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Independent Atlantic League opens tonight
Atlantic League commissioner
The Atlantic League commissioner prepares for the season infront of the Detroit Tigers spring training office in Lakeland. The Atlantic League holds its spring training at that facility.
By Chuck King

The Atlantic League, one of the most intriguing leagues in minor league baseball, opens its season tonight.

The nine-year-old league’s eight clubs do not have affiliations with major league baseball. The players are all free agents who, for a multitude of reasons, didn’t hook on with a major league club.

Some are coming back from injures. Others waited too long to sign with a major league club. And there are those who just don’t want to give up playing the game.

The result is a level of play that fits somewhere between Double-A and Triple-A.

“Some nights it’s Triple-A when the pitchers are out there, some nights it’s Double-A,” Atlantic League commissioner Joe Klein said. “The more I thought about that, I tell you, there are some nights in the big leagues it’s Triple-A, too.”

The Atlantic League has become fertile ground for major league clubs looking to plug holes in their organization. League alumni who have returned to the major leagues include Ruben Sierra, Jose Lima, Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson.

Twelve players who were Atlantic League regulars in 2005, including Curtis Pride and Kirk Bullinger, signed with major league clubs this past off-season.

“There are a surprising number of players who come through there who make it to the big leagues,” said former Florida Marlins manager and head of player development John Boles, who is currently a special assistant to the general manager with the Seattle Mariners. “It’s to the point now where it’s not even a rarity. It’s really happening every year.”

Major League teams purchase players from the Atlantic League for between $500 and $10,000, depending on where the player is slated in the major league club’s system.

Klein estimates that nearly 250 players have been signed by major league clubs since the league’s inception.

“What the Atlantic League has become is an alternate source of player talent for major league baseball,” said Kline, a former general manager with the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. “More and more clubs use us in different ways.”

Klein expects this season to be the most competitive in league history.

“I think the pitching is better than it’s ever been,” he said. “I think people are going to recognize that when we start putting our rosters online. The quality of play for the ninth year in a row has risen to start the year.”

The league has teams in Bridgeport, Conn.; Long Island, N.Y.; Atlantic City, Camden, Sommerset and Newark, N.J.; and Lancaster, Penn. An additional team, the Road Warriors, plays all its games on the road. The Road Warriors are expected to land in Southern Maryland next season.

Check out my blog for more on the Atlantic League and Minor League Baseball.

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