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Will baseball return to Augusta? Probably, if the price is right

Sussex SkyhawksThe demise of the Sussex SkyHawks (independent; Can-Am League) doesn’t mean professional baseball won’t return to Skylands Park in the near future — but there needs to be some changes regarding the landlord’s financial expectations.

Pro baseball has been a mixed bag in Augusta, N.J.: the original New Jersey Cardinals (short season A; NY-Penn League) were successful when they first launched, but attendance declined steadily to the point where the team was sold and relocated to State College. The SkyHawks swooped in to fill the void and, despite a solid owner in Floyd Hall and some decent leadership from Ben Wittowski, failed to make an impact in the market before Hall pulled the plug this offseason.

If our inbox is any indication, however, there’s plenty of interest from owners in Skylands Park and Ross Corner: it’s a convenient location for NY-Penn League and Can-Am League travel, the ballpark is considered to be decent (our Mark Cryan enjoyed a visit there), and though the location is a little remote (check out the fields surrounding the ballpark), development in the area should raise the ballpark’s profile. A nearby town-center outdoor shopping complex is in the works and could be done by the end of the year.

But the real issue, we’re told by those with direct experience dealing with Millennium Sports Management, is the unrealistic financial expectations of the ownership. The ballpark as it stands right now is a bare-boned facility, with limited concessions and an outdated design with covered points of sale below the grandstand. The problem, according to several sources, is that Millennium wants premium rent for a middling venue. Someone could come in and fix the many concession issues with the ballpark, but not at the rent demanded by Millennium. Indeed, there were potential operators willing to take over the SkyHawks only to be unable to agree on rental terms with Millennium. If baseball is to return to Augusta, a more realistic assessment of the ballpark’s worth from its owners is in order — and with more than one NY-Penn League team potentially on the market, the timing is right to make this adjustment.

RELATED STORIES: SkyHawks to go dark?; Meanwhile, in the Can-Am League….

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