It’s official: Cannons no longer affiliated with St. Louis

With its purchase and relocation of a Florida State League team, the St. Louis Cardinals are now out of the Carolina League and out of Woodbridge. Nevertheless, the Potomac Cannons will still have a team and a plan to move into a new ballpark in 2004; they just won’t have an affiliation with the Cardinals.

Cannons owner Art Silber emphasized Sunday that the split with the Cardinals was amicable.

“They contacted us and dealt with us very, very cordially,” Silber said. “They are class people. We’ve had a wonderful relationship with them and we really wish them the best and I know the feelings are the same on their part.”

St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty said the organization decided to switch leagues in large part because of a convenience factor that the Potomac Cannons could not match. The Cardinals bought the FSL’s Charlotte Rangers and have moved the franchise across Florida to Jupiter, where St. Louis spends spring training each year.

“The operation of a Florida State League team at our spring training complex will give us added flexibility throughout the year with respect to our minor league operations and will give us rehabilitation opportunities for players at all levels of our organization,” Jocketty said.

During the Triple-A and Double-A all-star break this season, the Cardinals had to send rehabbing major league pitcher Andy Benes to Potomac for a start. They would rather keep tabs on such players or minor leaguers on their way back from injuries at their spring-training site under the Florida sun. The Cardinals were in the FSL from 1966-96 until the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays took over the team in St. Petersburg.

Silber understood the Cardinals’ interest in centralizing their operations at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium. “It’s really an excellent facility and they’ll be able to use it for extended spring training and rehab situations,” Silber said. “The weather will help for that, especially in April and May.”

The new Cardinals’ affiliate will be known as Palm Beach (nickname to be announced). That club will play in the same ballpark as the FSL’s Jupiter Hammerheads, who are affiliated with the Florida Marlins. The last time two full-season minor league teams played in the same stadium was in 1993-94, when the Southern League’s Nashville XPress and American Association’s Nashville Sounds shared a ballpark.

Beginning last Friday, the Cannons and the other 13 high Class A franchises looking for an affiliate for the 2003 and 2004 seasons were allowed to begin their searches. The teams have about three weeks to match up, and if arrangements aren’t made by then, Minor League Baseball will decide who fits where. In any case, the Professional Baseball Agreement between the majors and the minors guarantees that all the current markets keep their franchises.

Though Silber wouldn’t divulge which organizations have shown interest in Potomac, he did say, “We have been contacted by at least five different major league clubs,” he said. “We’re very enthusiastic in terms of the clubs we’re talking with.”

In their six years as a Cardinals team, the Cannons had only one winning season and never won a half-season division title. This year’s team went 59-81, dropping Cardinal-affiliated Potomac teams to 382-453 (for a .457 winning percentage).

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