When the news broke that the St. Louis Cardinals would not be renewing their Player Development Contract with the Quad Cities River Bandits, the rumors then began flying over which Big League club would pick up the newly-free low-A club.
With Jeff Luhnow’s familiarity with the Cardinal farm system, the Astros seemed a likely fit.
The River Bandits thought so, too.
Today, the two-year PDC between the Astros and the River Bandits was announced at Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa. Bandits general manager Stefanie Brown was accompanied by Astros Director of Player Development Fred Nelson as the two shared the news with local media.
“We’re extremely excited,” Brown said. “Jeff Luhnow has been a friend of ours … so, talking with him was very exciting. In the end we’re very excited about the direction and the rebuilding of the Houston Astros and to have them be part of this community.”
Nelson echoed her sentiments as he recalled the years the Astros had a home in the Quad Cities from 1993-1998.
“One thing that really pushed us towards the Quad Cities was Jeff Lunhow’s relationship and knowledge of the renovations, the operators of the league, and I think because of that, it might have given us a little bit of a leg up coming back into the Davenport area, back in the Quad Cities,” he said. “But, we’re thrilled to death to be here.”
“Rebranding” was the word of the hour, both for the Bandits and the Astros.
With new ownership, management, and front office staff, the Astros are on their way to fulfilling a vision Luhnow and company have — a vision that restores the Astros to the top in the Major Leagues.
“To give you an idea of the direction and the focus of Jeff Luhnow, George Postolos and Jim Crane, they’re all winners – they’re all driven to win,” Nelson said. “Jeff especially. I’ve seen a passion in his desire to win in the Minor Leagues, at all levels, and ultimately we think that will filter into the big leagues as we secure better players, players that we’ve been able to acquire in trades, and through especially this last draft which Jeff and his staff directed.”
For the Bandits, the vision now centers on the excitement of adding that fresh, newly drafted talent and introducing a whole new group to a community — especially since that community is full of Cardinal fans who were disappointed to see their parent club move their affiliate to Peoria. Brown says, though, that simply makes their job more interesting.
“Obviously we were very sad to see the Cardinals go,” Brown said. “They were a great organization, and there are many fans here that are Cardinals fans, but I think it’ll just be educating the community and letting them know the great things that the Astros are doing and probably trying a little bit harder to get the new players out in the community and get that personal touch with the fans. Every organization has a great group of guys and a great group of athletes, so it’s just going to be on us to get them out there.”
Local fans will recognize at least three players who made their way through the Quad Cities on their way to the Major League club in 2012 — Brett Wallace, Chuckie Fick, and most recently, Tyler Greene.
With the potential of a first overall draft pick on his way to town, and oodles of other promising young players, talent will definitely not be a problem.
Ultimately, it came down to three teams vying for the Bandits’ attention — the A’s, the Angels, and the Astros. When all was said and done, it came down to identifying the Major League team that offered the thing the River Bandits wanted most: partnership.
“We were looking for a Major League affiliate that understood what we were doing,” Brown said. “We wanted to have player appearances, we wanted them to be an intricate part of the community, [we wanted] someone that is easy to communicate with, that will hear out our ideas on different promotional ideas or appearances, someone who buys into the same vision.”
For the next two years at least, that team is the Houston Astros. And Nelson is confident that those two years will be exciting — both in the Quad Cities, and eventually all the way to Houston.
Welcome to the Quad Cities, Astros fans!
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.