Baseball America is counting down to Opening Day by looking at the many different ways minor league franchises are getting ready for the season. For some teams, getting ready means adding a new scoreboard so the kiss cam and shell game can be viewed in high def. Or it’s a section of seats that needs to be replaced with tabletops, a wait staff and an offbeat theme that will entice fans to take in a game from a new vantage point. Or perhaps it’s a series of alumni bobbleheads or more fireworks or a new mascot or dollar beer nights (or all of the above). Regardless of what it is, chances are change is coming to a team near you this season.
Today's focus is on the Fort Wayne TinCaps, who have been one of the biggest hits in the Midwest League since moving into Parkview Field in 2009.
Adding another group-seating area certainly didn’t seem like an offseason priority for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. After all, fans already had six spots to choose from at Parkview Field—including a tiered picnic area, a party porch modeled after the Wrigley Field rooftop experience where the menu changes every few innings, a home run porch in left field with all-you-can-eat fare, a suite-level loft down the first-base line, a plethora of luxury suites ringing home plate and concourse suites at the top of the seating bowl.
But the team’s popularity has created an opportunity, and in mid-May the TinCaps will unveil a group area called the 400 Club in the batter’s eye of center field.
Exactly 400 feet from home plate, the retractable-roof club will feature a 75-foot-long wall of windows on top of the center-field fence and will accommodate groups of up to 150 people. Privately financed for more than $800,000, the 400 Club will feature tiered tabletop seating, a large bar area, flat-screen televisions, food service and an outdoor patio. It will be the ballpark’s only group-seating option where beer and wine is included with all-you-can-eat, higher-end food.
The 400 Club’s location is as unique as what it will offer. General manager Mike Nutter said the team had to work with Minor League Baseball officials to make sure the location would not affect batters, and that the team has looked at glass samples from several big league ballparks, including Wrigley Field, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium.
“We wanted to give people something a little different,” Nutter said. “For a lot of people, coming to baseball games is all about just burgers and hot dogs. And obviously we do well with burgers and dogs and peanuts and beer, but we also obviously do a lot more than that now.”
Nutter said the team had been seeking to add a “wow factor” to the four-year-old ballpark, which last season welcomed an average of 5,747 fans a game, second among Midwest League teams. With so much of the team's success coming in group seating, this seemed like a natural fit.
“The first four years have been amazing and probably exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Nutter said, adding that team officials are regularly asking each other “how do you stay relevant and hot and all that stuff . . . We felt like we just needed to invest back into this thing.”
It has been a hit so far, with 29 of 51 available dates sold after just a few days of being available. Nutter noted that the team is paying for the entire project, and he said for team owner Jason Freier “to return that to the community is a pretty cool thing.”
Fort Wayne has even booked a wedding reception for the 400 Club this season.
“(The bride) told me that her first date was at Parkview Field, her fiancé proposed to her at Parkview Field and now her wedding reception will be at Parkview Field,” Nutter said.
Two years ago Fort Wayne celebrated Opening Day by converting its scoreboard to 3-D. Last year the TinCaps kicked off the season by picking one fan to have a bobblehead made in her likeness. So what's in store for the start of the 2013 season?
On Opening Night (April 11), each fan will receive a scratch-off card when entering the ballpark. Certain cards will be instant winners, with those fans receiving a game-worn jersey from that night. One of those fans will also be selected as a $5,000 grand-prize winner.
The cash grab kicks off a busy promotional calendar for the team that won the Class A Bob Freitas Award from Baseball America in 2011. The team has 30 postgame fireworks dates scheduled, a variety of theme nights (including Wizard of Oz Night, Social Media Night and a Tribute to Professional Wrestling), and giveaways that include a Mat Latos bobblehead.
Keep the product fresh.
It’s a mantra recited by minor league operators in markets large and small, at ballparks new and old. For unlike their major league counterparts, the people who run minor league teams realize that much of their fan base considers the action on the field secondary to the hijinks and entertainment off it—from between-innings follies to children’s playgrounds to deep-fried delicacies at the concession stands.
For that reason, teams spend the seven months between the final out of one season and the first pitch of the next looking for ways to keep their product fresh—a new offering to keep fans and families coming to the ballpark.
It’s a universal offseason practice around the minors, though exactly what needs to be tinkered with is not so standard. For some teams it’s a new scoreboard so the kiss cam and shell game can be viewed in high def. Or it’s a section of seats that needs to be replaced with tabletops, a wait staff and an offbeat theme that will entice fans to take in a game from a new vantage point. Or perhaps it’s a series of alumni bobbleheads or more fireworks or a new mascot or dollar beer nights (or all of the above).
