Changing of the Guard
Colorado Springs Sky Sox to have new Major League affiliation for first time in 22 years.
Members of the Milwaukee Brewers’ front office visited Colorado Springs on Oct. 2 to officially announce a deal with the Sky Sox.
As the saying goes, one of life’s few constants is change, and nowhere in town will that be more apparent this spring than at Security Service Field.
For the first time in 22 years, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox will carry a new Major League affiliation after serving as the Triple-A club of the Colorado Rockies since 1993. A litany of moves by Major League Baseball teams last year resembling a musical chairs of sorts created a shuffle of epic proportions, and now the Sky Sox will report to the Milwaukee Brewers instead of the club 60 miles up the road.
The news of the Rockies moving its Triple-A team from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque, N.M., in late summer sent shockwaves through the community, and a period of speculation and unrest set in throughout the Pikes Peak region. After the Rockies bolted for a newer facility six hours to the south, the Milwaukee Brewers stepped in and signed a two-year development deal on Oct. 2 that kept a professional club in Colorado Springs.
Major League teams customarily sign two-year contracts with their Triple-A affiliates, and shifts are somewhat the norm. But with five teams moving their top developmental teams to new locales, the shift bordered on seismic.
“I think it was just time for it,” new Sky Sox manager Rick Sweet says. “Nobody likes for it to happen, but I think this was a different year. In some ways, it’s unfortunate, but it’s also refreshing to get a new start and new interest.
“Now, there’s something new, and I think people are going to be very excited to see what the Milwaukee Brewers send to town and how we go about our business.”
Sweet is no stranger to big-time baseball, winning three Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year awards and amassing a 1,665-1,587 record. This will be his second year with the Brewers, and he led the Nashville Sounds to a 77-67 mark last season.
The 62-year-old has a long history with the Colorado Springs area and is looking forward to bringing a top-notch club to the city.
“My first year coming to Colorado Springs was 1993 when I was managing in Tucson,” Sweet says. “I was also in the league in 2001-03, and some of the best and most consistent fans in the league were in Colorado Springs. It’s a good city, and the quality of the fans is very, very good here.”
Those loyal fans – who set an attendance record of 350,374 last season – initially did not know what to think about the change, but have come around to the prospect of a new start.
“It came as a bit of a surprise to the market, but once we got the message out there about what this opportunity will look like for Colorado Springs, it’s been a whirlwind ever since,” Colorado Springs Sky Sox President and General Manager Tony Ensor says. “Fans are very excited and energized about what Milwaukee Brewers Sky Sox players are going to look like. A lot of the excitement is not just coming from Colorado Springs, but also Milwaukee, which is something we had not expected.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers were the catalyst for the changes that occurred last year, purchasing the Oklahoma City Triple-A team and leaving an opening in Albuquerque and the Houston Astros without a home. The Rockies then made the call to move to the $25 million Isotopes Park – which sits at a comparable 5,312 feet – and the frenzy was on.
The Astros shifted to Fresno, Calif., filling an opening created by the San Francisco Giants’ move to Sacramento, Calif., while the Oakland Athletics shifted from Sacramento to Nashville to fill the hole left by the Brewers’ move to Colorado Springs.
Sky Sox fans have become somewhat accustomed to watching a mediocre team that was designed primarily as a feeder system to the Rockies, but this year, they can expect a twofold approach from the new organization. Not only does the Brewers’ brass want players to prep for the Major Leagues in Colorado Springs, but they also want the team to compete for PCL division and league titles.
“I think you develop winners,” Sweet says. “If you just develop players, that’s not putting a priority on winning. If you look at what the Brewers do, especially at Triple-A and Double-A, we want to develop winners.”
The promotions fans have grown to know and love – from $2 Tuesdays and Friday fireworks, to theme nights and $3 microbrew Thursdays – will stay the same, and Sox the Fox will be back to thrill kids of all ages. Fans can get their first taste of new baseball on opening night on April 9 when the Sky Sox host the Sounds.
“We’re not changing our uniforms, and we’re still the Sky Sox,” Ensor says. “All of those successful promotions we’ve run are only going to get bigger and better.”
Excitement was the word most used by those who will be involved with this year’s Sky Sox, and Ensor expects another big year at the ballpark this spring and summer.
“With the partnership with the Rockies ending, it opened doors to what I think can be one of the most exciting parts of Sky Sox history moving forward,” he says. “We’re putting the best team we can out there on the field and are providing the best in affordable family entertainment in Colorado Springs. We’ve always been able to do that, regardless of the success on the field, and I think we’re going to be able to do that even more so moving forward.”