~ Will Savage – Former Single A Player
I recently saw a Facebook post from a friend of mine, Lois, it read:
“I am beyond tickled to hear of this news. Personally, I‘d love to go to a game and scream, Go Trash Pandas!”
Well, after seeing this I had to investigate. Who wouldn’t want to yell, “Go Trash Pandas”? So, my first order of business was to figure out what a “Trash Panda” was; of course, the internet was a huge help:
Trash panda (plural trash pandas)
Okay, one informational tidbit down. Next, who or what exactly did this cheer refer? Again, the internet answered the call!
Turns out, they are an AA baseball team located in Madison, AL - Officially named the Rocket City Trash Pandas, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angles in the Southern League. It was to be there first year in Madison, formerly playing as the BayBears in Mobile, AL. Apparently the BayBears were bought in 2017 with the plan of moving them to Madison. The name is a combination of the area’s association with the space program and the resourceful, determined, animal who forages for their food, the raccoon. They were scheduled to open their inaugural season, 2020 against the fabled Birmingham Barons on April 9th and celebrate their home opener on April 15th. But as you well know, with the Pandemic, all sanctioned / affiliate minor leagues had their seasons cancelled. Fascinating fact, they have yet to play a game, but have sold over 2 million dollars’ worth of merchandise since the branding was announced in November of 2018.
A quick scan of their roster didn’t turn up any familiar names as far as the players went. This isn’t surprising; stats show on average 17.6% of overall drafted players ever make it to the majors and only about 10% of AA players make it to “The Show”. In fact, the most recognizable name was their manager, Jay Bell who had a major league career as a shortstop and second basemen from 1986 through 2003 with the Cleveland Indians, Pittsburg Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets.
So, what’s the big deal about a team with a marketable, catchy name, that is filled with roster filling players that don’t have much of a chance of playing in the bigs? It’s a team that primarily will play at a developmental level churning players through, most staying at this current level, some being promoted up, others sinking back down or being released and trying to hold on to their dreams signing on in an independent league.
Well, it’s really the foundation of baseball. The minors, in little towns that support the teams and the players. It is about dreams, about giving it your shot. It’s about developing players that will never star, but who will teach the game in other towns either at a professional level or perhaps at their local high school or a travel program. It’s what keeps baseball alive, it’s what keeps the game going.
MLB, who had been talking about eliminating roughly 42 (out of 162) minor league teams at the end of the contact which expired after this 2020 season, pulled the trigger and sent out invitations to only 119 teams to remain affiliated with their major league club. Basically 4 teams per MLB franchise; The Rockies are only at 3, because the Fresno Grizzlies, who had been a AAA team have been offered a single A spot and a decision hasn't been made.
Why is this happening? MLB felt that these 42 (probably some of the ones offered a spot as well) didn’t stack up to standards, were inefficient and not worth the trouble. Or in MLB’s commissioner Rob Manfred’s own words, “If you clean up some stuff around the edges, it creates economic flexibility.” Once again, Manfred has gotten it wrong.
These teams are the heart and soul of the game. Minor League baseball is these towns where kids get to see live games at a reasonable price and where the dream of playing may take root for them; where young talent is developed or at the very least where the game is taught to them which in turn gets taught to the next generation. It’s the places with cool names and players that get to tell stories. It’s where players are “adopted” by families because they can’t afford an apartment or a hotel room.
What it is not is New York City baseball executives, or “luxury box” patrons, it’s not money pouring in and Manfred doesn’t see the need. I know the sport needs to make money, but they are being short sighted. The commissioner needs to take a trip to New England, the Midwest, rural towns in the south and out west to experience what these towns have to offer, the loyalty of their fans and the determination of those players. He really needs to see what baseball is about, but I’m pretty sure he won’t.
I am saddened that some towns will lose their teams, or at the very least fall from organized minor league status. I am sadden for a kid in Lowell, Massachusetts who may not go to a Spinners game if the Red Sox can’t come up with a viable option, or another kid in Clinton, Iowa that will now watch the LumberKings in the “Prospect” League if they are able to play, and 40 other towns with the same situations.
The Trash Pandas were invited to be the Angels AA affiliate for 2021, so for now, “Go Trash Pandas!”
~ Coach Mike