Blumenthal to introduce resolution supporting minor league baseball teams

Norwich — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and a bipartisan group of fellow senators will introduce a resolution next week urging Major League Baseball to abandon a controversial plan to eliminate major league team affiliations with 42 minor league teams, including the Norwich Sea Unicorns.

Blumenthal, D-Conn., held a news conference Wednesday with Norwich and team leaders to announce plans to introduce the same resolution introduced in the House of Representatives in early February that threatens to re-examine Major League Baseball’s antitrust protection for its monopoly status and other perks awarded by Congress in the past.

Blumenthal said he wanted to announce the resolution Wednesday on the eve of the next scheduled negotiation round between Major League Baseball and the minor leagues on the controversial contraction plan. He said additional bipartisan sponsors will be sought and expressed confidence of gaining strong support because many states would lose teams, including those represented by Republican senators.

The proposal, which would be put in place following the 2020 baseball season as part of a new proposed player development agreement between the two parties, calls for eliminating major league affiliations with 42 minor league teams and cutting the amateur draft that feeds lower-level minor league teams from 40 to 20 rounds. The eliminated teams would be allowed to join a much lower-level independent league, called the Dream League, fielded with undrafted players hoping to catch the eyes of major league scouts.

Norwich, a short season Single-A team affiliated with the Detroit Tigers, routinely receives high-level draft picks, including last year’s first-round pick, outfielder Riley Greene, selected fifth overall.

Blumenthal called the major league plan “unconscionable and inexcusable,” saying it would save only “pennies” while alienating fans, cities and teams.

“Greed is driving this decision to close these teams,” Blumenthal said. “Although they’re going to create a Dream League, you might as well call it a ‘dream on league.’ It will be in effect a nightmare for 1,000 players who will have no jobs, as well as for fans and local communities.”

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said he continues to be in contact with his colleagues in the other 41 cities and towns with teams in danger of losing their major league affiliations. Nystrom will participate in a conference call Thursday with the mayor of the Lowell (Mass.) Spinners, the short season Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The Spinners and Sea Unicorns both play in the 14-team New York-Penn League, which would be eliminated in the proposed plan.

The city of Norwich and the Sea Unicorns signed a new 10-year lease agreement to play at the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium last August, an agreement approved by Major League Baseball two months before news of the contraction plan surfaced.

Along with the agreement, the Norwich City Council approved spending $800,000 to upgrade the 25-year-old stadium with new LED field lights and planned renovations to the player clubhouses and ventilation system and extended protective netting for fans.

The lights were upgraded last spring for the 2019 baseball season, and City Manager John Salomone said Wednesday the bids have been received for the remaining upgrades. He hopes to have the work done before the Sea Unicorns’ 2020 home opener June 21. But he said he plans to wait a little while before going ahead with the work to see whether the contraction plan will be revoked.

“I want to see that it’s more definitive,” Salomone said. “It shouldn’t be long to install, because we’ve got it out to bid. We want to get it done before the season starts. But I don’t want to put it in if they’re going to pull the plug.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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