LOWELL — The battle to keep Minor League Baseball in Lowell — and 41 other communities across the nation — continued on Tuesday with the formation of the Save Minor League Baseball Task Force, headed by U.S. Reps. Lori Trahan and Dave McKinley, of West Virginia.
“Together along with our colleagues we will make perfectly clear that Congress is ready to defend our communities, which stand to lose out in MLB’s proposal to slash the number of Minor League teams,” said Trahan, a Lowell Democrat.
Dave Heller, owner of the Lowell Spinners, along with several other minor league baseball owners, converged on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for the launch of the bipartisan task force.
Minor League Baseball released a statement after Tuesday’s meeting, saying, “While it is our hope to negotiate a fair agreement with MLB, the overwhelming support from elected officials on both sides of the aisle, at all levels of government, has been tremendous and shows that baseball helps to unite our nation.”
In October, a proposal was revealed between Major League Baseball and minor league teams on a new Professional Baseball Agreement that would cut 42 affiliated minor league teams by the 2021 season and beyond. The proposal includes the elimination of the Spinners, a Class A short-season team in the New York-Penn League and an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
MLB has pitched the idea of instead instituting what it calls the Dream League. According to the publication Baseball America, the league would be a “quasi-independent league where the clubs would field teams of undrafted players.”
Aside from Trahan and McKinley, a Republican, the task force will including two other co-chairs, U.S. Reps. Max Rose, a Democrat from New York, and Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho.
The task force’s formation comes roughly two weeks after Trahan, McKinley and 104 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred calling the proposal “radical,” and that it would “devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs.”
“These professional baseball clubs are vital components of our communities because they provide affordable, family-friendly entertainment to members of our communities, support scores of allied businesses, employ thousands of individuals, donate millions of dollars in charitable funds, and connect our communities to Major League Baseball,” the letter states.
MLB issued a statement Monday saying it “understands that we have an obligation to local communities to ensure that public money spent on minor league stadiums is done so prudently and for the benefit of all citizens.
“MLB also must ensure that minor league players have safe playing facilities suitable for the development of professional baseball players, are not subjected to unreasonable travel demands, are provided with compensation and working conditions appropriate for elite athletes, and have a realistic opportunity of making it to the major leagues.”
It added it “is committed to negotiating with minor league baseball to find solutions that balance the competing interests of local communities, MLB clubs, minor league owners and the young players who pursue their dream of becoming professional baseball players.”
Presidential candidate and senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders met with Manfred on Monday after sending a letter to the commissioner last month calling the proposal “an absolute disaster for baseball fans, workers and communities throughout the country.”
Sanders issued a statement after Monday’s meeting saying Manfred “is committed to a good faith negotiation” and “is open to solutions that would maintain professional baseball in the 42 communities while addressing concerns about facilities, working conditions and wages for minor league players.”
Sanders added he “and other members of Congress will be carefully monitoring the progress of negotiations on behalf of fans.”
Heller was unavailable for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis