Tides' identity rolls along for Norfolk
Triple-A baseball has counted Norfolk, Virginia, among its ranks since 1969. But the Norfolk team's identity predates that by nearly a decade. After a six-year absence following the folding of the Piedmont League in 1955, professional baseball returned to Norfolk in 1961 with an entrant into the South Atlantic League.
Triple-A baseball has counted Norfolk, Virginia, among its ranks since 1969. But the Norfolk team's identity predates that by nearly a decade.
After a six-year absence following the folding of the Piedmont League in 1955, professional baseball returned to Norfolk in 1961 with an entrant into the South Atlantic League. Like so many teams of the time, the club’s new name came from its community’s voice via a newspaper contest. Sort of.
According to today’s team history, The Virginian-Pilot’s contest landed on a choice: Mariners. But the paper’s editor Robert Mason had different designs. Another candidate had caught his eye -- or ear -- and Mason loved the mellifluous sound and alliteration of it. Thus, the Tidewater Tides were born, named after the southeastern coastal Virginia region home to Norfolk, and the nickname endures today.
“I think it brings it back to childhood memories for the older fans,” said Tides general manager Joe Gregory. “Our previous ballpark, Met Park, that we played in until 1993, I think everyone has a story about running into the previous general manager, Dave Rosenfield, who was here for 50 years -- him barking at them for running on the concourse or trying to get a foul ball. While we have changed affiliations, changed colors and things like that, I think there’s that consistency with the Tides that kindles some positive memories of childhood and simpler times.”
The Tides played two seasons on the Sally circuit before spending six in the Carolina League from 1963-68. The following year, the International League came calling (as The Simpsons later did for Rosenfield), and Norfolk became one of the circuit’s stalwarts when the New York Mets moved their Triple-A team there from Jacksonville. The new club took up the Tides moniker, and a nearly four-decade-long partnership with the Mets began.
The Tides embraced their lengthy affiliation by sporting Mets colors proudly. From 1969-92, the Triple-A club adopted the parent club’s blue and orange with a Mets-evocative team script, an orange block “T” and a more coastal-themed logo featuring a blue wave wrapping around weathered wood-patterned lettering spelling “Tides.”
The team's first major change came in 1993, when the Tides moved into downtown Norfolk’s brand-new Harbor Park, tweaking their name in the process from the Tidewater designation to that of their home city. With the move came a new look: an upward-angled wordmark rendered in two shades of blue with gray accents and topped by a crashing wave, one reminiscent of the logo of a certain Beaverton, Oregon-based multinational sports apparel corporation.
“I think there was some pushback from what I’ve heard from when it originally came out,” Gregory said of the swoosh-like mark. “I don’t know if it went as far as a cease-and-desist [from Nike], but it was kind of a ‘Watch what you’re doing.’ Our previous ‘T’ logo, there were times we tried to do merchandise with it and were told it’s too much like the Texas Rangers' ‘T.’ It’s tough when you’re dealing with letters.”
The ’90s Tides logo backed Norfolk’s team through the opening of its new park, waves of top prospects, three division titles and more. By the time the Tides’ affiliation changed to the Baltimore Orioles in 2006, however, the look was growing dated.
“Our logo before wasn’t really a logo, it was more of a wordmark,” Gregory explained. “When it was the full ‘Tides’ with the wave across the top of it, it didn’t center well, and it was awkward in a lot of merchandise and things like that.”
The Tides unveiled an all-new look for the 2016 season centered around a green and orange color palette and a new nautical theme featuring a seahorse sporting an “N”-inclusive trident. The look was new, but the name stuck.
“[A name change] was broached, and I think there were some people who thought we should start fresh,” Gregory said. “I’m glad we didn’t because there’s so much equity in the name ‘Tides.’ I think if we were moving ballparks again or going to a different city, that would be one thing.”
The reclamation of orange worked perfectly for the Tides’ O’s era after so many years of primarily being blue.
“It was tough when you’d have guys coming down from Baltimore and their cleats are orange and gloves are orange, it didn’t make sense with the blue anymore,” Gregory said. “We didn’t want to go all-out orange. We wanted to keep our identity, but we wanted to incorporate a little bit of orange, so it made sense.
“The green, we wanted to get into the sea life while staying away from blue. The other part of it was there weren’t many teams [in the International League] that had green, especially at that time. Since then, Gwinnett went green in our league, but if you were to look in 2015, the majority of teams had red, white and blue. Nothing against that -- we’re a patriotic team here -- but going green took us in a direction that not many teams had.”
After the initial predictable blowback that often greets new Minor League logos, the team saw the marks surge in popularity.
“When the rubber met the road and we saw the jump in merchandise sales, the fans that were coming to the games definitely took to it,” the GM said. “Everyone’s got their favorite one.”
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.