Raccoons have been on a pretty good run in recent years, landing a plum role in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies — and a crossover role in the latest “Avengers” lollapalooza, “Infinity Wars,” which is where a forest scavenger can really start to make the big bucks. Even a middling-sized hit like “The Crow” is still bringing residuals, which the birds probably never fail to mention when the two species gather over French fries that fell on the ground at a Lake Lurleen picnic table.
Now, it’s minor league baseball. The Mobile BayBears are moving to the Huntsville suburb of Madison and despite some appealing choices related to the nearby space industry — Moon Possums, Space Chimps — the fans in Madison chose to return to their roots. The nearby Wheeler Wildlife Refuge is best known for ducks, but there are plenty of raccoons, too.
Aside from habitat accuracy, a desirable but not absolute attribute (the elephant population of Tuscaloosa County is notoriously elusive), marketing opportunities abound. There will be T-shirts. There will be caps, both standard baseball issue and those old Davy Crockett caps that Grandma never could bring herself to throw away. Funny names have come before, from the new ones Montgomery Biscuits to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Forrest Gump protests this name being stolen from Bayou La Batre) to the historic minor league names from the Toledo Mud Hens to the Asheville Tourists.
The most famous raccoon in Alabama sports before this welcome addition to the state was probably Gerald, the companion, for a year or so, of former Crimson Tide head coach Gene Stallings. As much as Nick Saban gets criticized for the number of auxiliary staff members that he hires, all have at least been human beings, so far as we know. Gerald was a fairly frequent visitor to the football complex for a time, until, as most raccoons do, he outgrew pet status. Stallings eventually returned Gerald to the wild. Knowing Stallings’ caring nature, he probably gave Gerald some sound advice, then slipped him enough money for some groceries, maybe even a down payment on a dumpster of his own.
Without Gerald’s presence, or an elephant (who really shouldn’t be a display animal, as much as Alabama fans would love to have one around), things will be relatively tame in the mascot area this weekend. There are no other Crimson Tides anywhere (except on the high school level), and Arkansas State comes in with a unique mascot. The red wolf used to roam along the Mississippi and into east Texas, including what is now rice-growing country in eastern Arkansas. ASU gradually phased out the nickname “Indians” by 2008, at the urging of the NCAA. But Red Wolves seems like a good fit, and is at least not another Tiger or Bulldog.
Many college nicknames go back one hundred years or more, so except for the occasionally quirky (UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs) or the natural (What else could you call Florida, or Kansas, or Michigan, that would fit so well?). And even the raccoon might rank higher in the social order than a Golden Gopher. So welcome to the state of Alabama’s newest team, the Trash Pandas.
Go have a fun outing some night as they face the Biscuits in what will be a natural rival. Enjoy a brew. Have some ballpark nachos — but be sure to check for those tiny handprints before you dig in.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.