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Pioneer League baseball has a stronghold in Colorado

Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Colorado Rockies may be in LoDo to stay—having signed a 50-year lease with Coors Field back in 2017—but some baseball fans aren’t so lucky. While the Rockies ownership does struggle to field a competitive product and grow the team’s fan-base, Dick Monfort has at least invested in the area and isn’t jockeying for relocation anytime soon. Meanwhile, John Fisher—owner of the Oakland Athletics—is moving his team to Las Vegas after a league-worst 50-112 season. “It’s been a lot worse for me than you,” he told hurting A’s fans as he ripped baseball away from them

Thus the city of Oakland, California would be left without a professional baseball team following a lame duck 2024 campaign where Fisher and his Athletics would finish out their lease at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum... until recently.

Earlier this week, a new professional baseball team began it’s social media and advertising push. The Oakland Ballers—or B’s for short—would begin play in 2024 while donning the green and gold of their soon-to-be departed predecessor.

Backed by local investors and promising fan ownership, the B’s are “stealing baseball for the people of Oakland” with plans to play at the nearby Laney College. Ironically, Laney was allegedly once a preferred site for the A’s to build a new ballpark.

The Ballers are the newest team to join the historic Pioneer League, which was an affiliated minor league with Major League Baseball for almost eighty years before contraction. Now an independent league, the Pioneer League has teams in Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, while adding California to the mix next year. Many of their teams are located in markets ignored by MLB, but surprisingly three of their teams are found in a state that has a big league club.

The state of Colorado is home to three Pioneer League clubs—the second most in the league behind Montana’s four—with each team being a former minor league affiliate of an MLB team.

The Rocky Mountain Vibes play at UCHealth Park (formerly known as Security Service Field) in Colorado Springs. When the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, longtime Triple-A affiliate of the Rockies, Cleveland Guardians, and Milwaukee Brewers, left the Springs for a second time in 2018 it was feared professional baseball would not return. The rookie-level Helena Brewers moved to town in 2019 and took on the branding of the Rocky Mountain Vibes... only to be a victim of the minor league contraction in 2020. The Vibes continued on as an independent team and enjoy popularity in Colorado Springs, even paying homage to the dearly departed Sky Sox in 2023 with alternate uniforms.

Five hours west, another former Rockies affiliate works to establish itself with a new identity as an independent club. The Grand Junction Jackalopes have gone by many names in the past and been a member of the hierarchy of many major league teams. However, you might know them most recently as the Grand Junction Rockies. Formerly the rookie-level affiliate of the Colorado Rockies and owned by Dick Monfort, the Jackalopes assumed their new identify after being sold to the Future Legends group in Windsor.

The name “Future Legends” might sound familiar because they also own the Northern Colorado Owlz in Windsor. The Owlz are the most recent addition to the Pioneer League in Colorado. Formerly of Orem, Utah, the Owlz nested in Windsor after the minor league contraction with owner Jeff Katofsky’s desire to build a large youth sports complex. Katofsky’s co-founder in the venture is former Rockies player and current broadcaster Ryan Spilborghs, and the group has seen investment and partnership from other former Rockies like Carlos González. The Owlz assumed their new identity in 2022 and have even enjoyed the work of our own Skyler Timmins as a member of their communications team and back-up play-by-play commentator.

The Pioneer League is home to multiple other teams that were cast out of affiliation via contraction like the Boise Hawks and Ogden Raptors, and markets ignored by Major League Baseball. With their newest addition they are taking in a city that was abandoned by the league. Meanwhile, Colorado baseball fans looking for more can scratch that itch thanks to the league’s stronghold in the Centennial State.

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