After undergoing a substantial reorganization, Minor League Baseball is embarking upon a new era in 2021. There are now 120 teams competing in 11 newly named leagues, comprising four levels of play (Triple-A, Double-A, High-A and Low-A). This is the sixth in a series of league-by-league articles, highlighting one unique fact about each team.
All 12 teams in the High-A Central previously operated in the Class A Midwest League. And like the Midwest League, the High-A Central is a sprawling circuit. Its dozen clubs are located amid six states — three in Michigan, two each in Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin and one in Illinois. What follows is one unique, and often strange and surprising, fact about each team in the High-A Central.
Cincinnati Reds affiliate since 2000
The most well-known fact about the Dayton Dragons is that they’ve sold out every game they’ve ever played. This streak, the longest in professional sports history, began at the start of their inaugural 2000 season and currently stands at 1,385 games. But despite their success at the gate, the Dragons have never won a championship nor appeared in a League Championship Series. Prior to arriving in Dayton, the team spent 21 seasons operating out of Rockford, Illinois. They didn’t a win a championship there, either, although the 1994 Rockford Royals did make it to the Midwest League Finals.
Fort Wayne TinCaps
San Diego Padres affiliate since 1999
“How do you like them apples?” When attending a Fort Wayne TinCaps game at Parkview Field, this is not a rhetorical question. The TinCaps’ name is a reference to 19th-century Fort Wayne resident John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman, who is often depicted wearing a tin pot for a hat. The TinCaps therefore offer a variety of apple-based concession items, with apple dumplings being a notable standout. These dessert treats, served with vanilla ice cream, are a fitting ballpark tribute to Johnny Appleseed’s life and legacy.
Great Lakes Loons
Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate since 2007
High-A Central games can be heard on the radio throughout the Midwest, from WNAM in Appleton to WSBT in South Bend.The Midland, Mich.-based Great Lakes Loons enjoy a special distinction, however, as the radio station that carries their games — ESPN 100.9 — operates out of the team’s Dow Diamond home. The Michigan Baseball Foundation, the non-profit entity that owns the Loons, bought the station in 2008 and a studio was constructed in the Dow Diamond press box the following season. The station’s call letters, WLUN, are a reference to the Loons’ team name.
Lake County Captains
Cleveland Indians affiliate since 2003
The St. Paul Saints, previously an independent team, are located approximately 11 miles from their parent Minnesota Twins. This is the shortest distance between a Minor League club and its Major League affiliate, an honor that had previously been enjoyed by the Captains. The team operates out of Eastlake, Ohio, which is situated just 19 miles from the Cleveland Indians’ home of Progressive Field. Since 2009 the Captains have staged a “Cleveland Sports History Night” promotion, which honors the city’s sporting greats while also paying tribute to incidents that most fans would rather forget. During one memorable iteration of the promotion, a moving truck was driven across the field in “homage” to the Cleveland Browns’ sudden departure for Baltimore.
Oakland Athletics affiliate since 2021
The cancellation of the 2020 Minor League season was a lemon; in response, the Lugnuts literally made lemonade. From July 22 through August 23, Lansing’s Cooley Law School Stadium was home to the Lemonade League, an in-house collegiate circuit consisting of four teams comprised of players from a variety of local colleges. Those who wanted to see the Lemonade League in action had to act quickly, as only 100 fans were permitted to attend each game. These die-hard baseball boosters were restricted to socially distanced tables situated throughout Good Hops, a ballpark bar and restaurant overlooking left field.
West Michigan Whitecaps
Detroit Tigers affiliate since 1997
One of the most memorable on-field moments in Whitecaps’ history occurred during an inning break, when the team’s nightly Appliance Race turned into a wild, pratfall-filled free-for-all. Allow MiLB.com’s Kelsie Heneghan, who wrote the definitive piece of journalism on this legendary melee, to set the stage: “On July 25,  along the third-base line, birthday boy Caleb, 8, in the green dryer, Luke, 11, in the red range and Reese, 11, in the blue water heater fidgeted in their costumes as they prepared for host Bob Wells to say ‘Go.'”
