The road to AAA runs through Wichita
Riverfront Stadium in Wichita. Courtesy of Eby Construction.
According to Ballpark Digest, the Jumbo Shrimp’s jump to Triple-A would be at the expense of Wichita, Kansas. Jacksonville would replace the Wichita Wind Surge in the Pacific Coast League as the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate. The move would bring the Marlins’ Triple-A squad much closer to home; Jacksonville is the closest current Double-A city to Miami.
Wichita’s specific circumstances make its Triple-A status particularly vulnerable. Until the end of the 2019 season, the team had been the New Orleans Baby Cakes, the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate since 2009. Owner Lou Schwechheimer relocated the team to Wichita when the city constructed the $75 million Riverfront Stadium. Before the Wind Surge could play a single inning there, the COVID-19 pandemic caused Minor League Baseball to cancel the 2020 season. Schwechheimer himself died of COVID complications in July 2020.
Ballpark Digest writes that Wichita would be one of three cities to lose their Triple-A teams, along with Fresno, California and San Antonio, Texas. As with Wichita, those cities would be replaced in the Pacific Coast League by others much closer to their respective MLB franchises. According to report, none of these cities are expected to lose their teams entirely, but instead would see them moved down in level. Wichita would likely join the Double-A Texas League.
Nothing set in stone
Ballpark Digest notes that the current realignment projections, including Jacksonville’s potential move to Triple-A, are not concrete. Major League Baseball has so far declined to release its plans for the minors. Details could also change before the final agreement is struck.
Additionally, even if the Jumbo Shrimp were to be called up to Triple-A, there’s no guarantee the promotion would last. Jacksonville is more than 300 miles from Miami, and the Marlins could decide to follow other MLB teams who have pulled their Triple-A franchises to communities nearby their host cities to ensure easy access. In the Marlins’ case, however, this would likely require a new or expanded stadium in South Florida.
Whatever happens now, with its high caliber stadium, engaged ownership, enthusiastic fan base and growing population, Jacksonville has all the ingredients of a successful Triple-A baseball market. Expect the city to remain in the discussion in the future.
Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org