04/03/2007 10:00 AM ET
Travs moving, Wranglers to follow
New Arkansas ballpark among things to watch in Double-A
By Tim Leonard / Special to MLB.com
With every new season comes change in the Minor Leagues. New prospects, new managers, new affiliates are the norm as players develop and continue toward their dreams.
Several of baseball's best prospects will play at the Double-A level this season. Some will start the year in the Eastern, Southern or Texas League, while others will arrive with great fanfare during the season.
If you're looking for new teams, don't bother. All of the Double-A franchises are the same from last season. However, four of the 30 teams do have new Major League affiliates. Here are 10 things you need to know about what's going on at the Double-A level in 2007:
1. Out with the old, in with the new
Across the Southern and Texas Leagues, there's been a bit of affiliate swapping. The San Diego Padres have departed Mobile (SL), where the BayBears are now in the Diamondbacks system. The Pads will replace Seattle as the San Antonio Missions' parent club in the Texas League, while the Mariners take over in West Tenn (SL), as the Diamond Jaxx's former tenants -- the Cubs -- have signed on with the Tennessee Smokies (SL). So, San Diego and Seattle have switched leagues as well as teams. The Eastern League remains as it was last season.
2. Let there be lighthouse
The Bowie Baysox have added a 20-foot lighthouse on the first-base berm at Prince George's Stadium. Anytime a Bowie player hits a home run, a beacon will light up. The Baysox also installed 1,278 new seats, removing a large chunk of general admission benches and replacing them with individual seats.
3. Minor League ball, Major League ballpark
The second annual "Futures at Fenway" doubleheader is scheduled for Boston's Fenway Park on Aug. 11. The Eastern League's Portland Sea Dogs will host the Harrisburg Senators in the nightcap. The opener will feature the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox' short-season entry in the New York-Penn League, and the Hudson Valley Renegades, an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Sea Dogs will be making their first appearance at Fenway Park; it's the second trip for the Spinners, who played in front of a capacity crowd of 33,394 last season as part of a doubleheader with Triple-A Pawtucket.
4. Hi, my name is ...
A slew of changes involving managers and coaching staffs greets the new season. In the Eastern League, seven of the 12 managers are new: Tony Franklin, Trenton; Mako Oliveres, Binghamton; Bien Figueroa, Bowie; Matt Walbeck, Erie; Scott Little, Harrisburg; Arnie Beyeler, Portland; and Bill Masse, who moves from Trenton to New Hampshire. There are six new managers in the Texas League: Bobby Magallanes, Arkansas; Dave Anderson, Frisco; Todd Steverson, Midland; Randy Ready, San Antonio; Ron "Pop" Warner, Springfield; and Tony "T.J." Tijerina, Wichita. Former Los Angeles Dodgers speedster Brett Butler is the most recognizable new manager in the Southern League, having taken the helm of the Mobile BayBears. Former New York Mets shortstop Rafael Santana is the new manager of the Birmingham Barons.
5. Welcome, 10 millionth fan
The Reading Phillies expect to welcome the 10 millionth fan in franchise history to FirstEnergy Stadium sometime around July 4. The lucky fan will receive a prize pack that includes lifetime season tickets and a parking spot directly across from the main entrance of the ballpark. The Phils began play in 1952 and have had three different names in the Eastern League. Reading will become the first park to draw 10 million fans without ever being home to a Triple-A team.
6. One last go-round in Wichita
The Wichita Wranglers won't be in the Texas League next season. They will relocate to Springdale, Ark., for the 2008 campaign and be renamed the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. No, the nickname is not a reference to the classic baseball movie that starred Robert Redford. "Naturals" was the most popular nickname suggested in fan voting and refers to Arkansas being the "Natural State." The change is expected to be the last one in the Texas League for a while. When the Naturals begin play in 2008, they will be the seventh team in the circuit to play in a facility that was built after 2000. "During my time with the league from 1992-2000, we really didn't change a lot. All of a sudden, kaboom," Texas League president Tom Kayser said. "It's staggering. I thought when we drew 2 million, we were doing well. Then San Antonio drew 400,000. Round Rock, Springfield, Corpus Christi and Frisco all passed 500,000. Corpus Christi and Frisco passed 600,000 and we might go over 3 million. We've come a long way in a short time."
7. Billions and billions of stars
The Southern League All-Star Game will be played on July 9 at Trustmark Park. The ballpark is still pretty new, entering its third season as the home of the Mississippi Braves. The Eastern League All-Star Game will be played on July 11 at Dodd Stadium, home of the Connecticut Defenders. The Texas League All-Star Game will be played June 26 at Whataburger Field, home of the Corpus Christi Hooks.
8. So long, Ray
Ray Winder Field, home of the Arkansas Travelers since the franchise joined the Texas League in 1966, has been replaced by Dickey-Stephens Park. The Travelers will play their first game in the new stadium on April 12 against Round Rock. Ray Winder Field actually started as Travelers Field, which opened on April 13, 1932. It was renamed in 1966 in honor of Winder, the man credited with being the savior of the franchise in the late 1950s. Half of the new stadium's name comes from former Yankees catcher Bill Dickey and his brother, Skeeter, another former Major Leaguer. Both men worked for Stephens Inc. following their baseball careers.
9. It's a "dirty job," but someone has to do it
The Baysox were featured on "Dirty Jobs," the most popular show on the Discovery Channel, on an episode that first aired on Jan. 31. The show's host, Mike Rowe, spent 14 hours with the team, taping the episode while doing a variety of jobs. In what likely was the cleanest episode he's ever done, Rowe helped cut the grass and drag the infield and warning track. He also washed uniforms and cleaned shoes. Later, he learned the basics of sliding, which required his uniform to be washed. Rowe also was taught the basics of singing the national anthem and learned the art of heckling from Bowie's resident heckler, "J.D." He finished the episode with a dip in the whirlpool. The episode, titled "Well Digger," is airing in reruns.
10. Honoring history
The Birmingham Barons will host the 12th annual Rickwood Classic on May 30 against the Jacksonville Suns. The game allows the Barons to return to their roots. Rickwood Field was built in 1910 and remains the oldest professional ballpark still in use. The Barons played there until 1987, when they moved into Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The theme for this year's game will be taken from the dawn of the modern Southern League in 1964. The Barons will wear replicas of the gold uniforms they wore during the mid-1960s. The Suns will don replicas of their uniforms from 1967, when they were part of the International League. Rickwood Field is no longer used as a full-time professional stadium, but it was the setting for films such as "Cobb" (1994) and "Soul of the Game" (1995).
Tim Leonard 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.