Why the Rochester Red Wings Should Stay a Twins Affiliate

The Rochester Red Wings’ affiliation agreement with the Minnesota Twins ends this year. And while it’s entirely possible that it will be renewed, it’s also entirely possible it will not, as there is some discussion that, with the future of the Twins’ front office uncertain after the firing of Terry Ryan, now may be the time to again switch. This speculation is especially occurring because the New York Mets, one of the most popular MLB teams in the area, will also likely be available in the affiliation shuffle after this year, and the Mets are desperate to get a new affiliate closer to home, as opposed to distant Vegas.

However, I’m here to argue that the Red Wings should stick with the Twins, at least for another two years. Here’s why:

1. Don’t mess with success.

While it is true that the Red Wings have not had much postseason success during the Twins’ years, with only two appearances and no titles. However, this forgets that the Wings have been competitive for most of the Twins era and probably would have reached more postseasons if not for the tough IL North division and some bad luck. In 2014, for example, they were not eliminated until the final weekend of the year. 2015 saw something similar, and had the Red Wings finish with the same record as the previous two seasons, including the 2013 year where they made the playoffs. This season may see the Red Wings miss the playoffs despite currently having the third best record in the league.

It’s not the Twins fault that Rochester geographically lies in the International League’s toughest division, nor is it their fault that the IL doesn’t have a rule that kicks any team under .500 out of the playoffs, to be replaced by the Wild Card runner-up:

#ContractTheILSouth

#ContractTheILSouth

2. The Twins are a Better Farm System, from a winning perspective.

Here’s a look at the winning percentages of farm systems, as of August 3:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 5.12.40 PMAs you can see, the Twins are a respectable 10th place. This is the entire organization, from AAA all the way down to the lowest of Rookie leagues. The Mets, meanwhile, are sub-.500 and are at 19th. And if you go level by level, the Twins have a better team in most of them: The AAA Twins (the Red Wings) have a better record than the AAA Mets (Las Vegas). The AA Twins (Chattanooga) have a better record than the AA Mets (Binghamton). The low-A Twins (Cedar Rapids) have a better record than the low-A Mets (Columbia). The rookie-ball Twins (Elizabethton) have a better record than the rookie-ball Mets (Kingsport). The Twins even have a better record in the Gulf Coast League! The only minor-league level where both organizations have teams and the Mets have a better record than the Twins affiliate is the High-A Florida league.

It’s been said that the two biggest determinants of minor league team attendance are also the two things the local GM (in the minors, the GM is more of a business position, not like the position in MLB) has the least control over: how the team is doing, and how the weather is. Except that isn’t really true, as the Minor League team CAN decide who it affiliates with. And when you look at the success on the field up and down the minors, the Twins clearly are the better choice when it comes to wins than the the Mets.

3. The Twins have better prospects overall than the Mets.

One of the neatest things about Minor League Baseball is that you can see the stars of tomorrow. And in this case, the Twins have a better case than the Mets. At the beginning of the year, MLB.com listed the Twins as the fifth best farm system in baseball. While obviously this has likely changed as players like Max Kepler and Byron Buxton have headed to the big leagues, it should be noted that the Mets were nowhere to be found in the top ten this year, and another site (which ranked the Twins 8th) put the Mets all the way down at number 20.

4. The Mets probably wouldn’t cause the big attendance boost some people think.

My fellow Rochester seamheads will remember the Empire State Yankees. In 2012, as their stadium was being renovated, the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees (now the Scranton RailRiders) played their home games on the road, mostly in Rochester. Before the season, some Yankee fans were declaring that the people of Rochester would love them and support them even more than they did the Wings, that it was a dream come true, etc. etc.

Well, here’s the secret: The Empire State Yankees were a bust. Look at this news report from back then:

Yes, the Baby Bronx Bombers were in town and, with the exception of a Andy Pettitte rehab assignment, they drew flies, despite the fact they had a very good team. And the Yankees are definitely far more popular in Rochester than the Mets.

Now, admittedly, the fact that they were the “Empire State Yankees” and not the “Rochester Red Wings, AAA Affiliate of the New York Yankees” probably had a lot to do with it. But when you consider that attendance wasn’t particularly skyrockety for the Buffalo Bisons when they had the Mets affiliation (although to be fair, the Mets system was even worse back then), I think it’s safe to say that in general the affiliation doesn’t drive attendance all that much- winning and weather does. And as I showed with number two and number three, the Twins are a better choice for that.