Regardless of what it is, chances are change is coming to a team near you this season. So with that in mind, we’re going to count down to the start of the season by looking at the many different ways teams have freshened up their homes this winter. We’ll kick it off with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, winners of the 2012 Double-A Freitas Award, who plan to introduce a trio of fan-pleasing additions to Arvest Ballpark, which will host the Double-A Texas League all-star game this June.
Eric Edelstein addressed one of his passions when he landed a job running a baseball team seven years ago. The Naturals general manager will cross another off his list when he opens a craft beer stand at Arvest Ballpark this season.
Edelstein considers himself a lover of craft beers, and he’s confident he isn’t alone. The new stand along the right-field line will put that theory to a test with 20 brews regularly on tap and another 40 in rotation. Core Brewing, the first craft brewery in Springdale, Ark., will partner with Northwest Arkansas as the naming-rights sponsor of the stand and its seasonal selections will the featured attraction.
Edelstein believes the beer garden will be a hit among the regulars at the ballpark but will also help the team tap into a younger audience.
“Microbrews are typically an under-35 thing right now,” he said. “It’s a way to add a wrinkle of fun for everyone who is here, but I’m also hopeful that it gives us a window into a demographic that we aren’t attracting as much right now. Our goal is to have as good a selection as any bar or restaurant in Northwest Arkansas.”
The Naturals will also unveil an area on the other side of the ballpark that they believe will appeal to fans of all ages—though perhaps with an emphasis on the younger crowd. The Naturals are converting a seldom-used concession area into a dessert-only stand, that just happens to be conveniently located next to the Kids Zone play area. And the Naturals plan to stock it with plenty of sweet-tooth selections, including featured items like include deep-fried oreos, chocolate-covered bananas, milkshakes, homemade ice cream sandwiches and Northwest Arkansas’ famous funnel dog—a hot dog wrapped in funnel-cake batter, fried and topped with powdered sugar.
“The vision of (the dessert stand) was sort of like the state fair,” Northwest Arkansas general manager Eric Edelstein said. “It’s not going to be healthy, but rather it’s a place to treat yourself.”
Arvest Ballpark debuted in 2008 and has held relatively steady at the gate, averaging 4,656 fans last season after bringing in 4,779 per game in 2011. Edelstein notes that the ballpark is as beautiful as when it first opened, "but it's not new." The two new concession areas will add a bit of variety to the venue.
"We know we can serve most of our fans through our concession outlets, so it gave us the chance to do something with some of our ancillary outlets that weren’t being utilized,” Edelstein said.
And lastly, Northwest Arkansas is adding a spot for those who like to get their game on at the ballgame. The team has converted one of its suites into a game room that can be rented out to groups on a nightly basis and comes stocked with a Wii playing on a big screen and a stand-up video game that features 70 different classic selections—think Galaga and Centipede—in high definition. A chalkboard will cover one of the walls so kids “can really have at it,” Edelstein said, “and have fun in the suite.” And for those interested in the action on the diamond, the game-room suite does overlook playing field.
“My biggest concern is making sure the staff doesn’t spend too much time playing Wii bowling in the afternoons,” Edelstein joked.
If you’ve been watching MLB Network lately, you’ve probably seen a commercial for Dick’s Sporting Goods. The commercial, which was filmed at Blair Field in Long Beach, Calif., is called “Every Pitch,” and if you haven’t seen it, here it is . . .
The commercial, which was created by the Anomaly agency and produced by @radical.media, strives to capture the drama on the field beyond simple home runs or diving catches.
A public-relations spokesman for Anomaly said that when the agency began working on the spot with Dick’s, the creators wanted to capture the subtitles of the game. They did that by paying attention to detail. The uniforms were designed by the company and the casting was authentic, including several players with professional experience. The spot was also filmed on 35mm film to give it a richer, throwback feel.
[...] Continue Reading »
Durham Bulls general manager Mike Birling feared that the team’s moment in the sun last September when they hosted the Triple-A National Championship would be spoiled by the one element he could not control: weather.
Roughly three inches of rain fell on Durham Bulls Athletic Park during the nationally televised finale of the minor league season and diminished what Birling had hoped would be a sellout crowd. However Birling’s fears appear to have been for naught, as Triple-A Baseball is turning to the Bulls for the second time in three years for one of its signature events. Durham announced today that it has been selected to host the Triple-A all-star game in 2014 for the first time in the event’s 25-year-history.
“A year and a half ago, we had a similar press conference and we were awarded the Triple-A National Championship game. At that time, one of the things that I stressed was the importance of getting that game and the importance of the support we needed for that game, could allow us to get bigger and better things to come to the Triangle,” Birling said at a press conference this morning in the team’s home clubhouse, where jerseys of former Triple-A all-stars hung in every locker. “From the perspective of the (International and Pacific Coast) leagues, it was a tremendous event.” [...] Continue Reading »
Major League Baseball Advanced Media has purchased the domain name Rockies.com for an undisclosed sum from a Canadian organization that promoted tourism in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
MLB Advanced Media vice president of corporate communications Matthew Gould confirmed the transaction but declined to comment on the amount MLBAM paid for the domain.
