There are more than 100 Minor League baseball teams spread across 43 states throughout the U.S. Almost all of them offer a glimpse into the unique cultural identity of their specific region and its residents—and there's no better way to show off that local flair (and sell plenty of merchandise and tickets) than with an outrageous mascot.
These brightly colored characters are more than just a fun distraction for kids at the ballpark; they're integral to how a Minor League baseball team operates. “Given the fact we’re Minor League baseball, we don’t have control over our rosters, and players come and go at the needs of the Major League club,” John Traub, general manager for the Albuquerque Isotopes, tells Mental Floss. “People identify you with your mascot at the Minor League baseball level. The mascot becomes the face of the franchise. You can do mascot appearances throughout the year. You can’t do player appearances all the time for various reasons. But your mascot is always available. That’s the important role of your mascot.”
And when you need a face for your team, you'd better make sure it sticks out from the crowd. Let’s break out the peanuts and take a stroll past a few of the oddball mascots the Minor League has to offer.
1. Big Mo // Montgomery Biscuits
Montgomery, Alabama’s Double-A affiliate for the Tampa Bay Rays is known as the Biscuits. If you head to a ballgame at the Riverwalk Stadium, you’re sure to bear witness to Big Mo, a giant anteater who’s famous for his love of scarfing down the team’s trademark doughy treats.
In recent years, Big Mo has risen to celebrity status. He’s been spotted hanging out with musicians and won Sports Illustrated's "Mascot of the Year" award in 2016, an honor he accepted in a video with the help of his translator, former Biscuits general manager Scott Trible. Mo is also probably the first mascot to ever publicly go on a diet as part of a campaign with Scale Back Alabama. He's now down to one biscuit per day.
2. Barley // Hillsboro Hops
Hillsboro is a small city located on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, in a state known for its abundance of craft breweries and hop fields. So it makes perfect sense that Hillsboro’s High-A baseball team should be called the Hops, after that oh-so-important ingredient in your favorite pint of suds. The team is led by its mascot, Barley (full name Barley T. Hop), a smiling, anthropomorphic hops flower who happens to be a voracious tweeter.
3. Mudonna // St. Paul Saints
The Saints are St. Paul, Minnesota’s Triple-A affiliate for the Minnesota Twins. It’s a venerable franchise that has been around in one form or another since 1884, but things have changed for the team quite a bit over the past 137 years.
Every season since 1993, the Saints have picked a new pig to serve as their curly-tailed mascot, and fans have been allowed to vote on the name. Past porkers of note include Stephen Colboar, Brat Favre, and Boarack Ohama. Starting in 2003, these punny pigs were joined by Mudonna, a shockingly pink attention hog that the team describes as “the divine swine, the diva of the diamond, the duchess of pork.” And yes, Mudonna is also available for birthday parties.
4. Mussel Man // Fort Myers Mighty Mussels
The long-running Fort Myers Miracles, Single-A affiliate for the Minnesota Twins, changed their name to the Mighty Mussels in 2019, calling back to one of the area's favorite seafood dishes. The team’s new mascot, which can only be described as a cartoon superhero version of a mollusk with a cape and horrifying frozen grin, is known as Mussel Man. Sadly, the 2020 season never happened for the Minor Leagues, so the Fort Myers team has yet to play a game as the Mighty Mussels—but they'll finally get their chance in 2021.
5. Dusty // Tri-City Dust Devils
Along the southern edge of Washington state, the towns of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland are collectively known as the Tri-City area. Since 2001, the region has been home to the Dust Devils, the Single-A affiliates of the Los Angeles Angels.
Washington is famous for Seattle’s long rainy seasons, but the lower part of the state features a more temperate climate with miles of farmland that often see far less precipitation. During dry seasons, dirt from the fields across the region kicks up to form whirlwinds. To pay homage to this notable weather pattern, the team slapped a baseball uniform onto a cartoony dust devil costume, and Dusty the mascot was born. This grinning natural disaster can now be found on hats, plush dolls, and more.
6. Scampi // Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
The Jumbo Shrimp of Jacksonville, Florida, moved up to Triple-A for the 2021 season as a Minor League affiliate of the Miami Marlins. Their fans are affectionately known as the "Crustacean Nation," which is easily one of the greatest names for any fan base in sports (they've also been known to wear shrimp-themed fanny packs without shame). In April 2017, the team unveiled a fuzzy pink shrimp mascot that fans voted to name Scampi (which beat out the names Jumbo, Rocky, and Shelley). The team was poised to host a gender reveal party for Scampi in 2020, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There's no word yet on whether or not they'll give it another go in 2021.
7. Loco // Altoona Curve
In Altoona, Pennsylvania, the Double-A affiliate for the Pittsburgh Pirates is named for the Horseshoe Curve, a three-track curved railroad located in Blair County. The team mascot, Loco, looks like any other character on this list at first glance. After all, he's a furry yellow creature of indistinguishable origin with a baseball for a nose and bulbous eyes. But it's his intricate backstory that separates him from the rest.
As the tale goes, the Horseshoe Curve’s engineer, J. Edgar Thompson, used mysterious creatures known as Golden Locotami in the 1840s to help him build the railroad track. Loco is apparently the modern-day representation of these local legends. Hats off to the Altoona Curve for creating full-blown folklore around their mascot.
8. Orbit // Albuquerque Isotopes
The Albuquerque Isotopes, who gained their team name from a 2001 episode of The Simpsons, are the Triple-A affiliate for the Colorado Rockies. They're led by their mascot, Orbit, a cartwheeling extraterrestrial who rallies ‘Topes fans during the games.
“Orbit is a big fuzzy orange alien—huggable and lovable among people of all ages,” Traub says. “He’s a kind of a space-bear-dog type of creature. He doesn’t like to be identified by one particular set of terms.”