From the Savannah Sand Gnats to the Montgomery Biscuits, Minor League Baseball is full of slightly bizarre names. But where do they all come from? From now until Opening Day, we'll be taking a look at the stories behind some of the greatest team names in MiLB. So far we've covered the story behind the Akron RubberDucks and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and today we tackle the Las Vegas 51s.
The key to understanding the Mets Triple-A affiliate's team name is on their hats. Blue caps bear the elongated head of a cartoon-ish alien sporting baseball-like stitches. The teams' mascot, a googly-eyed guy named Cosmos, continues the extra terrestrial theme. The name refers to Area 51, the top-secret military base located about 80 miles outside the city that has historically been the epicenter of UFO conspiracies.
When the team arrived in Vegas, it was known as the Stars. But 17 years later, before the 2000 season, the team swapped out one cosmic name for another. The change coincided with an affiliation turnover, from the San Diego Padres to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Initially, the alien-adorned hats were a hit and the new brand succeeded in appealing to a younger audience. But when Stevens Baseball Group bought the franchise in 2008, CEO Derek Stevens told the media, "I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of the 51s name."
He planned to change it the following off season, but shifting affiliations got in the way. The Dodgers skipped town for Albuquerque. While in the process of signing a new Player Development Contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, the owners of the 51s missed MLB's deadline to submit name and logo changes.
The team has stayed the 51s ever since, surviving another ownership change and adoption into the Mets' system. As trends in Minor League Baseball team names tend towards ever-increasing originality, the once-wacky reference to UFOs now seems perfectly par for the course.
Or, as 51s media relations director Jim Gemma said, "When you have the El Paso Chihuahuas and the Albuquerque Isotopes, the 51s isn’t that weird."