American Association (2011-Present)
The present-day Winnipeg Goldeyes are a member of the 12-team American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. Miles Wolff, one of independent baseball’s pioneers, founded the current American Association in 2006. The Lincoln Saltdogs (Lincoln, Nebraska), St. Paul Saints (St. Paul, Minnesota), Sioux City Explorers (Sioux City, Iowa), and Sioux Falls Canaries (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) joined the American Association from the Northern League. The Coastal Bend Aviators (Robstown, Texas), El Paso Diablos (El Paso, Texas), Fort Worth Cats (Fort Worth, Texas), Pensacola Pelicans (Pensacola, Florida), and Shreveport Sports (Shreveport, Louisiana) came over from the Central League. The St. Joe Blacksnakes (St. Joseph, Missouri) were added as an expansion team to balance out the new league at 10.
From 2006-10, the American Association held strong at 10 member clubs with minimal changes. In 2008, the Grand Prairie AirHogs (Grand Prairie, Texas) and Wichita Wingnuts (Wichita, Kansas) replaced Coastal Bend and St. Joe, while the Sports rebranded themselves as the Shreveport-Bossier Captains in 2009.
At the end of the 2010 season, the Goldeyes played a major role in the biggest change in league history. Joined by the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Gary SouthShore RailCats, and Kansas City T-Bones, the Goldeyes moved from the Northern League to the American Association, bringing the league to an unprecedented 14 clubs. In addition to the four Northern League teams, the Pelicans transferred operations to Amarillo, Texas and became the Amarillo Sox.
Following 2011, Shreveport-Bossier relocated to Laredo, Texas where the Laredo Lemurs became the fifth expansion franchise in league history. Fort Worth departed the American Association, leaving the circuit with an odd number of teams at 13. To alleviate potential scheduling challenges, the American Association joined forces with the Can-Am League and utilized interleague play. This joint arrangement with the Can-Am League held constant through the 2013 season. El Paso ceased operations at the end of 2013, which brought the American Association back to an even number at 12 teams. Interleague play continued in 2014 however, and once again became a necessity in 2015 when the expansion Joplin Blasters (Joplin, Missouri) boosted league membership to 13 clubs. Amarillo rebranded as the Amarillo Thunderheads in 2015.
A unique arrangement took place in 2016 where Amarillo and Grand Prairie merged into the “Texas” AirHogs. The franchise operated as a single entity, but utilized both cities for its home schedule. Interleague play was removed from the schedule in 2016.
In 2017, the American Association welcomes the expansion Cleburne Railroaders (Cleburne, Texas). The Railroaders replace Joplin, while the AirHogs will play their home games exclusively in Grand Prairie.
Although the Goldeyes’ tenure in the American Association has been short when compared to their years in the Northern League, the last six seasons have produced some of the best moments in franchise history. Since joining the American Association, the Goldeyes have twice set a franchise record for wins (60 in 2011 and 63 in 2014). The Goldeyes won the 2012 American Association championship, which was the club’s first since their inaugural season in 1994. The Goldeyes hosted the 2014 American Association All-Star Game in front of nearly 7,000 fans, an event that had not been held by the league since 2010. The Goldeyes have the second most playoff berths in the league since 2011 (four), and again captured the American Association championship in 2016.
Northern League (1994-2010)
The birth of “modern” independent baseball started in 1993 when Miles Wolff created the Northern League. The Duluth-Superior Dukes (Duluth, Minnesota), Rochester Aces (Rochester, Minnesota), St. Paul Saints (St. Paul, Minnesota), Sioux City Explorers (Sioux City, Iowa), Sioux Falls, Canaries (Sioux Falls, South Dakota), and Thunder Bay Whiskey Jacks (Thunder Bay, Ontario) formed the six-team Northern League that became independent baseball’s gold standard for nearly two decades. Remarkably, five of the original six clubs continue to operate in some form today, with St. Paul, Sioux City, and Sioux Falls still retaining their original identities. The Goldeyes replaced Rochester in 1994.
The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks (Fargo, North Dakota) and Madison Black Wolf (Madison, Wisconsin) joined the Northern League in 1996. In 1999, the Northern League merged with the independent Northeast League, forming a 16-team “super” league. This venture operated under the Northern League umbrella. The Northern League clubs played in the “Central Conference” while the Northeast League teams played in the “Eastern Conference.” The arrangement lasted four years from 1999-2002, with the conferences playing schedules independent of one another. The conference champions met in the Northern League Championship Series to decide the league title. The championship series during this four-year span marked the only time teams from each conference played head-to-head, giving the final round a true “World Series” feel.
In 2003, the Northern League returned to its pre-1999 format. By now, the Northern League had expanded into the “Chicagoland” area with Thunder Bay becoming the Schaumburg Flyers (Schaumburg, Illinois) in 1999, and the additions of the Gary SouthShore RailCats (Gary, Indiana) and Joliet Jackhammers (Joliet, Illinois) in 2002. Due to delayed ballpark construction, the RailCats played their inaugural 2002 season on the road before moving into their current home (US Steel Yard) the following year. The Lincoln Saltdogs (Lincoln, Nebraska) joined the Northern League in 2001, moving from Madison. Duluth-Superior moved to Kansas City, Kansas and became the Kansas City T-Bones prior to the 2003 season.
The Northern League added two more Canadian members in 2005 with the Calgary Vipers (Calgary, Alberta) and Edmonton Cracker-Cats (Edmonton, Alberta). Both cities were once home to Triple-A franchises. Following the 2005 season, Lincoln, St. Paul, Sioux City, and Sioux Falls moved into the new American Association. The Goldeyes, along with Fargo-Moorhead, Gary SouthShore, and Kansas City eventually reunited with these clubs when they moved to the American Association themselves in 2011.
Calgary and Edmonton departed for the Golden League following the 2007 season, and the Northern League operated with only six teams in 2008 and 2009. Additional Chicago area teams were added in 2010. The Rockford Riverhawks (Rockford, Illinois), long-time members of the Frontier League, switched circuits, while the expansion Lake County Fielders (Zion, Illinois) helped bring the Northern League back to eight total clubs.
2010 proved to be the final year of the Northern League. While Fargo-Moorhead, Gary SouthShore, Kansas City, and Winnipeg moved to the American Association, Joliet and Schaumburg folded, and Rockford transferred back to the Frontier League. Lake County moved to the newly-formed North American League before folding after the 2011 season. Joliet rebranded as the Frontier League’s Joliet Slammers in time for 2011. After one year without baseball, Schaumburg rebranded as well, and joined the Frontier League as the Schaumburg Boomers in 2012.
In total, eight of the 12 teams currently in the American Association hold ties to the original Northern League.
Winnipeg Goldeyes – Team History
Professional baseball returned to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1994 when the Northern League welcomed the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The Goldeyes replaced the Rochester Aces (Rochester, Minnesota), one of the Northern League’s original six members from the league’s inaugural 1993 season.
Winnipeg had enjoyed baseball on-and-off since 1902, and was last home to a professional team in 1970 when the Winnipeg Whips were the Triple-A International League affiliate of the Montreal Expos. The Goldeyes moniker itself had been used on two previous occasions, and in both cases, the team was part of a different version of the Northern League. The first incarnation of the Winnipeg Goldeyes played in the Northern League (Class A) from 1954-65 as an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Goldeyes won championships in 1957, 1959, and 1960. Hall of Fame left-hander Steve Carlton is regarded as the most notable Goldeyes’ alumnus. The Goldeyes returned for a one-year stint in the Northern League (Short Season-A) in 1969 as an affiliate of the expansion Kansas City Royals.
Upon their rebirth in 1994, the modern-day Winnipeg Goldeyes made an immediate impact on the city by capturing the Northern League championship in their first year. Winnipeg defeated the Sioux City Explorers three games to one in the Northern League Championship Series, and drew more than 212,000 fans (5,314 fans per game). The championship marked the first of 10 consecutive playoff appearances (including seven berths in the Northern League Championship Series) for the Goldeyes, a feat still unmatched by any Northern League or American Association team today.
