Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner has yet to decide if he will seek re-election when his term expires after this season.
O'Conner, who was elected president in December 2007 after serving as chief operating officer since 1993 and vice president since 1995, must notify the National Association Board of Trustees by May 31 if he plans to seek a second term.
"This is a process, and I will evaluate my situation, personally and professionally," O'Conner said. "I will evaluate where the industry and the organization is. I will evaluate if it is a situation where I think I can be a help to the board and the industry as president . . . It's a different world today than when I signed on four years ago. I've got a different board (of trustees) and a different set of economic situations."
Among the accomplishments over his tenure, O'Conner notes the soon-to-be-formalized six-year extension of the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA). The agreement that guides the relationship between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball is set to expire in 2014, and its early extension (which O'Conner says should be completed soon) is an indication of the harmonious relationship between the two organizations. O'Conner first announced the deal at the Winter Meetings.
O'Conner also oversaw the creation of the Baseball Internet Rights Company, which put every minor league team's Website under the umbrella of Major League Baseball Advanced Media. Minor League Baseball also set up a new headquarters complex in St. Petersburg, Fla., acquired Dodgertown—the historic former spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers in Vero Beach, Fla.—and renovated Durham Athletic Park—the old home of the Durham Bulls made famous in the movie Bull Durham.
"While they have not been financially successful, I think Vero Beach and Durham are marquee assets," O'Conner said.
"I don't think you can do this job half-hearted," he added. "You either want to do it and do it effectively, or you step aside and let someone else do it. We've accomplished an awful lot in four years and the 19 I've been around."
The Can-Am League will grow to eight teams in 2011 thanks to the addition of the Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders. The Boulders were admitted to the league by a unanimous vote of the league's directors. The addition of the Boulders and the travel team New York Federals should round out the Can-Am League lineup for the upcoming season.
At the same time, the league announced that the Sussex Skyhawks will not field a team for the upcoming season. The Skyhawks had been in the league for five years since the city lost its New York-Penn League team, but had struggled to draw–the team's 1,670 fans per game was second worst in the league last year. [...] Continue Reading »
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.
Bobby Brett finally owns only one California League team.
After a year of trying, Brett sold the high Class A High Desert Mavericks to the Main Street Baseball ownership group headed by David Heller. Brett had been looking to sell the club since purchasing fellow Cal League affiliate Rancho Cucamonga in 2009.
Main Street Baseball, which also owns the low Class A Quad Cities River Bandits (Midwest League), has committed to keep the team in High Desert for at least one season.
However, how long the team stays put remains uncertain. Brett has long contended that Stater Bros. Stadium either needs to be renovated or replaced—neither proposition interested local city officials. The team did recently negotiate a two-year lease extension, though the Mavericks do have an out clause.
Main Street Baseball did have success rejuvenating Quad Cities, increasing attendance from 2,254 in 2007 to 3,502 last season thanks in part to several ballpark upgrades.
“We want to see if the same kind of opportunity exists with the Mavericks,” Main Street Baseball vice president Kirk Goodman said. “Seeing as how we just bought the team we have to get in there and see what there is to work with. That’s our next goal, is to really evaluate what the market has to offer.”
Kinston Names New GM
The High Class A Kinston Indians will introduce Benjamin Jones as the Carolina League club's new general manager today.
The 30-year-old Jones, who grew up in nearby Raleigh, spent the previous four seasons as general manager of the Coastal Plain League's Wilson Tobs. He replaces Shari Massengill, who left the K-Tribe after 13 seasons with the club (including five as general manager) to take an assistant general manager position with Triple-A Gwinnett under former Kinston GM North Johnson.
“I’m a real upbeat guy, and I like to do creative, different, fun things,” Jones told the Jacksonville (N.C.) News. “So I think that’ll come through in our promotions at the games and just the all-around atmosphere at the ballpark.
“The fans can expect to see a lot of the same, but with a few new twists mixed in here and there.”
Independent baseball has never seen anything like this
The Northern League, United League and Golden League had all lost franchises during the season or the offseason. So to put together a solid schedule, the three league have decided to join forces to form the North American League. The league will field between 16 to 20 teams, according to a league release, with further expansion planned in 2011. [...] Continue Reading »
What's been a bad year for the Golden Baseball League just got worse.
The Victoria Seals announced that they are ceasing operations, citing a poor economy and the unsettled state of the Golden League. The Seals become the fifth Golden League team to either shut down, fold or announce plans to not play in 2011, shrinking what had been a 10-team league to a fraction of its former self.
