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Archives: July 21-27, 2008

Archives: July 21-27, 2008
Sarpy County pitches more woo at O-Royals
Posted July 25, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Omaha Royals (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) President Alan Stein was in suburban Omaha to meet with officials from Sarpy County and local business leaders about the potential of a new ballpark there. With the city of Omaha building a new downtown ballpark for the College World Series and tearing down Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium after the 2010 season, the O-Royals need to find a new home. Negotiating a lease at the new downtown ballpark will be a challenge — Omaha and MECA, which is managing the new ballpark, will pretty much need every dollar generated by the ballpark for debt service, leaving little left over for a tenant — and the O-Royals have already received permission from MiLB to explore a move to Vancouver and suburban Houston as well. Negotiations between the O-Royals and MECA are ongoing, and Sarpy County is awaiting a survey to determine the feasibility of baseball in suburban Omaha. As a pure market, Omaha is a pretty good one, and we’re guessing Stein and company would prefer to stay there.


Mets close to selling out suites in new ballpark
Posted July 25, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
The New York Mets are close to selling out all 49 suites at Citi Field, with only one remaining unsold. It was always a struggle for the Mets to sell suites at Shea Stadium — they’re located beyond the outfield fences, with a less-than-optimal view of the action — but the allure of a new ballpark is way too strong for corporations in the region to withstand. Plus, suites at the new ballpark are a bargain of sorts: they’re going for between $250,000 to $500,000 annually, while suites at the new Yankee Stadium are priced between $600,000 and $850,000.

Today’s video: Brawl in Dayton
Posted July 25, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Last night’s brawl between the Dayton Dragons and the Peoria Chiefs (both low Class A; Midwest League) at a game in Dayton last night has some serious consequences that we’ll be tracking. A hit batsman in the top of the first led to some retaliation in the bottom of the first, and after some rough play on the basepaths both teams went at it. At the end of the day, Dayton shortstop Zack Cozart was forced from the game after being nailed in the head by a pitch, Peoria second baseman Gian Guzman is gone for the season after running into pitcher Julio Castillo in a moment of the aforementioned rough play, and a fan was hospitalized after he was struck by a ball thrown by Castillo into the stands in a subsequent melee. The umps tossed 15 players and both managers — an action that was later overturned by the league office, allowing the game to resume without pitchers being forced to play in the outfield — but we’re guessing there will be some more suspensions announced today. In addition, Castillo was arrested and jailed after being charged with felonious assault. If you’re interested in hearing full audio, check out the YouTube version, but turn down the sound: it’s not safe for work. More from the Dayton Daily News. In other crime news, a Visalia Oaks (High Class A; California League) was cancelled because of a police standoff a block from the team’s home, Recreation Park.

American Association officially rejects offer of interleague play from Northern League
Posted July 25, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
The independent American Association officially rejected a proposal from the independent Northern League for interleague play next season. Not a surprise: there wasn’t much enthusiasm for interleague play from AA owners in the past, and whatever support the plan had from St. Paul Saints owners and management dissipated when the Northern League announced an expansion into Burnsville, Minn. In this article, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks owner Bruce Thom is quoted as saying he would prefer expansion to interleague play if he had to choose between one or the other, which makes a lot of sense: moves into Burnsville and Topeka would be a considerable boost to the circuit, although we’re guessing he wouldn’t mind a home series or two with the Saints or the Sioux Falls Canaries. What cannot be underestimated is the high level of bad feelings from owners and commissioners in both leagues; though the Northern League had explored a move into the Twin Cities in the past, many in the American Association saw the courting of a Burnsville team as a deliberate provocation. Now, an impartial mediator could probably smooth over the feelings and come up with a structure to please everyone (whether it be interleague play or a merger), but given the personalities on both sides, we don’t see it happening.

