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Great Moments in Mets Minor League History: The Rumble Ponies are born

The Binghamton team being renamed “Rumble Ponies” was a great moment in Mets minors history.

Binghamton Rumble Ponies
Steve Sypa

The Mets have been affiliated with Binghamton since 1992, when the organization moved the Williamsport Bills from Pennsylvania to upstate New York, where a brand-new stadium, Binghamton Municipal Stadium, was waiting for them. The B-Mets, as they would become known as, would go 79-59, and incredibly win the Eastern League Championship in their inaugural year, beating the Harrisburg Senators in the semifinals and the Canton–Akron Indians in the finals. The excitement of not only having a new team, but having a new team that was good, set numerous attendance records that that stood for decades.

Of course, one of the reasons why some of the attendance records the Binghamton Mets set in 1992 stood the test of decades was because excitement for the team waned in the years since. For a variety of reasons, some linked to the economy of the city and some linked to the literal location of the city, attendance cratered. The team was 5th in attendance in the eight team league in their inaugural season and that stood as their high water mark for the next two decades, dropping progressively further and further down as the years went on.

Low ticket sales led to low profitability, and by the early-to-mid-2010s, the owners of the team began fielding offers to buy the team. One such potential buyer was Main Street Baseball, Inc, a management company that owned and operated the Billings Mustangs, Lowell Spinners, Quad Cities River Bandits, High Desert Mavericks, and the Wilmington Blue Rocks. According to rumors at the time, the Blue Rocks were going to be sold and the new owners were going to move the team. Main Street Baseball was interested in purchasing the Binghamton Mets and moving the team to Wilmington to replace the team that had departed.

In the end, the purchase did not go through, as the Eastern League intimated that they would not approve any kind of move. Instead of selling to Main Street Baseball, owners Mike Urda, David Maines, Bill Maines and George Schere sold the team to John Hughes, a military contractor who made millions selling military surplus to foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia

While the House of Saud was executing people for apostasy, homosexuality, blasphemy and witchcraft, and triggering a sectarian war with Yemen that would spiral into a humanitarian disaster, Hughes announced that the team would be staying in Binghamton.

“The Binghamton Mets will continue to play at NYSEG Stadium and provide an exciting atmosphere for loyal fans. Having a Double-A, New York Major League Baseball affiliate in the Southern Tier is a tremendous opportunity, so great attention will be focused to ensure the team has top-grade facilities and the infrastructure necessary to develop Major League talent. We want to be a contributor to the rebirth of the Southern Tier and create a memorable, unique, fun, and affordable fan experience each and every time. As a leader who takes an active hands-on approach, I am committed to upgrading the fan experience, improving community outreach programs, and establishing NYSEG Stadium as a community jewel.”

That April, as the Binghamton Mets season began, Hughes announced that the club would be undergoing a rebranding, and that the team would no longer be known as the Binghamton Mets past the 2016 season. During the press event in which the announcement was made, Eastern League President Joe McEacharn said, “Having the opportunity for the community to take ownership of the team both in some of the stadium things he’s talking about and branding it and naming the team, the community starts to take ownership, and it’s their team. There’s a sense of civic pride which we think will extend. I think John’s passion and embrace of Binghamton will be returned. For me it’s a win-win.”

Over the next few weeks, the general public began submitting potential names, and the hundreds of submissions were eventually narrowed down to six choices. Following the unofficial naming conventions of the Eastern League- a league that included the Fightin’ Phils, Thunder, Yard Goats, Fisher Cats, Sea Dogs, RubberDucks, Curve, Senators, SeaWolves, Flying Squirrels, and BaySox, the finalists were all somewhat absurd, two-word suggestions: the Binghamton Bullheads, representing the tough and resilient character of the Binghamton community, characterized by the bullhead catfish; the Binghamton Gobblers, representing the rich outdoorsman culture of the area, characterized by a turkey; the Binghamton Rocking Horses, Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Binghamton Stud Muffins, and Binghamton Timber Jockies, all representing carousels and Binghamton’s status as “Carousel Capital of the World.”

In the end, the Binghamton Rumble Ponies beat out all the others. According to Hughes, ““I’m confident they’re going to be proud of it. It proudly tells a story of Binghamton. For the first time in 25 years, we’ll have a name that reflects Binghamton, and not the team in Queens.”

Developed by the Brandiose, a marketing company that has worked with more than 50 teams to develop contemporary logos and mascots, the Rumble Ponies’ main logo featured a carousel horse with a grey helmet and a red mane. Their secondary logo was a simple “B” stylized to look like a carousel pole. Rowdy, an anthropomorphic muscle-bound, bipedal, mohawk-wearing horse, was chosen as their mascot. According to Eden Douglas, the man wearing the costume, “Rowdy’s rowdy, that’s for sure. Unlike other baseball mascots, which tend to be fat and big, he’s a slender character. Because he’s more of a slender character, he likes to dance. That allows me to get more body movement out of him, if that makes sense. And he walks more with confidence, rather than goofiness. He’s very sure of himself, Rowdy.”

The Rumble Ponies drew 190,765 fans in 58 home games 2017, up from the 172,859 they drew in 66 games in 2016 but the figure was still dead last in the Eastern League. In 2018, the team sold 220,279 tickets in 62 openings, second-to-last in the league. That offseason, using over $5 million dollars in funds appropriated from the City of Binghamton and the State of New York and $100,000 from team ownership, the team began upgrading NYSEG Stadium during the 2018 offseason, improving the structural integrity of the stadium, seats, field, video system, sound system, clubhouse, locker rooms, netting, and concessions area. While the upgrades were needed, they did not impact the needle, as the Rumble Ponies drew 182,990 fans in 61 openings in 2019, once again dead last in the league.

It would be nice to say that we will have years to see if the upgrades and changes to the team will have the desired impact on attendance, but in November 2019, Major League Baseball announced a dramatic minor league realignment. With Major League Baseball eliminating the New York-Penn League and the highly profitable and popular Brooklyn Cyclones up for contraction, the organization will be reaccrediting them as their Double-A affiliate, cutting ties with Binghamton. Binghamton, unfortunately, is caught in a perfect storm of factors guaranteeing their demise- attendance is low, it is close enough to Brooklyn to be swapped out with no major impact on the Eastern League, and perhaps most importantly, the Cyclones are owned by the Wilpon family, whereas the Binghamton Rumble Ponies are not. Adding insult to injury, the 2020 season, which should have been Binghamton’s swan song, highlighted by hosting the 2020 Eastern League All-Star Game, was cancelled due to COVID-19.

While we may have only had the team for three season, in which they went a combined 216-203 (.516), the memories of the name and of Rowdy will last a lifetime.