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Matt Ellis

Matt Ellis, Missoula Osprey

Lugnuts and Blue Wahoos are already taken. New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League has dibs on the Baby Cakes and, win or lose, the Batavia Muckdogs are legendary.

If you were charged with retagging Missoula’s minor league baseball team, what would you come up with?

The Missoula Osprey want to know because they appear serious about not being the Missoula Osprey any more.

The club, under new ownership for the first time since its arrival in 1999, said Monday it’s asking for fan input to help find a new nickname.

The owners, Peter Davis and Susan Crampton Davis of Seattle, weren’t in town for the formal announcement Monday at the Osprey downtown offices at MSO Hub.

But they were all in on the marketing plan as it evolved at the winter baseball meetings in Las Vegas in December, executive vice president Matt Ellis said.

“They gave us a mandate as a staff and our staff is working to make the fan experience as great as possible,” Ellis said.

The original idea was to come up with a new Osprey logo.

“The more we thought about it, if we’re really all about the fans, let’s give the fans a chance to say something about what the future is,” said Ellis. “So we came up with the idea of renaming it. (For) some of us it took a little while to get there, but we figured out this was a great move. It’s a great opportunity for our fan base to be more collaborative with their team.”

It doesn’t mean the Osprey name is flying away completely, he added. They'll still be the Osprey this season, with the change targeted for 2020.

“We’re still going to have Ollie Osprey, we’re still going to have the nest in center field, we’re still going to do some fun stuff around the Osprey as well. It’s just going to become a secondary mark,” Ellis said.

Through the end of February, suggested names can be submitted on missoulaosprey.com. Ellis was vague about the follow-up steps, other than saying there would be more fan involvement throughout the process. A new name will be announced at the end of summer. The Pioneer League regular season runs from mid-June until the first week of September.

It’s a move to create fan ownership in the Pioneer League team and to help bump up its visibility in the Missoula area.

“We think the submissions are going to help us market the team better,” Ellis said. “Even the ones we don’t take are going to give us some ideas of what’s important to this community, to help us in our promotions and make it a better fan experience in the ballpark. So we think there’s a learning curve for all of us that’s far beyond just a brand.”

The Osprey have had a secondary “brand” built around the Missoula Timberjacks, the town’s first Pioneer League team from 1956-60.

That too will stay, Ellis said. So will Missoula’s affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks, one that former owners Mike and Judy Ellis have maintained since before moving the franchise to Missoula from Lethbridge, Alberta, after the 1998 Pioneer League season.

“Basically what we’re doing is we’re challenging our market and our fans,” Ellis said. “We’re saying, help us out. Think about Missoula. What makes Missoula great? Is it our Native American roots? Is it Lewis and Clark? Is it Hellgate? Is it the logging industry? Is it our wildlife? Is it the rivers? All the natural resources? Smokejumpers? Culture, art, winter, summer? Our downtown? What makes Missoula special to you as a fan?”

Barely had Monday’s announcement been made when wags were planting their flags for the likes of Missoula Cutthroats, Troutslayers and Ch-Paa-qnns (the Salish title for the peak that dominates Missoula’s skyline to the west.)

In 1998-99, the Ellises chose the Osprey moniker after consulting with local author Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, who among hundreds of other books wrote a scientific study for children called “Ospreys.” 

That didn’t prevent the Missoulian from running its own name-the-team contest. The winner was Richard Workman’s “Cutthroat,” as selected by newspaper staff.

Versions of Rattlesnakes received the most votes in the poll. Second was Marauders, playing off the bloody fights and skirmishes that historians have ascribed to the Hellgate Canyon above town in the distant past.

Other suggestions 20 years ago: Wapiti, Moccasins and Daily Weiners (a salute to the John R. Daily Inc. meat-processing plant, which as it turned out didn’t make hot dogs anymore.) Timberjacks, Loggers, Picaroons, Pumas, Raptors, Rainbows, Highlanders and Dust Bunnies were also on the list.

Ellis urged people to think outside the box, as others were doing when they came up with the Hartford Yard Goats, Akron Rubber Ducks, Albuquerque Isotopes and Kannapolis Intimidators. The Lugnuts of Lansing play in the Midwest League, and New Orleans’ Baby Cakes are in the Pacific Coast League.

“If you look at the trend in sports, sometimes they get a little bit off the wall,” Ellis said Monday. “We want it to be respectful of our community, represent our community and be fun and creative at the same time, which is a challenge.”

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian