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Norwich state legislators express opposition to minor league baseball contraction plan

Norwich — Three Norwich state legislators have added their opposition to the growing number of local, state and federal officials “demanding” that Major League Baseball reconsider its plan to eliminate the Connecticut Tigers minor league baseball team and 41 other minor league teams across the country.

The plan, which became public in October and would start in 2021, calls for eliminating the New York-Penn League, which the Tigers play in, and nine of its 14 teams. The remaining five would get new designations in other leagues. Major League Baseball has proffered that some cities losing their teams could have independent teams with undrafted players hoping to attract attention of Major League scouts.

The Norwich Democratic state legislative delegation, state Sen. Cathy Osten and state Reps. Emmett Riley and Kevin Ryan Tuesday called for the region to “rally its tourism and business advocates to help keep minor league baseball in eastern Connecticut,” a press release issued Tuesday evening stated.

“At a minimum there should be a local consortium of minor league stadium towns who work with their local tourism districts, local chambers of commerce and maybe high school and college baseball teams to protect the base of this all-American sport,” Osten said in the press release. “In Connecticut we should be working with the Eastern Regional Tourism District, the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce, (Eastern Connecticut State University) and others because minor league baseball is not only about America’s pastime, it also about tourism. It’s about spending money in local restaurants, bars and shops.”

Riley added that the Tigers have a 10-year presence in the region, and games have drawn people from throughout the region to the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium in Norwich.

Ryan objected to Major League Baseball’s recent assertion that the teams and cities chosen for elimination were based on inadequate facilities for developing minor leaguers.

“While there may be significant feedback that some stadiums don’t possess adequate training facilities, medical facilities, locker rooms, or playing fields, that’s not the case with the Connecticut Tigers and Dodd Stadium,” Ryan said in the press release. “Great efforts have been made to satisfy the requirements of the clubs and the players. This is a professional facility, and the team and its continuance should be ensured.”

Norwich in August signed a new 10-year lease – approved by Major League Baseball -- with the Connecticut Tigers, and the city has committed $800,000 in capital improvements to Dodd Stadium, including new LED lights installed this past spring.

On Nov. 19, 106 congressmen from districts affected by the proposed minor league overhaul sent a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and all Major League teams objecting to the proposed contraction of minor leagues and hinted that Congress could re-examine baseball’s coveted anti-trust exemption.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom plans to contact his counterparts in the 41 other cities facing losing their teams to present a collective opposition from the municipal level. Nystrom also recorded a three-minute video this week with Connecticut Tigers Senior Vice President C.J. Knudsen to further express the city’s opposition to the proposal and to stress the value of having minor league baseball with a Major League team affiliation in Norwich.

c.bessette@theday.com

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