Starting this season, the International, Pacific Coast and Eastern Leagues are making slight alterations to their schedules. The two Triple-A levels are moving from 144 to 142 games, and the EL is going from 142 to 140. The IL and PCL will slash two more games in 2018 to get their leagues to 140 games as part of a mandate from Major League Baseball.
Minor league operators want as many home dates as possible, of course, and this change will cost them two games before weather hits.
But because team owners and executives are in the business of making money, they’ve long found ways to account for the outgoing games and then some. The minor league season ends in September, but that doesn’t mean stadiums won’t open their doors again until the season begins again in April.
“I think the trend is that when you’re looking for 140 games and 70 home dates, you’ve got 270-280 other days where your building, quote, is dark,” Charlotte Knights COO Dan Rajkowski said. “We want to take the asset that we have, which is this beautiful baseball building, and use it for beer festivals and concerts and company events, whatever we can do. And also there’s the field that in the future you’ll be able to have dinners on the diamond, a lot of clubs have been successful with that. Each year we grow and put more events into the building.”
This offseason, for example, the Knights took advantage of the gorgeous BB&T Ballpark and brought in Tim McGraw, one of the biggest acts in country music (and son of ex-big leaguer Tug McGraw), for a concert that accompanied college football’s Belk Bowl.
But beyond concerts, minor league teams have another ace up their sleeves. If they can’t have professional baseball, they’ll make up for it with college baseball.
The Knights are hosting five college games this year, including Winthrop-Davidson and North Carolina-South Carolina as the jewels of the schedule. Beyond that, the team will also revisit one of its biggest non-Knights games of BB&T’s brief history: The United States’ College National Team’s friendly series against Cuba, which took place in 2015.
This year’s version will take place on July 4, and will be followed by a fireworks show.
“College baseball’s been good for us. UNC-N.C. State drew 7,500 people last year, and that’s a significant recruiting tool for college baseball,” Rajkowski said. “We have Team USA and Cuba playing in July. Two years ago we had it, it was a sellout, and we tied it with a tremendous fireworks show. With all that’s happening with the Cuba-U.S. relationship, it’s going to be something special.”
The Knights, of course, aren’t the only ones who will use the college game to help make up the losses of a couple of games. The Memphis Redbirds will welcome the Memphis Tigers into AutoZone Park for games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State this season.
Redbirds owner Peter Freund said that because of the year-round functionality of the modern minor league park, he is not worried about taking a financial hit as the schedule shrinks.
“It’s not a dramatic change, the scheduling change. Obviously we’d never want to see our schedule go down to 120 games,” he said, “but when you’re talking about a couple of home games, in my mind it’s not the end of the world.”
Despite the loss of games, it’s clear that the minor leagues will have no trouble making up for lost time.