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Lawmakers urge MLB to save local minor league teams

December 5, 2019
In The News

More members of Congress are ready to play ball.

Not actual baseball. But the political battle underway on Capitol Hill to save Minor League Baseball teams like the Erie SeaWolves from getting cut.

Major League Baseball’s plan to cut 42 Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams has rocked communities across the country.

“I think baseball is the American sport,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) “As the American sport, it should be accessible to all Americans.

Thompson’s district, which covers rural central and northern Pennsylvania, either has covered or does cover three teams on the chopping block; the SeaWolves, the State College Spikes, and the Williamsport Crosscutters.

“Do we want baseball just to be for large, urban centers?” Thompson asked.

The plan would end the affiliation between the lower-level clubs and the big leagues, essentially leaving those teams to fund themselves and find new leagues, move, or even fold.

This week, some of those lawmakers showed support, creating the new “Save Minor League Baseball Task Force, standing alongside MiLB’s president, Pat O’Conner, to keep the affiliation going.

“It’s critically important,” O’Conner said. “It’s the difference between having baseball in your community and not having baseball in your community.”

More than 100 members of Congress have already signed this letter sent to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, urging him to reconsider the proposal.

However, lobbying MLB is a fine line for some lawmakers to walk, especially Republicans, who are trying not to dictate what a private enterprise like Major League Baseball can do. But they are also trying to keep these teams in their districts.

“What we can do is try to get to them and get their attention; to say is there another way you can do this?” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa). whose district covers the SeaWolves. “Can you take another look?”

Among Manfred’s concerns: overall operating costs and dated minor league ballparks. Some teams, including Erie, are already receiving state grants for park upgrades. UPMC Park, home of the SeaWolves, is currently undergoing a $16 million renovation, including $12 million in state grant funding.

This summer, Pennsylvania Rep. Fred Keller visited the park of his local team on the line, the Williamsport Crosscutters.

“Without going through everything they need, I would hate to comment on the level of work that would need to be done for a Major League team,” said Keller, a Republican, of historic Bowman Field, which opened in 1926 and is the second-oldest field in the minors. “But as a fan, it’s a pretty historic and neat thing to have.”

In a divided Washington political climate, an issue like baseball is bringing both Republicans and Democrats to the same plate.