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When MiLB Teams Went Back to School

BYU Baseball

One of the strongest links between college and Minor League Baseball is shared facilities, which have steadily been popping up around the baseball landscape. While some of the most recent developments on that front—including the opening of West Virginia’s Monongalia County Ballpark last summer, and the expanded partnership between the Duke Blue Devils and Durham Bulls (Class AAA; International League)—are permanent in nature, there are past instances in which minor league teams have sought temporary refuge at a college facility.

Such an arrangement could be unfolding again next season, as we recently reported that the proposed realignment of two California League teams into the Carolina League could affect a college ballpark. Until a new ballpark is completed, Fayetteville, NC’s prospective club could play at least a season or two at Campbell University’s Jim Perry Stadium. Should that happen, Jim Perry Stadium will not be the only college facility in recent history to have hosted a relocating MiLB squad.

Back in the 1990’s, the New Orleans Zephyrs (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and Bowie Baysox (Class AA; Eastern League) both made stops at collegiate ballparks. Upon moving from Denver for the 1993 season, the Zephyrs played out of the University of New Orleans’ Privateer Park, ultimately remaining there until Zephyr Field opened in 1997.

For the Baysox, the stay at the University of Maryland’s Shipley Field proved to be much shorter. After leaving Hagerstown, the team spent the 1993 season at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium while awaiting the completion of Prince George’s Stadium. When their new home was not ready for beginning of the 1994 campaign, the Baysox set up at the University of Maryland—closer to their new home—before Prince George’s Stadium opened in June.

While it is known primarily as the home of the UC Riverside Highlanders, the Riverside Sports Complex has previously hosted most MiLB action, most recently a run from 1993-1995 as the home of the Riverside Pilots (High A; California League). Despite some promise upon relocating from Reno, the Pilots could never overcome certain obstacles in Riverside—including a provision on alcohol sales and indifference towards a new ballpark—and ultimately moved to their permanent home in Lancaster, becoming the Lancaster JetHawks before the 1996 season.

Brooks Field at the University of North Carolina Wilmington has seen MiLB action come and go over the years. The Port City Roosters (Class AA; Southern League) arrived at Brooks Field in 1995. After two seasons, the franchise—which came to Wilmington via Charlotte and Nashville—was sold and moved to Mobile, where it became the Mobile BayBears.

Wilmington got another shot at affiliated baseball in the form of the Wilmington Waves (Low A; Sally League), which began play in 2001. There was hope that the Waves would settle in Wilmington permanently, but after one season the team was sold and relocated to Albany, GA within a matter of weeks before the 2002 season. In both cases, the Waves and the Roosters were unable to sell alcohol and were greeted with low attendance. Despite multiple efforts, Wilmington has never successfully completed a project for a minor league ballpark.

The Brooklyn Cyclones (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) needed a season to transition before opening MCU Park in 2001. With their new home not complete when the franchise arrived from St. Catherines, Ontario, the team played the 2000 campaign at The Ballpark at St. Johns as the Queens Kings. Due to an ongoing player development contract, the Kings were an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Cyclones are not the only team from one of New York’s boroughs to seek a temporary home at a college. When the Watertown Indians became the Staten Island Yankees (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) in 1999, they played their first of two seasons at the College of Staten Island Baseball Complex.

When the New York Yankees brought the Tampa Yankees (High A; Florida State League) to the Florida city in 1994, the franchise had to wait two years before their new ballpark—at the time known as Legends Field—would open. As a result, the Yankees spent two seasons at the University of South Florida. The first of those two years was the most memorable, as the 1994 Yankees—featuring a roster that was headlined by Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera—claimed the Florida State League title.

The Pacific Coast League saw considerable change in 1998, which included the move of the Tucson Toros to Central Valley, where they became the Fresno Grizzlies. Today the Grizzlies play at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno, but while awaiting the completion of that ballpark, the Grizzlies played four seasons at the University of Fresno’s Pete Beiden Field.

In 2001, the Provo Angels (Rookie; Pioneer League) began their first season at Brigham Young University’s Larry H. Miller Field. However, the Angels were facing an unsustainable situation given that their agreement with BYU barred the team from selling alcohol and playing on Sundays. At one point, Provo officials explored the possibility of building a separate ballpark for the Angels, who wound up moving to neighboring Orem in 2005 after striking an agreement with Utah Valley University to share Brent Brown Ballpark. The team remains there today as the Orem Owlz.

All of these franchises have gone on to have varying degrees of success since their summers at college ballparks. Should Fayetteville receive its team, its fans might become the latest to head to a college campus to begin a new tradition of professional baseball.

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