Next year will mark the 30th season in which the Huntsville Stars have been a member of the 10-team Double-A Southern League. But could it be their last?
Huntsville television station WHNT, citing a league source, reported on Wednesday evening that the league's owners, meeting via teleconference, voted to approve a proposed move to Biloxi, Miss.
This would be a key step toward allowing Stars owner Miles Prentice to sell the team to an ownership group headed by veteran executive Ken Young, founder of Ovations Food Services and current owner of four Minor League teams. Following the sale the franchise would move to Biloxi for the 2015 season, playing in a downtown stadium funded via $21 million in bonds and $15 million of a BP grant awarded to the state in the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010.
Rumors involving the above scenario have swirled for months, picking up intensity during last week's Winter Meetings as the league held closed-door meetings to discuss the issue. Despite Wednesday's reports, there has been no official announcement. Southern League president Lori Webb, reached on Thursday morning, said she "was not at liberty to give out any statement or comment right now" and would not confirm or deny that a vote on the issue had even taken place.
The Stars have played at Joe Davis Stadium for the entirety of their existence, a city-owned facility and the Southern League's oldest. Despite the lack of an official announcement, Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle released a statement Wednesday acknowledging that the 2014 season would likely be the Stars' last in that city. Nonetheless, optimism remains.
"We have talked to baseball officials and are confident the City will have opportunities to bring in a new Minor League Baseball team to Huntsville," said Battle in the statement. "With the right ownership and community partnership, we know baseball will thrive in Huntsville."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.