Mass transit finally reaches Dodger Stadium
Posted July 25, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Considering Dodger Stadium’s urban location, it’s amazing mass transit has never actually served the ballpark — but then again Los Angeles isn’t exactly known as a hotbed for public transit. Starting today, Dodger fans can travel for free on a shuttle running between Union Station and Dodger Stadium on game days. Fans living in the greater Los Angeles area can now take various rail and bus services from throughout the region to Union Station. Shuttle service begins 90 minutes before every home game for the rest of the season, and concludes one hour after the game ends. Fans will be dropped off outside of Lot G near Autograph Alley behind the pavilions at Dodger Stadium.

Cuban, Ricketts and Aaron/Kemp group five final bidders for Cubs, Wrigley Field: AP
Posted July 24, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Three groups have been invited by the Tribune Co. to submit revised bids in a second round. The three groups are led by Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks; the Ricketts family, who started the firm that eventually became part of TD Ameritrade Holdings; and Sports Acquisition Holding Co., a company launched by Henry Aaron and former congressman Jack Kemp. The top bids apparently were at or above a billion dollars — something we’ve been predicting for months — and the other bidders who proposed a price of under a billion dollars have not been asked to come back for a second round. That includes John Canning Jr., a minority investor in the Milwaukee Brewers and a close acquaintance of Bud Selig’s. The groups are vying to land the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a stake in a cable sports network. More from AP. UPDATE: Reuters is reporting there are actually five final bidders, with real estate executive Hersch Klaff and media investor Leo Hindery also receiving green lights. MVC Capital Inc Chairman Michael Tokarz is reported to be part of the Sports Acquisition Holding Company bid, as are Andrew Murstein and Fred Malek. There apparently are also three separate bids for Wrigley Field as well.


Fairgrounds rejected as site for new Red Sox training camp; attention turns to other Sarasota sites
Posted July 24, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
With the Sarasota County Commission voting against a proposal to move the Sarasota County Fairgrounds to Twin Lakes Park — paving the way for a new Boston Red Sox spring-training camp at the 90-acre site — the county is not looking at other sites for a new facility. The Red Sox have expressed great willingness to move spring-training operations to Sarasota — especially with the lure of land for development and a free ballpark — and with that in mind the county is looking at other parcels, including a cement plant closer to downtown Sarasota. While the Twin Lakes Park site was desirable in terms of size, neighbors lobbied against a plan to move the Red Sox there, saying they didn’t want the traffic and noise. On the other hand, the new parcel under consideration — at Central Avenue and 10th Street, near the waterfront — is already a commercial parcel and unlikely to generate opposition from neighbors. Apparently the Ed Smith Stadium site is still in the mix as well. Given that Lee County or Fort Myers has been unable to put together a financial package to keep the Red Sox, the team’s training facility is really Sarasota’s to lose. More from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Chiefs plan plenty of hoopla for Wrigley Field game
Posted July 24, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
The Peoria Chiefs (Low Class A; Midwest League) announced numerous activities taking place on July 29 as they face the Kane County Cougars at Wrigley Field. It is the Chiefs’ first game at a Major League ballpark and what is believed to be the first minor-league game to take place at Wrigley Field in the park’s 94-year history.
    Most of the entertainment will be familiar to minor-league fans — Birdzerk, ZOOperstars, dizzy-bat races, yada yada yada — but the real showstopper should be the seventh-inning stretch, when Dutchie Caray and Pete Vonachen will sing the traditional "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in honor of Harry Caray, celebrated Cubs announcer. Anyone who watched the late Caray back in the day knows about Dutchie, his wife, and of course Vonachen is one of the great men of minor-league baseball: he’s a former owner of the Chiefs and his son, Rocky Vonachen, is Chiefs president and GM. Players from both teams will be signing autographs prior to the game, while following the game kids 14 and under can run the Wrigley Field bases. We’re expecting a lot of media coverage: it will be Chiefs manager Ryne Sandberg’s first return to Wrigley in uniform, and his coaches for the game include former Cubs Bob Dernier and Carmelo Martinez.
    The Chiefs are on a roll: earlier in the week the team announced that another franchise sales record had been broken, as the 2008 sales staff surpassed the previous group sales revenue mark set last season.
    "This is a great accomplishment for our organization and it truly has been a team effort. From when we started our group push back in September, our staff has had a goal we’ve been working toward and it takes a lot of hard work and long hours to put together such a successful season," said Joe Wagoner, Vice President of Sales. "I can’t say enough about the focus and determination that the staff has had to get to where we are today and hopefully where we will be, by the end of this season. It’s a lot of fun for everyone to be setting records for an organization that has such a rich history."
    Two new group party areas on the concourse level and one new nightly rental suite have helped the sales staff break the group sales record. New for 2008 are the Left Field Landing in the outfield berm and the Hot Corner Club, a concourse party area located directly behind section 113. In addition to those group areas, the Chiefs staff is also selling the newly decorated Lippman’s Furniture Suite on a nightly basis. The past off-season also saw decorating upgrades in the Mark Grace and Greg Maddux Luxury Suites plus a complete remodeling of the former MVP Room.

