Keep Your Farm Teams Close to the Vest, or Something Like That

It was announced this week that the Houston Astros are looking to join the recent trend of teams locating their Triple-A affiliate nearby to the parent club.

While the exact location of the relocation is still a few years from becoming a reality, what is known is that Oklahoma City’s days of hosting the Astros Triple-A club are most likely numbered when the current partnership agreement expires in 2015.

The current plan calls for the new team to be located in an area known as the Woodlands which is around 25 miles away from the Astros.

By targeting a community 25 miles or so away from the home ballpark certain sales and other front office areas can be combined and streamlined in addition to other cost savings measures.

And the current Astros ownership has made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions that they believe in cost cutting measures.

I am not saying that teams should not cut costs wherever they can, but I am somewhat troubled by the notion of combining the Triple A and parent clubs into a single entity in basically the same television market.

Aside from potentially saturating an already pro Astros market with a cheaper alternative to watch (At least I hope that tickets to see the Triple-A team would be less than tickets to see the Astros) there is the risk of damaging the Minor League Product by making it too similar to Major League Baseball.

Minor League Baseball is a completely different product from the Major League Baseball and I fear that some of the uniqueness of the Minor League version will get lost when combined under the same umbrella as the big club.

Currently the teams with the shortest distance between their parent clubs and Triple A clubs are the Seattle Mariners and the Atlanta Braves who each have a 36-mile buffer between the clubs. Photo R. Anderson
Currently the teams with the shortest distance between their parent clubs and Triple A clubs are the Seattle Mariners and the Atlanta Braves who each have a 36-mile buffer between the clubs.
Photo R. Anderson

I know that part of the role of a Triple-A club is to allow for the easy transfer of players in the event of a trade or injury that opens up a spot on the roster. So, being as close as possible in theory allows teams to have players on standby.

Of course, what is lost in that approach is the fact that teams still travel at the Minor League level so if you need to make a roster move during a road trip the distance could prove to be greater than desired to get the player where they need to be.

Currently the teams with the shortest distance between their parent clubs and Triple-A clubs are the Seattle Mariners and the Atlanta Braves who each have a 36-mile buffer between the clubs.

The award for longest distance between parent club and farm club goes to the New York Mets. After getting ousted from their affiliation with the Buffalo Bisons in favor of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Mets were forced to send their prospects to Las Vegas.

The Tampa Bay Rays and their Triple-A Club Durham Bulls are 692 miles apart. Photo R. Anderson
The Tampa Bay Rays and their Triple-A Club Durham Bulls are 692 miles apart.
Photo R. Anderson

And while what happens in Vegas allegedly stays in Vegas, when something happens and a player needs to leave Vegas to join the parent club in New York it is a 2500 mile journey for the minor Mets.

The average distance from a Triple-A team to their parent franchise is approximately 434 miles. The Astros are currently slightly above average distance with a 447 mile commute between Minute Maid Park and Oklahoma City.

The proposed move to a North Houston suburb would cut the distance to under 30 miles and likely make it the shortest distance of any team.

The Texas Rangers took over Round Rock from the Astros a couple years ago and travel a distance of 181 miles when shuffling between the Ballpark at Arlington and the Dell Diamond.

The Texas Rangers' Triple-A affiliate the Round Rock Express are 181 miles away from the parent club. Photo R. Anderson
The Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate the Round Rock Express are 181 miles away from the parent club.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, many puzzle pieces have to fall into place before the proposed move can happen.

For starters, since there are only 30 affiliated Triple-A teams one will need to be purchased and relocated in order to become the Astros farm team.

The likely candidate is the New Orleans Zephyrs but, as a move is several years away, there can be other teams added to the mix between now and then.

Another important step, and perhaps the most important step if Field of Dreams is to believed, is the need to build it so they will come. With stadium construction taking a year or two land will need to be identified and a stadium built long before a team can move here.

There is a perfectly feasible Triple-A ready stadium already located in Sugarland, TX; which is about 25 miles south of Minute Maid Park. But, since that stadium is already home to the Skeeters it is unlikely that it would be a candidate for the Astros to use. Although, one never knows what can happen over the next couple of years and it might turn out that the Skeeters are the option that makes the most sense.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about Minor League Baseball has me itching for a road trip. Tune in next time to find out where I go.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Opening Night Pomp, Circumstance, and Hot Dogs

Last night, the 2013 Major League Baseball season kicked off with all of the ceremonial pomp, circumstance, and hot dogs that one would expect from the National Pastime’s opener.

