What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?
The Pacific Coast League's Las Vegas 51s are on the cusp of a new stadium deal and, thus, staying put. The same can't be said for the 51s' parent club, the New York Mets, who are on the verge of leaving Las Vegas for Syracuse. These significant Sin City baseball developments were in a span of 24 hours earlier this week.
On Monday came the news that the Mets are buying the International League's Syracuse Chiefs, with their Triple-A farm team playing there beginning in 2019 (the Chiefs' player development contract with the Washington Nationals runs through 2018). This move gives the Mets' Triple-A proximity to both their home of Citi Field and Double-A Binghamton and ends the organization's prolonged period of instability at Minor League Baseball's highest level. The Mets' 34-season affiliation with Norfolk concluded in 2006; since then, the team has been aligned with New Orleans (2007-08), Buffalo (2009-12) and Las Vegas.
The Mets' purchase of the Chiefs also helps secure the future of that organization. The Chiefs, community-owned since 1961, parted ways with longtime general John Simone following the 2013 season after years of operating with a severe deficit. Now helmed by Jason Smorol, the team reported a small profit last year. According to syracuse.com, some 4,000 shareholders hold a combined 15,857 shares of the Chiefs. It has not been disclosed how much will be received per share. The website also speculates that the team will see increased attendance as a result of a Mets affiliate playing in its home state.
"I think you're going to see a draw across all upstate," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference announcing the transaction. "I think you're going to see people from Buffalo to Albany coming to this stadium."
The Mets will become the fourth Major League team to own its Triple-A affiliate, joining the Braves (Gwinnett Braves), Red Sox (Pawtucket Red Sox) and Dodgers (Oklahoma City Dodgers). The move leaves the Nationals without a Triple-A affiliate in 2019; Las Vegas is a possibility, but there are 16 other Triple-A PDCs that expire at the end of 2018. In other words, stay tuned.
The Mets were affiliated with Las Vegas simply because they had no other place to go. In addition to lack of proximity, Las Vegas was an undesirable location due to the deteriorating state of 36-year-old Cashman Field, the oldest ballpark in the Pacific Coast League. After years of stop and start efforts to secure a new facility, the Howard Hughes Corporation announced plans for new "Las Vegas Ballpark" on Tuesday. The company purchased full ownership of the 51s earlier this year and the proposed ballpark will be located in the nearby, rapidly growing planned community of Summerlin.
Built on land purchased by Howard Hughes in 1952, Summerlin has seen its population nearly double to approximately 100,000 this century. The new 10,000-seat ballpark is slated to be built on a site just south of City National Arena, the practice facility of fledgling NHL franchise the Vegas Golden Knights. The proposed location is on land already owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation. A company representative told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that a 14-month construction timeline is anticipated. An early 2018 groundbreaking would see the ballpark ready in time for the 2019 season, in conjunction with the 51s having a new affiliate.
The Las Vegas ballpark announcement came in the wake of an $80 million naming rights agreement with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to be paid at a rate of $4 million per year between 2019-38. The agreement stipulates, according to the newspaper, that the authority will "be the dominant sponsor of the stadium and guarantee that 'Las Vegas' always be a part of the team name."
The company's news release said that Las Vegas Ballpark, to be designed by architectural firm HOK, "blends the distinct architectural style of the Summerlin community with the aviation legacy of Howard Hughes."
Action in the Appy League
Last month, just after the conclusion of the Minor League season, the Houston Astros abruptly announced they were ending their affiliation with the Appalachian League's Greeneville Astros. This temporarily reduced the number of teams in the Rookie-level circuit to nine, leading to memories of 2007's unbalanced nine-team schedule that stemmed from the league being unable to field a team in Pulaski.
Greeneville's Pioneer Park, built in 2004 on the campus of Tusculum College, is the newest ballpark in the Appy League. After the Greeneville territory reverted back to the league in the wake of Houston's departure, it didn't take long to find a new affiliate. On Oct, 4 it was announced that the Cincinnati Reds would operate in Greeneville, bringing the league back to 10 teams. The Reds, who also have a Rookie-level affiliate in the Billings Mustangs, join the Kansas City Royals as the only Major League organizations to have teams in both the Pioneer and Appalachian leagues.
Also of note in the Appy League: the Elizabethon City Council and Minnesota Twins agreed to a memorandum of understanding, stipulating that the city will spend approximately $1.5 million on upgrades to Joe O'Brien Field; the Twins will kick in approximately $500,000.
The affiliation between Minnesota and Elizabethton dates to 1974, with the Rookie-level Twins winning a staggering 11 league championships during that time. Prior to the memorandum of understanding, which was announced last month, there had been serious concern in Elizabethton that Minnesota would end the affiliation due to concerns with the quality of the facility.
Amarillo off and running
Amarillo is set to field a Texas League team in 2019 as part of a connected series of relocations involving Colorado Springs; Helena, Montana; and San Antonio. But, of course, a key prerequisite of fielding a team is having a ballpark. Late last month, the City of Amarillo and franchise owners Elmore Sports Group agreed on a 30-year lease for a facility set to open in 2019. Elmore Sports Group will pay $400,000 a year for use of the ballpark. Alex Fairly, who helped broker the deal, told amarillo.com he is "highly confident" that this is "the highest rent in the Texas League."