The relocation of the Huntsville Stars to Biloxi, Miss., took a significant step forward on Friday as the Southern League announced it has approved the sale of the franchise. To become final, the transaction also must be approved by Major League and Minor League Baseball.
The Stars are being sold by an ownership group led by Miles Prentice to one headed by Ken Young, owner of four Minor League franchises as well as Ovations Food Services. Prentice, along with several of the Stars' current minority shareholders, will retain shares in the new Biloxi-based ownership group.
Following Major and Minor League Baseball approval, the franchise will move to Biloxi and play its first season in the coastal Mississippi city in 2015. The team is slated to compete in a downtown stadium funded through $21 million in bonds and a $15 million portion of a BP grant awarded to the state of Mississippi in the wake of the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill. The Biloxi City Council approved the stadium in October, but details regarding groundbreaking and a subsequent construction timetable have not been finalized.
Young, reached by telephone on Friday afternoon, said that league approval is an "important step" and that he and his ownership group were "excited" but declined to speak about the deal's specifics until all the necessary approvals had been secured.
Barring any unforeseen developments, 2014 will be the Stars' 30th and final season in the Southern League. They have played in Joe Davis Stadium all three decades in the league.
"Leaving Huntsville at the end of the 2014 season will be bittersweet for our league due to our long association with former Stars owner and beloved former Southern League president Don Mincher," Southern League president Lori Webb said in a press release. "But as sad as we are to be leaving the Huntsville market, we are also excited as we look forward to opening a new ballpark in Biloxi and bringing professional baseball to that community."
Earlier this week, Stars general manager Buck Rogers said he and his staff plan to make the 2014 season a memorable one, regardless of the circumstances.
"If this is our last year, then we're going out with a bang," he said. "We're going to talk to everyone we can -- fans, sponsors, charities -- and tell them to make it out here. This might be their last chance. We're going to do the best we can because that's all you can do."
The Stars have been the Brewers' Double-A affiliate since 1999.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.