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Published October 14 2010

RedHawks bolt Northern League for American Association

The Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks are leaving the Northern League.

The American Association announced Wednesday that F-M, Winnipeg, Gary SouthShore and Kansas City were accepted into the league beginning next season, ending weeks of speculation that four of the Northern League’s strongest competitors were looking to change affiliations.

“We’re getting four excellent teams coming into the American Association,” AA commissioner Miles Wolff said. “We’re excited. They all have good ownership, good ballparks in good cities. It’s really a plus for our league.”

Fargo-Moorhead, which has been in the Northern League since 1996 and won back-to-back titles before bolting to the AA, will see plenty of familiar faces

The RedHawks will be placed in the American Association’s North Division with Winnipeg, St. Paul and Sioux Falls (S.D.).

The Central Division will be Gary (Ill.), Kansas City (Kan.), Lincoln (Neb.), Sioux City (Iowa) and Wichita (Kan.). The South Division is El Paso (Texas), Fort Worth (Texas), Grand Prairie (Texas), Pensacola (Fla.) and Shreveport-Bossier (La.).

St. Paul, Sioux City, Sioux Falls and Lincoln caused a stir and created some bad blood between leagues when they bolted from the Northern League to the upstart American Association after the 2005 season.

“Everything has to do with the fans,” RedHawks owner Bruce Thom said. “They are used to seeing good rivalries, and they remember the days of St. Paul and Sioux Falls. This is just returning them back to where we’ve been. It’s been five years, and it was time to get back together.”

Months of negotiations helped create a new-look American Association.

Among the changes for next season:

E The AA salary cap will increase from $100,000 to $115,000. The Northern League cap was $130,000 last season.

E The league will have a 100-game schedule. The Northern League increased to 100 games last year.

E There will be an unbalanced schedule to allow teams to play more games with opponents closer to home.

“It is I-29 friendly,” said RedHawks manager Doug Simunic, who has the most wins in Northern League history. “I thought somewhere down the line before I was done that they would come back together. … I’ll just do what I normally do, with what I’m allowed to do it with, and try to get the best product I can.”

Simunic said his main concern is retaining the mainstays of his back-to-back championship teams under the player designation guidelines of the American Association.

Wolff, who helped re-create the Northern League in 1993 before leaving to start the American Association, said the schedule for the new, 14-team AA should be completed by the end of the month.

Northern League commissioner Clark Griffith said he was surprised by the decision of the four clubs to leave.

“I’m deeply disappointed,” Griffith said. “I’m sorry that the high standards of the Northern League have been sacrificed. I look forward to continuing the dialogue, and maybe they can come back some day.”

Griffith said he hopes the Northern League can move ahead with six teams. Joliet, Schaumburg, Rockford and Lake County remain.

Griffith said two expansion teams – one in Omaha and another that Griffith would not disclose – were set to join the Northern League next season.

However, things could change after the loss of F-M, Winnipeg, Gary and Kansas City.

“I’m deeply disappointed, surprised and saddened by this move,” Griffith said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com