That didn’t take long, now did it? Just 24 hours after the Las Vegas 51s kick-started the affiliation shuffle by signing a two-year player-development contract with the Oakland A’s, the Fresno Grizzlies brought the Triple-A portion to a close by inking a two-year deal with the last team standing: the Washington Nationals.
The short-lived shuffle featured plenty of twists and turns. Raise your hand if you thought the Rangers would end up in San Antonio after getting boot-scooted out of Round Rock. Me too. But no, the Missions opted to stick with the Brewers, who had been the affiliate of Colorado Springs, whose spot San Antonio is taking the Pacific Coast League.
The Capital of #Growlifornia is partnering with our Nation's Capital. 🐻🇺🇸
I certainly thought that the Nationals would pull out every trick in the PDC book to sign with a team in the East, presumably Nashville. But the Rangers beat them to it, signing a four-year PDC with the Sounds. Now, after spending their entire history in the International League, the Nationals are packing for Fresno—a mere 2,800 miles from Nationals Park.
The moment we have all been waiting for—or at least us few hardcore fans of minor league team movement—has finally arrived. The start of the affiliation shuffle’s two-week open period, when minor league teams are allowed to negotiate player development contracts with unaffiliated major league teams, officially began on Sunday. The every-other-year period is essentially free agency for minor league teams and allows fans to dream about which prospects might be coming to town.
Minor league teams had until Sept. 11 to extend PDCs with their current affiliate or notify their league offices that they want to pursue a new affiliation. Teams that do not strike a deal with a new affiliate by Sept. 30 will be assigned one by their league; no teams will be left without a partner.
While there will not be as much movement this offseason as in past years—20 teams changed partners in 2014—there are several interesting storylines to be played out over the next two weeks that will reshape the minors for several fanbases. Let’s take a look:
MINOR LEAGUE TEAMS AVAILABLE: Fresno, Las Vegas, Nashville, Round Rock, San Antonio
MAJOR LEAGUE TEAMS AVAILABLE: Astros, A’s, Brewers, Nationals, Rangers
The International League is set. The only change to come in the 14-team circuit—the Mets replacing the Nationals in Syracuse—has been known since New York purchased the franchise last offseason. That decision gave Washington a full year to ponder where its Triple-A affiliate will play during the next two seasons. The Nats’ best options appear to be Nashville, which opened First Tennessee Park in 2015, or Las Vegas, which is scheduled to open a new ballpark in 2019 (hopefully for Opening Day).
Nashville may have the edge as the top choice because it would keep the Triple-A Nats in the East with their other affiliates and is just a short two-hour flight from D.C., but Las Vegas is not a bad alternative. Pacific Coast League President Branch Rickey has long touted Las Vegas as arguably the most important city in the league for travel purposes. McCarran International Airport connects directly to most every city in the league, which is certainly a luxury for whatever team makes a home in Vegas. With Cashman Field and its lone outdoor batting cage and metal bleachers now a thing of the past, Las Vegas may become a sought-after landing spot for teams.
The minor league season may not conclude until Monday, but a new attendance champion could very well be crowned by the end of Thursday evening. The Charlotte Knights hold the slimmest of leads over the Round Rock Express—averaging just 115 more fans through last night’s games—with each team having just two more home games on the schedule. Whichever team pulls in the biggest late-season crowds are likely to take the attendance crown from the defending champion Indianapolis Indians.
Then again, there could be a dark horse looming in this race. More on that in a minute . . .
A weeknight game in late August can be a tough time of year for a team to pad its attendance figures, and that proved to be the case for Charlotte (International League) and Round Rock (Pacific Coast) last night. The Knights drew 8,437 fans to BB&T Ballpark last night, slightly below their season average of 8,932. Meanwhile, the Express also saw their average attendance take a dip to 8,817 after bringing in 7,134 fans to Dell Diamond.
Round Rock does hold the edge over the Knights in total attendance by a 599,537 to 598,413 margin, but will also have the benefit of one more home date; the Knights are not making up a previous cancellation.
Sam Hansen is the creative brain behind the Fresno Grizzlies’ many unique and trendsetting promotions. As the Grizzlies’ director of marketing, Hansen has developed promotions ranging from the celebration of pop-culture hit movies like “Good Burger” and “Coming to America,” to creating the popular local Taco Truck Throwdown, to converting the team’s furry mascot Parker into an ordained minister.
What follows is the second part of my conversation with Hansen about how the team comes up with so many popular promotions and how he got involved in minor league baseball. Part One of our conversation can be found here. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
Down the stretch they come. The Charlotte Knights and Round Rock Express are neck and neck in the race for minor league baseball’s attendance crown as the season enters the stretch run.
The Knights, in the midst of a seven-game homestand, hold just a four-fan lead over the Express. Charlotte, through 58 openings, is averaging 8,912 fans per game. The Express, which return from an eight-game road trip on Tuesday, is averaging 8,908 fans per game through 60 openings.
The proof of a successful promotion can be found in the results, and that certainly was the case for the winner of Minor League Baseball’s July Promotion of the Month. The Frisco RoughRiders took home the honor, earning the Texas League franchise a spot in the Promo Seminar’s Golden Bobblehead competition, for its Dude Perfect Appearance on July 20.
The RoughRiders set a single-game attendance record for Dr Pepper Ballpark of 12,067 by welcoming the five Dudes who form the trick-shot making group that has become a viral sensation over the past few years. The Frisco-based group has earned more than 32 million subscribers and 5 billion views on YouTube as well as their own show on Nickelodeon, making their appearance one of the most anticipated in team history. In fact, the appearance was the earliest sellout in RoughRiders history, with all of the tickets being snapped up three days before the game.
The Fresno Grizzlies rank among minor league baseball’s most creative and trend-setting teams. The fad of teams transforming their names into a favorite concession item? That began with the Fresno Tacos, which grew out of the team’s often-replicated Taco Truck Throwdown promotion.
Sam Hansen is the person behind the concept and creation of these promotions and a long list of others that has helped the Grizzlies make local and national headlines each season. As the Grizzlies’ director of marketing, Hansen has developed promotions ranging from the celebration of pop-culture hit movies like “Good Burger” and “Coming to America” to converting the team’s furry mascot Parker into an ordained minister.
What follows is Part One of my conversation with Hansen about the art of minor league promotions, how Fresno has turned into one of the premier marketing franchises in professional sports and how he got his start. Part Two of our conversation will follow in this space next week. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.