Old meets new in the Midwest League03/20/2008 10:00 AM ET
By Tim Leonard / Special to MLB.com
Minor League Baseball provides an interesting mix of constant change and long-standing history. As the 2008 season approaches, MiLB.com takes a look at what you can expect in the Midwest League, both new and old.
What's not new in Quad Cities?
A new name. Quad Cities should have its own section in the "What's New" category -- it seems like just about everything is new there. After their team was known as the mouthful "Swing of the Quad Cities" last season, fans are happy the "River Bandits" are back, complete with a new logo and mascot. The club was known as the River Bandits from 1992-2003, and the name was the overwhelming choice in a fan poll.
A new mascot. The new mascot looks something like a raccoon. He wears a black cowboy hat and has a red kerchief covering his mouth, kind of like a bank robber from the Wild West. Fans have been asked to pick his name from five options: Rascal, Rocky, Roscoe, Smokey or Woody. Holding an oversized baseball in his claws, the new mascot has a determined look in his eye, and the team website describes him as "playful and mischievous."
A new name for an old ballpark. The stadium also has a new name. What was John O'Donnell Stadium is now Modern Woodmen Park. The naming rights were purchased by the financial services organization, which is headquartered across the Mississippi River from the park. The stadium has hosted baseball for more than 75 years and was renovated in 2004.
And some fresh faces. The club's staff has some new names as well, including vice president Kirk Goodman, who was general manager of the Double-A Jacksonville Suns last season. Also new to the scene is assistant GM Cory Howerton, who has worked for the Minnesota Twins and NBA's Seattle Supersonics.
Nip/tuck for Clinton's LumberKing
The famed Clinton mascot, Louie the LumberKing, has changed noticeably since last season. Louie's first facelift since he was created in 1994 saw the shaving of his handlebar moustache. (It's been replaced by a thin goatee around his classic grin.) His silver crown has been upgraded to a shiny gold one, and the wood plank has been turned into a real bat. Louie has maintained his scrappy attitude, despite arms that would qualify him as a Bash Brother. Call them guns or pythons or pipes, but Louie looks ready to mash.
New field staff for the Kernels
Cedar Rapids will have an entirely new coaching staff this season. Keith Johnson takes over as manager, Damon Mashore becomes the hitting coach and Brandon Emanuel now serves as pitching coach. But the turnover doesn't end there: trainer Dan Nichols and strength coach Adam Wagner are both entering their first season with the club.
A new name pops up in Cedar Rapids
Nothing could be more appropriate than naming a baseball field in corn-rich Iowa after a popcorn company. The Cedar Rapids Kernels announced on March 12 that their stadium's name will be modified from simply Veterans Memorial Stadium to Dale and Thomas Popcorn Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Dale and Thomas originally started in Popcorn, Ind., but moved to Englewood, N.J., in 2004 when NBA Hall of Famer and New York Knicks head coach Isiah Thomas bought part of the company. The naming agreement is supposed to last until 2012.
Ryno's back for another season on the bench
Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg returns to manage the Peoria Chiefs. Sandberg got his first taste of managing in 2007, leading the Chiefs to a 71-68 record. Sandberg's presence in the dugout was a huge benefit at the gate as the Chiefs set a franchise attendance record by drawing 259,574 fans. The Cubs renewed their affiliation with Peoria in the offseason, signing a four-year extension that will lock in the franchise through at least 2012.
Popular Tigers fan still a legend
At 81 years of age, Ernie McKeiver doesn't qualify as new. But he's certainly far from old. A lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, he attended his first game at Tigers Stadium when he was 7 and has not missed a West Michigan Whitecaps game since the franchise came into the Midwest League in 1994. McKeiver is such a popular and beloved figure around the Whitecaps that he was featured on a highway billboard to promote Opening Day last season.
McKeiver isn't one of those fans who arrives late and leaves early. He's at Fifth Third Ballpark a good three hours before each game, taking a trip through the front office to shake hands and talk baseball. During the offseason, he drops by the ballpark a couple of times a month, bringing sweet rolls for the staff and popcorn for the owner. Hey, Ernie, don't forget the sportswriters! We've been known to like free food, too.
The voice of summer
John Rodgers is back for his 13th consecutive season behind the microphone as the play-by-play man for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, making him the dean of Midwest League broadcasters.
More sellouts in Dayton
The Dragons have the longest sellout streak in professional sports: 565 and counting. Dayton has sold out every game it has ever played at Fifth Third Field, dating back to the club's inception in 2000. The sellout streak is also the longest in professional baseball history. The Dragons project the 2008 season will also be sold out, meaning the franchise's 5 millionth fan should arrive sometime in late June or early July.
New year, same team
The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and Cedar Rapids Kernels are tied for the longest continuous affiliation in the Midwest League. The Timber Rattlers have been affiliated with the Seattle Mariners, and the Kernels with the Los Angeles Angels, since 1993.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.