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Let's stay together: Minor League stalwarts

Reading heads list of clubs with lengthy big league relationships
March 7, 2014

Most Minoring in Business features are, by necessity, about recent developments. New stadiums, new team names, new logos and new promotions are worthy of coverage, of course, but this edition will be devoted to the relationships that have remained constant amidst this sea of change.

What follows is a list of the 10 longest-running affiliations in Minor League Baseball. These Minor League franchises are models of longevity, having remained in the same city and at the same level of play while serving as a farm team for the same Major League club.

For those in need of a little background: Affiliation agreements are codified via Player Development Contracts (PDCs), which are generally two or four years in length and expire at the conclusion of even-numbered seasons. The end of the 2014 season will therefore see an array of affiliation changes as the entire industry plays its version of musical chairs, but the 10 teams listed below have proven themselves largely immune to such maneuvering.

Reading Fightin Phils (Eastern League), Double-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies since 1967
Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium (formerly Reading Municipal Memorial Stadium), built in 1951
Notable Alumni: Mike Schmidt, Ryne Sandberg, Ryan Howard
Prior to the 2013 season the Reading Phillies rebranded themselves, changing their name to the "Fightin Phils" (no apostrophe, please) and using a pugilistic ostrich as the primary logo. This offended many of the baseball traditionalists in the Reading community, but the team's affiliation with nearby Philadelphia remains the same as it ever was. The Phillies bought the Reading franchise in 2008, so this relationship is likely to remain intact for many years to come.

Lakeland Flying Tigers (Florida State League), Class A Advanced affiliate of the Detroit Tigers since 1967
Stadium: Joker Marchant Stadium, built in 1963
Notable Alumni: Kirk Gibson, Lou Whitaker, Justin Verlander
Most Florida State League clubs are owned by their Major League affiliates and play their regular seasons in the same stadiums that are used by the big league club for Spring Training. It, therefore, is a more stable league than most, and nowhere is this stability more evident than in Lakeland. After four decades in which they were known simply as the Tigers, Lakeland changed its name to the Flying Tigers in 2007 in honor of the pilot training school that was once located where Joker Marchant Stadium now stands.

Omaha Storm Chasers (Pacific Coast League), Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals since 1969
Stadium: Rosenblatt Stadium (1969-2010), Werner Park (2011-present)
Notable Alumni: George Brett, Frank White, Paul Splittorff
After 42 seasons in which it was known as the Royals, Omaha's Pacific Coast League franchise changed its name to the Storm Chasers and moved to a stadium outside of Omaha city limits (Werner Park is located in neighboring Sarpy County). Nonetheless, the affiliation with Kansas City continues and is currently guaranteed through 2016.

Pawtucket Red Sox (International League), Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox since 1973
Stadium: McCoy Stadium (opened in 1942)
Notable Alumni: Jim Rice, Wade Boggs, Mo Vaughn
The above three teams on this list have changed names and/or stadiums, but Pawtucket has remained remarkably constant on all fronts. In fact, the team's relationship with Boston actually dates back to 1970, as Pawtucket played three seasons in the Double-A Eastern League before switching to the International League in 1973. Eight years later, the PawSox were the home team in the longest professional baseball game of all time, beating Rochester, 3-2, in 33 innings.

Billings Mustangs (Pioneer League), Rookie-level affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds since 1974
Stadium: Cobb Field (1948-1963, 1969-2007), Dehler Park (2008-present)
Notable Alumni: Reggie Sanders, Paul O'Neill, Adam Dunn
Unlike every other team on this list, Billings has never sported the name of its Major League affiliate. The Mustangs -- as they have been known since their 1948 inception -- were affiliated with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals before signing on with Cincinnati before the 1974 campaign. And with Cincinnati they have remained, establishing what is (by far) the longest-running relationship in the Pioneer League.

Elizabethton Twins (Appalachian League), Rookie-level affiliate of the Minnesota Twins since 1974
Stadium: Joe O'Brien Field (opened in 1974)
Notable Alumni: Gary Gaetti, Kirby Puckett, Joe Mauer
Elizabethton is a perennial Appy League powerhouse, having won 10 championships over the course of their 41-season relationship with the Twins (the most recent coming in 2012). A large portion of this persistent success can be attributed to the consistency of the coaching staff. Current manager Ray Smith played for the club as a catcher in 1977, and since 1987 has served as either a coach or manager. Pitching coach Jim Shellenback served from 1994-2011, and 2013 marked hitting coach Jeff Reed's 12th consecutive season.

Johnson City Cardinals (Appalachian League), Rookie-level affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals since 1975
Stadium: Howard Johnson Field (opened in 1956)
Notable Alumni: Vince Coleman, Rick Ankiel, Yadier Molina
Johnson City has been a member of the Appalachian League since the circuit's 1937 inception, and from 1939-55 they were known as, yes, the Cardinals. Affiliations with the Phillies and Yankees then followed, but the relationship with the Cardinals began anew in 1975 and has remained intact ever since. St. Louis owns the franchise, an arrangement common throughout the Appy League as most of the teams are owned by their Major League affiliates.

Kingsport Mets (Appalachian League), Rookie-level affiliate of the New York Mets since 1980
Stadium: Dobyns-Bennett High School (1980-94), Hunter Wright Field (1995-present)
Notable Alumni: Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, David Wright
Kingsport, the third and final Appalachian League team on this list, signed on with the Mets in 1980 after a six-season affiliation with the Atlanta Braves. Many of the stars from the Mets' mid-80s heyday began their careers there, excepting the 1983 squad. That season, the team played in the Gulf Coast League while their then-home at Dobyns-Bennett was being renovated.

Iowa Cubs (Pacific Coast League), Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs since 1981
Stadium: Sec Taylor Stadium (1981-91), Principal Park (1992-present)
Notable Alumni: Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood, Mark Grace
Iowa is entering its 34th consecutive season as a Cubs affiliate and 39th season as a Chicago affiliate, as this Des Moines-based entity was a White Sox farm club from 1976-80. From 1969-81, the team was known as "The Oaks," (a name adopted during their days as an Oakland affiliate); they took on the Cubs moniker in 1982.

Clearwater Threshers (Florida State League), Class A Advanced affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies since 1985
Stadium: Jack Russell Memorial Stadium (1985-2003), Bright House Field (2004-present)
Notable Alumni: Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard
The Threshers are an amalgamation of the top two teams on this list. Like Reading, they are a Phillies affiliate; like Lakeland, they compete in the Florida State League. For the first 19 seasons of their existence, Clearwater was known simply as "The Phillies." The move to Philadelphia's new Spring Training home of Bright House Field inspired a name change -- since 2004, the club has been known as the Threshers.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.