Final decision on Marlins ballpark case not expected until September, putting construction schedule in doubt
Posted July 24, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
While the courtroom portion of Norm Braman’s suit challenging the funding plan for a new Florida Marlins ballpark is over, the case probably won’t be decided until September. Court Judge Jeri Beth Cohen is withholding a final ruling on the core of Braman’s argument — that the funding plan serves a "paramount public purpose," which removed the need for a public referendum — until two Florida Supreme Court decisions on the same topic are decided. For those familiar with legal proceedings, a delay like this isn’t that unusual, but for the Marlins and Miami-Dade County there are some important ramifications: it’s highly unlikely any final agreements will be worked out to allow construction to begin and, even though Marlins president David Samson argues otherwise, it is very much within the realm of possibility the ballpark could be subject to a referendum. More from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Thunder, Mercer County extend ballpark lease
Posted July 24, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
A new 10-year contract has been signed between Mercer County and the Trenton Thunder (Class AA; Eastern League), keeping the team at Waterfront Park through 2023.
    The new deal, which was negotiated for over more than a year, restructures some responsibilities of both parties in order to simplify the operation of the team and County-owned Waterfront Park. The 10-year contract extends the team’s lease at the stadium from 2013 to 2023.
    The original contract was signed in 1993 and was set to expire in 2013, but both the Thunder and the Mercer County Park Commission, which operated the stadium, agreed to renegotiate a new contract early. Both Thunder and Mercer County officials were interested in keeping the team in Waterfront Park, and worked cooperatively for the last year to ink a new contract.
    "The Thunder is thrilled and honored to be able to extend our lease arrangement with Mercer County for an additional 10 years," said Thunder co-owner and President Joe Finley. "We could not have a better partner than Mercer County and our relationship with Brian Hughes and the Freeholder Board has been terrific. We look forward to many good years to come at Mercer County Waterfront Park."
    The agreement was unanimously approved by the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders July 17. It brings several changes from the previous contract which were created to allow for a more seamless operation, according to Park Commission Executive Director Kevin Bannon.
    In the past, Waterfront Park had been completely managed by Mercer County and the County Park Commission, from building maintenance to cleaning to groundskeeping. Under the new contract, the Thunder will take over a majority of those responsibilities for a flat, $25,000 fee paid by the County. This new agreement allows the team more control over the operation of the field and stadium, and allows the County to devote more time and resources toward the upkeep of the building and grounds.
    In addition, a new rental fee agreement will simplify the portion of revenue the County receives from the team, replacing the old and complicated "formula" method for revenue sharing outlined in the previous contract.

