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Minor League Baseball: the Northwest League (Class A-Short Season). « billsportsmaps.com

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June 22, 2012

Minor League Baseball: the Northwest League (Class A-Short Season).

Filed under: Baseball,Baseball: MiLB Class A — admin @ 8:57 pm

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Northwest League



The Northwest League official site, http://northwest.league.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=l126.

The Northwest League is an 8-team Class A-Short Season minor league baseball league, and is part of Organized Baseball. It has teams in the states of Washington (4 teams), Oregon (2 teams), Idaho (1 team), and in the Canadian province of British Columbia (1 team). Although technically within the fourth level of the Major League/minor league ladder, these days the Class A-Short Season level of the three-tier Single A level is more universally regarded as the 6th level of Organized Baseball (with Class A-Advanced considered the 4th level, and Class-A considered the 5th level). Another way of putting it is that the two Class A-Short Season leagues – the Northwest League and the New York-Penn League – are more akin to the Rookie Leagues than to the other two higher sections of the Class A level.

The seasons really are much shorter in the two Class A-Short Season leagues. The 8-team Northwest League plays a 76-game season, as opposed to the much longer seasons in the two Class-A leagues (the 16-team league the Midwest League has a 138-game season, and the 14-team league the South Atlantic League has a 140-game season). The other league in the Northwest League’s section, the New York-Penn League, has 14 teams and a 74-game season. That means there are 22 teams in the two Short Season leagues. If you are wondering why there are just 22 teams in the Class A-Short Season section, and not the MLB-equivalent 30 teams (like the rest of the baseball ladder), again, this is an example of how much closer the Short Season leagues are to the Rookie Leagues – because those 8 Major League Baseball teams that don’t have a team in the Short Season leagues skip this level and have their short season farm team in one of the two top Rookie Leagues (in the Appalachian League or in the Pioneer League).

From ‘en.wikipedia.org/’Minor league baseball/Current system/Class A-Short Season‘…(excerpt)…
…’As the name implies, these leagues play a shortened season, starting in June and ending in early September with only a few off-days during the season. The late start to the season is designed to allow college players to complete the College World Series before turning professional, give major league teams time to sign their newest draftees, and immediately place them in a competitive league. Players in these leagues are a mixture of newly-signed draftees and second-year pros who weren’t ready to move on, or for whom there was not space at a higher level to move up. Second-year pros tend to be assigned to extended spring training until the short-season leagues begin. For many players, this is the first time they have ever used wooden baseball bats, as aluminum bats are most common in the amateur game. Players are permitted to use certain approved composite bats at this classification to help them make the transition from aluminum to wood bats. This is also often the first time they have played every day for a prolonged basis, as amateur competitions typically regulate the number of games played in a week…’ (end of excerpt).

In 2011, the Northwest League had a cumulative average attendance of 3,006 per game, which was an increase of +2.9% over the 2010 league average (which was 2,920 per game). [I could only find attendances for the Northwest League back to 2006, and the peak from 2006 to 2011 was been in 2008, at 3,026 per game {see baseball-reference.com/minors/2008 NWL .]

The roots of the Northwest League are in the second incarnation of the Western International League, which existed from 1937 to 1942 and from 1946 to 1954. It was a Class B league through 1951, then upgraded to a Class A league in 1952. Three years later, in 1955, the Western International League changed its name to the Northwest League. The Western International League had a larger percentage of Canadian teams than the Northwest League has had. Presently [2012], the Northwest League has one Canadian team – the Vancouver Canadians – who are the only Canadian minor league baseball team currently in Organized Baseball, in fact. By way of comparison, in 1954, its last year before changing its name to the Northwest League, the Western International League had 10 teams, four of which were Canadian.

Here were the teams in the last season of the Western International League (1954) -Calgary (Alberta, Canada), Edmonton (Alberta, Canada), Lewiston (Idaho), Salem (Oregon), Spokane (Washington), Kennewick/Pasco/Richland (Washington) [playing as "Tri-City"], Vancouver (BC, Canada), Victoria (BC, Canada), Wenatchee (Washington), and Yakima (Washington).