Originally built to a capacity of 6,140, Shaw Park helped revitalize Winnipeg’s downtown area. Positioned in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, the ballpark is surrounded by the historic Exchange District, “The Forks” (where the Red River and Assiniboine River meet), and other locations pivotal to the city’s economy and livelihood. Nearly 300,000 fans packed the new stadium in 1999 as the Goldeyes reached their fourth Northern League Championship Series. The average attendance of 6,048 per game represented a 98.5 percent capacity for the season.
In 2000, the Goldeyes drew a Northern League-best 271,513 fans, and sold out 34 of their 42 home dates. When added to the pre-season and playoff totals, the number again approached 300,000. The Goldeyes’ average attendance of 6,456 during the regular season established a Northern League record, and was the highest average of all 50 teams in independent baseball.
2001 proved to be a success in every sense of the word. Not only did the Goldeyes reach the playoffs for the eighth time in their eight-year history, but the team broke its own average attendance record from the previous year at 6,491 fans per game. 35 of 45 home dates were sellouts, while total attendance reached 292,095 to once again lead independent baseball. In addition to reaching the Northern League Championship Series, the Goldeyes hosted the 2001 Northern League All-Star Game. 5,011 fans attended the July 30th skills competition, and a ballpark-record crowd of 6,942 were in the building for the All-Star Game the following night.
A year later, the Goldeyes continued to draw in record numbers. The Goldeyes once again reached the Northern League Championship Series and became the first team in league history to eclipse 300,000 regular season fans. Winnipeg averaged 6,200 fans per game, which outdrew 13 of the 30 teams at the Triple-A level. Along the way, the Goldeyes welcomed the one-millionth regular season fan at their downtown home, with Rory Newton receiving the honours on August 8th versus Joliet. Single-game attendance topped 7,000 on several occasions, including a new ballpark record of 7,056 on September 19th during Game Two of the Northern League Championship Series. Andrew Collier was named Northern League Executive of the Year.
Shaw Park underwent a facelift for 2003, adding more than 1,200 additional box seats, six Skysuites, six new concession stands, a mother’s lounge, patio deck, grass berm, and a full-service restaurant. Fans once again supported their hometown team in record numbers, exceeding 300,000 fans and cheering on the Goldeyes to another appearance in the Northern League Championship Series. The Goldeyes won the Northern League’s inaugural Organization of the Year Award, and became the first independent team ever to average more than 7,000 fans per game (7,161).
The Goldeyes surpassed 7,000 fans per game for a second straight year in 2004, averaging 7,027 per opening. A total of 323,241 fans took in a Goldeyes game, while Andrew Collier was honoured as the Northern League’s Executive of the Year for a second time in three seasons. That same year, left-handers Bobby Madritsch and George Sherill both made their Major League debuts for the Seattle Mariners. The two pitchers had been teammates in Winnipeg just two years prior.
Although the Goldeyes posted their first sub-.500 record in team history in 2005, fans continued to show their loyal support. The Goldeyes averaged 6,867 fans per game, and totaled 322,758 for the year—topping the 300,000 mark for a fourth consecutive season. This included a crowd of 8,668 on August 29th versus Lincoln, shattering the stadium’s previous record of 7,930 set just 19 days earlier against Calgary. Along the way, three Goldeyes’ pitchers had their contracts purchased by Major League organizations—the most in team history mid-season—while Brian Myrow made his Major League debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers that September. Just three years after welcoming the one-millionth fan to a regular season game at Shaw Park, the Goldeyes’ celebrated their two-millionth on August 25th versus Fargo-Moorhead.
