Play Ball! The 2018 American Association Season Is Underway
American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, it’s opening night in the American Association and Robert Pannier talks about some of the key stories heading into the 2018 season.
The American Association Begins Tonight
It doesn’t seem like that long ago that the 2017 American Association Championship series came to a dramatic end – only 240 days to be precise but, for some, it has been an absolute eternity. Nearly eight long, grueling months, but that finally comes to an end when the Sioux City Explorers take to the field against the Lincoln Saltdogs in Nebraska on Thursday night.
A Lot Has Occurred
This has been one of the most fascinating off-seasons in the history of the league, as there have been a number of big stories around the association, which should make the 2018 season one that is truly memorable. Here are just a few.
A New Team – the Chicago Dogs joined the American Association in 2018. With legend Butch Hobson managing the team that added instant credibility, and there is no doubt that this team will be in the running if Hobson’s track record is any indicator.
A New Stadium? – Last June, the Wichita Wingnuts looked like they were getting a new stadium. Then it looked like they would be folding as the city chose to ignore their current tenant and chase after an affiliate team. Now, it looks like the Wingnuts may be back in the new stadium. We should know a lot more by July.
Some Who Are Gone, But Not Forgotten – There are many players who either opted to retire, moved on to another team, or had their contracts purchased by affiliate clubs. St. Paul Saints ace Mark Hamburger joined the Atlantic League, New Britain to be precise, as did Matt Chavez (Sugar Land).
American Association Player of the Year Josh Romanski headed for Mexico, as did teammates Mitch Lambson and Zach Dodson. Kansas City T-Bones slugger Art Charles opted to go south of the border, joining teammates Cedric Hunter, Niko Vasquez, and Jerome Pena, as did St. Paul Saints right-hander Andrew Guitierrez, Sioux City Explorers outfielder Tony Campana, and Texas AirHogs RHP Leuirs Gomez.
Tyler Alexander took the long road to Sussex County (Can-Am League), signing to play in Mexico, then having his rights traded twice before finally joining the Can-Am League. The original deal between the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and the Lincoln Saltdogs led to Tim Colwell, Tyler Herr, and Randolph Oduber coming to Fargo, a great acquisition for the RedHawks.
Old Faces in New Places – there are several players who have made their mark in the American Association who will be on new teams this year. That includes Tony Thomas (Saints) joining the Wingnuts, Richard Prigatano, Eddie Medina, and Mike Devine (Wichita) going to St. Paul, and Maikol Gonzalez (Cleburne) in Fargo-Moorhead. Alex Boshers (Wichita) joins the Winnipeg Goldeyes making for a formidable rotation.
Four New Generals – there are four new managers in the American Association this season. Brent Clevlen takes over in Wichita and Shelby Ford takes over as skipper in Cleburne. Two former Major League managers join the league as well, as Hobson will lead the first year Dogs and John McLaren takes over the Texas AirHogs.
打球！– the AirHogs will have a unique look to them this year, as they welcome 30 players from the Chinese National Team who will play for the team this season. Of the group, 13 will be in uniform each night, 20 will travel with the team when they head to the road, and Texas will be able to make roster moves at will.
One of the Greatest of All-Time – the Cleburne Railroaders made a real splash with the signing of Rafael Palmeiro. The former big league star is one of just a handful of players to hit 500+ homers and record 3,000+ hits. He will most likely only play for the team when they are at home.
New Alignment – the American Association also received an overhaul of sorts, when the league moved from three 4-team divisions to two 6-team divisions. There will still be four playoff entrants, as the top two teams in each division will make the post-season.
New Voices – There will be three new play-by-play callers around the league this year. None will draw more attention than Connor Ryan, who will take over for long-time great Dave Nitz with the Sioux City Explorers. Denning Gerig will be the voice of the Wingnuts and Matt Rigby will be the voice of Chicago. Should be a lot of fun listening!
Who Will Win It:
If you listened to This Week in the Association during the MLB playoffs, then you know my predictions were far from accurate. However, here is how I see the American Association divisions panning out this season:
1. Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks
2. St. Paul Saints
3. Winnipeg Goldeyes
4. Chicago Dogs
5. Sioux Falls Canaries
6. Gary Soutshore RailCats
1. Sioux City Explorers
2. Wichita Wingnuts
3. Kansas City T-Bones
4. Lincoln Saltdogs
5. Cleburne Railroaders
6. Texas AirHogs
No doubt there will be a lot of excitement around the American Association this season, so let’s Play Ball!
American Association Daily Notes
The Chicago Dogs placed OF Shawon Dunston, Jr. on the disabled list. The Wichita Wingnuts placed RHP Mark Haynes on the DL.