Every season of Raptors baseball since 1995, head groundskeeper Ken Kopinski works hard to make sure the playing field at Lindquist Field is the best it can be. I think you can all agree it is the best! His right-hand man, Bob Richardson, joined Kenny in 2002 and has doubled that passion.
They both do it as volunteers and have never taken a cent for their efforts. The Raptors and Ogden City are grateful.
I asked Kenny why he wants to put in 18-hour days during the season for the sake of the Raptors. His answer was staggering. You see, Kenny — who is 81 now — told me it’s not so much about helping the Raptors, it’s about helping the game of baseball in Ogden. Kenny was so angered and heartbroken with Ogden not having a professional team since the 1980s that he told me this was his contribution to ensure that “professional baseball never leaves Ogden again.”
But guess what?
Major League Baseball proposes to make it all go away!
The current agreement that governs business between Major League Baseball (MLB) and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) expires in September 2020.
Negotiations for the next agreement started uncomfortably. MiLB basically proposed keeping things as they are, as they have been for three decades, with some changes both sides recognize are needed.
MLB’s counter? A radical plan to eliminate 42 affiliated minor league teams (out of 160, that’s 26%), saving each MLB club about $350,000 per year.
The annual Amateur Player Draft would also be capped at 20 rounds, meaning 1,300 to 1,400 players per year will not be given the opportunity to play professional baseball, a goal those players have dreamt about since childhood.
Now $350,000 sounds like a lot of money, but consider the context. Last year, the New York Yankees grossed around $700 million. So $350,000 is roughly 0.0005% of their gross earnings. Do you know what the Raptors spend 0.0005% on? Napkins for concession stands.
For that tiny amount of savings, MLB wants to, and is serious about, removing baseball from small-town America by killing off 42 affiliated teams — one being the Ogden Raptors and, in fact, all eight teams in the Pioneer League.
Why the Raptors? MLB has never truly given a reason or explanation.
It can’t be our attendance. We have led the Pioneer League in attendance every year since Lindquist Field was built in 1997. Our average attendance (a franchise record 3,951 fans per game last season) outdraws many full-season Single-A clubs and even a few Double-A clubs.
It’s certainly not the condition of our award-winning Lindquist Field. Bob and Kenny make sure of that. The view is the best in all of professional baseball and every player raves about playing here. Ogden City has been awesome as well. This spring, the city will be installing state-of-the-art LED field lighting to ensure the utmost safety of every player that steps on that field. Mayor Mike Caldwell has also joined a national Mayoral Task Force to battle for the protection of professional baseball in Ogden, and I am so grateful for his support.
Lindquist Field meets all the specifications required in the current agreement. But in their efforts to justify eliminating 42 teams, MLB says roughly 25% of minor league ballparks do not meet facility standards. That may or may not be true, since I personally have not been to all 160 ballparks, but I am skeptical since I know all Pioneer League teams meet the standards.
I was also told the Pioneer League has travel and off-day issues. If that’s all it is, we can — collectively as a league — alter the schedule for less travel and add more off days for the players, and do it in about 30 minutes!
Negotiations between MLB and MiLB are early in the game. Discussions slowed a bit with MLB having to deal with on-field cheating scandals but should be on track soon. For now, we are waiting to see MLB’s next move.
If this is really about getting rid of ballparks that don’t meet MLB’s standards, I say go ahead — the Pioneer League meets all the standards. If it’s about improving facilities and player wellness, the Raptors are committed to working with Ogden City in a continued spirit of partnership to make whatever improvements MLB and MiLB agree are necessary, just as we are doing with new field lighting this spring.
But if their plan is, as we suspect, really about saving each MLB club $350,000 a year by eliminating short-season baseball, including the Raptors, then we — and by we, I mean people and community leaders throughout Ogden and surrounding cities and counties — need to fight with all our might.
The battle has already begun. Along with Mayor Caldwell in the fight, Utah Congressmen Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart have signed on to a Congressional Task Force (106 signatures so far) urging MLB to back off and rethink their plans. I was in Washington D.C. for the forming of this task force and it was awesome to see Republicans and Democrats unite as one for the better good of small-town America. I am hopeful Congressmen John Curtis and Ben McAdams will be joining soon, and I am working diligently on getting Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney involved.
Just recently, Sen. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut passed a resolution condemning MLB for what they are planning. He stated, “The proposed abandonment of 42 Minor League Baseball clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate communities, bond purchasers and other stakeholders that rely on the economic stimulus that those Minor League Baseball clubs provide.” The issue has struck a nerve nationwide.
MLB’s contraction plan represents by far the most serious threat the Raptors have ever faced. We are doing all we can to save professional baseball and this team. I love Ogden and am 100% committed not merely to this team but to keeping it here in Ogden — and not with some nightmarish “Dream League,” the economics of which would never work, and MLB knows it won’t work. We want to stay a proud affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a relationship with a deep history in our city.
MiLB helps grow the game by expanding the MLB fanbase. We enable baseball fans to gather at Lindquist Field to see the next generation of stars at low prices. Heck, we even have sponsorship nights where fans can come for free! Kids get autographs, fans get free T-shirts, bobble heads, fireworks etc., and everyone gets a chance to say hello to Kenny and Bob.
In other words, we enable people across Ogden and surrounding communities to come together, enjoy the sense of friendship and community that is the heart and soul of Minor League Baseball and small-town America, all the while growing love and support for the game of baseball as a whole.
Contraction means no longer seeing the likes of Tommy Lasorda, Steve Garvey, Bobby Valentine and Bill Buckner from the old days. No longer would we see players like Prince Fielder, JJ Hardy, Russell Martin, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager and last year’s National League MVP, Cody Bellinger, along with 100-plus former Raptors who have made the Majors. These players resonate with you and it’s that connection from the players that connects you to the Dodgers and to the MLB.
Taking away that connection from 42 cities, meaning millions of baseball fans, seems insane to me. In our first two seasons in Ogden, we did play as an independent. I bet you can’t name any of the former players from 1994-95. I know I can’t, and we signed them ourselves.
If the Raptors are contracted after the 2020 season and forced to play as an independent or less, will you still be a fan of Major League Baseball?
Baseball is famously labeled as America’s Pastime, but nobody ever said Major League Baseball gets to own that claim. The Raptors are woven into the cultural fabric of Ogden, interlaced with memories made over 26 years of baseball and entertainment. We deserve the chance to continue to meet whatever standards may be agreed upon and remain affiliated with professional players, and we desire to remain in a partnership with Major League Baseball.
It pains me to write such an opinion about Major League Baseball. My whole adult life has been spent in professional baseball — first as a player, then management, and now as an owner. I love how Minor League Baseball brings communities together. I want to keep loving Major League Baseball, too. I am hopeful an agreement can be made that satisfies all parties involved.
After all, what else would Kenny and Bob do?