JetHawks second baseman Matt McLaughlin

K. ROSS WAY/Valley Press files

UNCERTAINTY — JetHawks second baseman Matt McLaughlin singles to left against the Modesto Nuts on April 6 at The Hangar. The JetHawks have been named on a short list of teams to be cut from the Minor League Baseball system in a proposed plan by Major League Baseball.

The Lancaster JetHawks were named on a short list of Minor League Baseball teams that could have their Major League Baseball affiliation severed in a proposed plan from Major League Baseball. 

The plan, which would eliminate 42 minor league teams’ affiliations, is part of negotiations for a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA). The current agreement expires after the 2020 season.

“We are in discussions with the owners of the Minor League teams to reorganize elements of the system with the goal of improving the working conditions of minor league players,” MLB said in a statement to The New York Times, “including upgrading the facilities to Major League standards, increasing player compensation, reducing travel time between affiliates for road games, improving transportation and hotel accommodations, increasing the number of off days, and providing better geographical affiliations between the MLB Clubs and affiliates.”

The plan also suggests limiting the number of minor league players in each system and possibly dropping the MLB Draft from 40 rounds to 20. The belief is less athletes in the system would allow for more compensation for minor league players and better work conditions for all players.

In the proposal, MLB said the minor league teams could join a newly created “Dream League,” which would be operated by MLB at limited cost, but would essentially be an independent league for undrafted players. Teams, however, would likely be responsible for paying the players and coaches, something the affiliates take care of currently.

MLB chose the 42 teams to be eliminated by proximity to its parent club and to potential opponents, as well as condition of the facilities and everyday life, such as hotel availability and general security.

The JetHawks are indeed not close to current affiliate, the Colorado Rockies, but playing in Lancaster at a higher elevation has been perceived as a plus for the major league team. The Hangar underwent some renovations last season in preparation to hosting the California League All-Star Game. The stadium is one of the nicer ones in the California League with adequate facilities for the players. There are also plenty of hotels in the area. Most of the JetHawks live with host families, while others are set up in apartments.

“As was made public a few weeks ago, Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball are in the beginning of a difficult negotiation involving the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA),” the JetHawks said in a statement issued on Monday. “We are disappointed that over the weekend confidential information from the Major League Baseball side was leaked that included the possible contraction of the Lancaster JetHawks, in addition to forty-one other Minor League Baseball franchises across the United States. While we are both very disappointed and surprised at this negotiating tactic we also understand this is a long negotiation that will result in many rumors and much speculation.”

Of the 42 teams listed, the JetHawks are the only California team. 

The other teams are: Grand Junction Rockies (CO), Rocky Mountain Vibes (CO), Connecticut Tigers (CT), Daytona Tortugas (FL), Florida Fire Frogs (FL), Idaho Falls Chukars (ID), Burlington Bees (IA), Clinton LumberKings (IA), Lexington Legends (KY), Frederick Keys (MD), Hagerstown Suns (MD), Lowell Spinners (MA), Great Falls Voyagers (MT), Missoula Paddleheads (formerly Osprey) (MT), Billings Mustangs (MT), Burlington Royals (NC), Auburn Doubledays (NY), Batavia Muckdogs (NY), Binghamton Rumble Ponies (NY), Staten Island Yankees (NY), Mahoning Valley Scrappers (OH), Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (OR), Erie Seawolves (PA), State College Spikes (PA), Williamsport Crosscutters (PA), Chattanooga Lookouts (TN), Elizabethton Twins (TN), Greeneville Reds (TN), Jackson Generals (TN), Johnson City Cardinals (TN), Kingsport Mets (TN), Orem Owlz (UT), Ogden Raptors (UT), Vermont Lake Monsters (VT), Bluefield Blue Jays (VA), Bristol Pirates (VA), Danville Braves (VA), Tri-City Dust Devils (WA), Princeton Rays (WV), West Virginia Power (WV), and Beloit Snappers (WI).

The proposed plan has not only received criticism from these communities and team owners, who fear losing their connection to the sport, but also to members of Congress.

On Tuesday, U.S. Congresswoman Lori Trahan (D) of Massachusetts and U.S. Congressman David McKinley (R) of West Virginia sent a letter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to express their “firm opposition” to MLB’s “radical proposal to eliminate numerous Minor League Baseball clubs.” The letter, which is co-signed by more than 100 members of the House of Representatives, reflects a bipartisan message.

The letter highlights the ways minor league teams positively impact their fan bases and local economies. The letter notes this is particularly true for families who live far from big-league teams or who can’t afford major league ticket prices.

The letter also hints at potential repercussions for MLB if it moves forward with plans to shrink Minor League Baseball. “The abandonment of Minor League Clubs,” the letter stresses, “would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs.” The letter implies that the “long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives” could be jeopardized.

The talks for the PBA are still in the beginning phase, so it is possible that Major League Baseball could change their minds or their proposal. 

For now, the JetHawks are set to open their season on April 9.

“As the owners of this franchise, we can assure you we are 100% committed to keeping Minor League Baseball alive, well and flourishing in the Antelope Valley and for JetHawks fans everywhere,” insisted Monday’s statement. “We are committed to continuing to provide affordable family entertainment and community services just as this franchise has done proudly for the past 23 years. We look forward to the resolution of this negotiation and getting back to focusing on the game and this community. We can’t wait to see you all at the ballpark for Opening Day on April 9, 2020, and for many years to come. Rock the Hawk!”

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