5. The Mets have horrible owners.

Red Wings fans still speak in hushed tones about Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Why, the only people who hate Peter Angelos more than Red Wings fans are Orioles’ fans! GET IN LINE, NATS FANS, THIS SPOT IS TAKEN! Peter Angelos’ interference with minor league operations, general incompetence, breaking of traditions, and favoritism (intentional or not) to other teams in the Orioles’ system (especially the AA Bowie Baysox) led to the end of one of the longest affiliations in baseball. Well, say what you will about Angelos, but to the best of my knowledge he never ended up drowning in debt after being caught up in a massive Ponzi scheme and as a result been unspeakably cheap for his team that was in the World Series last season and plays in New York City. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has Peter Angelos been sued for firing somebody because she had a baby out of wedlock and then resolved it before it reached trial. And while I’m sure he (like, sadly, seemingly every single MLB owner) would sign somebody who was suspended for domestic abuse, he hasn’t as far as I know. Yet.

But you know who has done all of this? The owners of the New York Mets! Now, full disclosure, I own a very small (essentially symbolic) portion of the Rochester Red Wings (I covered this before). Not enough to make a difference, but I do own some. But let’s say I did own enough. Would I want to do business with the Wilpons?

No. No I would not.

6. The Red Wings shouldn’t be like other Minor League teams

Many minor league teams change affiliation with relative regularity. The Red Wings don’t- they were Cardinals affiliates from the late 20s to 1960, and then spent the rest of the 20th century and the first two years of the 21st with the Orioles. That means that it should still be another decade or two left with the Twins. Perhaps I’m just being a romantic, ignoring the business nature of modern baseball. And, to be sure, if everything was bad and the Red Wings were doing horrible with no good hope in the lower minors, I’d agree that perhaps it’s time to move on. But the Wings have been one of the most successful minor league franchises in history by not changing course at the first sign of trouble, and I see no reason to start swapping every decade or so now.

So… I say: stick with the Twins and nix the Mets. The reasons to stay with Minnesota lay in the evidence, and the reasons to go to the Mets are nowhere near as high as they seem.

And, besides, if the Mets want to be in Rochester so damn bad, maybe they can call back in two-to-four years. By that point, maybe whoever has replaced Terry Ryan will have shown how he will treat the minor leagues. And maybe they won’t be owned by the Wilpons either.

 

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Chris Colabello: Too Real For Hollywood

So, there is this guy. He’s a ballplayer. Not a particularly great or notable one, but still a ballplayer. He’s so desperate to keep playing that after college he moves to the land of his ancestors: Italy. He plays baseball there, is pretty good. Falls in love with a local. Marries her, they spend their days split between Massachusetts and Italy. They have a son.

That son follows in his father’s footsteps, growing up and playing baseball on two continents. Trials and tribulations- of his own making and of fate’s- seem to keep him from reaching his true potential, and after college he, like his father, finds his baseball career seemingly at an end. Except instead of across the sea, the son stays near home: Independent Ball. The last hope or only shot of the truly baseball-desperate. Pitiful salaries, long bus rides, no fame… only dreams.

He spends seven years there, occasionally leaving to represent Italia, the land where he grew up and where his mother was born. Most would quit, or at least consider other options. This guy doesn’t. He keeps going, and finally, when he’s in his late 20s, he’s doing so well he cannot be ignored. A major league organization signs him, and at age 28 he begins his first Minor League season, nearly four years older than his average teammate.

And he is a revelation, as he becomes one of the best hitters on a team with some of the farm system’s best prospects. The next year, in AAA, he does it again and is named MVP in the league, becoming a fan favorite in a Upstate New York town in a season that began with him pacing his ancestral home to it’s best showing in the history of the World Baseball Classic.

Except…. it’s not the end. He was called up. He doesn’t do all that well in his first stint in the show, but it’s a dream that he had scraped and clawed for so long, finally achieved. That offseason, with no guarantees of a roster spot the next season, he is offered a big money deal from a team in Korea. He could make more money than he ever has. He refuses, as it would mean shutting the door, perhaps permanently, on his Major League dreams.

