With Opening Day kicking off last night, the American Association is in full swing and the first independent Partner League to play in 2021. In this preview, I’ll give quick blurbs on each team in the league. For some, I hope I’m right and for others, I truly hope I’m proven wrong.

As always, it is a pleasure to write about independent baseball. My goal is to promote the game and bring overs into the world that is independent baseball.

North Division

Chicago Dogs

Located in Rosemont, Illinois, the Chicago Dogs was founded in 2018. Despite having talent on the team since its inception, the Dogs have fallen short each season.

It’ll be an uphill battle for the Dogs this season. But I do believe they will have an opportunity in either the beginning or middle of the season. Take advantage of each opponent’s weaknesses and use them. While I’m not sold on the team having a better record than previous seasons, I do think there is something special about this current group.

League Championships: 0

Division Championships: 0

Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks

Located in Fargo, North Dakota, the RedHawks have a long-lasting legacy in independent baseball that started in 1996. With five league championships that came from their time in the defunct Northern League, the RedHawks are a team to watch every season. Division championships? The powerhouse has 13 total between their time in the Northern League and the present American Association.

As always, I have faith the RedHawks will push to the end and come out on top. With a stacked roster, it will be hard for opponents to find a weak spot with this team. I expect the RedHawks to be playing until the very last game this season.

League Championships: 5 (1998, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010 — Northern League)

Division Championships: 11 (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 — Northern League); 2 (2012, 2013 — American Association)

Gary SouthShore RailCats

Located in Gary, Indiana and established in 2001, the RailCats have been around the league since 2011. It’s clear the team will be looking for their first winning season since 2018 but will have a time getting to that point. Don’t let that misled you in following the Gary-based team, they do have a few championships behind their belts.

There are a few supporting stars on the roster, but it feels like a completely new team with a lackluster amount of excitement. I don’t think the inactive list for the RailCats will define the season but if a few guys can get back on the field, we might see a whole different outlook early in the year.

League Championships: 2 (Northern League – 2005, 2007); 1 (American Association – 2013)

Division Championships: 3 (Northern League – 2006, 2007, 2009); 1 (American Association – 2018)

Kane County Cougars

Located in Geneva, Illinois, the Kane County Cougars are entering their first year in independent baseball after being cut from Minor League Baseball. Founded in 1991, the Cougars were formerly the Class A affiliates to the Baltimore Orioles (1991-92), Florida Marlins (1993-02), Oakland A’s (2003-10), Kansas City Royals (2011-12), Chicago Cubs (2013-14), and Arizona Diamondbacks (2015-20).

For their first year in the league, I’m excited to see what happens with them and the new roster/staff. They have a desirable roster that includes standouts on the mound as well. In my opinion, this team will have the most MiLB feel to them compared to the other teams due to the feast or famine type offense we could see.

Minor League Titles: 2 (2001, 2014)

Minor League Division Titles: 5 (2001, 2004, 2006, 2014, 2019)

Milwaukee Milkmen

Located in Franklin, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Milkmen have been in the league since its inception in 2018 but have only played two seasons (2019, 2020). Despite the global pandemic in 2020, the Milkmen continued with their American Association season and earned their first championship title.

With a similar roster to last year, the Milkmen have a great chance at winning it all. If the offense can remain hot and run production stays strong throughout the season, it’s likely they will be playing baseball into the postseason. Pitching-wise, fans can mark my words: this is the bullpen to watch in the league.

League Championships: 1 (2020)

Division Championships: 1 (2020)

Winnipeg Goldeyes

Located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Goldeyes are set to have a new home for the 2021 season in Jackson, Tennessee – but that is a story still unfolding. Founded in 1994, the team joined the American Association in 2010. During their time in the Northern League, the Goldeyes were a force to be reckoned with in their division and continue to look to continue their legacy.

