The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees may not actually play in Scranton or Wilkes-Barre, Pa., but in 2012, that will be more than fodder for local humor.
The Yankees' Triple-A affiliate is looking for a temporary new home for the 2012 season after the International League approved the club's plan for a $40 million renovation of the 22-year-old PNC Field.
The renovation will be partly funded by $25 million in state grants from Pennsylvania, along with money from the sale of the club to the New York Yankees and Mandalay Baseball. The team, which plays in Moosic, Pa., is currently owned by Lackawanna County Multi-Purpose Stadium Authority; the sale of the team is believed to be for $14.6 million and would extend the Yankees' lease for another 30 years. The Yankees and Mandalay currently operate the team, but do not yet own it.
The International League, one of two Triple-A circuits in Minor League Baseball, has not revealed any potential hosts for the Yankees next season, although several possibilities seem likely.
"[The decision] has to be made by Sept. 20," said International League president Randy Mobley. "I would expect it to be sooner than that, but that's the deadline."
Staten Island's Richmond County Bank Ballpark, which boasts a 7,171-seat capacity and is also owned by the Yankees and Mandalay, could be a candidate. The park's tenants, the Staten Island Yankees, don't begin play until late June, which could ease scheduling and travel issues for both clubs for much of the season. It's also surrounded by millions of Yankees fans in the Tri-State area and offers picturesque views of lower Manhattan.
"That's the kind of situation that is amongst those being looked at," Mobley said.
The Yankees' Spring Training and Florida State League complex in Tampa, Fla., is likely not an option, Mobley said. He also hinted that although it has been considered, Ottawa would present some problems (Ottawa previously hosted the Phillies' Triple-A club through 2007).
Nearby Lehigh Valley, home of the Phillies' Triple-A club in Allentown, Pa., has also been mentioned as a candidate, although Mobley said the schedule for next year has already been put in place, so juggling two games on the same date could be tough.
"It would be adjusting to what's in place," Mobley said.
"It certainly creates its problems, as does just about any scenario -- it creates some issues," Mobley said of Lehigh Valley. "We'll evaluate which creates the fewest amount. It's reasonable to think places that are close by are certainly part of the discussion."
Mobley said the ideal location would be "something that created the least amount of inconvenience for players on that club and as well as the other 13 teams in terms of traveling."
He also hinted the Yankees could potentially play their games at multiple stadiums too.
"I think they'll play their games at another venue or other venues during next season," he said.
Such a scenario isn't unprecedented in baseball -- the Triple-A Tucson Padres played several games this year at the Padres' Class A affiliate in Fort Wayne, Ind. The Montreal Expos played parts of their final seasons in Montreal and Puerto Rico.
Mobley said even non-affiliated ballparks have been considered.
"Anything and everything has been on the table," he said. "We haven't shied away."
In terms of geographical convenience for New York, there are several locations that could be good candidates. Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo all currently host Triple-A teams in New York. Hudson Valley's Dutchess Stadium is about an hour north of New York City and would be mostly vacant until June. The Yankees' Double-A affiliate in Trenton, N.J., is nearby, as is a new independent league ballpark that opened this summer in Ramapo, N.Y., about 40 minutes from the Bronx.
"Geography is a factor," Mobley said, "[although] Ottawa has been part of the discussion."
PNC Field, which has already undergone a series of renovations over the years to both the field and seating bowl, ranks second-lowest in average attendance in the International League, with 4,531 fans coming out to the stadium. The ballpark initially had more than 11,000 seats, thanks to an upper deck, when the venue was known as Lackawanna County Stadium. It opened on April 26, 1989, and cost $25 million to build.
Some of the orange upper deck seating has been removed and covered by tarps, similar to what the Marlins and A's have done. The artificial surface was ripped up and replaced by a new grass field when the Yankees moved there in 2007.
The park, which currently holds 10,310, was overflowing with fans last week when Yankees All-Star Alex Rodriguez played a pair of rehab games for the team. Mobley said he's been to the park numerous times and has seen the need for a renovation.
"There's significant general deterioration of the facility in virtually all aspects," he said. "The only things left untouched will be the field and home clubhouse. Other than that, it'll be a new facility. They've been working on this [plan] for the last many, many months, trying to get to this point."
"It assures that the team will be here for a long time to come and also will give all our fans in the region state-of-the-art amenities," Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees president Kristen Rose said earlier in the year to Baseball America. "You only have to look at other new or renovated ballparks to see what happens when there are state-of-the-art amenities and different things to attract fans. Things have changed a lot in the 22 years since [PNC Field] was built. We are looking forward to offer what is now a model Triple-A ballpark to our fans."