The Mariners are coming to Pulaski, bringing the number of teams in the Appalachian League back to 10—a move that will be a big financial relief to the City of Pulaski as well as the other nine owners in the league.
The deal means that Christmas will be coming a few days early for Lee Landers, who has been dogged in his year-and-a-half pursuit of filling the void in Pulaski.
After two years of pounding hotel lobbies at the Winter Meetings in Orlando and Nashville, Landers pulled off a late-December deal with the Mariners to bring a Rookie-level club to Pulaski. Seattle will add a seventh affiliate in its first foray into the Appalachian League.
The Appy League was left with nine teams in 2007 after the Blue Jays pulled out of Pulaski late in 2006 and Landers’ efforts to find a replacement proved fruitless. The odd-numbered schedule forced the league to play two-game series and the increased travel added expenses to teams’ budgets.
"It’s a relief for everyone in the league, from the players to the managers to the front office (personnel)," said Landers, noting that new MILB vice president Tim Purpura and longtime executive Roland Hemond played key roles in getting a deal done. " I can’t see how playing a nine-game schedule and two-games series enhanced player development. We have younger guys in the league, but it wears on you."
The Mariners signed a one-year lease with an option for a second year. Pulaski Baseball president and general manager Tom Compton said the Mariners are interested in staying long-term, but first want to make sure the league is a good fit.
"Ownership wants to make sure they are doing the right thing before they enter into a longer-term deal," Compton said.
Enduring a season with Calfee Park dark proved to be a financial hit for the City of Pulaski. The minor league team is the park’s prime tenant, and Compton estimates the city lost $20,000 in rent alone—not including lost revenue for local hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
Last call for your Mitchell Report Drafts. Is there a consensus No. 1? Obviously the Met’s clubbie list is the biggest gossip to make headlines since the D.C. Madam went public, but here is some other baseball news making headlines:
• Low Class A Quad Cities reaches a $185,000 stadium naming rights deal with Modern Woodmen, a local fraternal financial services organization. Yet to many fans of the soon-to-be-renamed Swing, the ballpark will always be the JOD.
• Peoria and the Cubs extend their relationship through 2012, but will Rhino be back at the helm in 2008?
• After failing to convince voters to renovate Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, the Reds give director of Florida operations Jeff Maultsby his walking papers — a week after the Winter Meetings.
• Lehigh Valley names its first manager: Dave Huppert, who guided low Class A Lakewood and high Class A Clearwater to league titles the past two years.
• Texas Collegiate League is on the verge of adding a fifth team, perhaps in time for the 2008 season.
Stories making headlines around baseball.
• A real hard-hitting item here: Roughly 30 years after retiring from the Royals, pitcher Mark Littell is back on the diamond hawking a better way for players to protect their jewels. Littell is representing a new line of men’s wear and a new and improved cup that he not only swears provides better protection, but proves his point by putting his money wear his "you-know-what" is. The YouTube clip is certainly worth watching through.
• New Quad Cities ownership group has called for press conferences today and tomorrow, both involving new names. Today the team is expected to announce a naming-rights deal for John O’Donnell Stadium. Thursday the QC plans to compete with the Mitchell Report for headlines by announcing their new name to replace Swing.
• Torii Hunter finally got his wish. No, not that $90 million deal, but improved lighting at Fort Myers’ Hammond Stadium, home to the high Class A Fort Myers Miracle and spring training site of the Minnesota Twins. Hunter vowed never to play at Hammond last spring until the ballpark got new lights. Lee County is responding by installing 180 light fixtures on six poles that rise 110 feet above the stadium’s ground, in addition to replacing 3,110 hard-back seats. The $250,000 project is funded from a percentage of Lee County’s Tourist Development Council hotel tax revenue.
• The Kane County Cougars and local government officials continue to negotiate on an expansion of Elfstrom Stadium while agreeing that they had previously low-balled costs of the project. New estimates put the project, which will include a second deck of seating, an overhang, increased concessions and skyboxes, at around $10 million.
• A little story on the fate of the Batavia Muckdogs. While it is true that the team is in serious financial trouble, it’s a longshot that there will not be baseball in Batavia in 2008. The question is how involved will the league be in financially supporting the team.
