Much attention has been paid to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s new “Empire State” nickname and its upcoming 142-game road trip this season, but the more pressing issue may very well be where the team is going to play next season.
Time is running out for the Yankees to begin tearing down PNC Field and beginning construction on their planned $40 million new facility. But in order for it to be ready by Opening Day 2013, shovels need to be in the ground by April 1, International League president Randy Mobley said. Otherwise, Scranton will need to figure out an alternative plan for next season—and it can’t be the same arrangement as this upcoming season, when the team will play its 71-game home schedule at six different ballparks.
“This is a one-year arrangement, not to be repeated,” Mobley said.
The Nationals aren’t waiting until the annual affiliation shuffle after the season to lock up deals with their minor league partners.
The team announced today that they are extending player development contracts with four of their affiliates: Triple-A Syracuse (International), Double-A Harrisburg (Eastern), high Class A Potomac (Carolina) and short-season Auburn (New York-Penn).
The Nationals’ PDCs with Syracuse and Harrisburg were set to expire after this season and will now run through 2014. Washington had previously extended its contract with Potomac and their relationship is now guaranteed through the 2016 season.
Player development contracts between major and minor league teams are for a minimum of two years and may be extended in two-year increments. Teams can extend PDCs at any time but cannot negotiate with other affiliates until after the season concludes.
Taking Syracuse off the market leaves just five International League teams with contracts expiring after this season—Buffalo (currently affiliated with the Mets), Indianapolis (Pirates), Lehigh Valley (Phillies), Pawtucket (Red Sox) and Rochester (Twins)—with a couple likely to continue with their current agreements. That leaves few options for teams hoping to move their Triple-A club closer to home. The Blue Jays, for example, are entering their fourth season in Las Vegas but would be a likely candidate to relocate to Buffalo when the Mets’ deal expires after this season.
Meanwhile, eight Pacific Coast League teams are slated to become available after the season: Albuquerque (Dodgers), Fresno (Giants), Iowa (Cubs), Las Vegas (Blue Jays), Nashville (Brewers), New Orleans (Marlins), Oklahoma City (Astros) and Reno (Diamondbacks).
The Nationals deal with Potomac is an indication that the two sides have made up since the public feud last season between Washington general manager Mike Rizzo and P-Nats owner Art Silber over the playing conditions at Potomac’s Pfitzner Stadium. Potomac underwent a much-needed $250,000 renovation to the playing field during the offseason fixing drainage problems that forced the team to relocate a three-game series last year and led to Rizzo calling the field a “safety hazard.” Silber responded by saying the field is fine and that Rizzo “doesn’t know what he was talking about.”
The repair seems to have done the trick for the Nationals, which last year skipped top prospect Bryce Harper from low Class A Hagerstown directly to Double-A Harrisburg. And keeping a relationship with the local big league team makes sense for Potomac. Silber is also trying to put the finishing touches on a deal for a new ballpark in Northern Virginia.
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees may be without a home this season, but they do have a new name: The Empire State Yankees.
The Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate will play its home schedule on the road in 2012 while its ballpark undergoes a $40-million facelift and the team felt a new name would enhance the extended road trip. The Yankees will call six different ballparks home, with fellow International League franchise Rochester serving as its base. The team will play 37 of their 72 home dates at Rochester’s Frontier Field with another seven at neighboring short-season Batavia.
The Yankees play the rest of their home dates at other IL affiliates, including Empire State destinations Buffalo and Syracuse. In all, the Yankees will play 60 of their 72 home games—and 84 of their 144-game schedule—in New York, the team announced. The only non-New York hosts are Pawtucket (R.I.) and Lehigh Valley (Pa.).
Empire State hats can be purchased at the Rochester Red Wings team store at Frontier Field and their online store.
“With so many games to be played in upstate New York this season we wanted to make the club feel even more at home this year,” Rochester general manager Dan Mason said in a release. “We approached the New York Yankees with a few suggestions and they actually came up with the Empire State Yankees moniker.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise and the other IL clubs that will be hosting them this year and we wanted to make this as much fun for our fans and the players as possible. The Empire State Yankees merchandise and logos will only be available this season so they are sure to be collectors’ items.”
