Last spring, Major League Baseball announced a plan to eliminate most or all of its affiliated short-season and rookie-level minor league teams.
It meant a new landscape for minor league baseball. A new partnership with MLB announced Wednesday puts the Atlantic League, which includes the Lancaster Barnstormers, are on the ground floor of the new reality.
The agreement makes the AL the first independent “Partner League,’’ of MLB.
The agreement expands on the current agreement between the leagues which permits MLB to test experimental playing rules and equipment during Atlantic League games. The existing agreement has also been extended through the 2023 season.
The experiments with baseball’s rules will continue. The new arrangement will include marketing and promotional opportunities. It will not, according to Barnstormers’ GM Michael Reynolds, result in direct financial help to the AL. Nor will AL teams now be stocked with players under contracts with MLB teams.
It’s not clear, yet, what tangible things it will mean.
“This will help us grow in a lot of ways that will develop over time,’’ Reynolds said Wednesday.
“It will help us stay relevant and attached to the MLB brand.’’
“We are excited to extend our relationship with the Atlantic League, which provides us a unique means to push the sport forward.” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s Executive Vice President, Baseball Economics & Operations.
“The Atlantic League clubs and players have been great partners to us as we jointly test ways to make our game even more interesting and engaging to fans.”
On the field and at the box office, 2020 has been a lost year for the AL. In June, it cancelled its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Barnstormers have managed to survive by reducing their staff and turning Clipper Magazine Stadium into a kind of community center, hosting movie nights, cornhole tournaments, charitable events and the like.
The league is adding a team, based in Gastonia, N.C., in 2021. Reynolds said he, the Barnstormers and the AL remain bullish on the future. It is unlikely that MLB would partner with a foundering, down-for-the-count organization.
“Even though it’s been a year with so much uncertainty, I don’t think our league is down,’’ he said. “We’re seeing growth, and there is an opportunity for more.’’