Scranton Hits The Road
Yankees will have temporary home during stadium renovation
While their ballpark gets an extreme makeover, the Scranton-Wilkes/Barre Yankees will spend next year away from home.
The International League has tentatively approved Scranton's plan to play at an alternate location next season, while a $40 million renovation project goes on at PNC Field, league president Randy Mobley said.
The team and league have not settled on a temporary site for the team, Mobley said, but about six locations are under consideration. The Yankees have until the IL's fall meeting on Sept. 20 to submit a final proposal, though Mobley expects it to be done before then.
Mobley declined to reveal the temporary homes the league is looking at, but said he would prefer them to remain close to home or at least in the league's footprint.
"Generally speaking, we are considering existing league facilities and others outside the league," he said.
One potential location is Lehigh Valley, minor league baseball's attendance leader last season that is averaging 9,207 fans a game this season. Lehigh Valley general manager Kurt Landes said he has heard Scranton is looking for a place to play next season.
"We've not been formally approached," Landes said. "It's my understanding they are looking at options."
Lehigh Valley plays in Allentown, Pa., about an hour south of Scranton. In 2009, Scranton had to move two of its home games to Lehigh Valley's Coca Cola Field because of flooding at PNC Field. Those games drew 8,252 and 6,085 fans, with no advanced marketing or major league rehab assignments, Landes said.
Other possible locations might include Ottawa, which had a franchise in the league until 2007 and still has a suitable 10,000-seat stadium, or Staten Island, which has a 6,500-seat ballpark and obviously offers ideal proximity for the Yankees. As a New York-Penn League franchise, Staten Island would also offer fewer scheduling conflicts, and the franchise is also operated by Mandalay.
Scranton president Kristen Rose did not immediately return calls for this story. In an interview earlier this season, she said the ballpark renovation will assure Triple-A baseball remains in Scranton, and that the new ballpark should boost attendance for the struggling franchise. The project would update everything at PNC Field except the playing field (which was renovated with a new drainage system after the 2009 season) and the home clubhouse, Mobley said.
"It assures that the team will be here for a long time to come and also will give all our fans in the region state-of-the-art amenities," Rose said. "You only have to look at other new or renovated ballparks to see what happens when there are state-of-the-art amenities and different things to attract fans . . . Things have changed a lot in the 22 year since (PNC Field) was built. We are looking forward to offer what is now a model Triple-A ballpark to our fans."
In May, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett approved a $20 million state grant to renovate PNC Field. The Lackawanna County Stadium Authority will match the grant with $20 million to complete the project. The majority of that money will come from the proceeds of a previously agreed upon $14.6 million sale of the team to SWB Yankees LLC—an entity made up of the New York Yankees and Mandalay Baseball that currently operates the team.
The sale has yet to be brought before the International League for approval, though Mobley said he expects it to be included in the team's temporary relocation proposal and believes that it will be approved.
"Everybody realizes how significant the sales proceeds are to make this (ballpark renovation) happen, so you aren't going to let them continue down this path if you anticipate there to be opposition to the sale," Mobley said. "If there were something in the early phases that would cause the league to blow it up, that would have already occurred."
The Yankees had considered playing at PNC Field while the renovation is spread out over two offseasons—similar to what the Harrisburg Senators (Eastern) and Visalia Rawhide (California) did recently, but determined that doing so would add significantly to the cost of the renovation.
"The league's preference would be for the team to stay where it is at and play while the work is going on," Mobley said. "They have made a case that it is not feasible for that to be done. The league has acquiesced to that situation."