I don’t believe anyone ever relishes naming a new team. All selecting a mascot did for the Rio Grande Valley was stir up regional hostilities amidst the already tumultuous merger of two University of Texas branch campuses into a single research institution. The mascot and team name they settled on — the Vaqueros — still angers alumni who graduated as Broncs, Scorpions or Ocelots and those who see the Spanish word for cowboy as an unnecessary homage to the population of the Valley, which is 90 percent Hispanic but 100 percent in the United States.
Culturally, the regional disdain for the mascot was over my head, but when the Texas Rangers organization last week released its slate of five name options for its new Carolina League affiliate in Kinston, I knew resistance would quickly follow.
While others have dug in on why “Down East” isn’t a true reflection of the team’s locale, I see the organization reaching out with a clear compromise in its five-team offering: the Eagles, which pays homage to Kinston’s first minor league team in 1925 in the Class B Virginia League.
A handful of people I’ve talked to about the team names have suggested the vote is a stacked deck designed to coalesce local support around the Eagles since it’s harder to build a voting bloc behind any of the more outlandish names. Hamhawks and Hogzillas will split the barbecue vote, while Eagles seem to be a more natural fit over the Wood Ducks due to the historic connection I mentioned.
And that is exactly why we must unite behind the Shaggers.
DO YOU LOVE BEACH MUSIC? No? Well, me either*, but give me a minute:
Eastern North Carolina has a long tradition of shagging, and I’m not just talking about the Sugar Hill red light district in Kinston. The Carolina Shag, a form of swing dance, is popular anywhere there’s beach music, but nowhere is it more of a year-round phenomenon than along the N.C. Crystal Coast, where senior citizens have been congregating for generations.
As their aging populations have declined, local governments along the U.S. 70 corridor have taken different approaches to their economic stagnation, with some, most notably New Bern, choosing to embrace “senior living” as a quality of life asset instead of a death knell.
I remember public access television showing hours of the T-Bird Shag Party: a seemingly endless series of white people dancing the only dance they knew. My grandmother would flip past it to complain about how rigidly they danced. I know she danced the Charleston, but I am glad I never got around to asking my grandmother if she shagged.
No one should. That’s the problem, right? Shagging has these dirty connotations that always make you wonder if dancing is really an elaborate metaphor for sex, when of course it is because anything that’s not isn’t worth writing about.
And that’s why Shaggers merchandise will fly off the shelves.
When teams like the Fireflies (RIP: Sand Gnats), Mudhens and Lugnuts are christened, locals likely aren’t enthused, but visitors don’t forget an unorthodox mascot, especially when it’s a kindergarten cuss word.
Being the shaggers could also go a long way toward acknowledging Kinston’s brothel-filled history during the golden age of tobacco, giving credit where it’s due to sex workers and bringing them out of the shadows.
When the team comes on hard times, apparel sales and goofy promotions can help lift a small club and while Cleveland is still clinging tightly to Chief Wahoo, Kinston Indians merchandise had to have rubbed lots of people the wrong way.
So let’s unite and honor this region’s true heritage as a haven for old white people looking to recapture their Hoover-era glory days through song and dance. Having a lame white stereotype for a mascot would give some parity to the neverending argument about whether “Redskins” is racist. (It is.)
Oh, and to those at UT-RGV still bummed out about being the Vaqueros, at least you’re not the Winter Texans.