The minor league baseball team in Kannapolis has a new name — the Cannon Ballers. The team formerly known as the Intimidators unveiled a new name, logo, uniforms and mascot Wednesday night at the historic Gem Theatre downtown.
The Intimidators had borrowed the nickname of the late race car driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., who was beloved in town.
But the man who bought the team in 2018, Andy Sandler, said the team didn't control the name and knew it would limit the team's marketing and merchandising. So he decided to rebrand the team as it prepares to move into a new stadium next April that's at the center of a major downtown redevelopment.
The team has held on to Earnhardt's spirit: The mascot is a daredevil character with a mustache much like the one Earnhardt wore.
“We set out to try and honor the memory city of Kannapolis' favorite son and legendary athlete Dale Earnhardt Sr.," owner Andy Sandler told WFAE. "That's what we set out to do and we hope we were able to do that.”
The name and the mascot drew applause from several hundred fans who packed the Gem Theatre.
Thousands more fans swarmed downtown for the unveiling and a festival that included fireworks and a circus — just like what a cannonball daredevil might have performed in.
That applause was a relief to Sandler. When he announced earlier this year that he planned to change the name, many fans didn't like the idea of giving up the Intimidators' name.
I remember how proud dad was of this. What a shame it has to end. https://t.co/aln2uVgPNt
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 7, 2019
The team invited ideas for a new one, and many were silly, like "possums" or "kangaroos." Some fans wanted just to keep the Intimidators name.
But one name that kept coming up was “Cannons,” which recalled the name of the Cannon family that ran the textile mills that once were the town's major employer. Sandler said after working with a branding expert and designer, they arrived at the Cannon Balls name that invokes that history.
Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant is already a fan of the new name.
“Oh, I love it, and I think it, it ties into our history, it ties into our future. It ties into opportunities that we know that we have right here in this community that is growing because of this baseball team as well as the baseball stadium,” Hinnant said.
The Cannon Ballers begin their season in the new ballpark on April 16.