After 64 years, the Boston Red Sox are back in Salem.
Fenway Sports Group, the sports sponsorship company owned by Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry, reached an agreement with Hardball Capital to purchase the Salem Avalanche. After months of rumor and speculation, the deal was made public on Monday at a press conference in Salem.
However don’t head to the mountains of southwest Virginia to watch the Red Sox high Class A affiliate play ball next season—they’ll still be about 3,000 away, completing the final year of a player development agreement with Lancaster of the California League. The Astros will be back in Salem for its sixth season in 2008. Though the Red Sox seem like a natural fit to call Salem home in 2009, club officials are not allowed to discuss affiliation changes until the current PDA expires following the 2008 season.
"Obviously we’re not a Red Sox affiliate, but the biggest thing is having the grand power of the Red Sox behind us," Salem general manager John Katz said, noting that the Roanoke Red Sox were the first affiliated baseball club to play in the Roanoke Valley when the team joined the Piedmont League in 1943.
"The Red Sox have deep roots, not only in the Carolina League, but in this area as well. Players like Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs—various stops in their careers have come in the Carolina League. The relationship goes back to the days of the Piedmont League. It’s a neat little back story to this thing. It’s almost as if they are coming full circle."
The deal was approved by the Carolina League but will not be finalized until Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball provide their stamps of approval. Regardless, Fenway Sports Group is banking on a long relationship and becoming a part of the Salem community.
"Our long-term goal is to buy and hold the franchise, we’re not buying this as a quick investment play. We want to be a here a long time," Fenway Sports Group president Michael Dee said. "In the short-term, we want to learn the ropes. Major league baseball is not the same flavor of ice cream as minor league baseball . . . We have three fundamental commitments: Make sure we put an entertaining team on the field; make the ballpark a fun place to be and provide affordable family entertainment; become active participants in the community. If we do those things, hopefully we can generate the success at the gate that mirrors the great success we’ve had at Fenway Park."
The Sox last played in the Carolina League in Wilmington during the 2005-06 seasons before leaving for Lancaster, arguably the most hitter-friendly ballpark in the minors because of high winds that consistently blow toward the outfield fence. Salem is entering its 40th season in the Carolina League, and ranked third in the league in attendance last season, drawing 458,469 fans in 66 openings. Yet Katz said the club still has plenty of room to grow in the community, and the potential is limitless with the backing of Fenway Sports Group.
"It is one of those things where there couldn’t be a better fit for our market," Katz said. "FSG (Fenway Sports Group) has such a broad range of experience that we can work together and keep building our marketing efforts. It will be a great marriage and I am excited about working with Michael and his team at FSG."