UPDATE: Since this story was originally published, the El Paso city council approved a proposal to build a Triple-A ballpark.
The city council voted 6-2 to partner with MountainStar Sports Group LLC on a $50 million downtown stadium to be built on the site of the current city hall. The group plans to finance the ballpark with a proposed hotel tax increase, which will go on the ballot in November, and hopes to have the ballpark completed by the start of the 2014 season.
The investment group, which is headed by local real estate magnate William Hunt and oil and gas tycoon Paul Foster, still needs to secure a franchise. The only Triple-A team on the market is the Tucson Padres, which is owned by former Padres CEO Jeff Moorad. Pacific Coast League president Branch Rickey would not confirm which team MountainStar is interested in, but says the league has been contacted by the group.
"We’ve been approached by an investor group in El Paso that would like to buy a PCL franchise and relocate it to El Paso," Rickey said this afternoon. "We are planning to have a meeting with them."
Previous: Affiliated baseball may be on the way back to El Paso, Texas.
The city that saw its Double-A Texas League affiliate leave town after the 2004 season for a new ballpark in Springfield, Mo., is considering building a new $50 million stadium of its own to play host to a Triple-A franchise. The city council is expected to vote today on whether to move ahead with the project, which will be contingent on voters approving an increased hotel tax in November.
The project will also be contingent on the local investment group MountainStar Sports Group LLC, which is led by real estate magnate William Hunt and oil and gas tycoon Paul Foster, purchasing a Pacific Coast League franchise to bring to El Paso. The only PCL franchise on the market is the Tucson Padres, which former San Diego Padres CEO Jeff Moorad purchased two years ago when the club was forced to leave Portland, Ore., after then-owner Merritt Paulson converted its ballpark into a soccer-only facility. Moorad had hoped to relocate the team to a new ballpark in the San Diego suburb of Escondido, but financing for the project fell through amid California’s budget crisis and Moorad has since left his post with the Padres after MLB rejected his bid to purchase the team.
Minor League Baseball had considered moving the Portland franchise to El Paso when it was looking for a temporary landing spot for the team after the 2010 season. MILB ultimately passed on El Paso amid concerns about where the team would play and the city’s demographics—in particular it’s high poverty rate—and settled on Tucson, which had lost its PCL franchise just two years earlier.
UPDATE: What a difference a day—and a good drainage system—makes.
Less than 24 hours after the Clearwater Threshers' playing field was left submerged from the heavy rains of Tropical Storm Debby, Bright House Field is almost as good as new. The standing water that covered Bright House Field is largely gone. The flooded dugouts are almost empty and the soggy team offices are airing out.
"The field took a lot of water, but we have a great drainage system here," Threshers media relations assistant Joe Charlton said. "It's a little damp on the ground floor level. It's amazing, if you look at a picture yesterday, the whole field was flooded. But look now and you wouldn't even know it rained."
. . . The Clearwater Threshers aren't scheduled to play a home game until Thursday, which appears to be fortunate considering the mess Tropical Storm Debby has made of the Florida State League affiliate's ballpark.
The slow-moving storm all-but erased the FSL's schedule yesterday as it dumped 12 inches of rain in various parts of western and central Florida. Clearwater's Bright House Field appeared particularly hard hit, evidenced by a photo from Threshers pitcher Justin De Fratus showing the usually picturesque playing field completely submerged. Calls to Threshers management and Minor League Baseball headquarters—located in St. Petersburg, Fla.—were (understandably) not immediately returned.
Only one of the FSL's six games was played yesterday. No information on today's cancellations had been announced.
After 10 years of trying, the Charlotte Knights are finally getting their new ballpark.
The Charlotte City Council voted 7-4 tonight to contribute $8 million toward a new downtown ballpark, the final piece of a $54 million project that is scheduled to be completed by Opening Day 2014. The Knights, a Triple-A International League affiliate that plays roughly 30 minutes south of Charlotte in Fort Mill, S.C., will contribute $38 million to construction costs–with a significant portion of those funds coming from a naming-rights agreement with BB&T Corp.
Charlotte has struggled to draw crowds to its current home and was the only IL franchise last season to total fewer than 300,000 spectators. The team expects to double that number at its future home.