The sale gives MLBAM the rights to all but four of the nickname domains for major league team Websites. It still does not own the rights for the domains of the Giants (which belongs to the NFL's New York Giants), Rays (owned by a Seattle restaurant and catering service of the same name), Rangers (owned by the web development company Future Media Architects) and Twins (a blank page owned by a company called D&D Miller).
MLBAM had most recently purchased the domain Angels.com for $200,000 in 2010, according to industry expert Domain News Wire.
Correction (Jan. 9, 2013):
A previous version of this story stated that MLB had paid a seven-figure sum for the rights to the Rockies.com domain name. Matthew Gould said the figure was inaccurate, though he said he could not release the correct amount due to confidentiality agreements.
Upper Deck co-founder and CEO Richard P. McWilliam passed away suddenly on Saturday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. He was 59 years old.
McWilliam co-founded Upper Deck in 1989 and oversaw its operations until his death. He is credited with helping to transform the sports trading card industry, acquiring a Major League Baseball license in time to produce the company's first set in 1989, which included the first Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.
“Our entire company is heartbroken and grieving his death today,” Upper Deck’s Jason Masherah wrote on the company’s Facebook page today. Masherah, Upper Deck’s vice president of marketing and business development, had fulfilled the role of president for the past year as McWilliam battled heart disease before being officially named to the post today.
“Richard was a thought leader and visionary in the trading card industry. It grew from a hobby for some baseball fans into a multi-billion dollar industry because of the multiple innovations that Upper Deck introduced under his leadership,” Masherah said in a press release. “He built a company that has weathered difficult times for the entire industry and is well positioned for future success.”
According to a 1993 New York Times profile, McWilliam and Upper Deck shook up the trading card industry by replacing traditional photos on cardboard with a premium, high-quality product. Upper Deck cards featured a photo on both sides and included a hologram to make the counterfeit proof. Rival card makers were forced to improve their product that helped propel the sports trading card market from a $50 million industry in 1980 to a $1.5 billion behemoth in 1992, according to the New York Times. The innovations also led to a saturation of the market that has devalued the modern trading card.
"I never had a passion for cards, just a passion for doing something perfectly," McWilliam told The Times. "I don't care if a card is worth 2 cents or $50."
NASHVILLE—Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner spent a good part of his stay in Nashville explaining the sport’s new marketing plan to his constituents during league meetings. Next up on his to-do list is finding someone to run the program.
O’Conner said Minor League Baseball has hired New York executive search company to recruit an experienced person who will lead a new marketing program designed to sell minor league baseball as a whole to major companies. The chief marketer will likely come from outside baseball, O’Conner said.
“Who we hire will be impressive, but also where we hire the person from will be impressive,” said O’Conner on Wednesday afternoon on the Trade Show floor at the Opryland Hotel. He said the first round of interviews is complete and he expects a hire to be made by early February. “This is not an easy job. I’m not opposed to it coming from within the (minor league baseball) family, but I also realize that person may not exist.”
O’Conner said the response to the new program has been positive, and discussions with various league and team executives over the course of the Winter Meetings has backed that up. The consensus seems to be that the time had come to promote the minor leagues as a whole, and not just the individual teams, and to take advantage of the minor leagues' reach into a variety of markets. O’Conner pointed out that minor league baseball, with 160 teams, plays in more midsize and smaller markets than any other professional sport and would provide access to people major advertisers have a tough time reaching.
“We have great penetration into the B, C and D markets,” O’Conner said.
The program officially began with O’Conner’s presentation at the opening session on Monday, and leaders said the effort likely won’t start generating money for two years. “We have planned for a two-year gestation period before we go to market,” O’Conner said. “We need to be sure we are prepared to go the marketplace . . . We have a great product and we want to make sure we are promoting it properly.”
Every minor league franchise will be included in the national marketing campaign, but teams are not required to pay the $15,000 investment fee. The teams that do are promised a three-to-one return on their investment as well as an annual residual return for as long as it is profitable, O’Conner said.
NASHVILLE—Just four years ago, Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner kicked off the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas by urging his constituents to come together as a group and approve the plan to bring every team’s Web properties under the umbrella of Major League Baseball Advanced Media.
The Baseball Internet Rights Co, which was approved that week and launched before the start of the 2009 season, appears to have validated O’Conner’s theory that the minor leagues could attract bigger and better advertisers working as one. With all but a handful of teams on board, BIRCO announced its first profitable year following the 2011 season.
O’Conner is again asking the minors to come together, this time to create an industry-wide marketing program that he predicts will attract the major corporate sponsors that MiLB has failed to land under its 20-year-old group marketing program. O’Conner announced the new marketing program—which he called Project Brand: 160 teams, one brand—and the committee of minor league executives that spent the past seven months crafting it, during the Winter Meetings opening session yesterday at the Opryland Hotel.
