Say it isn’t so.
If Major League Baseball has its way, dozens of minor league baseball teams could vanish at the end of next season.
According to a story in Baseball America, the proposal would reduce the number of teams from 160 to 120 as the Professional Baseball Agreement is renegotiated between MLB and the minor leagues.
Let’s hope the GreenJackets, who play in shiny new SRP Park in North Augusta, aren’t among the teams that could be affected.
Minor league baseball in the Augusta area goes back more than a century. Ty Cobb played in Augusta before launching his Hall of Fame career in the big leagues. Plenty of others have made stops in our area before going on to major league success.
The system of developing players in the minor leagues has been around almost as long as the game itself. Right now, the GreenJackets are affiliated with the San Francisco Giants and are an important stop for many players drafted right out of high school or college. For some, it’s the first taste of being away from home and getting used to the grind of professional baseball.
According to the report, the MLB clubs want better facilities for their future players and better geographic alignment between parent clubs and their affiliates. It also would help reduce travel.
Currently, the Class A GreenJackets play in the 14-team South Atlantic League. Nine of the teams are located within easy driving distance in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina, but the remaining teams are located further north.
The teams that no longer have player development agreements would then become part of what MLB is calling the Dream League, an independent league made up largely of undrafted players.
Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball’s senior director of communications, said geographic realignment makes sense. He said that anyone can look at a map and see that the GreenJackets would have to pass several Carolina League teams, for example, on their way to play in Lakewood, N.J.
There’s also talk of moving teams around and changing their classification. According to the report, the South Atlantic League would be converted to a six-team league and a new league for mid-Atlantic states would be formed.
North Augusta should be in good position to keep its team thanks to SRP Park, one of the top new facilities in the country. The multi-purpose park opened in 2018 and was named Ballpark of the Year by Ballpark Digest and Baseballparks.com in its first year.
The facility also has hosted numerous concerts and other events, including the recent Border Bash. It was the main piece in the Riverside Village development, on the Savannah River, that includes a hotel, apartments and restaurants.
“It’s one of top ballparks in all of the minor leagues,” Lantz said. “There can’t be any argument about the quality of the facility.”
SRP Park hasn’t been without its detractors because of the public-private partnership that helped create it. Overall, though, the stadium and its surrounding amenities have been a boon for North Augusta and Aiken County.
Minor league baseball is less about the quality of players on the field than it is about a place for people to gather for entertainment. Whether it’s for food and drink specials, fireworks or some other promotion, a night at the ballpark is usually good family fun.
“Some cities you can find a ton of things to do, and in some places minor league baseball might be the only thing to do,” Lantz said. “It’s an important part of the fabric for a community.”
It’s still early in the process, and nothing so far suggests that the GreenJackets are on the chopping block. Let’s hope that common sense prevails, and that North Augusta can enjoy its minor league team for generations to come.
— Post and Courier, Charleston