The other day, I took a moment to introduce the Houston Apollos, as they are a local Independent Baseball League team. Previously the Sugarland Skeeters were the strongest independent league from my understanding in the Houston area, but with the Astros acquisition and conversion of them as a minor league team, that has changed. With that said, the Sugarland Skeeters played for the Atlantic league, which, Baseball Historian named as the strongest in Independent League Baseball.
733 Baseball did a cool video covering the Atlantic League, and includes ex-Astros prospect Telvin Nash
So what is the Atlantic League? Well they are an official “MLB Partner League” which really doesn’t seem to mean a lot, essentially meaning they must be located in markets not currently served by a MLB or MiLB team and the facility must be maintained at or above Triple-A Standards. Additionally, in 2015 the Atlantic League signed an agreement to be able to sell players’ contracts to MLB teams - a ground breaking agreement as it was the first time the MLB made a formal agreement or acknowledgement of independent baseball leagues. (MLB has held anti-trust exemption since 1922)
The Atlantic league is now used as an area for the MLB to experiment with new rules. Here’s a list of some of the experimented rules:
- Reduced time between innings (2 min 5 second -> 1 min 45 second)
- Pitchers must face 3 batters
- Banning of mound visits
- Restriction of shift (2 infielders on either side of the base)
- Increase in size of the bases (15” to 18” - home plate unchanged)
- Moving the pitcher’s mound back 1 foot (now 61’ 6”)
- Ability to steal first (any dropped ball treated like dropped 3rd strike)
- Check Swings more batter friendly.
An interesting element to watching the Atlantic League is that it shows a glimpse into the MLB’s vision of what the game may look like in a few years. You’ll note quite a few of the rules changes mentioned have now been implemented (or are “agreed to” in current CBA Negotiations)
As for star power, the league has had it’s fair share of big names with Roger Clemens, Jose Conseco, Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir, and Dontrelle Willis just being some of the big names to have played in the league at some point.
The Atlantic league has been around since 1998 and in 2010 announced an expansion to Sugarland Texas - with the Sugarland Skeeters starting to play in 2012.
The Skeeters had been very successful with a visit to the championship in 2014, a win of the ALPB title in 2016 and a second championship shortly after in 2018. Most interestingly was a story where the All-Star game in 2014 ended up being the Skeeters vs the All-Stars from the rest of the league (a game which the Skeeters won 5-3).
Unfortunately, the Skeeters are now a Triple-A team and won’t be a member of the Atlantic League. With that said, a new team - the Gastonia Honey Hunters are only about a 1.5 hour drive from where I’m living now, so I may make them the subject of the next article.
There’s also some cool stories of fathers and sons such as Clemens and Palmiero playing together.
Roger & Koby Clemens
I look forward to continuing to explore the Independent Leagues of baseball. Is there something you’d like me to cover? Any teams or leagues particularly of interest to you?