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River Bandits set to join Royals organization
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River Bandits set to join Royals organization

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Quad Cities River Bandits fans find their seats before a 2016 Midwest League game against Cedar Rapids at Modern Woodmen Park.

The Quad Cities River Bandits have been invited to become part of the Royals family.

The Kansas City Royals will become the new long-term major-league parent of the River Bandits beginning in 2021.

As Major League Baseball restructures its minor-league set up and focuses on a more regional approach to player development operations, Quad Cities owner Dave Heller welcomes the chance to affiliate with Kansas City.

“The Royals were my first, second and third choice and I didn’t have a fourth one,’’ Heller said. “They wanted to come to the Quad-Cities and we want them to be here. We’re excited about being able to establish a long-term relationship with a great organization.’’

The possibility became reality Wednesday morning when the Royals announced that they were inviting four communities to become Kansas City affiliates as part of Major League Baseball’s new player development structure.

Quad Cities, and the rest of a Midwest League that will be downsized from 16 to 12 teams, will move from being classified as a low-A league to being a Class A-Advanced league and the second full-season step on the professional baseball ladder.

The Royals also extended offers to franchises in Omaha, Northwest Arkansas and Columbia, S.C., to be part of their organization.

“This is the day we’ve been waiting for,’’ River Bandits general manager Joe Kubly said. “To be able to share the news with our staff when the invitation came in, it was pretty exciting after what has been kind of a long year.’’

Under the new structure, the invited affiliates will be required to agree to Player Development Licenses issued by Major League Baseball to officially become an affiliate of the Royals organization.

Unlike the previous Player Development Contracts between major- and minor-league teams which were for two or four years, the Player Development Licenses will be offered for a longer period of time, perhaps for as long as 10 years.

Heller welcomes the chance to secure the future of affiliated baseball in the Quad-Cities for the long haul.

“We’ve believed since Day 1 that the Quad-Cities belongs in affiliated baseball and we’re appreciative of the work a lot of people have put into it to make it happen,’’ Heller said.

He singled out the help of multiple political leaders — U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack and Davenport mayor Mike Matson — for working to keep affiliated professional baseball in the Quad-Cities.

In a statement, Grassley shared Heller’s enthusiasm.

“I fondly remember going to Minor League Baseball games growing up,’’ Grassley said. “I am thrilled that the Quad-Cities area will continue to enjoy America’s national pastime affiliated with such a quality team.’’

Heller is familiar with the Royals organization.

In shifting its high-A affiliation to the River Bandits, Kansas City ends a relationship with another Heller-owned team, the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

The Royals had been affiliated with that Delaware-based Carolina League team for 26 of the past 28 years, including throughout Heller’s six-year ownership of a team that will now become a high-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

“It’s one of the very best organizations in baseball and it starts with the character of the people who run the organization,’’ Heller said. “They’ve been extremely good to work with, very communicative with their affiliates and an organization that views their affiliates as part of the family.’’

Heller calls Moline native Dayton Moore, the Royals general manager, vice president and assistant general manager for player development J.J. Picollo and vice president and assistant general manager Scott Sharp among “the best’’ in the business.

“They do things the right way, treat people right and have a proven record in building a World Series champion,’’ Heller said.

Kansas City finished 26-34 in major-league baseball’s shortened 2020 season, fourth in the American League Central, and Heller sees similarities between where the Royals are now and where the River Bandits’ previous parent club, the Astros, were when they affiliated with the QC club late in 2012.

“At that time, we knew Houston would be sending terrific talent through Quad Cities on their way to the major leagues and the situation is the same now,’’ Heller said. “The Royals are going to be in a position to draft great players and those players will work their way through Quad Cities on their way to the major leagues.’’

Once the agreement is finalized, the Royals will be the seventh major-league organization to be affiliated with the Midwest League franchise in the Quad-Cities since its inception in 1960. In the years since, the team has played as a farm club of the Braves, Angels, Cubs, Astros, Twins and Cardinals.

The River Bandits had been affiliated with the Houston Astros since 2013, finishing with winning records in six of the last seven seasons and winning Midwest League championships in 2013 and 2017 as an Astros affiliate.

“The Astros were a good affiliate with us and we wish them well,’’ Heller said.

As part of the reorganization of the player development system, Houston plans to shift its high-A club to Asheville, N.C., and its low-A club to the Fayetteville, N.C., its previous high-A affiliate that is owned by the Astros.

Professional baseball was first played in Davenport in 1879 when the Davenport Brown Stockings competed in the Northwestern League.

Affiliated baseball was first played at what was then known as Municipal Stadium in 1946 when the Davenport Cubs competed in the Three-I League.

That club also competed as a Pirates, Tigers and White Sox affiliate before its last season in 1958.

After a year without professional baseball in the Quad-Cities, the Quad-City Baseball Fans Association secured a Midwest League affiliation and took the field for the first time in 1960 as an affiliate of the Milwaukee Braves.


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