"The opportunities this will present for that club from a business perspective cannot be overstated," International League president Randy Mobley said earlier today.
The Knights become the second International League franchise to gain approval for a new ballpark this year. Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre broke ground on a new stadium this spring that is expected to open by the start of next season. No new IL ballparks had opened since the Columbus Clippers and Gwinnett Braves each debuted new venues in 2009.
The Charlotte Knights’ most-important pitch of the night—if not the decade—will take place about 400 miles away from the International League affiliate’s game at the Columbus Clippers’ Huntington Park.
The Knights’ long quest for a new ballpark may come to an end this evening when the Charlotte City Council votes on the team’s latest, and arguably best, proposal for a new home tonight. The team is seeking to build a new $54 million ballpark in downtown Charlotte—about 30 minutes from its current base in Fort Mill, S.C.—and is asking the city to donate $8 million toward the project. The Knights would pay $38 million—funded largely from a naming rights deal with BB&T Corp—while Mecklenburg (N.C.) County would contribute $8 million and lease the 8-acre stadium site to the team for $1 a year.
The proposal seems to have enough support on the city council—particularly since the team lowered its original request from $11 million and withdrew a request for a $2.5 million property tax rebate—and would bring an end to a saga that had been frequently delayed by a series of lawsuits from a local attorney on the use of the property. The new ballpark, scheduled to open in time for the 2014 season, would significantly alter the fortunes of a franchise that last season finished last among IL teams in attendance. Team officials have said they would draw closer to 600,000 fans at the new ballpark.
“It would be a 180-degree turn to be able to have that franchise in (a downtown) ballpark,” International League president Randy Mobley said this afternoon. “I think all of us are convinced that this would have the potential to be the best set up in the league. It will certainly be as good as any, but it has the potential to be better than anything we have going . . . The opportunities this will present for that club from a business perspective cannot be overstated.”
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 »
The wrecking ball is finally swinging in Scranton.
Two months after the demolition of PNC Field was originally scheduled to begin, and a month after an April 1 deadline set by the International League came and went, the Yankees' $43.3 million renovation of PNC Field will officially kick off during a ceremonial groundbreaking scheduled for today. The event comes four days after an agreement was reached in the frequently delayed $14.6 million sale of the franchise by Lackawanna County (Pa.) Multipurpose Stadium Authority to SWB Yankees LLC—the entity made up of the New York Yankees and Mandalay Baseball Properties that has been operating the team since 2007.
The deal has been lauded by local officials as a significant upgrade on the original agreement reached five years ago when Mandalay took over operations of the team. And while there still seems to be plenty of hand-wringing in Scranton about new ownership pulling the team out of town someday, the new agreement puts more financial responsibility on the Yankees and Mandalay. Proceeds of the sale are being put toward the ballpark renovation—which is why construction could not begin until an agreement was reached. SWB Yankees LLC agreed to a 30-year lease at $900,000 annually—up $150,000 from the original agreement in order to pay for design changes—and will contribute to ballpark maintenance and improvements.
"We are proud of our growing partnership with the New York Yankees and committed to creating a great experience for our team’s fans in northeastern Pennsylvania,” Mandalay Baseball chairman Peter Guber said in a release. “We believe that this venue will be among the finest field of dreams in professional minor league baseball and an important jewel in Mandalay’s professional sports assets and experiences.”
There is reason to believe Guber. The area embraced the Yankees when they came to town in 2007. Scranton ranked fourth in the International League in average attendance (8,802) in its first year as a Yankees affiliate, a 41 percent increase from the previous season. The team held strong in 2008 with a 7,147 average, good for eighth in the IL, but attendance nosedived the following three seasons, as fans were turned off by rising ticket prices, a perceived corporate management style by Mandalay and a series of structural problems at PNC Field. In 2011, the team finished second-to-last in the 14-team IL with a 4,586 average.
The Yankees have plenty of work to do over the next 11 months beyond having the new ballpark ready for Opening Day 2013. They will need to reunite with the community after the team's season-long road trip this season. Part of that process will be hiring a new face of the franchise to replace Kristen Rose, who stepped down as president last week.
