04/02/2007 10:00 AM ET
Change is the constant at Triple-A
New affiliations, nicknames and managers at Minors' top level
By Eric Justic / Special to MLB.com
If you're having trouble catching up with all of the changes in Triple-A, that's understandable. Triple-A baseball will have a vastly different looks this season, punctuated by affiliation switches, nickname alterations and a new group of managers.
Here are 10 things to help you catch up as the 2007 season begins:
1. Affiliation shuffle
The biggest change in Triple-A involves five different affiliations in the International and Pacific Coast Leagues. The three longest affiliations in Triple-A ended when the New York Mets moved their top affiliate from Norfolk to New Orleans. That was the final stop on a carousel that saw the Philadelphia Phillies take their top farm team from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Ottawa and the New York Yankees change their International League squad from Columbus to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Baltimore Orioles' Triple-A affiliate takes over in Norfolk after playing in Ottawa, while the Washington Nationals head north from New Orleans to Columbus.
2. New Managers
The other big change this season has 14 different managers taking the helm at the Triple-A level. In the International League, the six new managers are Doug Davis with the Syracuse Chiefs, Charlie Montoyo with the Durham Bulls and Marc Bombard with the Charlotte Knights. John Stearns will pilot the Columbus Clippers and Gary Allenson takes over the Norfolk Tides. Dave Brundage moved east from Tacoma to the Richmond Braves. Half the clubs in the Pacific Coast League will have new skippers like Dan Rohn in Fresno, Buddy Bailey in Iowa, Lorenzo Bundy in Las Vegas and Rick Renteria in Portland. Bobby Jones is back for another stint with Oklahoma after serving as the Texas Rangers first base coach in 2006. Bill Plummer replaces Chip Hale with the defending champion Tucson Sidewinders. Hale is one of four Triple-A managers from last season who have taken Major League coaching positions in 2007. Former Buffalo Bisons pitching coach Bud Black also was named manager of the San Diego Padres.
3. Hail to the Chiefs
The SkyChiefs are no more as Syracuse reverted back to the Chiefs in the offseason. They were known as the Chiefs for much of their history since moving from Jersey City in 1934. The SkyChiefs' brand existed from 1997-2006. The change also inspired a new look in Syracuse, which modified its logos and colors. The updated emblem features a steam locomotive to honor the railroads that shipped goods from the manufacturing hub of Syracuse. The Chiefs' official colors will be blue, black, silver and graphite.
4. Meet the Mets! (and Nationals)
The change in affiliations involving the Mets and Nationals is significant because they're also switching leagues. The Mets' top farm club becomes the Easternmost Pacific Coast League franchise in New Orleans; Washington's top Minor League team will be the Columbus Clippers of the International League. The change is historic for the Mets, whose Triple-A club played in Norfolk since 1969, the second-longest continuous affiliation in the Minors. The Baltimore Orioles' Rookie League affiliate in Bluefield, W.Va., has had a continuous partnership since 1958. Ironically, the Orioles moved their Triple-A squad to Norfolk.
5. All-Star Game
The Triple-A All-Star Game will celebrate its 20th anniversary from July 7-11 and return to Albuquerque for the second time. Albuquerque, which also hosted the event in 1993, will be the only city to welcome the event twice. In addition to the game, the Sandia Resort Triple-A All-Star Fiesta will feature a home run derby and skills competition as well as an All-Star gala and autograph sessions. Last season, the International League two-hit the Pacific Coast League in a 6-0 blanking at Toledo's Fifth Third Field. Louisville will host the 2008 classic.
6. Three-peat for Toledo?
Toledo last season became the 11th team in International League history to win back-to-back Governors' Cup titles. If the Mud Hens can pull off the three-peat in 2007, it will put them in even more exclusive company, as the 1979-81 Columbus Clippers are the only team to win three straight International League championships. Before their current run, Toledo had not won the Governors' Cup since 1967. The Durham Bulls were the last repeat champs, winning consecutive titles in 2002-03.
7. Moore hits 50 years in professional baseball
There are plenty of new managers in the Minor Leagues, but one of them will not be Round Rock's Jackie Moore, who enters his 50th season in professional baseball. The 68-year-old, who is in his eighth year as the Express' skipper, began coaching in 1968 following an 11-year playing career in the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox organizations. He played just one season in the big leagues but served as a Major League coach with six different organizations, managing the Oakland A's for 353 games from 1984-86 and winning a World Championship as dugout coach on the 1990 Cincinnati Reds. He also had Minor League stints in the New York-Penn, Eastern and Texas Leagues. Moore guided the Express to a Texas League title in 2000 and stayed with the team in its jump to Triple-A in 2005.
There are three notable anniversaries in Triple-A. The Las Vegas 51s are celebrating their 25th season in the Pacific Coast League and will use a special logo to commemorate it. Las Vegas also unveiled an alien-themed logo designed after the secret government base known as Area 51. The Ottawa Lynx will sport a logo honoring their 15th year in the Canadian capital. And Zephyr Field, "the Shrine on Airline," celebrates its 10th anniversary. Some 4 million fans have attended events at the ballpark in suburban New Orleans.
9. The Blue Monster gets revamped
The famed Blue Monster at Durham Bulls Athletic Park moved into the 21st century. The 32-foot wall in left field was rebuilt in the offseason to contain a state-of-the-art video board that's three times larger than the old one in center field. Louisville Slugger Field also has a new video display, while a couple of ballparks will sport new names. Lackawanna County Stadium, the home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, is now PNC Field. Fresno will play in Chukchansi Park, formerly known as Grizzlies Stadium.
10. New owners for the Rainiers
Normally, the biggest stars are on the field, but the Rainiers' ownership group, which purchased the team last July, has a star in tow -- Nick Lachey. The Rainiers were up for sale for six years before The Schlegel Group, headed by Kirby Schlegel of Dallas, bought the team. The ownership change also could mean substantial upgrades to Cheney Stadium, which opened in 1960.
Eric Justic is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.