It's a trend the good people of Allentown, Pa., don't want to see become a tradition.
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs first played in the International League in 2008, and since then the team has scuffled to an unsightly 184-248 record. Add to this bleak scenario hordes of loyal fans -- the IronPigs drew more than 9,000 per home game last year -- and a beloved Hall of Famer as the new skipper, and you've got the makings of a winning atmosphere at Coca-Cola Park.
Ryne Sandberg, who led the Double-A Tennessee Smokies to the 2009 Southern League Finals and was named the Pacific Coast League's 2010 Manager of the Year after guiding the Iowa Cubs to an 82-62 record last season, takes the helm for the Lehigh Valley nine. In doing so, he returns to the Philadelphia system that drafted him in 1978 and ushers in a new era for the don't-call-'em-hapless IronPigs.
If Sandberg and the 'Pigs have their work cut out for them, though, they're hardly alone. Clubs from Toledo to Pawtucket, from Buffalo to Norfolk, look to unseat a handful of seemingly perennial powerhouses.
Charlie Montoyo, who was the IL Manager of the Year last year, has led the Durham Bulls to South Division titles for five straight seasons. The Louisville Bats, under Rick Sweet (IL Manager of the Year 2008-'09) have topped the list in the West Division in each of the past three years, and Dave Miley and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees have had a hold on the North Division since 2007. And, of course, with Mike Sarbaugh returning as skipper of the reigning Triple-A national-champion Clippers, the Columbus club can't be counted out either.
Here's a team-by-team look at what lies ahead in the International League:
MLB parent club: New York Mets
2010 results: 78-68
2011 manager: Tim Teufel (first season)
Buffalo fans should enjoy a familiar outfield for at least part of the year, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Fernando Martinez returning. ... Jenrry Mejia, who struck out nine over eight innings in one start for the Bisons last year, begins the season in the rotation. ... Middle infielder Reese Havens won't be along for a little while -- he had offseason surgery that involved the removal of a chunk of a rib and could start as low as Class A Advanced -- but he may make an impact with Buffalo later in the summer if all goes well. ... Current Mets outfielder Lucas Duda figures to spend some time with the Bisons after Jason Bay recovers from his spring rib injury.
MLB parent club: Chicago White Sox
2010 results: 67-77
2011 manager: Joe McEwing (first season)
Three cuts the White Sox made 10 days before their opener should be helpful to the Knights: right-hander Gregory Infante, outfielder Alejandro De Aza and catcher Tyler Flowers. Each is a talented ballplayer with the pro experience to know what it takes to make a winning team. ... Skipper Joe McEwing was Charlotte's hitting coach in 2008 before taking a managing job lower down the ladder in Winston-Salem the next season, where he was the Carolina League's Manager of the Year in both 2009 and '10. ... McEwing replaces Chris Chambliss, who was named hitting coach of the Seattle Mariners. ... Look for shortstop prospect Eduardo Escobar to impress, and third baseman Dayan Viciedo should be along as he recovers from a broken thumb.
MLB parent club: Cleveland Indians
2010 results: 87-56; IL champions, Triple-A champions
2011 manager: Mike Sarbaugh (second season)
The current IL title holders and winners of the 2010 Triple-A National Championship Game can expect another big season, and a number of players may shuffle back and forth with Cleveland over the course of the summer. ... Top-notch infield prospects Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis should do some damage. ... Cord Phelps will likely spend a good part of the year playing between Chisenhall and Kipnis at shortstop... Outfielder Nick Weglarz was off to a fantastic start before being waylaid by a thumb injury last year, and he'll look to pick up where he left off. ... Alex White, a 2009 first-rounder, will anchor the Clippers rotation.
MLB parent club: Tampa Bay Rays
2010 results: 88-55; South Division champions
2011 manager: Charlie Montoyo (fifth season)
Charlie Montoyo, who led the Bulls to the Governors' Cup in 2009 and five straight South Division crowns, is back with another group of up-and-comers. ... Catcher Robinson Chirinos, who came to the Rays in the Matt Garza trade with the Cubs, hit .364 over 15 games in the Pacific Coast League last year and brings his act to the IL for 2011. ... Pitcher Chris Archer, another key component in the Garza deal, stands to reach Triple-A at some point this season. ... Fellow right-hander Alex Cobb should be a front-of-the-rotation guy for Durham, and he'll likely be called upon to pitch in the Majors if injuries hamper the big league staff. ... At least for the start of the year, Desmond Jennings will be among the Bulls.
MLB parent club: Atlanta Braves
2010 results: 72-71
2011 manager: Dave Brundage (fifth season)
Manager Dave Brundage is 47 wins away from No. 200 with the G-Braves. ... Though Gwinnett fans will miss a number of exciting prospects who made the big league club (Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Beachy), they can still look forward to seeing hurler Mike Minor and outfielder Jordan Schafer hone their approaches at the Triple-A level. Minor begins the season with Atlanta but will likely come down to the G-Braves when Jair Jurrjens recovers from an oblique injury. ... Bobby Cox is set to throw out the ceremonial first ball at the Coolray Field Opening Day festivities Thursday.
MLB parent club:
Dean Treanor (first season)
Dean Treanor, a former undercover police officer, is the Indians' new manager, but he's no stranger; he served as their pitching coach last season and has helmed six Triple-A clubs before. ... He hopes to eventually benefit from the presence of starting pitchers Bryan Morris
and Rudy Owens
, who led Double-A Altoona to an Eastern League crown last year and will spend some time back there before they likely join Indy later in the season. ... Brian Burres
will hold down the fort on the pitching front in the meantime. ... Look for third baseman Andy Marte
, who played 80 big league games last year, to chip in offensively. ... The Triple-A Tribe has a new radio partner this summer; games will be broadcast online and locally on 1260 WNDE.
