Cubs Find New Double-A Home

At a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. EDT Thursday in Sevierville, Tenn., Oneri Fleita will announce that the Chicago Cubs have partnered with the Tennessee Smokies, who will become the organization's new Double-A affiliate in the Southern League beginning next season.

Fleita, the Cubs' Director of Player Development since 2000, and the Smokies will announce a two-year Player Development Contract that will end a nine-year affiliation with the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, which began in 1998.

Attendance problems and concerns over a lack of publicity, among other things, plagued the Jaxx for years in spite of the Cubs' unmatched popularity on the national stage.

"The Cubs are looking for their kids to play in front of large crowds," Diamond Jaxx broadcaster Ron Potesta said Thursday morning. "Unfortunately, we do not have large crowds at Pringles Park."

The Jaxx drew the lowest crowds of any Southern League team each of the past two seasons, in part because of little to no media coverage from its hometown newspaper, The Jackson Sun. The Sun removed assigned beat writers from the team's home games this past year, Potesta said.

"When we don't have our own newspaper covering us on a daily basis when we're at home, that's pathetic," Potesta said candidly. "For anyone that doesn't live in Jackson, they have to understand what perpetuates this problem. The fans don't show up and it hurts even more when your local newspaper decides we're not newsworthy."

"Ultimately, that leads to low attendance and the Cubs decided to end their affiliation because of that."

Fleita had stated repeatedly that the Cubs would remain in the Southern League regardless of locale. The league currently houses only two American League-affiliated clubs.

"The bottom line is we like the Southern League a lot," Fleita said in 2005. "As a National League team, it's very important for us to be in a league like that, because our pitchers have to start bunting and handling the bat."

Fleita will speak on behalf of Cubs President Andy MacPhail and General Manager Jim Hendry during Thursday's press conference.

The Smokies were previously the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Potesta believes the Smokies will make a nice home for the much of the Cubs' minor league stock.

"If you're basing it on attendance, absolutely," he said. "They have a beautiful stadium. I think it'll be a good for fit for them."

Sevierville, Tenn., is located roughly 30 miles from Knoxville. The Smokies play all home games at Smokies Park and had the fourth best attendance in the league this past season with an average of 3,763 fans per home game.

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