Image credit: Phillies catching prospect Deivi Grullon with the Reading Fightin' Phils. (Photo by Tomas DeRosa)
One out of every five Triple-A teams spent the first month of the 2019 season playing a game of getting-to-know-you.
The first months of a new affiliation relationship are an acclimation process. The minor league team learns how the big league club likes its clubhouse run and works through the various minor needs that don’t become apparent until the two sides are working together day after day.
In Omaha, Reading, Pa., and Lakeland, Fla., no such introductions are necessary. Those clubs have been working with their major league affiliates—the Royals, Phillies and Tigers—for half a century or more.
The relationships stretch far beyond the careers of most anyone working for either the major or minor league teams. When current Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was born in 1980, Reading and the Phillies had already been partners for 13 seasons. Mike Schmidt was a Reading Phillie and George Brett played for Omaha.
MiLB Teams Partnered With MLB Org For 20+ Years
|Lakeland||Tigers||High Class A||1967||52|
|Clearwater||Phillies||High Class A||1985||34|
|Dunedin||Blue Jays||High Class A||1987||32|
|San Jose||Giants||High Class A||1988||31|
|St. Lucie||Mets||High Class A||1988||31|
|Frederick||Orioles||High Class A||1989||30|
|Fort Myers||Twins||High Class A||1993||26|
|Tampa||Yankees||High Class A||1994||25|
|Asheville||Rockies||Low Class A||1994||25|
|Winston-Salem||White Sox||High Class A||1997||22|
|West Michigan||Tigers||Low Class A||1997||22|
|Delmarva||Orioles||Low Class A||1997||22|
|Fort Wayne||Padres||Low Class A||1999||20|
At 52 years, Reading and Lakeland are tied for the longest active affiliations in baseball. Both tied the knot with their parent clubs in 1967. At the time, Reading and Lakeland signed their first Player Development Contracts with the Phillies and Tigers, 10 of the 30 major league franchises didn’t even exist yet.
PDCs are the agreements that major league teams sign with minor league clubs. PDCs can be for two or four years. For the length of the PDC, the major league team agrees to supply the players for a minor league team, and the minor league team agrees to provide a proper environment for the players.
In the case of Lakeland, the Tigers own the Florida State League club. As long as the Tigers remain in Lakeland for their spring training and extended spring facilities, the Lakeland Flying Tigers are a safe bet to remain in the high Class A FSL.
Reading and the Phillies have no such guarantees. Double-A Reading has been owned by different entities through the last 50 years, but no matter who has owned the Eastern League club and no matter who has been running the Phillies, the two sides have continued to work together.
“It’s a unique situation,” Reading GM Scott Hunsicker said. “We don’t take it for granted. We always work it as if we could lose it.”
Reading has worked proactively to keep the relationship strong. Last offseason, the club spent $150,000 to replace its playing field.
“We probably didn’t have to, but it wasn’t perfect and we wanted it to be even better,” Hunsicker said. “That doesn’t drive revenue with the franchise, but we’re giving the Phillies the best playing surface that we can.”
The Royals and the Omaha franchise have been affiliated nearly as long. In the history of the Royals, who began play in 1969, Omaha has been the team’s only Triple-A affiliate.
“We say that Reading and Lakeland have us by two years, but they only have us by two years because the Royals didn’t exist until 1969,” Omaha GM Martie Cordaro said.
Technically, Omaha didn’t exist as a Triple-A club until 1969 as well. Omaha had hosted a Triple-A American Association club from 1955-59 and then again in 1961-62. But the city didn’t return to Triple-A until 1969, when the Royals debuted. Since then, the two organizations have worked together for 50 years.
“It’s our 51st season and it’s 50 years if you look at anniversary. What I would tell you is (renewing the PDC) is as close to an automatic as anything in our business,” Cordaro said.
When the Storm Chasers last extended their PDC with the Royals, it initially had to be for only two years because Major League Baseball wasn’t approving four-year extensions at the time. When four-year extensions were soon allowed again after that signing, Omaha and the Royals quietly added two more years to their PDC.
“Yes, we’re signing two- or four-year deals, but at the end of the day, we’re merely extending what has been a lifetime agreement and one we anticipate will continue to be a lifetime agreement,” Cordaro said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Baseball America’s owners include the owners of the Omaha Storm Chasers.