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Pols: Let’s not fix up PNC Field — or sell team to Mandalay, either

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre YankeesIf Mandalay Baseball and the New York Yankees want to see improvements to PNC Field, they’ll need to fund them, according to several Lackawanna County Commissioners, who don’t want to see the pair exercise an option to buy the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Yes, it’s an inconsistent stand, but the rhetoric is certainly placing the future of the franchise in some doubt.


Here’s the deal. The Multi-Purpose Stadium Authority still owns the SWB Yankees. But the 2006 agreement that saw Mandalay and the New York Yankees take over management of the team and the ballpark — an agreement that saw both put some serious money into PNC Field and team operations — also gave the pair the right to buy the franchise down the road for $13 million, which is quite a bargain for a Class AAA team. It also, claimed the pair, committed the authority to build a new ballpark or renovate the existing one, though the provenance of that part of the deal is somewhat fuzzy.

Down the road is now, and the authority is being asked to pay for the hamburger it ate a few years ago. However, a new set of Lackawanna County Commissioners — not the ones who made the original deal — say they don’t want to see any taxpayer money put into PNC Field. Repairs to the facility, which has not aged gracefully, could run as high as $40 million. Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, which make up the authority, simply don’t have that kind of money to put into a ballpark, they argue. If the Yankees and Mandalay want the improvements, they should pay for them.

But not with the benefit of owning the team. In a logically inconsistent coda to the ballpark stance, the county commissioners also say that the pair should be barred from buying the team, despite a purchase agreement to the contrary. 

So, their stance is as follows: Mandalay and the New York Yankees should pony up $40 million for ballpark improvements out of the goodness of their hearts and pass on the option to buy the team at a very attractive price. In other words, Lackawanna County doesn’t want to pay for those hamburgers eaten a few years ago, they want the burgers comped and be given more free hamburgers today. Not even Wimpy would have the cojones to ask for that sort of deal.

Which is why we’re probably headed to some sort of showdown in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. It’s a good, but not great Triple-A market, as the team isn’t drawing that well (4,515 per game, second to last; only the Charlotte Knights draw worse). There are other markets in the International League footprint that would love to see Triple-A ball, and if Mandalay and the Yankees pull off a purchase of the team with no improvements coming to the ballpark, they’ll probably have carte blache to see a new market: what town wouldn’t love to host the Yankees’ top farm team?

Let’s put it this way: we’re not entirely sure exactly how this will play out: most county commissioners seem to be willing to be completely out of the baseball field and cashing out on their $1 million investment. But there’s a passionate minority that seems determined to keep the SWB Yankees out of the clutches of Mandalay Baseball and the New York Yankees, purchase agreements be damned — and they have the ability to throttle the proceedings, at least temporarily.

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