We're just waiting to hear...
Volcanoes fate out of their hands
Pablo Sandoval with then-Volcanoes ball-boy, now CEO Mickey Walker, first year of Volcanoes Stadium (2005).
Photo Credit: Salem-Keizer Volcanoes
Fans of minor league baseball have been scouring their twitter timelines for weeks now, waiting to hear how their team’s affiliate structure will work itself out going forward. That’s not strange or unusual. What is strange and unusual is that many minor league owners are in the same situation as the fans — listening for rumors or leaks that might determine their fate. And that very much includes the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.
“We’re in a kind of ‘wait and see’ mode” team CEO Mickey Walker told me when we spoke last week. “We really still don’t get a lot of information. We do meet with the negotiating committee as a league and they update us on negotiations. But the funny thing is, a lot of what the negotiating committee reports to us, they’ll even say: ‘this is sort of hearsay. Nothing on this is official.’”
The current uncertainty has reached the point where teams have literally learned of the elimination of their affiliate status over twitter — as was the case with the Trenton Thunder and Staton Island Yankees, who both heard the ax fall when word leaked out over the social media website. As more and more new affiliations get announced piecemeal every week, teams who fear they’re on the cutting line must be living in perpetual dread of hearing their future laid out for them publicly (though MLB has sent a memo around to all teams to stop the leaks). Walker has heard rumors that the Volcanoes are for sure safe, that they’re for sure out, that the league will be a High A, that it will be a Low A — everything still seems in flux. The entire situation has to be nerve-wracking for the people whose lives are intertwined with that of their clubs.
“We’re one of those teams that have a lot riding on this because we’re really up in the air. A couple of these other teams that were never on the list [of 42 teams slated to be eliminated from affiliate baseball] and know that they’re safe, they’re kinda just waiting on the schedule to come out so they can start selling tickets. But we’re wondering a lot more than that.”
Walker feels like the team’s relationship with the Giants organization is on solid footing, but worries that the ultimate determination will come from MLB’s home office — the one that originally put the Volcanoes on the list of franchises to cut. That’s a move that still rankles the Walker family, who feels like the Volcanoes have a lot to offer. “The funny thing about them making such a big deal about travel issues and not wanting players to have to travel far, it just raises questions more and more in my mind about why we should have been on the list in the first place. We have the best travel situation of any team in the Northwest League including two commuter trips that are less than an hour long.” For the longer trips, the Volcanoes are already perhaps the only team in the Northwest League that routinely provides two buses to maximize player comfort — at the request of the Giants. That’s another of MLB’s stated objectives that the Volcanoes already have in their favor.
Walker also feels that Volcanos Stadium is in good shape as far as necessary facility upgrades go. A few years back they built a new 5200 square foot batting cage with four tunnels (twice the minimum that is being proposed in the new specifications), and the team doesn’t believe they’ll need to add too much new square footage to the home or road locker rooms either. “We have a loose idea of what’s going to be [required] … and we’re very pleased with where we’re at as a facility as far as things that need to be done. We have very little work to do to increase square footage because the changes aren’t that drastic.”
Still, Walker knows that they’re beyond being able to plead their case at this point. A huge amount of pieces are in motion with MLB ultimately controlling how the puzzle all fits together. So the Volcanoes head into the Thanksgiving holiday, waiting to be told their destiny. Walker thinks the wait won’t be too much longer — he’s heard rumors that the final word will come down between Thanksgiving and December 1st. “But again we were told we were going to know before September ended and then we were told it was before Halloween and then we were told after the election ended and now this, so I’m skeptical.”
Still the timeframe makes sense to Walker since much work still needs to be done to get ready for a potential 2021 season and teams won’t be able to wait very much longer to start selling tickets and corporate sponsorship and plan events. For the Walker Family, the next week could put an end to more than a quarter-century’s history or it could start an exciting new chapter in that history.
“I go back and forth on it, probably on a daily basis.” One day Walker thinks about the good relationship the Volcanoes have built with the Giants — particularly former Volcano manager Kyle Haines. The next day he returns to the fact that Salem-Keizer has been on the outside trying to work its way back in since the start of this process.
But Walker knows two things for sure. One: neither he nor any member of the Volcanoes organization can influence the final decision. As far as their affiliate status goes, their future will be handed to them as a fait accompli. But as for their franchise’s existence? That they will ultimately control. “One way or another we’re going to keep playing baseball at Volcanoes Stadium. It’s just a matter of: are we going to be affiliated with the Giants or are we going to have to try to figure out something else that will work for this community. And try to figure out a way that baseball doesn’t get taken away in its entirety.”
Happy Thanksgiving everybody! May you and your loved ones find joy and comfort in your time together, whether it’s in person or virtual.