In 2006, Rick Forney took over as the third manager in team history and remains in that role today. Forney already had nine years of experience in the organization as either a pitcher or pitching coach. After a two-year absence, Forney led the Goldeyes back to the postseason. In the opening round, the Goldeyes pushed eventual champion Fargo-Moorhead to the brink of elimination as the RedHawks won the series in the bottom of the ninth inning in the decisive fifth game. Eight Goldeyes represented the team at the Northern League All-Star Game, while three more were named Postseason All-Stars. A total of five players were sold to Major League organizations, the most in one calendar year since 2001. At the gate, the Goldeyes welcomed 312,213 fans, reaching 300,000-plus for a fifth year in a row. The team earned its second Northern League Organization of the Year Award, while Collier was named Executive of the Year for a third time in the last five.
Like the previous season, the Goldeyes pushed the eventual 2007 Northern League champions to the brink of elimination in the postseason. This time, the Goldeyes battled the Gary SouthShore RailCats to a winner-take-all Game Five in the opening round. The Goldeyes ranked in the top-20 in all of minor league baseball (affiliated and independent), drawing an average attendance of 6,542. Six Goldeyes made the Northern League All-Star Game, and three more were named Postseason All-Stars. Collier earned Executive of the Year honours for a fourth time in six seasons.
The Goldeyes hosted their second Northern League All-Star Game in 2008. It was the team’s 10th year at Shaw Park and 15th overall in the Northern League. Between the skills competition and All-Star Game itself, better than 12,000 fans witnessed the two-day festivities. 11 Goldeyes were represented in their home park during the All-Star Game. The Goldeyes reached the postseason for a 13th time in their 15-year history, and led all of independent baseball (58 teams) in average attendance for a ninth consecutive season (6,464). Three Goldeyes earned Postseason All-Star honours, and the team was named Northern League Organization of the Year for a third time.
2009 proved to be one of the best seasons for the modern-day Winnipeg Goldeyes. A well-rounded roster got off to the best start in team history, and qualified for the playoffs for a 14th time in 16 years. Collier earned his fifth Executive of the Year award, and the team led independent baseball in average attendance for a 10th consecutive year at 6,180. Overall, the Goldeyes ranked 26th out of the 267 teams (throughout 31 leagues) in all of minor league baseball.
In what proved to be the final year of the Northern League, the Goldeyes missed the playoffs in 2010. However, there were still several performances to celebrate. Kevin West became the first Goldeye since Brian Duva to win the Northern League batting title. Left-handed pitcher Ian Thomas earned Northern League Rookie Pitcher of the Year honours. Andrew “Ace” Walker—who would go on to break several major franchise pitching records—flirted with a no-hitter against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks on August 29th. Fittingly, the Goldeyes led the Northern League in attendance during the league’s final season with 271,399 total fans, and an average attendance of 5,654—second-best in independent baseball.
2011 marked a major change as the Goldeyes (along with Fargo-Moorhead, Gary SouthShore, and Kansas City) joined the independent American Association. The league, which formed in 2006, was now a 14-team circuit with only four teams qualifying for the postseason. This meant simply making the playoffs would be a challenge for any team—and the Goldeyes were up to the task. Despite a new league and many more opponents fighting for position, the Goldeyes won a franchise-best 60 games, and used a dominant finish (17-8) to put away the American Association North Division. In one of the most exciting playoff series in team history, the Goldeyes fell in heartbreaking fashion to the St. Paul Saints in the ninth inning of the decisive fifth game at Midway Stadium. Walker became the franchise leader in wins, Price Kendall won American Association Rookie of the Year, and Forney was voted American Association Manager of the Year. In terms of fan support, the Goldeyes picked up where they left off in the Northern League. A 5,740 per game average not only topped the American Association, but all of independent baseball, and helped Winnipeg take its first American Association Organization of the Year award.
