League of 8 may be near

Nuts may get real familiar with opponents by 2010

08/27/2008 4:00 AM

09/03/2008 2:47 PM

It's insanely accurate symmetry that the San Jose Giants are in town tonight to close out the home portion of the Modesto Nuts' regular season.

The Giants were Modesto's opponent for the home opener back on April 7, and have played one series at John Thurman Field every month.

If you're counting, these will be games 29, 30 and 31 this season for the Nuts against the Giants — the most regular-season games the Nuts ever have played against a single opponent, with 17 of those played in Modesto.

It means if you're the kind of fan who goes to just a handful of random games, each time you drove past Modesto Muni's ninth fairway on the way to a game this season you've had a 24 percent chance of seeing San Jose.

On one hand, having San Jose in town is not such a bad thing. The Giants far and away have been the best team in the California League this season, and play solid, entertaining baseball. On the other hand, variety is nice, especially in the light of a 2008 schedule that didn't bring the Inland Empire or Rancho Cucamonga teams to Modesto until August.

That's all water under the dugout. The regular season is just about over, and sometime this weekend the Nuts should be celebrating the clinching of a playoff berth.

But back to this idea of playing one team 31 times in a season.

Yes, it's ridiculous and excessive. Get used to it.

Three weeks ago, I wrote about the chances of High Desert and Bakersfield losing their franchises because of substandard facilities. While it probably is too late for this to happen for the 2009 season, bet money that the league will be down to eight teams for 2010.

There will be at least one affiliate switch after this season. The Red Sox are looking to relocate their High-A team from Lancaster to Salem, Va., while the Rangers would be willing to move to eastern Guam simply to escape Bakersfield.

Once the Player Development Contracts are signed, Minor League Baseball will have the final say as to where the orphaned affiliates will play in 2009. Here's my guess as to how Minor League Baseball will rule.

Houston, which is being booted from Salem in favor of the Red Sox, will be banished to High Desert for the 2009 season, while the Rangers will be stuck at Historic Sam Lynn Park in Bakersfield. The following season, both of those teams will relocate to the Carolina League.

Sources high within Minor League Baseball have told me that as early as 2010, chances are great that the California League will be a perfect little eight-team loop, with all eight affiliates very happy to have teams playing in California.

Look at the 2010 plan with geographic logic. There are five major league teams in California and one each in Colorado, Washington and Arizona.

Colorado already has extended its contract with Modesto, while the five teams from the Golden State will continue to fit very nicely into San Jose (Giants), Stockton (A's), Inland Empire (Dodgers), Lake Elsinore (Padres) and Rancho Cucamonga (Angels). Visalia and Arizona announced the extension of their contracts Tuesday afternoon.

With the Red Sox pulling out of the league, expect Seattle to jump from High Desert back to Lancaster. The Mariners previously had their High-A team in Riverside from 1993-95, opened Lancaster's stadium in 1996 and stayed there until 2000.

So with that settled, let's move on to the logistics of an eight-team league.

The owners like having distinct geographic divisions, so there will be two four-team divisions. The owners also like having a three-round playoff system, so the teams will play 140 games to eliminate two teams. Ugh.

It will be much more difficult to convince the owners to sign off on a reasonable schedule. They will push hard to have every team play 35 games against their divisional rivals, for a total of 105 games, leaving only 35 out-of-division games.

This makes sense only from the aspect of travel costs, but major league teams don't want their young prospects playing so many games against a single opponent.

The compromise is to play 30 games against the other three divisional foes, leaving 50 inter-divisional contests. Such a schedule means every team plays two series per season in the home parks of the other division.

Ideally, it would be broken down into one series per half, but we can't have it all.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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