“This is truly a great day for Lackawanna County because baseball is back,” county commissioner Patrick O’Malley said in the release. “The negotiations were long and thought out, but they were vital for the proper evaluation of this project.”
It took nearly two years, but the sale of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees was finally completed this morning.
The Lackawanna County (Pa.) Multipurpose Stadium Authority signed off on the $14.6 million sale of the team to SWB Yankees LLC—the entity made up of Mandalay Baseball Properties and the New York Yankees that currently operates the team—ending a process that began in November 2010. The proceeds of the transaction will be put toward the $43.3 million renovation of PNC FIeld—the price went up $3.3 million since the original agreement—and demolition work may begin as soon as tomorrow. There certainly is reason to rush, as construction was originally scheduled to begin in March and the International League had set an April 1 deadline for work to start in order for the project to be completed by Opening Day next season. The Yankees are playing their entire 144-game schedule on the road this season; a scenario that the International League will not allow again next season, IL president Randy Mobley previously said.
Ewing Cole principal Craig Schmitt, who is overseeing the project, had said at the Winter Meetings last December that a 12-month schedule for construction would be a bit of a rush but doable. At a public hearing last night,construction manager Greg Butz called the new schedule "challenging," but added, "It can definitely be done," according to the Citizen's Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.).
Though an agreement has been reached, the sale still needs to be approved by the International League, Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball. Mobley has previously said that he did not expect any problems to arise during the approval process, but he could not be sure until the paperwork has been filed. So that means construction will begin before any cash changes hands.
So with everything moving ahead so quickly now, why did the deal take so long to complete?
At a public hearing last night, local officials lauded a new agreement as far more beneficial for taxpayers and the future of local minor league baseball than the deal that was struck in late 2010. The Yankees will pay $750,000 annually over the 30-year lease that could extend to 50 years. Notable changes to the agreement include ownership agreeing to contribute to the costs of ballpark maintenance and future repairs as well as covering any cost overrun during construction.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees president Kristen Rose has resigned after nearly four years on the job.
Rose will remain with Mandalay Baseball Properties, which operates the International League franchise and is in the process of purchasing it with the New York Yankees, as an executive vice president. According to a team press release published by the Scranton Times-Tribune, Rose is leaving to be closer to her family.
"I remain optimistic about the future of baseball in Scranton Wilkes-Barre, especially with the reconstructed stadium coming on-line," Rose said in the press release. "Although I will miss being a part of the next chapter, I am excited about my new venture and continuing my relationship with Mandalay Baseball Properties.”
Rose joined Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in December 2008 following the team's second season as a Yankees affiliate and she has had to navigate some challenging waters as the face of the franchise. Attendance at PNC Park has sagged dramatically after the Yankees' debut, as problems with the aging ballpark and Mandalay's sometimes corporate approach has alienated some of the fanbase. The team created a local uproar this spring when it changed its name to the "Empire State Yankees" as it prepared for a season-long road trip.
Brighter days do appear to be ahead for the franchise, as their stadium is scheduled to undergo a $40 million renovation and be ready for Opening Day 2013. However, construction that was expected to start early this spring has yet to begin due to a delay in completing the sale of the team from Lackawanna County to SWB Yankees LLC—the entity made of Mandalay Baseball and the New York Yankees that currently operates the team. A self-imposed April 1 deadline for the start of construction came and went without a deal. In the meantime, the Yankees are playing their entire 144-game schedule on the road—including a series starting tonight at the home of the short-season Batavia Muckdogs (New York-Penn League).
One of the first steps to building a new ballpark in Wilmington, N.C., did not come without a bit of controversy.
The Wilmington city council dropped its plan to hire Ripken Design as project manager for the proposed $40 million facility after Mandalay Baseball and the Atlanta Braves—who have formed an ownership group that plans to bring a Carolina League franchise to the city—complained that Ripken could have a conflict of interest. The city council voted last night to instead hire National Sports Service to study the cost, benefits and potential location of a new ballpark.
