Business Beat: Jan. 19

The future of the Beloit Snappers (Midwest) has been left in jeopardy after a proposed land swap to build a new stadium was rejected by local leaders.

Due to a disparity in land value, the Rock County, Wis., board rejected a proposal nearly two years in the works in which local businessmen would have swapped land off a main Wisconsin interstate connecting Beloit and Janesville with the county, with a new stadium and fairgrounds to be built. Now faced with the prospect of playing long-term at 25-year-old Pohlman Field, the team’s board of directors is not ruling out selling the team–a scenario that likely would take the Snappers out of Beloit.

“Our board is in the process of letting the dust settle,” Beloit general manager Jeff Vohs said. “We will start up and go from here. We had been working on the (land swap) option for a year or two and we don’t have a backup option. That is what the board has to work on now . . . If nothing comes through, then there is the option of selling the team.”

The Snappers drew 84,547 fans in 2006, next to last in attendance in the Midwest League. Vohs said the team annually struggles to break even and is typically one rainout away on a key promotional night from taking a loss.

“We’re always praying for good weather,” Vohs said. “If we rain out a couple of our big nights, like a fireworks night, we’re not going to make money.”

Vohs said the antiquated Pohlman Field does not allow the Snappers to take advantage of many of the money-making ideas that successful clubs implement. It is not large enough to house concerts and does not have needed locker room space to host baseball tournaments.

Winter League Heats Up

The winter holidays should have been a slow period at the independent Golden League’s headquarters in Pleasanton, Calif., after a successful season, but commissioner Kevin Outcalt was in midseason form as he prepared to kick off a brand new venture.

The Arizona Winter League was set to debut on Jan. 19 with four teams playing a 21-game schedule at the Ray Kroc Complex in Yuma, Ariz. At the conclusion of the season, 24 players are guaranteed contracts to play in the Golden League this summer.

Outcalt said a large group of experienced players have paid the $2,900 participation fee to play in the Arizona Winter League, which joins the United League Baseball Winter League in providing a venue for domestic winter baseball. The United League requires players to pay $2,000 and also is expecting to fill rosters.

The league fee apparently has not discouraged players, Outcalt said, because participants likely would have paid at least as much for instructional clinics. Scouts from affiliated and independent ball are expected to cover games, and the league will host a scouts’ day during an off weekend.

Included among Arizona Winter League participants are Giants pitching prospect Sergio Romo, who went 10-2, 2.53 last season in the South Atlantic League, and former Twins third-round pick Kennard Jones, who last season hit a combined .226 at Triple-A Portland (Pacific Coast) and Double-A Mobile (Southern). In total, Outcalt said at least 30 players with minor league experience are scheduled to participate.

“What we can provide the players is real-game situations,” Outcalt said. “The ones who are serious about their baseball career consider it a good investment.”

Yankee Fever

Jeremy Ruby knew the Yankees had a fan base in eastern Pennsylvania, but he did not realize the extent of it until Scranton/

Wilkes-Barre (International) announced its affiliation with the Bronx Bombers on Sept. 21 and then sold an equivalent of 47,000 tickets in various package deals.

The Red Barons general manager got another glimpse at the fanaticism with the new squad when Scranton announced that after 18 years it’s dropping Red Barons and changing the team name to Yankees.

The gift shop opened after a ceremony with big league brass, including GM Brian Cashman, and had nearly 1,000 customers come through its doors in a six-hour period.

“We’re going to set all kinds of records, not only with attendance but also merchandise and souvenirs,” Ruby said.

Scranton finished 11th in IL attendance last season but has already doubled last year’s season-ticket total of 2,100.

QUICK HITS

• The Northern League named its third commissioner in three years when Clark Griffith was tapped to lead the independent league. Griffith had been working as the league’s general counsel. He replaces Jim Weigel, who was dropped by league owners after one year in the position. Wiegel had replaced Mike Stone after several of the league’s teams split off to form the American Association. Griffith has worked previously as chairman of the board of Major League Baseball Properties and with the Minnesota Twins, which were once owned by his father, Calvin Griffith.

“Clark has league office experience in the Northern League both in our early years as well as recently, and has simply been outstanding in his guidance,” Schaumburg Flyers president Rich Ehrenreich said. “It’s become clear over the years to the board of directors that the title ‘commissioner’ fits Clark like a glove.”

• Five Florida spring training sites each received $15 million matching grants for ballpark improvements, guaranteeing that major league teams (and Florida State League affiliates) will stay in town. The following sites received money from the state: Bradenton (Pirates), Charlotte County (Devil Rays), Fort Lauderdale (Orioles), St. Lucie County (Mets) and Sarasota (Reds).

Minors | #2007 #Business Beat

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