In the nationwide battle to save Minor League Baseball, the Lancaster JetHawks have fired their first formal shot.
Well, they mailed a letter.
They’ve invited U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-23) to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on their 25th anniversary opening night next April 9.
The House Minority Leader from Bakersfield, in whose district Lancaster Municipal Stadium stands, is a staunch supporter of the JetHawks through the newly empaneled Congressional Save Minor League Baseball Committee.
As MiLB owners and executives meet in San Diego this week to deal with Major League Baseball’s drastic plan to eliminate 42 franchises in 2021, a consensus is emerging.
“This is going to be an issue in the Presidential campaign,” JetHawks President Andy Dunn said after Tuesday’s Winter Meetings sessions. “It’s a national issue, not just an issue for Lancaster or the other clubs they’re considering contracting.
“All of Minor League Baseball is involved in this. And (MLB) is finding there’s strong political support for Minor League Baseball.”
Citing stadium facilities, playing conditions, the long hours involved each day without minimum wage laws and a desire to have minor league affiliates be located closer to parent clubs, MLB has proposed the most sweeping changes to the minor leagues ever.
The radical realignment would limit teams to 150 players under contract, eliminate Rookie and Short Season A leagues and realign existing leagues from 160 franchises to 118.
The Amateur Draft would be moved back from June to August, and players would attend MLB training camps with analytics-based regimens.
Cities losing franchises would have a chance to join the so-called Dream Leagues, which would essentially operate like independent baseball teams.
“No one down here wants to join their Nightmare Leagues,” Dunn said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve the minor league experience for everyone.
“This is not it.”
Dunn spoke after a day when Katie Woods the JetHawks’ assistant general manager, was saluted as the California League’s 2019 Woman of Excellence during the annual Winter Meetings Rawlings Woman of the Year Luncheon.
Woods created the “El Viento de Lancaster” Latino outreach program that sparked a 30 percent increase in Friday night attendance.
Her efforts to bolster the JetHawks’ social media profile resulted in a 38 percent increase in online ticket sales and a 20 percent increase in walk-up sales.
Typically, Woods spends the Winter Meetings conducting job interviews with prospective aspirants, given MiLB’s rapid turnover.
“Not this year,” Woods said. “We only had one opening.”
Said Dunn: “What does that tell you about Lancaster as a place to live and work? (JetHawks general manager) Tom Backemeyer has lived all over the country in this sport, and he absolutely loves it in Lancaster. It has a small-town feel and has tremendous military and aerospace history.
“Our JetHawks Youth Baseball League is changing lives for more than 200 children from some tough circumstances. I ask you, why would anybody want to throw all of that away?”