WASHINGTON - It appears the Nationals will have a new minor-league affiliate in 2021.
But the new city has good memories for some veterans of player development in Washington’s system.
The Nationals, according to published reports, plan to add Wilmington, Delaware as a minor league team in 2021.
The Blue Rocks have been a farm team of the Kansas City Royals for 26 of the last 28 years (1993–2004, 2007–20) and have been in the Carolina League since 1999.
Wilmington hosted the Carolina League-California League All-Star game in 2014 and Hall of Famer George Brett, the former third baseman for the Royals, threw out the first pitch.
Delaware is special to Tripp Keister, who was slated to manage Fredericksburg in the Carolina League in 2020 for the Nationals before the pandemic led to the 2020 minor league season being called off.
Keister was a standout at the University of Delaware and is the former head coach at Delaware State.
As a young boy in Delaware, he was able to see up close Hall of Famer Judy Johnson, the former Negro League star who lived next to the father of Keister.
Johnson was born in Maryland and moved to Delaware with his family as a young boy.
Johnson died in Wilmington in 1989 and a statue of him is near the ballpark where the Blue Rocks have played – and not far from where Joe Biden met supporters the day he was declared the winner of the presidential vote of 2020.
Keister drove from Delaware this summer to see the new park at Fredericksburg, along with a daughter of his.
“They showed us around and then we drove back” to Delaware, Keister told Federal Baseball this summer.
Keister played in the minors with the Mets after he was drafted out of Delaware in 1992.
Jeff Garber, the co-field coordinator in player development for the Nationals with Fairfax, VA native Tommy Shields, is a former manager of the Blue Rocks in the Carolina League. The former James Madison University shortstop reached Triple-A as a player in the Kansas City system after he was drafted by the Royals in 1988 in the 10th round out of JMU.
Chris Widger, a former standout at George Mason University in Fairfax, was the manager of the Blue Rocks in 2019. The New Jersey native played for the Montreal Expos from 1997 to 2000 during his Major League career – which ended with the Baltimore Orioles in 2006.