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Osprey to PaddleHeads: Missoula's minor league baseball team changes nickname

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Missoula PaddleHeads team name change

Matt Ellis, executive vice president of the Missoula PaddleHeads, told the Missoulian this week that his baseball organization in staying optimistic about its home opener on June 19. In this November file photo, Ellis announces the change in the team nickname from the Osprey to the PaddleHeads at the MCT Center for the Performing Arts.

MISSOULA — The final decision to rename Missoula's minor league baseball team the PaddleHeads, complete with a moose logo, is a story worth telling.

There aren't a lot of moose roaming around River City, so an explanation is probably in order.

When Missoula's Rookie Advanced affiliate decided 11 months ago to change its nickname, close to 500 ideas were submitted online. Team officials landed on PaddleHeads — an anonymous suggestion — because it seemed to them befitting of the Garden City.

Team executive vice president Matt Ellis announced the switch, along with plans to change the primary team color to hunter green, on Monday morning at the MCT Center for the Performing Arts.

As for the moose that will grace the new hats and shirts and will roam Ogren-Allegiance Park, in mascot form, on hot summer days, Ellis noted that PaddleHeads is another name for a moose.

"We had about six (nickname) finalists," he said. "We were sitting in the office having a conference call with our consultant last March and the whole staff was present. We were going through the six names and PaddleHeads was the leader in the clubhouse.

"I said, 'I've got one problem: I don't equate a moose to the heart of Missoula.' Just then our phones lit up with an alert. There was a moose in downtown Missoula, a block from our office. At that point, the PaddleHeads was born."

A good deal of disappointment was expressed over the new nickname on the Missoulian's website Monday afternoon. A lot of locals loved the Osprey nickname that's been in place for 20 years. Others thought perhaps the team would go back to the Timberjacks nickname from the 1950s or the Highlanders from the early 1900s.

But for Ellis, his staff and team co-owners Peter Davis and Susan Crampton Davis, the time seemed right to make a change. Attendance has slipped in recent years, and re-branding made sense.

"Our original thought was the Osprey were the best-kept secret in western Montana," Peter Davis told the Missoulian. "I said, 'What can we do to change that and change up the look a little bit?' It's all an attempt just to raise our visibility in western Montana. We want to be as Missoula as we can."

Rumors that Missoula's minor league team had to dump the Osprey because the name wasn't included in the sale of the team last year are false, according to Ellis. He said the hardest part of the nickname switch was coming up with an idea that wasn't already taken.

"It involves trademark searches and URLs and whether you can get a website with that name," Ellis said. "You have to be able to do something that's original because you can't infringe on other people's trademarks.

"It's really a tough process. Some names that we liked got knocked out because we couldn't check all the boxes." 

The good news for fans of the Osprey nickname is that the osprey nest will remain in place at Ogren-Allegiance Park. The team will continue to celebrate the presence of their fine-feathered friends, according to Ellis.

The moose and the PaddleHeads nickname are only part of the re-branding. On display Monday were five different images that will be used on hats and shirts. Three include either a moose or moose antlers with fly-fishing tackle hooked on or a likeness of a moose in an inflatable raft. Others have paddles in the shape of a peace sign or the state logo with a trout inside.

Missoula's minor league team also changed its colors with Zootown flavor in mind. The familiar royal blue and black of the Osprey just didn't seem fitting anymore.

"The hunter green, like forest green, and the hunter orange as an accent with some black in there as well, it really hit home with our surroundings," Ellis said. "It was trying to stay true to our whole goal, to do something the community was proud of. We got a bunch of different palettes presented to us, and this was a natural for us."

Of the roughly 500 ideas for a new nickname, some were amusing (Missoula Bike Lanes) and some not so nice. 

Despite disapproval that bordered on disbelief from some Missoulians on Monday afternoon, Ellis said he and his staff feel good about their decision.

"We think it's a grand slam."

Bill Speltz is in his 13th year as Missoulian Sports Columnist. He also guides the sports dept., scheduling day-to-day coverage. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at

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