Ripken Design is part of Ripken Baseball, the company run by Cal Ripken Jr. that also owns or operates three minor league franchises: the Aberdeen IronBirds (New York-Penn), Augusta GreenJackets (South Atlantic) and Charlotte Stone Crabs (Florida State). Mandalay and the Braves were concerned that they could end up competing with Ripken Baseball for the Wilmington market, or other ones, and they were not comfortable sharing information with a competitor.
National Sports Services, based in Topeka, Kan., was second to Ripken Design on the list of 10 groups proposed by city staff. The company is operated by Bill Davidson, who serves as CEO of the Harrisburg Senators (Eastern) and was previously part of the Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern) ownership group.
(updated) Hopes for Carolina League baseball coming to Wilmington, N.C., took a significant step forward when the Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball Properties announced this morning at al press conference that they have a plan in place to privately finance and build a new ballpark.
In February, Mandalay and the Braves formed a joint ownership group and reached an agreement in principle to purchase the Lynchburg Hillcats and move the franchise to Wilmington. The deal was contingent on the group building a new ballpark on the riverfront in downtown Wilmington, and in the following months local leaders and residents raised concerns about using public money to build the park.
The group’s announcement is an effort to get over the biggest hurdle in bringing minor league baseball to back to Wilmington. The city had a Southern League franchise in 1995-96, and a South Atlantic League franchise in 2001, but both quickly moved to greener pastures when their stadium plans fell through. The teams played at UNC Wilmington’s ballpark, which is not a viable long-term alternative.
The project would still require public money. Braves executive vice president of business operations Mike Plant, who represented the team at the press conference in Wilmington, said the private-public partnership creates greater flexibility and protects the city against hazards like cost overrun.
“It is still a private-public partnership that is driven by the public sector and still requires everyone having an investment in the project, including the city,” Plant said in a telephone interview after the press conference. “This now gives us an opportunity to put the whole development team together and put another viable option in front of the city council.”
The Braves and Mandalay will present the plan to the council in mid-May, Plant said, adding that they may propose several options for the council to consider. Plant believes the new financing model creates the best opportunity to have the ballpark completed in time for the 2014 season.
One benefit to private financing is that it will create the opportunity for lower annual payments on the construction debt, Plant said. Through private financing, the ownership group will be able to secure a 30-year loan, whereas the city is only allowed to take on 20 years of debt.
“This is a private initiative now, but it’s a public-private partnership,” Mandalay president of baseball development Rich Neumann said at the press conference.
The Braves own all of their minor league affiliates except at the high Class A level, and Plant points to the organization’s experience in building ballparks through a private-public financing model as a reason why he believes this project can get done.
“There is strong interest in the community (for the project),” Plant said. “Yes, there is an opposition group, but there always is opposition. The majority of people want to see this happen, and the city leadership is extremely supportive. They see the value . . .
“And one thing I keep reiterating to people is this is Braves country. We want to be here.”
The Oklahoma City RedHawks (Pacific Coast) kicked off their season last night as their ballpark changed names for the second time in less than 48 hours.
The Triple-A franchise, in its second year since being purchased by Mandalay Baseball Properties, announced on Wednesday that it had sold the stadium's naming rights to the local Chickasaw Nation tribe. The new name for the park was going to be Newcastle Field at Bricktown, incorporating the name of one the tribe's casinos, which is in the Oklahoma City suburb of Newcastle.
However, some local officials objected to the ballpark being named after a casino, while others resented the city-owned park being named for another town. So the team changed course yesterday and announced that the ballpark will instead be called Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Having the name of one the state's historic tribes, not one of its casinos, on the ballpark was much more appealing to local officials, the Oklahoman reported yesterday.
“Out of consideration for the expressed concerns of Oklahoma City citizens, we have decided to revisit the name,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a statement.
• In other ballpark news, the International League's Empire State Yankees (their name this year instead of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) kicked off their 144-game road trip last night in Lehigh Valley as local officials in Pennsylvania continue to work on completing the sale of the team to SWB Yankees LLC. An April 1 deadline had been set for the sale to be complete, so that construction could begin in time for the proposed $40 million ballpark to be ready by Opening Day 2013. Local officials announced today that even though no deal has been reached, the two sides are close enough that contractors can begin preparing for the demolition of PNC Field.
