The Eastern League’s quest to place a team in Richmond continues despite a summer of setbacks—including the collapse of Connecticut’s sale to a local ownership group and the cancellation of plans to build a new downtown ballpark.
Several teams and ownership groups are in the running for Richmond and a decision will be announced by the league’s self-imposed Aug. 1 deadline, Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said. The team will play at least two years at the Diamond, Richmond’s aging ballpark that housed the Triple-A Braves for 42 years before the club left at the end of last season for a new ballpark in Gwinnett, Ga.
"We have finished our exploration process, and we are in the decision-making stage as to which club and ownership group will be getting the nod to go there," said McEacharn said, who declined to name specific teams. "Multiple candidates have submitted their interest and commitment to go to Richmond, if chosen."
Short-season Vermont owner Ray Pecor, Jr., expressed concern that this might be the Lake Monsters final season in town due to an outdated ballpark that no longer meets facility standards, according to a story in the Burlington Free Press.
Centennial Field, which debuted in 1922, is in need of upgrades to the playing field, the field lighting, dugouts, bullpens and both clubhouses, according to a report prepared for baseball officials that newspaper acquired.
According to the article, Pecor said he expects Major League Baseball (though I think he would first deal with MILB officials) to come down hard on him: “‘You have one of two choices. Either you sell this team, or we are going to take this franchise away, because we have put up with you long enough.’ I don’t want to be put into that position,” Pecor said.
Vermont ranked ninth in the 14-team New York-Penn League last season after drawing 91,351 fans—not a bad showing for a club in a relatively small market with an old ballpark. There is no mention of where Vermont would move to—only the veiled threats of relocating the team. There is also no comment from MILB officials; NYPL president Ben Hayes apparently did not return calls.
Let’s see what we can find out . . .
Roughly eight months after their World Series defeat, the Rays finally did away with the Phillies—well, sort of.
The Rays eliminated roughly 25,000 Phillies bobbleheads that were set to be given away over the remainder of the season through promotions at high Class A Clearwater, a Phillies affiliate planning to celebrate the big club’s World Series championship by giving away replicas of nine players.
However, according to a story by Marc Topkin in the St. Petersburg Times, the Rays contacted Major League Baseball and requested the remaining seven promotions be canceled because it was in violation of major league marketing rules—which state that the Rays have rights to their home territory, and that the Threshers are prohibited from marketing the Phillies brand within the Rays television territory.
I’ll have more on this later, and presumably an answer to why the Rays chose this instance to enforce this rule. There are plenty of minor league clubs that operate in opposing big league markets. Do they adhere to these marketing rules as well? (Topkin points out that Dunedin and Tampa also fall in the Rays television territory.)
“It’s disappointing to us and it’s disappointing to our fans,’’ Threshers GM John Timberlake told The Times. “”We were in violation of the agreement and we didn’t realize it. We’re trying to stay good-natured about it. We’re minor league baseball.’’
More to come . . .
If the Winston-Salem city council approves Billy Prim’s request for $15.7 million to complete construction on a 5,500-seat downtown ballpark, the overall price tag for project will rise to $40.1 million.
That would make it the most expensive Class A facility ever built. The current Class A leader is Great Lakes’ Dow Diamond, which opened in 2007 for $34 million.
The new price tag is significantly more than the typical for a Class A facility, which in our 2008 minor league preview we reported as running around $15-20 million.
The most recent high Class A facilities to be built were Charlotte’s Sports Park in 2009, a renovation/teardown of an existing facility that cost $27 million; and Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark in 2005 that cost $22 million.
In 2008, Triple-A Lehigh Valley debuted 10,000-seat Coca-Cola Park for $49.4 million and Double-A Northwest Arkansas opened 7,500-seat Arvest Ballpark for $33 million.
Six teams opened new ballparks this season, with only three topping the $40 million mark (all Triple-A facilities):
Triple-A Columbus ($56 million), Triple-A Gwinnett (estimated $40 million, likely total $60 million), Triple-A Reno ($50 million), high Class A Charlotte ($27 million), low Class A Bowling Green ($28 million), low Class A Fort Wayne ($30.6 million).
It’s important to remember that Triple-A ballparks usually seat around 10,000 fans; Double-A facilities 6-7,000; Class A between 4-5,500.
Money had to be an issue.
Why else would the consolidation of high Class A Winston-Salem, in which Billy Prim was buying out co-owner and longtime business partner Andrew Filipowski, take so long despite repeated claims by team officials that the deal was nearly complete?
Then came news today, reported by the Winston-Salem Journal, that Prim is asking city officials for an additional $15.7 million to complete construction on the new ballpark—which was supposed to open in April but sits half finished, collecting mud puddles, in downtown Winston-Salem.
Prim says that a combination of the lack of private investors, the global credit crunch and the collapse of his partnership with Filipowski has caused the need to back to the city for more cash.
The City Council will vote on the proposal, perhaps as early as Monday night, the Journal reports. If the measure is voted down, and construction does not resume (which somehow seems like an unlikely scenario considering how far along the ballpark is), the city would be forced to bring Prim’s company to court to recoup the $12 million it already invested in the project.
"We try to focus on the positives," Prim told the Journal, "instead of on whose lawyer would win."
Triple-A Omaha and neighboring Sarpy County officials are expected to hold a join press conference this morning at 10 a.m. CDT to discuss plans for a new ballpark following the Sarpy County Board of Commissioners meeting.
The commission is expected to vote on the site of the new ballpark this morning.The commission is mulling three possible locations for the ballpark. The Omaha World Herald reported that the commission is expected to approve a $26 million plan for a ballpark on farmland outside Papillon, Iowa.
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