Mets, Orioles Complete Triple-A Movement

Pirates also announce move to State College

See also: Triple-A movement heats up

The Norfolk Tides closed the book on 37 years with the Mets on Monday, announcing a new affiliation with the Orioles.

The announcement also ended the affiliation shuffling at the Triple-A level, leaving the following changes in place for the 2007 season: the Phillies from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Ottawa, the Orioles from Ottawa to Norfolk, the Mets from Norfolk to New Orleans, the Nationals from New Orleans to Columbus, and the Yankees from Columbus to Scranton.

The Mets had been affiliated with the Norfolk franchise (which has also been known as Tidewater during its history) since it joined the International League in 1969, but Norfolk officials complained about a lack of communication and cooperation from the Mets this year. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported that neither general manager Omar Minaya nor assistant GM Tony Bernazard had visited Norfolk this season.

"They took us for granted," Tides general manager Dave Rosenfield told the newspaper.

With five of the Northeast's major league teams involved in the Triple-A musical chairs, the Mets were the last team standing. After visiting Columbus and Scranton but not getting affiliations there, and after getting pushed out of Norfolk in spite of a last-minute call from Tidewater native David Wright to Tides owner Ken Young, they'll head to New Orleans.

Aside from the end of a such a long relationship, the move to New Orleans increases the Mets' Triple-A-to-big league commute by nearly 1,000 miles and puts them in the Pacific Coast League, which will further increase travel.

The Mets took the public-relations offensive, however, announcing their new affiliation last Friday, before the Tides and Orioles held a press conference in Norfolk on Monday.

"We are excited to relocate our top minor league operation to New Orleans to become part of the rebirth and renaissance of one of America’s great cities," Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said. "We expect to take an active role in the community--on and off the field. We thank the fans of the Virginia Beach area for their support for the past 38 years."

"The New Orleans Zephyrs ownership and front office clearly showed an aggressive desire to be part of the Mets organization and bring our Triple-A affiliate to the Crescent City," Minaya said. "We are thrilled to partner with the Zephyrs organization."

The Mets signed a two-year player-development contract with the Zephyrs, while the Orioles signed a four-year agreement with the Tides.

Triple-A could see another big round of shuffling in two years because Columbus has made it clear that it plans to go after the Indians or Reds affiliation then, when the team will be in a new ballpark. The Clippers lost their longtime affiliation with the Yankees this fall, and they signed a two-year agreement with the Nationals as a stopgap.

Pirates Move To State College

An affiliation that should last much longer is the new relationship between the Pirates and State College Spikes of the New York-Penn League.

The two teams announced a four-year player-development contract at a press conference in State College on Monday. It's a natural, not only because of the proximity of the two cities, but also because State College is owned by the same group that owns the Altoona Curve, which has been the Pirates' Double-A affiliate since joining the Eastern League in 1999.

The minor league clubs share many of the same resources, including an integrated front-office staff in which employees work for both franchises. State College and Altoona are about 45 miles apart in central Pennsylvania.

"We are very thrilled not only in the geographic partnership with the Pirates, but for fans of both the Spikes and Curve to be able to share in the enjoyment of following Pirates players from the beginning of their careers in State College, up to the Double-A level in Altoona, and ultimately to the big leagues in Pittsburgh," said Chuck Greenberg, the president of both teams.

The Spikes just completed their first season in the New York-Penn League, averaging about 3,800 fans a game to finish fifth among the league's 14 teams in average attendance. The Cardinals, whose affiliation with the club carried over from its days in New Jersey, are out after one season and will try to hook on with one of the remaining cities in the NY-P, including Batavia, Vermont and Williamsport.