The Yankees are playing their home games at six different ballparks this season while PNC Field gets a facelift. Rochester, N.Y., will serve as the team's base, and they will play 37 of their 82 home games at the Red Wings ballpark.
The Nationals aren’t waiting until the annual affiliation shuffle after the season to lock up deals with their minor league partners.
The team announced today that they are extending player development contracts with four of their affiliates: Triple-A Syracuse (International), Double-A Harrisburg (Eastern), high Class A Potomac (Carolina) and short-season Auburn (New York-Penn).
The Nationals’ PDCs with Syracuse and Harrisburg were set to expire after this season and will now run through 2014. Washington had previously extended its contract with Potomac and their relationship is now guaranteed through the 2016 season.
Player development contracts between major and minor league teams are for a minimum of two years and may be extended in two-year increments. Teams can extend PDCs at any time but cannot negotiate with other affiliates until after the season concludes.
Taking Syracuse off the market leaves just five International League teams with contracts expiring after this season—Buffalo (currently affiliated with the Mets), Indianapolis (Pirates), Lehigh Valley (Phillies), Pawtucket (Red Sox) and Rochester (Twins)—with a couple likely to continue with their current agreements. That leaves few options for teams hoping to move their Triple-A club closer to home. The Blue Jays, for example, are entering their fourth season in Las Vegas but would be a likely candidate to relocate to Buffalo when the Mets’ deal expires after this season.
Meanwhile, eight Pacific Coast League teams are slated to become available after the season: Albuquerque (Dodgers), Fresno (Giants), Iowa (Cubs), Las Vegas (Blue Jays), Nashville (Brewers), New Orleans (Marlins), Oklahoma City (Astros) and Reno (Diamondbacks).
The Nationals deal with Potomac is an indication that the two sides have made up since the public feud last season between Washington general manager Mike Rizzo and P-Nats owner Art Silber over the playing conditions at Potomac’s Pfitzner Stadium. Potomac underwent a much-needed $250,000 renovation to the playing field during the offseason fixing drainage problems that forced the team to relocate a three-game series last year and led to Rizzo calling the field a “safety hazard.” Silber responded by saying the field is fine and that Rizzo “doesn’t know what he was talking about.”
The repair seems to have done the trick for the Nationals, which last year skipped top prospect Bryce Harper from low Class A Hagerstown directly to Double-A Harrisburg. And keeping a relationship with the local big league team makes sense for Potomac. Silber is also trying to put the finishing touches on a deal for a new ballpark in Northern Virginia.
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees may be without a home this season, but they do have a new name: The Empire State Yankees.
The Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate will play its home schedule on the road in 2012 while its ballpark undergoes a $40-million facelift and the team felt a new name would enhance the extended road trip. The Yankees will call six different ballparks home, with fellow International League franchise Rochester serving as its base. The team will play 37 of their 72 home dates at Rochester’s Frontier Field with another seven at neighboring short-season Batavia.
The Yankees play the rest of their home dates at other IL affiliates, including Empire State destinations Buffalo and Syracuse. In all, the Yankees will play 60 of their 72 home games—and 84 of their 144-game schedule—in New York, the team announced. The only non-New York hosts are Pawtucket (R.I.) and Lehigh Valley (Pa.).
Empire State hats can be purchased at the Rochester Red Wings team store at Frontier Field and their online store.
“With so many games to be played in upstate New York this season we wanted to make the club feel even more at home this year,” Rochester general manager Dan Mason said in a release. “We approached the New York Yankees with a few suggestions and they actually came up with the Empire State Yankees moniker.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise and the other IL clubs that will be hosting them this year and we wanted to make this as much fun for our fans and the players as possible. The Empire State Yankees merchandise and logos will only be available this season so they are sure to be collectors’ items.”
The new nickname makes sense in many ways—it certainly sounds better than the Rochester/Batavia/Buffalo/Lehigh Valley/Pawtucket/Syracuse Yankees. But it likely also gives the Yankees a chance to make up for some lost revenue, as the host teams will cover the expense and take any profit from hosting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s home dates.