During the 2010 season, the Tijuana club had to be moved to Yuma and taken over by the league after its ownership failed to pay its players and vendors. The league also had to take over the Yuma club and the St. George club folded its operations as well, leading to the league taking over the team. There is a chance that the Yuma team could return to play in 2011, but the potential owner seems sanguine about his chances. [...] Continue Reading »
The new ownership group at low Class A Hagerstown continues to reshape the franchise, on and off the field.
With the ballpark undergoing a variety of renovations, the Suns announced that it is promoting assistant general manager Bill Farley to general manager. Farley joined the team last year and replaces Bob Flannery, who left after the season to join the front office an Oklahoma City minor league hockey team.
Farley previously served as a franchising agent for Jersey Mike's Subs, where he helped establish 30 franchises.
"No one wants this job more than I do," Farley said in a release. "I love baseball and I love the minors. (Team president) Bruce (Quinn) and I have a great working relationship. I knew what he was looking for in a general manager, (that) he wants someone who can get it done (the) way he wants it done."
The Suns also confirmed that Jon Peterson has been hired as a consultant to the team president in the areas of marketing and promotions. Peterson previously served in the front offices for Triple-A New Orleans, high Class A Kinston and short-season Aberdeen.
'Laugh. Cheer. Oink'
• The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have managed to do what many new teams have not: continue to increase its fan base. Within the story in The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), Lehigh Valley general manager Kurt Landes explains the third-year club's continued pride in its nickname:
"We've always felt confident that our name and logo would be successful, and it is, not just because we're in the top 25 in sales but also because we've been able to integrate it into the Lehigh Valley community, from the 'Laugh-Cheer-Oink' slogan to 'Go Hog Wild' to the way we theme the ballpark.
"We're excited that our fans have loved the logo and we're one of the more successful minor league teams. It's a huge sense of pride when I'm out in public and see people wearing IronPigs hats and T-shirts."
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.
The Reds stay in the Carolina League was brief.
After only one season in Lynchburg, the Reds are headed west to the California League (most likely landing in Bakersfield) after the three remaining Carolina League affiliates were snatched up.
As expected, the Rangers pulled out of Bakersfield after their four-year player development contract expired and will sign on with Myrtle Beach—the Carolina League affiliate owned by new Rangers managing partner/CEO Chuck Greenberg. Meanwhile, the Braves, who had been in Myrtle Beach since 1999, signed a four-year PDC with Lynchburg. That left Kinston, which extended by two years its partnership with the Indians—a relationship that dates back to 1987.
Just three high Class A affiliates remain available, all in the Cal League: Bakersfield, Inland Empire (Dodgers) and Rancho Cucamonga (Angels). Speculation has been that Rancho, under the new ownership of Bobby Brett, is interested in hooking up with the Dodgers. That would likely send the Angels to Inland and leave the Reds in Bakersfield.
Bakersfield remains the least popular high A affiliate because of aging Sam Lynn Ballpark (the team recently sent out a tweet celebrating the stadium's 70th birthday). The stadium no longer meets facility standards. Games often can't start until the sun sets because the batter's eye faces west. And, despite Cal League president Charlie Blaney's best efforts, no suitor has stepped forward to build a new ballpark.
(A complete chart of affiliations can be found here.)
In other affiliation shuffle news:
* The Blue Jays are leaving short-season Auburn (New York-Penn) and headed to Vancouver (Northwest).
* The Astros continue to eye Oklahoma City (Pacific Coast) as its new Triple-A home.
* The Brewers are set to announce an extension with Double-A Huntsville (Southern), by default, despite concerns about the condition of Joe Davis Stadium.
If flat is indeed the new up, then Minor League Baseball had one hell of a season.
The days of setting attendance records annually may be gone, but the sport did an admirable job of weathering a difficult economy in 2010. MILB's 15 leagues (including the Triple-A Mexican League) drew 41,452,436 fans this season, a modest 0.5 percent decrease from last year's total of 41,644,518.
"Once again, Minor League Baseball is showing its resiliency in the current economic conditions," Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner said. "While the economy sputters in many areas of the country, our fans continue to respond to our product. For Minor League Baseball to be down less than 1 percent in season attendance is truly a testament to the loyalty of our fans and the work of our teams."
The minors remain well behind its pre-recession glory days. That's when the sport, amid a ballpark building boom, set attendance records for five consecutive seasons—culminating in 2008 with a total of 43,263,740. But it appears to be heading in the right direction. More teams saw an increase at the gate this season than last, with 63 of 160 teams averaging more fans this season. In 2009, just 58 of 160 teams increased their average attendance.
O'Conner noted that the sport may very well have seen an overall increase if not for 100 rainouts in August. However, the minors would have certainly fallen even further behind its 2009 total if not for the performance of a handful of teams.
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