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Looking ahead to a new season04/08/2009 9:28 PM ET
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
The slow, steady and inevitable passage of time has finally led to what we've all been craving -- the start of another Minor League Baseball season.
Tomorrow is Opening Day in 65 cities across the United States, as all 10 affiliated full-season leagues will be kicking off the new season in grand fashion. This annual ritual marks the first of what promises to be many highlights during the 2009 campaign.
What follows is a brief look at some of more notable events that will be taking place over the next five months.
Opening Day in ...
For the half-dozen cities listed above, Opening Day 2009 will represent the start of a new era. Four of these clubs (Charlotte Stone Crabs, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Gwinnett Braves and Reno Aces) will be kicking off their inaugural seasons after relocating following the 2008 campaign. Of this distinguished quartet, all but the Stone Crabs will be playing in a brand-new facility this year.
Meanwhile, Fort Wayne's professional ballclub changed its name from the "Wizards" to the "Tincaps", and will be competing in brand-new Parkview Field. The venerable Columbus Clippers have a new home as well. After 32 seasons at Cooper Stadium, the International League franchise will now compete at Huntington Park.
Minor League Teams, Major League Parks
When a Minor League team plays a regular season contest at the home of its Major League affiliate, it really is a win-win scenario for all involved. The players get a brief taste of what life is like in "The Show," the Minor League team is able to market its product to a whole new audience and the fans can gain access to a big league park at a fraction of the regular cost.
Those attending the "Futures at Fenway" contest on Aug. 8 get a particularly good value, as the cost of a ticket includes admission to both an Eastern and International League contest.
May 27: 14th Annual Rickwood Classic
For one game each season, the Southern League's Birmingham Barons return to their former home for the Rickwood Classic. The annual contest takes place at Rickwood Field, which opened in 1910 and is now recognized as the oldest ballpark in America (the Barons played there through the 1987 season). Each Rickwood Classic honors a different era in Birmingham baseball history. The 2009 version pays homage to the 1982 campaign, when the club was an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
June 20-August 16: All-Star Games galore
The Class A Advanced Florida State League's annual All-Star Game will take place on June 20 in Fort Myers. This marks the first of what will eventually amount to eight midseason classics, with the final contest being the New York-Penn League game in State College on Aug. 16.
Opening Day, Pt. II
The baseball season really hits its stride in June. Not only does school let out and the weather turn warm, but all four short-season leagues kick into gear as well. The Class A New York-Penn League springs (summers) its way into action on June 19, followed in short order by the Northwest, Appalachian and Pioneer Leagues. All four circuits play 76-game schedules and are comprised largely of recent draftees.
July 12: Futures Game
The annual Futures Game takes place each year as part of MLB's All-Star festivities and features a team of top U.S. prospects taking on a squad comprised of players from outside the United States (the "World" team). This year's contest will take place at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. In 2008, the World Team blanked the U.S. 3-0.
Sept. 7: Last Game for the Connecticut Defenders?
While nothing is set in stone, it appears that the 2009 season will be the end of the road for the Eastern League's Connecticut Defenders. A Virgina-based ownership group is currently negotiating a deal to buy the team. Under the parameters of that deal, the club would relocate to Richmond in time for the 2010 campaign (the International League's Richmond Braves relocated to Gwinnett County, Ga., following the 2008 season).
The Defenders franchise (which was initially known as the Norwich Navigators) has played at Dodd Stadium since its inception in 1995.
Sept. 7: End of An Era for the South Atlantic League
Like most Minor League teams, the Lake County Captains and Bowling Green Hot Rods will conclude the regular season on Sept. 7. This will mark the last game that both franchises will play as members of the South Atlantic League. In order to cut down on travel expenses, the Captains and Hot Rods will play in the Midwest League in 2010.
The move will reduce the number of teams in the SAL to 14, while increasing the MWL's ranks to 16.
Sept. 22: Bricktown Showdown
Before going into hibernation for the winter, Minor League Baseball makes its final stand with the Bricktown Showdown. The annual event, now in its fourth season, pits the International League and Pacific Coast League champions in a winner-take-all contest. The victor is able to claim the title of "Triple-A Champions." The Sacramento River Cats captured their second straight Bricktown title in 2008 to run the PCL's record to 3-0 overall at the event.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.