As 2017 begins, there are plenty of potential Minor League stadium developments to keep an eye on. This edition of Batting Around, like all of the editions that preceded it, provides a concise, locally sourced roundup of recent notable developments.
Wichita wrangling -- The city of Wichita, Kansas, last hosted affiliated professional baseball in the form of the Wichita Wranglers. That Texas League entity played at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, which is now 82 years old. This facility is highly unlikely to once again attract a Minor League Baseball club, and now the city is floating the idea of financing a new ballpark. Per Kansas.com, this ballpark would be built in Wichita's West Bank neighborhood at a cost of $40-60 million.
This is all in the preliminary stages, but should Wichita build a ballpark, its most likely occupant would be the Texas League's San Antonio Missions. While nothing is currently on the horizon, San Antonio has considered building a new Triple-A ballpark that would then house the relocated Colorado Springs Sky Sox. This would free the Missions to move to Wichita.
Malden mulling options -- Another city currently angling for Minor League Baseball is Malden, Massachusetts, which has never hosted an affiliated team. The Boston Globe reported last month that the city is targeting a 2019 opening date for a privately funded stadium and that Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner has permitted the city to seek an affiliated franchise. (Malden's WickedLocal.com points out that "the permission to explore does not imply approval of moving a team to Malden, which would need to be approved separately.")
Thus far, there has been no speculation regarding what Minor League teams would be available to relocate to Malden. The city is located seven miles north of Boston and boasts a population of approximately 60,000.
Progress in Kannapolis -- The city of Kannapolis, North Carolina, has made significant headway toward its goal of building a new stadium for the Intimidators. The local Independent-Tribune reported in December that the city had "approved spending $2.4 million on architectural designs for a downtown sports and entertainment venue." Architectural firm Populous has been hired to oversee the project, and the city is currently aiming to break ground in July in order to complete the facility in time for the 2019 season.
The Intimidators, a South Atlantic League franchise, currently play in 22-year-old Intimidators Stadium.
Fayetteville, officially -- Much has been written in this column about the two-team expansion of the Carolina League (and the corresponding retraction of the California League). From the beginning of this protracted process, Fayetteville, North Carolina, had been mentioned as the eventual destination of one of these two new Carolina League teams. Now it's official as last month the Houston Astros signed a 30-year ballpark lease agreement with the city of Fayetteville. This ballpark is slated to open in 2019. In the interim, Houston's Carolina League affiliate will play at Campbell University's Jim Perry Stadium in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Renovations are currently underway at Jim Perry Stadium as the university prepares to host an affiliated team for the first time.
E-Twins update -- The Appalachian League's Elizabethton Twins have been Minnesota's Rookie-level affiliate since the 1974 season, and that relationship will continue in 2017. Beyond that, the future is unclear. Last month the Johnson City Press quoted an email from Minnesota director of Minor League operations Brad Steil, who wrote that "this one-year extension [for the 2017 season] of our arrangement is only a temporary solution and is not intended to be a commitment to remain in Elizabethton into the future."
At issue is the condition of Elizabethton's Joe O'Brien Field, which opened in advance of the Twins' inaugural 1974 season. The Elizabethton City Council approved $3.2 million in upgrades in November, but funding has yet to be secured. Elizabethton mayor Curt Alexander told the Johnson City Press that he was "pleasantly surprised" by the news as it will "allow us the time we need to develop a long-range plan."
Bristol beginnings -- The Bristol Pirates, in conjunction with the city of Bristol, Tennessee, have commissioned a feasibility study regarding possible locations for a new stadium. The Pirates currently play at 48-year-old Boyce Cox Field, which is in need of a variety of repairs and upgrades in order to be a viable long-term option. Boyce Cox Field is across the state line in Bristol, Virginia; that municipality did not take part in the study. Three potential new locations for the Pirates have been identified, one of which would be in close proximity to the Bristol Speedway.
California markets keep on -- The California League is now down to eight teams, having lost the Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks (located in Adelanto, California). Both markets will continue to host professional baseball, however, via the independent Pecos League. Bakersfield's Sam Lynn Stadium will be the home of the Train Robbers, while Adelanto Stadium is now the domain of the High Desert Yardbirds.