A contingent highlighted by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and MLB officials visited NYSEG Stadium Monday, continuing the push to spare the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Class AA; Eastern League) from contraction.
Last week, Schumer announced that he and MLB officials would visit NYSEG Stadium this week, part of his lobbying to help the Rumble Ponies avoid contraction as part of the ongoing Professional Baseball Agreement negotiations between MLB and Minor League Baseball. The franchise was among the 42 MiLB clubs that appeared on a November list of teams proposed for contraction by MLB in its negotiations with MiLB to replace the current PBA, which expires at the end of the 2020 season. That came as part of an initial proposal that called for league realignments that include new Triple-A and Single-A circuits (in the name of lessened travel), new facilities standards (covering player facilities, including clubhouses, weight rooms and support spaces like kitchens and lounges), and a player-development arrangement that calls for rookies to spend time at MLB camps and not in entry-level leagues, with an additional year of service under team control.
Schumer struck a positive tone about the nature of discussions surrounding the Rumble Ponies. With everyone from federal, state, and local elected officials to New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, Rumble Ponies owner John Hughes, and MLB leadership at NYSEG Stadium on Monday, Schumer believes that the parties in attendance reached some sort of consensus about allowing solidifying the team’s future in Binghamton and ultimately helping it avoid contraction. More from the Press & Sun Bulletin:
“We sat around the table and we all came to an agreement that we want to see the Rumble Ponies stay in Binghamton as an affiliated club,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, event coordinator. “We all agreed that it would take some doing, every one of us agreed that each of us is not going to get everything we want, but that everyone would come together so that we could keep them here.”
Among those who toured NYSEG Stadium before assembling for a closed-door meeting:
Dan Halem, Major League Baseball Deputy Commissioner/Baseball Administration; Jeff Wilpon, New York Mets chief operating officer; Joe McEachern President Eastern League; Congressman Anthony Brindisi; Jason Garnar, Broome County Executive; Rich David, Mayor City of Binghamton; John Hughes, Owner Binghamton Rumble Ponies….
Schumer added: “We talked about how important the Rumble Ponies are to this community, obviously that they themselves are an employer, they bring thousands of people downtown on beautiful spring and summer and early-fall nights, eat in the restaurants and shop in the stores and help revitalize Binghamton. But even more important than that, for a middle-sized city like Binghamton and a community like the Southern Tier, there’s a sense of belonging, a sense of pride. Very few minor league teams have the kind of support throughout the community that the Rumble Ponies do.”
From what we have been told, there have been considerable changes to the nature of discussions since the Rumble Ponies appeared on the list that surfaced in November. It does not appear that the franchise is in danger of being contracted at this time, following last week’s meeting between MLB and MiLB representatives as part of the ongoing negotiations over the next PBA. Furthermore, Mets officials reportedly attended Monday’s meeting prepared to solicit funding for future upgrades to NYSEG Stadium.
Any improvements completed in the future would build off of the $9.5 million invested in the ballpark by the city, state, and Hughes since 2014. In addition to fan-facing amenities, player facilities and playing conditions have been part of those improvements, including improved lighting, two rounds of clubhouse upgrades, new batting cages and bullpens, a turf replacement and more.
Update: After this story was originally published, MLB supplied the following statement:
We thank Senator Schumer for bringing together MLB, leadership from the New York Mets and the Binghamton community. The meeting was productive and adds to the ongoing dialogue between MLB, MLB Clubs, Congress and local communities as we build a player development system fit for the 21st century that improves playing conditions and opportunities for players while protecting baseball in the communities where it is currently being played. MLB is confident that we can modernize this system with these goals in mind. MLB has already made the decision to unilaterally increase compensation for minor league players. However, shared priorities such as improving working conditions and reducing the travel burden for players can only be accomplished at the negotiating table with meaningful, collaborative participation from Minor League Baseball.