The Pirates are in the process of purchasing the Reds’ high Class A Sarasota affiliate and relocating it to their spring training complex in Bradenton for the 2010 season, a pair of sources confirmed on Wednesday. The Reds’ high A affiliate would play next year in Lynchburg, which has hosted the Pirates since 1995.
Baseball America correspondent, and Cincinnati Enquirer Reds beat writer, John Fay first reported the deal on his Reds Insider blog.
The two organizations would essentially swap player-development contracts in 2010, a provision that is in the PBA and simply requires all four teams to approve the deal. Such an approval would essentially come down to Lynchburg, since the Reds own the Sarasota affiliate. (The Red Sox and Astros pulled off a similar swap in 1999. Boston swapped its low Class A Battle Creek affiliate for the Astros’ affiliate in Augusta.)
The Reds reasoning for the sale seems to be simple. They will debut their new spring training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., in 2010, and thus no longer have a need for a team in the Florida State League. Whether they seek to relocate out West to the California League after their affiliation with Lynchburg expires after next season remains to be seen.
It would seem that the Reds best opportunities in the Cal League would be in Bakersfield (Rangers) and High Desert (Mariners), a pair of clubs looking to relocate to new homes since their local municipalities have declined to upgrade aging ballparks. Lake Elsinore (Padres), Lancaster (Astros) and Stockton (Athletics) are each locked into PDCs through the 2012 season. The Giants have an ownership stake in San Jose and the Angels and Rancho Cucamonga are a geographical match and have been affiliated since 2001, negating any possibility of the Reds moving there. That leaves Inland Empire (Dodgers), Modesto (Rockies) and Visalia (Diamondbacks) with PDCs expiring after the 2010 season.
Completion of the Sarasota sale is pending approval of the Florida State League, Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball. Both the National Association and the FSL have received the necessary paperwork.
Both sources are confident that the Pirates’ McKechnie Field in Bradenton will be up to Minor League Baseball standards, essentially noting that if it is good enough for spring training it will likely meet PBA facility standards. In addition, the Pirates recently installed lights at the ballpark. However, part of the approval process is to provide MILB an opportunity to inspect the ballpark, one source said.
The Reds are in the process of selling their high Class A Sarasota affiliate to the Pirates, who would then relocate to their complex in Bradenton. The Reds would leave the Florida State League and take over the Pirates’ current Carolina League affiliate in Lynchburg.
Baseball America correspondent John Fay first reported the story on his blog, and Florida State League president Chuck Murphy has since confirmed it to me. Murphy said the move is for next season, and said the Bradenton ballpark is up to standard (noting Pittsburgh recently put in lights).
Murphy could not speak to how the Pirates’ could vacate their player-development contract with Lynchburg with a year remaining on the deal. (Hopefully I’ll have an answer on that shortly.)
Flying Squirrels has been selected as the name of Richmond’s new Double-A Eastern League affiliate.
If you ask me, the choice was made for all of the right reasons.
The target audience of minor league baseball teams are not the adults in Richmond who are forming petitions to protest the team name — and the choices suggested on that petition are at best no better than the ones the team nominated. Teams are looking to attract kids to the ballpark. Happy kids make for happy parents, a chain of events that usually results in spinning turnstiles.
A popular nickname and logo (Richmond’s will be designed by the talented Plan B Branding crew) can be quite lucrative for a minor league team. Just ask Dave Oster and the Lake Elsinore Storm — whose unique logo is donned on Little League jerseys across the country.
“We’ve liked (Flying Squirrels) from the start,” Domino said. “That was my favorite from the start. At one point or another, I’ve tried them all out for size, and at one point or another they all felt good to me for maybe a day or so. But as the process went on, I completely 360’d back to Flying Squirrels and I’ve been there now for several days with it as my favorite . . .
“At the end of the day we all came back to what we thought would resonate with the kids the most. The kids are the core of the business for us.”
I can decisively tell you the name the Richmond club will not unveil tomorrow: Hambones. The club has pulled it from the mix at the request of the NAACP, which had described it as offensive.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the "hambone is the foot-stomping, hand-clapping, thigh-slapping dance brought to America by slaves and later performed at minstrel shows for white audiences."
"Our sole intent was to utilize the concept of Virginia ham and its history in the region," the team said in a release on Tuesday. "We were honestly unaware of any negative, derogatory or offensive connotations."
Baseball America rarely misses a chance to put together a list. So when we heard that Richmond had narrowed the list of names for its new team down to six, we decided to get in on the act.
But hold on . . . This is Richmond, Va., right? The Capital of the Commonwealth. "Give me liberty or give me death." The Confederate States of America. Where the giant cigarette stands tall.
Certainly, one of the candidates will represent the city’s rich history. So let’s review. The nominees are:
Flatheads: A catfish that swims in the James River.
Flying Squirrels: You better duck.
Hambones: Daily ham specials at the concession stands.
Rockhoppers: It is kinda fun to say.
Rhinos: If it didn’t work in Winston-Salem, let’s try it here.
Hush Puppies: Richmond ain’t that South.
So, yes, it’s safe to say that there was an underwhelming response among us all-knowing minor league baseball experts. The offerings fail to incorporate any real historical significance or capture much local flavor.
But here’s the catch:
They’re naming a minor league baseball team, not the new symphony hall, or even the mayor’s dog. The more irreverent the better has long been the standard, and even the secret to success, in the minors. (The TinCaps was panned when announced last offseason, but Fort Wayne finished third in Midwest League attendance and sold team merchandise like it was popular.)
And let’s not forget that one of the most marketable teams on a national scale in the minors is the Muckdogs. The Fishercats and Storm do pretty well too–all three teams’ success has as much to do with unique logos that appeal to kids and Little League teams as it does their names. And Richmond’s new president, Chuck Domino, is the same man who brought you the Lehigh Valley IronPigs a couple years ago–a team that has quickly blossomed into one of the minors’ best franchises.
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