Wednesday, March 07, 2007

MAJOR CHANGES IN THE MINOR LEAGUES

The tough life of a minor league baseball player is getting a little tougher this year...for certain teams, anyway. Some minor league veterans are going through the same procedures they would have to go through if they had been traded - but they're still property of the same major league club they were part of last year. Confused? So are minor league veterans of the Yankees, Phillies, Orioles, Mets, and Nationals. They will have to go through a major transition, reporting to different teams this year in different cities, without ever having been part of a transaction.

The merry-go-round started with the New York Yankees, who switched their Triple-A affiliate last year from the Columbus Clippers to Scranton Wilkes-Barre (formerly the Red Barons). The Red Barons' contract with the Philadelphia Phillies was up as well, and the Phillies had come to terms with the Ottawa Lynx. That team had been vacated by the Baltimore Orioles, who took over the Norfolk Tides, made available when the Mets made the New Orleans Zephyrs their Triple-A affiliate. The Nationals, who had been with New Orleans, took the team made available when the Yankees started the mess, moving their operation to Columbus.


So the teammates haven't changed, but the uniforms, stadiums, and cities have. Minor leaguers are used to change - they jump from Single-A to Double-A to Triple-A sometimes in a matter of months, and some go from Triple-A to the majors so often they are compared to yo-yo's. But it must be a weird sensation for many to have to relocate without having been part of any personnel changes.

Then there's the business end. "You don't realize how much stuff you have with the Mets logo on it until you have to switch to the Orioles," says Ian Locke, director of media relations for the Norfolk Tides, the new Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. Locke mentions letterheads, envelopes, websites, group info brochures, and schedules as among the items that now need updating. It also changes the off-the-field personnel. "I have to get acclimated with the new people in Baltimore, as opposed to who to call in New York. I'm not sure who to call in spring training - I used to know who to talk to. The little things are different, but it's been a positive switch overall."

The Orioles and Nationals are taking advantage of their new affiliation, and taking their relatively new geographic rivalry on the road. Both Norfolk and Columbus will host an exhbition game at the end of spring training featuring the major league clubs in the minor league stadiums. There are other benefits for Baltimore - all of its minor league clubs are now within driving distance of the major league city - a benefit that Philadelphia now loses, moving from in-state Scranton (125 miles away) to out-of-country Ottawa (447 miles away).

For the Mets, they lose a long-time affiliate, but get to establish a new relationship with a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. They've already started the goodwill, donating money to the city and its playgrounds. And Mr. Met seems happy about his new friend as well:


For the Mets, their affiliate did not just switch cities - they are now in another league. The Zephyrs are in the Pacific Coast League, where they play in the same division as teams in Texas, Oklahoma, Albuquerque....and a schedule which will take them further west. The Tides are in the International League, playing teams like Buffalo, Pawtucket, and Richmond. Whether all that extra travel will have an affect on the players who are called up remains to be seen...but one thing seems sure - a minor league affiliation switch rarely affects just one baseball team.

NOTE ON THE ARTICLE: I started to write the above over February break (oh, how long ago that seems, when I had such great intentions, and wrote a blog entry every day), and actually made some phone calls to try to put together a really good article for some magazine. A few non-returned calls later and back to school, and I lost all momentum. But I didn't want to waste the idea, and the one interview I did, so there it is. I got the idea when I bought my baseball preview, and there was no mention of all the affiliate changes, which I thought was one of the bigger deals of the off-season. It's an article I would have wanted to read.

NEW FEATURE: I think I'm going to add a "Player of the Game" feature this year. Just a thought that popped into my head tonight.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: With the NCAA tournament coming up this week, I'm glad I got a chance to post tonight - because I can't make any promises that I'll be updating during the basketball games. I will get my season picks up before the season starts - that's about the only promise I can make. Mets-Cardinals is just 23 days away to open the season!

1 comment:

the wife said...

Don't show that picture of Mr. Met to The Baby. She'll try licking the computer screen.