As for what happened next, let the video tell the tale:
Miami Marlins affiliate since 2021
Right-hander Dakota Bacus, a veteran of eight Minor League seasons who made his Major League debut as a member of the Washington Nationals in 2020, spent the bulk of 2013 as a member of the Beloit Snappers. He pitched well over the course of his 26 appearances, but his Beloit legacy extends far beyond the box score. Throughout that 2013 campaign, Bacus occasionally morphed into his daring “Whitewall Ninja” alter-ego. Dressed head to toe in white, the Whitewall Ninja liked to sneak onto the playing field from the Snappers’ right field-area bullpen. He then camouflaged himself against the outfield signage, remaining as still and silent as possible. Why was this memorable? Because the Whitewall Ninja’s stealth maneuvers occurred while the game was going on.
Bowling Green Hot Rods
Tampa Bay Rays affiliate since 2009
On Feb. 12, 2014, Bowling Green’s National Corvette Museum received global attention due to a disturbing and seemingly inexplicable happenstance. A 40-foot sinkhole opened under the museum and, as a result, eight classic cars took an unscheduled plunge into the abyss. The tragic fate of that Corvette octet, plus time, equaled a one-of-a-kind Minor League Baseball theme jersey. On August 30, 2019, the Bowling Green Hot Rods celebrated the fifth anniversary of this event by playing their home season finale as the Sinkholes.
Cedar Rapids Kernels
Minnesota Twins affiliate since 2013
In 2010, when they were still a Los Angeles Angels affiliate, Cedar Rapids boasted the two top basestealers in the Midwest League. Jean Segura, currently the second baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, led the circuit with 50 swipes. Right behind him was none other than Mike Trout, with 45. What made Trout’s total all the more impressive was that he played just 81 games for the Kernels before being promoted to Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga. Over the course of those 81 games, the 18-year-old future superstar hit .362 and compiled an OPS of .979.
St. Louis Cardinals affiliate since 2013
The Chicago Cubs and St, Louis Cardinals enjoy one of Major League Baseball’s most storied rivalries, and the Peoria Chiefs find themselves right in the middle of it. This is true in a geographical sense, but also in regard to Peoria’s affiliation status. The Chiefs were affiliated with the Cubs from 1985 through 1994, the Cardinals from 1995 through 2004, the Cubs again from 2005 through 2012 and the Cardinals again from 2013 through the present. 2021 will mark the Chiefs’ 19th season as a Cardinals affiliate, pulling them one ahead of the Cubs in the all-time affiliation tally.
Quad Cities River Bandits
Kansas City Royals affiliate since 2021
The River Bandits are based in Davenport, Iowa, a Mississippi River city with professional baseball roots that date back to the 19th century. The first Davenport-based team to utilize “Quad Cities” as a geographical signifier was the 1962 Quad Cities Angels. By this point, however, the Quad Cities were actually the Quint Cities. In addition to Davenport, the locales comprising the so-called Quad Cities are Moline, Illinois; East Moline, Illinois; Rock Island, Illinois and Bettendorf, Iowa. Bettendorf, the fifth and presumably final Quad City, experienced a population boom in the late 1940s due to the construction of a massive Alcoa aluminum plant in the adjacent town of Riverdale.
South Bend Cubs
Chicago Cubs affiliate since 2015
Want to visit the most unique team store in Minor League Baseball? Then look no further than South Bend. In 2013, the Cubs (then known as the Silver Hawks) converted an abandoned synagogue located just beyond left field into their team store. The renovations included the restoration of the synagogue’s majestic chandelier, which now shines resplendently upon souvenir shoppers.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
Milwaukee Brewers affiliate since 2009
Only one team in the High-A Central can boast two members of the 500 home run club among its alums, and that team is the Timber Rattlers. A-Rod made his professional debut for the Appleton-based club in 1994, hitting 14 home runs over 65 games before getting promoted. Two years later David Ortiz (then known as David Arias) played for the Timber Rattlers and hit 18 home runs over 129 games. The Timber Rattlers were a Seattle Mariners affiliate during this time, a relationship that persisted through 2008.