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Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose politics were shaped early in life when his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers moved out of town, is taking a swing at Major Leagues Baseball owners and executives for their plans to shutter three Iowa minor league baseball teams.

A MLB proposal earlier this week would close the Quad City River Bandits, Burlington Bees and Clinton LumberKings, teams the Cedar Rapids Kernels play in the Midwest League. The Kernels apparently would be spared.

“Closing down Minor League teams like the River Bandits, the Bees and the LumberKings would be a disaster for baseball fans, workers and communities across Iowa,” Sanders said. “We must protect these teams from corporate greed.”

According to Sanders, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, the plan to end the teams’ affiliation with their respective MLB teams comes after minor league players filed a lawsuit demanding to be paid the minimum wage.

The Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and Minor League baseball expires after this coming season. According to reports, MLB was going to demand in negotiations that minor league affiliates upgrade facilities and provide better accommodations overall for players. MLB also wanted to cut down on minor league travel and have its affiliates be located closer to their big league clubs.

The teams on the chopping block are as much a part of Iowa’s economy and cultural fabric as the Field of Dreams, where Sanders and his campaign staff played members of the media and a youth group from Cedar Rapids in August, he said.

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The Burlington Bees just finished their 95th season of play. Clinton has had baseball in town since 1895, with the LumberKings franchise launching in 1954. The loss of the River Bandits, who trace their history back to 1901, would leave the Quad Cities without professional baseball for the first time since 1879. The Quad Cities were rated the nation’s top minor league market in 2015.

Modern Woodmen Park (formerly known as John O'Donnell Stadium) in Davenport has survived floods for decades and provided an economic anchor for the Quad Cities. Community Field in Burlington has generated significant annual revenues for the city for decades. Clinton’s home park — originally dubbed Riverview Field when it was built in 1937 — has seen future All Stars such as Kyle Seager and James Paxton draw fans for years.

“By threatening to rip baseball out of these communities, the billionaires who control America’s pastime are showing their true colors,” Bernie 2020 Deputy Iowa Director Bill Neidhardt said. “This isn’t about what’s good for baseball. It’s about greedy executives refusing to give even a tiny bit more of their massive wealth to the young people who keep their businesses booming.”

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Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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