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Lowell: Is pro baseball worth millions in ballpark upgrades?

Lowell City Councilors are questioning whether it’s worth $10 million or more to lure an affiliated Boston Red Sox-owned team to LeLacheur Park, or whether the city is better off working with a less-expensive summer-collegiate team.

The Lowell Spinners (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) were contracted when MLB downsized MiLB to 120 teams. Despite allowing the Spinners to be contracted, the Red Sox did not abandon the market, saying that they would work to keep baseball in Lowell. Of course, the easiest way for the Red Sox to assure baseball in Lowell in 2021 and beyond would have been requesting MLB grant a spot in the 120 to the Spinners, or express an interest in the market to allowed the Spinners to transition to the MLB Draft League. Indeed, there were plenty of instances where the field of 120 was filled by specific MLB requests; plenty of teams made the cut with a facility in roughly the same shape as LeLacheur Park. As a result of no pro or summer-collegiate baseball at LeLacheur Park, the city has stepped in to pay $100,000 in annual maintenance–money that was formerly paid by the Spinners.

The city has been moving ahead with a plan to spend upwards of $10 million–or even more–on LeLacheur Park upgrades to accommodate the relocating Salem Red Sox (Low-A East) in 2023, and have both hired a project manager and issued an RFP for an engineering and design services study, to be performed on an accelerated basis, mapping out what upgrades are needed to meet the new MiLB facility standards. Financially, Lowell is struggling, and for many local residents, spending millions of dollars on a ballpark smacks of misguided priorities. The money could come from federal or state COVID-19 relief funds–funds that could be spent in a wide variety of ways.

And then there’s the issue of whether a summer-collegiate team or independent-league team would be a better use for the ballpark. Drew Weber, the founder of the Lowell Spinners who owns a Futures League team in nearby Nashua, was at the council meeting to lobby for summer-collegiate play in LeLacheur Park. From the Lowell Sun:

Gitschier also discussed the opportunity his son had to play with the Nashua Silver Knights, a team that is part of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, and questioned why something like that couldn’t be offered in Lowell.

Drew Weber — one of the founders of the Futures League who owned the Spinners 19 years — also came to the meeting to lobby for the collegiate league teams. He said he understands a Red Sox-affiliated team is probably Lowell’s top choice, but if the city can’t land one, welcoming a Futures League team is “absolutely, unequivocally the way to go.”

In terms of geography, a Frontier League team would make sense; in terms of the size of the market and geography, a summer-collegiate team makes sense, with Nashua and Pittsfield already in the Futures League. The inclusion of an MiLB team is a challenge on the geographical front, no matter whether the team ends up at High-A or Low-A; the closest teams nearby in A ball are the Hudson Valley Renegades and Brooklyn Cyclones, some 200-220 miles away—which means a Red Sox team could be bumping up several times annually with the 250-mile airline requirement.

RELATED STORIES: Red Sox working to bring MiLB back to Lowell; Red Sox: We’ll fight to keep baseball in LowellFight to Save Lowell Spinners Goes NationalContraction in Flux, as Lowell Spinners May Escape Dream League

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