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Officials plan to OK return of TAWS
by Will Lingo
The minor leagues are never afraid to try new ideas, and I've seen a lot of them: the dearly departed Double-A all-star game, the more successful Triple-A all-star game, and of course the Triple-A World Series.
The minors have seen various forms of a Triple-A World Series over the years, the most recent coming from 1998-2000. It was one of the main reasons Triple-A realigned into two leagues--remember the American Association?--and debuted as a best-of-five series in Las Vegas with much fanfare.
It didn't work, at least not on the scale organizers hoped for. The competition was generally good, people seemed to have a good time, and the event actually made a little money, thanks to a sweet deal with the Las Vegas Convention and Vistors Authority. But crowds were small and television ratings were minimal, and the shots of all the empty seats at Cashman Field didn't do a lot to generate enthusiasm for the series.
So after the original three-year deal to hold the event in Las Vegas expired, so did the Triple-A World Series. Triple-A officials have talked on and off ever since about how to get the event going again, with conflicts about finances, the site and format serving as major roadblocks.
But the idea got moving again thanks to Ken Schnacke, president of the IL's Columbus Clippers, and Minor League Baseball vice president Pat O'Conner. It was a major topic of discussion in Sacramento this year at the Triple-A all-star game, and there is strong momentum for bringing the series back in 2006.
"Right now, if all goes according to plan, we'll be playing the game in Oklahoma City next September," International League president Randy Mobley said. "There are still hurdles to be crossed, but the biggest ones have been crossed."
One In A Series
The new and improved Triple-A World Series would be a one-game, winner-take-all event at SBC Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. Assuming major league farm directors sign off at their meeting in August, and the IL and Pacific Coast League approve the idea in October, Oklahoma City would get a three-year deal for the game, which would be played each year on the Tuesday after the Triple-A playoffs end. If you're planning ahead, the first game would be Sept. 19, 2006.
The most obvious problem with that idea is that it's hard to call one game a series. You could argue that the idea of a Triple-A World Series at all drags the minor league season out too long, but if you're going to have the event then it should be more than one game. The previous format, best of five, worked for me, but you could compromise at best of three if you wanted.
A series presents several challenges if you're footing the bill, though. First, the TV people like to be able to sell the "one game for all the marbles" idea to viewers and advertisers. It's also easier to draw fans for one game rather than an entire series. And one game means you have to pay the players less. And because this is one case when the minor league teams have to pay the salaries, that matters.
"I initially turned my nose up at it," Mobley said of the one-game format, "and there are still some who turn their nose up at it, but for the most part it's grown on all of us, and it helps us get the game started again."
The other question is the site, but it's hard to argue when the PCL's Redhawks and local leaders in Oklahoma City have stepped forward and made a three-year commitment to try to make the game work. Oklahoma City has become known as a softball mecca in the last few years, so a baseball event should complement that nicely.
Cities from Cooperstown to Sacramento were proposed as neutral sites for the game, and organizers also talked about playing at one of the participating teams' ballparks. But when it came time to put their money where their mouth was, only Oklahoma City came through.
"It has the support of folks within the community, and it's a great venue," Mobley said. "It comes down to, is anyone willing to step up to guarantee the event's success and a full ballpark?"
And that will be the ultimate test for the Triple-A World Series, Version 2.0. Will it generate excitement in Oklahoma City and get a little bit of attention nationwide? (Mobley says he expects a TV deal, though it's just in the discussion stage at this point.)
The Las Vegas TAWS was a good event, but ultimately it lacked buzz. And that's why it has taken so long to figure out who was willing to take the financial plunge after the Las Vegas deal ran out.
"We heard from a lot of people disappointed about it when the series went away, so it proved after the fact that a lot of progress was being made with educating fans about the event," Mobley said. "I think that it was a success. We learned that Las Vegas was not the right place for it."
Is Oklahoma City the right place? We're looking forward to finding out.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to [email protected].