For the third consecutive season, a new Minor League Baseball stadium won't be ready in time for Opening Day.
In 2014, El Paso's Southwest University Park did not open until April 28. Thus, the Chihuahuas began the season with a 24-game road trip. The Biloxi Shuckers eclipsed that situation in 2015, beginning the season with a 54-game road trip while waiting for MGM Park to be completed.
This season, the delayed facility is Dunkin' Donuts Park, home of the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats. The Eastern League announced Tuesday that the opening date of the downtown ballpark, originally scheduled for April 7, is tentatively set for May 12. In the interim, the team will play its first 34 games on the road.
A Dunkin' Donuts Park groundbreaking ceremony was held last February, putting the facility on an accelerated 15-month construction schedule. But in late December, as most of the baseball world was embarking on an extended holiday break, news hit that the city-funded stadium was approximately $10 million over its projected $56 million budget. That has led to significant disagreements between the city of Hartford and Centerplan, the development company tasked with building the ballpark.
Centerplan maintains that design choices mandated by Hartford's stadium authority (a quasi-public group representing the city) made cost overruns inevitable. City leaders maintain they were caught unaware and misled by Centerplan throughout the process.
Tensions came to a head at a Jan. 5 public meeting at Hartford City Hall, with Centerplan CEO Robert Landino alleging, "The city's actions negated our ability to deliver the project on budget and on time." Stadium authority chairman I. Charles Mathews countered with the assertion that Centerplan never brought these issues to light over the course of a year. New mayor Luke Bronin, who inherited the situation from predecessor Pedro Segarra, vowed to "move swiftly" to resolve the it.
Eastern League president Joe McEacharn also was in attendance, confirming that the contingency plans released Tuesday were already being developed. The Yard Goats, a Colorado Rockies affiliate, relocated from nearby New Britain (where they were known as the Rock Cats), but a return to their old home of New Britain Stadium is out of the question since the independent Atlantic League Bees already have taken up residency.
Yard Goats owner Josh Solomon has sided with the city, telling the Hartford Courant on Jan. 8 that, "Obviously, I'm a tenant and the city is my landlord. But I cannot fairly point the finger of blame at the city."
Meanwhile, the Yard Goats front office is doing its best to prepare for an Opening Day of indeterminate provenance. What can you do but keep on tweeting?
B-Mets staying put
The long-term future of the Double-A Binghamton Mets has been in significant doubt in recent years. Most notably, in 2015, the Main Street Baseball ownership group tried to buy the team with the intent of relocating to Wilmington, Delaware. As part of that plan, the Class A Advanced Wilmington Blue Rocks, owned by Main Street, would have relocated to Kinston, North Carolina.
This game of Minor League dominoes did not come to fruition, for myriad reasons, and the B-Mets are now off of the market. On Dec. 28, the team announced it had been sold to Evans Street Baseball and that the Mets were "here to stay."
"New ownership has pledged to keep the team in Binghamton and expand the B-Mets' experience for families, students, businesses and the New York Mets," read the news release. "Evans Street Baseball is thrilled the management team will be kept in place."
Primary owner John Hughes said in the statement, "As a leader who takes an active, hands-on approach, I am committed to upgrading the fan experience, improving community outreach programs and establishing NYSEG Stadium as a community jewel."
The B-Mets have finished last in the Eastern League in attendance each of the last six seasons, averaging 2,766 per opening in 2015.
Suns keep shining in Hagerstown
Municipal Stadium, home of the Hagerstown Suns, is 85 years old. For each of the past five seasons, the Suns have finished last in the South Atlantic League in attendance. Ownership has repeatedly tried to obtain funding to build a stadium in one of multiple Virginia locations -- in Winchester, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania -- but these efforts have not come to fruition.
Therefore, the Suns -- Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals -- are going to remain in Hagerstown. Their Municipal Stadium lease expires at the end of the 2016 season, and the team and city are negotiating an extension.
"The Hagerstown Suns are looking forward to the 2016 season and, when negotiations are finalized, the Suns will look forward to playing here in 2017 and 2018," Suns director of communications Bob Bruchey told the local Daily Mail newspaper.
Prior to working for the Suns, Bruchey served as Hagerstown mayor. In that capacity, he championed efforts to build a new ballpark in the city.
That sinking feeling
The Double-A Arkansas Travelers are dealing with an unusual problem as they prepare for Opening Day: Sinkholes on the warning track. City workers are making repairs and exploring long-term solutions, though the rising waters of the nearby Arkansas River have made this difficult.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.