The Charlotte Stone Crabs are no more.
Although they will continue to host their spring training at Charlotte Sports Park, the Tampa Bay Rays announced on Wednesday that the Stone Crabs will no longer be one of their minor league affiliates.
The Stone Crabs have been the Rays’ high-A affiliate since 2009. But the organization will now move their Bowling Green (Ky.) team from low-A to the high-A and have invited the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs to become their low-A affiliate. Charleston was Tampa Bay’s original low-A affiliate from 1997-2004.
Charlotte general manager Jeff Cook had a succinct answer when asked about the Stone Crabs’ future.
“That leaves the Stone Crabs completely out of affiliated baseball and minor league baseball,” Cook told The Daily Sun in a phone interview on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s the end of the Stone Crabs.”
Cook said there is no plan to try to affiliate the Stone Crabs, who are owned by Caribbean Baseball Initiative Group, with another Major League organization.
“Everybody has already got what they’ve got,” Cook said. “We had 160 (minor league) teams, now there’s only 120. We can’t host anyone else at the Sports Park (because the Rays will continue to use the home clubhouse for the Gulf Coast League and player development). Most everybody was kind of locked into where they wanted to be and we just weren’t one of those spots.”
The Gulf Coast League, the lowest rung of minor league baseball in the U.S., features mostly first-year players and doesn’t charge admission or sell concessions. Charlotte County now has to figure out what to do with the Charlotte Sports Park for the remainder of the year.
The county released the following statement through communications manager Brian Gleason on Wednesday: “Charlotte County will be reviewing the impacts of the changes as it relates to future sports and event programming at Charlotte Sports Park. The county is a well-known and respected host for a number of professional, collegiate and amateur baseball organizations, tournaments and events. We look forward to exploring opportunities to expand the number of events at Charlotte Sports Park.”
In a press release, Rays general manager Erik Neander thanked the Stone Crabs and two other affiliates that the team cut ties with, the Hudson Valley Renegades and the Princeton Rays, “for their many years of affiliation with our organization.”
Although having a Florida State League team was geographically convenient for the Rays, the league offered other challenges. The Stone Crabs averaged 1,363 fans per game in 2019.
“The Florida State League is a tough league to play in for kids,” said Cook, who will soon be looking for a new job. “It’s hot, it rains a lot and that can take a toll on development. They just wanted something that fit a little better.”
The other minor league team that was supposed to be playing in the area this past summer, the North Port Fire Frogs, also will not be returning to the FSL. The Atlanta Braves’ affiliate never actually played a game at CoolToday Park thanks to the pandemic canceling the minor league season. Now, the Braves will move their low-A affiliate to Augusta, Georgia.
Teams around the Major Leagues announced the shifting and contracting of teams over the course of the afternoon Wednesday as part of a plan MLB has been considering for over a year.
“The Rays called to explain that MLB is forcing everybody’s hand by losing affiliates and they had to make some tough decisions and this was one of them,” Cook said.