Monday, May 29, 2017

Carolina League Mini-Trip

There are six levels in the affiliated minor leagues: AAA, AA, A-Advanced (High A), A (Low A), Short-Season A, and Rookie. That last level includes the Arizona, Gulf Coast, and Dominican Summer Leagues, but those clubs are not marketed to local fans and thus not part of the 160 franchises that make up affiliated minor league baseball. For the first four levels, each MLB team has exactly one club per level, while 22 teams have short-season clubs in the New York-Penn or Northwest Leagues and 18 have franchises in the Appalachian or Pioneer Leagues. The Blue Jays are one of ten teams with affiliates at both levels (Vancouver and Bluefield).

Usually when a franchise moves, it does so within its league. For example, the Brevard County Manatees are now the Florida Fire Frogs, having moved from Melbourne to Kissimmee while remaining in the Florida State League. But it is possible for teams to move across leagues at the same level. It is obviously important to have an even number of teams in each league, so the only way this could happen was if two teams left one league and moved to another. Given the geographic concentration of the lower level circuits, such a situation is rare, but it did happen this past offseason. Two teams that had struggled in the High A California League jumped all the way over to the Carolina League. Well, that is not quite true. The High Desert Mavericks and Bakersfield Blaze ceased operations in the California League, while the Down East Wood Ducks (who play in Kinston) and Buies Creek Astros were created as expansion teams in the Carolina League, also a High-A federation. The main difference between a straight move and the contraction/expansion method is that franchise records do not transfer over to the new teams; they are starting from scratch in terms of history.

Regardless of the type of move, the result is two minor league stadiums that I have yet to visit are now active. Neither ballpark is new: the Wood Ducks play out of Grainger Stadium which opened in 1949 and hosted the Kinston Indians from 1986-2011, while the Astros use Jim Perry Stadium, also home to the Campbell University baseball team. Still, if I want to complete all active minor league parks this year, these two have to be added to the list. Fortunately, they are only about 80 miles apart, so I am able to do both over a short trip in early June, as follows:
Sun, Jun 4 Myrtle Beach Pelicans at Buies Creek Astros 16:00
Mon, Jun 5 Wilmington Blue Rocks at Down East Wood Ducks 19:00
Tue, Jun 6 Myrtle Beach Pelicans at Buies Creek Astros 19:00
I've added the extra date in case of a rainout. The Astros are only playing here for two seasons before moving into a new stadium in Fayetteville, but unlike Club 122, the active minor league ballpark quest will end once it is completed.

I'll be posting updates here, be sure not to miss the thrilling story of how the Wood Ducks got their name.



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