The issue: Big cutbacks across Minor League Baseball could take away Colorado Springs’ franchise a year from now, with no apparent recourse for the city.
What we think: Too many people took baseball’s presence for granted and now it’s too late to do anything about it.
Tell us what you think: Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When reports suggested that possible cutbacks across Minor League Baseball’s national structure might mean the end for professional baseball in Colorado Springs, the first impulse was to downplay it as merely a worst-case scenario.
Sadly, that’s not the case. From all indications, the reality is that our city very well might have only one more year of a minor league baseball franchise. After that, nothing.
The situation is simple: Major League Baseball, in putting together a working agreement with Minor League Baseball that would start in 2021, is proposing to eliminate as many as 42 teams, which also would mean cutting more than 1,000 players.
The proposal would shut down short-season rookie leagues altogether, part of reducing the annual Major League draft from 40 to 25 rounds. Instead of the youngest raw prospects spending a half-season in small to mid-sized cities, they would play in leagues based at the parent Major League clubs’ spring training complexes in Arizona and Florida.
That would mark the end for the Pioneer League, which as of this year includes the Rocky Mountain Vibes of Colorado Springs. And that would be a cruel outcome for our city, which was home to the Pacific Coast League Sky Sox from 1988 through 2018, playing at the highest Minor League level.
This is not something Colorado Springs should take personally, though our city could have avoided this ominous fate.
For many of the 40 or so cities that could lose teams, one reason is substandard facilities, which certainly could have been a factor if Colorado Springs still had a Pacific Coast League franchise. The place most commonly known as Sky Sox Stadium would have needed more updates to keep up with rising PCL standards. (It was obviously fine for the Pioneer League, but that’s a moot point.) Yet it’s also true Major League teams want to have more farm clubs nearby, as was the case for many years with the Sky Sox and the Colorado Rockies.
But when the city, Sky Sox and Rockies couldn’t agree early this decade on building a new stadium in downtown Colorado Springs, the Rockies moved their top Minor League affiliation to Albuquerque. And the Sky Sox ownership, subsequently working with the Milwaukee Brewers, took that team last season to San Antonio, demoting us to having a rookie league team.
There is one other possibility, but the odds seem unfavorable. Cities that lose baseball might be able to have teams in new independent developmental leagues, with no direct tie to Major League operations. Local owners would be responsible for acquiring and paying undrafted players as well as coaches, adding a minimum annual cost of $300,000 to $400,000 according to Baseball America. It’s hard to see the Elmore Group, owners of the Rocky Mountain Vibes, ever agreeing to that.
Negotiations will be ongoing in weeks ahead, as Minor League Baseball faces the sobering reality of shrinking from 160 to 120 teams. In many aspects, from market size to existing facilities, Colorado Springs would rank better than many cities that won’t lose teams. Our problem is not being close enough to comparable peer cities, and also the inescapable fact that developing players, especially young pitchers, at 6,000 feet above sea level is a challenge that Major League teams would rather avoid.
Too many people took top-caliber Minor League Baseball for granted in Colorado Springs for too long. Now the city is on the verge of paying a painful price come 2021, and we can’t see any chance for a happy ending. In other words, if you’re a baseball fan, prepare for the worst.