Minor League Baseball provides an interesting mix of constant change and long-standing history. As the 2008 season approaches, MiLB.com takes a look at what you can expect in the International League, both new and old.
Debut of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs will replace the Ottawa Lynx as the Triple-A International League affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. The IronPigs become the first Major League-affiliated baseball team in the Lehigh Valley since 1960, when the Allentown Red Sox left for Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Lehigh Valley will play in the brand new Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which has a seating capacity of 8,100. The team will be managed by Dave Huppert, who has won championships in each of the last two seasons. Huppert guided the South Atlantic League's Lakewood BlueClaws and the Florida State League's Clearwater Threshers to their respective league titles in 2006 and 2007.
The IronPigs inaugural season begins on April 3 at PNC Field House in Moosic, Pennsylvania against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. They will open play at Coca-Cola Park on April 11 against the reigning International League-champion Richmond Braves.
Hall of Fame opens doors to 27
As the International League enters its 125th season of play in 2008, the circuit will also open its Hall of Fame doors to 27 new members throughout the course of the season, the largest induction class in league history. Each of the 27 new members will be enshrined through a series of ceremonies held at league ballparks during the season.
The new inductees include 22 former IL players as well as those with experience as managers, general managers, owners and broadcasters. Some of the greatest achievements in the history of the league were made by members of the 2008 class. Dale Alexander, Frank Herrera, George Puccinelli and Jim Rice account for four of the six Triple Crowns in league history, while Puccinelli is the league all-time hitting champion (.334). Also among the inductees are 1958 Most Valuable Pitcher Tommy Lasorda and former International League Manager of the Year Joe Morgan.
The 125th anniversary celebration will also include a regular-season game between the Rochester Red Wings and the Syracuse Chiefs to be played at historic Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York on May 18.
Foli takes over as Clippers manager
Tim Foli will make his International League debut this season as manager of the Columbus Clippers. Foli, the first overall pick of the New York Mets in the 1968 draft, had a 16-year Major League career as a shortstop and was part of the Pittsburgh Pirates 1979 World Series Championship team. Foli previously managed in the Pacific Coast League, skippering the New Orleans Zephyrs to a 136-147 record from 2005-06.
75th and final season at Cooper Stadium
The 2008 season will mark the 75th and final season at Cooper Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Home to the Columbus Clippers, Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, Cooper Stadium opened in 1931 and has had several names over the years, including Red Bird Stadium (1932-1954), Jets Stadium (1955-1970) and Franklin County Stadium (1977-1984). In 1984 the stadium was renamed in honor of Harold Cooper, the county commissioner who had a big hand in keeping baseball in Columbus in the 1950s. The ballpark has been home to the Columbus RedBirds, the Columbus Jets and the present day Clippers.
In 2009, the Clippers will move into Huntington Park, which is currently under construction in the Arena District in Columbus. Groundbreaking on the new 10,000 seat stadium took place on August 2, 2007. The name of the new park does not figure to undergo the same identity changes as its predecessor, as the naming rights were purchased by Huntington Bancshares, Inc. for $12 million over 23 years.
Baseball in Toledo
Professional baseball has existed in Toledo since 1883. The Toledo Blue Stockings operated from 1883-1885, while several other Minor League teams lasted in Toledo for short durations in the late 1880s and 1890s. In 1896 the team played its games at Bay View Park and adopted the nickname 'Mud Hens' due to the park's close proximity to marshlands inhabited by coots, also known as marsh hens or mud hens.
The club has been affiliated with eight different Major League organizations in its history, beginning with the New York Giants in 1930. Toledo was without organized baseball for nine seasons from 1956-1964 when the New York Yankees' transfer of the Richmond club to Toledo restored professional baseball there in 1965 and permanently restored the nickname Mud Hens. Short-lived affiliations with the Yankees, Phillies, Indians and Twins led the club to its current affiliation with the Detroit Tigers, which began in 1987.
Familiar faces managing clubs
The International League features just two new managers among its 14 clubs for the 2008 season. Among the familiar faces are Pawtucket's Ron Johnson and Louisville's Rick Sweet, who are each entering their fourth season with their respective clubs. Among other notable returnees is 2007 International League Manager of the Year Dave Miley, who is back for his second year at the helm of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Marc Bombard, fresh off his 1,600th career victory last season, is back for his second season at the helm of the Charlotte Knights. Bombard is the Minor League's winningest active manager.