While the name has collector-item appeal, the logo itself lacks creativity. It’s appears to be the same logo the team has used in previous years—the Uncle Sam stars-and-stripes top hat resting on a baseball bat behind Yankees written in cursive. The only difference is “Empire State” replaces “Scranton/Wilkes-Barre” on a banner running across the bottom.
Don Mincher, the man largely responsible for saving organized baseball in Huntsville, Ala., and who brought rare perspective to the post of league president, passed away over the weekend at the age of 73.
Mincher had served as Southern League president from the spring of 2000 until last October, when he stepped down due to health reasons and was named president emeritus. This role may have been his final post in baseball, but his first impact on the game began many years earlier.
Mincher spent 13 seasons in the majors, retiring after the 1972 season with 200 home runs, over 1,000 hits and two All-Star Game appearances. In 1965 with the Twins, Mincher homered off of Don Drysdale in his first World Series at-bat.
Mincher would earn a ring seven years later with the A’s when Oakland toppled the mighty Reds in seven games in the 1972 World Series. In his lone at-bat of the Series, Mincher drove in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth of Oakland’s 3-2 win in Game Four.
That would prove to be his final at-bat in baseball, but he returned to the game 12 years later when Double-A baseball came to his hometown of Huntsville. When hearing the news that the Huntsville Stars were being formed, Mincher offered his services to team owner Larry Schmittou, who promptly named him general manager.
Mincher would remain in the role until 1994, when he assembled a group of local owners that kept the team in town. He ultimately sold his stake of the team in 2000 when he was appointed Southern League president.
“He really was a gentleman. He always wanted to do what was right,” Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner said this afternoon. “I don’t know if I have seen many people exhibit the balance that Don did. He was concerned with how things affected the players, the umpires and the teams. And most importantly, he cared about how things affected the fans.”
Mincher did seem to have a keen understanding of how to run a baseball team. And he combined that with a great sense of humor. When talking to Baseball America’s Conor Glassey about the Birmingham Barons winning the Double-A Freitas Award in 2008, Mincher explained why it was so important for the Barons to focus on customer service and keep the ballpark clean.
“The one thing you want to do in minor league baseball is to keep the Mamas happy,” Mincher told Glassey. “If Mama walks in that ballpark and the bathroom is dirty, Mama isn’t coming back. Birmingham does that really well. Daddy’s going to come and bring the kids no matter what, but it’s important to keep the females happy to keep the entire family coming out to the ballpark.”
Mincher was often the cool head in gatherings at the Winter Meetings, a soft-spoken leader whose opinion was respected. “He was a guy who wouldn’t always talk a lot, but when he had things to say, people would stop and listen.”
And nearly everybody stopped to applaud at the 2010 Winter Meetings when Mincher was named King of Baseball. “He told me several times afterward how it touched his heart,” O’Conner said.
“I’m going to miss him,” O’Conner said. “I’m not supposed to have favorites, and I don’t professionally. But personally, Don was a special guy.”
Two of minor league baseball’s ballparks most in need of facelifts may soon be going under the wrecking ball.
The Bakersfield Blaze (California League) and Richmond Flying Squirrels (Eastern) each recently took a step closer to landing new or renovated ballparks, as the Blaze were sold last Friday to a local ownership group intent on keeping the team in town, and local leaders in Richmond have identified funding to contribute to a new facility.
It’s been a long road for both franchises, whose aging ballparks have threatened keeping baseball in town.
The Braves spent eight years trying to replace the Diamond in Richmond, before moving its Triple-A affiliate in 2008 out of frustration—and for the lure of a new facility—to Gwinnett, Ga. In Bakersfield, more than one owner of the Blaze has failed to replace Sam Lynn Ballpark since the early 1990s, leaving the team to play in a facility that no longer meets facility standards and is considered the worst among full-season clubs while facing rumors of a move to the Carolina League.
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According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Binghamton Mets are the Eastern League franchise that could be moving to Ottawa. But according to the president of the B-Mets, the team is not for sale and he’s getting tired of answering questions about a possible move.
The newspaper cites unnamed minor league sources naming the B-Mets as the team that will be bought by a Boston group called Beacon Sports Capital Partners and moved to Ottawa.
