The Tampa Bay Rays are ending their affiliation with the Charlotte Stone Crabs in 2021.
The Ray announced Wednesday they’ve invited the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs to join the Durham (N.C.) Bulls, Montgomery (Ala.) Biscuits and Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods as an affiliate team.
The change comes as part of Major League Baseball’s new player development structure, which begins next year.
Along with the Stone Crabs, the Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades and Princeton (W.V.) Rays will no longer be affiliated with the Rays.
The Stone Crabs play at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte and became a Rays affiliate in 2007. The Rays will continue spring training there, but the future of the Stone Crabs is up in the air. The team is one of at least 40 minor league teams that lost their Major League connection.
John Vittas called Charlotte Sports Park his office for three years as the team’s play-by-play broadcaster.
“It’s a game of musical chairs and the Stone Crabs lost the game of musical chairs,” said Vittas.
“For the communities that are losing that chance to see great baseball talent in their hometowns that are largely smaller markets, it’s a shame. And Port Charlotte is one of those smaller markets that really relish in having the Stone Crabs in their back yard.”
Brion Travis went to many Stone Crabs games. Count him among those who will miss the minor league baseball experience.
“These things bring people together and enjoy baseball and we need that now so … and it helps the economy too.”
“I know this year was especially tough on them because they weren’t able to go out and do things, and they weren’t able to see their team. And to know that it’s gone permanently now, those are the people I feel for,” Vittas said.
The county said it will be reviewing the “impacts of the changes as it relates to future sports and event programming at Charlotte Sports Park.”
On a related note, the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels were invited by the Minnesota Twins to remain an affiliate.
Statement from Charlotte County:
“Charlotte County is aware of the changes made to the affiliation between the Tampa Bay Rays and Charlotte Stone Crabs owner Caribbean Baseball Initiative Group. We wish the Stone Crabs organization, players and coaches well and appreciate our partnership with them since 2016.