Mandalay Adds To Its Empire

Mandalay Baseball is on the verge of completing its collection of Triple-A ballclubs.

On the heels of purchasing the Oklahoma City Redhawks (Pacific Coast), the ownership group has an agreement in place to buy the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

SWB Yankees LLC, which is co-owned by Mandalay Baseball and the New York Yankees, exercised an option in its operating agreement with Lackawana County, Pa., to purchase the club for $14.6 million.

The deal comes after the local stadium authority agreed to a $40 million renovation of PNC Field that will include $20 million in state money. In return, the new owners will sign a 30-year lease at $750,000 annually, which will be used to help pay off construction costs.

The deal, and particularly the new ballpark, should be a boost for a team that has experienced a variety of problems since the Yankees came to town in 2007—and even more significant problems before that.

The team saw attendance spike by 200,000 in its first year affiliated with New York, but it has since steadily decreased. The team’s average attendance has fallen from 8,802 in 2007 to 4,981 in 2010. Scranton replaced its field prior to last season after it was forced to postpone or move close to a dozen games in 2009 due to flooding.

“Our goal has always been for the next Yankees stars to play in a top-flight facility that provides fans championship-caliber baseball and a quality family entertainment experience,” Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner said in a press release. “The Yankees love being in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and look forward to calling it home for our Triple-A franchise for decades to come.”

The ballpark will bear little resemblance to the current one, which is the second-oldest in the International League. A rendering of the new facility recently unveiled at a public hearing in Scranton by architect Craig Schmitt showed that the only remaining elements of the ballpark would be the lower seating bowl, field, home clubhouse and parking lots. The new facility would include elevated suites and a club level with the rest of the seating in a lower bowl.

“Even though technically we are not building a brand new stadium, for all intents and purposes it’s going to look and feel new,” Schmitt said at the hearing, according to the (Scranton) Citizens Voice. “I’m convinced that taking on something like this is absolutely going to transform the experience of attending a baseball game in Lackawanna County.”

No timeline has been set for construction to begin, though Schmitt said it should take roughly nine months to complete.

Golden League Shrinks

What’s been a bad year for the independent Golden League continues to get worse.

The Victoria Seals announced that they are shutting down, citing a poor economy and the unsettled state of the league. The Seals become the fifth Golden League team to either shut down, fold or announce plans not to play in 2011, shrinking what had been a 10-team league to a shadow 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 as well, leading to the league taking over the team. There is a chance the Yuma team could return to play in 2011, but the potential owner seems was not optimistic. “There’s no backing in town, basically,” Yuma owner Jim McDermott told the The (Yuma) Sun. “We had a few backers, then the GBL came in for the winter league, and (Scorpions president and GM) Peter Young is back in the picture, and he inched me out of a couple of my sponsors. It’s all fun and games. They’re more interested in the winter than the summer, and I don’t know if they’ll have a team here next year or not.”

The league also has to sign a new lease to remain in Chico, where the current lease has expired. Chico State has said that no new lease will be agreed to until the league catches up on its contractual obligations. The Chico State president told the Chico Enterprise-Record that he was concerned about the long-term viability of the league.

The Pacific Coast League announced that it was moving its Portland franchise at least temporarily to Tucson, which prompted the Golden League’s Tucson Toros to pull out for the 2011 season. The team left open the possibility of returning if the PCL team left town.

The league has seen some turnover at the executive level as well. League founder and CEO David Kaval announced after the season that he was stepping down to work for the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer. He was replaced by Kevin Outcalt, who was promoted from league commissioner.

—J.J. Cooper