Monday, December 1, 2008
Alex Rodriguez, Foxes, Rattlers and the summer of 1994
Of all the minor league towns in this state, few have a longer or more storied history than than Appleton. It's a convoluted tale with many stops, starts and name changes. Lets just say that by 1958, a team that had been known as the Papermakers was now the Foxes. In 1994, the Appleton Foxes played two blocks from my house at Goodland Field, a 1940's era baseball park that could have easily been mistaken for the aging high school sports facility that it was. The Foxes still wore their 70's era uniforms and the sight of them warming up and taking batting practice at the old field was easily visible from any of the bordering streets in the old, close to downtown neighborhood that surrounded the field. From my home office window I could hear them play. The sounds of a small, enthusiastic crowd and the announcer came through very clearly, especially on nights when a distant thunder storm was approaching. The loudest cheers that summer were for an exciting new prospect who had just moved into a small duplex in town with his mother. "At bat, Alex Rodriguez....Rodriguez" The talk was that The Foxes parent team (The Seattle Mariners) had snagged the greatest all around phenom ever. That's right, ever. Many storied players got their start in this town: Goose Gossage, Bucky Dent, Boog Powell, Carlos May and David Ortiz. Cal Ripken Sr. and Earl Weaver were among those who managed the teams. But none of them were this guy. I walked down to see them play a few times. Night games were best. The stands had never been so full or out of state license plates so plentiful. The kid was definitely a draw. It was a perfect summer, my kids were small and I didn't have to travel as much as I usually do. It was also the final summer for the Appleton Foxes. One day, Tim Robertson, a neighbor of mine who was in advertising came by my house. He and a designer named Donna Frankenburg had come up with a proposed name change for the Foxes. The team would be soon moving to a brand new ballpark in Grand Chute, just west of Appleton, near the mall and they needed a complete makeover. Donna, who also happened to be a complete baseball nut, had come up with a new name, a new uniform design, team colors, and so much more. They came to me because they needed a cap logo (cap insignia). One problem. I don't do logos or insignias. In fact, I don't do still pictures. I'm a filmmaker. I only do motion. What the hell. That afternoon I came up with a cap logo for the new team - The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The following year, the new team and the logo were a big hit. The logo in particular had become a national seller. It was the first of a new kind of minor league logo. Within a few years and in the midst of a renaming frenzy that swept the nations minor league towns, dozens of other teams across the nation were sporting new logos with their versions of our snarling mascot front and center. I saw several in San Francisco, a friend spotted a "gang" sporting TR caps in San Diego. The Arizona Diamondbacks would later send an investigative team of mid level execs to Appleton look into how this logo thing got so successful. Well, it took about two hours and none of us involved were paid for our services. Crazy. Here's the rub. I don't really like The Timber Rattlers or their stadium out near the mall or their ubiquitous hat design (it's all over this town, you can't escape it). I miss that summer. 1994. When the Appleton Foxes and Alex Rodriguez played two blocks from my house in a small, open stadium that was built a half century before.
This is the original sketch of the Timber Rattler cap insignia.
Here's a version I did for a local paper.
Here's a copy of the final ink version, simplified for cap stitching.