In the Carolina League, the pieces continue to fall into place.
In August, the news broke that the Carolina League, a Class A Advanced circuit, would be adding two teams. In a corresponding move, two California League teams -- the Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks -- were contracted. It was known from the start that one of the new Carolina League teams, a Texas Rangers affiliate, would play at 67-year-old Grainger Stadium in Kinston, North Carolina. Earlier this month, it was announced that that team would be known as the Down East Wood Ducks.
The other new Carolina League club now has a name and location attached to it as well: the Buies Creek Astros. This central North Carolina town, which has a population of approximately 3,000, is home to Campbell University. The Buies Creek Astros will play at the university's Jim Perry Stadium, which was built in the 1940s and is being renovated so it seats some 2,000 fans. The facility will be shared with Campbell University's Fighting Camels baseball team, with scheduling conflicts pushing two Astros' home series to the venue of the visiting team. The university will handle the day-to-day operations of both teams, with Greeneville Astros general manager David Lane assuming a supervisory role. The Greeneville and Buies Creek franchises are both owned by the parent Houston Astros.
Buies Creek is located approximately 35 miles north of Fayetteville, which is slated to become the team's long-term home. As reported by the Fayetteville Observer, the "city remains on schedule to consider approving a lease with the Houston Astros on Nov. 28." Previously, a memorandum of understanding with the team stipulated the city would build a new ballpark for approximately $33 million, with the Astros agreeing to a 30-year lease. The new facility won't be ready until the 2019 season, at the earliest.
Next season will be an anomaly, then, in that Minor League Baseball's three new franchises -- the Buies Creek Astros, Down East Wood Ducks and Florida Fire Frogs -- all will play in preexisting facilities. The one new stadium slated to open in 2017 is Hartford's Dunkin' Donuts Park, which was supposed to open in 2016 before getting bogged down in a miasma of funding disputes, construction stoppages and lawsuits. As reported in a previous edition of Batting Around, Arch Insurance took control of the Dunkin' Donuts Park construction site and tasked Whiting Turner Construction with completing the stadium in time for the Yard Goats' April 13 home opener.
Stability in San Bernardino
The California League, entering 2017 as a reduced eight-team circuit, got some good news earlier this month when it was announced that the Inland Empire 66ers renewed their stadium lease with the city of San Bernardino. As reported by the San Bernardino Sun, the new lease is for 10 years and replaces a 20-year agreement that was set to expire at the end of the calendar year. The ballpark, currently known as San Manuel Stadium, opened in 1996.
As part of the agreement, the team will be officially known as the "Inland Empire 66ers of San Bernardino." This mouthful of a moniker, clocking in at 32 characters, surpasses Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders as the longest team name in Minor League Baseball. The 66ers are the Class A Advanced affiliate of the Angels, who, as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, have the longest name in Major League Baseball.
Ponying Up in Binghamton
Binghamton's Eastern League franchise, previously known as the Mets, is now the Rumble Ponies. This rebrand was motivated, at least partly, by a desire to let the fan base know that the team would not be relocating (the Binghamton Mets had long been mentioned in rumors to that effect). A further indication of Binghamton's long-term commitment to Minor League Baseball occurred last week, with the announcement that NYSEG Stadium would receive $2.5 million in upgrades. The improvements include a new party deck, bullpens and a batting cage. Binghamton is the carousel capital of the world, a distinction that inspired the Rumble Ponies moniker, but no plans for a ballpark merry-go-round have been announced.
The Appalachian League's Elizabethton Twins have served as Minnesota's Rookie-level affiliate since their 1974 inception. The team has played for all of that time at Joe O'Brien Field, a no-frills facility operated by the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
This relationship is poised to continue as the Elizabethton City Council approved an estimated $3.2 million stadium upgrade project. As reported by WJHL news, a "task force of concerned citizens," as well as the city, is "still trying to figure out exactly how this will get paid for, hoping to fundraise as well as get some private donations." It is expected that the Minnesota organization will contribute to some degree.
The New York Yankees' Spring Training home of George M. Steinbrenner Field also houses the Florida State League's Tampa Yankees. The facility is undergoing a massive renovation project, and the New York Yankees website has the details.