Fans of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers aren’t thrilled with the possibility that their pipeline to Major League Baseball may end after the 2020 season.
But their love of baseball, specifically the Cleveland Indians, is so strong that giving up the sport is not an option.
“I would be super-bummed,” Canfield resident Jason Henry said of the possibility of MLB eliminating as many as 42 minor league teams (including the Scrappers) for the 2021 season. “In lieu of someone else to blame, because as an Indians fan I’m going to try not to blame them, it would fall on MLB.”
Jim Houck, owner and president of the Houck Agency based in Youngstown, has a similar feeling, saying that if the Scrappers become an independent team after next season, it “would not affect how I feel about the Cleveland Indians.”
Henry said he would continue to support the Scrappers even if their ties to MLB are severed.
“It would affect my opinion, but not dramatically,” Henry said. “I’m not going to stop rooting for baseball or going to see the Indians because they scrapped the Scrappers. But it would be a bummer.
“If they could join an independent league and make a go of it, I’m all for that,” Henry said. “But I believe that there would be issues for some people because they could not go and see an Indians minor league team.”
NOT THE SAME
Houck also would remain supportive but admitted a Scrappers team that is not tied to the Indians would not be the same.
“If the Scrappers were still there but in a Dream League kind of situation where they are not affiliated with the Indians, I think that would take a bit of the shine off for me personally as an Indians fan and a Major League Baseball fan,” Houck said.
No one knows what’s going to happen to the New York-Penn League, the Single A short-season minor league that has been part of the Mahoning Valley since 1999.
MLB owners are contemplating eliminating as many as 42 minor league teams in a cost-cutting effort that would have a tremendous impact on communities that support baseball at its lowest professional level. The short-season rookie leagues (usually mid-June until early September) are in MLB’s sights because most players whose careers begin at that level never ascend to elite status.
Local fans have embraced the rise of recent Scrappers such as Francisco Lindor, Shane Bieber, Cody Allen and Tyler Naquin to the Indians. That era most likely would close should the New York-Penn League be eliminated.
Jordan Taylor, Scrappers general manager, recently said the MLB proposal would deliver a devastating blow to the area.
Neither the Cafaro Co., which operates the Eastwood Mall complex, nor the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau has compiled statistics on the economic impact the Scrappers have made.
But the team’s impact is real, according to Beth Kotwis Carmichael, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau.
“Qualitatively instead of quantitatively, the Scrappers really [make an impact],” Kotwis Carmichael said, citing the visiting teams staying at the hotels in the Eastwood Complex.
“Not to mention the amount of people coming to the stadium,” she said.
Nonprofits would take a hit should the team dissolve.
“We definitely do not want to see the Scrappers leave,” Kotwis Carmichael said. “They also are such great community partners.
“The amount that they give back to nonprofits in this area is pretty significant,” she said. “Their management is really involved locally in philanthropic efforts.”
Joe Bell, spokesman for the Cafaro Co., said fan support has been strong.
“They do indeed have a great deal of local support,” Bell said. “People have demonstrated that they really enjoy having a hometown team. They’ve gotten behind the Scrappers since they began playing in 1999.”
Kotwis Carmichael said the minor league experience “is such a great asset to have, the excitement of potentially seeing [a future] major leaguer right there close to you as well as the affordability of going to these games.”
When news of the proposal to decimate the lower levels of baseball leaked, Houck’s initial reaction was “sadness because I appreciate what the Scrappers have done for the community and the level of entertainment that they provide.
“For me as a baseball fan, it’s a great opportunity to see future major leaguers play right in your backyard. And to think about them not being there would be sad for the community, both for baseball fans and families that go to Scrappers games as entertainment.”
Houck cited how some of his clients have been team sponsors, enjoying the publicity such benefits generated.
THE REASONS DON'T FIT
Two things struck Henry when he heard the Scrappers are in jeopardy.
“One, I wish I had gone to more games, but nothing that I saw indicated that it was a gate issue, that if more people had gone it would have made a difference,” Henry said.
“The second [reaction] was why? Because the reasons they’ve given don’t fit.”
The New York Times reported that MLB’s goal is to make the minor leagues more efficient and to improve conditions and facilities.
“I’m hoping that when they actually come out with the report that there’s more to it than that,” Henry said. “Eastwood Field is great. In the [NYPL], you play Pennsylvania and New York teams that are all an [eight-to-10-hour bus ride [away].”
Last summer, Henry’s son Cade, wearing a Naquin Indians jersey, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a game. Attending games is a family affair for the Henrys.
Another highlight for Jason Henry has been when Indians players occasionally have been sent to Niles for a rehab assignment. He says the pipeline from Niles to Cleveland “is neat. When that happens, it definitely influences my decision to try [and attend].”
Bell’s reaction to the MLB proposal is that it’s “pretty rash,” but added that it’s “really premature for us to try and speculate on what’s ultimately going to happen.”
Should the NYPL fold, MLB will offer team owners the chance to join an independent league. However, all costs involving players, coaches and support staff would fall on the owners.
Henry is in if that scenario plays out.
“I’m going to go see the Scrappers whether they are an Indians affiliate or not,” Henry said.