Baltimore Orioles’ minor league affiliates at risk?

The Baltimore Orioles are lucky in that with the exception of the Gulf Coast Orioles, all of their minor league affiliates are semi-local. The Frederick Keys, Bowie Baysox, Delmarva Shorebirds, Aberdeen Ironbirds, and Norfolk Tides are accessible by car from Baltimore. However there are rumblings that MLB might be proposing a new Professional Baseball Agreement for 2021, which would eliminate up to 42 minor league franchises.

On top of the four Orioles’ affiliates, Maryland has five minor league baseball franchises (affiliated with a big league team, that is) – the fifth being the Hagerstown Suns, the Washington Nationals’ low-A affiliate. According to an article written by Nathan Ruiz this week in the Baltimore Sun, Bowie and Aberdeen were well positioned to keep their team affiliation. However Frederick, Delmarva, and Hagerstown (which again is Washington’s affiliate) could be at risk.

In essence, those three teams could be among the 42 teams which COULD be slated for becoming unaffiliated. Mr. Ruiz’s article also went to great lengths to say that the process is only beginning, and that nothing was definitive as of yet. This process is just beginning. As written directly in Mr. Ruiz’s article:

The league also believes the proposal would allow for a better overall geographic layout for minor league baseball, generally eliminating lengthy bus rides and undesirable hotel stays for players while putting top affiliates closer to their parent clubs. The decrease in teams and players would also allow the major league teams to better compensate the minor leaguers.

Although the locations of Frederick, Delmarva and Hagerstown are favorable, MLB desires improvements to their facilities, per an MLB source.

Courtesy of Nathan Ruiz, Baltimore Sun

It’s unclear what the intended improvements to these stadiums would be. In my view both Delmarva and Frederick have beautiful parks. I’ve admittedly never been to the ballpark in Hagerstown, however I do know that it’s older. However in terms of fan amenities, site lines, food options, etc, Frederick and Delmarva are great places to watch a baseball game.

Regardless of anything, I am in favor of every team having a setup like the Orioles – with all of their affiliates being semi-local. Washington’s triple-A team is in Fresno, CA. That’s too far. However there’s another impact that this proposal could have, and one that’s a bit more sinister in a sense – an economic impact.

A state such as Maryland which has a big league team in the state, another which is technically out of state (but only about five miles from the state line – give or take), and yet another about an hour north of the state line may not feel a major negative economic impact if they lose three minor league franchise. At the state level, that is…

…but what about at the local level? I’ve had and still have various aunt’s and uncle’s who have lived in and around Frederick, and I know it’s a great place to live and a great place to raise a family. I also know that the Keys are a huge part of living there. The local community supports the Keys, and they support the local community. What would happen if the Keys suddenly ceased to be what they are?

And you could ask the same of Salisbury (Delmarva) and Hagerstown. Salisbury I think would be okay given the fact that Ocean City is so close. But you get my point in writing this…would these communities not suffer en masse in some manner if they ceased to have viable minor league teams? Because I know Frederick would given how embedded the Keys are in that community.

So…is it really fair to contract three minor league franchises from one state? That’s part of the problem when it comes to the business of sports. Especially at the minor league level, these sports are a public trust. And when the needs of the business start to outweigh the needs of the public, these things can clash. However if three of it’s five minor league franchises ceased to be affiliated with a big league team, make no mistake that the state of Maryland would feel an impact.

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