The Missoula Paddleheads — and all eight Pioneer League teams — have been designated as members of a Major League Baseball "Partner League", according to a joint news release issued on Monday morning.
The league will consist of the former eight Pioneer League teams, although, further expansion is possible. The season will also be extended from the league’s former format to a 92-game schedule that begins in mid-May and concludes in early September.
The change means that the PaddleHeads will have 46 home games, eight more than the previous schedule format.
"We are very pleased that professional baseball is alive and well in Western Montana. The decision to extend the decades long relationship between MLB and the Pioneer League is not just great news for our communities, but also for the players and the game of baseball. Through this partnership, we see ourselves contributing to player development in more substantial ways, while also developing baseball fans for life,” said Peter Davis and Susan Crampton Davis Co-Chairs of the Missoula PaddleHeads.
The Pioneer League will operate as a Professional Baseball Independent League. As a result, the PaddleHeads and other Pioneer League franchises can acquire players from three pools. They are undrafted players, former professional baseball players who have been released from a Major League club, or affiliated players who are under contract with a Major League team.
Each franchise can decide how and which direction they will go in terms of player acquisition and development.
“We are excited to welcome the players back to Missoula this Spring,” said PaddleHeads Vice President Matt Ellis. “This agreement with Major League Baseball will give future generations of Missoula fans the continued opportunity to enjoy professional baseball and affordable family entertainment that they’ve come to know and love."
Pending COVID-19 restrictions fans should expect not just baseball, but the return of movies, trivia, and other events, the news release states.
"The Pioneer League joins the Atlantic League, the American Association and the Frontier League as an MLB Partner League. Each Partner League covers a different geographic area in the United States and Canada and attracts players of varying levels of experience."
The announcement brings closure to a year when Major League and Minor League owners have spent the entirety of it in an absolute street fight over what would become of dozens of MiLB organizations. The pandemic certainly didn’t help, accelerating contraction talks and inhibiting fans from offering teams a proper farewell.
It also just happened to hit in the final year of a deal between Minor League teams and Major League Baseball owners who want to take complete control of player development, save money, draft fewer players and keep them geographically closer to home - meaning closer to MLB cities.
Within the process 42 Minor League teams, including the Paddleheads and all others in the Pioneer League, were thrust onto the chopping block of no longer being considered Minor League Baseball squads.
"As a Partner League, the Pioneer League will collaborate with MLB to provide organized baseball to communities throughout the Western U.S. and Canada," the release said.