One fun fact for all 10 Triple-A West teams

Explore a league populated by zombies, rockers, insects and iconic Homers

April 2nd, 2021

After undergoing a substantial reorganization, Minor League Baseball is embarking upon a new era in 2021. There are now 120 teams competing in 11 newly-named leagues, comprising four levels of play (Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A). This is the second in a series of league-by-league articles, highlighting one unique fact about each team.

The 10-team Triple-A West is half the size of its counterpart in the east. Nine of those teams previously existed in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League; outlier is the Sugar Land Skeeters, a formerly independent league team that is entering its debut season as a Houston Astros affiliate. What follows is one unique, and often surprising, fact about each Triple-A West club.

East Division

Albuquerque Isotopes
Colorado Rockies affiliate since 2015
If you don't know this, you should: The Isotopes' team name was inspired, in part, by "The Simpsons." In an episode from the show's 12th season, "Hungry, Hungry Homer," the Springfield Isotopes baseball team threatens to move to Albuquerque and Homer goes on a hunger strike in protest. In homage to this unlikely bit of team moniker inspiration, statues of Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa can be found on the concourse of Albuquerque's Isotopes Park. These statues were purchased by Isotopes general manager John Traub at a Los Angeles vintage store (Nick Metropolis Collectible Furniture), driven to Albuquerque in a rental SUV and refurbished at a local auto body shop. Homer, originally holding a remote, now clutches a game ticket. Apparently he has reconciled himself to the fact that the Isotopes now reside in Albuquerque.

El Paso Chihuahuas
San Diego Padres affiliate since 2014

Morgan Burkhart played professionally for 12 seasons, including parts of three in the Majors, before moving on to a coaching career. His younger brother, Lance, also took the field as a pro for 15 seasons before transitioning to the coaching ranks. Despite their lifelong dedication to the game of baseball, the Burkhart brothers were never on the same team at the same time, amateur or professionally, until 2019. That season, Morgan suited up as the El Paso Chihuahuas' hitting coach. Lance, meanwhile, served as the team's fielding coach.

Lance Burkhart (left) served as Chihuahuas fielding coach in 2019.His older brother, Morgan, was the hitting coach.

Oklahoma City Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate since 2015
The Oklahoma City Dodgers' home of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark is bordered to the south by Johnny Bench Drive. Mickey Mantle Drive is located on its west side, with Joe Carter Avenue on the east. All of these streets are named for notable Oklahoma natives, and so is the street bordering the north side of the ballpark. Here one can find Flaming Lips Alley, named for Oklahoma City's legendary troupe of psychedelic pop weirdos.

Round Rock Express
Texas Rangers affiliate since 2021

Feeling apocalyptic? The Round Rock Express sure were during the 2017-18 offseason, when their home of Dell Diamond was transformed into a "makeshift refuge for a band of survivors" for season 4 of the AMC series "Fear the Walking Dead." In the series, the ballpark formerly had been home to a team called the Armadillos. In an example of life imitating art, the Express suited up as the Armadillos for one game in 2018.

Sugar Land Skeeters
Houston Astros affiliate since 2021
The Skeeters are one of three independent teams joining the affiliated landscape in 2021, along with the St. Paul Saints and Somerset Patriots. During this prolonged period of Atlantic League operation, the team occasionally boasted bona-fide superstars on its roster. Sept. 7, 2012, Roger Clemens made his final appearance as a professional with his son, Kody, serving as the team's catcher. Two years later, NBA star Tracy McGrady signed with the team as a starting pitcher. The moonlighting hoops legend compiled a 6.75 ERA over four starts, walking 10 batters over 6 2/3 innings while failing to strike anyone out.

Houston Rockets icon Tracy McGrady toes the slab for the Sugar Land Skeeters (Sugar Land Skeeters)

West Division

Las Vegas Aviators
Oakland A's affiliate since 2019

The Las Vegas Aviators offer a staggering array of concessions at their home of Las Vegas Ballpark. One of the team's endeavors in this regard is unprecedented in the Minor League sphere: burger buns branded with the ballpark name and logo. These buns are produced for the team by local Granello Bakery, who employ a "top-secret caramelization process" in order to achieve the desired result.

Reno Aces
Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate since 2009
The Aces played their inaugural season in 2009, after relocating from Tucson, Ariz. Twitter was just gaining prominence at the time, but the Aces were prepared. Brett McGinness, then the Aces' marketing director, had the foresight to snag the @Aces Twitter handle back in the fall of 2008. This is, and will probably always be, the shortest Twitter user name among Minor League Baseball's 120 teams. The Aces' first tweet was as follows:

Sacramento River Cats
San Francisco Giants affiliate since 2015
Sacramento's Triple-A team, established in 2000, is called the River Cats. Two words, both capitalized, with a space in between. In 2013, the team got fed up with being referred to as the RiverCats or, worse, the Rivercats. Therefore, they declared in a press release that "Effective immediately, all members of the local and national media, River Cats corporate partners, full or part-time River Cats staff, and season, flex, and mini-plan ticket holders will be fined $1 for spelling 'River Cats' incorrectly. All money collected will go to the River Cats Foundation." It is unclear how much money was raised by this initiative, but it was at least $7.

Salt Lake Bees
Los Angeles Angels affiliate since 2001
The current iteration of the Salt Lake Bees debuted in the Pacific Coast League in 1994, playing as the Buzz (1994-2000) and then the Stingers (2001-2005) before adopting the Bees moniker in 2006. That name, a reference to Utah's status as the "Beehive State," was first used by a Salt Lake-based Minor League club in 1915. "Bees" is therefore most deep-rooted unique team name in the Triple-A West League and tied with the Asheville Tourists for the ninth oldest in all of Minor League Baseball.

Tacoma Rainiers
Seattle Mariners affiliate since 1995
The Rainiers' longtime home of Cheney Stadium is named after Ben Cheney, a local businessman who led the drive to get the ballpark built. A concourse plaque in his honor denotes that his "dedication to baseball will long be remembered." Indeed, it will. Ben Cheney, in statue form, can be found watching each and every game. The statue sits behind home plate, surrounded by original stadium seats, with bronzed peanut shells on the concrete beneath his feet. It's a unique and memorable tribute.

Ben Cheney, a literal fixture at the ballpark that bears his name.