What does Wichita, Kansas have to do with the Miami Marlins? On Thursday morning, mayor Jeff Longwell announced that the city is in the process of acquiring a Triple-A baseball team to play in a soon-to-be-built ballpark. The New Orleans Baby Cakes, a Marlins affiliate since 2009, filed with Minor League Baseball to relocate. They’re pushing to complete the move in time for the 2020 season.
Mayor Jeff Longwell's Media Briefing September 6, 2018Posted by City of Wichita- Government on Thursday, September 6, 2018
Previously, Wichita was home to the Wignuts of the independent American Association. They hosted games at 84-year-old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, which will be demolished in the coming months to make room for the new facility.
Longwell discussed his aspirations for a “baseball village” on a river corridor while referencing an artist’s rendering of it. The project will be partially funded by local STAR bonds and cost $60-73 million, according to early estimates.
The New Orleans Zephyrs joined the Pacific Coast League for the 1998 season. They rebranded as the Baby Cakes in 2017 and initially experienced a spike in fan support and merchandise sales. However, average home attendance plummeted more than 31 percent last summer. This move allows them a brighter financial future while remaining in the PCL.
Meanwhile, advanced Marlins minor leaguers get to reap the benefits of improved facilities. Compared to New Orleans, Wichita offers them a more intimate community and a semi-celebrity status that could serve as important preparation for life at the highest level.
The “Baby Cakes” name will stay in Louisiana, where a Double-A (non-Marlins) team is expected to move into the Shrine on Airline and compete in the Southern League.
Logistically, this puts the Marlins in a complicated position. It’s critical for MLB teams to be able to move players efficiently between their major league and Triple-A clubs, but Wichita doesn’t offer many direct commercial flights to South Florida. Also, continued membership in the PCL means that prospects will often be staying even farther west than Wichita on road trips when needed for a call-up.
For what it’s worth, the city has a history with affiliated baseball. The Double-A Wichita Wranglers belonged to the Royals organization and played there from 1995 to 2007 before going to their current home in Arkansas.
The affiliate agreement between the Marlins and Baby Cakes runs through 2020. That would either be their first season in Wichita or the final one at the Shrine (if ballpark construction is delayed). These partnerships are typically extended/renewed for two years at a time.
As this transition plays out, the Marlins could explore opportunities to get a team in the Triple-A International League instead. Don’t underestimate the benefit of reduced travel time, especially if/when the franchise contends for a championship again and puts an emphasis on winning major league games.
Anyway, congrats to Wichita on the big news.