Minor League Baseball is where baseball's future talent resides. It's where the game's future Hall-of-Famers compete for potential roster spots on Major League clubs in months or seasons ahead. The strength of a Major League franchise often depends on the strength of that team's farm system.
A great argument can be made that the Tampa Bay Rays' emergence as a powerful club from 2008 to the present day stemmed from the excellence of their farm system all the way down to Class A. The Tampa Bay farm system groomed so many young and talented ballplayers that by the time they arrived in 2008, they enabled a franchise starving for a winning season to capture its first American League pennant!
Another farm system that has exploded in recent seasons is the Washington Nationals. From 2008 to 2010, the most successful farm system based on winning percentage of all of their affiliated minor league ballclubs was the Nationals.
One of its most successful minor league ballclubs during that interval was the Potomac Nationals, playing in the Advanced Class A Carolina League. From 2008 to 2010, the Potomac Nationals captured two division titles and two Carolina League World Series championships in 2008, and again 2010!
In spite of these great achievements, this very successful minor league ballclub plays their home games in a stadium that is extremely flawed in both design and appearance. G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium in Prince William County, Virginia, has been home to this ballclub since 1984 when it was first built. Back then, the team was called the Prince William Pirates, affiliated with, as the team name suggested, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In 1987, the Prince William Pirates became the Prince William Yankees as their team affiliation switched from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the New York Yankees. Then in 1988, the team changed its name from the Yankees to the Cannons. After 1987, this team switched its team affiliation on four additional occasions:
- 1987-1993 (New York Yankees)
- 1994-1996 (Chicago White Sox)
- 1997-2002 (St. Louis Cardinals)
- 2003-2004 (Cincinnati Reds)
- 2005-present day (Washington Nationals)
In 2005, the Washington Nationals emerged, bringing Major League baseball back to Washington, DC. When this occurred the Cannons became the Potomac Nationals, or as they are sometimes referred to as, the P-Nats.
Prince William County, Virginia has given this club a great fanbase. Although Pfitzner Stadium has a capacity of 6,000, there have been multiple occasions when attendance has exceeded the maximum capacity. For example, at the July 4, 2010 game last season, attendance cracked 10,000.
Thus, attendance for these games was, and is, never an issue. Before 2005, the closest venue for any northern Virginian to watch a professional baseball game was going to Pfitzner Stadium in Prince William County! Thus, a loyal fanbase emerged from those "lost decades" of DC baseball.
With all the Major League clubs affiliated with this one ballclub over the years, a plethora of all-stars introduced themselves to northern Virginian baseball fans. Among them include Barry Bonds, Andy Pettite, Bernie Williams, Paul Konerko and Albert Pujols. In fact, Pettite pitched full seasons with the Prince William Cannons when they were affiliated with the Yankees!
This is a club with a rich history of talent and success. But the ballpark where they play does not do this team proper justice given its lineage! The stadium has the appearance of a ballpark that, well, was built in the early 1980s. Most of the seating are bleacher seats, half of which have no back support for fans. Due to the plethora of metal on these seats, summer games provide much physical discomfort on those seats.
The few box seats there are in the stands are either overpriced or overrated. The box seats behind home plate are too small with no cup holders. The field box seats, while more amenable to the average fan, are overpriced! How do I know they are overpriced? Because a similar seat at a AA Richmond Flying Squirrels game is a couple bucks cheaper!
As another embarrassment for the club, back in April of this season, the P-Nats were stripped of three home games on their schedule to a major issue with the drainage system installed at Pfitzner!
The message should be sent to club ownership: Build a new stadium! Most teams got the memo years ago that bleacher seats at the ballpark are a thing of the past. Most teams got the memo that offering no seats under shade is a thing of the past as well. Pfitzner Stadium still has the features of a pre-1990s Minor League ballpark, which it most certainly is.
Prince William County is a great venue for a new ballpark because of the loyal fanbase that resides there. However, the new ballpark is a historical necessity as well. This is a club with a storied and successful history that provided the DC baseball fanbase a helpful respite when the Washington Senators left town in 1971 for Arlington, Texas.
With professional baseball, a lot of attention is reserved for the Major League clubs and deservedly so. However, their success would not be possible without the presence of their Minor League teams that feed them with young nurtured talent. The Tampa Bay Rays from 2008 through the present day are the living proof of this.