SeaWolves owner visits Washington as lawmakers rally to save minor league teams
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and members of Congress are fighting to keep Minor League Baseball teams, including the Erie SeaWolves, in their hometowns.
On Tuesday, Reps. David McKinley (R-W. Va.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) announced the “Save Minor League Baseball Task Force.” McKinley and Trahan, along with Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Max Rose (D-N.Y.) will serve as co-chairs.
The formation of the task force follows recent reports that Major League Baseball could cut ties with 42 Minor League Baseball teams, including the SeaWolves, as the big leagues considers overhauling its developmental system. Among MLB’s concerns: operating costs and dated minor league ballparks. The two leagues operate under a deal known as the Professional Baseball Agreement, which expires in September 2020. Any changes and loss of affiliation are not likely to happen until the 2021 season.
SeaWolves Owner Fernando Aguirre was among the owners in Washington, D.C. Tuesday. Aguirre, who is in his fifth year owning the double-A franchise and Detroit Tigers affiliate, has worked with state officials to acquire $12 million in grant funding for ongoing upgrades at UPMC Park. In all, he says an estimated $16 million to $20 million in renovations will be performed on the ballpark, which opened in 1995. Aguirre is hopeful those upgrades will persuade MLB officials to retain the SeaWolves affiliation with the Tigers.
“This is really an all-out effort and we’re all, 160 teams, very aligned in making sure that none of the teams get eliminated,” Aguirre said.
Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner was among MiLB officials in Washington meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday. He is urging MLB to keep all 160 minor league teams, including Erie. The SeaWolves are one of four Double-A teams on the chopping block, and one of three teams in Pennsylvania on the line; Single-A teams in State College and Williamsport are the others.
“The technicality aspect of it is that you don’t lose your franchise,” O’Conner said. “You lose your affiliation with Major League Baseball in this process.”
If a team is cut, they could join the newly-created Dream League, which would operate under a joint venture between MLB and MiLB. They could also join another independent league, but the owners would then have to pick up all of the operating costs without help from MLB, O'Conner explained.
Kelly is also a member of the Task Force. He, along with Rep. Glenn Thompson, are among the more than 100 members of the House of Representatives who signed a letter last month urging MLB to abandon the cuts. The initial proposal, which was first reported by Baseball America, was only a consideration, according to MLB.
“What we’re trying to do is step up and do whatever we can to keep the SeaWolves in Erie and keep Major League Baseball involved with Minor League Baseball.”
Lawmakers and team owners said they are increasing pressure on MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and others because, they say, losing teams could be devastating to local communities.
“It’s critically important,” O’Conner said of the affiliation for a minor league team. “It’s the difference between having baseball in your community and not having baseball in your community.”