Minor League Baseball Fields and Teams Locations Locator Map and Directory
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'Minor league baseball' means different things. Within the business of baseball, it's the teams that operate under Minor League Baseball (MiLB), a/k/a the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. The 19 leagues and roughly 240 teams (the number of teams at the lowest levels often change year to year) in this group, which itself is informally divided in two, exist to develop players for Major League Baseball.
The 160 teams of the 14 U.S.-based leagues that play in Classes AAA, AA, A-Advanced, A, A-Short Season and Rookie-Advanced are businesses, trying to bring fans into the stands to make a profit for their owner. Most are owned and operated by a business entity that hires administrative employees but uses players supplied by a Major League 'parent' team in what is called an 'affiliation.' The exceptions, only about 30, are owned and operated by their parent team. Affiliations are contracts, with terms of two or four years that always expire in EVEN-numbered years with the end of each league's season around Labor Day. What happens then?
1) A roughly two-week period when either partner can terminate the affiliation by notifying the league commissioner or MiLB president
2) If accepted (terminations can be denied as not in the best interests of baseball), a three-day period during which terminated parties are notified
3) A two-week negotiation period for all terminated teams to seek new affiliations
4) In early October, any unaffiliated teams will receive 'forced affiliations'
It may sound as if swapping affiliates every two years is common, but that's really the exception. Why? First, if neither club so acts, the affiliation automatically renews. (Affiliations lasting decades are not uncommon; the longest on record was 53 seasons.) What's more, pairing options make this almost a zero-sum game - to terminate is really just to express a desire, because if anyone winds up without a partner the league commissioner or MiLB will 'force' an affiliation - and it may well be the same pairing that was 'terminated.'
The other 84 MiLB teams consist of 68 entry-level rookie teams and the 16 teams of the Mexican League. The former are owned by their parent team (although sometimes operated by someone else under a management contract) and operate much more like a division of the company that is that club, training recruits, than like the model above. These teams are in Florida, Arizona, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. The Mexican League fits better in this 'rest of' group, even though it's afforded AAA status and its teams are independently owned, because its teams are not affiliated with Major League Baseball.
Another six professional (i.e., the players are paid) leagues operate entirely outside MiLB. The business refers to these as 'independent' teams/leagues. Lacking the advantage of affiliation, they must pay their own players; lacking the identification with a Major League club and with the lower-quality ball that necessarily results from using players passed over by organized baseball, they have less to sell to draw fans into their parks; because they are typically in smaller cities than most MiLB teams, they have fewer fans to sell TO. But the players ARE paid, so this group is professional - and therefore, by lay definition, minor-league - baseball.
There are three key components of an affiliated minor-league team: the business entity, the franchise, and the affiliation.
The entity - if you will, the corporation - is the team in an administrative and/or legal sense. It's usually named something innocuous like [City] Professional Baseball, Inc., but it actually may or may not have anything that connects the name with the 'team' in the mind of a lay person. Its leadership is pretty well free to name itself what it desires, limited by legal conventions like not being obscene or profane and not taking a name already in use (usually within a state). For example, Mandalay Baseball owns several minor-league clubs now but there's not a, say, Mandalay Mangroves club playing ball nor does some guy named Art Mandalay own the team. For another example, the Appleton Foxes changed their name to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers nearly 20 seasons ago - but the name of the entity is still Appleton Baseball Club, Inc. Like any corporation, this entity can also 'do business as' just about any name it wants - hence the handful of teams who name themselves for the county (Lake County Captains) or even state (Arkansas Travelers, the first professional team to do so) rather than the city they're in, or a regional/area name like 'Quad Cities' or 'Hudson Valley' or even 'Inland Empire.' Currently, there are even two with the same such name: the 'Tri-City Dust Devils' and the 'Tri-City ValleyCats.'
The franchise is really much more what people think of when they think of the team. A franchise is issued by a league to the entity described above, which then can operate under all the rights associated with being a team in that league unless and until the franchise agreement is discontinued. When the club gives up a franchise, it's usually because it went broke - and the league will often take it over (as the National League did with the Montreal Expos for several years); when the league rescinds it, it's usually because the entity is going broke but won't admit it. (Other unusual occurrences are possible; for instance, in 2010, with the approval of the Minor League Baseball, the South Atlantic League released two of its franchises to join the comparable [Class A] Midwest League. That was a matter of money grounded in geography; both the Lake County Captains and the Bowling Green Hot Rods had played in Columbus, Ga., but within six years of each other moved to - respectively - Eastlake, Ohio, and Bowling Green, Ky. Distances and travel costs made them a better fit with the MwL.) When a team moves from one city to another or from one class to another, what's really changing is the league's franchise. The entity may or may not go along, but what continues until rescinded is the league franchise. For example, the Nashville Sounds did not really step up from Class AA to Class AAA in the 1980s. No, the entity that was owned by Larry Schmittou, et. al., and operated a baseball club in the Southern League bought an American Association franchise doing business as the Evansville Triplets, moved them from Indiana to Tennessee, moved its existing franchise from Nashville to Huntsville, Ala., and began doing business as, respectively, the Nashville Sounds and the Huntsville Stars. (Leagues also change, by the way; said American Association ceased operations in the late 1990s and its teams were folded into the other two AAA circuits, the Pacific Coast League and the International League - but all the franchises continue in one or the other today.) So, the PCL's Nashville Sounds of today are not and never were the Southern League's Nashville Sounds.
The affiliation is what separates official Minor League Baseball franchises from other so-called minor-league teams generally referred to by the public as 'semi-pro' clubs. This is not absolute; occasionally an affiliated league will allow a member team to play without an affiliation, but this is temporary and risky. This is less altruistic on the part of the league than it probably sounds; the most likely reason a league does so is to keep an even number of teams; baseball is an everyday sport, but not everyone can play every day in a league with an odd number of teams. An affiliation is of huge value to a team's bottom line, really in two ways. First, the big-league affiliate (commonly called the 'parent' team) provides players whom it, not the local minor-league entity, is paying - which of course drastically reduces its labor costs. Second, while it's hard to quantify there clearly is a value to having such players because fans are more likely to come see games involving possible future big-league players. This does lead to confusion, though; the same year the Nashville Sounds went from AA to AAA as described above, the entity and the parent Cincinnati Reds ended their affiliation. The actual AA Nashville Sounds ended up in Huntsville but the Reds then affiliated with the Chattanooga Lookouts, and to this day many people who know better than to think the Nashville Sounds moved up from AA wrongly think the AA Sounds moved to Chattanooga. Another example is the AAA team then known as the Redbirds, which after moving from Springfield, Ill., to Louisville, Ky., became the first minor-league team to draw 1 million fans. Well, why in the world would they just a few years later move to Memphis? Answer: they didn't. Rather, Memphis landed a AAA franchise associated with a big-league expansion, and St. Louis thought the West Tennessee city a better fit than Louisville. The franchise that moved from Springfield is still in Louisville, but it has changed both affiliates and nicknames twice each - going from Redbirds to River Bats to Bats and from the Cardinals to the Brewers to the Reds.
A special thanks to Kurt Pickering for contributing so much data and content to this map!