The Binghamton (N.Y.) Press & Bulletin, however, refuted that report today in an interview with B-Mets president Michael Urda, who told the paper, “The Binghamton Mets have not been sold, and we have not been contacted by anyone interested in our club . . . There’s 12 teams in the Eastern League and we have to address it every single week . . . Enough’s enough.”
As part of the scenario reported by the Citizen, Binghamton would replace the Mets with the Batavia, N.Y., franchise in the New York-Penn League. Batavia has been on the market since the Rochester Red Wings (International) took over the team’s operations four years ago.
Rochester president Naomi Silver discredited that report, saying that Binghamton buying the Muckdogs “is just a rumor.”
“I have not even spoken to anybody in Binghamton,” Silver said.
Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said yesterday that the league’s interest in the Ottawa market is only in the exploratory stage and that any discussion of a team moving there is premature.
Soon after Baseball America interviewed McEacharn, however, the city of Ottawa issued a press release confirming that it had reached an agreement in principle with a group that was buying an Eastern League team. A source confirmed to Baseball America that the Erie Sea Wolves, another EL team often rumored to be on the move, were not in negotiations with Ottawa.
The Ottawa Citizen report also said the Blue Jays would end their affiliation with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, where they have played since 2004, and sign on with Ottawa. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos denied this claim in a National Post story, telling the paper the team is “absolutely” interested in extending its player-development contract with New Hampshire.
Which Eastern League team is heading north of the border to Ottawa’s sure-to-be-renamed Ottawa Stadium? Well, that’s the 64-Million Canadian Dollar Question.
According to the Ottawa Citizen, the city of Ottawa has announced that it has reached a deal in principle with a Double-A Eastern League team to relocate to Ottawa and sign a 10-year lease, perhaps as soon as the 2013 season.
However, Eastern League president Joe McEacharn says that while the league has been in exploratory discussions about moving a team there, any sort of deal is far from complete. A team moving there for the 2013 season would be overly optimistic because of the amount of work that needs to be done to make Ottawa Stadium playable, McEacharn said.
“Even if we were to announce (a deal) tomorrow, I think you’re up against it (for 2013),” McEacharn said. “There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. We’ve done some exploration and will continue to do some exploration and we’ll go through the process. If at some point there is a decision to try and relocate a club, we’ll look at it then. As of now, we’re planning our 2013 season as the way we are set up now.”
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As Major League Baseball prepares to announce sport-altering changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players Association, a much smaller but still significant agreement has been reached between Minor League Baseball and its umpires.
The Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation, the organization that manages umpires for MILB, and the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU) agreed to a new working agreement before the contract expired on Nov. 30. The deal avoids a repeat of the labor strife that occurred when the umpires went on strike during the 2006 season after an agreement could not be reached the previous offseason.
The agreement still needs to be ratified by the AMLU body, but union president Shaun Francis expects a deal to be done. Francis declined to go into specifics of the agreement since it had not been presented to the union body, but said “the entire contract got better.”
Compensation went up slightly, Francis said, and many issues focusing on umpires’ quality of life on the road were addressed.
“It indirectly addresses the quality of hotels, and the safety of hotels,” he said. “Internet access, who pays for it on the road? A lot of those type of things in the contract that when you add them up, it makes it a lot better for the umpires.”
The two sides hammered out the deal over three weeks in a much more amicable environment than last time. The AMLU affiliated with the AFL-CIO last year and had a professional negotiator at the table, which Francis said proved invaluable.
The process was a far cry from what happened after the 2005 season, when negotiations throughout the winter failed to produce a new contract and umpires did not show up for work at the start of the season. A federal negotiator was called in and a deal was struck in April only to be voted down by the body of the umpires’ union. A deal was finally reached in May and included a $100 a month salary increase.
The newly negotiated deal also avoids any possibility of using replacement umpires again. Though games went on in 2006, player development could have been jeopardized if inexperienced umpires had remained on the field—as many players and managers complained about their work.
“The relationship over the past five or six years has improved greatly,” Francis said. “The negotiations were very professional and courteous. While our interests lie in different areas, we went about it in a professional manner.”
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