Major League Baseball could cut the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes loose under new proposal

The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes are a list of minor league baseball teams that could lose their major league affiliation under a new MLB proposal. (Courtesy/Salem-Keizer Volcanoes)

The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes minor league baseball team is one of 42 teams that could lose their Major League Baseball affiliation.

The plan to eliminate the squads from the 159 Minor League Baseball teams is causing an uproar across the country among baseball fans. More than 100 members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, so far have opposed the MLB proposal.

Schrader, whose congressional district covers Salem, said on Twitter he was proud to represent the Volcanoes in the Congressional Baseball Game and he was proud to represent them at home in Oregon.

The Volcanoes, a minor league affiliate that plays in the Northwest League, could see a cascade of impacts if the league pulls the area’s source of players.

Mickey Walker, CEO of the Volcanoes, said Monday it was too early in the process to know what’s going to happen locally if the proposal goes through, but reacted more strongly in a statement on its Facebook page on Thursday.

“This proposal from Major League Baseball is not just an attack on Minor League Baseball but a threat to the livelihood of communities like ours,” the statement said. The Volcanoes said they hoped negotiations would ensure “that professional baseball will continue at Volcanoes Stadium for many years to come.”

The Volcanoes are perplexed by this on many levels,” the Volcanoes said. “We are told Major League Baseball says their proposal is to reduce travel and have improved facilities. Volcanoes Stadium was built in 1997 to the standards set by Major League Baseball, the plans were submitted and approved by both MLB and Minor League Baseball and the stadium won a design award from the American Institute of Architects and a multitude of additions, upgrades, improvements, including three major new buildings have been added since the stadium was built.”

According to the New York Times, the 42 newly independent teams would could join a lower-quality Dream League largely populated by undrafted and released players. MLB contends that the proposed reorganization would make the development of up-and-coming players more efficient, while also improving work conditions.

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The stadium, along Interstate 5 in Keizer, seats 4,000 and regularly hosts other events.

Walker said nothing is impacted for the upcoming 2020 season. But after the agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball expires, a new plan could change things.

Walker said he found out about the proposal two months ago and posited that one of the biggest impacts is that the team wouldn’t have a source of players to pull from. The Volcanoes are affiliated with the San Francisco Giants and serves as a development team. Players are employees of the Giants assigned to the Salem team.

He said the proposal is one way for the league to reduce the number of players the major league teams have to pay.  

Jeff Lantz, senior director of communication at Minor League Baseball, said major and minor league baseball representatives met Thursday in Dallas and will meet again in December to go over negotiations.

He said minor league baseball knew there were going to be changes to the contract, but none so drastic as the ones that became public last week.

Lantz said it’s important to remember that it’s a very early proposal.

When asked if he thinks the initial response is an overreaction, Lantz said, “When you’re talking about losing 25% of minor league baseball teams across the country, that’s a reaction.”

Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark said the locally owned team not only provides jobs, but gives the community a place that continues to enhance the fan experience.

“We love the baseball but we also love a place to go hang out in the summer and enjoy our community,” she said.

She said the proposal isn’t a done deal and “nobody’s packing up at this point.”

Clark and her husband have been hosting baseball players for three years.

Since the news broke, Clark said she’s been contacted by local residents asking how they can help retain the team.

Jonathan Thompson, president of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, said he’s bummed about the potential loss of a fun, community activity.

“From a chamber standpoint, no matter what when we see a local business in trouble we worry about it,” he said. “We like to see everybody succeeding. It’s bad for all of us when one of us is in trouble.”

The Salem area has been home to professional baseball since 1940, when the Salem Senators formed. The Salem franchise played as the Senators until 1960, when it became an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and adopted the club’s nickname. In 1990, the owners moved the team to Yakima, Washington due to lack of facilities.

Six years later, Bellingham Giants co-owners Jerry Walker and William Tucker announced they were moving the Northwest League Franchise to Keizer. 

Reporter Troy Brynelson contributed to this report.

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