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Uncertain times in Huntsville for the Stars

Huntsville StarsIt’s all but certain that the Huntsville Stars (Class AA; Southern League) will be back at Joe Davis Stadium next year, with Buck Rogers at the helm. Past that, it’s all up in the air, as several cities are seeking a Southern League franchise and current parent Milwaukee is ready to shop around.

Joe Davis Stadium isn’t regarded as one of the nicer ballparks in baseball; truth is, it’s probably one of the worst. And while Huntsville is regarded as being a pretty decent market, the lack of a decent ballpark is keeping away both fans and potential parents. Now, someone will end up in Huntsville when the game of affiliate musical chairs comes to a finale, but it’s not a place where any MLB team wants to be.

Stars officials say their first choice is a new Huntsville ballpark, but so far all talk of a new ballpark has ended up being just that: talk. Owner Miles Prentice isn’t likely to put a ton of money into a new-ballpark project, especially with other suitors for the team lining up. The latest, we hear: Pensacola, where Pensacola Pelicans (independent; American Association) owner Quint Studer is evaluating his options. While Pensacola may make a decent Double-A market, Studer has many obstacles to bringing in an affiliated team. First, he’d need to buy one, and there’s no indication the Stars are actually for sale. Second, he’d need to make changes on the fly to a new waterfront ballpark to meet Double-A specs; contrary to what some in Pensacola say, no proposed ballpark from HKS or Populous has actually met Double-A specs. Ballpark specs cover far more than just the number of seats in the stands: they also cover things like fan amenities (down to the number of toilets), player facilities (clubhouse space, batting cages, workout rooms, etc.) and more. Third, he’d have to negotiate a withdrawal from the independent American Association, whose membership agreement includes some penalties for leaving the circuit for another. Fourth, based on our reading of the local maps, there may be some territorial issues with Mobile. So while the locals are excited about the prospect of affiliated ball, there are many, many hurdles Studer and crew must navigate.

So if Pensacola is a long shot, where else could the Stars land should Prentice want to leave the market? We continue to hear about baseball efforts in Panama City. We’ve written about Panama City before: it’s a town on the rise with a group of civic officials with lots of land and a desire to move up in the world — two very important ingredients for cities wanting to build a ballpark.

Still, any move won’t happen for a year or two. In the meantime, Buck Rogers and crew will need to work on an affiliation deal while making do with a subpar facility. Rogers is certainly an energetic operator — one of our faves in baseball — but there’s only so much lipstick he can apply to that mule.

RELATED STORIES: Panama City making play for minor-league ball

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