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RubberDucks-Indians affiliation stays intact

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Seats have been ready for fans to cheer on the Akron RubberDucks at Canal Park, but the season has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AKRON  Minor league baseball is in the midst of a major overhaul of its entire landscape as Major League Baseball enacts sweeping changes to the structure of the game at the lower levels, but for the Akron RubberDucks, this past week brought a welcome dose of continuity.

After the 2020 minor league season was wiped out entirely by the COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement that the RubberDucks had officially accepted their invitation to remain the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians after signing Major League Baseball’s Professional Development License (PDL) was a reason for relief on Main Street.

With the 10-year agreement, the franchise continues its 32-year affiliation with the Indians, dating back to 1989.

“We are so proud to continue our long-standing professional relationship with the Cleveland Indians by accepting their invitation to remain the Double-A affiliate,” RubberDucks owner Ken Babby said. “As we enter a new era of Minor League Baseball across the country, we are so excited to assure our loyal fans that RubberDucks baseball in the Rubber City is here to stay."

During the 2020 baseball season, minor league teams across the A, AA and AAA levels not only were unable to play games, but also had their futures thrown into doubt as MLB moved forward with a plan to reduce the number of affiliated minor league franchises to 120.

Teams will have one affiliate each at the Triple-A, Double-A, low-A and high-A levels, with additional clubs allowed at spring training complexes and in the Dominican Republic. As one of the Indians' (whose nickname change remains in process) four affiliates, the RubberDucks will remain part of a system that has seen stars such as Francisco Lindor, Shane Bieber, Bradley Zimmer and others pass through Canal Park.

An Akron RubberDucks cap and a glove rest on the field at Canal Park.

The new Professional Development License structure stipulates that all affiliation agreements between MLB and MiLB clubs would be 10 years in length. It comes as part of the process of MLB restructuring minor league baseball following the September 2020 expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement that governed the two entities’ relationship for over a century.

Under the previous agreement, affiliation agreements between Major League Baseball clubs and Minor League baseball clubs were only two or four years in length. As they work to recover from missing the 2020 season and not having baseball at Canal Park for the first time since the franchise moved to downtown Akron in 1997, the RubberDucks have an eye on the coming season and returning the energy to the downtown area.

“We pride ourselves on providing the best affordable, family entertainment to our Greater Akron community,” RubberDucks general Jim Pfander said. “Although we missed out on a 2020 RubberDucks season, we can’t wait to safely welcome our amazing fans back into Canal Park this summer for the long-awaited arrival of baseball in 2021."

Akron Beacon Journal

The franchise's ties to the Indians dates back to 1989 as the Canton-Akron Indians (1989-1996), followed by stints as the Akron Aeros (1997-2013) and Akron RubberDucks (2014-present).

How the Eastern League will look and whether it will undergo a name change are part of the process that will play out in the weeks leading up to the new season. For now, MLB is calling the minor league groupings Triple-A East and West, Double-A Central, Northeast and South, High-A Central, East and West, and Low-A East, Southeast and West, with geographic subdivisions within each league.

Double-A teams will play a 138-game schedule – two games shorter than in recent seasons for the RubberDucks – and are slated to begin their regular seasons in early May. The roster will take shape as spring training unfolds for the Indians and players are sent to the team's minor league system, with the final roster set after Cleveland sets its own roster.