The original seven teams that formed the newly-named Northwest League the following season of 1955 were the Salem Senators, the Eugene Emeralds, the Yakima Bears (I), the Spokane Indians (I), the Tri-City Braves, the Wenatchee Chiefs, and the Lewiston Broncs. In its 50th anniversary season in 2004, five of the seven original cities were still in the Northwest League, and that is still the case today. Those 5 locations are Eugene, Salem, Spokane, Tri-City, and Yakima.

The top 3 drawing teams in 2011 in the Northwest League, starting with #3…
The Eugene Emeralds. PK Park, Eugene, Oregon -
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Photo credit above – milb.com.
The oldest currently active team in the Northwest League is the Eugene Emeralds, who formed in 1955 as an Independently-affiliated minor league team and were a charter member of the Northwest League that same year. Eugene held on as an Independent minor league ball club for its first 4 seasons (being an Independent team within a predominantly MLB-affiliated minor league was way more common 50 or 60 years ago than it is today…today it is almost unheard of). Eugene’s first MLB-affiliation was in 1959, with the San Francisco Giants. All told, the Eugene Emeralds have been part of 10 MLB farm systems, including 2 separate stints as an independent club. In 1969, while part of the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm system, the Eugene Emeralds made the huge jump from a Class A-level team in the Northwest League to the Triple A-level Pacific Coast League. This only lasted 5 seasons, and in 1974, after the Phillies dropped them, the Eugene Emeralds, as an independent team, re-joined the Northwest League. The next year they became part of the Cincinnati Reds’ farm system (for a 9-year stint), and since then, the Emeralds have been part of the organizations of… the Kansas City Royals (for 11 years from 1984-94), the Atlanta Braves (for 4 years from 1995-98), the Chicago Cubs (for 2 years from 1999-2000), and, currently, with the San Diego Padres (for 12 years now, since 2001).

Eugene drew third best in the Northwest League in 2011, drawing 3,018 per game to their smart 4,000-capacity PK Park, which opened in 2009 and became the home of the Emeralds in 2010. PK Park features an open-air main stand protected by a bold sweeping roof – sensible for the rainy climate of coastal Oregon. In 2011, the Eugene Emeralds’ 75.4 percent-capacity was second-best in the league, and slightly higher than the Boise Hawks’ 75.3 percent-capacity. Only the second-newest Northwest League team – the Vancouver Canadians – had a higher percent-capacity last season (see below).

The Vancouver Canadians (II). Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada -
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Photo credit above – friendsofnatbaileystadium.com.
In 2011, the Vancouver Canadians (est. 2000) led the Northwest League in percent-capacity (82.7%-capacity) and had the second-best attendance (4,267 per game). The Vancouver Canadians (II) were originally an Oakland A’s farm team for their first 11 seasons, and since 2011 have been affiliated with the only Major League Baseball team based in Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays. Having a Canadian parent-club helped Vancouver bump up attendance 199 per game from 2010. It must be pointed out that Vancouver, British Columbia is a pretty large city for this level (metro population, 2.1 million {2006 figure}). The city of Vancouver is, for lack of a better word, slumming it, by having their sole professional baseball club be in a minor league that is 5 levels below the Major Leagues. The city of Vancouver is also slumming it by having their baseball team play in a stadium that is 61 years old. On the map page, check out the six decades’ worth of moss growing on the roof of the Canadians’ Nat Bailey Stadium, which opened in 1951 (or see it here [at upper right, click the + sign to zoom in] via satellite view at Bing.com). And remember…this Class A-Short Season team is Organized Baseball’s only minor league team in all of Canada currently {‘List of baseball teams in Canada‘ (en.wikipedia.org)}.

