August 1, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Lancaster’s minor league baseball future remains in limbo

The 2019 World Series had barely ended when the Lancaster JetHawks learned they were on an unofficial hit list. Major League Baseball wanted to condense the minor league system, and dozens of teams were targeted for elimination.

After more than a year of rumors, strife and negotiations, MLB on Wednesday unveiled which minor league teams would be invited to retain affiliations with major league teams.

The JetHawks are the one team that still has no answer. After 13 months of waiting, they are being told to wait some more, and they are well aware their wait might be in vain.

Instead, the lone minor league team in Los Angeles County appears to be at the mercy of forces in Fresno.

“I’m still optimistic,” JetHawks executive vice president Tom Backemeyer said Wednesday. “There’s a spot left, and it’s a 50-50 chance.”

In restructuring the minor leagues, MLB prioritized geographical considerations for major league teams. The Washington Nationals wanted out of Fresno, and all the West Coast teams chose to retain their current affiliations in the triple-A Pacific Coast League.

At the same time, the Colorado Rockies wanted out of Lancaster. The stadium is fine, and optimally located within the Class A California League, but major league teams dislike the high-desert winds that complicate the development and evaluation of pitchers.

The MLB solution: Move the Rockies’ California League team to Fresno.

Fresno balked at moving from triple-A to the California League, which will be dropping from a high-Class A league to a low-Class A league next year. In a letter dated Nov. 26, MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem gave the city of Fresno and the Grizzlies a Nov. 30 deadline to accept a Class A team or be left out entirely.

The deadline was extended, and the city and team are negotiating a new stadium lease that could trigger acceptance of a move to the California League. The Fresno City Council has discussed a new lease in closed session three times since that deadline and is scheduled to hold another discussion Thursday.

If the city, the Grizzlies and MLB cannot reach agreement in Fresno, then the Rockies probably would remain in Lancaster.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said publicly that the league would work to make sure baseball still would be played in every market that loses an affiliated minor league team. In recent weeks, MLB has provided some of those teams with spots in amateur prospect leagues and professional independent leagues.

As of Wednesday, Backemeyer said, MLB has not approached the JetHawks about any other form of baseball in Lancaster.

“Affiliated baseball is what this is about,” Backemeyer told The Times in September. “We don’t have any interest in any other league.”