NEW YORK (AP) — They’ve waited for the Wahoos, stood by for the Sod Poodles, bided their time for the Biscuits or Trash Pandas.
After more than a year of uncertainty and empty ballparks, fans in minor league cities are finally getting baseball back.
“Small town baseball, it’s the fabric of the United States,” Brooklyn Cyclones manager Ed Blankmeyer said. “It’s a culture.”
Minor league teams across the country are set to open their seasons Tuesday, returning baseball to communities denied the old national pastime during the coronavirus pandemic. Capacities will differ by jurisdiction, but for most, it will be the first opportunity to see pro players in person since the entire 2020 season was canceled.
Of course, much has changed since the last affiliated games were played in 2019. There are fewer teams and leagues and Major League Baseball has introduced plans to use the minors as a testing ground for new rules that could improve pace of play or reduce player injuries.
Much will remain the same. Family-friendly prices, offbeat giveaways and outlandish team branding — more on those Trash Pandas below — remain key pillars of the minor league experience.
But for those wondering what will be different, here’s a primer:
WHO GOES WHERE?
The biggest change, of course, is that MLB contracted the minors from 160 affiliates to 120.
Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office assumed full control of the minors after deciding this offseason not to renew its agreement with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the body that operated minor league ball.
That gave MLB latitude to reshape the minors, and it acted fast. The short-season leagues were eliminated, as were several full-season affiliates, to take 40 clubs out of the equation.
What remains are four levels —…