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Archives: Sept. 2-8, 2008

Archives: Sept. 2-8, 2008
R-Braves terminate Diamond lease; Kirk proposes new ballpark either for AtL or affiliated team
Posted Sept. 5, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
The Richmond Braves (Class AAA; International League) officially terminated their lease at The Diamond, ending the team’s run in Virginia. The team will play next season at a new ballpark in Gwinnett County, Ga.; meanwhile, the team still have not released the territory, which would allow Minor League Baseball to sift through the various plans to determine who gets the territory. (OK, we do it will be an Eastern League team, and the current plan is for 2010.) But it’s complicated turf, made more complicated by an unexpectedly strong bid from Peter Kirk (more below) to build a new ballpark, either for an Atlantic League team he owns or for an affiliated team. MiLB has cautioned teams not to contact Richmond about the territory, and from various sources we’re pretty confident this has been the case — but we know there have been some unofficial contacts of sorts.
    The termination of the lease frees the Richmond Metropolitan Authority to look at the future of The Diamond as well as 60 adjoining acres. Earlier this year the city solicited bids for the redevelopment of the area, which could include proposal for a new or renovated ballpark. Peter Kirk, the owner of three independent Atlantic League teams and a former affiliated-team owner, submitted a $40-million ballpark bid in conjunction with the well-regarded former Richmond city manager Robert Bobb. We chatted with Kirk about the proposal, which includes a Brooks Robinson life-skills academy, a year-round playground and skate park, and a new year-round facility for baseball in the summer and ice skating in the winter, either for an Atlantic League team he and Robinson would own or an affiliated team owned by someone else.


Paulson pitches new ballpark for Bevos
Posted Sept. 4, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
If Major League Soccer expands to Portland, PGE Park could be remodeled into a soccer-only facility and a new ballpark be built for the Portland Beavers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) in southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood. The two projects wouldn’t be cheap: $40 million for the PGE Park renovation (plus, we assume, the paying down on debt still associated with the last time PGE Park was renovated) and $35 million for a new 8,500-seat ballpark, which may be a little low these days. The most likely plan would be for the city of Portland to borrow the money and then have Merritt Paulson, who owns the Beavers and is spearheading the effort to bring MLS soccer to the city, pay back the bonds with revenues from operations. PGE Park is a huge place and has its roots as a football stadium (it was built as Multnomah Stadium and became a baseball facility only after it became apparent that the Beavers’ longtime home, Vaughn Street, would be unusable).

Grasshoppers once again snare Sally League end-of-year honors
Posted Sept. 4, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
It’s deja vu all over again: the Greensboro Grasshoppers once again snared the South Atlantic League’s Club Merit Award, sharing the award this season with the Greenville Drive. The league has also honored Hoppers’ President and General Manager Donald Moore as its General Manager of the Year for a fourth straight year; he shares the award with Rome’s Mike Dunn. Greensboro’s Allison Moore earned Community Relations Director of the Year honors.
    "It is extremely humbling to be selected for an award like this by your peers," said Donald Moore. "We are certainly proud of our accomplishments, but we are continuously trying to improve."
    In 2008, the Grasshoppers led the league in overall attendance by welcoming 440,787 fans through the gates of NewBridge Bank Park. Since the Hoppers’ inception in 2005, the club has drawn over 1,700,000 fans, having drawn over 400,000 for four years straight.
    The league also announced several other awards, including: Female Executive of the Year, Hagerstown’s Carol Gehr; Media Relations Director of the Year, Lake County’s Craig Deas; Sales Executive of the Year, Charleston’s Harold Craw and Lexington’s Luke Kuboushek; Sports Turf Manager of the Year, Greenville’s Greg Burgess; Best Playing Field Award: Fluor Field at the West End in Greenville; Athletic Trainer of the Year, Delmarva’s Patrick Wesley; and Bat Person of the Year, Kannapolis’s Anthony Odom and Rome’s Griffin Worley.

Red Sox lay out requests for new spring-training facility
Posted Sept. 5, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Officials from the Boston Red Sox met with Sarasota officials to discuss their expectations for a new spring-training facility. The current plan in Sarasota is to build a new ballpark at Payne Park — the area on the edge of downtown where the Red Sox formerly trained in the Ted Williams era — and then build a new training facility and minor-league camp on the Ed Smith Stadium site. Realistically, combining a 10,000-seat ballpark the way the Red Sox want it with new practice fields and 50,000-square-foot clubhouse is going to cost at least $70 million, probably more. The issues are going to be where the money comes from and how much land the Red Sox get for development; everything else, really, is irrelevant.

Suites already selling in Normal
Posted Sept. 5, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Eight of the planned 14 suites for an independent Frontier League ballpark in Normal, Ill., have already sold, and owners are discussing naming-rights deals. Steve Malliet, who is part of the ownership group, says a deal will need to run a minimum of 10 years. The new ballpark is slated to open in the 2010 season. More from the Bloomington Pantagraph.

