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"Express" chosen as team's nickname

Contest drew 1,200 entries

By Joe Gustafson

Leader-Telegram Staff

The new local Northwoods League baseball team has dipped into the region's railroad history to select its nickname: The Eau Claire Express.

The team is scheduled to begin play next summer at Carson Park. The Northwoods League team is a summer league mainly for Division I college players.

The team's subsequent logo and mascot will play off the railroad theme suggested by its name, which was announced today.

"Over the course of the last three days I ran them by many people," team owner Jeff Jones said of the names considered finalists. "And the Express came up every time as something people liked."

Jones, an oral surgeon, said more than 1,200 entries were received in a contest to pick the name.

An eight-person selection committee suggested four names: Crappies, Explorers, Moose and Skeeters (Mosquitoes).

Jones and General Manager Bill Rowlett then narrowed it to Explorers and Skeeters.

Explorers paid tribute to the heritage of the area, Jones said, but wasn't very marketable. It was also a problem because a team in South Dakota -- the Sioux City Explorers of the professional Northern League -- already had the moniker.

Express -- a name Jones said first was suggested a couple of months ago -- then emerged.

Jones said Express still has historical significance in the area, and he considers it more marketable than Explorers.

He also likes the sound of it. "It was something that just rolled off you tongue: Eau Claire Express," Jones said.

"And the 'E' turned out to be important because it worked well with 'Eau Claire.' "

A recent search of the Internet showed few sports teams using Express as a nickname, Jones said, which made him more comfortable with the choice.

"With the Express and the train theme you can do a lot of different things," Jones said. "Think about all of the songs with train in them, with train in the theme."

Eagles was submitted more than 70 times, making it the most popular suggestion. Two amateur baseball teams in the area, Menomonie and Hallie, already use that name.

Eau Claire hasn't officially been awarded franchise status in the Northwoods League. Eau Claire and Brainerd, Minn., are expected newcomers to begin play in 2005, when the league will expand from 10 to 12 teams.

Northwoods League President Dick Radatz Jr. said late Sunday that everything will be official soon -- definitely by Sept. 15.

"It's about 95 percent done," Radatz said. "It's just paperwork now."

Jones and Rowlett are working toward a lease that will provide the team with office space and a retail presence where fans can buy tickets and apparel.

"There is a potential assistant general manager who we have interviewed," Jones said. "And there are a number of people who have experience in the league as interns who have expressed interest in being involved."

A search for a field manager also is taking place. Jones said two candidates have been interviewed -- one who has experience in the Northwoods League and one who has experience as a college head coach. The league also will provide the team with a list of potential candidates, Jones said.

But for now, the Express -- a team that until now had little by way of identity -- finally has itself a name.

"I'm happy with it," Jones said. "The Eau Claire Express."

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My suggestion had been the Eau Claire Hammers, in honor of Hank Aaron. Aaron played his first minor league season in Eau Claire, a Braves affiliate at the time, and there's a bust of Aaron atrr Carson Park where the Express will play.

Also lends itself to a nice Braves-style script with a sledgehammer below it.

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