Minor League Parks, Stripped of America’s Pastime, Await New Fates


The artwork of elementary school students decorates the office windows behind home plate at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island. One encourages residents not to litter. Another drawing, of the stadium’s infamous Staten Island pizza rat mascot, reads: “Better Days Are Coming!”

But empty liquor bottles litter the nearby concourse, and dandelions and other weeds grow in the outfield.

For the first time in 20 years, the ballpark is not the home of the Staten Island Yankees. In fact, nothing is happening at the city-owned stadium, which covers about six acres and offers waterfront views of Lower Manhattan.

Many in Staten Island hope better days are coming soon. Like dozens of other places around the country, New York will have to decide to what extent that future includes baseball.

For the past decade, Mr. Aleshire advocated to demolish the 91-year-old Municipal Stadium — the former home of the Hagerstown Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals — and replace it with an indoor facility that could host a wider variety of sports, like soccer and flag football.

“They’re economic drivers bringing people to restaurants and hotels,” Mr. Aleshire said. “There’s thousands of families that go to these venues for tournaments.” He added that the estimated $100,000 cost to demolish Municipal Stadium was far less than the $1 million or so the ballpark needed in deferred maintenance.

Despite being dumped by Major League Baseball, some in Hagerstown and other cities remain fond of the idea of hosting a baseball team. Much to the delight of Hagerstown’s pro-baseball contingent, Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation enabling the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue almost $60 million in bonds to finance a new stadium in Hagerstown.

The primary use would be minor league baseball, most likely in the independent Atlantic League. Founded in 1998, the league is most notable as a domain for former major leaguers past their prime.

Despite indicators that America’s pastime might not be the best fit in Staten Island, the New York mayor’s office said in April that it wanted baseball as a primary focus at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. The city’s economic development corporation, which oversees the property, has already approved $567,873 to cover recent utility and maintenance costs. The city has pledged over $8 million to upgrade the facility.

“It definitely needs more than tender loving care; it’s 20 years old,” said James Oddo, the Staten Island borough president. “It seems some of the maintenance was kicked down the road.”

The influx of city cash would also allow for installation of a new field that could withstand the heavy, repetitive trampling by cleats that grass outfields cannot. An artificial surface could also better endure events like concerts. Rugby and soccer have been discussed as other pro sports that could be played at the ballpark, and Mr. Oddo said removing seats and reconfiguring the outfield wall was a possibility during renovations.

Mr. Reichard of Ballpark Digest estimated that covering a field in synthetic turf could cost up to $1 million. He added a new seat costs about $110 plus installation (although used seats in good condition can be resold). The total for new seating six years ago at McCormick Field in Asheville, N.C., came to about $250,000.

“All of our dreams and ambitions of a facility that’s fully alive are predicated on synthetic turf,” Mr. Oddo said.

The Staten Island Yankees also relinquished valuable parking space for those projects, which were intended to attract tourists from Manhattan.

Several cities are exploring similar entertainment complexes to reinvigorate local interest in minor league baseball. A proposed $142 million site in Knoxville, Tenn., would include a new $65 million ballpark surrounded by retail and residential offerings.

Building such facilities does not come without risk. When Major League Baseball reshaped the minor leagues, teams became locked into affiliations for only 10 years, seemingly giving minor league teams that were left out a window to refurbish their stadiums in case an availability opened up a decade later.

The 10-year deals could also give major league clubs leverage to demand more upgrades from current partners. Major League Baseball has already ordered the minor league team in Eugene, Ore., to build a new stadium or the franchise will be relocated by 2025.

Community leaders in Lancaster, Calif., which lost the Class A Lancaster Jethawks after 25 years, are less keen on jumping through such hoops. The city’s parks department, which owns Lancaster Stadium, is working with an architectural firm to develop “very high-level conceptual designs,” said Sonya Patterson, director of parks, arts, recreation and community services in Lancaster.

A multipurpose events center for concerts, an indoor gymnasium and an aquatics center are all possible new uses at the site, she said.

“That was a big loss for us,” Ms. Patterson said. “But once we got that notice, we then looked to that horizon and thought about what an extraordinary opportunity this is for the city to reimagine this space.”



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