As near as I can tell, putting together the South Atlantic League schedule each year is an exercise akin to something like this:
How else to explain that for a second-straight season in 2016, the Hickory Crawdads will make three trips to Lakewood, N.J. – with the Crawdads hosting the division rivals just once – but not make a trip to Columbia, S.C., just a little over two hours away.
Here are some other oddities for the 2016 schedule:
*The Crawdads will host only three Northern Division teams in the first half. One of those teams – Greensboro – will come to Hickory for ten of the first 28 home games.
*Hickory will host Rome, Ga. (from the Southern Division) for a four-series from May 12-15. Then after a week-long road trip, the Crawdads come back home for three more against Rome. So in short, 17 of the first 28 home games will be against Rome and Greensboro.
* Hickory will host Rome for 11 home games, more than any other team – yes, more than any in-division team.
*Hickory will play Asheville six total games, all during the final two week of the season. Asheville is 65 minutes away. Yes, Hickory will go 17 MONTHS without seeing Asheville at L.P. Frans.
*It’s Hickory’s year to play Lexington, Ky. After only three games in 2015 against the Legends – another out-of-division team – the Crawdads face Lexington 15 times in 2016 (two trips there, two series here).
The major issue of compiling a schedule in the SAL is the geographic footprint. Lakewood’s closest rival Delmarva is over four hours away. Lexington’s closest Southern Division rival (yes, Southern, it is north over all three of the Northern Division teams that play in North Carolina) is Asheville, just 274 miles away. (Charleston, West Virginia of the Northern Division is 177 miles). Teams must have a day off when traveling more than 500 miles.
With all the travel those clubs have to endure, I’m sure there is little sympathy by the BlueClaws and Legends for the travel woes of other teams. However, when the BlueClaws set up shop after moving from Cape Fear, N.C. – and thus expanding the footprint of the SAL – they and the SAL knew that travel was going to be a major issue. Honestly, given the number of double-digit hour trips that Phillies minor league players would be making – and other teams going to the Jersey shore to play the BlueClaws – I’m surprised that farm directors didn’t raise more of a stink.
Nothing says player development like sitting on a long-distance bus trip.
Lakewood is a AA-sized affiliate playing in a AA-sized park, yet remain in the SAL. Seems to me it’d be a great fit in the Eastern League. However, I know the BlueClaws want to keep a Phillies affiliation and the current AA Phillies affiliate at Reading would fight tooth-and-nail to keep that intact.
Lexington is closer to several Midwest League teams, including in-state Bowling Green – which began its existence in the SAL in 2008 before bolting with Lake County (Ohio) to the MWL – than most of its SAL foes.
The powers that be at MiLB have been talking re-alignment of the various leagues for years to minimize travel. The transfer of Bowling Green and Lake County was to be a part of that, yet it’s gone nowhere since. So year after year, the ridiculous schedules are released and people who follow and cover the SAL laugh in amazement and derision of the finished product.
If the SAL wants to keep its footprint from near New York City to the South Carolina Low Country and out beyond the Appalachians, so be it. But come up with a schedule that makes some sort of sense and has some kind of integrity. Every other bus-travel league that has a large footprint (Texas, Midwest) has figured out how to it. Surely, the SAL can as well.
In fact, I’ll start the conversation:
For each 70-game half:
Each club plays the other six division rivals 7 games (4 at one site, 3 at the other) = 42
Each club plays the seven out-of-division rivals 4 games (facing 3 teams at home, 4 teams away or vice versa) =28
Flip the 70-game set for the second half.
SAL stop the insanity!