At first, it seems he made the right decision. He gets a roster spot and starts the year on a historic tear, breaking the team RBI record for April that had been set by a legendary man. He hits a home run in front of his parents as they are interviewed on television, a birthday gift to his mother.

But then… it falls apart. April proves the exception, and in late May he is sent down to AAA… even as the program-covers that greet fans at the Major League ballpark bear his face. He goes back and forth like a yo-yo, but ultimately he spends more time in AAA than he does in the show.

For some, this would be the end. Those gasps of major league greatness would be all there would be. Not for him. The next year, after a good start in AAA, he goes to a third country: Canada. He never recaptures that April, and he doesn’t play every game… but he doesn’t need to. He’s another bat in a lineup of big bats. He has a career year, and he is a mainstay in the starting lineup during the postseason, where he hits two home runs.

It seems, perhaps, that he has finally arrived. But then, the next season, he starts on a slump. Some wonder if he might again get sent down. And then, late in April, the slump becomes the least of his worries.

He’s suspended for 80 games for using a Performance Enhancing Drug. An old one. East German. And suddenly, a story that seemed too extraordinary for Hollywood becomes one that is too real for Hollywood.

It’s the story of Chris Colabello, son of Lou Colabello. His has been a story of near-biblical persistence and long odds. A story that brought him from Italy and Massachusetts, through New Britain and Rochester and Minneapolis and Buffalo, and finally to Toronto. That he suddenly is caught using a Cold War-era PED in some ways casts a shroud of doubt on all of it.

There is, of course, no way of knowing if that is the case. It seems unlikely that he would have been using such a obvious and classic steroid for so long without getting caught. After all, this is a player who would have been subject not just to the MLB tests of the past few years, but also tests in the minors and in overseas competitions.

Perhaps he was using something else this whole time.

Perhaps it was just a mistake. It could have been a accident or (for the more conspiracy-prone) an act of malice by a trainer or pharmacist.

Or maybe, having finally truly tasted the highest heights of his profession, Chris Colabello thought he needed to do anything and everything he could to stay there, or perhaps even go higher. And perhaps, like Icarus, he got too close to the sun.

I don’t know. Nobody, aside perhaps from Colabello himself, knows.

And perhaps that is why his suspension is so unsettling to myself and many other baseball fans, particularly fans of the Twins and Blue Jays. An icon of hard work and perseverance, suddenly found to have been taking the easy way out. Over a decade of work, seemingly thrown away.

What this means… I’m not sure I’ll ever know. I’m not sure if we’ll ever know.

Perhaps it just means that Chris Colabello, like all of us… is human.

Rochester Red Wings Programs of the Past: 1989

In 1988, the Rochester Red Wings won the Governor’s Cup championship under the helm of Johnny Oates and a team that included young guns like Steve Finley (would lead the league in batting, Pete Harnisch and Craig Worthington (who would be that year’s IL MVP) as well as veterans like Dale Berra and Jerry Narron, all while dealing with plenty of movement between AAA and the Orioles, who were infamously in the middle of their worst season ever. And while they lost a AAA championship with the American Association champion Indianapolis Indians, it remained the Red Wings’ first IL title since 1974.

So, it makes sense that that would be on the front of the following year’s program. Oh, it’s sort of bland, but it gets the message across: The Red Wings were defending champions!

WingsCover89

Now, this program I have is a bit beaten up, and is missing a few pages, but most of it is intact, so go below the jump to read about what was in the 1989 Red Wings program, and click on any picture to make it bigger:

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Rochester Red Wings Programs of the Past: “Summer Fun in ’81” (and misspelling Cal Ripken’s name)

In this recurring piece, I look at the programs and yearbooks of my hometown Rochester Red Wings. This is the first part of the series.

In 1981, the Rochester Red Wings were, if nothing else, notable. They played in the longest game in baseball history- a 33-inning loss against Pawtucket that was begun in April and finished in June. Cal Ripken played his last full season in the minor leagues for Rochester. Future All-Star and Gold-Glover Mike Boddicker also played for Rochester that season.

So it’s as good a place as any to begin our look back at Rochester Red Wings programs/yearbooks.

