Are Phillies/Red Barons Headed For Split?

This will be Scranton Wilkes-Barre's 15th season as the Phillies AAA affiliate and some at both levels – Philadelphia and Scranton – fear the relationship may be coming toward an end. The potential rift comes down to one simple thing that is so important to the game of baseball. Grass – natural and artificial.

The Phillies have long aspired to have as many of their minor league affiliates as close to Philadelphia as possible. For years, the Phillies top affiliate was in Portland, Oregon and then in Oklahoma City. Neither were potential day trips for Phillies fans to see the stars of tomorrow. That changed when the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons came to be, playing a couple hours north of Philadelphia.

The relationship seems perfect. Media types typically joke about players making that "trip up the turnpike back to Scranton" or vice versa. The fact is, that's one of the things that the Phillies love about having players they may need in Philadelphia rather quickly easily accessible on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Many players have made that trip back and forth. There are no airports to deal with and no time zones to concern yourself with.

When Lackawanna County Stadium was built, it was no coincidence that it came complete with artificial surface and that the dimensions closely resembled those of Veterans Stadium. Lackawanna County was The Vet without the cracks, a bunch less seats and of course, there was no Phanatic; otherwise, it was an experience close to Veterans Stadium for both the fans and the players. Front office brass talked about players being able to get a feel for what Veterans Stadium would be like. Players talked about how it helped them to adjust to The Vet, since the dimensions were similar and the grass was artificial. There in lies the problem.

This time next year, the Phillies won't be using that artificial stuff. It will likely have been cut up and sold off in pieces to bidders looking to hang onto a storied piece – however shameful it may be – of Veterans Stadium. The Phillies will be in a new stadium complete with grass. Real, stain causing grass. Meanwhile, the top players in the Phillies organization will take the field on turf. Real, bone jarring artificial turf.

The solution seems simple. Put grass in Lackawanna County Stadium. Not so fast. Lackawanna County Stadium is home to baseball in the summer and ice skating in the winter. That's right, ice skating. If you've ever been to Moosic, PA, the home of Lackawanna County Stadium, you know that there's not a whole lot to do there. That's part of the beauty of the place. It's natural and not at all glitzy. Natural, except of course, for that damn turf. Shutting down ice skating would be unfortunate for the fans who have come to flock to the stadium for some fun. It would also be the death of a money maker.

Naturally, the Phillies strongly prefer that their AAA stars play on natural grass, especially since that's what they'll encounter at the new Phillies ballpark. In a perfect world, the dimensions of the park could be reconfigured to closer what players will encounter in Philly, but that's a somewhat lesser concern of Phillies officials. Officially, everybody is being mute on the subject, but reportedly, there are discussions behind the scenes that could determine the future of the Phillies relationship with Scranton Wilkes-Barre. One of the factors could be that there are a number of options for the Phillies if they were to decide to move their AAA affiliate, which would require permission of Major League Baseball and the International League.

Allentown, Pa - The closest that the Lehigh Valley has to minor league baseball is the independent Allentown Ambassadors of the Northeast League. The stadium is nowhere near good enough for AAA, but a new, bigger, better stadium was being built for an Atlantic League team until the team ran into financial problems and the project was derailed. On the upside, there are still government matching funds sitting there, an approved location for the park and Reading owner Craig Stein is known to love the Lehigh Valley. Since Stein is always looking for new opportunities, Allentown could be an option.

Atlantic City - Have you ever been to The Sandcastle? Not a bad little ballpark, currently being used by the Atlantic City Surf of the independent Atlantic League. Mitch Williams is the manager and Greg Luzinski is the new hitting coach for the Surf. There's a nice view of the Atlantic City skyline and the place is pretty well kept up.

Camden - Another home for the Atlantic League, the River Sharks draw well and the stadium isn't too bad either. It will be interesting to see what impact an improved Phillies team will have on Camden's attendance this season. In Camden, players would be very close and available at a moment's notice.

Trenton - Home of the Trenton Thunder of the Eastern League. Again, a decent stadium and a good amount of fans. The team just switched from an affiliation with the Red Sox to an affiliation with the Yankees. A move to AAA would cause questions though on just where the AA team could move though and whether the Eastern League would allow such a thing. Don't forget, that the Yankees carry some weight and they are more than a little happy to have their AA affiliate in Trenton.


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