At a meeting this week in Dallas, Texas, as well as in other negotiations down the road, Major League Baseball is expected to discuss the future of several dozen feeder teams that could be cut under a new proposal.
According to published reports, New York Penn League teams including the Lowell Spinners, Vermont Lake Monsters and Connecticut Tigers are on a list of 42 minor league teams that could be affected by league contraction after 2020, if the MLB restructuring plan goes through.
"I think it would be a mistake for baseball to go in this direction," said Mayor Miro Weinberger of Burlington, Vermont, who is a big fan of baseball and of the Vermont Lake Monsters. "One of the great strengths Major League Baseball has is the connection it has with so many Americans through its minor league system."
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The New York Times reports that the MLB calls the proposal critical to boosting efficiency in the minors and ensuring facilities meet standards.
"It's good for business," said Luke Beard of Aviation Deli's Kampus Kitchen, which sits next to the Monsters' home — Centennial Field.
Beard has heard the Spinners, who are affiliated with the Boston Red Sox, and the Lake Monsters, an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, are among the clubs floated for cuts.
"That's my hometown team," Beard said of the Lake Monsters, noting their Class A Short Season games are about more than baseball.
Beard explained he sees baseball in Burlington as bringing community members together and providing a low-cost activity with cross-generational appeal.
Dave Heller, who owns the Lowell Spinners, told necn and NBC10 Boston by phone Wednesday that he believes it's way too early for fans of his team to worry. Heller likened this week's negotiations to a ballgame that is still in the top of the first, when the process will be a drawn-out nine-inning game.
Heller added that if Major League Baseball is concerned about the conditions of ballparks, then Lowell's LeLacheur Park should please the powers that be, calling it "arguably the best facility in the New York-Penn League," and praising its lighting and field conditions.
The Vermont Lake Monsters issued a written statement in response to an inquiry from necn and NBC10 Boston.
"This idea, along with other ideas, may or may not ever be realized, and this back and forth is part of the process," the Monsters wrote, in part. "The Lake Monsters have a solid relationship with the Oakland Athletics, with strong local support, both from fans and from the corporate community. It is unfortunate that this idea is even considered, but nothing has been finalized."
The team's statement continued to say the Lake Monsters hope to be part of the Burlington community for many years to come.
Members of Congress representing the teams' districts sent a letter this week to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, urging him to bench the proposal.
"This plan is a betrayal of the fans and players, as well as stadium vendors and employees around the nation," Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Massachusetts, said last month on the House floor. "And it's an affront to people of Lowell, who swung for the fences in building the LeLacheur Park, one of the nation's best minor league parks."
Trahan and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, were among the 105 House lawmakers who signed the letter.
"Minor league baseball teams like Vermont's beloved Lake Monsters are part of the fabric of communities across the country," Welch said in a written statement. "They provide affordable, family friendly entertainment and help drive local economies. It would be a grave mistake for MLB to follow through on this proposal."
Welch warned that if the MLB follows through on the proposal, he and colleagues will examine what the Democrat called "statutory advantages" granted by Congress, including a "lucrative anti-trust exemption."
Jeff Lantz, a Minor League Baseball spokesman, said by phone Wednesday that the organization's goal is preserve all the nation's 160 farm teams, saying those teams are vital to developing passion for the sport in young fans, as well as developing new talent.
Lantz emphasized that next year's season is totally safe, and that any negotiations pertain to 2021 or later.