Eastern League Needs Realignment

The Eastern League is poised for some changes. While the Reading Phillies remain a strong draw at home, some teams have stagnated in attendance. Realignment could infuse some heat to the schedule and create some interesting scenarios. For Reading, a newly revamped division would add even more excitement to things at FirstEnergy Park.

The Eastern League needs to be realigned. The last time realignment was done there were only ten teams in two divisions. Now, there are twelve teams in two divisions. The last time the idea of realignment was floated it was shot down by teams in the Northern Division because the Trenton Thunder were a Red Sox farm team and the rest of the Northern Division wanted to play the Red Sox farm team as much as possible. Times change and now Trenton is a Yankees affiliate.

The way the divisions are currently arranged is in no one's best interests. The travel demanded by the current EL schedule is extremely onerous. Take for example this real road trip on this year's schedule. The Thunder go from Trenton to Akron, Ohio to New Hampshire to Norwich, Connecticut and back to Trenton with no off days for travel in between.

This is silly, not to mention exhausting for everyone involved.

I propose that the Eastern League create three four-team divisions based on geography. My divisions would have New Hampshire, Portland, New Britain, and Norwich in the North Division. Trenton, Reading, Bowie, and Binghamton would play in the South while Akron, Altoona, Erie, and Harrisburg would toil in the West. This would not only decrease the burden of widely decentralized travel schedules, it would also boost attendance by having teams play more games each year against their natural rivals.

Fans of teams in the North would get to see teams that are no more than 300 miles away for the majority of the season which would encourage fans to follow their team on the road and create a loyal fan base toward one team or another throughout New England. Rivalries between the teams would also be given a chance to more fully blossom.

Fans of teams in the South would get arguably the best bargain out of this scenario. This division consists of the farm teams for the Phillies, Mets, Yankees, and Orioles and thus every game these teams play would be huge. The rivalries between these teams at the major league level would hopefully transfer to these minor league clubs, thus boosting attendance exponentially. This would also allow the large enclave of Phillies fans around Philadelphia to see their team play in nearby Trenton several times every year. No team in this division is more than 200 miles away from another team.

The West has natural rivals as well, although Harrisburg stands to be the big loser in this configuration. Altoona and Akron would be the premier series in this division since the Pirates and Indians are so close to each other on the major league level. This would cause an explosion of interest in these two minor league teams.

One other nuance to my scheme would include a rivalry weekend where teams that are rivals but aren't in the same division would play each other in a home and home series. This would include things like Harrisburg and Trenton because of the two state capitals, and things like Bowie and Portland to exploit the AL East rivalry between the Red Sox and Orioles.

All in all, realignment is the only feasible answer to the Eastern League's scheduling and travel problems. Without it, teams will continue to be faced with stagnant attendance figures and kamikaze bus trips, while fans will be exposed to the same tired match-ups they have always seen.

Realignment adds some spice to an otherwise drab league and should be done sooner rather than later.

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