Wichita’s minor league baseball team is set to become part of the Minnesota Twins’ organization.
The Wind Surge said Wednesday it has been invited to be Minnesota’s Double-A affiliate.
The move comes as part of a huge shakeup of the minor leagues by Major League Baseball, which now oversees all aspects of professional baseball. The changes include the reduction of minor league teams from 160 to 120.
As part of the shakeup, most major league teams took the opportunity to reduce their geographic footprint. The Twins swapped minor league teams in upstate New York and Florida for teams in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Wichita.
"This is a very positive and great day for us," said Jared Forma, the Wind Surge’s senior vice president and general manager. "We're very excited because the Twins are truly a first-class organization."
He said there are several more steps to take before the agreement with the Twins becomes final. That includes signing a Player Development license with the Twins, which is a formal contract between the two organizations.
Forma said he understands that the agreement will be for 10 years, which will lend stability to Wichita. And the Twins, according to MLB.com, have one of the top minor league systems in baseball in terms of talent.
"They have an unbelievable minor league system," Forma said. "They like that homegrown player. So draft them and develop 'em .. versus a ton of free agent signings.
"Anyone I have talked to that knows someone from the Twins, there's not a person who has anything negative to say about the Twins."
The likely move also means the Wind Surge will drop from Triple-A – the highest level of the minor leagues – to Double-A. Forma, who has spent more than 20 years in baseball, said the difference is minimal
"If you put a Triple-A team on one side of a diamond and a Double-A team on the other, and you asked me to tell you the difference, I'm not sure I'd be able to," Forma said.
"Certainly, Triple-A offers a great product. I believe we're actually going to see the very top prospects in the Twins' organization and our opponents' for a longer period of time at Double-A than you would at Triple-A."
The Wichita Pilots and Wranglers, who played from 1987 through 2007 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, were a Double-A franchise. The Wichita Aeros were a Triple-A franchise from 1970 until 1984.
What league the Wind Surge will play in also is uncertain, although Forma said it likely will include teams that played in the Texas League. One of those teams is the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, which is the Kansas City Royals’ Double-A affiliate.
The Wind Surge arrived in Wichita from New Orleans in 2019 as the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. The city built the franchise a $75 million stadium on the west bank of the Arkansas River. It also sold land along the riverfront to team owners for $1 an acre for future development.
But the team never played in Riverfront Stadium after the 2020 season was canceled by the pandemic. In July, owner and managing partner Lou Schwechheimer died from complications from COVID-19.
He was instrumental in moving the team to Wichita. When he arrived, he was an active presence in the community, overseeing construction of the new stadium.
"When I first met Lou, he talked about this place with such a passion that I couldn’t get away from him," Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple said Wednesday during a news conference at Riverfront Stadium to discuss the invitation from the Twins. "We had a one-hour meeting that lasted over three hours. "Lou talked about baseball here in Wichita not as a sport, not as an economic driver but as a place that brings communities together."
City officials hope the team and stadium will boost economic development and tourism in Wichita. Forma said he is just looking forward to playing baseball.
"We're just so excited because I do really believe this is step one of being able to look to 2021 and get back to some normalcy, which I think everyone is looking forward to," he said.
"But at the end of the day, we're going to have Wichita across our chests on our jerseys, and this great community is going to see some phenomenal baseball."