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Batting Around: Suns set on Bragan era

Longtime family owners will sell Jacksonville ballclub in September
March 13, 2015

Peter Bragan, a successful Birmingham-based automobile dealer, bought the Jacksonville Suns in 1984 and served as the team's chairman of the board until his death in 2012. It was always a family affair for Bragan. His wife, Mary Frances, became the team's "Madame Chairman" while son Peter "Pedro" Jr. has spent the last three decades as the Suns general manager and, currently, president.

But 2015 will mark the Bragan family's swan song with news that the Suns (Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins) have been sold to Ken Babby. The sale, which was announced Monday and still needs formal approvals from Major and Minor League Baseball, is not expected to close until September.

Babby, 35, entered the world of Minor League Baseball via his purchase of the Akron Aeros in Oct. 2012. Prior to the 2014 season, he rechristened the team the "RubberDucks," with this rebranding occurring in conjunction with a slew of improvements to the team's home of Canal Park.

"I'm not sure how you follow the Bragan family in Jacksonville," said Babby, as quoted on "They've made a mission of putting the fan first, to make sure every fan who walks to the game is treated with respect, care and love for those incredible couple of hours they spend in the ballpark. Our job is to continue that great tradition."

"Ken is about the age I was when Daddy bought the team," said Bragan, via a Suns press release. "He has the youth, enthusiasm and smarts to carry on the great tradition of affordable family fun that Daddy started so long ago."

The Suns have announced a season-long "Pedro's Last Dance" promotion, featuring giveaways and events that highlight the Bragan family's Jacksonville legacy. Pedro, for his part, is taking his eponymous promotion quite literally:

More changing of the guards

The Suns weren't the only team to change hands (or come to the verge of changing hands) this month.

In what was quite possibly the biggest news story of the offseason thus far, the Pawtucket Red Sox were sold to a 10-member ownership group -- headed by Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino and Rhode Island lawyer James Skeffington -- that plans to move the team to a new downtown ballpark in neighboring Providence. The news has resulted in much consternation from the Pawtucket faithful, who lament the imminent loss of historic McCoy Field. But the funding mechanisms for this proposed new ballpark have yet to be determined. From my piece:

"[Skeffington said] that the new ownership group is doing its 'due diligence' on a potential riverfront urban site that would include visibility from the highway, access to public transportation, proximity to Providence's business community, premier player amenities and training facilities and the ability to host an array of non-baseball events. He cited the 2017 season as the earliest possible opening date for such a facility, but said that 2018 was 'more likely.'"

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Mandalay Baseball's half-ownership of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders has been sold to SWB Investors LLC, which, as its name implies, features many locally connected individuals. These 21 local investors were introduced to the fans at a Feb. 20 "unveiling" that featured New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. The parent-club Yankees retain their half share of the franchise.

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In recent months, Mandalay Baseball has sold off the RailRiders, Dayton Dragons, Oklahoma City RedHawks (now the Dodgers) and the Frisco RoughRiders. The only team that remains in its portfolio is the Erie SeaWolves, but this will probably change soon. On March 1, Ed Palatella of reported the following:

The sale of the Erie SeaWolves is nearly complete, and the broker in the deal said the owner-to-be is interested in seeing the Minor League Baseball team thrive in Erie.

"I think the people in Erie will be very pleased with his credentials and his approach and his interest to make the team successful there," said the broker, Randy Vataha, of Florida.

He declined to identify the buyer, but that person is believed to be from outside Erie. ... He said the parties are completing paperwork to prepare to close the deal in several weeks.

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On Feb. 25, the Harrisburg Senators announced that Mark Butler is now the team's majority owner. Butler, the president and CEO of Ollie's Bargain Outlet, lives in the area. He replaces former majority owner Michael Reinsdorf (Chicago Bulls president and CEO), who retains a minority share.

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The sale of the Louisville Bats to MC Sports Acquisition is now official. This group, headed by Stuart and Jerry Katzoff, also owns the Bowling Green Hot Rods and the Reno Aces. The previous ownership group, which consisted of six individuals, retains a minority share.

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Finally, the Chattanooga Lookouts are officially under new ownership. The new ownership group, which includes some 15 locally based individuals, is headed by Jason Freier of Hardball Capital. Freier also owns the Fort Wayne TinCaps and Savannah Sand Gnats; the latter club is a strong possibility to move to Columbia, South Carolina, in 2016.

Under construction

Five Minor League ballparks are currently in the process of being built. Facilities in Nashville, Biloxi and Morgantown are slated to open this season, while 2016 is the expected completion date in Columbia and Hartford. Let's break it down:

Biloxi: Last month's edition of this column reported that the Shuckers' home of MGM Park will not open until (at least) June 6. Despite some city council posturing, this situation remains the same.

Nashville: First Tennessee Park, which is replacing the Sounds' longtime home of Greer Stadium, is scheduled to be ready in time for the club's home opener on April 17.

Morgantown: Monongalia County Ballpark, which will host the West Virginia Black Bears as well as the West Virginia University baseball team, is a month behind schedule and now won't open until April 10 at the earliest. This shouldn't affect the Black Bears, who do not begin their season until June.

Columbia: Columbia Pro Ball has released new renderings of Spirit Communications Park, and the team is now taking luxury suite reservations.

Hartford: Construction on this facility, which will host the relocating New Britain Rock Cats, began last month. Meanwhile, Hartford's "Name the Team" contest has been narrowed down to five finalists.

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