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Orem Owlz owner breaks silence, endorses Washington task force trying to stop MLB plan

Orem Owlz owner breaks silence, endorses Washington task force trying to stop MLB plan

(Scott G Winterton, KSL, File)



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OREM — The owner of the Orem Owlz announced Wednesday he supports a bipartisan Washington task force aimed at stopping Major League Baseball’s plan to cut 42 teams from the Minor League Baseball system.

The proposed cuts would likely include the Owlz, the Ogden Raptors and the rest of the Pioneer League — the league both teams play in — after the 2020 season ends. All teams affected would not be forced to shut down but would lose lucrative affiliations with MLB teams.

On Tuesday, four U.S. lawmakers announced a task force called Save Minor League Baseball, which is aimed at stopping the plan. It’s led by representatives Lori Trahan, D-Massachusetts; David McKinley, R-West Virginia; Mike Simpson, R-Idaho; and Max Rose, D-New York. The group said they have already met with Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner and multiple minor league team owners.

“We appreciate the support of Rep. Lori Trahan, David McKinley and the members of the task force in standing up for Minor League Baseball and speaking out against MLB’s effort cast off thousands of jobs, reduce affordable, family-friendly entertainment and undermine grassroots support for our great game,” Owlz owner Jeff Katofsky said in a written statement Wednesday.

The Owlz ownership declined KSL.com’s request for comment on the matter last month.

“With this proposal, MLB is willing to break the hearts of dozens of communities across the country,” Katofsky added. “We are going to resist this plan and are gratified that so many in Congress are willing to join with us.”

In a Nov. 21 statement, Ogden Raptors officials said the organization was planning for “business as usual” in 2020 and expected the team would continue to play in 2021.

The baseball controversy began on Oct. 18 when Baseball America reported on MLB’s proposal to Minor League Baseball officials regarding the agreement between both sides. It requested changes to the MLB draft date, upgrades to minor league facilities, and for about a quarter of the teams in the system to be eliminated.

Jeff Lantz, MiLB's senior director of communications, said the plan was just the opener of discussions between the two sides as they negotiate a deal that’s set to expire at the end of the 2020 season.

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As word of the plan and the teams that would be affected spread, Trahan and McKinley wrote a letter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, asking the league to reconsider the plan. The letter, which was sent on Nov. 19, was signed by more than 100 other congressional leaders from across the country and across party lines, including Utah Republican representatives Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart.

The letter said the plan would hurt at least 42 communities across the U.S. because those teams “provide affordable, family-friendly entertainment ... support scores of allied businesses, employ thousands of individuals, donate millions of dollars in charitable funds” and connect their cities to the much larger MLB system.

Save Minor League Baseball is the next step in the fight against MLB’s proposal. Group leaders said in a news release they will continue to “closely monitor” the ongoing negotiations between MLB and Minor League Baseball and will “discuss potential legislative action if and when such a remedy becomes necessary.”

There hasn’t been any legislative action filed regarding MLB’s proposed plan, so far.

“Baseball is America’s pastime and that pastime should not be exclusive to a select number of cities. Minor league baseball is at the heart of many small and rural cities in our country,” Simpson said in a written statement Tuesday, adding that the plan would affect Boise and Idaho Falls in his home state.

“To deprive those communities of baseball would not only deny them access to our national heritage, but it would also harm local economies that depend on minor league baseball organizations,” his statement says.

As for Minor League Baseball, the organization thanked the congressional leaders for their support as the negotiations with MLB continue.

"While it is our hope to negotiate a fair agreement with MLB, the overwhelming support from elected officials on both sides of the aisle, at all levels of government, has been tremendous and shows that baseball helps to unite our nation,” a statement from the organization reads.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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