Barnstormers: New team name salutes Chatham-Kent's baseball history

Chatham-Kent’s expansion team in the Intercounty Baseball League pays tribute to the Chatham Coloured All-Stars and to the itinerant nature of minor leaguers with its new name.

Welcome home, Barnstormers.

Chatham-Kent’s expansion team in the Intercounty Baseball League has revealed its new name that pays tribute to the Chatham Coloured All-Stars and to the itinerant nature of minor leaguers.

The Barnstormers’ logo and colours – black, sand and red – were also unveiled during a ceremony Thursday at Fergie Jenkins Field at Rotary Park.

“We wanted a name that reminds us (of) the rich and successful history of baseball in Chatham,” owner and president Dom Dinelle said.

Teams barnstorm by travelling from town to town to play games, usually exhibitions, to make some extra cash. It was a common practice in the first half of the 20th century, especially by Negro League teams and even by major leaguers in their off-season.

The Chatham Coloured All-Stars, who were inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2022, barnstormed in southern Ontario in the 1930s. They made history in 1934 as the first Black team to win an Ontario Baseball Amateur Association championship.

The Barnstormers will debut in May 2024.

This year, Dinelle and his staff are visiting towns across Chatham-Kent to meet sponsors, promote the team and host clinics.

“I love the name,” general manager Harry Muir said. “It’s been a long time coming. We spent a lot of time and energy on it. I think it’s indicative of what we’re doing right now. We’re including all the towns. We’re trying to get around to everybody. We’re barnstorming ourselves.”

The name Blackbirds was originally chosen in late January after a name-the-team contest. It was quickly dropped when team officials learned of the term’s association with the slave trade.

They worked with the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society and Black Mecca Museum before picking a new name.

“They felt involved, and that’s what we wanted,” Dinelle, who’s from Saint-Colomban, Que., said in an interview.

“We want everybody to be involved. All the community, Black or white, or French or English, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s baseball. It’s for everybody and that’s what we want,” he said.

Dinelle, who also hired The Hive marketing agency for the rebranding, read a statement of support from Black Historical Society executive director and curator Samantha Meredith at Thursday’s announcement.

“We really think the community is going to love what The Hive came up with for the team and the amazing tribute it pays to the area’s baseball history,” Meredith said.

Few teams share the Chatham-Kent franchise’s new name.

“It’s cool that there’s not many Barnstormers in baseball. I think there’s one or two; that makes us exceptional, let’s say,” Dinelle said with a laugh, “but it’s more about the historical. That’s why we came up with this name.”

The black in the team’s colours stands for strength, wisdom and success, sand is for unity and harmony and red is for passion and courage, Dinelle said.

The uniform, which has not been revealed, will have pinstripes in another tribute to the Chatham All-Stars.

“With the logo and the colours, our uniforms are outstanding,” Muir said. “I can’t wait to release those. We’re going to have the best uniforms in the league. I’ve played ball since I was six years old; I think they’re the best uniforms I’ve ever seen.”

The Chatham 14U Diamonds wore Barnstormers caps and black-and-white shirts at the announcement. They were also scheduled to wear them at their game that night.

The Barnstormers manager will be hired in the next few weeks, Dinelle said.

Scouts are now looking for players. A tryout is also scheduled for Sept. 7-8 at Rotary Park.

“Scouting all summer, look at guys in September, start signing guys up until first pitch,” Muir said.