Yankees Need To Get Digging In Scranton

Much attention has been paid to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s new “Empire State” nickname and its upcoming 142-game road trip this season, but the more pressing issue may very well be where the team is going to play next season.

Time is running out for the Yankees to begin tearing down PNC Field and beginning construction on their planned $40 million new facility. But in order for it to be ready by Opening Day 2013, shovels need to be in the ground by April 1, International League president Randy Mobley said. Otherwise, Scranton will need to figure out an alternative plan for next season—and it can’t be the same arrangement as this upcoming season, when the team will play its 71-game home schedule at six different ballparks.

“This is a one-year arrangement, not to be repeated,” Mobley said.

The $14.5 million sale of the team from Lackawanna County to SWB Yankees LLC (an entity made up of the New York Yankees and Mandalay Baseball) is still being finalized. Those funds are earmarked for the new ballpark, so construction cannot begin until the sale is completed.

Mobley declined to discuss what is holding up the sale, other than that the two sides are still in negotiations on the lease. Mandalay Baseball CEO Art Matin also declined comment, but said in an email message that “We’re working through everything and looking forward to being in a position to make a very positive announcement in the next few weeks.”

“I can only go on what (the Yankees) tell me, and what they tell me is that they are continuing daily discussion,” Mobley said. “With this construction start deadline rapidly approaching, it is all going to become pretty evident, pretty quickly, what is or isn’t going to happen.”

No contingency plans have been created in case the ballpark is not ready in time for the 2013 season, Mobley said. “We already have the 2012 plans in place . . . We are going to discuss that situation if it occurs at that time.”

In other ballpark news:

• The Winchester (Va.) city council nixed a proposed ballpark that would have hosted the low Class A Hagerstown Suns amid concerns about traffic and alcohol.

• Columbia (S.C.) officials are weighing how much the city is willing to invest in a new downtown development that would include a minor league baseball stadium.

• The Wilmington (N.C.) city council took a field trip to Triple-A Durham for a tour of Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The council is considering a proposal to partner with the Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball on a new ballpark. The high Class A Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina) would relocate to Wilmington if a ballpark is built.