- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2019

When the Nationals visited the White House earlier this month, President Trump made no mention of Sean Doolittle after the closer announced he’d be skipping the celebration over the president’s rhetoric.

But on Tuesday, the Nationals’ closer earned a shoutout from another political figure.

Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernard Sanders quote-tweeted Doolittle, agreeing with the 33-year-old that Major League Baseball shouldn’t shutter more than 25% of its minor-league affiliates.

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According to multiple reports, MLB is considering contracting 42 of its 160 minor league teams — including two of the Nationals’ affiliates, the Class A Hagerstown Suns and the short-season Single A Auburn Doubledays — by 2021, the first season after the league’s Profession Baseball Agreement (PBA) expires.

Doolittle, posting a link Sunday to an article about the changes, said: “This is really sad and I hope it doesn’t happen.”

Two days later, Vermont’s independent senator, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination, chimed in.

Sean is absolutely right,” Sanders said. “Closing down Minor League teams, like the Vermont Lake Monsters, would be a disaster for baseball fans, workers, and communities across the country. We must protect these teams from corporate greed.”

According to The New York Times, the Vermont Lake Monsters, a short-season single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, would be shuttered under the league’s new proposal. The overhaul calls for sweeping changes from getting rid of short-season Single-A ball to shuttering teams all the way to Double-A.

MLB has defended the move as a way to improve conditions, including upgrading facilities and player compensation. MLB also says the changes will help increase the number of off days and provide “better geographical affiliations between the MLB clubs an affiliates.”

More than 40 million fans attended minor league games in 2019, The Athletic reported. Total attendance increased 2.6% from the previous year, as well.

But MLB has faced scrutiny over how much players are paid, with critics calling for better wages.

According to MASN, the 42 teams selected to contract were chosen because of “facility standards and geography.” Jeff Lantz, a senior director of communications for MLB, told the network that the Nationals would have to find a new city for their Class A affiliate instead of Hagerstown.

Hagerstown has hosted professional baseball for more than 120 years. Municipal Stadium, where the Hagerstown Suns play, seats 4,600 and has been operating for 89 years. The Suns moved to Hagerstown in 1981 and drew 59.682 fans in 65 games last season — last among the 14 teams in the South Atlantic League.

On Sunday, Doolittle criticized MLB’s actions of reducing the number of minor-league teams as a way to cut costs.

“It would eliminate an MLB opportunity for over a thousand players,” Doolittle said. “It would also remove thousands of jobs from local economies in small towns where minor league baseball is (a) convenient and affordable way for fans to watch our sport in person.

“It also doesn’t feel like a good way to grow our sport? Especially when MLB attendance is on the decline. … I wish the conversation was about finding ways to improve the existing structure of minor league baseball (paying players more, improving facilities, etc.) rather than tearing it down to try and save money.”

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