I can hear the announcer at Appalachian Power Park now.
“Introducing, your Charleston DIRTY BIRDS!”
On Thursday, the West Virginia Power baseball team announced it was changing its name and launched a fan contest to guess the new one.
Within an hour, an eagle-eyed fan noticed the new name was already registered on the Secretary of State’s business database. The fan was so appalled by what they discovered, they tipped off Herd 247 publisher Tom Bragg.
Bragg put it on Twitter and a firestorm began.
Although a few fans didn’t seem to mind the new name, the overall response was a resounding “YUCK.”
In a town that has hosted baseball teams called the Senators, the Charlies, the Wheelers, the Alley Cats and the Power, a name like the Dirty Birds just seems crass.
I suspect that’s the idea.
Mildly shocking names have become something of a trend in minor league baseball. Around the country you’ll find teams like the Rocket City Trash Pandas, the Hartford Yard Goats, the Amarillo Sod Poodles and the El Paso Chihuahuas. The Power’s own Atlantic League is home to the Gastonia Honey Hunters.
But “Dirty Birds” just seems like a cringier version of those names. A joke that’s trying just a little too hard.
And the name itself is not my main issue with the rebrand.
Shortly after the new name leaked, Charleston lawyer Bob Coffield noticed the team had already registered a logo with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The logo features a bird in suspenders and a miner’s hard hat. It’s difficult to tell the species — it could be a cardinal. But some have suggested it’s a canary, a reference to the birds that once alerted coal miners to poisonous and unscented gases.
If that is the intent, it’s a strange way to connect to local culture. Do we really want our new team mascot to evoke coal mining deaths?
Futhermore, the area surrounding Power Park is better known for its chemical plants than its coal mines. As MetroNews reporter Brad McElhinny suggested, a better name might have been the Charleston “Shelter in Places.”
I appreciate the difficulty of the situation the Power finds itself in. The team has new owners. It plays in a new league. And it still wears a name that has never inspired much love from the fanbase. Rebranding is long overdue.
And rebranding is never easy. Just ask the Cleveland Guardians. You are bound to alienate some fans, no matter what decision you make.
It just seems this decision was made without any input from the fans whatsoever.
On June 17, the Power posted this on Facebook: “Should the West Virginia Power change our name? We want your opinion! Do you want something new? Or a classic name?”
The post directed fans to a survey on the team website. The Power have not released the results to that survey, but judging from the responses to the Facebook post, very few people wanted “something new.”
It seemed most millennials wanted to return to the Alley Cats, the team of their youth. Several Gen-Xers wanted to bring back the Wheelers, the team name they remembered from their childhood. And Boomers, as well as a few old souls from younger generations, wanted to return to the Charlies.
I should acknowledge — it is possible we are all being trolled.
A few hours after Bragg leaked the Dirty Birds name and logo, a local lawyer, Zach McCoy, noticed a new filing on the Secretary of State’s site: The Charleston River Toads.
Perhaps the Power’s ownership is registering a lot of names to keep us guessing.
I’m skeptical. The Dirty Birds name was filed on Sept. 2, a full week before the press conference. The River Toads was filed the day of the conference, after the controversy started.
There is no River Toads logo filed with the U.S. Trademark Office.
There is still time for this drama to play out. The Power plans to officially announce its new name during a Sept. 28 doubleheader.
Until then, I hope the team takes notice of the uproar surrounding their name choice. There are clearly a lot of people who care about our baseball team. The best way to keep those people engaged is to make them feel like their voices have been heard.
Maybe the team will hear the cry of the people and change their minds.
If baseball fans are good at anything, it’s holding out hope.
But if things don’t change, this may be a loss we’ll be living with for a long time.