“It’s the peoples’ team around here, and I think they’re giving it back to us.” — Red Barons great Greg Legg

The date: Nov. 14, 2012
The place: Genetti Manor (Dickson City)

The situation: For more than a year, baseball had been gone, in very literal way. Throughout 2012, PNC Field underwent a $43 million renovation that forced the then-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees to play all of their games that season away from the area.

It was coming back, of course. But to a new stadium in a market where attendance had drastically fallen. A few years before the renovation, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman floated the possibility of rebranding a franchise that had taken on the Yankees moniker when the Red Barons were no more after the 2006 season. To team officials, there was no better time to start anew.

Inside a crowded ballroom in Dickson City one mid-fall night in 2012, the team official began a new era in local baseball.

The lead-in: With the team on the road during the summer, fans were given a not-so-modest chore to keep them busy: Decide who they wanted their team to be moving forward.

In June, then-Yankees president and general manager Rob Crain asked fans to submit suggestions for its Name The Team contest. By Aug. 10, Crain and the team announced what they determined were the six finalists, kicking off a two-week voting period which would produce the winner.

The finalists:

  • Blast
  • Black Diamond Bears
  • Fireflies
  • Porcupines
  • RailRiders
  • Trolley Frogs

“We think these six names tie into the community the best, and they also have great extension,” Crain said. “What I mean by that is, are the names good with kids clubs, are they good for mascots, are they good for merchandise. We’re anxious to hear what the community has to say.”

One name many suggested and wasn’t considered: The Red Barons, the identity of the team from 1989 through the 2006 season, throughout the Philadelphia Phillies’ run. Many longtime fans of the franchise hoped the team would return with that historic identity back intact, but Crain dismissed the idea, saying the franchise was looking to head in a new direction with the stadium renovation.

So, for the next two weeks, fans voted for their top three choices.

And waited.

The moment: By the time mid-November rolled around, interest in the team’s name had piqued in a way that surprised even the eternally optimistic Crain.

Despite weeks of speculation and conjecture, and some fans’ pursuit of the winner by searching for trademarks and website domains, the few people who knew the results ahead of time — mostly team employees who needed to know to set up the unveiling — fans flooded Genetti Manor to hear the results first-hand.

KURTIS WIGGIN, who helped in naming the Scranton/Wilkes-Barr­e RailRiders, is embraced by team mascot Champ during the new name’s unveiling. JAKE DANNA STEVENS / TIMES SHAMROCK PHOTO

“To have a line (of people) wrapped around Genetti’s, and traffic all the way up Main Avenue, the community support was great,” Crain said. “It really did just blow my mind. Spectacular.”

With a raucous atmosphere already developing inside as the 6:15 p.m. announcement approaching, the ballroom filled with fans, surrounding the stage. When Crain grabbed a microphone and jumped to the front of the platform, a hush fell over the crowd.

The silence broke only when a look at the new logo flashed on a screen and the most popular Red Barons player ever, Greg Legg, strode from behind the curtains wearing a new RailRiders jersey and cap.

Fans gasped in surprised, then applauded wildly.

““I think we picked the best name out of the whole group,” New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in a video statement played for the crowd. “I look forward to the top of the charts on merchandise sales, with people saying it loud and saying it proud. It’s an awesome new stadium coming on line, a new uniform and rebranding it. And the association with the Yankees is as strong as ever.”

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Crain said the RailRiders won the voting in convincing fashion, and the entry that appeared on the most ballots — Porcupines — was well-represented in the team logo as sort of a compromise. He said the RailRiders moniker accomplished one of the team’s primary goals when the rebranding process started, honoring the area’s rich railroading and rail-riding history.

“My dad always told me that you can’t go forward unless you know the past,” Crain said. “To rekindle the past in a new, modern way was very important to us. When we were rebranding the club, we wanted to make sure that we touched our roots.”

Outside Genetti’s, though, the immediate reception to the new name was predictably mixed.

“I love it,” one fan said. “It’s all about the Lackawanna Railroad.

“Almost as laughable as Scranton (city) council,” said another.

Still, Lackawanna County commissioner Patrick O’Malley called the event a “rebirth” for Lackawanna County.

 

HISTORY BEHIND THE MOMENT

Well, everything that has happened since that night in 2012 is the history of the RailRiders.

Despite some of the early detractors, the new team name settled in and became part of the area landscape. In 2013, the first year of its existence, the RailRiders were listed among the top 25 minor league teams in licensed merchandise sales.

Over the years, the RailRiders have phased out the porcupine connection to the logo and the team, but they have not completely forgotten about the proposed team names that didn’t work out. On. Aug. 8, 2014, the RailRiders changed identities just for a day, donning lime green and blue uniforms and becoming the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Trolley Frogs for a game against Columbus. it was tabbed as “What If? Day.”

MICHAEL PINEDA started the only game in Trolley Frogs history. JASON FARMER / TIMES SHAMROCK PHOTO

In typical Scranton- and Wilkes-Barre-area fashion, though, the rumor has always persisted: Did “RailRiders” actually win the fan voting back in the summer of 2012, or was it simply the preferred choice of team officials all along?

SWB Yankees LLC, the team’s ownership group at the time, submitted a trademark application for the name RailRiders on Aug. 16, 2012 — eight days before fan voting ended. They also submitted one for the Porcupines entry that day, but they never asked for a trademark on the other names. That includes Trolley Frogs.

Crain said on the night of the announcement that RailRiders received the most first-place votes and Porcupines appeared on the most ballots overall, as either a second- or third-place selection, and he continued to maintain that later, when pressed about the trademarks being filed just about halfway into the voting period.

““In hindsight, I could have done one of two things — not pulled any of them or I could have pulled all of them before the team name voting ended,” Crain said. “I guess you could say not pulling them (all) was a mistake, but I can guarantee and swear on high heaven that what we did is accurate. I’m not here to dupe anybody. We’re just an honest baseball team and really here for the good of the community.”