The MLB Draft in 2020 will be one eighth of what it normally is. Minor league cutback proposals threaten the fate of many franchises. None are currently selling tickets—and the rich minor league history in Colorado Springs could be ending.
The player development contract of the Triple-A San Antonio Missions will expire after this season. Their status as Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers has lasted one season so far—a move that broke the 30 year tradition of Triple-A baseball in Colorado Springs.
Up until just last year, Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate was the Colorado Springs Sky Sox; the Sky Sox were the highest minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies from 1993 to 2014. The Sky Sox were rebranded as the rookie-level Rocky Mountain Vibes for 2019, and given recent proposals for minor league cutbacks, Colorado Springs could be losing a professional team altogether.
Prior to the 2015 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers moved their Triple-A affiliation from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Rockies moved theirs out of Colorado Springs for the first time ever, embracing the Albuquerque Isotopes as the replacement. That same offseason, the Triple-A Nashville Sounds parted ways with the Brewers, teaming with the Oakland Athletics. A vacancy in Colorado Springs paired the Sky Sox with Milwaukee (perhaps by default), and a plan to move to San Antonio was presented shortly thereafter.
Reports about the city of Colorado Springs constructing a downtown ballpark had been ongoing for years, as UCHealth Park (Security Service Field until 2019) was becoming dated in comparison to other Triple-A venues. The ballpark “was built in 1988 for the cost of $3.7 million,” as Patrick Saunders noted when the Rockies changed affiliation.
Saunders wrote in that same article that Isotopes Park in Albuquerque was built “at a cost of $25 million and completed in 2003.”
This past December, Colorado Springs held a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a $35 million downtown venue—an 8,000 seat stadium suited for soccer.
A metro area population of around 750,000 puts Colorado Springs below the mark of several Triple-A markets in the Pacific Coast League (Albuquerque, 887,000; Oklahoma City, 1.4 million; San Antonio, 2.5 million). The proximity to Denver was desirable for the Rockies, however, as the 72 miles between the Sky Sox and Coors Field helped connect the big league market.
It’s still difficult to rival a market of 2.5 million people in metro San Antonio, even if Colorado Springs pulled off a new ballpark. The looming contract expiration for the Missions this year comes with concern given business uncertainties worldwide, but a contract extension could provide a degree of certainty for the Brewers during this ongoing pandemic.
A current stoppage of play means limited income for minor league teams across the country. Minor league cutback proposals loom—and pro baseball in Colorado Springs could soon become a mere memory.
“Major League Baseball will cut its amateur draft from 40 rounds to five this year, a move that figures to save teams about $30 million.”
This link from USA Today addresses how the $20,000 cap for free agents “might cause more high school players to elect to go to college. And because of the NCAA’s limit of 11.7 baseball scholarships, the change may cause more prospects to attend junior college.” NCAA baseball also prevents players from being drafted in their first two years of college eligibility, whereas junior college doesn’t.
One silver lining exists for baseball-hungry Colorado residents: the Junior College World Series is held in Grand Junction, Colorado, at Suplizio Field, the home of the Grand Junction Rockies. The event could be a little more enticing over the next few years.
Several minor league franchises have got creative: select teams are now offering ballpark food to-go. It can fortunately provide fans with some degree of a ballpark experience as we desperately long for baseball normalcy—and hopefully it provides some revenue for minor league teams.