Mike McCann / Minor Leagues
2002 MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
By Mike McCann
I'm sure that everyone is looking forward to the 2002 minor league baseball season. Everyone is also curious to know what changes are in store for next season. Well, I definitely think that way, but I know that I can't be the only one.
Since it is an even numbered year approaching, there won't be any affiliation changes for next season. All player development contracts between minor league teams and their major league affiliates expire after even years. So for 2003, there will be a few affiliation moves out there. In the meantime, however, things are pretty stable.
Most of the talk in major league baseball is about contraction. If contraction did take place, it would affect the minor leagues. But until something definite takes place, I'm not going to get into details. And I don't think that it will.
A few teams are changing their nicknames this season, but they really aren't anything radically different. The Louisville RiverBats are becoming the Louisville Bats. People referred to them as the Bats anyway, so this really isn't much of a change. They did need to get permission from the Greensboro team since they had the name first. But since the two teams are a significant distance apart, I don't think anyone will have a problem distinguishing the two. This is unlike how there will be three teams will be playing in a place called Fifth Third Field (Dayton, Toledo and West Michigan). But that's just a matter of the same corporate sponsor buying the naming rights to three stadiums.
The Omaha Golden Spikes will again be known as the Omaha Royals. Kansas City put their AAA affiliate in Omaha, Nebraska in 1969 (in the American Association at the time) with the nickname of Royals. Two years ago, primarily as a marketing ploy in my opinion, the name was changed to Golden Spikes. Many people in the area did not agree with this change, and they were able to get the name changed back. Many do not care about breaking tradition if it might mean a few extra dollars of merchandise sales. But in this case, the plan backfired (well, probably not since I'm sure people buy more merchandise with each name change, and two changes is better than one).
In another interesting twist, two teams in the California League swapped locations. The Visalia Oaks moved to Stockton, California, while the Stockton team moved to Visalia. This change is pretty much transparent to everyone since it really only means different owners. But one change that people will see is the new nickname for the Mudville Nine. Only the nickname is more old than new. The team changed its name back to the Stockton Ports. The Stockton teams had been named the Ports since 1946 (minus 1978 when the team was the Mariners) until 1999 when the team changed its name to the Mudville Nine. The Mudville reference comes from the famed Casey at the Bat, and the team thought it would be good to play homage to its place in history. So a second team is changing its nickname to its previous one.
The only actual franchise move that will take place is the Pittsfield Astros moving to Troy, NY and becoming the Tri-City ValleyCats. I was able to see Wahconah Park in Pittsfield this past year, and it was a pretty nice place to see a game. Anyone who knew that Wahconah Park is the only professional baseball stadium that faces the wrong way deserves a pat on the back. How does a stadium face the wrong way, you ask? Stadiums tend to point to the northeast away from the sun (I know not all do, but for the most part). This stadium faces west into the sun. The sun sets over the center field wall and occasionally causes a 'sun delay' where they have to stop the game because the sun is in the batter's eyes. The independent Northern League will be putting a team there, so if you want to see this phenomenon for yourself, you still have a chance. The ValleyCats will be playing in a college stadium this year, but will soon have a brand new stadium of their own.
That is pretty much the only definite information that I know of for next year's minor league baseball season (although there are many interesting rumors out there). There are also a number of changes in the independent leagues for next year. And I still haven't gotten into which new stadiums are opening or which teams will be moving after the 2002 season, so you'll know which teams to make an effort to see before it's too late. But I guess that will have to wait for next time.
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