In fact, there are 62 municipalities in Canada with a population of over 50,000, and only one of them, Vancouver, has an affiliated minor league baseball team. {See this, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_100_largest_metropolitan_areas_in_Canada.} London, Ontario’s London Tecumsehs were a successful 19th Century baseball club and a charter member of the first minor league, the International Association, which formed in 1877, one year after the National League was established {see this, from baseball-reference.com/Bullpen}. Toronto, Ontario, Canada had a top-level minor league team, The Toronto Maple Leafs (of the International League) from 1911 to 1967. In 1946, in the season before he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson played in Canada for the Brooklyn Dodgers’ top farm, the Montreal Royals (of the International League, 1928-1960). Baseball-reference.com lists 70 municipalities in Canada that have had minor league baseball teams, and the lion’s share of those teams were within Organized Baseball {Minor League Encyclopedia at baseball-reference.com (Canada is listed 4/5ths of the way down the page).) 20 years ago, in the 1992 season, there were 8 Canadian teams in Organized Baseball – 3 in Triple-A (Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver); 1 in Double-A (London, ON); 3 in Short Season-A (Hamiton, ON; St. Catherines, ON,; and Welland, ON); and 1 in the Rookie Leagues (Medicine Hat, Alberta). Canada has had a significant presence throughout the history of minor league baseball. Now the presence Canada has in minor league baseball is reduced to one Short Season Single-A team and 3 Independent league teams – the London Rippers, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, and the Québec Capitales. The London team is new for 2012, and the teams from Winnipeg, Manitoba and from Quebec City, Quebec can be seen on my map of the top 122-drawing minor league baseball teams from 2011 [map of Organized Baseball teams, including Independent league teams, that drew over 3,000 per game in 2011], http://billsportsmaps.com/?p=15779.

[I chose 50 K as a measuring tool because, while there still are teams within Organized Baseball that come from municipalities smaller than 50,000, this figure still can be seen as a general cut-off point for the city-size necessary to support a farm team of a Major League Baseball team. Examples of affiliated minor league teams from municipalities with less than 50K-metro-area-population in Organized Baseball in 2012 (in leagues which measure attendance [17 leagues])… In the 3 Class AAA leagues (zero). In the 3 Class AA leagues (zero). In the 7 leagues in the 3 Class A levels (4 teams). And in the Rookie Leagues [the 2 Rookie Leagues which measure attendance] (2 teams)… From the Midwest League (Class A): Burlington, IA; and Clinton, IA. From the New-York Penn League (A-Short Season): Batavia, NY; and Jamestown, NY. From the Appalachian League (Rookie): Danville, VA; and Elizabethton, TN.]

In case you are wondering, the smallest municipality with a team in the Northwest League is Kennewick/Pasco/Richland, WA, home of the Tri-City Dust Devils. The Tri-Cities, in south-central Washington state, have a metro population of around 253,000 {2010 figure}. [Note: Yakima, WA and Everett, WA are the smallest cities with a Northwest League teams, but Everett is part of Greater Seattle, and Yakima has a larger metro area than the Tri-Cities.]

So there you have it – Canada, land of the Hockey Puck, to the detriment of every other pro sport with the partial exceptions of the Canadian Football League, and soccer (there are 3 Major League Soccer teams based in Canada).

For 22 seasons, from 1978 to 1999, Vancouver had a Triple A team in the Pacific Coast League (who were also called the Canadians), but that franchise moved to Sacramento, California in 2000, and the Sacramento River Cats are these days one of the highest-drawing minor league teams (usually averaging above 8,000 per game). Soon after that, the other two remaining PCL teams based in Canada – in Calgary and in Edmonton – also moved to American cities (to, respectively, Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2003; and to Greater Austin, Texas in 2005). Both these 2 teams also draw very well now that they are no longer in Canada. Then, a couple years after that, to make the Triple-A totally devoid of a Canadian presence, the Ottawa Lynx of the International League (who drew horribly for Triple-A, like in the 2,000-to-3,000-per-game-range) moved out of Canada to Allentown, Pennsylvania in 2007, making the Vancouver Canadians the sole Canadian minor league team in Organized Baseball [2007-2012]. That Allentown, PA team, called the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, drew best in all of minor league baseball in 2011 {MiLB and Independent leagues’ 2011 attendance data, here (Ballpark Digest.com)}.

The Vancouver Canadians beat the Tri-Citiy Dust Devils in September 2011 to claim their first Northwest League title.