“As we celebrate 20 years of our national marketing program, we realize the program has served us well and accomplished things no one thought would ever be accomplished,” O’Conner said to a ballroom full of minor league owners and executives. “But we also realize we have built a brand over the last 20 years worthy of much more. The current program is effective, but lacks the resources and organizational commitment to efficiently serve this powerful brand. We owe the brand more. We owe ourselves more. It is time for a change.”
NASHVILLE–At the Winter Meetings, minor league teams typically fill out their front offices with fresh-faced job seekers eager to break into baseball. However, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Carolina) arrived at this year’s event at the Opryland Hotel with more serious business to tackle, like finding a new general manager.
Scott Brown left his post in Myrtle Beach last week after three seasons to take over as general manager of baseball operations for the Charlotte Knights (International), who are adding depth to their front office while preparing for life in a new ballpark. Brown takes over for veteran GM Dan Rajkowski, who was promoted to vice president/chief operating officer and will oversee the team’s transition from Knights Stadium—their home for the past 19 years, about 20 minutes south of town in Fort Mill, S.C.—to a new $54 million downtown Charlotte ballpark set to debut on Opening Day 2014.
“It’s certainly bittersweet; I love the beach. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Brown told the Myrtle Beach Sun News. “I think it’s the most exciting stadium project in our industry. I had a chance to walk the site and I think it’s going to be phenomenal. I don’t think there’s a better combination of stadium and city in Triple-A baseball.”
Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre applied the first strokes of a franchise makeover last night by replacing its Yankees nickname of the past six seasons with a new moniker that, while short on the tradition that the team’s previous name carried, offers plenty of creativity.
The third team name in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s franchise history is the RailRiders. It is the one team management is counting on to help erase the struggles of the past few seasons and kick off a new era at a newly renovated ballpark scheduled to debut on Opening Day next season.
The name intends to serve as a tribute to Scranton’s rail history, in particular the Laurel Line that once connected Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, and was the winner of a name-the-team contest that also included underwhelming finalists like Blast, Black Diamond Bears, Fireflies, Porcupines and Trolley Frogs. (For the record, RailRiders also was the favorite of Baseball America readers who participated in a poll on our Facebook page.)
RailRiders management kept the new name a secret since voting concluded in late August and unveiled it last night at a coming-out party in which it also displayed their new logo, designed by the sports marketing firm Brandiose, depicting a grimacing Porcupine riding atop the name RailRiders in the shape of a locomotive. The porcupine will be the team’s mascot after it finished on the most number of ballots in the name-the-team contest. [...] Continue Reading »
It may not have earned a projection on cable news or made a blip on John King’s interactive map, but ballpark ballot measures certainly got the vote out in Wilmington, N.C., and El Paso, Texas.
Wilmington residents overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to pay for a $37 million ballpark project through an increase in property taxes, with about 70 percent of voters opposing the referendum. The vote grinds to a halt the Atlanta Braves’ plan to purchase the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina) and move the franchise to Wilmington as part of a partnership with Mandalay Baseball Properties, which would have operated the franchise.
The vote brings to an end the nearly year-long Mandalay-Braves joint effort to bring affiliated baseball to Wilmington. The group first announced its plans in February, and made it clear then that public funding would be required to complete the deal. Ultimately, that ended up being the road block that killed it.
"We're very disappointed with how it went, both Mandalay and the Atlanta Braves," Mandalay Baseball CEO Art Matin said of the vote. "We thought it was a terrific opportunity for people in the city of Wilmington because we have seen it work so many times throughout minor league baseball. We think it is a lost opportunity."
The Braves and Mandalay have no plans to further pursue the project and any efforts for a new deal would have to come from within the city, Matin said. "There is not a Plan B and we're not trying to draw one up. We're not anticipating trying to resurrect the effort. This was the effort . . .
"We have stated why this (plan) makes sense and people in Wilmington have decided not to support it. We're not going any place. If someone comes up with a great idea, then we'll listen. But there is no fallback plan. There is no Plan B."
The Reading Phillies have little reason to change.
After all, this is the franchise that topped the Eastern League in average attendance last season for the sixth time in the past seven years. This is one of the best-run operations in the business, which has transformed a 61-year-old stadium into one of the premier venues in the minors through a series of renovations—including a $10 million facelift before last season. And this team, beloved in its community, puts on one of the best shows in the minors with a cast of characters that includes the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor and the Mascot Band.
Yet, ready or not, change is coming to Reading. For the team announced over the weekend that, after 46 years as the Phillies, it is changing its name as part of a major rebranding effort.
