If the State College Spikes (short season; NY-Penn League) want to ensure winning teams, argues Peter Kirk, there's a simple solution: make the leap to independent ball.
Our story on the front office of the Spikes showing extreme frustration with parent Pittsburgh Pirates stirred a lot of discussion about the proper role of farm teams in player development. And while it's rare to see such a blunt discussion of these frustrations in a public forum, they do happen quite a bit off the record, we find.
Peter Kirk, chairman of Opening Day Partners (whose teams include the independent Atlantic League's Lancaster Barnstormers, York Revolution, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and Sugar Land Skeeters)
I read with interest your article regarding the displeasure of the State College Spikes (NYP) with not being supplied competitive teams by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Our colleagues at the Spikes run a wonderful family friendly operation and are part of one of the better run minor leagues, the New York-Penn League. However, their frustration with the competitiveness of their baseball teams underscores one of the few dark sides of having a Player Development Contract with a MLB Club. Namely, the primary priority of the MLB Club is to develop their young players; winning ballgames is at best a secondary goal, and in some cases a goal that is far down the priority list. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and in fact watching young players develop provides an entertainment in and of itself. It is just a fact of life in the minor league industry.
However, there do exist some communities where winning, or at least being competitive, is an important business factor for the minor league club. If State College is such a community, in addition to exploring a change of MLB affiliation the Spikes might want to consider a switch to a league where they are able to sign their own players each season. Such a change would not be difficult to arrange. In addition, Spikes fans may like to see a greater number of home games each season. In the "old days," it was possible to have an "independent" team in the NYP and other so-called "affiliated" leagues, but that option sadly was eliminated a number of years ago.
I am not advocating a league change for the Spikes, only suggesting that it may be something that they may wish to consider.
Of course, if you assemble the team yourself (and it is fun to do) you have no one else to blame if the team is not competitive.
Peter Kirk is Chairman of Opening Day Partners and has been in minor league baseball for 30 years. During that time he has owned and operated teams at all classifications, affiliated and independent, developed 15 new ballparks, and has served two terms as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Minor League Baseball.
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