In early October of 2017 the news hit: The New York Mets were buying the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs for $18 million. The Mets wanted to eradicate the ongoing issue of travel from Las Vegas to New York, a persistent challenge the parent club dealt with the previous five years.
The purchase put the Nationals in motion. Their 10-year relationship with Syracuse was coming to an end when the 2018 season wrapped. Few options for another Triple-A location existed. Once Nashville was off the board, they were crammed into Fresno on a two-year contract, launching their Triple-A franchise nearly 2,800 miles from Nationals Park.
It's a manageable, if not ideal, situation. The Chiefs' early sale provided the Nationals time to plan the relocation. They began thinking about it along with the start of Syracuse's season, marking things that would need to be packed, following a plan and having plenty of runway to be organized once the season concluded.
The organization has relocated its minor league team before thanks to stops in New Orleans and Columbus prior to Syracuse. That was a decade ago with less equipment and overall complications. This new situation, like any move, involves several shifting parts.
Houston needed to vacate Fresno and process its move to Round Rock, Texas. Different factions among Syracuse personnel needed to account for their departments: Strength coaches handle weight training equipment; trainers grab medical supplies and medical equipment; minor league clubhouse and equipment coordinator Calvin Minasian, along with help from clubhouse assistants Carlos Felix and Scott Paquin, handle that end. Certain things are shipped. Certain things will have to be acquired later. It all needed to be accounted for.
"The first thing you want to do after you have already reached out to the staff in Fresno, you want to start to begin to cultivate that relationship and figure out what we can do to help each other," Nationals director of player development Mark Scialabba said. "Then internally, you're discussing what you need to do to transfer any necessary equipment from Syracuse to Fresno, what we're going to keep, what we're going to need to purchase, then how are we going to get all that equipment over to Fresno [while] getting to know their staff the best you can to develop that relationship along the way."
Human logistics are also on the menu. Immediate reaction to the new location revolved around its distance from the home park. However, plucking a minor-league call-up for the parent team has long involved sudden and inconvenient travel during a standard process. It goes like this: first, the call goes out for player X. He's informed, is delighted, calls others who are delighted, then the scramble to join the team begins. Lack of sleep and lack of concern about sleep pair the first day. Most players would crab walk to the stadium if it meant being on a major league roster. The same general process will apply now.
But, being in Fresno does deliver an increased challenge. Not just in strict mileage. The Pacific Coast League is more spread out than the International League, which Syracuse is part of. More flights, more of a manic travel schedule. That movement couples with a lack of direct flights from Fresno to Washington to present new issues. Any path from Fresno to Nationals Park will take a stop and 6 ½ hours minimum following a 6 a.m. departure just to arrive before first pitch. And that flight lands at Dulles International Airport at 3:28 p.m. A daily red-eye also jets out of Fresno at 12:45 a.m. before ending up in Dulles or Baltimore around 11 a.m. Eastern.
"We've already mapped out the different options for travel," Scialabba said. "We're going to be closely monitoring the different schedules and knowing where both teams are. It could be a benefit if both teams are on the West Coast. Even in the central part of the country -- there's direct flights from Chicago and Dallas and Phoenix and obviously the whole West Coast. It could benefit us then. But obviously, the majority of the time, we're going to have to manage it accordingly. But you can still get from Fresno to D.C. in a day."
What the Nationals decide to do with high-end prospects will be interesting. The minor leagues are there to ultimately serve the parent club. That means access to players when needed, but also the proper development and placement of those players. Carter Kieboom comes to mind here. He finished last season in Double-A Harrisburg. Do the Nationals want him right up the street -- comparatively -- or facing better opposition on the opposite coast? The Nationals have road trips to the Midwest or West Coast every month except June this season and a couple key organizational instructors are based out west. September's expanded rosters allow the team to bring in players at their leisure. So, the biggest issue remains sudden need when on the East Coast.
"We will be prepared for all different scenarios," Scialabba said. "Our main priority is the major league club and we will make sure that we're prepared with our players at the right time at the right places."
There is a literal bright side to the move: Average April high temperature in Fresno? 77, with two days of rain in the month. Syracuse? 58, with 10 days of rain. That will ease any transition to start, even if everyone has to go across the country to get there.
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