There was little doubt that the Charleston RiverDogs would pull off something special as host of the South Atlantic League all-star game in June. After all, this is the same minor league franchise that brought you such famed promotions as Nobody Night (with an official attendance of 0), Silent Night (no talking) and the quadrennial Presidential Bobblelection (Obama vs. Romney on Aug. 28).
Those may pale in comparison to what the RiverDogs have in store for this year's all-star home run derby. The team will stage the event on the flight deck of the USS Yorktown—a World War II aircraft carrier that was retired in the 1970s and is now part of the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in the Charleston Harbor. (If you'd like to learn more about the Yorktown and other Essex Class carriers, tweet our own @jjcoop36 with your questions.)
Though the details are still in the works, the premise is simple: "We're going to let (participants) crush balls out into the harbor," Charleston executive vice president and general manager Dave Echols said.
The first two rounds of the event will take place aboard the Yorktown on Monday, June 18, with the championship round taking place at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Ballpark before the all-star game the following day.
"We thought we wanted to try something a little different," Echols said. "I don't know too many other teams that have a ship of that magnitude sitting in their backyard that they can take swings off of."
The Memphis Redbirds' losing ways have hardly kept the fans away.
The Redbirds (Pacific Coast) extended their losing streak to eight games over the weekend, but still managed to attract nearly 40,000 fans to AutoZone Park over a three-day stretch. Memphis drew 14,208 fans to its 8-3 loss against Colorado Springs on Saturday night, the first time the team has topped the 14,000 mark since 2006. That crowd was sandwiched between an 11,841 turnout on Friday night and 11,035 yesterday, and the three-game total of 37,041 was AutoZone Park’s largest in at least six years, Memphis general manager Ben Weiss said.
"To have three days in a row of over 10,000 paid (fans) is very unique," Weiss said.
A unique partnership played a big role in the turnout, as the Redbirds hosted Baptist Memorial Hospital’s 100th anniversary celebration. The event was three years in the making, Weiss said, and accounted for over 16,000 group sales tickets. The Baptist Memorial group took over the ballpark's right-field picnic area and members of the group sang the National Anthem each night, took part in player introductions on the field and received free access to the boardwalk kid's zone. As part of the deal, the group took over naming rights for the postgame fireworks shows.
"They essentially had sponsorship off all three days in the weekend," Weiss said.
The Redbirds’ recent success has not been limited to last weekend. The team’s average attendance increased 8.3 percent to 7,050 last season, and Weiss said they are already ahead of that pace in 2012. Memphis is averaging 7,080 fans in 21 openings (third in the Pacific Coast League) compared to 5,943 in 19 openings at this time last year.
“This year could be a very strong year for us,” Weiss said.
Despite its recent success, Memphis’ long-term future remains murky. The team still carries significant debt from the $80.5 million construction of AutoZone Park in 2000, which was largely financed by $72 million in tax-free bonds. In March 2009, the team defaulted on one of its three annual $1.625 million bond payments, leading bondholders to replace the team’s local management group, Blues City Baseball, with Philadelphia-based Comcast Spectator.
According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the team faces a $22.5 million deficit with $57.4 million remaining on its tax-exempt bonds. AutoZone Park, after depreciation, is worth $41.2 million. In addition, the 15-year leases on the stadium’s 38 luxury suites are set to expire after the 2014 season. “We’re already working to renew those suites,” Weiss said. “It’s a couple years down the road, but it’s certainly on the radar.”
The team has greater flexibility in meeting its bond payments since its debt was consolidated when a New York City private equity firm purchased it for a discounted $24 million in 2010. That flexibility allowed the franchise to focus on ballpark improvement projects, including a new 60-foot-by-60-foot scoreboard that Weiss says is the largest in the minor leagues.
“We have some new bondholders that . . . allow us to do our jobs and not be buried underneath trying to make those bond payments,” Weiss said. “It helps having a partner with the bond group. I can’t speak to the past, but I’m guessing that it wasn’t so much of a partnership five years ago. The last three years, we’ve been allowed to do our jobs, which at the end of the day is sell tickets.”
Consider this the first scheduling hiccup of the Empire State Yankees' 144-game road trip.
Andy Pettitte is working himself into shape as he comes out of retirement with the Yankees, and his rehab start on Sunday with Triple-A Empire State was scheduled for Dwyer Stadium in Batavia, N.Y., home of the New York-Penn League's Batavia Muckdogs.
The International League franchise, more familiar as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, is on the road all season while its ballpark in Pennsylvania goes through a $43.3 million renovation. It's playing most of its games at Rochester's Frontier Field, home of the fellow IL member Red Wings.
The Yankees are playing at a few other nearby ballparks as well, however, and Sunday's game against Pawtucket was scheduled for Batavia. But no longer. The parent Yankees would prefer Pettite to pitch at a Triple-A facility, rather than a short-season ballpark.
There's also the matter of Dwyer Stadium's capacity of 2,600. With Pettitte scheduled to be on the mound, a huge crowd should turn out. And with the Red Wings bearing the brunt of operating a second franchise this season, they should welcome the bigger gate.
"The Yankees would prefer to have Andy Pettitte pitching at a Triple-A stadium in front of a large crowd," Red Wings president Naomi Silver said Thursday. "It's more of the environment he is used to pitching in. It is true that we would top out at about 2,000 people in Batavia, while here at Frontier Field it would be 11,000 or 12,000 people . . .
"This has certainly been a decision in (the Yankees') hands. We speculated a bit that Sunday might be his day to pitch, that it could happen. We really only learned of their decision 45 minutes ago."
One complication, however: The Red Wings were already scheduled to play at home on Sunday. In order to accommodate the Yankees' request, that game against the Buffalo Bisons will now be played as part of a doubleheader on Saturday. The Red Wings, who also own and operate the Muckdogs, have said fans who had already purchased tickets for the game in Batavia will be able to use them in Rochester.
Rochester is serving as the home base for Empire State during its road trip. The Yankees were scheduled to play 37 of their home games in Rochester, seven in neighboring Batavia and the remaining dates at four other International League franchises.
An Eastern League team may one day move to Ottawa. That day, however, is not likely to come next season.
Beacon Sports, the Boston finance group that says it is working on behalf of an unnamed Eastern League team, and the City of Ottawa have yet to agree on a lease for Ottawa Stadium and how to spend the roughly $7.7 million earmarked for renovations to the ballpark. That delay makes it unlikely the ballpark will be ready for a team next season.
“It’s very ambitious thinking on the part of people not involved in the game,” Eastern League president Joe McEeacharn said of the 2013 timeline. “It’s hard to imagine a scenario (for a team being in Ottawa next season) at this point, the beginning of May.”
Beacon Sports chief operating officer Richard Billings said the company hopes to have a renovation plan and stadium lease completed in the next 30 days and believes that will allow enough time to get that ballpark done before Opening Day 2013. However, he concedes, “If we don’t get something accomplished in short order, it would make 2013 a tough situation. We’re still operating on the basis that we are trying to relocate the team in 2013.” [...] Continue Reading »
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog