Dodgers Leave Columbus for Michigan

The Dodgers are making changes with one affliation in the minor leagues amidst persistent rumors that another even more significant change is about to take place as well. The club will relocate its low A tie-up from Columbus, Ga. to Midland, Mich., agreeing to terms with a team that is to be known as the Great Lakes Loons.

Meanwhile, sources in the Dodger front office say they are likely to abandon the Vero Beach Dodgers in the Florida State League for a working agreement with an undisclosed team in the California League.

That move, sources say, will presage the oft-discussed switch in the team's training base from Dodgertown in Vero Beach to a site in Arizona, probably the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. While the change in minor league affliations will start in 2007, the Dodgers will continue to train in Florida while the new training base will be constructed. They expect to start training in Arizona beginning in 2009.

The change from Columbus had been anticipated for it has long been a troubled franchise. The Dodgers first joined forces with the Wave, playing out of Wilmington, N.C. in 2001 but that franchise went bankrupt. It was then purchased by Main Street Baseball, Inc., which moved it to Albany, Ga., just a week before the 2002 season.

They played in Albany as the South Georgia Waves for one year, then moved to Columbus for the 2003 season. The name was changed to Columbus Catfish in 2004.

Throughout the team was troubled by low attendance. In fact, Main Street Baseball tried to move it on at least three ocasions but impending deals in Evansville, Ind., and in Alabama fell through. In 2006, the Catfish drew 64,481 fans, which was the lowest attendance in the South Atlantic League.

The Great Lakes Loons will be a new team in the Midwest League with the club formerly known as Southwest Michigan, which played in Battle Creek, switching there. They will have a new park which is currently being completed.

Southwest Michigan was a farm team for Tampa Bay but both the Dodgers and Texas Rangers bid to join with the new team, which selected L.A. as their choice. An official announcement in Midland will be made Thursday.

Midland is a city of over 75,000 located in in the north central part of the state, about 200 miles north of Detroit.

Vero Beach, unlike the other teams, was Dodger owned-and-operated, having been in the Florida State League since 1980. Like Columbus, though, attendance hasn't been good. In 2006, they drew a number remarkably like that of the Catfish, 64,985.

To illustrate the lack of draw in the two cities, the Dodgers' rookie league affiliate, Ogden, Utah, drew 134,961 for only 38 home dates, twice the number Columbus and Vero Beach drew for 70 home games.

The California League connection may be in San Bernardino, which has made no secret of its desire to renew its ties with the Dodgers for the city is an L.A. suburb. Right now, the team, known as the Inland Empire 66's, is a farm club for the Mariners, who are bidding to renew the contract.

The Dodgers had a team in San Bernardino from 1995 through 2000. In that time, they won two Cal League titles.

As far as the traning site goes, L.A. still has 15 years to go on a 20-year lease signed with the city of Vero Beach and Indian River County, which jointly purchased the Dodgertown site five years ago. But the rumbings about a proposed Dodger move have so disturbed officials there that they have formed a committee to try to lure another team as a replacement, should the Dodgers move.

There are reports that the Baltimore Orioles have expressed some interest in moving in should the Dodgers go west at last. The Orioles currently train in Fort Lauderdale, Fla,. but the facilties there can't accomdate minor league teams as well, something Dodgertown can provide.

Whatever happens, the Dodgers won't be abandoning Florida totally for they recently renewed the working agreement with Jacksonville, their AA affiliate in the Southern League. They also have agreed to stay with Las Vegas as their AAA franchise.

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