The Winnipeg Goldeyes said goodbye to an old friend on Monday and ushered in a new era of baseball in Shaw Park.
The Goldeyes played their first home exhibition game as members of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, one of five new teams for 2011, which expanded the league to 14 teams and makes it the largest independent professional baseball loop.
Though it was no surprise that a new face started in centre field for the Goldeyes, as that's what manager Rick Forney brought Jonathan Wyatt on board to do, it was a surprise that Aharon Eggleston was released.
Parting company with Eggleston, who started 85 games in centre field and hit .311 for the Goldeyes last season, was part of six roster moves made by Goldeyes manager Rick Forney to meet the league's deadline of submitting a 23-man roster by noon Monday.
"He's a good player and he's been successful in this league, just we like the other two young guys as corner outfielders and it gives us the ability to carry 13 pitchers to start the season," said Forney, referring to left-fielder Justin Bass, 25, and right-fielder Victor Ferrante, 26.
The Goldeyes roster included 22 players (12 pitchers, 10 position players) on Monday but further changes are expected before Thursday's opening day game at 7 p.m. against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. Teams have up to 72 hours before opening day to set rosters.
Forney said the league's lower salary cap, $115,000 as opposed to the old Northern League's cap of $130,000, was a big factor in the decision.
"You just can't afford to keep a lot of these guys anymore, $15,000 (for released players) is a lot of money off your cap. It's very difficult to carry 22 or 23 guys with $115,000 to spend," Forney said.
The other roster moves Monday included the release of pitchers Barry Fowler and John Mariotti while infielder Wes Long (hand injury) and pitchers Mike Williams and Erick Carrillo were placed on the inactive list. They can be added at any time since they were on that list prior to the start of the season, otherwise they'd have to wait 30 days.
Carrillo, who is expected to be part of the starting pitching rotation, will join the team next week on the road as he is waiting for his passport.
Eggleston led the Northern League in hits in 2008 and 2009 while with the Kansas City T-Bones, prompting the Goldeyes to get him over to their side in 2010. At home last season, Eggleston hit .378 to lead all Goldeyes.
"As you get older it happens, they get younger guys who can play multiple positions, and as you get older you get more expendable. This has been a great place to play and I had one good year here," said Eggleston, who had cleared waivers by game time Monday and is free to sign anywhere. "The new rules in the new league and salary cap restrictions, it puts a damper on things. It's part of the business, so I've just been on the phone trying to figure out where next is or if I'm just going to hang 'em up and try to start in the real world again."
Back at home in Las Vegas, Eggleston coaches in a Little League baseball program called the Vegas Venom. He could return to that work, which includes teaching individual lessons, if he doesn't find a new team.
Bass, who went 3-for-3 in last Friday's 2-1 exhibition loss to St. Paul, said he must now make the most of the opportunity he's been given in left field and at the plate.
"If I can do well here, it'd be great to get back to affiliated ball or stay here for a while," said Bass, who was with the Florida Marlins organization for the past two years. "I was talking with the hitting coach (Tom Vaeth), I think I was putting a bit of pressure on myself at first but I've been trying to relax a little bit and be more at ease with myself and hopefully find success that way."