Steve DeSalvo spent this morning contacting each of his fellow Southern League general managers, making sure that they and their employees had survived the storms that ravaged the South yesterday.
A few hours later, the Mississippi general manager, who also serves as the league vice president, had reached everyone on his list except one—Southern League president Don Mincher, who works out of his home in Huntsville, Ala. After a series of phone calls went unanswered, DeSalvo enlisted Huntsville Stars general manager Buck Rogers to drive to Mincher's house to check in on him.
Mincher, who is recovering from triple-bypass surgery a few months ago, had simply lost power in his home, and Rogers found him safe and sound with family. [...] Continue Reading »
It is often said that only a small percentage of fans go to minor league games because of the action on the field.
While certainly the average Baseball America reader is an exception to that rule, even passionate fans can break away from the game long enough for something good to eat. And as teams invest more in the ballpark experience, the quality of fare being dished out at diamonds around the sport has risen well beyond your basic hot dog and peanuts.
So rather than offer you my opinion on what's good to eat— to be honest, when I go to games with the family, I'm usually shuttling chicken fingers and fries to my kids—I'm going to enlist folks who regularly get to a variety ballparks around the country to help you find the best selections from menus across the country.
This running feature will be known as "Ballpark Bites." Kicking off the first installment is a man who spends around 200 nights a year on the road and visits about 75 minor league ballparks every season.
There are no guarantees in minor league baseball, and building a winning operation is certainly no easy task. But owners lucky enough to land a new ballpark or move to a market eager for a team typically fare pretty well at the gate.
The Gwinnett Braves (International) had both of those factors working in their favor when they left Richmond, Va., for a new, publicly funded stadium in suburban Atlanta in 2009, but they have proven to be the rare exception to the rule.
Simply put, the turnstiles have not been spinning for the G-Braves. In their debut season, the Braves' Triple-A affiliate averaged just 5,966 fans a game—placing them third from the bottom in the 14-team International League. That number dipped almost 20 percent last season, as Gwinnett drew 4,818 fans a game—the second-worst average in the IL.
Second-year general manager North Johnson is confident that will all change in 2011. With a full offseason to prepare (Johnson came on board just 10 weeks before Opening Day last season) and with trusted lieutenants from his previous posts at Kinston and Myrtle Beach, both in the Carolina League, now on staff in Gwinnett, the veteran minor league operator expects to see a significant boost in attendance this season.
Really, there is no other option at this point.
“If we don’t have a 15 to 20 percent increase (in attendance) this year, then we have to go back to the drawing board,” Johnson said. “We have done a lot of things this offseason that are proven commodities in other markets. Group sales are up. Interest in the community is up. Fundraising numbers are up.
"That should easily result in an increase in attendance.”
An overflow crowd is expected for Opening Day at low Class A Quad Cities. Unfortunately, an overflowing Mississippi River is in the forecast, too.
Planning for Opening Day is challenging enough without the wrinkle of a potential record-breaking flood, but that is how River Bandits general manager Kirk Goodman spent the weeks leading up to Thursday’s game against the Beloit Snappers.
The previously dire predictions of the Mississippi swelling up to 10 feet above flood levels have been scaled back thanks to a recent cold stretch that slowed the snowmelt further north up the river in Minnesota. But the river is still expected to reach 16 feet, roughly 1 foot above flood level, and create an inconvenience on Opening Day with the potential of more to come later this spring.
The River Bandits' plan for Thursday: play on.
“Our ballpark will still be functional during a flood,” Goodman said.
That functionality is a credit to the $2 million offseason project that expanded the ballpark’s flood protection system, which has helped keep it dry during the most recent floods. A new flood wall featuring portable barriers that should protect the ballpark in floodwaters up to 24 feet was built on the north side of the facility, nearest the Mississippi River. The plaza in front of the stadium was replaced with an impermeable concrete plaza.
A second phase of the construction is expected to continue during the season and will include an earthen berm and pedestrian walkway that fans will be able to use to enter and exit the ballpark in times of floods.
Goodman expects this week’s flooding to be an inconvenience for fans – they likely won’t be able to use the regular parking lots across the street from the ballpark – but should not jeopardize the games.
“We should be able to withstand it and be fine,” said Goodman, noting that that will mark the third year of flooding in the four years since Opening Day Partners purchased the team. “It will be a memorable experience for our fans to come to a game at a ballpark that is basically an island.”
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