"We've come to realize we want our fans to be able to have their own brand," Reading general manager Scott Hunsicker told the Reading Eagle. “We want to be able to celebrate our association with the Philadelphia Phillies, yet at the same time give our fans their own name so that they can wave their flag even more proudly as fans of the Reading franchise."
The team will unveil the new name, logo and uniforms on Nov. 17. They’re partnering with the sports marketing firm Brandiose (formerly Plan B Branding), which they have worked with on previous projects including new logos and jersey prior to the 2008 season. Brandiose is a creative outfit that was behind the name and logos for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Richmond Flying Squirrels—a pair of the more unique monikers in the competitive minor league landscape, but also two of the more successful franchises in the sport. Klein indicated that Reading’s new name won’t be quite as outlandish as those two, but rather will play off of Reading’s history and tradition.
Charlie Blaney has often said that Bakersfield could be the best market in the California League, if only it had a new ballpark. The former Dodgers farm director and third-year Cal League president will now get a chance to prove his point.
The Blaze are building a new ballpark.
The privately financed venue is expected to cost $20 million and is scheduled to open during the 2014 season as part of a larger mixed-use community to include retail, entertainment and residential. The ballpark will include the typical bells and whistles of modern stadiums—including luxury suites, group-seating areas, a playground and special-event space that can be used year-round—and has been in the works since local businessmen Gene Voiland and Chad Hathaway purchased the club from the Elmore Sports Group in early March. The Blaze plan on breaking ground early next year. They'll spend 2013 at Sam Lynn and could open 2014 there if the new venue is not completed in time for Opening Day.
“If you and I were starting a California League today, Bakersfield would be one of the first places we would put a team,” Blaney said. “It’s centrally located in the state. It has its own media market. It has a population of 450,000 people within an hour’s drive . . . This is why the league been so patient with trying to keep affiliated baseball there.”
Specifically, it is why Minor League Baseball has allowed the Blaze to stay at Sam Lynn Ballpark, the team’s 71-year-old home that no longer meets facility standards and is considered among the worst stadiums in the minors. Bakersfield averaged just 637 fans in 2012—which was actually an 11 percent increase from the previous season and was the lowest among full-season teams. The new owners spruced up Sam Lynn before this season with fresh paint, an expanded home clubhouse and a renovated playing field. But Voiland and Hathaway vowed that it would not remain the team’s long-term home in its current condition.
"Things have changed from when I was a kid going to games with my dad," Blaze owner Gene Voiland said at a press conference today announcing the deal, according to the Bakersfield California. "It's family-focused entertainment."
It was just four years ago that Bakersfield appeared on the verge of losing its team. In late 2008, Cal League owners were considering a proposal from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner to send the Blaze and High Desert Mavericks to the Carolina League. Several major league teams in the East and Midwest had requested to expand the Carolina League from eight to 10 teams in order to keep their high Class A affiliates closer to home, and moving Bakersfield and High Desert would also remove the Cal League’s two worst-performing franchises. Ultimately, the deal was doomed by money—how much the Carolina League would require for an entry fee and how much Cal League owenrs wanted to be compensated—as well as a lack of two viable markets in the Carolina League.
Blaney took over the reigns of the Cal League from longtime president Joe Gagliardi two seasons later and said the league would no longer consider shifting two teams to the Carolina League. Solving the Bakersfield and High Desert issues would become his top priority. And it appears that his mission has been completed, as High Desert signed a lease extension at Mavericks Stadium with plans for a significant ballpark renovation.
“This is something that we’ve been working on the past three years,” Blaney said. “This has been a top priority for the league. It’s a great day for the California League and a great day for Bakersfield and a great day for Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball.”
The Lexington Legends will have a new affiliate for the first time in franchise history when the South Atlantic League franchise opens next season. And beginning tonight, the Legends will have a new logo as well.
The Legends will unveil their new logo this evening as part of a local fundraiser in downtown Lexington. The team mascot, Big L, will don a new team new jersey when it joins other participants rappelling down the 410-foot-tall Lexington Financial Center. The Legends will have a booth set up outside the “Brave the Blue” event—a reference to the color of the building and a fundraiser for the Boy Scouts—with new hats and branded merchandise on display. The team will also be passing out free T-shirts bearing their new logo.
The logo change comes after the Legends parted ways with the Astros after 12 seasons during the offseason affiliation shuffle, which saw seven low Class A franchises (including six in the Midwest League) swap major league affiliates. The Legends will now team up with the Royals, which had spent the previous two seasons with Kane County (Midwest) but were displaced when the Cougars decided to sign on with the home-state Cubs.
"This truly is an offseason of change around the ballpark with our new affiliation," Legends general manager Seth Poteat told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "We're thrilled with the new color scheme and logos and feel all of our fans are going to love the new look of their Legends."
For Major League Baseball, the Fall Classic doesn’t just refer to Tigers vs. the winner of tonight's Cardinals-Giants game. It’s also about Democrats vs. Republicans.
