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    Monday, May 20, 2024

    Norwich mayor joins Mayoral Task Force to Save Minor League Baseball

    Norwich — Mayor Peter Nystrom spent about 45 minutes in a teleconference Wednesday with 26 other mayors who have formed a new task force to fight a proposal to strip 42 minor league teams of their Major League Baseball affiliations, including the Norwich Sea Unicorns.

    The Mayoral Task Force to Save Minor League Baseball was formed Tuesday by mayors in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Dayton, Ohio, and Columbia, S.C., with Wednesday’s conference call as the first formal act. It is co-chaired by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. The group will work with the congressional task force formed in December to contest Major League’s Baseball’s plan to overhaul and contract the minor league system.

    In the contraction proposal, 42 teams — including the newly named Norwich Sea Unicorns — would be stripped of valuable Major League Baseball affiliations starting after the 2020 baseball season, and the annual amateur baseball draft that feeds minor league teams such as Norwich's would be cut in half from 40 to 20 rounds. The 42 teams would be invited to join a much lower-level unaffiliated league with undrafted players hoping to catch the eyes of major league scouts.

    “Should the plan move forward,” a news release announcing the mayoral task force stated, “it would devastate communities across the country and have negative impacts for all affiliated minor league clubs, as it would decrease the value of the entire league.”

    Nystrom said participants in Wednesday’s call discussed their specific situations, what their minor league teams have brought to their communities, attendance, community involvement and how long they have hosted teams. He said the mayoral task force is looking for ways to spread awareness of the possible contraction and the financial and economic impacts it would have on the cities and towns.

    Norwich has hosted affiliated minor league teams since 1995, with AA-level teams affiliated with the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants through 2009, and a short-season Single A Detroit Tigers’ affiliate since 2010. Norwich signed a new lease last summer with the then-Connecticut Tigers, which changed its name to Norwich Sea Unicorns on Dec. 5.

    Nystrom said he was unable to ask questions during Wednesday’s teleconference on the city’s new 10-year lease with the Norwich team, a lease that was approved by both minor league baseball and Major League Baseball — just two months before the contraction plan became public. Nystrom said cities and towns stand to suffer major financial losses if lease contracts are voided, and the team owners would lose most of the value of their teams if they are forced to become low-level unaffiliated independent teams.

    Before the task force was formed, Nystrom sent letters to his 41 counterparts, urging municipal leaders to form a unified front to fight the contraction plan. As of Wednesday, Nystrom has received responses from six cities, including Chattanooga.

    “I sympathize fully with your anxieties about what the loss of the Sea Unicorns may mean to Norwich,” Chattanooga Mayor Burke wrote on Dec. 18, “as we obviously feel quite the same about our beloved Lookouts. MLB’s scheme here appears short-sighted, incoherent and frankly self-defeating.”

    Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper wrote that she was working closely with the Idaho Falls Chukars on a fan letter-writing campaign, and a local congressman there was one of the founders of the congressional task force.

    “I stand ready to join forces as needed,” Casper wrote. “And to that end, I do appreciate your leadership.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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