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Schedules released for Royals minor league affiliates

Minor league teams want to play ball!

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Mitch "MITCH" Maier at his current post, coaching first base in Omaha
Mitch “MITCH” Maier at his current post, coaching first base in Omaha
Minda Haas

Minor league schedules were released today with Triple-A teams to begin their season in early April with other leagues to begin their season in early May. The season for lower leagues was pushed back to allow for a later spring training once big league camp has wrapped up and possibly more vaccines are available.

It remains to be seen how many fans will be allowed to attend games, and it will likely depend greatly on the jurisdiction. With negligible revenues from radio and TV, minor league teams depend almost exclusively on attendance for financial support. Pushing the season back a bit helps buy time as COVID-19 cases have been receding and some restrictions have been lifted.

This season will be the first under a radical restructure of the minor league system. MLB cut 42 teams from affiliation, including former Royals affiliates such as the Lexington Legends, Idaho Falls Chukars, and Burlington Royals. The remaining teams have been reshuffled a bit, with some accommodates made to reduce travel for the pandemic.

The Royals will continue their affiliation with Triple-A Omaha, a relationship since the Royals’ inception since 1969 that is the third-longest continuous affiliation in baseball. Omaha will no longer play in the Pacific Coast League, and will play this year in the “Triple-A East” in the Midwest Division. These bland league names are subject to change, and will likely be replaced with some sort of corporate naming rights.

To reduce travel, the Storm Chasers will be limited to playing their 142-game schedule only against divisional opponents, who will include the Columbus Clippers (Indians), Indianapolis Indians (Pirates), Iowa Cubs (Cubs), Louisville Bats (Reds), St. Paul Saints (Twins), and Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers). This means the Storm Chasers will play the Iowa Cubs 42 times this year - so the teams will be well acquainted. Royals farm director J.J. Picollo recently told The Athletic that the realignment should help reduce travel costs.

“The PCL was brutal travel and too many miles flown on commercial flights to get to say … Tacoma or New Orleans. We hope that travel stays neutral with a little crossover or interleague play.”

The season begins April 6 at Toledo with the home opener on April 13 at Werner Park against St. Paul. You can find the complete schedule here.

The Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals will play in the “Double-A Central” in the Northern Division with the Arkansas Travelers (Mariners), Springfield Cardinals (Cardinals), Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers), and Wichita Wind Surge (Twins). Wichita gets its first taste of affiliated ball since 2007 with brand new Riverfront Stadium set to open. Wichita and the San Antonio Missions (Padres) join the eight teams that made up the Texas League. The Natuarls open the season on May 4 at Arkansas, and host their home opener on May 11 against Tulsa. You can find their complete 120-game schedule here.

The Royals welcome the Quad Cities River Bandits as their newest High-A affiliate in the “High-A Central” League, which consists mostly of clubs that were in the Midwest League. The River Bandits play in the Western Division with the Beloit Snappers (Marlins), Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins), Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals), South Bend Cubs (Cubs), and Wisconsin Timer Rattlers (Brewers). The River Bandits will open their season at Modern Woodmen Park on May 4 at South Bend and host their home opener on May 11 against Cedar Rapids. You can find their complete schedule here.

The Royals also welcome a new Low-A ball affiliate, the Columbia Fireflies of the “Low-A East”, which is made up of teams from the Carolina League and South Atlantic League. The league is split into three divisions, with the South Carolina-based Fireflies in the South Division with the August GreenJackets (Braves), Charleston RiverDogs (Rays), and Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs). The Fireflies, who were previously a Mets affiliate, begin the season on May 4 at Augusta with the home opener on May 11 against Charleston. You can find the complete schedule here.

The Royals will also field a team in the Arizona Summer League, but that schedule will be released later this summer. To accommodate the later start to the season there will be no post-season in the minor leagues this year.