Before news of the Kinston/Carolina/Pensacola shift broke last week, I called down to Huntsville general manager Buck Rogers to see if he could confirm the many rumors that his ballclub was in fact on its way out of town.
"If you were the owner of a team and you were packing a team up, you wouldn't be spending money and putting effort into fixing (the ballpark) up," Rogers replied, essentially shooting down those rumors.
(Team owner Miles Prentice later called back as well, responding to the question of whether he's selling the team by stating that they're trying to make things work in Huntsville, but that you can never rule anything out.)
So, no, Huntsville is staying put and working to improve what has been a challenging couple of seasons. Prentice is partnering with the city on a few much-needed renovations to Joe W. Davis Municipal Stadium. Much of the work is more baseball-related than fan-related, geared toward providing a better product for their big league affiliate Milwaukee Brewers.
The Portland Beavers may have finally found a permanent home.
Last night, the Escondido (Calif.) city council tentatively approved funding for a $50 million downtown ballpark to host the Padres' Triple-A affiliate. If the project does not hit any snags, the ballpark is scheduled to open in time for the start of the 2013 season. In the meantime, the club will play the next two seasons in Tucson as the Tucson Padres.
The Portland club was left without a home after owner Merritt Paulson agreed to convert PGE Park into a soccer-only facility without securing a new ballpark for the Beavers. Several proposals for a new ballpark in the Portland area were either rejected by local leaders or voters, forcing Paulson to put the team up for sale and leave town.
Padres owner Jeff Moorad is in the process of purchasing the team (as of the Winter Meetings, the transaction had not been completed). Moorad's ownership group, North County Baseball, had been negotiating with Escondido officials on the new ballpark.
The project approved by the city council last night includes a commitment by the Padres to keep a team in Escondido for 30 years. Though the deal still needs final approval, a "no" vote from the council would have killed the project. The council and Moorad's group each can back out of the deal before construction is scheduled to start in January 2012. Council members said some changes to the deal will have to happen before they give it final approval.
Lake Buena Vista, Fla — The Baseball America booth sits at the front of the sprawling trade show in the Atlantic and Pacific Hall ballrooms at the Swan and Dolphin Resort here in Disney World.
The prime location, ahead of hundreds of other vendors hawking nearly anything you can find at a ballpark, means that at some point just about everyone attending the Winter Meetings passes by us. That gives me the opportunity to catch up with a variety of folks and hear some of the minor league news and scuttlebutt being discussed on the second day of the Winter Meetings.
Here are a few tidbits:
* There is some concern among team operators and league officials about the impact an expanded major league playoffs will have on the minor leagues. If Major League Baseball does in fact expand its playoffs in some fashion (perhaps as soon as 2012) and makes sure the postseason does not run into November, then an earlier start date to the season would be required in both the majors and minors — a prospect not particularly appealing to teams playing in cold-weather climates. The minor league season begins on the first Thursday following major league Opening Day and ends by or on Labor Day weekend (unless given approval to run longer).
The uncertainty over the future schedule has also proven a nuisance for some leagues, many of which try and plan their schedules several years in advance to allow teams to book non-baseball events during open dates on their schedule.
Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to discuss playoff expansion in meetings with league officials during the Winter Meetings.
* Plans for a completely renovated ballpark for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees is moving forward. Funds for the $40 million project that should create "a virtually new facility," team president Kristen Rose said today, will come from a $20 million grant pledged by outgoing governor Ed Rendell and a local match from a variety of sources–including some proceeds of the $14.6 million sale of the publicly owned team to Mandalay Baseball.
Few details about the construction have been ironed out. The architecture firm Ewing Cole unveiled potential designs of the new ballpark last month and principal Craig Schmitt is on hand here at the Winter Meetings. Both he and Rose said the Yankees have not yet decided whether the construction would be done over one or two seasons–the former requiring the construction to be done during the 2011 and 2012 offseasons; the latter requiring the team to find temporary housing while construction is completed.
* Appalachian League president Lee Landers said the Rookie-level circuit's expanded playoff system was a hit and 'one of the best things we have done not only for the athletes but for the fans too." They certainly plan on continuing it in 2011.
The Blue Jays move into Bluefield has gone smoothly, receiving approval at the league's meeting today, though there has been some hangup on getting approval from the Blue Jays on using their logo.
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Minor League Baseball announced this afternoon that Tina Gust will become the first female vice president in the national association's 109-year history following her promotion to vp of business development.
Gust joined MILB in 1998 as an assistant in the organization's licensing department.
The move is part of a larger reorganization at MILB's St. Petersburg, Fla., headquarters, as the following changes were announced in a press release:
Scott Poley–Senior Vice President, Legal Affairs; Tim Brunswick–Vice President, Baseball & Business Operations; Brian Earle–Vice President, BIRCO & Business Services; Tina Gust–Vice President, Business Development; Rod Meadows–Vice President, Sales & Marketing; Steve Densa–Executive Director, Communications; Sandie Hebert–Director, Licensing; Scott Kravchuk—Director, Business Development; Noreen Brantner–Senior Assistant Director, Exhibition Services and Sponsorships; Kelly Butler—Senior Assistant Director, Event Services; Melissa Agee–Assistant Director, Sales & Marketing; Lou Brown–Assistant Director, Legal Affairs; Jill Rusinko—General Manager, Durham Athletic Park & MiLB Charities; Darryl Henderson—Coordinator, Affiliate Programs.
Lake Buena Vista, Fla – Pat O'Conner focused much of his opening session speech at the Winter Meetings focusing on the importance of relationships in each
Minor League Baseball is nearing an agreement that will extend the professional baseball agreement (PBA) with Major League Baseball six years through the 2020 season. The agreement that guides the relationship between the two organizations is set to expire in 2014, and its early extension is another example of what has become a harmonious partnership between MLB and MILB.
"I am proud to announce here today that we are diligently working toward an agreement with our friends at Major League Baseball to extend our agreement through the year 2020," O'Conner told a packed ballroom at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. "I am excited about the message that (it) sends to the sports world and the stability it offers to our membership. This is a historical agreement in many respects."
That notion was seconded by Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball development who oversees the sport's relationship with the minors.
"This shows the kind of relationship that we have here," Solomon said later in the afternoon. "You have groups fighting in other sports, but we continue to work together . . . I consider Pat (O'Conner) one of my best friends. And I look around at a lot of owners in minor league baseball, and these are the people who I broke into the sport with."
Solomon would not offer details of the new agreement other than to say that there will be "no radical changes."
A source who requested anonymity said the only significant change will be on the tax rate minor league teams will pay major league clubs on ticket revenue. The rate was supposed to increase from 6.5 percent to 7 percent after the 2014 season, but will remain at 6.5 percent for an additional two years, the source said.
The new PBA still needs to be reviewed by commissioner Bud Selig, but Solomon said that he is confident the agreement, which is the result of "months and months of work," will be approved.
Meanwhile, Solomon said one of his goals for the Winter Meetings is to secure the opponent the Braves will be playing in next year's Civil Rights Game at Turner Field in Atlanta. The Braves will host the game for the next two seasons and Solomon expects to announce a date and opponent in mid-January.
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