BY CONOR FOLEY AND DONNIE COLLINS
The owner of a major sports holdings company who Major League Baseball hired last fall to help guide its takeover of the minor leagues is taking on a major role with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Peter B. Freund confirmed to The Times-Tribune via email Tuesday afternoon that he joined the RailRiders’ ownership group and will be releasing details about his plans with the team “over the coming weeks.”
It’s likely Freund’s role within the ownership group will be extensive, and co-managing owner David Abrams added during a telephone interview Tuesday that Freund will be a more consistent presence at PNC Field once the season starts in May.
“I might have spent more time when in Northeast Pennsylvania when I was living in London, but now that I’m back in the U.S., I’ve just got other responsibilities, and I can’t get there as often as I would like,” Abrams said. “So Peter, along with other owners, are kind of stepping in and trying to help in any way possible.”
Freund’s ownership reach in minor league sports is extensive.
He is the principal owner of Trinity Sports Holdings, a portfolio company that owns and operates professional sports teams in the United States and Europe. He is a partner with the RailRiders’ parent club, the New York Yankees. He is principal owner of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds and the Williamsport Crosscutters, the former Philadelphia Phillies affiliate that will begin play this season in the fledgling MLB Draft League. He also has a stake in the Charleston Riverdogs, a franchise that used to be the Yankees’ Low-A affiliate and, after the reshuffle, now is the Tampa Bay Rays’ Low-A team. Trinity also owns two soccer franchises: the Dagenham & Redbridge Football Club, which has been playing in East London since 1881, and Memphis 901 Football Club, which plays in the championship division of the United Soccer League.
He became better known, perhaps, as the man entrusted by MLB to oversee its new management and licensing agreement with the minor leagues. In October, MLB hired Freund and the consulting arm of Trinity Sports to help develop the new structure for player development around the minors. This season, a slimmed-down minor league system is set to begin play with what MLB hopes will be enhanced experiences for fans, teams, players and communities. MLB sought improved facilities, less travel to games for teams, and better working conditions and salaries for players.
Freund is also part of the formation of the MLB Draft League, which is made up of five former NY-Penn League franchises — the Frederick Keys, Mahoning Valley Scrappers, State College Spikes, West Virginia Black Bears and Williamsport — and the Trenton Thunder, which lost its Double-A affiliation with the New York Yankees. It’s a joint venture with Prep Baseball Report that aims to provide a showcase for players who are draft eligible.
With Freund now on board, the RailRiders have high-ranking representatives on two of the more powerful committees set up by Major League Baseball to focus on how the league can create greater value for minor league franchises. Freund is on the league’s Governance Committee, while Abrams said he has a seat on the Business Affairs Committee.
“Peter and I have been friends for many years now,” Abrams said. “The two of us — and he could spend more time than me — spent an inordinate amount of time, probably as soon as COVID started, on this transition of how minor league baseball would be managed. There were a lot of calls with the commissioner’s office, with Rob Manfred and Dan Halem (MLB’s deputy commissioner and chief legal officer), about how this would work and bringing other owners along and educating them and getting questions answered.
“Peter’s full-time job is managing his investments in baseball, and he’s got a (soccer) team. So he definitely does this full-time, and that’s a testament to his integrity and his understanding and commitment to minor league baseball.”
Abrams came to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise when SWB Investors LLC, an investment group, bought out Mandalay Baseball Properties LLC’s 50-percent share of the RailRiders in 2014. The Yankees own the other half. He was introduced as a principal owner along with Grant Cagle, Michael Hisler and David Blitzer, the co-managing owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils. In February 2015, the group unveiled 21 more owners who had ties to the area, including businessman Bob Mills. Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was set to come aboard in July 2016 and former big league pitcher and SWB Red Baron Andy Ashby and two more businessmen, Steve Somers and Charles Cohen, joined the group in October 2016.
“It’s not something that we publicize all the time, but we have a lot of owners in our ownership group,” Abrams said. “Many of them very small. Some of them, not really that involved. A lot of local people that add value in various ways. But we’ve always brought in people that we knew who liked sports and wanted to be part of what we were doing, and we’ve brought people in every year since we bought the team.
“(Freund) wanted to be involved with what we were doing, and he’s got another Triple-A team (Memphis), so we can really benefit from best practices.”
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