Baseball is about to return to full-season Minor League Baseball ballparks, as the 2018 campaign gets underway Thursday. This year will be marked by some intriguing developments around MiLB, including the opening of a new ballpark, final seasons for some facilities, the implementation of significant rule changes, and the debut of new team branding.
When it comes to new ballparks, 2018 will be a fairly quiet season, as SRP Park is the only minor league facility debuting this year. SRP Park will replace Lake Olmstead Stadium as home of the Augusta GreenJackets (Low A; Sally League), giving the team a modern ballpark that is expected to anchor the mixed-use Riverside Village development in North Augusta, SC. Development of the surrounding area is expected to take shape over time, but the GreenJackets are quickly approaching their April 12 home opener at the ballpark. For more on SRP Park, see a preview from our own Jarah Wright.
Late in the 2018 season, there could be a few finales at ballparks. After working for years to secure a new facility, the Las Vegas 51s (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) broke ground in February on Las Vegas Ballpark. The team hopes that the Downtown Summerlin venue will open in 2019, making 2018 their final season at Cashman Field. Even if that proves to be the case, Cashman Field will likely live on as a professional soccer facility for the USL’s Las Vegas Lights FC.
The Helena Brewers (Rookie; Pioneer League) are set to leave Kindrick Legion Field after this season and depart for Colorado Springs. While there no indications to this point that Kindrick Legion Field will close as a result of the Brewers’ impending departure, the team’s move will likely leave the Pioneer League’s oldest ballpark without an affiliated MiLB tenant. That move will take place as part of a series of Elmore Sports Group-owned franchise shifts for 2019, with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) heading to San Antonio and adopting the San Antonio Missions moniker, while the current Missions (Class AA; Texas League) move to a new ballpark in Amarillo.
The Buies Creek Astros (High A; Carolina League) are expected to play their last season at Campbell University’s Jim Perry Stadium before moving into a new downtown Fayetteville, NC ballpark in 2019. Jim Perry Stadium has been playing the dual role as MiLB/college baseball facility since last year, a move intended to give the Astros a home venue until construction of the Faytteville ballpark is complete.
In a change that will affect the game on the field, MiLB has introduced a variety of rules intended speed up the pace of play. The most striking rule changes affect extra innings, which will begin with a runner on second base at all levels of the minors. A more detailed overview of the pace-of-play initiatives can be found here, but their effects on the game should be watched closely, as it is not uncommon for MiLB to be used as a testing ground for rules that could eventually be adopted in Major League Baseball.
The early phases of the season will also yield opportunities to see some of the branding changes around MiLB. The Gwinnett Braves are no more, as they have rebranded as the Gwinnett Stripers (Class AAA; International League), while the Tampa Yankees moniker has been ditched in favor of the Tampa Tarpons (High A; Florida State League). When the short-season circuits begin play in June, look for the Greeneville Reds (Rookie; Pioneer League), who are taking the place of the Greeneville Astros at Pioneer Park.
As with any MiLB season, expect more storylines to unfold throughout the year, including creative gameday promotions, debuts of ballpark upgrades, and increasing chatter over potential affiliation shifts that could take place after the season. In the meantime, fans and teams alike can get ready for Opening Day.
Image of SRP Park, posted to Facebook on March 31, courtesy Augusta GreenJackets.
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