Minor League Spotlight: Rochester Red Wings

Two weeks ago, the Minor League Spotlight focused on the Pittsfield Colonials of the Can-Am League, a new team playing at a ballpark full of history. This week, the focus is on a team that has remained in the same city, and has been home to many future baseball superstars over the last 100+ seasons.

The Rochester Red Wings of the International League may be best known for their part in playing in the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33 inning affair in 1981 against the Pawtucket Red Sox that featured future Hall of Famers Cal Ripen Jr. and Wade Boggs. However, the franchise has a great deal more to their history.

They have won 20 league titles since 1899, 14 of which have come while competing as the Triple A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and most recently as the top affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. In addition to continually fielding a competitive team, the Red Wings have always served as the launching pad of major league talent. The likes of Bob Gibson, Cal Ripken Jr., Dennis Martinez and Justin Morneau have taken the field as Red Wings and that tradition continues today. Luke Hughes, promoted to the Minnesota Twins last week, took advantage of his brief stay at the top level of baseball when he homered in his first major league at bat. Though he was optioned back to Rochester a few days later, the guess here is the perennial minor league all-star will return to the big league club soon.

Despite having several players that went on to have major league careers that led to induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on their teams throughout the years, the Rochester Red Wings have just three numbers retired. The numbers of 26, 36, and 8222 are not representative of Cal Ripken Jr., Joe Mauer, or even a combination of all the great players to wear the Red Wings uniform. They represent the community connections between the community of Rochester, New York and the game of baseball.

Joe Altobelli appeared in just 166 games at the major league level, but was a hugely successful player and manager at the minor league level. He wore number 26 during his time as a player and manager of the Red Wings, and remained a legend in the community long after his playing days were over. Known as “Mr. Baseball” to Rochesterians, Altobelli actually settled down in Rochester and called it home during the off-season. Number 36 belonged to minor league legend Luke Easter, owner of just 96 career major league home runs. Easter was a hulking first baseman who slugged 269 homers in the minor leagues, including more than 50 with the Red Wings between 1959 and 1964. During his Rochester career, the team regularly held “Luke Easter Nights” in honor of the ballplayer who launched tape measuring home runs.

Perhaps one of the highest number retired in sports history, 8222 is a number that can be considered the one that saved baseball in Rochester, New York. In 1956 the St. Louis Cardinals announced that they were pulling their franchise out of Rochester, and within 72 days the Rochester Community Baseball organization was created with the help of 8,222 shareholders buying into the team and ensuring that baseball remained in the community for years to come.

The community ties between the Red Wings, the Rochester Community Baseball organization, and Major League Baseball remain strong today. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, the team has found new ways to reach out to fans and created new ways to promote the ballclub. Likewise, fans are able to interact with each other and the team through these social networks.

Some bloggers have taken to using these networks to follow the team as well. A great example is Seth Stohs’ SethSpeaks, a blog that follows the Minnesota Twins as well as their affiliates. Before the season started, he previewed the Rochester Red Wings. Twitter has proven to be a tremendous resource for following the minor leagues for news and updates for teams such as the Red Wings.

This Week: In part 2 of this week’s Minor League Spotlight, be sure to check back on Friday as Baseball Digest.com will review Silver Seasons And A New Frontier: The Story of The Rochester Red Wings, the comprehensive book by Jim Mandelaro and Scott Pitoniak that chronicles the long history of the franchise that dates back to 1899!

Previous Spotlights:

Bus Leagues Baseball

Birmingham Barons

Pittsfield Colonials

Next Week: Changing gears a bit, the Minor League Spotlight will focus on a league that many people may have never heard of, that is home to many future baseball stars. With the help of Jesse Jack of 49th State Hardball, we will take a look at the teams, the players, and a blog that make up the very exciting summer league known as the Alaska Baseball League.

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