Pat O'Conner, President of Minor League Baseball, visited Beloit on Tuesday, March 14 to discuss the future of the Snappers and baseball in the city. He described his visit as "enlightening and positive" while he acknowledged the urgency for a new stadium in order to keep affiliated professional baseball in Beloit beyond 2020.
The Beloit Snappers Board of Directors hosted a luncheon at the Beloit Club, where O'Conner addressed an audience of prominent community members. Snappers representatives present included President Dennis Conerton, Secretary Mary Foster, Treasurer Ramiro Vargas, and General Manager Seth Flolid. Also in attendance were Midwest League President Dick Nussbaum and Snappers board members Joe Chamberlain, Zach Fillbach, Jorgen Olsen, Brian Morello, Jeff Livingston, Tom McCawley, and Jeff Vohs.
Prior to the luncheon, Snappers board members held a presentation for Nussbaum and O'Conner, who was encouraged by Beloit's progress towards updating its facilities. O'Conner was also refreshed to see the overwhelming community support of the Snappers, which he "was not sure existed" before.
"It has been a worthwhile trip for me to see the level of sophistication, the level of depth," he said.
O'Conner noted that there is still a significant amount of work to be done on Beloit's end, however, and that the future of the Snappers "hinges greatly on this community."
"You do not have to worry about Minor League Baseball coming in and taking your team from you," he said. "It's yours to keep or it's yours to lose; it's that simple. I'm not here with threats; I'm here with the stark reality that the game of baseball in the last 25 years has moved beyond Beloit today."
Pohlman Field, home of the Snappers since their inception in 1982, has fallen behind as far as conditions for players under contract with Major League teams, according to O'Conner. In its current state, Pohlman could technically remain protected by the Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) - the contract that ensures Major League Baseball will field at least 160 Minor League teams- until 2020. However, Pohlman will likely no longer meet the PBA's standards once it is renewed, meaning Beloit could be in jeopardy of losing its minor league team if it fails to provide a new stadium by then.
"The reality is that, in this day and age," O'Conner said, "facilities for Major League players- and that's what the Snappers are, they're under contract to the Oakland A's- requires a level of investment in facility and training capabilities for these players that far outweighs what Pohlman provides.
"Out of the 160 teams that comprise Minor League Baseball, the conditions of [Beloit's] current facility are in the bottom two or three percent," he continued, "and that's not indicative of the spirit of this community; that's not indicative of the support of this community."
O'Conner did again emphasize that the Snappers are headed in the right direction, however.
"This morning, I saw a glimmer of hope," he said. "I was very impressed with the breadth of the depth of the work that had been done."
He also credited Beloit's board members for their work throughout the process thus far and how they have managed the community involved.
"I think some of the decisions they've made have been proactive," O'Conner said. "[The decisions] have been aggressive, and they quite honestly have been made to save professional baseball for Beloit.
"I'm more optimistic now because I'm seeing a broader base of community support at the higher levels, such as business leaders," he continued. "People have the ability to influence the pace and direction of things happening in this community; this is on their radar. I was concerned that the Snappers' board was operating in too much of a vacuum and not being broad-based; I mean, you're not going to do what the Snappers have to do without a total community commitment. What I saw today is the involvement of people in quantity and at levels that historically are critical to success in a project like this."
Towards the end of his address, O'Conner stated that he was "committed to working with this community." He did stress again that much of the responsibility would fall on the Snappers and the support of Beloit, however.
"There is a gut check coming for the city of Beloit," he stated. "And that gut check is, do you really want to keep this ball club?"
O'Conner has been Minor League Baseball's president since 2008 and is currently serving his third term. He has negotiated three PBAs as well as a five-year bargaining agreement with the Association of Minor League Umpires during his tenure. From 1986 to 1993, O'Conner was the general manager of the Osceola Astros- formerly a Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Houston Astros- where he was named the Florida State League Executive of the Year in his final season. O'Conner was elected as Minor League Baseball's vice president in 1995, a position he held until his promotion in 2008.