It’s one of the longest-lasting relationships in pro baseball: the Billings Mustangs (rookie; Pioneer League) have been an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds since 1974 — and it’s still going strong.
In these days, affiliations are a lot more fluid than they once were, and partnerships once assumed solid can turn sour quickly. But in the case of the Mustangs and the Reds, the affiliation between the two has been solid since 1974. With Cincinnati sending down some solid prospects to begin their careers in rookie ball — like Paul O’Neill, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce — the locals know there’s a pretty good chance of seeing a future major leaguer every season. And Billings is a great baseball town with a solid front office, so there would be no reason for the Reds to look elsewhere. Woody Hahn, the GM when the original ’74 affiliation was signed, is president of the team, and GM Gary Roller, it seems, has been there forever as well. From the Billings Gazette:
You really don’t look for a relationship to last that long,” Hahn said. “The popularity of baseball in Billings has always been a real plus. And I believe all the teams we’ve been affiliated with feel good about the city and the way the fans and people in general treat the ball players.
“I can’t imagine having a better relationship with any other club. The Reds have been absolutely super to deal with.”
So much needs to come together in order for an affiliate to remain attached to a parent club for 40 years, and local support is chief among them. In a time when minor league teams change affiliations regularly, the Mustangs have thrived on big attendance figures, a strong rapport between players and fans, and, of course, winning.
A lot of the romance of Minor League Baseball is tied in the rookie and short-season leagues. Some teams have decided to shun rookie ball in favor of more controlled play in the form of Florida or Arizona developmental leagues, but the notion that a future All-Star like Votto (or Joe Mauer, who began his pro career in Elizabethton) began life at the bottom rung of the minors is a romantic tale.
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