By laying the groundwork for an unprecedented series of franchise shifts, Elmore Sports Group had a productive 2018. That process, combined with the collective success of its portfolio of teams, makes it our 2018 Organization of the Year in the annual Ballpark Digest Awards.
“It’s very rewarding, and it’s inspirational,” said Elmore Sports Group chairman Dave Elmore. “I’m thrilled, and I know the whole organization will be as well.”
“We’re so proud,” said Elmore Sports Group president D.G. Elmore. “What it takes to win this is amazing. There is a great history of amazing organizations that have won it, and we couldn’t be prouder of the people that have been in our organization and have made this possible.”
In June 2017, the Elmore Sports Group announced that three franchise shifts would take place in 2019. That included the San Antonio Missions (Class AA; Texas League) to Amarillo, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) to San Antonio to take the place of the Texas League Missions, and the Helena Brewers (Rookie; Pioneer League) to Colorado Springs to replace the Sky Sox. While there had been speculation about moves for years, the shifts were nonetheless a major task for the group. A new ballpark was needed in Amarillo and, as would be announced later, rebranding would take place for the new clubs in Amarillo and Colorado Springs. In Amarillo’s case, the team will be named the Sod Poodles, while branding for Colorado Springs will be unveiled November 19.
Within these moves are notable storylines. Though it has been home to numerous independent-league teams in more recent history, Amarillo has not had an affiliated minor-league club of its own since the Texas League’s Gold Sox relocated to Beaumont, TX after the 1982 season.
Amarillo will likely draw the most attention leading up to the 2019 season. The opening of a new downtown ballpark is expected to be one of the highlights of next season and marks the first new facility opened by an Elmore Sports Group team since the Eugene Emeralds (Short Season A; Northwest League) moved into PK Park in 2010. That makes the new Amarillo ballpark a milestone for the organization, but the excitement in the community is also something that the Elmores have noticed.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve opened a new ballpark, and every time I go there, which is relatively often, they just roll out the red carpet,” said D.G. Elmore. “The city council, the mayor, the business people, they are so excited about it. I think it’s going to be a really great place to move into, so I think it’s going to be terrific for the Elmore Sports Group to have a team in a new city that is so excited to have us.”
Reflecting a trend in modern ballpark design, the Sod Poodles’ new home will be designed to provide unique experiences for a wide range of groups and fans. It will feature several premium and group areas, including dugout suites, group patio areas, concourse suites, and more.
“That ballpark is just amazing, because everything that Populous has come up with can and is being included in that new ballpark,” said Dave Elmore. “We’re going to have the opportunity, we feel, to serve the needs of all of our guests.”
San Antonio, meanwhile, will move up to the Triple-A ranks and maintain the Missions name and branding. The long-term facility situation for the Missions is uncertain—a new ballpark will eventually be needed to replace Wolff Stadium—but the immediate implications could provide a boost for baseball in San Antonio. Currently the second-most populous city in Texas, San Antonio is a market that can more than accommodate Triple-A baseball.
“We already noticed a pickup in San Antonio when they found that we are going to go to Triple-A, so I think that will be something that will continue to grow,” said Dave Elmore. “San Antonio has always felt that they should be Triple-A. They thought that was something that was deserving because of the size of the city.”
For Colorado Springs, the arrival of the former Helena Brewers will mean a move down from Triple-A to Rookie-level baseball. While that marks the end of a continuous run of Triple-A baseball in Colorado Springs dating back to 1988, the climatic conditions are believed to more favorable to short-season baseball. Colorado Springs should also be a boost for the Pioneer League, because, though it dramatically stretches the league’s footprint eastward, it also represents a fairly sizable market for the short-season ranks.
“The Pioneer League picks up an amazing city in Colorado Springs,” said D.G. Elmore. “It spreads the league out quite a bit, but to get a short-season club to pick up a formerly Triple-A city—we’ve seen the results of that in the Northwest League of what happens when Portland goes to that, and Vancouver, and Spokane—it’s a really great shot in the arm for the Pioneer League.”
