Over the past few weeks JFtC have brought our readers updates about the top fifteen prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system. As a follow-up, we decided we should also give our readers with a brief history about the leagues, teams, and parks where these youngsters chase their big league dreams each summer.
Triple A (AAA) – International League
The International League as currently constructed, is a fourteen team league in the eastern half of the United States, with teams in cities as far south as Gwinnett, Ga, west as Columbus, OH, and north as Rochester, NY. It saw its roots begin with the merger of three previous minor leagues, with the New York State League and Ontario League first merging in 1886 to form the International League. A year later in 1887, the Eastern League was also added to form what was then a 10 team league. As one can imagine there has been a fair amount of movement within the league since its start, with teams coming and going over the last 120+ seasons. Ottawa, Ontario, was the last Canadian city with a team in the IL, with the Philadelphia Phillies affiliate, Ottawa Lynx. The Lynx folded after the 2007 season, and moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania for 2008 to become the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Yes, you guessed it, the team with the bacon hats. Hard to be upset by that move now, isn’t it?
The Blue Jays have a long history in the International League dating back to 1978 with the Syracuse Chiefs. This partnership was a successful one that spanned parts of four decades from 1978-2008. The Jays then had a brief foray in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) from 2009 thru 2012 with their affiliate in Las Vegas, NV. Thankfully this was a short-lived partnership, as it was not the most efficient AAA affiliate due to distance. Luckily in 2013 Toronto was able to agree on a development deal with the Buffalo Bisons organization, resulting in what appears a very successful partnership for both parties.
For baseball fans who have yet to take in a MiLB game, I highly suggest taking a trip down the QEW into Buffalo. The atmosphere at Coca-Cola Field is very family friendly, and easy on the pocket-book. With single game tickets in the $9.00-$15.00 range, it is very affordable to take a family to enjoy a night out at the ballpark. The facility itself has excellent sight lines in all spots, and allows for fans to get up close to players during pre-game warm-ups. Add in the fun in-game promotions and fireworks on select nights and there is a little something for everyone.
The ballpark itself opened in April 1988, and has been home to several Major League Baseball AAA affiliates. Including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets. It has a seating capacity just over 18,000, with plenty standing room only areas should you be inclined to roam the facilities. It also has the largest HD video board in minor league baseball, coming in at 80 ft x 33 ft, and easily visible all over the park.
Double A (AA) – Eastern League
The Eastern League has been in existence since 1923 when it was originally founded as the New York-Pennsylvania League. It remained this way until between 1936-1938 when two teams moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and Connecticut, respectively, and renamed to the Eastern League. Canada has had several cities represented in the Eastern League over the years, with four being in Quebec (Trois-Rivieres, Sherbrooke, Thetford Mines and Quebec City) and the most recent affiliate in Ontario at the historic Labatt Park in London until 1993.
Toronto’s introduction to the Eastern League came in 2003 when they moved away from the Southern League to partner with the New Haven Ravens club. Shortly after the season was complete the team relocated to its current home in Manchester, New Hampshire and re-branded as the Fisher Cats.
The home field of the Fisher Cats is Northeast Dental Delta Stadium which opened for the 2005 season. Although it has gone through upgrades and a few name changes, the product on the field has always been a popular draw with Manchester residents. The team has averaged over 5,000 fans per game over the last 5 seasons, which is shy of its 6,500 seat capacity, but still an excellent turnout.
Advanced A (A+) – Florida State League
The Florida State League is a 12-team league that operates solely in the state of Florida. Each of the teams in the league are affiliates of a Major League team, and typically play their home games in their affiliates spring training complex. The league originated in 1919 as a six team league, before shutting down in 1928. It once again resumed play in 1936, and has remained active to this present day, a four-year suspension (1942-1945) due to World War II, being the only exception.
Toronto’s representative in the Florida State League is the Dunedin Blue Jays, their Advanced A affiliate since 1990. There were 5 years (1978-79, 1987-89) where Dunedin was the affiliate of the Blue Jays; however, this representative was competing in the lower A-level during those years. There was twelve-year stretch (1978-1989) where Toronto often had two teams competing at the A-ball level, in two separate leagues.
As mentioned before, most FSL teams play and train in their affiliates spring training facilities. Dunedin is no exception in this case, as they call Florida Auto Exchange Stadium their home from April thru September. The complex has been Toronto’s home during Spring Training every spring since 1977, and has gone through major renovations on two occasions in 1990 and 2000. Seating capacity is just north of 5,500, in addition to three picnic areas where fan can stretch out to enjoy games. The team’s current agreement with Dunedin expires at the end of 2017, with negotiations for major upgrades still ongoing. With more and more teams moving west to Arizona for new up-to-date spring facilities, this is a situation fans should keep an eye on going forward.
If you enjoyed this article, please keep an eye out for part two. Up next we will cover the lower levels of Toronto’s minor league system, with histories on Lansing, Vancouver and Bluefield.
Photo courtesy of: Wade Black
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Wade is a long time baseball fan who has been involved with the game for over 30 years. Including as a former college player, amateur pitching coach, and blogger.