• The Baltimore Examiner reports that the city of Aberdeen received nearly $50,000 less than it expected from renting out Ripken Stadium in 2006.
Miles Wolff left behind spring-like Durham and the Can-Am League headquarters today and headed north to Ottawa—where the forecasted high Tuesday was a mere 28 degrees—and the home of the indy league’s newest affiliate.
Wolff is hardly off on a holiday, nor is he going to bask in the glow of saving baseball in the Canadian city just months after the Lynx left town to become an IronPig in the Lehigh Valley. Rather, Wolff has the unenviable task of building a baseball team virtually from scratch with Opening Day looming just five months in the distance.
Wolff has quite a to-do list ahead of him: name the team, hire a manager, find players and build a front office, are among the most pressing. [...] Continue Reading »
Business stories making headlines around baseball.
• A few stories on the Fenway Sports Group’s purchase of the Salem Avalanche, which I think we were the first to report here. As I said, this was a rumor making its way around the baseball community for some time, but was guarded by officials making the deal better than some national security issues. The Globe reports that the deal makes sense for FSG and Salem, while the Roanoke Times reports that Salem is joining Red Sox Nation. The Boston Herald reports FSG president Michael Dee has not ruled out another a deal for a second minor league team.
• Ripken Baseball and the City of Abderdeen remain at odds over the agreement the company has with the city of 14,000–which has been operating under losses brought on by contracts that failed to protect its interests.
• The Winston-Salem Journal obtained architectural designs for the planned $22.6 million downtown ballpark. The blueprint features traditional items like a playground beyond the outfield wall and party suites in addition to novel looks like a replica Primo Water bottle atop an outfield wall and brick columns that give the stadium a Camden Yards feel.
• A nice little profile in the "Hawk Eye" on low Class A Burlington president Dave Walker, who received the annual King of Baseball award at the Winter Meetings. I had the opportunity to speak with Walker while reporting a profile on outgoing NA president Mike Moore, and definitely found him to be an open, friendly person willing to go out of his way to help me out. Almost makes you want to go settle down in Iowa. Almost.
After 64 years, the Boston Red Sox are back in Salem.
Fenway Sports Group, the sports sponsorship company owned by Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry, reached an agreement with Hardball Capital to purchase the Salem Avalanche. After months of rumor and speculation, the deal was made public on Monday at a press conference in Salem.
However don’t head to the mountains of southwest Virginia to watch the Red Sox high Class A affiliate play ball next season—they’ll still be about 3,000 away, completing the final year of a player development agreement with Lancaster of the California League. The Astros will be back in Salem for its sixth season in 2008. Though the Red Sox seem like a natural fit to call Salem home in 2009, club officials are not allowed to discuss affiliation changes until the current PDA expires following the 2008 season.
"Obviously we’re not a Red Sox affiliate, but the biggest thing is having the grand power of the Red Sox behind us," Salem general manager John Katz said, noting that the Roanoke Red Sox were the first affiliated baseball club to play in the Roanoke Valley when the team joined the Piedmont League in 1943.
"The Red Sox have deep roots, not only in the Carolina League, but in this area as well. Players like Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs—various stops in their careers have come in the Carolina League. The relationship goes back to the days of the Piedmont League. It’s a neat little back story to this thing. It’s almost as if they are coming full circle."
The deal was approved by the Carolina League but will not be finalized until Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball provide their stamps of approval. Regardless, Fenway Sports Group is banking on a long relationship and becoming a part of the Salem community.
"Our long-term goal is to buy and hold the franchise, we’re not buying this as a quick investment play. We want to be a here a long time," Fenway Sports Group president Michael Dee said. "In the short-term, we want to learn the ropes. Major league baseball is not the same flavor of ice cream as minor league baseball . . . We have three fundamental commitments: Make sure we put an entertaining team on the field; make the ballpark a fun place to be and provide affordable family entertainment; become active participants in the community. If we do those things, hopefully we can generate the success at the gate that mirrors the great success we’ve had at Fenway Park."