Building a Community-Minded Organization
Franchise shifts are not the only reason Elmore Sports Group is winning this award. The organization has maintained a stable portfolio of solid MiLB operations teams that—in addition to aforementioned clubs in Amarillo, Colorado Springs, Eugene and San Antonio—includes the Idaho Falls Chukars (Rookie; Pioneer League), Inland Empire 66ers (High A; California League), and Lynchburg Hillcats (High A; Carolina League).
The Emeralds were awarded Minor League Baseball’s Larry MacPhail Award this season, an honor that recognizing them with the league’s top promotional effort. In addition, the Missions’ final Double-A season was marked by the success of their Copa de la Diversion alter ego—the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio. Flying Chanclas merchandise not only proved to be a hot commodity, but the games in which the Missions played as the Flying Chanclas proved to be a major success, including a May contest attended by 8,337 fans, the team’s largest crowd since 2004.
Above individual team success, however, the Elmore Sports Group wants its teams to collectively continue running community-minded organizations. Community outreach through work with charities is something that the Elmores emphasize with all of their teams, believing that teams are in a unique position to serve their communities.
“I look at all of our teams and I feel that that is one of the best things we do and, me personally, that is what I take the most joy out of,” said Dave Elmore. “It’s terribly important to me to see what they add to their communities, and we’ve been blessed—we’ve been in most of our communities now for 23 years or so, some of them for more than 30, and you just begin to become like family.”
Once the dust on the franchise shifts settles, the contingent should remain stable. The organization hopes that its community outreach efforts grow from here.
“We obviously want to see more and more people coming out to the ballpark,” said D.G. Elmore. “Consistently delivering family-friendly fun, affordable entertainment. That’s what we really want to see. That’s what we want to continue to do, I think what we’ve been doing and—we’re certainly not going to be moving a bunch of teams anymore, so now it’s really where we are, we’ve got to really be involved in the community and be an integral part of it.”
The opening of SRP Park, our Ballpark of the Year, for the Augusta GreenJackets (Low A; Sally League) was in and of itself a highlight for Agon Sports & Entertainment, a group led by Jeff Eiseman and Chris Schoen. However, the group’s success went beyond the new ballpark, as the Boise Hawks (Short Season A; Northwest League) continued their run of solid attendance numbers at Memorial Stadium. “We are humbled and extremely honored to be considered for Organization of the Year,” said Jeff Eiseman, President & Partner, Agon Sports & Entertainment. “If we couldn’t win top honors, I am certainly glad that the great folks at Elmore Sports Group did. They most certainly had a busy year and it is well earned and deserved.”
Greenberg Sports Group has traditionally overseen an exceptional base of clubs, and that continued in 2018. The State College Spikes (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) provide a solid fan experience at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park—site of the league’s All-Star Game in 2018—while the Frisco RoughRiders (Class AA; Texas League) continue to draw large crowds to Dr Pepper Ballpark. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans (High A; Carolina League), meanwhile, won our Promotion of the Year for their Deaf Awareness Night. “The RoughRiders benefit from a fully invested ownership, incredibly talented staff and a dynamic community that’s committed to building around families and sports,” said RoughRiders President & General Manager Andy Milovich. “It’s an honor to be recognized by Ballpark Digest.”
Past Ballpark Digest Organization of the Year Winners
2017: Trinity Sports Holdings
2016: Main Street Baseball
2015: Goldklang Group
2014: Big Top Baseball
2012: Pensacola Blue Wahoos
2011: Dayton Dragons
2010: Winston-Salem Dash
2008: Joseph Finley and Craig Stein
2018 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
Best Ballpark Improvement Under $1M: Round Rock Express
Editor’s Choice: Ivy at Berlin Place
Best New Logo/Branding: 2018 Best New Logo/Branding: Copa de La Diversión
Marketing Campaign: Omaha Storm Chasers
Marketing TV Spot: Quad Cities River Bandits
Continued Excellence Award: Fort Wayne TinCaps
Promotion of the Year: Deaf Awareness Night, Myrtle Beach Pelicans
MLB Broadcaster of the Year: Pat Hughes
MiLB Broadcaster of the Year: Tim Heiman
Commitment to Charity: Hartford Yard Goats
Team of the Year: Indianapolis Indians
Executive of the Year: Doug Scopel
Ballpark of the Year: SRP Park