Mandalay: New SWB ballpark still a goal
Posted July 24, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Larry Freedman, executive vice president of legal and business affairs for Mandalay Baseball Properties, says a new ballpark for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (Class AAA; International League) is still a goal for his organization. Mandalay and the New York Yankees are running the franchise on behalf of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties and have been success in drawing fans to PNC Field. Therein lies a conundrum for Mandalay: because fans are turning out to PNC Field in higher numbers, it’s harder to argue the need for a new facility, especially one costing between  $35 million and $50 million. Plus, public officials don’t seem too enthusiastic about finding $35 million in the state capital budget; even the lawmaker who officially requested the funding is lukewarm.

BayBears to move Aaron childhood home to ballpark
Posted July 22, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
The Mobile BayBears (Class AA; Southern League) are moving Henry Aaron’s childhood home to Gas Light Park, next to Hank Aaron Stadium, and renovate it for use as a museum honoring Aaron. The home will be donated to the city of Mobile by the Aaron family; it’s where Hank, his late brother Tommie and other siblings grew up. The BayBears will pay to renovate the house for use as a museum (a local firm will move the house from the city’s Toulminville neighborhood free of charge), as well as all ongoing costs. The house is slated to be moved this October, renovated in the offseason and then open along with the BayBears for the 2009 season — good timing, as Aaron will celebrate his 75th birthday next year. More from the Press-Register.

Cubs bidding could reach a billion dollars: Reuters
Posted July 22, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
We’ve been saying for more than a year now bidding for the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field and a stake in a local sports-cable network could easily reach a  billion dollars, and apparently Reuters finally agrees with is. In this story Reuters looks at bidding for the package — initial bids were due Friday — and the groups involved. Many of them have already been identified (groups led by John Canning Jr., Mark Cuban, Don Levin, Sports Properties Acquisition Corp and the family of Joe Ricketts), and apparently you can add real-estate developer Hersh Klaff to the list. We continue to hear the Canning group is considered the leader in ownership circles: a minority investor in the Milwaukee Brewers, he’s well-known in the commissioner’s office and has the wherewithal to come through with a bid big enough to please Cubs owner Sam Zell. One other note of interest: we hear actor Bill Murray and baseball entrepreneur Mike Veeck are not part of any current bidding group, though there were discussions in the past.

Fort Wayne ballpark taps into contingency fund; still on budget
Posted July 22, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
The contingency fund for construction of a new Fort Wayne Wizards (Low Class A; Midwest League) is down by a half-million dollars after the city’s Redevelopment Commission approved spending money on unexpected costs, including soil removal. Officials say the ballpark construction is still on budget, with $1.5 million remaining in the contingency fund — and remember, unanticipated costs are why there’s a contingency fund in the first place. More from the Journal-Gazette.

Naturals introduce "Funnel Dogs"
Posted July 22, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Alas, these weren’t on the menu when we first visited Arvest Ballpark. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Class AA; Texas League) have introduced Funnel Dogs to the world, melding the nitrates found in your average hot dog with the deep-fry fat of a funnel cake. Hmm…when we describe it like that it doesn’t sound that good. Let’s use what Frank Novak at the Naturals sent along: "This delectable treat combines two very important staples of ballpark and concession fare: funnel cakes and hot dogs. Funnel dogs incorporate the juiciness of a warm dog with the sweet taste of funnel cake lightly coated with powdered sugar." That’s why Frank’s a PR pro and we’re a cynical journalist. Only $3.50 at Naturals games.

Marlins trial centers on viability of team — but no one can see the books
Posted July 22, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
A key issue in the court case challenging public funding of a new Florida Marlins ballpark centers on economic development and whether the ballpark fits under the umbrella of necessary public spending. Alas, no one seems to know how the Fish will benefit from a new ballpark, as the team refuses to open its books to any expert, even those ostensibly on the same side as the team. Tony Villamil, former economic advisor to then-Gov. Jeb Bush and a expert retained by Miami-Dade County, asserted in six hours of testimony that the team would not be viable in the Miami market without a new ballpark, but admitted in cross examination he has no current financial figures for the team (he was basing his testimony supplied in 2001 by former owner John Henry). Even the judge presiding over the proceedings was a little credulous about the testimony.