The independent American Association is going with 14 teams in the 2011 season, as new additions Amarillo, Fargo-Moorhead, Gary, Kansas City and Winnipeg offset the loss of the Pensacola Pelicans for the year.
The schedule still features some of that grueling travel so loved by players and front-office staff alike: the Sioux City Explorers, for instance, start the season in Fort Worth to take on dreaded rival Cats, followed by a swing to Shreveport-Bossier. And there are some odd quirks as well: the aforementioned Explorers will host the Gary SouthShore Railcats 11 times this season. We’re guessing 14 teams stretching from Winnipeg to Gary to El Paso is still a major challenge for whoever sets the league schedule.
That task may be made a little easier next season if the league goes to 16 teams — Laredo should be in, and we hear the league is looking at a Chicago-area franchise — in two divisions.
The biggest loss: Pensacola. Though the Pelicans did not draw well in the last few years, owner Quint Studer was respected in league circles, and there was the belief that the market was good and a new ballpark would catapult the franchise. Studer had been looking at fielding a team for 2011 despite having purchased the Carolina Mudcats (Class AA; Southern League) from Steve Bryant and crew, but the National Association directed him to divest his independent interests before it would approve the purchase. The Amarillo team replaces Pensacola.
The schedule is also good news for Shreveport-Bossier fans: There had been talk that the Captains would shift to a summer-collegiate circuit if need be. With the need for an even number of franchises, the Caps are in. Still, under either scenario there would be baseball next year at Fair Grounds Field, which is good news for local fans.
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