The Atlantic League’s 2019 season is getting underway, and the year is one that will be marked by several interesting developments around the circuit.
Atlantic League action officially started on Thursday night with a matchup between the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and Sugar Land Skeeters at the Skeeters’ Constellation Field, but the majority of the league’s eight teams play their openers on Friday. Friday’s action will mark the official debut of the High Point Rockers, who are beginning their season-opening road trip with a series against the Lancaster Barnstormers before returning home to open a new ballpark next week.
Named BB&T Point, the home of the Rockers is planned as the anchor of a larger redevelopment initiative in downtown High Point. Planning for the $36 million ballpark had been underway for some time before last spring’s groundbreaking, and the Rockers’ home opener on May 2 against the Skeeters will see the culmination of the effort to get the facility built. The Rockers, who are replacing a Road Warriors entry that competed in the circuit last season, are the Atlantic League’s first team based in the state of North Carolina.
A development that will have an effect league-wide is a new partnership with Major League Baseball. Through this agreement, MLB will essentially use the Atlantic League as a testing ground for various rule and equipment changes. Notably, every ballpark in the Atlantic League is now equipped with TrackMan radar system, which will assist home plate umpires in calling balls and strikes. The immediate implications of the three-year partnership have evolved in recent weeks: a controversial plan to increase the distance between the pitching rubber and home plate by 24 inches was delayed until the second half of next season, and radar tracking technology assistance for home plate umpires will be gradually phased in during the 2019 campaign rather than implemented on Opening Day.
This season will be the Atlantic League’s 22nd, so it is appropriate to acknowledge the consistency of the Somerset Patriots. The Patriots were one of six teams that competed in the league’s inaugural season, and are the only charter team that remains active in 2019. In 1998, the Patriots played the season on the road as they awaited the completion of the Bridgewater, NJ’s TD Bank Ballpark, which opened in 1999.
Ultimately the facility’s completion was worth the wait, as TD Bank Ballpark remains one of the most well regarded facilities in the league. (As a testament to its staying power, it is a two-time winner of our Best of the Ballparks fan vote for independent baseball). MyCentralJersey.com recently published a story taking a closer look at the Patriots’ history, and the organization’s plans for 2019.
The Atlantic League plays a schedule divided into 70-game halves, with the league’s All-Star Game set for the York Revolution’s newly upgraded PeoplesBank Park on July 10. The regular season will conclude on September 22.
Image courtesy High Point Rockers.