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Dozens Of Minor League Baseball Teams Could Lose Major League Affiliation


Could the Chattanooga Lookouts soon be out of business? The Billings Mustangs, Missoula PaddleHeads and Lexington Legends? They're among 42 minor league baseball teams that could lose their major league affiliation under a proposal made this week by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. And minor league executives say this could shut the doors of many small-town stadiums.

Ryan Keur is president of the Daytona Tortugas of the Florida State League, a Class A team of the Cincinnati Reds. Mr. Keur, thanks for being with us.

RYAN KEUR: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on here today.

SIMON: What could this plan due to the Tortugas?

KEUR: Yeah. I mean, the proposal right now calls for elimination of the Tortugas, as well as another 41 communities from throughout the United States. So yeah, it's somewhat concerning right now.

SIMON: Somewhat - I'll bet. And you play in a ballpark that's a real place in baseball history, don't you?

KEUR: Yeah, it is. And we actually play at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. We've actually had professional baseball in Daytona Beach for about a hundred years. And Jackie broke the color barrier in 1946 at the same playing field that we actually play on these days. And it's really a shock.

SIMON: Major League Baseball says that the current arrangement is expensive, and with modern analytics, they can develop more promising prospects for the majors from a smaller talent pool in the minors and pay players more. And it's a business. What do you think?

KEUR: It is. And I think it's difficult for us to speculate in terms of what Major League Baseball's, you know, core reasons are for this contraction plan. But when you look at it and you think about growing the game of baseball, there's nothing that can grow the game of baseball more organically than Minor League Baseball. We expose the next generation of fans throughout the country. Minor League Baseball has the opportunity to expose about 81% of the country within our 160 markets. And when you remove 25% of those markets, you start to remove some of your fans.

And not all fans have the opportunity, whether that's financially or geographically, to enjoy the game of baseball. And I think that's what Minor League Baseball does, and it provides a great way to connect fans at a next generation.

SIMON: Do you have a counterproposal to Major League Baseball's?

KEUR: I wouldn't say we have a counterproposal. We definitely would like to see all 160 teams continue to operate as minor league affiliates. I think we'd also like to address some of the concerns that they have. Teams have expanded and have moved to different areas. They've created some alignment issues in terms of travel. I also think player facilities are definitely a real concern. But I think Major League Baseball needs to provide us with an updated list of what those facility standards are and then give teams the opportunity to get their facilities up to standard if there are some deficiencies.

SIMON: I wonder, Mr. Keur, if this proposal pits minor league teams that are on the chopping block against each other. I mean, does it put you in the position of saying, hey, you know, this is a good market here in Daytona, but I'm sure glad I don't own a team in Billings.

KEUR: (Laughter) It would seem that might be Major League Baseball's goal - is to try and separate the 160 teams. I can say after being in San Diego at the winter meetings this past week that I've never felt more united with the other 159 clubs. And the goal for Minor League Baseball has always been to view all 160 as one. We stand alongside not just the 41 other communities that are on this chopping block but with the other 159 teams in communities just like ours, that have great stories, that are constantly doing good for the communities.

SIMON: Ryan Keur is president of the Class A Daytona Tortugas. Thanks so much for being with us.

KEUR: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.