Baseball informs our origins, late 1800s and onward: Huntsville, Alabama, finds on its timeline a sense of community through and around the game, and there's a lot to consider when we consider this whole 'Hawks versus The Helices' name debate.
Especially if you consider it's a debate you can participate in. (And also if you consider it's not a real debate because we just made it up.)
In no real order, consider: The John Read. Or how about The Redcaps? The Milligan Sluggers is one. The Butler Training School is another. And let's not forget The Dr. Peppers, made entirely of badass women.
These aren't obscure college rock bands (though it wouldn't be surprising if a quick Google session couldn't find some 90s getup who, legend has it, played the Political Science building's basement at a local school one humid summer evening).
We've swung for the fences with pro lineups and ran small with mill leagues, alike. Our history with it is rich, varied. And missing — our history of it is a little abridged. We have to play hardball with history on all this. But we do know a bit.
Huntsville's earliest recorded history speaks about The Milligan Sluggers in an 1890s newspaper article. “One of many great teams that have represented Huntsville,” the article says. It's hard to tell how many other teams were in Huntsville up to that point, but the Milligan Sluggers had “power, good pitching and fine defense,” and beat a number of regional teams in those early days.
In the early 1900s, we see more reports of baseball clubs and semi-pro teams found around the mill communities. Providing space to play the game was as important to mill owners as building on-site schools, grocery stores, and gymnasiums. We have spots like Optimist Park (originally Dallas Park, after Dallas Mill) still around and in use today, where The Redcaps held their games.
We don't know much about The Redcaps, one of Huntsville's first semi-pro teams of note. We know they were bringing in loyal crowds each game of ~6,000 fans. We know they were made up of the most talented players from Dallas Mills' and Lincoln Mills' baseball clubs. And today, we know The Redcaps had such a lingering effect on the city that our Huntsville Vintage Baseball Club took its first team name from their namesake. They were one of Huntsville's most famous teams.
But then came The Stars.
It's a whole new ballgame with The Huntsville Stars. From the “Bash Brothers” Mark McGwire and Joe Canseco to MVPs like Ryan Braun, JJ Hardy, and Prince Fielder, The Stars were a starting point for a number of big league players. We're talking heavy hitters. We're talking crowd pleasers.
In late April, 1985, The Stars debut at the new Joe W. Davis Stadium (known as “The Joe”), with long lines spilling into the sidewalks, yards outside the box office. That first game, Joe Canseco's grand-slammin' win against the Birmingham Barons drew the near-capacity crowd (over 10,000 fans!) into a frenzy. The Stars win a Southern League championship game in 1985, too, securing them a pennant their first year of play in the city. It's all hot dogs, cracker jacks, and beer for the city.
The logo for the team at their start features a prominent star-shape in vibrant red, white, and blue, arcing upward in a classic baseball bat swing (simultaneously bringing to mind a meteor or comet trail) from the 'A' in the word 'STARS.' It's a tongue-in-cheek metaphor behind the oomph of a heavy hitter and the power of a shooting 'star.' This logo reflects the aesthetic of the time, too — but with such strong design elements apparent, it's no wonder The Stars use this logo throughout the 90s and early 2000s, with only variations of it in brand marks on the cap.
Huntsville holds onto the game, and the team, for many years. In the mid-90s, a crowd of over 11,000 fans at The Joe were privy to basketball star Michael Jordan playing against The Stars in a well-talked-up-afterward match, one of Jordan's most dramatic during his stint as a baseball player. Later, in the early aughts of the 2000s, the team sees a shift in both their fanbase and their branding, with a heavy re-envisioning of the logo.
The new Stars logo at this time features a rocket ship passing a halo-ringed star making up the 'A' of the word 'STARS.' Rather than focusing on the power of the star, the focus is on the heavenward movement of the rocketship as it jets beyond the star-shape — and into the beyond.
This re-envision is the final logo of The Stars, coincidentally, as well as the final logo to represent a baseball team in Huntsville.
Or is it?
What if there were something beyond The Stars, if you will? Some might say it's a dream. Others might say it's a baseless controversy. And they'd both be right. We're talking about baseball in Huntsville again — what a team might look like, what a team might feel like, and what a team might mean to you.
Enter the debate with us. Imagine two new baseball 'clubs,' freshly formed from 'the mills' so to speak: The Hawks and The Helices, each vying for your community support, are in a hot contest to become our next team. In this scenario, Huntsville once again has the chance to build itself up around a sport that's been with it since the start, and the public's weigh-in on which direction to take will be paramount.
The Huntsville Hawks
With much of Huntsville's development due to Redstone Arsenal, it makes sense to draw from Redstone Arsenal as inspiration. The Hawks logo is an homage to the classic Stars logo, featuring a bold red and blue palette and similar arc-element, but with a twist signaling the Arsenal's origins. The rocket element calls back to Redstone Arsenal's early development in the MIM-23 Hawk, one of many missile projects that lead the United States to centering many of its Army missile programs here — these same programs which eventually lead to the formation of Marshall Space Flight Center. Soaring low and strong in that same classic baseball bat swing, the tongue-in-cheek metaphor comes instead from the power of ingenuity, and the propulsion of progress, that lead us to exploring the stars.
The Huntsville Helices
The Helices represent the weirdness and intelligence of our city, its unique 'makeup.' With the twist in this logo being a literal twist, The Helices logo offers fans a chance to be clever in their chants, and their cajoling of opposing teams, both for away games and on the home turf. An amusing, thick script depicts the name, advanced by a portrayal of the highly recognizable DNA shape in the 'H' of the word 'HELICES.' A brighter red and blue palette makes the logo easy on the eyes, lending the obvious high-brow concept behind the logo and team a sense of fancy and cheer. And isn't that what going to a baseball game should feel like? Your team has some witty, and exactingly local, upper-hand over the other team, all in good fun?
You get it. We get it. Baseball historically resonates with Huntsville, and Huntsville could very well resonate with baseball again. But why all the effort, Red Brick, to brand teams that don't (yet) exist?
"Well," we say, sipping our drink across from you. "We care."
"What do you mean?" you say. You set your glass down, lean back. The ice melts, shifts into a clank-sound. It is slight. "Can't be that simple. You put a lot of effort into this."
We tilt our drink all the way back, then breathe. We smile. "Don't get us wrong, it was a lot of work. But it's that simple. We care."
And we do care. We're devoted to Huntsville. That is, and will be, our primary motivation for work like this.
We care about good branding that follows the archetypes of human experience — and that taps into the socio-cultural identity of a place, sort of sticks to its ribs, just makes sense in the collective gut and heart of the people. And we care about how Huntsville could benefit from that kind of branding around town.
When a city leans into the identities that make it up, magic happens for the people who live there. Red Brick wants Huntsville to know that good branding isn't just pretty or functional, it can help cities to know themselves better.
And good branding helps any group of people — from baseball teams to small businesses, military contractors to non-profits, arts organizations to education advocacies — discover how they can help a city know them better, too.
On that note, it's time to vote.