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Batting Around: Building Main Street

Ownership group adds Billings, Wilmington to growing MiLB portfolio
January 5, 2015

Welcome to Batting Around, a monthly curation and analysis of Minor League baseball off-the-field news from around the country, locally sourced whenever possible. If you have an item to contribute for inclusion in a future edition, please email Ben Hill.

Main Street, USA

Dave Heller, a Democratic party campaign strategist, is president and CEO of the Main Street Baseball ownership group. He and partner Bob Herrfeldt entered the world of Minor League Baseball with the purchase of the Midwest League's Quad Cities River Bandits in 2007. Three years later, Main Street Baseball acquired the High Desert Mavericks of the California League.

In the last month, however, Main Street Baseball's portfolio has doubled in size. On Dec. 5, it was announced that the group had acquired the Billings Mustangs, a Pioneer League team that had been owned by a community consortium consisting of 91 groups and individuals. Less than two weeks later, Main Street Baseball purchased the Carolina League's Wilmington Blue Rocks. Clark Minker, son of Wilmington baseball icon Matt Minker, will serve as the organization's managing partner. Main Street Baseball now owns an affiliated club in each of the United States' four time zones; preliminary research indicates that is a first.

"For a kid who grew up an hour away in Baltimore, owning one of the premier teams in the region is a dream come true," Heller said at the news conference announcing the Blue Rocks' sale. "To do it with a great friend like Clark makes it all the more special. He and I have big plans to take this great club to even higher heights."

In Quad Cities, Main Street Baseball has developed a reputation for aggressively making improvements to 83-year-old Modern Woodmen Park. Heller has espoused a "park within the park" philosophy, and the stadium now boasts Minor League Baseball's only Ferris Wheel. A similar strategy will be employed at Wilmington's Frawley Stadium, with Wilmington radio station WDDE reporting that "possible stadium changes include creating a concourse that wraps completely around the stadium and the addition of an iconic feature -- such as a replica of the Kalmar Nyckel."

Chattanooga changing hands, staying put

The Chattanooga Lookouts have been sold to Hardball Capital, pending approval by Minor and Major League Baseball. As reported previously in this column, Hardball Capital will be relocating a team to Columbia, South Carolina, for the 2016 season. The Lookouts are almost certainly staying put, however, with Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke remarking to local TV station WRCB that "the new owners understand that Chattanooga is a great place to do business, and I'm excited to hear they intend to keep the team here."

Hardball Capital also owns the Fort Wayne TinCaps and Savannah Sand Gnats; the latter franchise has long been considered the most likely candidate to relocate to Columbia.

Speaking of Columbia…

The Minor League team relocating to Columbia has yet to be announced, but what has been announced is the name of the stadium that the team will call home: Spirit Communications Park. The facility was designed by Populous, and a groundbreaking ceremony will be held on Tuesday.

Building in Biloxi

Construction crews in Biloxi are working overtime as they race to complete MGM Park in advance of the 2015 season. The stadium will host the Biloxi Shuckers, a Southern League team relocating from Huntsville, Alabama. Sections of the seating bowl are in place, and installation of the light towers has begun. The Shuckers' home opener is scheduled for April 20, but there remains a distinct possibility that the stadium will not be ready. If that's the case, then the team will open the campaign in their old home of Huntsville. The specifics regarding this situation are yet to be determined.

"We're still waiting to get through the first of the year and about 60 to 90 days out," Shuckers co-owner Tim Bennett said, as quoted in the Sun Herald.

Joy in Mud Hensville

The Toledo Mud Hens' home of Fifth Third Field, located in the city's Warehouse District, was built with the intent of spurring development in the region. The "Hensville" revitalization project is in line with that goal, as the team is seeking to renovate three buildings along the right field side of the stadium. The estimated cost of the project is $18.8 million, with nearly $4 million coming courtesy of Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits.

"We look forward to breaking ground in early 2015 and restoring these long vacant buildings into vibrant and exciting parts of Toledo's historic Warehouse District," Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli said in a statement.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

The National Defense Authorization Act was passed by the House and Senate, then signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 19. This sprawling piece of legislation, which dictates the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense, contained a provision dedicated to preserving Hinchcliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey. The provision was added by Democratic congressman Bill Pascrell Jr.; attaching it to the NDAA insured it would clear the necessary congressional hurdles.

Hinchcliffe Stadium, which opened in 1932, is most famous for being the home of the Negro League's Black Yankees. Paterson native Larry Doby played there as a high school student in the early 1940s, in advance of breaking the American League color barrier in 1947.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.