2012 will always have a special place in the hearts of Goldeyes’ fans. The team grinded its way to a 55-45 record, qualifying for the wild card with three days left in the regular season. The Goldeyes then caught fire, and won the American Association championship. It was the Goldeyes first title in 18 years when they had won the 1994 Northern League crown during their inaugural season. The Goldeyes swept their way through the playoffs—the first, and to this day, still the only American Association team to do so—with a 6-0 record against Fargo-Moorhead and Wichita. In the regular season, Fargo-Moorhead had tied a league record with 65 wins, and defeated the Goldeyes in 12 of the 18 head-to-head meetings. Amos Ramon was named MVP of the playoffs, while Brian Beuning logged 11.2 brilliant innings, notching four saves, and recording the final out in all six postseason victories. Former Major League outfielder Chris Roberson made the American Association’s Postseason All-Star team.
The Goldeyes actually won more games (56) in 2013 than they did during their championship year in 2012, and in fact, had the fourth-best record in the American Association. However, due to the South Division automatically receiving a playoff berth, the Goldeyes narrowly missed the postseason for only a fourth time in their history. 2013 also marked the 20th season of Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball. Outfielder Ryan Scoma contended for the American Association batting title, finishing third at .341. Scoma’s contract was purchased by the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of the season. Meanwhile, new left-hander Brendan Lafferty tied for the league lead with 53 appearances, setting a new franchise single-season record. The Goldeyes led all of independent baseball in average attendance at 5,880 and ranked 28th out of the 390 minor league teams in North America. Winnipeg outdrew 13 Triple-A and 27 Double-A teams with a grand total of 276,359 fans. The Goldeyes won Organization of the Year honours for a third straight season.
2014 proved to be another banner year for the Goldeyes with a franchise-record 63 wins and the team’s second North Division title in four seasons. Shaw Park hosted its third All-Star Game, and the Goldeyes were well-represented with six players making the North Division squad. Casey Haerther and Tyler Kuhn tied for second in the league with a .360 batting average, while Nick Hernandez posted a 12-2 record en route to being named the American Association’s Pitcher of the Year. On June 4th at Sioux Falls, five Goldeyes’ pitchers combined on the first no-hitter in team history in the nightcap of a double header.
The Goldeyes missed the postseason in 2015, but several players and staff achieved key milestones. Forney earned his 500th managerial win on June 16th versus St. Paul, and later surpassed Hal Lanier for the most wins in team history on August 11th versus Sioux Falls. Long-time catcher Luis Alen became the franchise leader in base hits during the season opener on May 21st at Grand Prairie, and went on to set Goldeyes’ career records for RBI, walks, and doubles. On June 6th versus Joplin, Hernandez flirted with a perfect game and eventually tossed eight no-hit innings in a Goldeyes victory. Rookie infielder James Boddicker gained national attention for a barehanded catch he made on August 26th at Quebec. Josh Mazzola surpassed Terry Lee for the franchise home run record on July 26th at Kansas City, and finished the season with a league-best 20 long balls. Mazzola, Haerther, and first-year Goldeyes’ outfielder Adam Heisler all made the American Association’s Postseason All-Star Team.
Winnipeg returned to the postseason in style in 2016, winning the American Association championship for a second time in five years. The Goldeyes qualified for the playoffs on the final day of the regular season when left-handed pitcher Kevin McGovern tossed a complete game two-hitter over the RedHawks that clinched the American Association wild card. In the Division Series, the Goldeyes came back from a 2-1 series deficit against the St. Paul Saints, winning Games Four and Five on the road. In the decisive fifth game, right-hander Mikey O’Brien worked seven shutout innings on three days of rest to help propel the Goldeyes into their ninth league final in team history. The Goldeyes also fell behind 2-1 in the Championship Series to Wichita, but once again rallied for road wins in Games Four and Five. Reggie Abercrombie hit two home runs and set a franchise playoff single-game record with seven RBI in the deciding game. Earlier in the year, Abercrombie became the American Association’s all-time leader in home runs, and was named the league’s inaugural Scott Miller/Brian Rose Man of the Year. Outfielders David Rohm and Willie Cabrera were named Postseason All-Stars. The offence as a whole led the league with 594 runs scored, and set an American Association record with 462 walks. On 10 different occasions, the pitching staff combined to allow three or fewer base hits.