It’s official: Lake County and Bowling Green to Midwest League in 2010
Posted Sept. 2, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
We’ve been covering this story for a long time, so there should be no surprise that the Lake County Captains and the as-yet-unnamed Bowling Green team will be moving from the South Atlantic League to the Midwest League in 2010. At the end of the day, objections from some team owners over long commutes and awkward schedules — objections heard from both leagues — were overcome under some pressure from the Cleveland Indians front office, who was strongly lobbying for the move.
    "I would like to thank George Spelius and Eric Krupa for their leadership in ushering this transfer initiative through the process in their respective leagues, and the owners of the clubs in the South Atlantic and Midwest Leagues for their vision and willingness to address an industry problem by approving this transfer,” stated Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner. “This is a perfect example of leagues and clubs setting aside personal interests, coming together and working towards a common goal." And, in fairness, the move does spread around the pain a little: It does cut down on the travel for Sally League teams (although the move of Columbus to Bowling Green already does this a little) and adds more to Midwest League teams, as that league now stretches from eastern Iowa to Ohio and Kentucky. We do expect some more tinkering with schedules and the length of homestands in future season, probably more in line with how other leagues, such as the Southern League, regularly schedule five-night homestands.
    "The amount of travel involved with the South Atlantic League is no secret, and realignment is intended to address that issue," said South Atlantic League President Eric Krupa. "The South Atlantic League owners recognize the overall, industry-wide aspects of realignment, even though the league itself will lose two solid clubs. Their willingness to cooperate with the desires of our partners at Major League Baseball in the realignment process is commendable. As we move forward, it is likely that scheduling challenges will require additional cooperation to maximize the intended impact of realignment."

Clippers end Cooper Stadium era
Posted Sept. 2, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
After 76 years, 4,697 games and 22.5 million fans in the house, the Columbus Clippers (Class AAA; International League) bade farewell to Cooper Stadium last night with a 3-1 win over the Toledo Mud Hens in front of 16,770 fans. It was the third-largest crowd in Cooper Stadium history, and by all accounts it was a festive event: fans ran the bases after the game, and home plate was dug up in anticipation of installation at the team’s new Arena District home, Huntington Park. Jim Massie has a nice look at the last night at the ballpark.

Richmond bids farewell to the Braves
Posted Sept. 2, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Over 11,000 fans showed up to the season finale for the Richmond Braves (Class AAA; International League) to say goodbye to Triple-A baseball. It’s a certainty that Triple-A baseball won’t return to Richmond — despite being a market seemingly tailor-made for a Washington Nationals farm team — and what happens in the future is still a matter of debate; we know the Eastern League basically won the rights to the market, but Peter Kirk is pitching a new ballpark that may or may not feature an Atlantic League team. We’ll have more on Kirk’s plans later today; let’s just say other press reports on the plans have been inaccurate.

Rapidz declare inaugural season a success
Posted Sept. 2, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
A crowd of 5,021 capped a decent year for the expansion Ottawa Rapidz (independent; Can-Am Association). The team’s owners sounded optimistic about the team’s future: this season the Rapidz averaged 2,197 fans a game, good for fifth in the eight-team circuit. While the Can-Am Association has some challenges for next season — Nashua is out, and poor attendance at Sussex doesn’t bode well — having a solid Canadian team to go along with a Quebec City cornerstone may show where the circuit is headed in the future.

Attendance notes as the season wraps up
Posted Sept. 2, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
Many leagues wrapped up their regular seasons yesterday, and attendance news is now trickling into our inboxes. Here’s the more notable news:
    – Despite fighting through some terrible weather and flooding around the ballpark,
the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low Class A; Midwest League) surpassed the 200,000-fan plateau for single-season attendance for just the seventh time in franchise history and the first time in 12 years. All six previous accomplishments came during a seven-year stretch from 1990-1996, with the flood year of 1993 being the only exception. The River Bandits have averaged 3,452 fans per game – the team’s fifth highest per-game average in the 77-year history of the ballpark. "Reaching 200,000 for our total attendance and averaging more than three thousand fans per game were definitely among our top goals entering this season," said Vice President/General Manager Kirk Goodman. “We lost more openings than any other team in the league due to the summer’s flooding and a very rainy spring, but to be able to stand here today and say we still reached this milestone brings a real sense of pride."
    – The Trenton Thunder (Class AA; Eastern League) became the first team in the history of Minor League Baseball at the Double-A level or below to draw 400,000 fans for fourteen consecutive seasons. Going into Monday’s season climax, the total for the 2008 season stands at 404,676 with one game remaining.
    – The Frederick Keys (High Class A; Carolina League) have surpassed their attendance mark from 2007 and will see more fans head through the turnstiles at Harry Grove Stadium in any season since 2002. This is the fourth consecutive season the Keys have had a rise in attendance.
    – The Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA; International League) drew 602,033 fans to Coca-Cola Park. By becoming one of just five Minor League franchises to surpass the 600,000 mark for total attendance so far this year, the IronPigs have emerged as one of the top draws in Minor League Baseball. In 71 regular season home dates, the IronPigs averaged 8,479 fans per game — a number that actually exceeds Coca-Cola Park’s fixed seating capacity of 8,089. The total capacity of Coca-Cola Park increases to 10,000 when factoring in multiple standing room locations and the Capital BlueCross Lawn. The IronPigs reached 10,000 fans on 12 occasions.
    – The Modesto Nuts (High Class A: California League) set an attendance record once again, attracting 164,306 fans to Thurman Field. The franchise is on a roll: the new record breaks the record set last season.

Rainiers end successful season
Posted Sept. 2, 2008 (feedback) (submit story) (discuss)
What a difference two years make. Back then,  Tacoma Rainiers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) owner George Foster was openly peddling the team, and many in baseball assumed it was a prime target for relocation. But new owners Schlegel Sports aren’t taking relocation any longer; yes, we may see a replacement for Cheney Stadium someday, but in the meantime Kirby Schlegel and crew have done a good job in increasing attendance (up 7 percent last season, and up this season despite some horrendous weather early in the season). They did it the time-tested way: by focusing on group sales and season tickets, getting away from the practice of free tickets and nightly promotions. Other improvements on deck for next season: a videoboard on the scoreboard and LED signage throughout the ballpark. More from the Tacoma News-Tribune.