Many corporations and labor groups have Political Action Committees in place as a way to donate money to political candidates they feel will act in their best interests. Major League Baseball is no different.
The Major League Baseball Commissioner’s Office PAC has been in existence since 2001. During that time, the PAC has raised more than $2.3 million.
MLB employs three lobbyists from the Baker & Hostetler law firm who serve as liaisons in Washington: Bill Schweitzer, Josh Alkin and Lucy Calautti. All three have a history of working in politics and are fans of the game. They spend their time meeting with politicians and political groups in an attempt to educate those groups on how legislation or potential legislation could affect Major League Baseball.
“Our interactions with elected leaders and other officials in Washington have addressed labor issues, security, immigration and taxation, among other topics,” MLB spokesman Michael Teevan said via e-mail. “Our Government Relations office, which stems from the vision of commissioner (Bud) Selig, allows us to communicate quickly and efficiently with leaders in Washington on significant issues and to provide another important resource to our clubs.
“For example, our presence in Washington has helped us navigate issues pertaining to ballpark security, the fortification of our joint drug policy, greening and other topics on which we have made great strides over the last decade. With the re-establishment of a major league franchise in Washington during this time as well, our expanded presence in the nation’s capital has been invaluable in many ways.” [...] Continue Reading »
The chances of baseball needing an extra game to set its postseason field dwindled last night after the Nationals and Tigers each secured division titles and the Athletics locked up at least a wild-card berth. But a Game 163 remains a possibility—the Orioles could catch the Yankees in the American League East, the Rangers have yet to pull away from the A's in the AL West, and the Dodgers could still catch the Cardinals for second National League wild card—and any extra action will be available for everyone to see.
No television blackout restrictions will be in place if major league baseball’s regular season requires overtime and extends to a one-game playoff on Thursday. Any such game will be televised exclusively by TBS and will not be subject to Major League Baseball’s blackout restrictions, an MLB spokesperson confirmed today.
A Game 163 would be considered part of the regular season, but will not be blacked out because local broadcast rightsholders will not be televising the game in addition to TBS.
“Even though the game would be considered a regular season game, it is broadcast along the lines of a postseason game,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
However, fans accustomed to watching baseball online or through mobile devices will have to put away their iPads and turn on their televisions, as a Game 163 would not be available through MLB's Extra Innings or MLB.tv services within the United States. According to Major League Baseball Advanced Media: "Due to Major League Baseball exclusivities, any play-in game to determine the final team(s) to reach the MLB Postseason, i.e. a 163rd game, will be blacked out in the United States (including the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands)."
Change is coming to the Midwest League.
Minor league and major league teams are going through their bi-annual renewal of affiliations this year, and stability has been the watchword at the higher levels, with one swap at Triple-A (Blue Jays to Buffalo, Mets to Las Vegas) and no changes in Double-A. Most teams have renewed their player-development contracts with their existing partners.
That won't be as true at the low Class A level, however. In the Midwest League in particular, six of the league's 16 teams did not renew their affiliations and entered the free agency period that began last Sunday without a partner. (It's important to note here that Major League Baseball guarantees 30 affiliations at the Triple-A, Double-A, high Class A and low Class A levels, so no team is in danger of not having a major league affiliate. It's just a question of whether a team gets its first choice.)
The Cedar Rapids Kernels split from the Angels after 20 years and signed a four-year player-development contract with the Twins, who will leave Beloit after eight years. The Kane County Cougars, who two years ago signed on with the Royals, confirmed a rumor that leaked out weeks ago by signing on with the hometown Cubs through 2014. The Peoria Chiefs were the losers when the Cubs left for Kane County, but they salvaged things by reuniting with the Cardinals, their affiliate before the Cubs came to town in 2005. The Cardinals leave Quad Cities after eight seasons there.
When the Royals got squeezed out of Kane County, they decided to move to the South Atlantic League rather than reuniting with their previous Midwest League affiliate in Burlington. The Lexington Legends, the lone team in the South Atlantic League that was on the market, are expected to announce their affiliation with the Royals today. Lexington had been an Astros affiliate since the franchise debuted in 2001.
That leaves three available Midwest League franchises—Beloit, Burlington and Quad Cities—with three major league organizations: the Angels, Astros and Athletics. The Athletics have been in Burlington the last two seasons and could decide to remain there.
The Cubs’ move to Kane County had been rumored for over a month, and the two clubs drew the ire of Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner for apparently negotiating a deal before they were officially allowed to do so. The agreement, formally announced by both sides yesterday, makes sense for both Chicago and Kane County. The Cubs will have players just 40 miles from Wrigley Field in Geneva, Ill. And partnering with the beloved Cubbies should provide a boost at the gate for Kane County, which finished third in the Midwest League by drawing 391,102 fans but saw average attendance dip 8.75 percent to 5,587 this season.
