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A minor league baseball revolution is coming

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PORT ST. LUCIE — The novel coronavirus has dramatically impacted all spectator events, generally.

Major League Baseball’s takeover of the minor leagues has dramatically impacted the owners of those minor-league teams, specifically.

Like with any business, you adapt or die. 

One minor-league ownership group is ready to do the former, and to help others do the same.

“There absolutely is a future,” said Gary Green, the CEO of Alliance Group, even as he acknowledged, “The pandemic combined with (the MLB takeover) has definitely been a little nerve-wracking.”

The Alliance Group owns the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate in Omaha, the Giants’ Double-A affiliate in Richmond and the Rays’ Double-A affiliate in Montgomery, as well as the USL League One team Union Omaha and the magazine Baseball America. Green, who grew up as a Mets fan in Great Neck, and his group co-founder Larry Botel, a lifelong Phillies fan who was raised in the Philadelphia suburbs, came up with the idea to provide loans to their fellow minor-league owners through a newly created fund, which will be run by Oaktree Capital Management.

“The last time we had income, really, was the 2019 season,” Green said, alluding to the fact that there was no minor-league action last year. “We saw the need in front of our own eyes with our own team. We realized that industry-wide, this was going to be an issue.”

The plan calls for the loans to range from $1 million to $10 million, terms between two and five years and interest rates between eight and 12 percent. Team must exhibit some viability in the form of a trailing three-year average revenue of greater than $3 million (the average minor-league team has pulled down about $5 million in that time frame, Botel said) and trailing EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of more than $300,000 (most teams are around $500,000 in this category, Botel said).

Fans at a minor league baseball game
Fans at a minor league baseball game
Boston Globe via Getty Images

If minor-league ownership groups can pull through these rough times, Green and Botel assert, they can get rewarded by not only the return to normalcy thanks to COVID vaccinations but also this new business model instituted by MLB.

“We’ve been in minor-league baseball ownership for 13 years,” Botel said. “Our major frustrations have been from a business perspective that Minor League Baseball hasn’t acted like a professional league. Not taking advantage of media dollars and Internet platforms to generate revenue. We think that Major League Baseball taking us over will start to open the door to a lot of those revenue streams and a lot of things that can make us more sophisticated and hopefully make us money.

“The pandemic is obviously delaying a lot of those things, but in the long run we believe in that.”

Minor-league games have become known best for wacky promotions and between-innings fun. Botel added: “Someone did a poll of fans walking out of a minor-league game, asking them, ‘Who won? Only 30 percent knew the answer. And nobody knew the score. What Minor League Baseball did was somewhat intentional: The owners realized they can’t control what’s going on: ‘We can’t control the baseball, so we can control the circus. We lost touch with the sport. That’s going to change.

“…The focus is going to be much more on baseball, really building around prospects. That will be much more the reason that people will come and watch minor-league baseball games, hopefully on TV, too. The amusement park is still going to be there, but the baseball (itself) is going to be much more important.”

It’ll be interesting to watch the attempted brand makeover. It’ll be a better test, like everything, when we get through the current challenges.


— This week’s Pop Quiz question came from the late Jan Bottone of Wellesley, Mass.: A 1997 episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street” features a murder at a baseball game between two American League East rivals. Name the rivals.


— It never ceases to amaze me how polarizing a figure Brett Gardner is among the Yankees’ fan base. Batting average isn’t that important if you can draw a lot of walks, folks! And here’s a reminder, from a story I wrote back in late 2019, of the sort of clubhouse value Gardner brings.


— Your Pop Quiz answer is the Yankees and Orioles. If you have a tidbit that connects baseball with popular culture, please send it to me at [email protected].

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Bulls’ Zach LaVine called cops on ‘obsessed’ fan at his home

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Zach LaVine had an unwanted visitor.

The Chicago Bulls star had to call the police after an “allegedly obsessed” woman showed up to his Chicago home and refused to leave on Thursday night, according to TMZ. 

The woman reportedly traveled from out of state, demanding to speak with the first-time All-Star, who was home at the time.

Police took her a local hospital for mental evaluation, and she has not been formally arrested or charged with a crime.

LaVine, 25, wrapped up first-half action with the Bulls on Wednesday and was drafted to Kevin Durant’s All-Star side for Sunday’s festivities in Atlanta.

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Blake Griffin a free agent after Pistons buyout

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Blake Griffin will be free to sign with the Nets or another interested NBA team after agreeing to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons.

The six-time All-Star forward “has interest from most of the NBA’s top playoff contenders and is expected to make a decision on his next team after conversations with prospective teams,” ESPN reported.

The Nets, Lakers, Heat, Warriors and Clippers – his former team — are among those that have expressed interest, according to the New York Times. ESPN.com added that the Blazers are interested

The 31-year-old Griffin hasn’t played since Feb. 12 while the Pistons attempted to trade him before the March 25 deadline, but they found no takers due to the remainder of his $36.6 million salary for this season and the $39 million he’s owed for 2021-22.

Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
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Griffin is averaging a career-low 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 games this season. He was dealt by the Clippers to Detroit in 2018, during the first season of a five-year extension worth $171 million.



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Broncos send a pretty strong warning to Drew Lock

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Drew Lock is no lock to remain the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021.

General manager George Paton and coach Vic Fangio both said Thursday that the team expects to bring in competition for Lock, possibly with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

“Obviously we’re always looking to bring in players at all positions that can raise the level of competition, and the quarterback is no different in that regard,” Fangio said, according to the team’s website.

“Until we get or until Drew proves to be the next great quarterback, like the ones that the Denver franchise has been used to in years past or certain teams around the league … are used to, we’re going to always try and bring in competition. But I have confidence that Drew can continue to improve.”

Lock made 13 starts in 2020 and tied with Carson Wentz for the league lead with 15 interceptions. He finished 32nd in the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 75.4 passer rating, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Wentz and Sam Darnold.

Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
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“Very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on,” Paton said Thursday. “But I’ve spoken with Drew, I see him every day. He’s here early. He’s working. He really wants to be great. And we’re always going to try to bring in competition at every position, and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew’s on.”

Lock, the Broncos’ second-round pick in 2019 out of Missouri, had started five games as a rookie, winning four of them. Denver went 4-9 with him as the starter last season.

“I’m confident that Drew’s going to continue to improve,” Fangio said. “Drew’s had a great offseason up to this point. There’s not a lot you can do, but he’s working hard on his own, coming over here and getting workouts, and I know he’s doing a lot at home by himself, watching video by himself. He’s got a good setup over there. And he’s doing anything and everything he can to improve, even in February and now in March.”

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