Alabama’s newest minor league baseball team — the Rocket City Trash Pandas — has already made a big impression around the world, and team officials want the people of Cullman to get in on the fun.
The Trash Pandas will be the AA affiliate for the Los Angeles Angels in their new stadium in Madison beginning next spring, and will be the first minor league team to play in North Alabama since the Huntsville Stars moved to Biloxi, Mississippi in 2014.
Emo Furfori, director of community relations for the Trash Pandas, spoke to a crowd at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Community Luncheon about the process of bringing a team back to North Alabama and the unexpected response that the team has received over the last several months.
The trash panda, or raccoon, was chosen as the team’s name through a contest that received more than 4,000 name suggestions before being narrowed down to a final group, and the number of votes that were cast is more than any other minor league naming contest has seen, Furfori said.
“We broke every record that Minor League Baseball saw for a name-the-team contest,” he said.
Furfori said every step of bringing the Trash Pandas to Madison has been met with an incredible response from people in the community and beyond — from the groundbreaking of the stadium, the final announcement of the team name and the unveiling of the team logos — but the merchandise sales have been through the roof since they began in November.
“We were overwhelmed with merchandise,” he said. “Our poor employees barely slept before Christmas.”
The store was originally meant to be a pop-up store that was just open before Christmas, but the response from people led the team to re-open the emporium in February, and the strong sales have broken minor league merchandising records, Furfori said.
“We’ve sold from every state in the union and over 50 countries around the world,” he said.
He said the number of sales was so high that team officials had to seek help from Minor League Baseball head of merchandising, who said he didn’t know how to deal with the high number of sales, which then led officials to call the Atlanta Braves, but they had also never dealt with that high of a volume.
“It’s pretty incredible,” he said.
Furfori said the area around the stadium will also be the home of a new apartment complex, restaurants and stores, and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville will be breaking ground next month on its location right next to be ballpark, and Buffett will also be the opening act in a concert series that will be coming to the park throughout the year.
The stadium will be open to the public year-round, as Madison Mayor Paul Finley wanted the people of the area to be able to take advantage of the location even when it isn’t baseball season, Furfori said.
“He wanted it to be a part of the community,” he said.
There is a lot of growth happening in North Alabama, with new businesses and industries coming into the area on a regular basis, and the Trash Pandas are a sign of that growth, and with Cullman just a short drive from the Rocket City, the people of this community are considered to be a part of the Trash Panda’s market, Furfori said.
“People are choosing to live and work, and now play here because of all the opportunities,” he said. “When we look at it from a marketing standpoint, you are right in our wheelhouse. We will be out to Cullman to be working with you and be working with the community, working with the schools and churches and finding opportunities to deal with the businesses as well.”