BILLINGS — The Pioneer League’s list of teams will grow by one following Wednesday's announcement that the Boise Hawks plan to join the league in 2021.
Boise, previously of the short-season Single-A Northwest League, had been an affiliate of the Colorado Rockies since 2015. As part of Major League Baseball’s desired restructuring of the minor leagues, the Hawks will not retain their professional development license with MLB and will instead become an independent club.
It was announced last week that the 81-year-old Pioneer League will become an independent Partner League of Major League Baseball.
With the addition of Boise the league will consist of nine teams, also including the Billings Mustangs, Missoula PaddleHeads, Great Falls Voyagers, Idaho Falls Chukars, Ogden Raptors, Grand Junction Rockies, Rocky Mountain Vibes, and Northern Colorado Owlz.
The move will mark a return for Boise — population 280,000 — to its baseball roots; the city had a team in the Pioneer League from 1939-1963.
“The (Pioneer League) is in the early stages in constructing an operating model for the MLB Partner League in 2021. We welcome any opportunity for the return of Boise to the PBL — one of our original clubs,” league president Jim McCurdy stated in a press release.
“We are proud to announce that professional baseball will continue in the Treasure Valley next season,” Boise vice president Bob Flannery said in the release. “Our staff is currently hard at work putting the pieces together for another great season.”
The Hawks had been members of the Northwest League since 1987. Prior to their partnership with the Rockies, they were affiliated with the Chicago Cubs from 2001-2014.
Boise was an independent member of the league between 1987 and 1989 before partnering with the Los Angles Angels in 1990.
The Hawks have played at 3,500-seat Memorial Stadium in Boise since 1989, though team president Jeff Eiseman said in a statement that the team’s inability to build a new facility was the reason the Rockies and Major League Baseball shuttered the club’s affiliated status.
“We are very disappointed by this decision by MLB and not having the support of the Colorado Rockies through this process,” Eiseman stated. “We were told our current facility ultimately led to the decision.”
Eiseman said the Hawks will continue to pursue a new stadium, as well as affiliated status with MLB in the future.
“Our efforts remain the same today as they were yesterday, to continue to provide Boise with a showcase facility that will meet and exceed the new requirements of Major League Baseball and ultimately deliver Triple-A baseball to this market,” Eiseman said.
Major League Baseball and the office of Commissioner Rob Manfred have been in the process of restructuring the minor league apparatus for months. The Professional Baseball Agreement that governed MLB’s working relationship with Minor League Baseball for the past 30 years expired in September.
The entire 2020 Minor League Baseball season was canceled in June as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
MiLB had previously been made up of 160 teams but now is expected to consist of 120 clubs. Baseball America reported Wednesday that MLB had officially invited 119 of the 120 to be part of the new-look minor leagues.
Major League Baseball has said its motivation for this change is to improve working conditions and pay for its prospects, to better align major- and minor-league clubs geographically, to build on marketing potential for MiLB and to position the game for greater growth.
As a Partner League, the Pioneer League will be independent of major league clubs but will still collaborate with MLB to keep organized professional baseball in its communities.
Major League Baseball is expected to provide initial funding for the league’s operating expenses and implement a procedure for player transfers to MLB clubs. The organizations are also expected to explore joint marketing, ticketing and fan engagement opportunities.
The 2021 Pioneer League season is expected to begin in May and consist of a 92-game schedule.