"I would definitely say we could draw more fans," Kane County general manager Curtis Haug told Brookfield (Ill.) Suburban Life newspaper. "There are a lot of Cubs fans around here, and I know they're excited. The Cubs have some phenomenal young players that fans are excited to see play."
Reports that the Cubs planned to leave Peoria after eight years initially caught Chiefs management off guard, but the team landed on its feet by signing on with the Cardinals. The Chiefs and Cardinals spent 10 years together before Peoria decided to partner with the Cubs in 2005. For the Cardinals, the opportunity to return to Peoria was too great to pass up, farm director John Vuch said.
“It was a tough decision, because it was not like we were trying to get out of Quad Cities,” Vuch told the Quad-Cities Times. “It was an opportunity for us to move closer to St. Louis, and that makes sense for our organization . . . We are definitely excited about going to Peoria, but we had a lot of good things happen for us in Quad Cities. We had some good teams, some very good years, and good support from the staff, the fans and the community.”
The only change coming to the Triple-A landscape is now official.
The Mets and Las Vegas 51s (Pacific Coast) announced a two-year player-development contract last night, and the Blue Jays and Buffalo Bisons (International) followed suit this morning by inking a PDC that will run through the 2014 season.
A partnership between the Blue Jays and Bisons had been rumored throughout the season, as Toronto expressed an interest in moving their top affiliate closer to home and the Bisons sought to field a winner after failing to make the postseason in four years with New York. The two teams also make a good geographic fit. As Buffalo noted in a press release today, the teams’ ballparks are just 99 miles apart and the partnership “opens up an array of marketing and regionalization opportunities for both teams.”
“We are thrilled to enter into partnership with the Buffalo Bisons organization and more specifically with (team owners) Mindy and Bob Rich who we have known for many years,” Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston said in a press release. “This relationship is a natural fit, both geographically and philosophically. The Bisons are committed to winning and the Rich family to providing an environment consistent with the values we are establishing with the Blue Jays. Simply put, we are fortunate they have agreed to align with our program and we thank them for the confidence they have shown in us.”
That regional connection is what Buffalo envisioned when it teamed up with the Mets following the 2009 season. And while Buffalo did televise a half-dozen games each season on the Mets' SNY Network, attendance at Coca-Cola Field has decreased in each of the past four seasons. Buffalo averaged 7,370 fans this season—down 5.3 percent from last season and 16.3 percent from its 8,812 average in 2008.
The Bisons’ desire for a change forced the Mets on the move for the third time in six years. And with the 28 other Triple-A teams sticking with their current big league affiliates, the Mets were left with one destination: Las Vegas. The 51s play in 29-year-old Cashman Field, which lacks many of the amenities found at newer ballparks, like indoor batting cages and spacious clubhouses. And the teams attempts to replace the ballpark have been slowed by the financial recession that has hit the city hard. Ownership's agreement in principle to sell the franchise to a joint venture between the Howard Hughes Corp. and attorney Steven Mack could provide hope for a new ballpark, but that sale has been delayed by negotiations with the city over the lease at Cashman Field.
“We are looking forward to working with the New York Mets as our new affiliate,” 51s general manager Chuck Johnson said in a statement. “The Mets will continue to provide quality players for us on the field that our fans will enjoy watching play. We are also excited to have the New York 'brand' in the Las Vegas market."
The first change of the affiliation shuffle will reunite a pair of old friends.
Short-season State College (New York-Penn League) announced it has signed a player-development contract with the Cardinals after spending the past six seasons with the Pirates. The deal is for two years and will run through the 2014 season.
State College debuted in 2006 as a Cardinals affiliate after an ownership group headed by Chuck Greenberg purchased the franchise, then called the New Jersey Cardinals, and relocated it from Augusta, N.J. It had been linked to St. Louis for the previous 24 years while playing in four different cities.
"The State College Spikes are very pleased to re-kindle our partnership with one of the most well-respected and successful franchises in all of professional sports," State College chairman/managing partner Chuck Greenberg said in a press release. "The Cardinals were wonderful partners during our inaugural season and their players, coaches and other player development staff were instrumental in helping to legitimize both the Spikes brand and minor league baseball in the Centre region and all of Central Pennsylvania. The manner in which the Cardinals operate, both on and off the field, is respected and emulated by the entire baseball industry. We are excited to bring the 'Cardinal Way' to our loyal Spikes fans."
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is left with just two options for its short-season affiliate: Jamestown (which has been with the Marlins since 2002) and Batavia (where the Cardinals had played since 2007). Neither will be particularly appealing for the Pirates after making a home at one of the NYP’s best facilities in State College’s Medlar Field. Jamestown averaged 1,031 fans, second-fewest in the NYP, while playing at 71-year-old Russell E. Diethrick Jr. Park. Batavia, which has been operated by their neighbors Triple-A Rochester (International) the past four years after nearly folding due to financial problems, averaged a league-worst 904 fans in 2012.