Lehigh Valley IronPigs
MLB parent club: Philadelphia Phillies
2010 results: 58-86
2011 manager: Ryne Sandberg
As if Sandberg and the new team weren't enough of a draw, the IronPigs will give away a replica of Coca-Cola Park to the first 3,000 adults through the gates on Opening Day. ... Domonic Brown, who missed much of Spring Training after undergoing wrist surgery, will likely be with Lehigh Valley as he looks to get back on track. ... Former 'Pigs hurler Joe Savery will continue his evolution into a position player; he hit .348 over 23 Lehigh Valley games last year and should see significant playing time in Triple-A again in 2011. ... Relievers Scott Mathieson and Justin De Fratus should provide Sandberg with a pair of quality righty options late in games.
MLB parent club: Cincinnati Reds
2009 results: 79-64; West Division winner
2010 manager: Rick Sweet (seventh season)
Skipper Rick Sweet is just 34 wins shy of 500 with the team, and if the past three years are any barometer, the manager will hit that milestone sooner in the season than later. ... Catching prospect Devin Mesoraco, who was named to the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars team in 2010, will start out with the Bats. ... He'll be joined by a couple of the system's most accomplished and promising players. Some of these guys, such as Chris Valaika, Yonder Alonso and Zack Cozart, are familiar Louisville faces.
MLB parent club: Baltimore Orioles
2010 results: 67-77
2011 manager: Gary Allenson (second season)
Southpaw Zach Britton, who had the best spring camp of any Orioles pitcher, was expected to begin the season with the Tides but an injury to Brian Matusz got Britton into big league action during opening weekend. Still, he could end up making a few starts for Norfolk in the early going. ... Ryan Adams, who hit .298 with 15 home runs at Double-A last year and enjoyed a terrific AFL season, ought to spend some time this summer playing second base for the Tides. ... Norfolk will have Craig Tatum, a strong defensive catcher who hit .281 in 43 big league games last year, behind the plate at the start of the 2011 campaign.
Pawtucket Red Sox
MLB parent club: Boston Red Sox
2010 results: 66-78
2011 manager: Arnie Beyeler (first season)
Beyeler, who helmed Double-A Portland last year, will have some of his 2010 players under his leadership in Triple-A this year. ... Standout shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias, who surprised by hitting better than he was expected to in Double-A last year and in big league camp this spring, makes the jump. ... Infielder Yamaico Navarro and catcher Luis Exposito are moving on up too. ... Look for lefty Felix Doubront to return and log some innings in Rhode Island this summer. ... Pawtucket honors graduated hurler Clay Buchholz with his own bobblehead night on July 30.
Rochester Red Wings
MLB parent club: Minnesota Twins
2010 results: 70-74
2010 manager: Tom Nieto (second season)
A trio of some of the most highly touted prospects in the Minnesota organization are slated to start the year with Rochester -- pitcher Kyle Gibson and outfielders Ben Revere and Joe Benson. ... Anthony Slama, who shut the door 17 times and had a 2.20 ERA for the Red Wings last year, returns to the 'pen. ... Former Major Leaguer Tom Nieto returns as manager for his third year with the Minnesota organization and second with Rochester. He led the 2009 Double-A New Britain squad to the Eastern League playoffs.
MLB parent club: New York Yankees
2010 results: 87-56; North Division winner
2011 manager: Dave Miley (fifth season)
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just may take its division for the fourth straight year, considering the talent that's likely to land on the Baby Bombers roster this season. ... Catcher Jesus Montero would likely be backing up Russell Martin in the Majors had the Yankees not wanted him to play every day. For the time being, he's IL pitchers' problem. ... Third baseman Brandon Laird is another power threat fans at PNC Field will recognize. ... It may not be long before Andrew Brackman hits the Bronx, but he's set to join a formidable Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation alongside Hector Noesi for the time being. ... Outfielder Melky Mesa could split his time between these Yankees and Double-A Trenton.
MLB parent club: Washington Nationals
2010 results: 76-67
2011 manager: Randy Knor (first season)
Let's get it out of the way right now: Sure, it's conceivable that Bryce Harper will play for the Chiefs at some point this season. For now, the 18-year-old phenom is in Class A ball, and it's a bit silly to speculate about how much or little time he'll be there. ... While we're at it, yes, it's possible Stephen Strasburg could rehab at Triple-A as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. ... For the time being, the Syracuse faithful can enjoy Nats farmhand Roger Bernadina, who hit .377 and slugged .541 in a 14-game stint in the IL last year. ... Randy Knorr managed the Double-A Harrisburg Senators last year and was at the helm of the Class A Advanced P-Nats for the three seasons prior to that.
Toledo Mud Hens
MLB parent club: Detroit Tigers
2010 results: 70-73
2011 manager: Phil Nevin (first season)
Andy Oliver, one of Detroit's top pitching prospects, begins the year in Toledo. ... Chance Ruffin, another highly prized hurler, only has one AFL campaign under his belt in pro ball but could reach the IL this year nonetheless. ... Fireballing lefty Charlie Furbush, who had the second-most strikeouts (182) in the Minors last season, will once again eat some innings for the Mud Hens. ... Shortstop Cale Iorg and outfielder Andy Dirks should do their part for the Toledo offense.