The worst-kept secret in Minor League Baseball is now out in the open: the Huntsville Stars (Class AA; Southern League) have been sold and presumably will be moving to Biloxi and a new ballpark in 2015.
The move is no surprise: it's been rumored for months that veteran operator Ken Young would be buying the team from Miles Prentice, who would retain a minority share of the team. (Earlier reports that the team was sold were erroneous.) It's also no surprise that Prentice was seeking a new home for the Stars after several attempts to replace Joe Davis Stadium with a more modern facility failed. At one time Young sought to purchase all shares in the Stars (with Prentice and his partners giving up everything, but that didn't work on the financial front, so Prentice and his other investors will retain an undisclosed share of the team, with Young bringing in other investors as well. And while the Stars aren't the only Southern League team on the market, Young and Prentice worked out a deal that was eventually approved by Southern League owners, subject to MiLB (a given) and MLB approval. The next step: applying to move to a new Biloxi ballpark in 2015.
"I am excited to be part of the new ownership group with this franchise and look forward to a mutually beneficial relationship," Prentice said in a press release.
"Leaving Huntsville at the end of the 2014 season will be bittersweet for our league due to our long association with former Stars owner and beloved former Southern League president Don Mincher," Southern League president Lori Webb said via press release. "But as sad as we are to be leaving the Huntsville market, we are also excited as we look forward to opening a new ballpark in Biloxi and bringing professional baseball to that community."
(Don Mincher owned the Huntsville Stars before taking over as Southern League president in 2000.)
The Stars' lease at Joe Davis Stadium runs through 2015; no agreement has been reached with the city to break it, but presumably the rent will be covered by Prentice and Young.
What next for Huntsville? Despite the generally poor opinions of Joe Davis Stadium, Huntsville is seen as a good market. And with at least one more Southern League team on the market, there's a chance for MiLB to return to the city -- provided there's a new ballpark, of course. Mark McCarter, the dean of Southern League beat writers, weighs in:
City leaders, including Mayor Tommy Battle, are optimistic a replacement team will be found and there has been a groundswell of support for a downtown stadium to replace Joe W. Davis Stadium, opened in 1985 and the oldest stadium in the Southern League.
"We'd like to have baseball in our future and we're looking to do that with a good partner, somebody who wants to be part of our community," Battle told al.com Friday night.
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