The Spokane Indians (IV). Avista Stadium, Spokane, Washington -
spokane-indians-iv_avista-stadium_.gif
Photo credit above – milb.com.
The highest-drawing team in the Northwest League is, once again, the Spokane Indians, of Spokane Valley, Greater Spokane. Spokane is in the parched and arid eastern half Washington state, near the Idaho panhandle. The Spokane Indians drew 4,827 per game at their 6,803-capacity Avista Stadium, which opened in 1958. The age of their ballpark makes Spokane’s good attendance even more significant, because the team is pulling in the highest crowds in the league with a stadium that is over half a century old. There was a Spokane team in the first two seasons of the Northwest League (1955-56) that went under. Then there was a different Spokane Indians team in the Triple-A PCL from 1958 to 1971 that was affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers revamped their farm teams and placed the Spokane team a couple rungs lower, so in 1972, Spokane had a team back in the Northwest League, but that version of the Spokane Indians lasted just that one season in ’72, because Spokane then landed a PCL franchise from Portland, Oregon, and the next year, 1973, Spokane had a Triple-A team again. This incarnation of the Spokane Indians lasted from 1973 to 1982, and was initially the top farm team of the new MLB club the Texas Rangers, then were the top farm of the Milwaukee Brewers from 1976-78, then were the top farm team of the nearby Seattle Mariners from 1979-81, then were the top farm team of the California Angels in 1982, then folded. The following year, 1983, the San Diego Padres put a farm team in Spokane, and for the city of Spokane, it was back down a few rungs again to the Northwest League, where this incarnation of the Spokane Indians, the present-day Spokane Indians (IV), have played now for 30 seasons, first as a Padres farm team (1983-94), then as a Kansas City Royals farm team (1995-2002), now back as a Texas Rangers farm team (2002-2012). The present-day Spokane Indians (1983-2012) have won the most Northwest League titles of any of the active teams in the league, with 8 titles, last in 2008.

For the record, with respect to league championships, the second-best showing by active teams, and by far the best percentage of titles-versus-seasons, is by the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (1997-2012). The Volcanoes have, very impressively, won 5 Northwest League titles in 15 seasons, with the Volcanoes’ last title in 2009. The Salem-Keizer Vocanoes have been a San Francisco Giants farm team ever since they started in 1997, and drew fourth-best in the Northwest League again in 2011, averaging 2,788 per game. The team is from Keizer, Oregon, which is 2 miles north of Salem, OR; and 37 miles south of Portland, OR. Salem, Oregon’s metro area population is around 396,000 {2009 figure}.

List of Northwest League champions‘ [1960-present] (en.wikipedia.org).
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Photo and Image credits on map page -
Boise Hawks, idahoairships at panoramio.com.
Spokane Indians, bing.com/maps/bird’s eye satellite view.
Tri-City Dust Devils, bing.com/maps/bird’s eye satellite view.
Yakima Bears, Larry Stone/seattletimes.nwsource.com.

Eugene Emeralds, citadelgroup.org/construction-portfolio.
Everett AquaSox, bing.com/maps/bird’s eye satellite view.
Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, bing.com/maps/bird’s eye satellite view.
Vancouver Canadians, bing.com/maps/bird’s eye satellite view

Thanks to the contributors to the pages at en.wikipedia.com, ‘Northwest League‘.

Thanks to Baseball-refernce.com, for info on the teams and the seasons they were in the Northwest League, ‘Northwest League (Short-Season A) Encyclopedia and History‘ (baseball-reference.com).

Thanks to Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos Page, for some of the logos, ‘Northwest League Logos’.

Attendance figures were culled from web.minorleaguebaseball.com. You won’t be able to find 2011 attendance figures for any of the minor leagues in Organized Baseball if you go to their site now, though…they get rid of all data from the previous season some time around the New Year. But I learned that the hard way last year, so I took screen shots of all 11 minor leagues’ 2011 attendance figures in December 2011, when the figures were still there. Hey MiLB – is it so hard to archive the data? Anyway, here is the BizofBaseball.com’s archive for minor league attendance (2010 is missing, though), bizofbaseball.com/MiLB attenadnce archive (2005-2009; 2011).

Here is NumberTamer’s 2010 Minor League Baseball attendance report [pdf] (60 pages).
Here is NumberTamer’s 2011 Minor League Baseball attendance report [pdf] (66 pages)

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