By: Mathieu Starke
On Nov. 10, 2020, the Rochester Red Wings lost a key part of their franchise; their Major League Baseball (MLB) parent club.
Rochester, a member of the Minor League Baseball’s (MiLB) Triple-A system, had been affiliated with the Minnesota Twins since 2002. At the end of the cancelled 2020 MiLB season, the MLB were set to reduce the MiLB from 160 affiliated teams to 120. This would leave every MLB club having four affiliate teams, one in each of the four categories of the MiLB.
The Red Wings were left with more questions than answers. A minor league club without a parent has no team since athletes who play for minor league organizations are the prospects of the parent organization. Those questions would be answered rather quickly, as just nine days after the Red Wings and Twins cut ties, it was announced that Rochester would be affiliated with the Washington Nationals.
For Red Wings General Manager Dan Mason, this was his second time going through an affiliation change with the team and noted the process this time around was significantly different.
“Major League Baseball is running Minor League Baseball and they decide which major league partners are going to be affiliated with which minor league partners. We didn’t really have a say in this. They decided to move the Twins from here to St. Paul, and they decided to move the Nationals Triple-A team from Fresno to here,” said Mason.
The Nationals had been affiliated with the Fresno Grizzlies in California. However, that partnership created challenges, particularly at the Triple-A level. Triple-A players are the most likely to get called up to the MLB throughout the season. Having those players on the other side of the country meant additional travel and fatigue for the player, along with last minute call ups not being available for at least a day.
“That is the most important reason they (the MLB) are doing it. They want to make sure the health and wellness of the players, the time that they spend traveling is a key consideration. And being able to call up a guy who can help out your team,” said Mason. “It became really troublesome. If you follow Major League Baseball, you know there’s a lot more (roster) movement these days than ever before.”
For a minor league team, roster changes can often happen quite quickly. However, an affiliation change means a complete roster turnover for a team and a new history for the parent organization. Although the Red Wings got to play during the 2021 season, with fans in the stadium, there were still COVID protocols in place. This meant that the team needed to find ways to create some excitement and connect with the fans while not using some of the normal means like autograph sessions.
“When you have a change like that it does present an opportunity to do some different things. To come out with some new merchandise, to talk about how they (the Nationals) won the World Series in 2019, reminding fans that Matt LeCroy, our manager played here in 2007. So, I think it definitely presented some opportunity to create some excitement in the offseason,” Mason said.
“The challenges were getting our fans to get to know our players. Again, because of COVID, we couldn’t do autograph sessions. Our players couldn’t really mingle with our fans. Which has always been the case, be it with our nightly autograph sessions here, or just impromptu autograph sessions or conversations down the line, the players had instructions to kind of stay in a bubble. So, it was a challenge to personalize our players,” Mason said.
The Red Wings went through a lot of changes in a short span. From the cancelled 2020 season to the MLB taking over the minor leagues and shifting everything, a new parent organization, and numerous COVID policy changes throughout the season, it was a major adjustment for the organization. However, they pulled off the 2021 season, and they might say it was more memorable than the ‘undefeated season’ they had the year before.