Local Writer Trashes Trenton Thunder Change to Independent Ball

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Hi friends. Here’s how I see baseball on this Thursday, December 3. Since 1994, AA baseball has been played just outside Trenton, New Jersey. At first, the Tigers played there for a year before moving their AA operation to Jacksonville. Then the Red Sox took over until they could set up their AA arrangement in Portland, Maine. Since then, the Yankees have groomed their prospects in Trenton. So far, so good.

Came the ill-conceived notion MLB had to cut downfrom 160 teams to 120. Then add the pandemic to make things worse in general. Now, the Yankees have decided to bolt from Trenton and go to Bridgewater, New Jersey and play as the Somerset Patriots. That has been an entry in the independent Atlantic League for many years. Trenton could have been left high and dry. Instead, independent ball is coming under the old Trenton Thunder name. Sadly, local scribe Jeff Edelstein would rather see his area do without baseball. Here follows the text of an article he recently wrote on the subject, which will be followed by my considered opinion.

The good news: The Trenton Thunder will be playing baseball this summer

The bad news: Well, if being a minor league team affiliated with a Major League Baseball team is like sitting at the main table, and being an independent minor league team is sitting at the kids table along with your weird cousin, what the Thunder got is more like not even being invited until the last moment because your mom was like, “I really think you should invite the Trenton Thunder,” and you’re like, “Fine, mom,” but in an angry way, and then when they get there the only available seat is more or less in the coat closet and you’re like, “sit here.”

So yes. Welcome to the debut season of the MLB Draft League, the new home of your Trenton Thunder!

What is the MLB Draft League? Glad you asked. It’s a 68-game season — the Thunder, when they were a AA team of the hated New York Yankees, played 142 — that will mostly feature nobodies going nowhere. It is affiliated with MLB, so that’s nice, but whatever.

More specifically? It will be broken down into two parts. The first part, starting in late May, will feature draft-eligible Major League prospects. Translation? High school and college players looking to make one final push to get noticed by big league scouts. The second half the season, which will end in mid-August, will feature the same crop of players, except only the ones who didn’t get drafted.

So the first half of the season will be players on the bubble, the second half players whose bubble burst. Not exactly going to be like seeing “tomorrow’s stars today.” It’ll be more like seeing “tomorrow’s 26th men if they’re lucky today.”

If I sound cynical and bitter about the whole thing, it’s because I am. The Yankees burned Trenton by shriveling up their balls and bats and heading to Bridgewater, the tony suburb which will be their new AA home. That’s right. The Somerset Patriots — a former independent team, for the love of Babe Ruth — usurped Trenton. Notable: Somerset is the 9th richest county in America according to a MoneyInc.com study. I’m sure that had nothing to do with it …

Oh my god do I hate the Yankees. Seriously. Right now my hatred list looks like this:

1) COVID-19

2) The Yankees

3) I have nothing else to hate. That’s it.

Stupid Yankees. Seriously, if you’re a Yankees fan and Mercer County lover, you have to choose. You can’t be both. Your team or your town. Put up or shut up. I choose Mercer, every day, all day.

Anyway, our beloved Trenton Thunder baseball team is reduced to playing in a six-team league. Where are the other teams? State College, Pennsylvania; Williamsport, Pennsylvania; Niles, Ohio; and Granville, West Virginia. A few things here: One, that’s only five teams total, as Major League Baseball is still searching for a sixth sad-sack city to take on a team, and two, the fact state names have to be affixed to the other cities so you know where the hell they are tells you all you need to know about the quality of baseball we can expect.

I mean, if you can make it in Niles, Ohio, you can make it anywhere, right?

And thus concludes the negative part of the program. On to the positives!

Well, “positive.”

And that’s this: At least we’ll still have the Trenton Thunder, and at least the management team remains the same. They’re good people who have consistently put out a good product. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who’s ever been to a Thunder game to give you a “hatred list.” Won’t happen. Inexpensive tickets, reasonably priced concessions, close to the action. Plus Boomer and bat dogs and everything else.

So yes. That’s huge. The Thunder flag will continue to fly, and everything you’ve come to love about going to a Thunder game won’t change — except for the talent on the field.

And maybe — silver lining time! — that’s OK, too. Maybe a few of these players will light it up in Trenton, maybe a few will eventually make the big leagues, and maybe a few will remember where their MLB dreams were launched, and help Trenton, one day, claw its way back into the warm embrace of a big league club.

In the meantime: Watch out Granville, West Virginia, population 781: We’re coming for you.”

Did you notice a tone of condescension in Mr. Edelstein’s theme? If you didn’t, I did. If there were no independent teams, I would have had no broadcasting career. Before Jim Lucas and I went to AA New Britain in 1993, we spent 2 years in the Florida State League with the Miracle, which was then an independent team. After our 4-year sojourn in New Britain, our former boss, Mike Veeck asked us to join him with the St. Paul Saints, who were then in the independent Northern League. With them, we met the best manager I ever knew in Marty Scott, and everybody’s favorite coach, “Twig,” Wayne Terwilliger. We spent 3 years there before making our final stop in Charleston of the South Atlantic League. In sum, 5 of our 12 years spent behind microphones were spent broadcasting the action of an independent team like this year’s Thunder will be.

I wonder how many Thunder fans, or fans of other affiliated minor league teams, know that their team isn’t playing to win. That was the shock Jim and I got when we worked in the minors. We often wondered why a .220 hitter with no power was somebody’s cleanup hitter in the order. We wondered why a pitcher with an 0–10 record and a 7+ ERA was some team’s #1 starter. On teams like the Thunder used to be, the local manager plays on orders given from the home office, which may be hundreds of miles away. Players who aren’t very good get chance after chance if they were early draft picks. We saw this repeatedly through our years in the minors. Worse yet, attitude cases like Milton Bradley and Albert Bell didn’t wither on the vine. They made it to the bigs and got their names splattered all over newspapers for al lthewrong reasons.

With no home office to answer to, the 2021 Thunder and other teams in their league can actually play to win. The guys on display aren’t likely to have flashy stats in their past, but they want to strut their stuff in the hopes of finding a spot on a regular minor league team. Last but not least, if independent leagues didn’t exist, opportunities for front office staff and broadcasters would disappear-and those opportunities are few and far between now.

I hope the locals in this area will attend the 2021 Thunder games and listen to their broadcasts, whether by radio or on the Internet. Elitist thinking of the kind spewed forth by Mr. Edelstein is the kind of defeatist thinking baseball fans shouldn’t spend time listening to.

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