The new nickname makes sense in many ways—it certainly sounds better than the Rochester/Batavia/Buffalo/Lehigh Valley/Pawtucket/Syracuse Yankees. But it likely also gives the Yankees a chance to make up for some lost revenue, as the host teams will cover the expense and take any profit from hosting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s home dates.
While the name has collector-item appeal, the logo itself lacks creativity. It’s appears to be the same logo the team has used in previous years—the Uncle Sam stars-and-stripes top hat resting on a baseball bat behind Yankees written in cursive. The only difference is “Empire State” replaces “Scranton/Wilkes-Barre” on a banner running across the bottom.
Don Mincher, the man largely responsible for saving organized baseball in Huntsville, Ala., and who brought rare perspective to the post of league president, passed away over the weekend at the age of 73.
Mincher had served as Southern League president from the spring of 2000 until last October, when he stepped down due to health reasons and was named president emeritus. This role may have been his final post in baseball, but his first impact on the game began many years earlier.
Mincher spent 13 seasons in the majors, retiring after the 1972 season with 200 home runs, over 1,000 hits and two All-Star Game appearances. In 1965 with the Twins, Mincher homered off of Don Drysdale in his first World Series at-bat.
Mincher would earn a ring seven years later with the A’s when Oakland toppled the mighty Reds in seven games in the 1972 World Series. In his lone at-bat of the Series, Mincher drove in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth of Oakland’s 3-2 win in Game Four.
That would prove to be his final at-bat in baseball, but he returned to the game 12 years later when Double-A baseball came to his hometown of Huntsville. When hearing the news that the Huntsville Stars were being formed, Mincher offered his services to team owner Larry Schmittou, who promptly named him general manager.
Mincher would remain in the role until 1994, when he assembled a group of local owners that kept the team in town. He ultimately sold his stake of the team in 2000 when he was appointed Southern League president.
“He really was a gentleman. He always wanted to do what was right,” Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner said this afternoon. “I don’t know if I have seen many people exhibit the balance that Don did. He was concerned with how things affected the players, the umpires and the teams. And most importantly, he cared about how things affected the fans.”
Mincher did seem to have a keen understanding of how to run a baseball team. And he combined that with a great sense of humor. When talking to Baseball America’s Conor Glassey about the Birmingham Barons winning the Double-A Freitas Award in 2008, Mincher explained why it was so important for the Barons to focus on customer service and keep the ballpark clean.
“The one thing you want to do in minor league baseball is to keep the Mamas happy,” Mincher told Glassey. “If Mama walks in that ballpark and the bathroom is dirty, Mama isn’t coming back. Birmingham does that really well. Daddy’s going to come and bring the kids no matter what, but it’s important to keep the females happy to keep the entire family coming out to the ballpark.”
Mincher was often the cool head in gatherings at the Winter Meetings, a soft-spoken leader whose opinion was respected. “He was a guy who wouldn’t always talk a lot, but when he had things to say, people would stop and listen.”
And nearly everybody stopped to applaud at the 2010 Winter Meetings when Mincher was named King of Baseball. “He told me several times afterward how it touched his heart,” O’Conner said.
“I’m going to miss him,” O’Conner said. “I’m not supposed to have favorites, and I don’t professionally. But personally, Don was a special guy.”
Two of minor league baseball’s ballparks most in need of facelifts may soon be going under the wrecking ball.
The Bakersfield Blaze (California League) and Richmond Flying Squirrels (Eastern) each recently took a step closer to landing new or renovated ballparks, as the Blaze were sold last Friday to a local ownership group intent on keeping the team in town, and local leaders in Richmond have identified funding to contribute to a new facility.
It’s been a long road for both franchises, whose aging ballparks have threatened keeping baseball in town.
The Braves spent eight years trying to replace the Diamond in Richmond, before moving its Triple-A affiliate in 2008 out of frustration—and for the lure of a new facility—to Gwinnett, Ga. In Bakersfield, more than one owner of the Blaze has failed to replace Sam Lynn Ballpark since the early 1990s, leaving the team to play in a facility that no longer meets facility standards and is considered the worst among full-season clubs while facing rumors of a move to the Carolina League.
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