The Sox last played in the Carolina League in Wilmington during the 2005-06 seasons before leaving for Lancaster, arguably the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the minors because of high winds that consistently blow toward the outfield fence. Salem is entering its 40th season in the Carolina League, and ranked third in the league in attendance last season, drawing 458,469 fans in 66 openings. Yet Katz said the club still has plenty of room to grow in the community, and the potential is limitless with the backing of Fenway Sports Group.
"It is one of those things where there couldn’t be a better fit for our market," Katz said. "FSG (Fenway Sports Group) has such a broad range of experience that we can work together and keep building our marketing efforts. It will be a great marriage and I am excited about working with Michael and his team at FSG."
A longtime rumor seems to be coming to fruition today in Salem.
The Avalanche have called a press conference for this afternoon, seemingly to announce the Boston Red Sox’ purchase of the Carolina League club. We’ve heard from several sources over the past month that his has been in the works, however no one was willing to confirm the deal on the record.
The Astros will play in Salem next season and Boston will remain in Lancaster for 2008—this has been confirmed by team officials from each club. However Boston will move its affiliate to Salem beginning in 2009. Boston’s move has been fueled in part by its displeasure with the playing situation in Lancaster, where high winds blowing out of the ballpark make it arguably the most hitter-friendly stadium in the minors.
I’ll try and get more info on this shortly.
I hear it always takes a little time to adjust after returning from the Winter Meetings. For example, a strange thing happened this morning: I didn’t pass any reporters or front-office folk on my way to breakfast, just my 2-year-old son watching a cartoon in the living room. He had no news on Johan Santana trade rumors.
As I decompress after three days in the Opryland’s biodome, here is some bizbeat news making headlines. (By the way, evidence that getting around the Opryland was quite a trek could be found in Cincinnati Post beat writer C. Trent Rosecrans’step count after one day.
• IronPig Nation continues to expand. The Phillies affiliate set to play ball next season in Lehigh Valley adds a third radio station to its network. Meanwhile, the team tossed out PorkChop as the name of its mascot after members of the local Latino community complained the term was offensive. Lehigh Valley has replaced the name for its mascot with Ferrous, which comes from the Latin word "ferrum," which means relating to or containing iron.
• After failing to land funding for a new ballpark last season, Triple-A Nashville ownership is putting $1 million into renovating aging Greer Stadium—a move the team says is indicative of their commitment to staying in Music City.
• Will get more on this for the issue, but the Texas League announced at the Winter Meetings a new award to be named after Tulsa first-base coach Mike Coolbaugh, who was killed after being struck by a line drive during a game last season. The inaugural winner is Coolbaugh’s brother Scott, a coach for the Frisco Roughriders.
• The Sliders are hitting the road. Without a permanent home, the formerly named Slippery Rock Sliders of the independent Frontier League will play all 96 of its 2008 regular season games on the road. The team will be called the Midwest Sliders next season, and former GM Steve Tahsler, said the league is still looking for an owner and home for the Sliders. [...] Continue Reading »
NASHVILLE–Minor League Baseball made official its hiring of former Astros GM Tim Purpura as executive vice president and chief operating officer, essentially taking over the position of president elect Pat O’Conner.
Purpura, 49, and O’Conner have ties through the Astros, where Purpura worked in player development for 14 years before being dismissed after three years as GM this offseason. O’Conner worked in the Astros player development system before joining MILB 15 years ago.
"We are delighted that Tim Purpura will be joining our staff in January," O’Conner said in a release. "Tim has experience in virtually every faced of baseball which will enhance our operations and complement the talented staff in St. Petersburg (Fla.). I am grateful to Tim for accepting the challenge and agreeing to join the staff of Minor League Baseball."
I am trying to track down Purpura for a comment here at the Gaylord Oprey before departing for the airport, however that is no easy task at the expansive resort. If not today, we’ll have more on his hiring tomorrow.
NASHVILLE–Finally, after two days of the Winter Meetings at the Gaylord Opryland, I have been voted off the island and am heading back to Durham in the morning. This place is so big that the Batavia Muckdogs might play here next season.
