When the Sussex County Miners open their season at Skylands Stadium on May 27, they’ll be a part of this newest chapter in baseball history.
After five years in the Can-Am League, Sussex County will now play in the newly-expanded Frontier League, which was designated in February as an MLB Partner League.
“This is great for the team and the fans,” said Sussex County owner Al Dorso.
“There will be a higher caliber of talent, both on our team and on opposing teams. We took a step up when we joined the Frontier League and now it’s another step up to be designated as a Partner League with Major League Baseball.”
In the winter shakeup, MLB “streamlined” its minor league structure, reducing the number of affiliated teams from 160 to 120. MLB also reduced its pro draft from 40 rounds down to 20 rounds.
Those moves will send close to 2,000 young and hungry players out of the affiliated system and into an independent league, like the Frontier League — the biggest and longest-running independent league in the U.S., with the most successful track record of sending players on to big-league organizations.
The Frontier League is still an independent league with no MLB-affiliated teams, but it’s now a league with an even bigger pipeline for players to move on to affiliated teams and, ultimately — hopefully — to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.
“There will be bigger dreams and bigger potentials here than ever before,” said Miners manager Bobby Jones.
He would know.
The lefty pitcher out of Rutherford High School was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 44th round of the 1991 MLB draft. Today, that draft pick would not exist and he might have come here to play for the Miners.
Of course, things turned out well for Bobby, who worked his way up to the big leagues and enjoyed six seasons on the mound with the Rockies, Mets, Padres and Red Sox.
Will there be more big-leaguers of the future at Skylands this year?
“Definitely,” the manager said. “The trick will be to pick them out of the crowd at these early stages of their careers.”
In Thursday night’s season-opener, Sussex County will face a familiar rival in the New Jersey Jackals, the team that beat them in the final Can-Am League championship in 2019.
Both Garden State teams will play this year in the Northeast Division of the Frontier League’s Can-Am Conference. And, yes, there will still be the long road trips across the border to Ottawa, Quebec and Trois-Rivieres.
Virtually all of the Miners games this year will be played against other teams within the Can-Am Conference, which is in part a concession to travel issues due to the coronavirus. The only exception occurs late in the summer when the Florence Y’alls, out of the Midwestern Conference, travel to Skylands from their Kentucky home.
Most other teams in the Can-Am Conference are familiar names for Sussex County fans, but two new squads join in – the Washington Wild Things (of Washington, PA) and the Tri-City Valley Cats (of Troy, NY).
After a 96-game season, the winners of the four divisions will square off in the Frontier League playoffs.
“It’s going to be an exciting year around here, that’s guaranteed,” said Sussex County general manager Justin Ferrarella.
“The talent level on the field is going to be way up, and I’m also very excited about our new connection with MLB and how we can work with them on community projects.”
After four years of abandonment, Skylands Stadium was purchased by Dorso in 2014, with no team or league in sight.
By the spring of 2015, Dorso had founded the Sussex County Miners as a new franchise in the Can-Am League, and, in 2018, the team became league champs.