The Trenton Thunder and the New York Yankees announced Thursday afternoon that the two sides had reached an eight year extension agreement of their current PDC (Player Development Contract) which was not set to expire until 2014. The deal solidifies the Yankees and Thunder relationship through the 2022 season.
“It says a lot when you sign an extension longer than one of your most important players,” said Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman. ‘We gave CC Sabathia a seven year deal; so I think that’s a statement in itself about how long we want to be here in Trenton.”
Yankees Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost added, “We are very fortunate. Were thrilled to be able to be in a position to extend our relationship for more than four years and more than eight years; we’ll be here for a long, long time, as long as Trenton wants us, we’re here.”
The Thunder have come a long way since they first entrenched themselves as a staple in the Trenton community 19 years ago when the Detroit Tigers relocated their Double-A franchise from Canada in 1994 . At that point, nobody knew for certain just how well baseball would fair in Mercer County or the state of New Jersey for that matter. Despite tons of doubters and critics of the move, Owner Joe Plumeri, President Joe Finley and Co-Owner Joe Caruso were determined to build a thriving baseball franchise that the city could be proud of.
Just one season after settling into Waterfront Park, the Thunder switched their affiliation partnership from the Tigers to the Boston Red Sox in 1995. For the next several years Trenton would help assist the Boston franchise in developing eventual all-star talents such as Nomar Garciaparra and Kevin Youkilis.
As well as their relationship with Boston had blossomed over the years, ownership always had bigger dreams and higher aspirations for their franchise. From day one, they had hopes of one day possibly luring the Bronx Bombers to join forces with them in Trenton.
“When Joe Caruso and Joe Plumeri and I got into this business it was a Detroit Tigers affiliate, and we thought, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great one day to have the Yankees here?”
After a solid seven year relationship with the Red Sox, the Thunder brass got their wish in 2003. The Yankees decided to relocate their operation from their Norwich affiliate at the conclusion of the 2002 season which allowed Finely & Co. the chance to bring them to Trenton. Geographically the move made sense; allowing the Yankees to move closer to the Bronx while also allowing the Red Sox to take their operation to Portland, Maine which logistically made more sense for their franchise and their fan base.
“I was sick and tired of seeing the Red Sox down here,” jokingly said Trost. “We are very fortunate to have a facility such as this. We are fortunate enough to have ownership such as this.”
Finely added, “Even if you’re not a Yankee fan, there’s just something about the New York Yankees. It’s a piece of Americana, it’s an iconic franchise, and it’s the most famous sports franchise in all of the world. Were just thankful and lucky to be part of the Yankee family.”
The Yankees have seemingly grown quite comfortable with their Trenton family in trusting them with their promising young assets as well as rehabbing veteran cogs for the last ten seasons.
Major League stars such as Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Austin Jackson, Jesus Montero and Bret Gardner are just a few of the household names that have climbed the prospect ladder through the Yankees farm system while using Trenton as a stop along the course of their development into big leaguers.
“Without Trenton, we wouldn’t have players such as our second baseman,” said Trost in reference to Cano, who played with the Thunder in 2004. “Who if I recall, the papers wrote that he could field but he can’t hit. Seems to me he can do both pretty well. There are a number of players down here whose next stop may be Scranton but it may be right up to the big leagues.”
Over the course of their affiliation, the Yankees have summoned several of their important stars to Trenton on rehab assignments. Players like Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui and just as recently as this season, Andy Pettitte have all dawned Thunder uniforms in order to tune up before rejoining the major league club.
“We’re comfortable, more than comfortable sending our assets, our prized possessions through Trenton as they try to find their way all the way up to New York,” said Cashman. “Were excited; when we came here this was a marriage made in Heaven. “There’s so many Yankee fans down here that we’ve tapped into that were here before we got here, so it was a perfect setup and I think it says a lot that this is the biggest commitment we’ve made, not financially, but in terms of a relationship that we have on the books right now and we’re very proud of that.”
Cashman added, “The method to the madness here is that we’ve got our Scranton club in Triple A, we have Trenton right here. At least half of the time on the schedule will be available to either access by scouting or to be able to call our players up. Rehab assignments, our coordinators, our scouts who come through… It’s kind of like the Bermuda triangle. You’ve got the Bronx, you’ve got Scranton, you’ve got Trenton, and it’s just very convenient for us.”
In a time where many franchises change affiliates quite frequently, the Yankees have always been a figure of stability and comfort. As the most firm and tightly run organization in the world, the Yankees understand that their relationship with Trenton goes far beyond logistics and the geographic proximity to New York but to a broader factor in how smooth they run their day to day operations from front office all the way down to their grounds crew and stadium personnel.
“We had no interest in moving anywhere, we just wanted to solidify it publicly,” said Cashman. “Trenton kind of mentioned it from their perspective. They’ve always been so accommodating in anything we’ve needed. There was no reason for us to consider moving anywhere else. This is the best place we could possibly be. The extension of the PDC is a public recognition of that. I consider this the best minor league operation in all of sports. It’s just been an awesome marriage and there’s no reason not for it to continue. This is home; they’re part of our family and were thankful they feel we’re part of theirs.”