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Batting Around: Baseball abhors a vacuum

Advent of Yard Goats could prompt changes around Minors
November 24, 2015

In Minor League Baseball, as in all things, nothing occurs in a vacuum. One thing begets another, which begets another, which begets another.

Take, for example, Connecticut's New Britain Stadium. This facility hosted the Eastern League's New Britain Rock Cats from its 1996 inception through the end of the 2015 campaign. The Rock Cats have relocated to nearby Hartford -- where they will be known as the Yard Goats -- but New Britain Stadium will not sit empty.

Last month The Hartford Courant reported that the Camden (New Jersey) Riversharks (of the independent Atlantic League) had shut down after being unable to negotiate a new lease at their home of Campbell Field. The Riversharks will be replaced in the Atlantic League by a new organization that will play at New Britain Stadium. That team was recently christened the New Britain Bees.

And as for Campbell Field? As soon as the demise of the Riversharks was announced, multiple outlets reported that a New York-Penn League (NYPL) franchise might be interested in relocating to the 15-year-old waterfront facility. The Philadelphia Phillies would have to sign off on such a move, since Camden falls within their territory (The Phillies are currently affiliated with the NYPL's Williamsport Crosscutters, an agreement that runs through the conclusion of the 2016 season.)

No one who may be involved in such a move will publicly comment on it, not NYPL ownership groups nor the league nor the Phillies organization. The Philadelphia Business Journal recently reported, however, that "Camden County officials are talking with 'multiple' baseball clubs about taking over the lease at Campbell Field" and that "the county is in 'significant' discussions with one Major League Baseball-affiliated organization."

The relocation of a NYPL team to Camden would continue a league trend of shedding long-time underperforming markets in favor of new locations falling outside the circuit's traditional New York and Pennsylvania footprint (the NYPL currently includes teams in Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and Connecticut). The NYPL franchise most often mentioned as a relocation candidate is the Batavia Muckdogs, who average fewer than 1,000 fans per game at Dwyer Field and have been operated at a loss by the Rochester Red Wings since 2008. (The Red Wings acquire a 5 percent share in the club for each year that they operate the team, a percentage that cannot exceed 50 percent.)

If the New York-Penn League has a team move to Camden -- and this is certainly still in the "if" stage -- 2017 is the soonest it could happen.

Coming ... Maybe?

In October, commissioners in the city of Macon, Georgia, approved a $50,000 Minor League Baseball feasibility study. The study is being conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Brailsford and Dunlavey, whose representatives are evaluating potential stadium sites. These sites include Luther Williams Field, an 86-year-old facility that hosted the South Atlantic League's Macon Braves as recently as 2002.

"I think we have some of the best in the business to evaluate Macon and its potential to have a viable baseball team here," Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert told The Macon Telegraph.

• Read more on the business of Minor League Baseball on Ben's Biz Blog »

Similarly, the city of Dothan, Alabama, is in the midst of its own Minor League Baseball feasibility study. The Dothan Eagle reports that the desire of city officials is to "create an anchor attraction downtown," similar to what the Montgomery Biscuits achieved with Riverwalk Stadium.

Dothan, located in Southeast Alabama, has not hosted an affiliated Minor League team since the 1962 Dothan Phillies.

Take it up a notch?

A feasibility study of a different sort is underway in San Antonio. Centro San Antonio (a downtown business association) has hired the aforementioned Brailsford and Dunlavey to determine the merits of a new ballpark in center city. The San Antonio Missions are a charter member of the (now) Double-A Texas League; since 1994, the team has played at Wolff Stadium, located approximately eight miles from downtown San Antonio proper.

The San Antonio Business Journal reported that "[S]tadium supporters hope [the study] will trigger more serious discussions about the need for a venue that could accommodate a Triple-A team."

San Antonio, one of the fastest-growing cities in America, has a population of nearly 1.5 million. The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year, at which point city leaders will assess the funding mechanisms available to them.

Speaking of Texas ...

Rampant speculation time: If San Antonio moves to the Triple-A level, it could be replaced within the Texas League by Amarillo. On Election Day, Nov. 3, Amarillo voters approved spending $32 million to build a multi-purpose event venue (MPEV) that would include a ballpark. As the Amarillo Globe-News reported, "The vote won't guarantee anything because it was meant to measure public opinion of the plan. City councilmen will decide what to do with it."

Prior to the vote, Texas League president Tom Kayser didn't rule out Amarillo as a potential Texas League destination.

"The Amarillo market would certainly not be disqualified," Kayser told the Amarillo Globe-News. "A lot of things point to Amarillo as a market that may have some promise if there was an opportunity."

Complex groundbreaking

Ground has been broken in West Palm Beach County on a new Spring Training complex. Called "The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches," this approximately $135 million facility will open in 2017 and host both the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros. The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is located in close proximity to Jupiter's Roger Dean Stadium (Spring Training home of the Cardinals and Marlins) and Tradition Field in St. Lucie (Spring Training home of the Mets), thus ensuring the continued viability of Grapefruit League baseball in that region of the Sunshine State.

It remains to be seen whether the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches will host Florida State League baseball as well. Of the 12 teams in the FSL, all but one play in a Major League Spring Training facility.

The more things change ...

The last edition of this column reported that the Pawtucket Red Sox would terminate their campaign to build a stadium on a stretch of riverfront in Downtown Providence. On Nov. 9, PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino acknowledged that there's a chance the team could stay in Pawtucket after all.

"We think a new ballpark is important to fulfilling the vision we have for this franchise," said Lucchino, who went on to concede, "At this point, we've taken a position that we're open to everything, every possibility."

More from television station WWLP:

The team's new president, Charles Steinberg, said Monday that PawSox officials were committed to stay in Pawtucket for five more years, and the team is now focused on reconnecting with fans that were turned off when they were "jolted" by the sudden idea that the team would leave Pawtucket.

"We have a repair job to do here. There's work to be done," he said. "There were wounds that were suffered by fans here. We're acutely aware of that."

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