Welcome to Batting Around, a biweekly look at local off-the-field news from around the country. If you have an item to contribute for potential inclusion in a future edition, please email Ben Hill.
On Monday, after years of delays and false starts, the Nashville Sounds (Milwaukee's Triple-A affiliate) achieved what many had come to believe was impossible: They broke ground on a new stadium. The facility, slated to open in time for the 2015 season and located in the same North Nashville neighborhood where old Sulphur Dell ballpark once stood, will be the anchor of a major public-private development project between the Sounds and the City of Nashville.
Therefore, 2014 will be the Sounds' 37th and final season at Greer Stadium. Though that ballpark is (more than) a bit dilapidated, it is still a charming place to see a game, and fans who are able to do so are advised to visit while they still can.
As reported in the last edition of this column (which, confusingly, was also the first edition), the Southern League recently approved the sale of the Double-A Huntsville Stars to a Biloxi-based ownership group. On Jan. 23, the principal members of this ownership group joined dignitaries such as Biloxi mayor A.J. Holloway and Mississippi governor Phil Bryant for the groundbreaking of what will be called MGM Park, located on land owned by the Beau Rivage Casino. In conjunction with the ceremony, the fledgling franchise unveiled a website (baseballbiloxi.com) and Twitter account (@baseballbiloxi) as well as a rudimentary "Biloxi Baseball" logo modeled after their current parent club, the Brewers. MGM Park is scheduled to open in time for the 2015 season.
Reaching the finish line
On the other end of the stadium construction equation are the El Paso Chihuahuas. The Padres' Triple-A affiliate conducted a "topping out" ceremony Monday afternoon after positioning the final steel beam needed to complete the facility. This milestone came a week after construction crews installed a 13-ton bridge that will connect two buildings on ballpark grounds. From the bridge, fans will be able to see both the action on the field as well as neighboring Juarez, Mexico.
"I don't know of any other ballpark where you can look to one side and see one country and then look to the other side and see a completely different country," Chihuahuas general manager Brad Taylor told the El Paso Times.
Photos can be seen here.
The saga continues
In the previous edition of Batting Around, it was noted that the City of Columbia, S.C., was exploring the possibility of building a ballpark to house a South Atlantic or Carolina League team. Jason Freier, owner of the Fort Wayne TinCaps and Savannah Sand Gnats, had guaranteed city officials that he would be able to place a team in the city if a ballpark was built.
On Jan. 16, a reportedly "hostile" crowd of about 60 people attended a forum organized by two city council members who oppose stadium funding. Per South Carolina's The State:
Speaker after speaker questioned nearly every aspect of the feasibility study by Brailsford & Dunlavey Inc., which concluded that Columbia is ripe for [Minor League Baseball] and a stadium that could be used for a range of public events year-round.
Hostilities notwithstanding, five days later, Columbia City Council voted 5-2 to open formal negotiations with Freier. The State reported:
Freier said that his contract with Columbia would be modeled off the one he has with Fort Wayne, Ind., where his company pays all operating and short-term maintenance costs after contributing $5.5 million in up-front money to build what he calls a state-of-the-art, year-round facility.
Building a new ballpark is all well and good, but what do you do with the old ones that are left behind? That's been a popular topic in Eugene, Ore., of late, as a debate is raging over the future of Civic Stadium. Built in 1938 and home of the Eugene Emeralds from 1969 through 2009, the Eugene School District-owned facility has fallen into a state of disrepair. There are several options, each being floated by entities with conflicting agendas: Retail giant Fred Meyer wants to build a store, the YMCA wants to build a new family center on the property, and a non-profit group with the self-explanatory name "Save Civic Stadium" wants to see it restored as a sports facility.
Supporters of the latter two initiatives conducted separate rallies on Jan. 19, and the merits of all three were debated during Jan. 22's Eugene City Council meeting.