The California League announced on Monday that the Bakersfield Blaze and the High Desert Mavericks will move to the Carolina League next season in a realignment of advanced-A leagues. The two cities will see their clubs cease operations and the California League will play with eight teams in 2017.
Bakersfield has been in the Cal League for 75 years while High Desert is finishing its 26th season in Adelanto.
The Blaze, famously, had problems with their aged stadium, Sam Lynn Ballpark, which has home plate facing the setting sun which necessitates later start times. The dugouts are way up the lines and it is lacking modern amenities that are now standard in weight training facilities and indoor batting cages.
The Mavericks got caught up in a nasty fight between the city and ownership. Both sides thought their counterpart to be unreasonable and litigation cast a cloud over the start of the 2016 season. As a result, High Desert was the logical choice to join the Blaze in downsizing the league and keeping with an even number of teams.
The Blaze have long had the lowest average attendance in the Cal League and High Desert has the second-lowest. This season the Blaze is averaging a mere 848 fans, despite the first-place club on the field in the second half. The Mavericks, first-half champions in the South division, are averaging 1,056. It’s a long way to next next lowest average attendance figure, Visalia’s 1,731. The rest of the league draws more than 2,000 per game on average.
It is sad to see a 75-year old club leave the league, but Bakersfield didn’t have a leg to stand on. Despite the first-rate staff that had the minor league experience down pat, the fans just didn’t come out. Attempts had been made to get a new facility but they fell through and the final years of Bakersfield baseball have seen sparse crowds in an outlier of a facility. That’s a tough way to go out. The fantastic staff deserved much better.
High Desert’s situation didn’t really have to happen, but the baseball played in the Mavs’ home stadium is unusually high-octane, even by Cal League standards. Again, it isn’t good to see a community and a league lose a franchise, but when the name of the game is player development, the wind-affected play in Adelanto has made it hard to evaluate both pitching and hitting.
The Cal League is clearly one of the most offense-heavy leagues in minor league baseball. Could they have continued to make it work out there? Of course. It’s unfortunate to have politics kill the whole deal. 1,000 people a night isn’t as large of an average crowd as most of the rest of the league, but it isn’t peanuts either. A lot of people spent a lot of summer nights watching the Mavs over the years. And then there are the employees.
It’s a sad, sad situation for a pretty stable league. But at the end of the day, you can see the logic in the realignment decision-making. The California League will continue to thrive. It will just do it without these two clubs, and that is sad for the people affected in these communities.
BALLPARK DIGEST STORY by Jeff Goldberg