With everything that’s new about the brand, it was important to the team that they retain Spike, albeit in the new team colors, in part for continuity and in part because he’s a fan favorite.

“We’re not killing Spike,” Miller said. “Spike is still an important part of our identity, we like Spike. We just have to change how we use Spike from a few different perspectives. We wanted to give him a friend, we want to build out another character with him.”

When the Railroaders season begins this spring, the team’s new owners hope a new brand will literally and figuratively put them on the map. They’ll take the field in their new duds at The Depot May 18 against the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks.