Triple-A Rochester made official its plan to continue operating the beleaguered short-season Batavia Muckdogs in the 2011 season.
This will be Rochester's fourth season in charge of its neighbor ballclub after the Red Wings rescued Batavia from bankruptcy following the 2007 season. Rochester had hoped that it could turn the Muckdogs, one of Minor League Baseball's top licensing clubs, into a success at the gate, but instead has seen attendance drop over the past three seasons while taking a financial hit.
Rochester CEO Naomi Silver had earlier indicated that Rochester was not planning on renewing its agreement with Batavia but recently changed course and decided to stick with the team while it looks for a new buyer.
The Red Wings faced an Oct. 31 deadline on pulling out of its contract with Batavia before the deal automatically renewed. Rochester likely can recoup its losses operating Batavia after the team is sold–as part of the original agreement, Rochester receives 5 percent of the proceeds from the sale.
"We would not want to walk away from the operation, leaving the team at risk of not being able to support itself while awaiting a sale," Silver said in a press release. Our staying will permit the (Genesee County Baseball Club) board the opportunity to seek out a sale of the Muckdogs on terms which will be most beneficial to the Batavia community."
The independent Tucson Toros (Golden League) are expected to announce today their plans for next season, the Arizona Daily Star has reported. Triple-A Portland is planning to relocate to Tucson next season while it awaits a permanent home—owner-in-waiting Jeff Moorad is awaiting a Nov. 30 vote by the city council in the San Diego suburb of Escondido on a proposed $50 million ballpark. (There's some scuttle that the council should postpone the vote if legislators lose their seats in the Nov. 2 election, but the council appears determined to proceed because Moorad is scheduled to make a final lump sum payment before new officials would take office.)
Toros owner Jay Zucker has expressed his interest in operating the Portland club this season at Tucson's Hi-Corbett Field. The Daily Star reports that Portland is likely to play the newer facility, Tucson Electric Park, across town. (Two sources had previously told me that the team was more likely to play at Hi-Corbett.)
The Pacific Coast League has yet to release its 2011 schedule, though PCL president Branch Rickey previously said they have it set so that Portland's location does not impact the schedule.
• New low Class A Hagerstown owners have begun a new team restoration plan by funding a $99,000 overhaul of the playing surface at Municipal Stadium and upgrading its technology network to provide fans with more in-game information, the Herald-Mail (Hagerstown, Md.) reports. With the city's assistance, the team is also renovating home and visitor clubhouses.
Mandalay Baseball completed the sale of the Suns last month to an ownership group headed by local businessman Bruce Quinn.
John Cook is stepping down from his post as Minor League Baseball's vice president of business operations to return to his Alabama roots, joining the Double-A Birmingham Barons as the club's new director of sales.
Cook, 39, spent six years at Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla. He had previously worked as general manager for high Class A Clearwater. Cook is a 1996 graduate of the University of Alabama.
“John has been instrumental in the development of Minor League Baseball. Through John’s leadership and guidance, our staff has performed at an extremely high level to advance the Minor League Baseball brand and our many initiatives," MILB president Pat O'Conner said. "I appreciate John’s loyalty and dedication for Minor League Baseball and my administration. We will miss his influence in St. Petersburg, but know he will bring a wealth of experience to the Barons’ operation.”
Also joining Birmingham are Demetrius Hubbard as a marketing assistant; Craig Spillman, as director of concessions; Brandon Harms, as tickets manager; Charlie Santiago, who takes on a new role with team as corporate event planner.
The ownership group headed by Padres owner Jeff Moorad has reached a working agreement to purchase the Triple-A Portland Beavers, Portland owner Merritt Paulson announced yesterday.
The sale is pending approval by Minor League Baseball and the Pacific Coast League—Moorad's North County Baseball group already has received approval by Major League League Baseball when it purchased the Padres in 2009. The sale is expected to be completed in early December, before the start of the Winter Meetings on Dec. 6.
Paulson's announcement confirms the inevitable—that the team is leaving Portland. Moorad is planning on moving the club to Tucson for at least one season until a permanent location is finalized. The group is currently negotiating with the San Diego suburb of Escondido on a ballpark/retail project. The Padres are confident an agreement will be reached.
The Beavers were forced to pull out of Portland after this season after Paulson had agreed to convert their ballpark, PGE Park, into a soccer-only facility for his Major League Soccer team. Paulson had believed he would be able to construct a new ballpark elsewhere in the Portland area, but voters and local leaders rejected his three proposals for a new facility.
"As I have expressed many times, moving the team from the Portland area represents a professional and personal disappointment for me," Paulson said in a statement. "It was not the outcome we anticipated and expected. It remains my strong belief that just as the Beavers returned to Portland in 2001 after being moved to Salt Lake City in the 1990s, Triple-A baseball will again return to Portland; only this time the return will be to a permanent baseball-specific ballpark home where the franchise can flourish and succeed. I remain committed to aiding in that effort as I can."
Though the Padres are planning on moving to Tucson next season, no deal has been finalized. "The discussions and negotiations are focusing on Tucson," Rickey said, "but I think to define that as a resolved issue is premature."
Moorad's group cannot officially request a transfer until the sale has closed. Once the sale is complete, the team is planning on proposing a transfer to Tucson, several sources said. Though they have not decided on which of Tucson's two ballparks to play at, one source familiar with the process said they are leaning toward Hi-Corbett Field—in part because of its location and appeal with local residents.
After a two-year hiatus, the Pacific Coast League is set to return to Tucson—though it hopes the move is temporary.
The ownership group headed by Padres owner Jeff Moorad is planning to move the Portland Beavers to Tucson when its purchase of the franchise is completed in early December, several sources said. The team would play in Tucson for at least one season before moving to what it hopes will be a permanent home in suburban San Diego. Moorad’s North County Baseball group is negotiating a ballpark project with officials in the suburb of Escondido now.
“We are processing the transfer application of the ownership (of the Portland Beavers) to the Moorad group,” Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner said. “Once that transfer occurs, then they will have standing to file a relocation application. Until then, they don’t.”
Five years after the biggest split in independent league baseball, the gang has gotten back together.
The American Association officially welcomed the Winnipeg Goldeyes, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Kansas City T-Bones and Gary Southshore Railcats to the league on Wednesday, as the league's owners approved the four teams' applications to join the league.
The move brings back into the same league many of the stalwarts of the Northern League that had helped the league become the bellwether independent league in the 1990s. St. Paul, Sioux City, Sioux Falls and Lincoln left the Northern League after the 2005 season to form the American Association because of disagreements over the direction of the league and its leadership structure. Anger and resentment subsided over the next five years, as the logic of reduced travel expenses and renewed rivalries eventually won out. [...] Continue Reading »
Bull Durham, the campy 1988 blockbuster starring Kevin Costner as a minor league lifer, has often been credited with fueling the minor league baseball boom, turning a mom-and-pop sport into a billion-dollar industry.
While the film's impact on drawing fans to the ballpark shouldn't be minimized, the minor league revolution truly began 11 years earlier in Columbus, Ohio. That's when local civic leader Harold Cooper helped return baseball to Ohio's state capital by organizing a renovation of Franklin County Stadium, complete with luxury suites and astroturf, that transformed the Clippers into the International League's flagship franchise and served as a model for other teams.
Fittingly, the ballpark was renamed Cooper Stadium in 1984.
"It was a big, big deal, and it was really the refurbishing of that ballpark that you can trace the ballpark construction (boom) back to," International League president Randy Mobley said.
Baseball bid farewell to Cooper and another minor league baseball stalwart, Pawtucket owner Ben Mondor. The two passed away yesterday in their respective hometowns, where each was a beloved figure. Cooper was 87. Mondor was 85.
"Our game has lost two icons," Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner said. "These two men are the architects of the modern minor league baseball era."
The Heart Of Pawtucket
Much like Cooper, Mondor's impact on baseball went beyond the state lines his ballpark sat in. At the urging of the Red Sox in 1976, Mondor took over a bankrupt Pawtucket franchise that had become ostracized by local business owners and fans. (In 1977, Pawtucket won the International League championship but managed to draw just 77,000 fans).
Mondor, a retired local businessman, slowly but surely rebuilt those damaged relationships through shrewd business practices, a charitable involvement in the community, and a naturally welcoming and disarming personality that made players, fans and employees feel welcome at McCoy Stadium.
“This guy was an icon," team president Mike Tamburro, who Mondor hired in 1977, told the Boston Globe. "What he accomplished here is just absolutely remarkable. It’s a great loss, not only for us personally but for the entire community. He was a Rhode Island treasure.
“It’s not going to end now. This operation will continue to grow and flourish because of him and in his memory.’’
Mondor oversaw the $16 million renovation of McCoy Stadium in 1999 that allowed the team to stay in Pawtucket. And even after many years around the game, Mondor considered himself a baseball outsider.
When passing along advice at league meetings, Mondor always prefaced his comments with "I'm not a baseball guy, I'm just a business man," Mobley said. "He was always right. It would cause you to think about why you are doing this or why you are doing that."
It was Mondor's relationship with fans and players that was truly special. Before road trips this past season, Mondor would hand manager Torey Lovullo stacks of cash so he could treat the players to a good meal. "He treated the players like his own family and his devotion to their development was absolute," Red Sox GM Theo Epstein told The Globe.
Columbus' Father Figure
Cooper worked his way up in Columbus from clubhouse attendant to general manager. He once told current GM Ken Schnacke that his first job with the team, back in the 1930s, was scraping mold off of hot dogs so they could be re-used the next day. "I laughed and promised people that this is not what we sell as dime dogs," Schnacke said.
Cooper is actually credited with saving baseball in Columbus twice—first, when he brokered a deal to bring a team to town in 1955, and again in 1977 (seven years after the Columbus Jets departed), when as a county commissioner he led the charge for a $6.5 million ballpark renovation.
The project was not necessarily well received by everyone. Mobley recalls a headline in the local paper referring to the project as "Cooper's Folly."
"He certainly proved over time that he knew what he was doing," Mobley said.
The county bought a franchise from Charleston, W.Va., for $25,000 and drew 457,251 fans in 1977, pioneering a business practice that would later become a recipe for success throughout the minors: better facilities means better business.
"You saw it throughout the minors," Cooper told Baseball America's Will Lingo in 1998. "Wherever there was a new ballpark, there was a new enthusiasm and a new interest in baseball."
In 1978, Cooper took over as president of the International League and in 1985 hired Mobley, then a front-office official in Columbus, as his administrator and groomed him as his successor. Mobley took over as president in late 1990, and though his even-keeled demeanor contrasts Cooper's bigger-than-life bulldog personality, Mobley credits much of his success and longevity to the lessons he learned in those five years.
"It was a remarkable experience," Mobley said. "One of the things he shared with me early on is that (serving as league president) is a wonderful opportunity. Because of his experience working with the team for so long, there were different family events that he missed because of having to be at the ballpark. Here is an opportunity to do something where you have a little flexibility, stay involved in the game you love and have a family life."
Mobley also learned how to run the league. He recalled one incident when a farm director bickered with Cooper after he disallowed a transaction. The farm director threatened to sue him. " ' Bring it on,' " Mobley recalls Cooper responding. "He stood for what he believed in and didn't let go."
Ultimately, Cooper had to let go of the stadium bearing his name. Clippers management began brainstorming a new ballpark project about 12 years ago, and Cooper was resistant to the idea at first, Schnacke said. But as new sports complexes sprouted around Columbus, Cooper began to realize that the team would not be able to compete. He took part in the committee to build Huntington Park, a state-of-the-art facility that debuted in 2009 by topping the minors in attendance with 666,797 fans.
The ballpark also debuted with a bronze statue of Cooper out front, honoring him as "the patriarch of Columbus baseball and the modern-day father of Columbus baseball."
"I can see the back of the statue from my office," Schancke said this morning, "and there are flowers and candles around it right now. It's quite touching."
Cooper made it out to each of the Clippers' six day games this season and a couple of night games as well. There was often a cue of people hoping to shake his hand.
"We would let people know when he was (at the ballpark)," Schnacke said. "They would come into the suite and reminisce with him. It was neat to see."
Mobley and Cooper remained close over the years, regularly meeting for lunch. Over the past several months, as Cooper's health worsened, Mobley would bring sandwiches to Cooper's house and the pair would sit around the kitchen table talking baseball and life. At their last meeting, about three weeks ago, Mobley brought the final league attendance sheets from the season.
"He was always interested in how everyone was doing," Mobley said.
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