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Contrary to MLB claim, city, minor league officials say Batavia Muckdogs haven't been sold
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Contrary to MLB claim, city, minor league officials say Batavia Muckdogs haven't been sold

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Auburn Doubledays' manager Jerad Head, left, and Batavia Muckdogs' manager Ángel Espada confer with the umpires at home plate before the start of the home opener at Falcon Park in Auburn, N.Y., June 20, 2017.

The Batavia Muckdogs have been caught in the middle of a public feud between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball. 

A letter from MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem to MiLB president Pat O'Conner claims the Muckdogs, a short-season Single-A baseball team that plays in the New York-Penn League, have been sold. The claim received a passing mention in an Associated Press story about MLB's proposal to restructure the minor league system and eliminate 42 clubs, including the Muckdogs and Auburn Doubledays. 

Halem argued that MLB would maintain baseball in communities affected by the plan. Part of the proposal is the creation of a "dream league" for undrafted players. This would replace the rookie and short-season leagues. 

Minor League Baseball, Halem contends, can't make the same commitment. He cited examples of minor league teams that have moved to different cities, including four in the last two years. In 2015, the Jamestown Jammers — a New York-Penn League team — moved to West Virginia. 

Then came Halem's claim about the Muckdogs. He said MLB representatives, acting on a request from New York state officials, set up a meeting with Batavia community leaders to "discuss how to preserve baseball" in the city. 

"After we set up the meeting, we learned for the first time from multiple sources (but not MiLB) that the NY Penn League sold Batavia — presumably for millions of dollars — to an owner who intends to move the team to another city," Halem wrote. 

Minor League Baseball and the city dispute the claim. When asked by The Citizen whether the team has been sold, Batavia City Manager Martin Moore responded: "Not true." 

A spokesman for Minor League Baseball said they don't comment on the sale of teams, but added that "nothing has been submitted to our office about the sale of the Batavia team." 

Ben Hayes, president of the New York-Penn League, could not be reached for comment. The New York-Penn League owns the team. 

Moore said that the Muckdogs have an agreement to play for at least "another couple years" at the city-owned Dwyer Stadium. He met with the Muckdogs' general manager, Brendan Kelly, on Wednesday. 

The city, Moore continued, has been working with the Miami Marlins — the Muckdogs' parent club — and the New York-Penn League to improve the facility and team.

After years of struggles, the Muckdogs had a strong 2019 on and off the field. The team had a 41-35 record and won the Pinckney Division. It was the club's first winning season since 2013 and its first division title in nine years. 

Batavia's attendance increased by 43% last season, Moore said. According to the New York-Penn League's website, the Muckdogs' attendance rose from an average of 784 fans per game in 2018 to 1,165 last season. 

Regarding MLB's proposal to eliminate the Muckdogs and 41 other clubs, Moore hopes the league will reconsider. 

"You're talking about a local community that invested millions of dollars into its facility over the years," he said. "We have a major league team plus the (New York-Penn League) that are also a part of it. It's a team effort to bringing things up to where there's a quality product on the field and a quality facility for fans to come to enjoy the game." 

The MLB plan is part of negotiations between the league and Minor League Baseball on a new professional baseball agreement. The current agreement expires in September. 

Jeff Lantz, a spokesman for MiLB, said the two sides met in New York City last week. Their next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 20 in Dallas. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.

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