The countdown to the affiliation shuffle will never be mistaken for the rush of the draft signing deadline, but major and minor league teams will be making important decisions about their player-development contracts in the coming days, particularly at the Class A level.
The deadline for teams to renew affiliation agreements has passed, so free agents now know what is available, and they can officially begin negotiating new deals starting on Sunday. Teams will have two weeks to work out new deals, and they can sign two- or four-year agreements.
No Double-A franchise has changed affiliations since 2009, and that run will continue for at least another two years. The Jacksonville Suns (Southern) signed on for another two years with the Marlins just before the deadline, as did the Huntsville Stars (Southern) with the Brewers, and the Jackson Generals (Southern) with the Mariners. The Arkansas Travelers (Texas) and Angels have not announced an extension of their player-development contract, but with no other Double-A options available they'll be sticking together.
Turnover will be minimal on the Triple-A front as well, though there will be one flip. After months of speculation about where the Mets would land if the Blue Jays displaced them in Buffalo, in the end they didn't end up having a choice. Sources said the Buffalo Bisons (International) were going to end up with the Blue Jays, and with no other team making a switch, that left only the Blue Jays' previous affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s (Pacific Coast), as the Mets' Triple-A home.
While there are plenty of bright lights and opportunity for spectacle in Las Vegas, as a minor league market it's anything but glamorous. That the Blue Jays chose not to stay in Las Vegas after four years of play at aging Cashman Field is hardly a surprise, as their desire to move closer to home in Buffalo had long been rumored. Cashman Field is arguably the worst ballpark in Triple-A, and 51s ownership has tried unsuccessfully to replace it in a city hit hard by the recession. It's also 2,500 miles from Citi Field.
Changes will be more plentiful at the Class A level, though one of the biggest surprises of the process came with the Reds’ announcement that they will stay with Bakersfield (California) for two more years. The Blaze play at 81-year-old Sam Lynn Field, an outdated ballpark that averaged just 637 fans per game this season. But the team has new ownership intent on improving the situation—including the ballpark—though any changes likely would not happen before the Reds’ new contract expires following the 2014 season.
In reality, though, Cincinnati had few alternatives. The Carolina League and Florida State League will likely remain static, and they represent the only opportunities for the Reds to move their high Class A affiliate closer to home. Just two teams in the FSL had yet to announce an extension—the Daytona Cubs and Fort Myers Miracle (Twins)—but both have been affiliated with their big league partners since 1993 and are unlikely to change.
The team likely to be available in the California League is Lancaster, which is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the minor leagues, so much so that teams have been reluctant to send their best pitchers there. The Astros may have been holding out hope that they could leave Lancaster, but it doesn't look like they'll have anywhere else to go. The Mariners announced yesterday that they had renewed their player-development contract with High Desert, and while it had not been announced, Inland Empire and the Angels are likely to renew their agreement as well.
The most change is likely to come in the Midwest League, where reports leaked early that several teams will seek out new affiliates. According to reports from various local media outlets, the Cubs are on their way out of Peoria and headed to Kane County, which had been a Royals affiliate the past two seasons, the Cardinals are cutting ties with Quad Cities, and the Angels are leaving Cedar Rapids. Several other teams also had not announced affiliation renewals, though, including Beloit (Twins), Burlington (Athletics) and Fort Wayne (Padres). In the other low Class A outpost, the South Atlantic League, just two teams had not announced renewals: Hagerstown (Nationals) and Lexington (Houston).
Change is orderly at the Triple-A, Double-A, high Class and low Class A levels because each major league team can have one and only one affiliate at each level. Short-season clubs are less predictable because teams can have two or three clubs, depending on their development philosophy, and three of the leagues are made up of major league-owned franchises. In the Appalachian, Arizona and Gulf Coast leagues, the standard affiliation rules don't apply because major league teams can add or drop their franchises in those leagues from season to season.
In the other leagues—the New York-Penn, Northwest and Pioneer—it looks like relative calm will be the order of the day, with only the NY-P likely to see any change. The Cardinals appear to be looking for an alternative to the troubled Batavia franchise. The Muckdogs have been operated by their neighors the Rochester Red Wings (International) for the past four seasons, after nearly folding because of financial troubles. The team has been on the market ever since, and while Rochester president Naomi Silver has said she has received inquiries from people who would buy and move the team, no deal appears imminent.
The Cardinals apparently will have two NY-P teams to chose from if they leave Batavia: the Jamestown Jammers (Marlins) and State College Spikes (Pirates). The Jammers would seem the more likely fit, as the Pirates are a regional draw in State College.
No spots are available in the short-season Northwest League after the Cubs and Boise Hawks extended their affiliation through 2014.
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