With nothing left to do, I thought now would be a fine to empty my notebook. So here it goes:
Few stories on the business beat have been bigger than Lee Landers’ dogged effort to find a team to fill the void in Pulaski (wait a second, are we back in Orlando?) Yes, for the second straight year, Landers has spent the bulk of his time trying to find a team to play in Pulaski after the Blue Jays pulled out late in the 2006 season. Landers believes Pulaski is close to landing a suitor in the Mariners, yet nothing has been finalized.
Seattle representatives attended a pair of Appalachian League meetings on Wednesday following a late November visit to Pulaski’s Calfee Park, but the Mariners have yet to commit for 2008. Landers said Seattle has set a Dec. 14 deadline for making decision–a date that may be hard to extend considering Pulaski officials have received bids from independent clubs that may be hard to turn down with a second straight dark season looming in the near future.
"I feel better this time this year than I did last year, but the result is the same," Landers said. "We have nothing to hang our hats on."
Rumors surrounding Batavia’s financial troubles are true, but three days at the Winter Meetings have not led to a result. A column by the Buffalo News’ Bob DiCesare outlined the Muckdogs financial troubles, which has left the New York-Penn League club in debt and without a lease for the 2008 season. While neither Batavia GM Dave Wellenzohn nor NYP league president Ben Hayes woulddiscuss the situation, the issue was brought up in league meetings over the past few days.
Any resolution to the situation is not expected in the near future.
"We’re talking with the club and collecting information," Hayes said, deferring any further comment until a later date.
Minor League Baseball plans to announce a new chief operating officer on Thursday morning, filling president elect Pat O’Conner’s former position. I promised both O’Conner and MILB spokesman Jim Ferguson that I would not reveal the new hire’s identity, but he was a general manager in 2007.
After increasing attendance by over 20,000 over the past three seasons, the San Jose Giants have grand plans to increase the trend. The Giants signed a five-year extension to remain at the landmark Municipal Stadium, and received a $200,000 in financing from the city that they plan to put into adding roughly 600 seats and significantly boosting their group seating facility.
The Giants long-term future in San Jose remains in doubt, since an Athletics move to neighboring Freemont could result in the Giants being forced out of town. However the team plans to push along and CEO Jim Weyermann said they are in negotiations to land a naming rights deal for the stadium, money the team would plan to put right back into the 1940s-era ballpark for several upgrades that includes concessions, parking and upgraded player development facilities.
Promotional Seminar Changes
I’ll try and get an official confirmation on this tomorrow (Thursday), but apparently MILB’s board of trustees has voted to ban independent league teams from attending the sport’s annual promotional seminar.
Eastern League clubs boycotted the promotional seminar in 2007, expressing their disapproval in sharing ideas with non-affiliated clubs that they consider threatening their territorial rights.Apparently their effort has proven effective.
"We feel that when get together with members it should be with (MILB) members only," Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said. "They are not part of us. Why should we let them hear our best and brightest speak at the promotional seminar."
As I said, I have not spoken with anyone from the board of trustees and hope to find details on the new regulations involving the promotional seminar on Thursday.
It’s About Time
Longtime Birmingham Barons employee Joe Drake is finally getting a taste of the Winter Meetings.
After 53 years with the club–Drake started with the team in 1953 as a ticket-tearer earning $1 a day–the team’s ticket manager earned his first invite to the offseason event. Drake was ushered around the meetings by several team employees who seemed to enjoy his presence at the event as much, if not more, than he did.
A country music fan who was thrilled to meet Gary Carter here at the Opryland, Drake said that the event otherwise has not been overly impressive (there were not enough seats around the sprawling hotel, he complained). And it certainly should not be easy to impressive the veteran baseball employee, who has seen such legends come through Birmingham as Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Josh Gibson, Lorenzo "Piper" Davis, Rollie Fingers, Minnie Minoso and Tommy John.
Drake began his career at the historical Rickwood Field, and the team’s annual game at the old ballpark is a homecoming of sorts for him.
"Joe is treated like a celebrity there," said director of promotions and ticket operations Jeremy Neisser. "Anybody has come to Rickwood seems to know Joe. Every father or grandfather comes up to see him. It’s like a family reunion."
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