(GO BELOW THE JUMP TO SEE)

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Coming Soon: A Retrospective on Rochester Red Wings Yearbooks/Programs

Coming soon will be a new feature on this blog, in which I look back at the programs and yearbooks of the Rochester Red Wings, collected over the years by myself, my father, and in some cases myself through other means (like eBay or Red Wings yard sales).

Among the fun things that we shall see:

  • Famous ballplayers when they were younger!
  • Unintentionally comedic advertisements, prospect previews, and hairstyles! Hey, hindsight is always 20/20.
  • The fall of the Orioles-Red Wings marriage!
  • The rise of the Twins-Red Wings marriage!
  • Special appearances by two current MLB announcers and one of the most powerful people in Buffalo sports, amongst others!
  • And also a look at the 2000 AAA All-Star Game program!

So look out in the coming days as we begin back in a mysterious time known as…. THE EIGHTIES!

 

 

 

Mark Hamburger and Spikes: America’s Newest Comedy Duo

The setting, Frontier Field in Rochester, NY. July 4th. For some reason, the fireworks aren’t working yet. Desperate to keep the fans from getting annoyed, two heroes emerge: reliever Mark Hamburger and team mascot Spikes.

They do Yoga. Hilarity ensues.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

DOWNWARD DOG

 

Semi-Handstand.... Spikes was having trouble...

Semi-Handstand…. Spikes was having trouble…

Deeeeepppp breathing....

Deeeeepppp breathing….

Leg Lift.....

Leg Lift…..

Oh... oh dear, Spikes...

Oh… oh dear, Spikes…

This is called the Warrior pose, right? I can't remember much from the Wii Fit Trainer...

This is called the Warrior pose, right? I can’t remember much from the Wii Fit Trainer…

Up....

Up….

Down....

Down….

Okay, I'd fall over on my face....

Okay, I’d fall over on my face….

 

Holy cow.

Holy cow.

Okay, that's really impressive, he held himself up there for several seconds, long enough for me to take two pictures.

Okay, that’s really impressive, he held himself up there for several seconds, long enough for me to take two pictures.

And then, after I had finished taking pictures… HE STRAIGHT UP BREAK-DANCED.

Seriously, here’s the aftermath:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSo… yeah… that’s something you don’t see every game.

“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2015): A request to the Minnesota Twins, from a Rochester Red Wings Fan

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2015 season. Previous installments can be found here. Today, in the final installment, an open letter from a Rochester Red Wings fan to their parent club.

TO: Minnesota Twins

CC: General Manager Terry Ryan, CEO Jim Pohlad, Director of Minor League Operations Brad Stell, Manager Paul Molitor

SUBJECT: Sano and Buxton

Hello,

I am writing as a fan of the Rochester Red Wings, your AAA club. You’ve been good to us over the years. We’ve made the playoffs twice and come close a few other times since this affiliation began, and we’ve been lucky enough to see Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Brian Dozier, Francisco Liriano, Denard Span, Grant Balfour, Glen Perkins, and many other fine players. We even got to have Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan stop by briefly on rehab assignments, which was nice.

But, not to sound ungrateful, we have a simple request for this coming season: Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. We very much would like it if you had them stop here before you inevitably call them up in September (if not earlier), perhaps never to grace minor league fields again.

Now, we understand. Neither of them have been able to put much time in AA yet, and with a new affiliate in the Chattanooga Lookouts, you no doubt are looking to make a good first impression. And, what’s more, Chattanooga’s climate is probably way better for a young baseball player in April and May than Rochester’s is.

Seriously, the weather here in April can never seem to remember what season it is. Yesterday, I was in shorts, but this weekend, it could snow.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that, come June, Rochester would be the perfect place for Minnesota’s two biggest prospects since Mauer to prepare for the big leagues. The weather will be getting warmer, schools will start letting out, and Frontier Field will start getting packed. By the 4th of July, the stadium will be full basically every Friday night, with some fans packing cowbells and giveaway thunder-stix, much to the annoyance of some people.

And it’ll be even more special if we have Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to cheer on. Some of us have been waiting for years to see them. So, please, if at all possible, don’t make them bypass AAA.

Thank you, and good luck on your upcoming season,

-A Rochester Red Wings Fan