Last season, the Texas AirHogs were the last place team in the American Association (except for the Salina – Pecos owned – travel team). This year, the team is going to have a MUCH different look.
The AirHogs are going to be used as the training ground for the Chinese National team (known as the Beijing Shougang Eagles) and have even been granted roster exemptions for the 2018 season. The team is using this experience (the first time a national team has played professional baseball in the United States) to prepare for the 2020 olympic games and beyond.
30 members of the Chinese National team will be in Texas, with 13 of them on the active roster each night. The AirHogs will then be able to swap up to seven players each night. Roster rules for adding/releasing players will not apply here.
This definitely gives the AirHogs an advantage as they will essentially have a fresh team every day. In the middle of a season with so many straight games, double headers and long travel, this is going to be an advantage that every team in the American Association is going to wish that they had.
AirHogs manager John McLaren, who has also managed the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals, led Team China in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic. He is familiar with the players and how best to work the roster to his advantage.
The addition of the Chinese National team is also going to completely change how the team plays on the field as well. As the American Association Daily pointed out, baseball in Asia usually focuses on basic fundamentals including bunting and hitting to move runners over. Home runs aren’t nearly as expected as they are here in America.
This tactic is one that is primarly used with another American Association team, the Gary SouthShore RailCats. The RailCats have been consistently one of the top teams in the league year in and year out while adopting this small-ball mentality. It appears as though they’re going to have some stiff competition now from a team that, for the most part, has been playing this way with each other for many years.
The addition of the Chinese National team will surely make the American Association interesting to watch this year. Not only will it bring media attention, but it may end up changing the entire dynamic of the league.
The team, now often called The AirHogs – powered by Beijing Shougang Eagles, starts their season tonight (5/18) at home against the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks.
Read the team’s official press release about this agreement HERE.