We hinted at this, but now veteran MiLB operator Jason Freier has made it explicit: acquiring another team is very likely if a new Columbia ballpark is built, rather than moving the Savannah Sand Gnats (Low Class A; Sally League) to the city.
Besides negotiating for a new Columbia ballpark, Freier has also been talking with Savannah officials about a new facility there to replace Grayson Stadium. Those talks are still ongoing, though things have quieted down somewhat in Savannah and heated up in Columbia. The assumption from many in both Columbia and Savannah had Freier moving the Sand Gnats to Columbia if a ballpark deal was struck there, but over the weekend Freier said that was not the case:
“Having a team in Savannah and Columbia is not necessarily mutually exclusive,” Freier said Friday. “If we have projects in both cities, we would be talking about a third team.”
He said the rules of Major League Baseball bar him from publicly discussing moving teams while contractual obligations to current teams are in force. His contract with Savannah expires Sept. 30. His contract with the San Diego Padres-affiliated Fort Wayne, Ind., TinCaps – who play in his template for the Columbia stadium – extends 25 more years.
Freier has not said directly that the Sand Gnats would move here if he cannot get a new stadium in that Georgia city. However, that would be the least expensive alternative to buying another team.
Least expensive, but most confining, and if there’s a chance of a new ballpark in Savannah, Freier would not be smart to move the Sand Gnats. There are at least four High Class A Carolina League teams on the market: one that can be moved, one that probably could be moved, one that’s on the verge of being sold and can’t be moved, and one that won’t be moved. The Atlanta Braves held an option to buy the Lynchburg Hillcats when team management was negotiating for a new Wilmington (N.C.) ballpark, so that team is in play. (We’ll hold off naming the other three.) As a current Sally League owner, Freier can’t acquire another team in that circuit, per MiLB rules, and we can’t see a Class AA Southern League team ending up in Columbia.
RELATED STORIES: Tanner: College, pro baseball can co-exist in Columbia; Freier: We could open new Columbia ballpark in 2015; New ballpark feasible for Columbia: study; This year should determine future of Sand Gnats; Columbia to study ballpark sites, feasibility; Sand Gnats exploring Columbia move?; Will pro baseball return to Columbia?; Final days for Cap City Stadium; Shanahan: Blowfish negotiating move to Lexington County; Columbia sells Capital City Stadium site; Looking back at Cap City Stadium; Class A ball returning to Columbia?; Columbia sells Capital City Stadium; Wal-Mart on the way; Future of Columbia baseball in play
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