Adrián Sánchez said it was Tuesday, but it was Wednesday, though he could be forgiven for his discombobulation after flying from Fresno to Chicago to Dulles International Airport. He slept in the back of the Nationals clubhouse one time afterward, perhaps dreaming of sinkers and sliders to be dealt with that night or just thankful he could lay down.
The oddball arrangement between Fresno and the Nationals to cause such sleep deprivation came to an end Thursday via a strange finale. Senator Chuck Schumer announced he had “secured” a commitment from the Nationals and managing principal owner Mark Lerner to make Rochester the organization’s new Triple-A affiliate. The Rochester Red Wings Twitter account sent a tweet about “Natitude.” The Nationals stayed silent, muted by a recent order from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred telling all major-league teams to remain tight-lipped until the minor-league chaos was resolved.
Being partnered with Fresno for two years was never reasonable nor sustainable. The Nationals wanted out the minute they were leveraged into sending their Triple-A team across the country because other options dried up. One of the few benefits of the pandemic was flushing a second season in Fresno. The Nationals didn’t have to deal with the travel headaches, which extended beyond players traipsing through the night to the challenges of sending front office folks for direct looks at those on the field.
The move to Rochester puts a drive back to D.C. in play, though anyone who has rumbled through the mountains of Pennsylvania in the middle of the summer knows it carries challenges. However, a direct flight from Rochester to Dulles on a head-ducking regional jet is available. It takes just more than an hour.
Baseball is as entrenched in Rochester as Garbage Plates and Genesee beer. The Red Wings were founded in 1899, making them the oldest continuously operating sports franchise in North America below the major-league level. The organization has the most International League titles: 19. It also has a long history of being attached to the Baltimore Orioles. Earl Weaver once managed in Rochester, Cal Ripken Jr. and a slew of other future stars played there and the teams were bound from 1961-2002.
The Cardinals, Orioles and Twins are the only franchises previously associated with the Red Wings. The Cardinals started play in Rochester in 1929. The Twins were there from 2003-2020. Now, the Nationals enter with a giant load of gratitude and hope for ongoing stability.
They need a manager in Rochester. Randy Knorr was recently elevated from his position of managing the Triple-A affiliate to joining Davey Martinez’s reworked major-league staff. Meanwhile, the rest of the Nationals’ minor-league ties are a mix of defined and in flux. Their association with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators should continue. The new stadium in Fredericksburg, which was home to the team’s 2020 alternate training site, is expected to house a high Single-A team. However, places like Auburn and Hagerstown could well be in jeopardy of losing teams as part of minor-league contraction being handled by the major leagues.
What the Nationals do have -- if not quite formally yet -- is a Triple-A affiliate that makes sense, something that was not the case the last time the minor leagues were in operation.