The Astros and Rangers observe the Opening Day tradition of being introduced on the field. Photo R. Anderson
The Astros and Rangers observe the Opening Day tradition of being introduced on the field.
Photo R. Anderson

As part of Opening Day, all of the eyes of baseball were focused firmly on Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas thanks in part to a scheduling matter with ESPN that made the game between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros the only one in town.

Even pre game rain, that forced the roof to stay closed, couldn’t dampen the spirits of the over 41,000 fans in attendance.

As is normally the case when the Rangers come to town, the stands were full of supporters for both squads. Unlike in previous years though, where the lack of vocal Astros fans made it seem like a Rangers’ home game, the chants of Let’s go Rangers were enthusiastically drowned out by chants for the Astros.

Astros 8, Rangers 2
Astros 8, Rangers 2
Photo R. Anderson

When the Rangers and Astros took to the field at Minute Maid Park, it was more than a ball game between two in state and in division rivals. It was the continuation of a tradition as old as the game itself.

It marked the beginning of the season where anything is possible and everyone is tied for first place until that final out is tallied.

Before last night I had never watched Opening Day in person. I had attended the first home game of the Astros several times but it was never considered the Opening Night game for the entire league.

Former Astro Lance Berkman, now with the Rangers, received a mix of cheers and jeers when he came to the plate. Photo R. Anderson
Former Astro Lance Berkman, now with the Rangers, received a mix of cheers and jeers when he came to the plate.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course aside from being the first game of the year, it was a statistician’s dream as the Astros took the field as an American League team for the first time in their 51-year history.

This fact leads to the inevitable list of firsts that will forever be in the record books.

Let us consider just a few of them.

First pitch by an Astro pitcher in the American League? Thrown by Bud Norris.

First member of the Astros to get an American League hit? Jose Altuve.

Bud Norris threw the first pitch of both the 2013 regular season as well as the first pitch for a member of the Astros in the American League. Photo R. Anderson
Bud Norris threw the first pitch of both the 2013 regular season as well as the first pitch for a member of the Astros in the American League.
Photo R. Anderson

First Home run hit by an Astro since the move to the American League? Rick Ankiel. Ankiel also gets bonus points as being the first player to hit a home run in the 2013 season.

First National Anthem Singer? Lyle Lovett.

First ceremonial first pitch? Thrown by J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans.

J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans threw out the first pitch of the Astros' tenure as an American League franchise. Photo R. Anderson
J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans threw out the first pitch of the Astros’ tenure as an American League franchise.
Photo R. Anderson

You get the idea.

If there is a statistic to be tracked, odds are someone, somewhere in the ballpark became the first person to do it since the big move to the American League.

It has been said repeatedly by many experts that this will most likely be another long season for the Astros with the team recording more than 100 losses for the third straight season.

But for at least one night the Astros were the best team in baseball as the only team with a win.

For those keeping score at home, the Astros stunned many in the baseball world with an 8-2 win over the heavily favored neighbors to the north.

Time will tell if the trend continues and the Astros are able to in fact exceed expectations with a winning record this year.

A big game deserves big flags. Photo R. Anderson
A big game deserves big flags.
Photo R. Anderson

Hollywood is full of stories chronicling the exploits of loveable losers who excel against tough odds and blow past low expectations to reach the highest pinnacle of personal and professional success.

Use sports as your measuring stick for the Hollywood treatment, and you can choose from the Mighty Ducks, the Bad News Bears, and the Cleveland Indians in Major League to name a few.

Time will tell whether the Astros will become the Mighty Bad News ‘Stros and turn doubters into believers by exceeding the low expectations set out for them this season, or if they will be the really bad ‘Stros that are far from mighty that everyone who claims to know baseball thinks they will be.

That in itself is part of the magic of the sport. Each season there are things that happen that no one saw coming when they were writing their preseason previews and looking into their crystal balls.

There will be pitchers that everyone thinks will throw no hitters that won’t and pitchers that seem to come out of nowhere and do.

Ian Kinsler prepares for the first pitch of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. Photo R. Anderson
Ian Kinsler prepares for the first pitch of the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
Photo R. Anderson

Batters will rise and fall with no real rhyme or reason.

Teams will deal with injuries that can be the great equalizer.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and there will be those who claim that they saw a particular trend long before anyone else.

As for this season, there are 161 more games before the playoffs start. One game is far too small of a sample size to discern the difference between contender and pretender. But, what no one can take away is that for one night the Houston Astros were the best team in baseball and that is certainly worth tipping a cap to.

The fact that the first game for the Astros as an American League team ended with a fairly convincing win over their bitter in state rival just makes it that much more meaningful.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the Astros victory has inspired me to look into other things with the potential to exceed expectations this year.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson