Fun facts for all 12 High-A East teams

Bruce Springsteen, Mr. Celery and Couch Potatoes populate eclectic circuit

April 19th, 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 seventh in a series of league-by-league articles, highlighting one unique fact about each team.

Whereas most of the new Minor Leagues strongly resemble a league that had existed previously, the High-A East is a hodgepodge. The league features six teams from the South Atlantic League, three from the New York-Penn League, two from the Carolina League and one (the Bowling Green Hot Rods) from the Midwest League. This eclectic mix of teams is broken up into two odd-numbered divisions -- five in the North and seven in the South. What follows is one unique, and often strange and surprising, fact about each team.

North Division

Aberdeen IronBirds
Baltimore Orioles affiliate since 2002

The IronBirds made their debut in 2002, having relocated from Utica, N.Y. Their inaugural season home opener at Ripken Stadium was accompanied by the requisite pomp and circumstance, including the installation of a ceremonial home plate featuring a commemorative logo. Both the IronBirds and visiting Williamsport Crosscutters agreed to let the ballgame's first pitch cross home plate, after which it would be removed and preserved in pristine condition. But Crosscutters leadoff hitter Domingo Cuello either forgot, ignored or wasn't informed of this plan. He blasted a home run on the very first pitch he saw -- the very first pitch in the history of the IronBirds -- and thus the framed ceremonial home plate features Cuello's cleat mark on the top right corner.

Brooklyn Cyclones
New York Mets affiliate since 2001

Mascot birthday parties are popular throughout Minor League Baseball. But the Brooklyn Cyclones are, at least to this writer's knowledge, the only team to have staged a mascot Bar Mitzvah. This epochal event was part of the team's 2013 Jewish Heritage Night, commemorating mascot Sandy's transition from anthropomorphic seagull boy to anthropomorphic seagull man.

Hudson Valley Renegades
New York Yankees affiliate since 2021
Before the 2020 Minor League season was canceled, the Renegades announced that they would give away a Zolz ejection bobblehead on Aug. 6. This item, which hopefully will be part of the 2021 promotions schedule, commemorates that time in 1995 when Renegades public address announcer Rick "Zolz" Zolzer got thrown out of a game. As for how exactly this happened, Hudson Valley Magazine provides an overview: "After the umpire called six balks, Zolzer incited the crowd to say 'baaaawk!' The ump warned Zolzer, who complied. Later, Zolzer played a song with the phrase 'yee-haaaaw,' which the umpire mistook for 'baaaawk!' So he ejected Zolzer from the game."

Jersey Shore BlueClaws
Philadelphia Phillies affiliate since 2001
The recently rebranded Jersey Shore BlueClaws are located firmly in Bruce Springsteen country, in close proximity to his hometown of Freehold as well as the Asbury Park venues in which he first made a name for himself. Since 2008, the BlueClaws have staged an annual Bruce Springsteen Appreciation Night, honoring Springsteen via "BruceClaws" theme jerseys and performances by tribute bands. The Boss has never attended one of these appreciation nights, but the team hasn't lost hope that one day he might.

Wilmington Blue Rocks
Washington Nationals affiliate since 2021
Wilmington is home to the inimitable Mr. Celery, a mysterious vegetable mascot who only appears in the immediate wake of the Blue Rocks having scored a run. Where did Mr. Celery come from? No one seems to know. Former Blue Rocks general manager Andrew Layman provided this explanation in 2017: "Some have said it was part of a five-food-groups promotion that the state of Delaware was doing, and they donated a costume. Or that we found the costume in a dumpster. I've heard that one several times. Everybody's story is different, and that's part of the mystique."

South Division

Asheville Tourists
Houston Astros affiliate since 2021

If you're of legal drinking age and a Minor League Baseball fan, then you've probably enjoyed discounted beer during a "Thirsty Thursday" ballgame. This alliterative promotion originated with the Asheville Tourists. Former owner Ron McKee came up with the phrase in 1983 and trademarked it in 1995. The Tourists have been sold since then, and each time the Thirsty Thursday trademark was part of the deal.

Bowling Green Hot Rods
Tampa Bay Rays affiliate since 2009
On Feb. 12, 2014, Bowling Green's National Corvette Museum received global attention due to a disturbing and seemingly inexplicable happenstance. A 40-foot sinkhole opened under the museum and, as a result, eight classic cars took an unscheduled plunge into the abyss. The tragic fate of that Corvette octet, plus time, equaled a one-of-a-kind Minor League Baseball theme jersey. On August 30, 2019, the Bowling Green Hot Rods celebrated the fifth anniversary of this event by playing their home season finale as the Sinkholes.

Greensboro Grasshoppers
Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate since 2019
The Greensboro Grasshoppers were originally known as the Hornets, a name they utilized from 1979 through 1993. That 1993 team featured 19-year-old Derek Jeter, playing his first full season in the New York Yankees system after being drafted the year prior. On the plus side of the ledger, Jeter led the Hornets in hits (152) and batting average (.295). But he also committed a whopping 56 errors, the most in the South Atlantic League and, by far, his career high.

Greenville Drive
Boston Red Sox affiliate since 2005
The Drive played their inaugural season in 2005 after relocating from Columbia, S.C. It was not a foregone conclusion that the team would be named the Drive, which references their region's strong connections to the automotive industry. "Joes" was strongly considered as well, in honor of Greenville native "Shoeless Joe" Jackson. This potential name was vetoed by Major League Baseball, however, "because Shoeless Joe was banned from baseball for his alleged involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal." The Drive's home of Fluor Field is located directly the across the street from the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum, based out of a house in which Jackson lived and eventually died.

Hickory Crawdads
Texas Rangers affiliate since 2009
On multiple occasions during the 2021 season, the Crawdads will take the field as the Couch Potatoes. This alternate identity, announced prior to the 2020 Minor League season that never was, is a dual homage. "Couch" is a tribute to the local furniture industry, while "Potatoes" is a nod to the region's agricultural roots. The logo features a literal couch potato, while the "Couch Potatoes" wordmark is meant to resemble a grease stain.

Rome Braves
Atlanta Braves affiliate since 2003
The Rome Braves are the only team in the High-A East to have the same moniker as their parent club. Prior to arriving in Rome in 2003, the franchise spent 13 seasons as the Macon Braves. The only other teams in the High-A East to have employed a parent club name at any point in their history are the Asheville Tourists (Pirates, 1972-'75) and the Winston-Salem Dash (Cardinals, 1945-'53; Twins, 1954-'56; Red Sox, 1961-'83).

Winston-Salem Dash
Chicago White Sox affiliate since 1997
Winston-Salem's Minor League team, previously known as the Warthogs, changed its name to the Dash prior to the 2009 season (their first in their current home of Truist Stadium). The team name is a reference to the dash located in-between Winston and Salem, which is in actuality a hyphen. This grammatical misnomer prompted the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to stage a "Punctuation Night" promotion during a 2009 game in which they hosted the Dash. The Pelicans made every attempt to be grammatically correct throughout the evening, with the team's staff wearing t-shirts featuring different types of punctuation.