This year marks the start of a new era for the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game.
The annual contest, which pits the International and Pacific Coast League champions in a winner-take-all battle for Triple-A supremacy, had been held at Oklahoma City's Bricktown Ballpark in each of the last five seasons. But the 2011 version, scheduled for Sept. 20, will take place at Albuquerque's Isotopes Park and air nationally on Versus.
The news was made official in Albuquerque on Tuesday afternoon, at a press conference attended by Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner, International League president Randy Mobley, Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey Jr. and MLB's manager of Minor League operations, Fred Seymour.
Like league All-Star games, the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game will now utilize a rotating host format.
"Our city loves a show, and loves big events," said Isotopes general manager John Traub. "In 2007 we hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game, and showed we were up to the challenge... There was a lot of demand for this, and we're thrilled that they chose us.
This is a showcase event, not just for Triple-A Baseball but for all of Minor League Baseball," he continued. "It's nationally televised and gives us a chance to show what we're all about. To have the entire season culminate here is very exciting."
The Triple-A National Championship Game marks the continuation of a storied chapter of Minor League history. The so-called "Junior World Series" was played intermittently between the IL and now-defunct American Association between 1905 and 1975, and, more recently, a "Triple-A World Series" was held in Las Vegas between 1998 and 2000.
Last year's Championship Game was won by the IL's Columbus Clippers, who triumphed over the PCL's Tacoma Rainers. And, though Traub naturally hopes that the Isotopes will be involved in the 2011 contest, there will be ample incentive to attend regardless.
"We already have received commitments from three quarters of the famous Los Angeles Dodgers infield, with Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Bill Russell coming in to sign autographs," he said. "There will also be a fireworks show and a giveaway. It's not going to be a normal Tuesday night in September."
The Isotopes need to set the bar high in order for the Triple-A National Championship Game to further solidify itself as an annual tradition.
"A game like this is not possible without the support of the [Major League Baseball] Commissioner's Office," he said. "And for all these industry leaders to come out here and support us means a lot, it really shows the level that this event has grown to."
And for the Isotopes specifically, the national publicity means that even more fans will learn about one of the unique and marketable names in Minor League Baseball. The team's moniker references the fictional Minor League team on The Simpsons.
"It's always great when we get this kind of exposure, because we've got a great logo and hope it stays a top seller," said Traub. "People love the Isotopes name, even if they're not baseball fans."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com.