Factoring in the move to Tennessee, it’ll be interesting to see how the team adapts and overcomes any arising problems this season. I think this team is a well-rounded group and there is a bit of stability in the starting rotation despite consistency problems. Offensively, Winnipeg-Jackson is stacked with a few sleepers that hopefully breakout at the right time.

League Championships: 1 (Northern League – 1994); 3 (American Association – 2012, 2016, 2017)

Division Championships: 7 (Northern League – 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003); 3 (American Association – 2011, 2014, 2017)

South Division

Cleburne Railroaders

Located in Cleburne, Texas and one of the newer additions to the league, the Railroaders have a lot of fresh faces within the organization. With a long list of offensive stars, the team has one goal: bring a championship title to Texas. So far since 2017, the team hasn’t had the opportunity to do such and under new owners and manager, I’m a big believer in this organization.

I look forward to seeing how the team handles the season after the pandemic hiatus but I think they will fair very well. As long as the team can stay consistent with offense and pitching, it is likely we will see them into the postseason — otherwise, Texas will have to wait for another shot in 2022.

League Championships: 0

Division Championships: 0

Kansas City Monarchs

Located in Kansas City, Kansas will be taking the field for the first in over 50 years. And yes, I’m sure that has you a little rattled but the previous T-Bones were granted the new name after negotiations with the Negro League Museum to pay home to the legendary Monarchs.

With former MLB talent, it is likely we’ll see the Monarchs making their namesakes proud this season. I like their odds of making it into the postseason but it won’t be an easy task for the team if things get hairy early on in the season.

League Championships: 1 (Northern League – 2008); 1 (American Association – 2018)

Division Championships: 1 (American Association – 2019)

Lincoln Saltdogs

Located in Lincoln, Nebraska, fans of the Saltdogs can expect greatness this season. While with the league, the Lincoln team has one league championship and five division championships with the latest in 2017. The Saltdogs are the type of team that can take full advantage of other teams losing players to the affiliated clubs during the season in my opinion.

The roster is very interesting to me this year. Truthfully, I’m not sure how the team will end the season. I honestly think it’ll be a tall task for them to knock down the big dogs of Kansas City and even Cleburne.

League Championships: 1 (American Association – 2009)

Division Championships: 5 (American Association – 2006, 2007, 2009, 2014, 2017)

Sioux City Explorers

Located in Sioux City, Iowa, the Explorers are a fun group and it shows on the field. While they have had five division championships in their history, they are still pining for that glorious league championship. Will this be the year?

With fan favorites returning, I feel this team could be a pest for their opponents. Their offensive strengths will be what carries them into the later dog days of the season. They’ll need their rotation to remain strong and not falter if they want to make it into the playoffs.

League Championships: 0

Division Championships: 5

Sioux Falls Canaries

Located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Canaries are looking to rewrite the story from last season. Defeated by the Milkmen, Sioux Falls needs to prove they have what it takes to change their division and league championship tallies this year.

Consistency will play a vital role in offense for the Canaries. Currently, it feels lackluster compared to their division opponents. I could be wrong, they could come out guns blazing and prove everyone that feels this way wrong. And honestly, I want them to do that.

League Championships: 1 (American Association – 2008)

Division Championships: 0

Houston Apollos

The Houston Apollos joined the American Association this year after being in the Pecos League for quite some time. The team will serve as the 12th team and operate fully on the road as a travel team this summer. While a lot of people are knocking on this team and the idea of it, I like it. I think it will ultimately give the Pecos League All-Stars a chance to get their names out there.

Others can have low expectations for the team because they are “lesser” or from Pecos but genuinely, I’m rooting for the Apollos this season.

League Championships: 0

Division Championships: 0

Final word

In closing, I truly believe this will be a season for the record books in American Association history. My personal favorites this year to watch will be the Milkmen, Railroaders, and Monarchs. I’ll also be rooting for the Apollos to show naysayers that they are just as talented as the other men on the field.

You can find more information on the league on their website https://aabaseball.com/

Photo Credit: Milwaukee Milkmen