Tag Archives: American Association

The Texas (Chinese) AirHogs

airhogs

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.

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The End of Indy Ball?

The “Save America’s Pastime Act” had no cosponsors and was never heard or voted on; however, it is now law.

Thanks to the Federal Spending Bill being passed, minor league baseball (especially independent baseball) may be completely changed.

The provision in the bill states that:

[A]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.

This is a win for Major League baseball since they will not have to pay overtime to any of their players, including minor league players on their affiliated teams. It essentially kills the lawsuit that some former minor league players filed claiming that they should be paid overtime under minimum wage laws.

This law will only require a slight raise (with no overtime) to the lowest affiliated levels and will not affect the majority of teams or players.

But… this isn’t the case for independent baseball. These leagues are ran without financial help from a major league organization. They are small businesses ran on small salaries aided by the hopes and dreams of baseball players who just want a chance to keep playing and be seen by a “higher” level.

For most players, the money really doesn’t matter. It’s that chance to chase their dreams, and they are okay with the small pay they receive. It’s not always right and conditions are often rough, but it’s what they willingly choose to do.

People will look at some of the lower levels of professional baseball (including the Pecos and Empire leagues) and see their demise as a good thing, but it will still have a huge impact on so many people.

Every summer, these players join leagues that play in small towns all across America where families can enjoy a night at the ballpark without breaking the bank or traveling all the way to a major league park. Seasonal workers get a little extra money during those summer months, and college kids can get valuable experience through internships.

Sadly, those nights in most towns may be about to end.

If teams have to pay all players 40 hours a week at minimum wage, there may be BIG problems in independent baseball. Federal minimum wage at 40 hours would result in players being paid at least $290 a week or $1,160 a month.

Last season, the longest running independent league, the Frontier League, paid players a minimum of $600 a month (and a maximum of $1,600) with a total team salary for the season set at $75,000.

The higher leagues: the Can-Am, the American Association, and the Atlantic League, all have yearly salaries of $102,000, $115,000 and $225,000-$275,000 (based on the team) respectively.

This won’t really affect the Atlantic League, but will cause an impact on the American Association and the Can-Am.

And as it currently stands, it could cripple the Frontier League and all lower indy leagues: the Pacific Association, United Shore League, Pecos League, and the Empire League.

If teams are forced to pay all players a weekly salary of at least $1,160 a month, the whole landscape of indy ball will be disrupted.

Mike Shapiro, the president of the San Rafael Pacifics in the Pacific Association, was quoted as saying: “If that is the case, it puts us out of business. It would be the ruination of at least lower level independent leagues like ours. We’re struggling enough with worker’s comp . . . It’s the end of independent ball, certainly at the lower levels.”

He definitely isn’t the only one worried about the upcoming season. Many managers and owners that I talked to off the record are also concerned.

This could very well be the end of independent baseball as we know it.

“I tell you who gets hurt the worst, it’s not only the players, where we are the last stop,” Shapiro said. “They lose out because they don’t have the opportunity. The other who loses out is these communities with 1,000 seat ballparks. It’s a cheap night out for local families.”

There is hope that indy ball can continue operating as a seasonal business with the players being seasonal employees and exempt from all minimum wage laws, hopefully including this new one.

Only time will tell if indy stadiums are going to be forced to go dark.