Last month, news broke that Major League Baseball (MLB) had proposed radically restructuring a segment of the minor leagues that could result in the elimination of several lower division Class A, short season, and rookie teams.
The proposal would affect 42 teams around the country, including a pair of Northwest League squads: the Tri-City Dust Devils, the minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres, and, closer to home, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.
“I’d say about two months ago, we heard that there was a plan that they were thinking about doing,” says Mickey Walker, the CEO of the Volcanoes. “But we still haven’t officially heard. We haven’t been contacted by Major League Baseball or the Giants to [let us know] that this is officially what’s going on.”
According to news reports, the plan would send some of the teams into a new league focused on developing players trying to break into the majors, with the rest likely forced to permanently close up shop. In a statement from the commissioner’s office, the logic behind the proposal is to improve “working conditions for minor league players, including upgrading the facilities to Major League standards, increasing player compensation, reducing travel time between affiliates for road games... and providing better geographical affiliations between the MLB clubs and affiliates.”
While there’s some logic to that, Walker says most of those reasons doesn’t apply to the Volcanoes. The majority of the team’s games are against the Eugene Emeralds and the Hillsboro Hops, which amounts to only 90 minutes on the road each way. As recently as five years ago, Walker says, representatives from MLB visited Volcanoes Stadium to insure the ballpark met league standards.
“The only things they requested were that mirrors get put into the men’s room,” Walker says, “and additional padding be added to the dugout railings. We did those things, of course.”
The good news for all 42 teams is that Pat O’Conner, the president and CEO of Minor League Baseball, has already signaled his opposition to these cuts. He did send a letter to the affected teams, advising them not to make any plans or deals beyond the 2020 season (the operating agreement between MLB and the teams in the minors ends next September), while also sending a letter to the commissioner’s office to push back on the plan. A similar letter delivered to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was signed by 106 members of the House of Representatives, including Oregon Representatives Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio, and Suzanne Bonamici.
As for the Volcanoes, the team released a statement through its Facebook page noting that they “are ready to fight for baseball to remain in this community as well as the other 41 communities that the MLB plans to steal teams from.”
At this point, says Walker, all the Volcanoes’ staff can do is keep making plans for the 2020 season.
“We’re going to continue our Legends Series, where we have an MLB legend come out to the ballpark every Saturday to sign autographs,” he says. “We’re going to continue our fireworks nights that we have at the park. And we’ve got some other things in the works that haven’t quite come together, but that will be pretty out of the ordinary.”
The Volcanoes 2020 season kicks off on June 17 with five home games against the Everett Aqua Sox.