The employees of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons' ticket office are going to have to work overtime tonight.
"It's been so busy in here, I can't even put it in words," said Red Barons director of media relations Mike Cummings. "The phones have not stopped ringing, and the emails are pouring in."
This unprecedented flurry of activity is because the Triple-A International League franchise has just made a significant announcement, one that is sending shockwaves throughout Lackawanna County -- the Red Barons have signed a two-year Player Development Contract with the New York Yankees.
The Red Barons had spent the previous 18 seasons as an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees, meanwhile, ended their 28-year run with the Columbus Clippers in order to move to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
"I had always assumed that the fans in this area were split 50-50 between the Phillies and the Yankees," said Cummings. "But we know now there are many more Yankee fans. The Pocono region is exploding, the growth has been astronomical, and many of these new residents are transplants from New York and New Jersey."
The deal makes sense from a player-development standpoint as well, as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Lackawanna County Stadium is a mere two-hour drive from Yankee Stadium. This geographical proximity will make it easy for players to move between the two clubs, and team executives will have more opportunities to watch the club's top prospects in action.
The affiliation switch is not the only change the Red Barons are currently undergoing. Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro announced that the club had signed an agreement with Mandalay Sports Entertainment Group, which will manage team and stadium operations on behalf of the county. The Los Angeles-based organization currently runs five Minor League franchises, including the Yankees' short-season Class A affiliate in Staten Island.
"We wanted to take the politics out of the operation and hand it over to a professional management company," said Cordaro. "In a broader sense, Mandalay is also involved with real estate and investment, so they bring other opportunities to us as well. This new alignment makes sense for everyone involved."
"We believe we have one of the best facilities in the Minor Leagues, and recently we invested $4 million to build a new locker room and training facility and install a natural grass playing field," Cordaro said. "Our commitment to keeping the stadium state-of-the-art put us in a position to create these new partnerships."
Mandalay Sports Entertainment already owns and operates two of the Minor Leagues' top-drawing teams -- the Dayton Dragons of the Class A Midwest League and the Frisco RoughRiders of the Double-A Texas League. The company is understandably excited to extend their reach to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
"The Yankees are the biggest brand in sports, so we were very interested in working with them at the Triple-A level," said Kevin Morteson, a company spokesman. "Our job is to pump up the fan experience, and the fans in that region are already passionate about their baseball."
Further details regarding the agreement between the Red Barons and the Mandalay Entertainment Group will be announced at a press conference on Tuesday.
With so many changes taking place, the 2007 season is shaping up to be a very memorable one for the Red Barons.
"It's tough to see the Phillies leave, but this is a great opportunity that has presented itself," said Cummings. "If early returns are any indication, it's going to be a record-breaking year."