A baseball branding bonanza, and 2 guys helping it happen

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              Jake Sheehan, 9, wears an Akron RubberDucks cap as he watches a minor league baseball game between Akron and the Bowie Baysox, Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Akron, Ohio. For Akron, whose history is intertwined with the rubber industry’s, “a tough, gritty duck that’s really got that blue-collar ethos to it” was an ideal choice to rebrand, for both adults and kids. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — On a spring evening in eastern Pennsylvania, upon a bluff overlooking the Lehigh Valley, a carnival of baseball and pork products is at hand.

From loudspeakers, swine-like sounds reverberate. Vendors roam the stands in clothing festooned with outsized strips of bacon. And yes, there is also a baseball game going on — featuring players wearing jerseys that say, across the chest, “BaconUSA.”

No matter that the decade-old Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Philadelphia Phillies‘ Triple-A team, are named for the pig iron that is a byproduct of the steel this region is renowned for producing. This is branding and marketing at its best.

The pugnacious strip of breakfast meat, introduced as the team’s alternate identity five years ago, hardly stands alone.

Up in New England, there are yard goats. In the Deep South, there are spacebound raccoons. A wider scan of the American map reveals a menagerie of unlikely characters, from quarrelsome jumbo shrimp to menacing thunderbolts, from in-your-face rubber ducks to aggrieved prairie dogs. It’s nowhere near the history-soaked dignity of the Yankees or the Dodgers, and that’s the point.

Across America, a golden age of minor league baseball branding has unfolded, bursting with exuberance and calibrated localism. And two guys from San Diego, born six days apart and best friends since kindergarten, have helped teams find the way.