Mayors from cities across the United States have banded together during the annual Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C., forming a task force in an attempt to convince Major League Baseball to drop their plan to contract 42 of the 160 minor league teams across the country. The group held a conference call with media from across the country to discuss the formation of the task force and their reasons for concern.
The panel of mayors on the call all said that they knew nothing of the contraction plan until it was made public in the New York Times this past December. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley pointed out that Major League Baseball hasn’t allowed mayors or other representatives of cities that would be affected by the contraction to have input into the process. Whaley pointed out that the Dayton Dragons, who play in a stadium built and owned by the city, have become a source of economic investment for Dayton and she believes that cities across the country need to have a say in the future of minor league baseball.
“We were at the table when baseball needed a new stadium in Dayton and we stepped up,” said Whaley. “We should be at the table when they look to decide things like this about the future of baseball in our cities.”
One of the key points driven home by the mayors on the conference call was that to their communities, baseball isn’t just a game or a business. “There’s a real social component to having minor league baseball,” said Lansing, MI mayor Andy Schor. “For the kids, it’s an opportunity for us to get underprivileged kids out to games because of the low cost of the games and the cooperation that we get from the team. The players are also involved in the community with our parks and various programs that help to reach kids and others who need help,” added Schor.
Whalen pointed out that with six minor league teams and two major league teams in Ohio, “baseball dominates the summer.” She pointed out that major leaguer Joey Votto returns to Dayton to visit with the family that hosted him as a young minor league player and that relationships and bonds have been built through the game.
Chattanooga, TN mayor Andy Berke noted that the Lookouts, the minor league team located in his city, has roots dating back to 1885 and Whalen pointed out that in the 20-year history of the Dayton Dragons, the team has sold out every home game, the longest such streak in professional sports.
Daniel Horrigan, the mayor of Akron, OH, added that the city has made investments and reinvestments into the ballpark over the years. “When Major League Baseball wanted the safety netting expanded beyond the area behind home plate, we were there to do it and we’ve responded whenever the team or baseball has had a request for us. We are involved financially and in every other way in making the fan experience better and helping the team and they help us in various ways as well.”
The task force was just recently formed and will be co-chaired by mayors Berke, Whaley and Steven Benjamin of Columbia, S.C. The list of teams to be contracted includes the Williamsport Crosscutters of the New York – Penn League, who are an affiliate of the Phillies. The Crosscutters are the only Phillies minor league affiliate to be on the contraction list, however, others could be affected by league realignment and shuffling of teams from one minor league classification to another.