Kannapolis looks to repeat in SAL

Intimidators took first Sally crown in club history in '05

(Kannapolis Intimidators)

By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com | February 27, 2006 8:17 AM

The White Sox weren't the only club in the Chicago organization to win a championship in 2005. And while it hadn't suffered a title-drought equal to the parent club, the Kannapolis Intimidators did win the South Atlantic League championship for the first time in club history in 2005.

Now it's time to see if the Intimidators, a White Sox affiliate since 2001, can try to repeat just like Chicago will try to do.

It won't be an easy feat. The White Sox's rookie-level affiliates below Kannapolis -- in Great Falls and Bristol -- both finished under .500 and some of the better drafted talent will head to locales above in the organizational chain. That's not to say Kannapolis will be devoid of talent, but rather speaks to how hard establishing some continuity of success can be at this first full-season step.

Last year's other playoff participants -- Hagerstown, Delmarva and Charleston -- will try to return to the promised land as well. One of the stiffest tests facing that quartet could come from the Rome Braves. In addition to the usual influx of talent from the previous June's draft that invariably comes to Atlanta's lowest full-season club, Rome will be the beneficiary of several graduates from the Appy League Danville club, which reached that league's championship with a .700 winning percentage.

The South Atlantic League won't just be getting an influx of new faces on the field. There are new managers, one high-profile new owner and a brand-spanking new ballpark to generate buzz around the circuit. Sally dugouts will have nine new skippers in them in 2006: Hagerstown (Frank Cacciatore), Greenville (Luis Alicea), Kannapolis (Omar Munoz), Lakewood (Dave Huppert), Lake County (Lee May Jr.), Lexington (Jack Lind), Rome (Randy Ingle), Savannah (Bobby Williams) and West Virginia (Mike Guerrero).

When the Augusta GreenJackets changed hands, the Giants affiliate didn't get just any old owner. The GreenJackets have joned the Ripken Network family. Augusta becomes the first foray by Cal Ripken Jr's ownership group outside of his home in Aberdeen, Md.

But if the success of the IronBirds in the New-York Penn League is any indication (Aberdeen has easily led the league in attendance every year since entering in 2003), the GreenJackets are in for a banner year. Ripken has stated he plans to be an active and visible owner in Augusta, as his group sets out on an ambitious 10-teams-in-10-years purchasing plan.

The new park in Greenville, S.C., may look kind of familiar to some. Downtown Stadium, new home of the Drive -- the Red Sox's affiliate in the league -- is a state-of-the-art mini-Fenway Park, complete with a Green Monster in left field, a Pesky Pole in right and that unusual notch in center field. The park has a capacity of more than 5,000 and promises something the real Fenway Park can't: clear views for every fan. The Drive open up their new digs on April 6 against the Columbus Catfish.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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