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With seasons canceled, Florida sees first summer since 1907 without minor league baseball

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Jackie Robinson Memorial Baseball Park, seen May 3, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Florida, is the home ballpark of the Daytona Tortugas minor league team. Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com

The Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins are among Major League Baseball (MLB) teams that assembled Friday in ballparks nationwide for a three-week “summer camp” to prepare for a 60-day season beginning July 24.

But this year will mark the first summer since 1907 that minor league baseball will not be played in Florida.

Minor League Baseball (MiLB) announced this week that seasons for 172 teams in six classifications – Triple A, Double A, Advanced A, Low A, Low A (short season) and Rookie League – across 19 different leagues nationwide were canceled.

The announcements were followed by layoffs of about 5,000 players and team employees, including those at MiLB’s St. Petersburg office, where more than 50 furloughed employees could be absorbed into its New York office.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” MiLB President/CEO Pat O’Conner said. “While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”

There are 32 MiLB teams in Florida, including two AA Southern League franchises – Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp and Pensacola Wahoos – 12 single-A Florida State League (FSL) squads and 18 Gulf Coast League (GCL) rookie-level teams.

MiLB’s announcement dashed tentative plans by the Jumbo Shrimp to start the season June 15 and means for the first time since 1969, there won’t be professional baseball in Jacksonville.

Minor league baseball’s economic impact in Florida is not as profound as the near $700 million in direct spending by ”Grapefruit League tourists” during spring training, when an average of 1.5 million fans – most from out-of-state — attend 240 MLB games in 12 cities over a six-week span, supporting 7,152 jobs that pay $253.5 million in wages, but it is a valuable contributor to many local economies.

According to a 2017 Florida Sports Foundation study, the two Southern League teams and 12 FSL teams generate more than $500 million in annual sales, directly employing more than 700 and supporting another 5,000 jobs statewide.

A 2006 “Economic Impact of Baseball in Palm Beach County” study concluded two local FSL franchises – Jupiter Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals – generated a $3.47 million impact, while the GLC Marlins contributed $565,290 to the local economy.

The 12 single-A FSL franchises play in MLB spring training sites. The league has been in operation since 1919 with a two-year pause during World War II.

The 18-team GCL is the lowest rung on the MiLB ladder where players, often out of high school, begin professional careers during a “short” June-to-August season. The league has existed in various iterations since 1907.

In a 2013 Journal of Sports Economics analysis, “The Economic Impact of Stadiums and Teams: The Case of Minor League Baseball,” Nola Agha gauged the financial impact of minor league teams and stadiums on local economies from the ‘80s to mid-2000s.

Agha determined that, unlike MLB clubs, their AAA, AA, A and rookie league franchises are “positively correlated with local per capita income increases,” with rookie-level leagues – such as the GCL – delivering the highest per capita income growth of $202 over the two-decade span.

When MiLB returns, it won’t be the same. The operating agreement between MLB and MiLB expires at year’s end. The most recent proposal would reduce the number of MiLB teams to 120 next season.

Among 42 teams that may never play again: FSL’s Daytona Tortugas and Florida Fire Frogs.

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