In 2013, after 20 consecutive losing seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates finally posted a winning record. In 2014, an even longer streak will finally come to an end.
On Wednesday the Pirates announced that, effective immediately, they would be affiliated with the Bristol Baseball Club of the short-season Appalachian League. This marks the first time in 25 years that Pittsburgh will field a club in the venerable Rookie-level circuit, with the last occasion being the 1989 Princeton Pirates.
Bristol will function as the Pirates' "advanced" Rookie-level affiliate, considered a competitive step up from the complex-based Rookie teams in the Gulf Coast and Dominican Summer Leagues. The organization now has two short-season affiliates, with the Class A Short-Season Jamestown Jammers existing one rung above Bristol. The rosters of both clubs will be largely comprised of international free agent signees and players selected in the annual First-Year Player Draft, which takes place the week prior to the start of the short-season campaign.
"We are looking forward to expanding our development system into the Appalachian League as well as beginning a new relationship with the fans and staff in Bristol, Va.," said Pirates director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway in a press release. "As we continue to invest in the draft and Latin America, the addition of an Advanced Rookie League team provides us another opportunity to maximize the development time of every player that enters into our system."
From 1995 through the conclusion of the 2013 campaign, Bristol had been affiliated with the Chicago White Sox, who still maintain a Rookie-level affiliate in the form of the Pioneer League's Great Falls Voyagers. Ownership of the Bristol club has thus been transferred from Chicago to Pittsburgh, with day-to-day operations remaining the responsibility of the non-profit Bristol Baseball, Inc.
"Change always brings uncertainty, but we're all very excited [about the new affiliation]," said Bristol Baseball, Inc., vice president for marketing and communications Lucas Hobbs. "The folks in Chicago were great to work with for the last 19 years and we're excited about Pittsburgh, having had positive discussions with them in the weeks leading to this announcement. We're looking forward to having a competitive team on the field."
Every Appalachian League team is owned by its Major League affiliate and, therefore, almost always retains the name of said affiliate. Historically Bristol has done this as well, but Hobbs remarked that Bristol's new team name and logo "has not yet been finalized."
And though the Pirates have been strangers to the Appalachian League over the past quarter century, the organization is no stranger to Bristol. The 1952 and 1953 Bristol Twins were a Pittsburgh affiliate, and it was during the 1952 season that 19-year-old Ron Necciai famously struck out 27 batters in a nine-inning game.
"The Pirates organization does have a history here in town, and the story of Ron Necciai really resonates with people," said Hobbs. "Ron visited in 2012 for the 60th anniversary [of his 27-strikeout game], and he threw out the first pitch. We'd love to have him visit us again."