Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Minor League Baseball In EG? Maybe.

Could the City of Elk Grove become the home to a minor league baseball franchise?

That question is now being kicked around with the City's recent plans and discussions about a new sports complex on 100 acres at Grantline and Waterman Roads on the southeast side of town.

The soccer community has jumped on board pushing the city to devote much of the parcel to a planned 12-field layout complete with a multi-purpose building and parking. (See previous story here and also in the EG Citizen)

The question is what to do with the southern portion of the parcel of land. Initial city plans call for a stadium that designers are calling "multi-use." Thus, the idea of using it for baseball has come up.

The City's Cal Ripken Youth leagues use Rau and Morse Parks along with a few other scattered fields at facilities operated by Cosumnes CSD. The town's Babe Ruth League uses Jones, Bartholomew, Case and Notolli Parks.

The high schools have their own fields for baseball, but ask any coach or player and this city lacks for a true baseball park. We're talking more than a playing surface, but bleachers for several hundred fans, quality snack bar and restroom facilities and a clubhouse for players.

The City now has open ears (and some financial resources) to at least seriously consider such a ballpark. But, the question is could a regular tenant, one that would bring revenue to basically pay for such a ballpark, be enticed to Elk Grove?

In a search for answers, I phoned the offices of the Advanced-A California League. Initially, I spoke with Matt Blaney, the league's director of operations (a story with Blaney is coming in the Citizen soon). He mentioned a big interest in the possibility of placing a club in Elk Grove. The Cal League needs to re-locate one of its ten teams and so news Elk Grove may build a ballpark perked his interest.
The Advanced-A California League
has ten franchises in the state.

On Tuesday, the president of the California League, Charlie Blaney phoned me. He, too, wanted to know more about what Elk Grove might be doing.

Blaney says the city of Rancho Cucamonga has done something like what Elk Grove is currently discussing.

"They've built baseball and soccer fields with a baseball stadium as the main anchor, but the way these things are successfully done and sold to the community is the multi-purpose aspect of it," he explained. "If you need your company picnic, your fun run, you car show, your gem show, your wedding reception, then you have your 70 (professional) baseball dates, your high school and American Legion games and so on to use it on a year-round basis."

"If you can use it 200 days out of 365 days then you'll have the return on investment to justify the initial expenditure, whoever pays for that. It's then a community hub, a centerpiece. That's how it's successful."

Now, as far as placing a California League team in Elk Grove, that could be an issue, he pointed out.

"Where I would say it is a possibility, I wouldn't say it is a probability," Blaney said. "A lot of hurdles would need to be overcome before this could happen."

The reason is that in baseball circles territorial rights are a big thing. Elk Grove' proximity to Raley Field in West Sacramento, home of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, might blow the minor league idea right out of the water before it sets sail.

"Before anything could be done at all approvals need to be acquired from the teams that would have territorial jurisdiction over Sacramento County," Blaney explained.

He believes not only the River Cats, but the Pacific Coast League and the Oakland A's may all have to approve the idea of pro ball in Elk Grove.

On top of that the design of the facility would need to be looked at.

"There is a standard for the minor leagues where dugouts, the kind of field house, locker room facilities, press box facilities and that sort of thing is looked at," Blaney said.

A stadium with the capacity of three- to four-thousand is generally needed, too, he said.

"Then you do outfield burms and grass areas where when you do larger nights, like Fourth of July fireworks and that sort of thing, you can expand the capability from 4,000 to 6,000," Blaney said.

Blane said group of investors or families own each of the current Cal League franchises, in Lancaster, Visalia, San Jose, Stockton, Rancho Cucamonga, Lake Elsinore, Modesto, Bakersfield, San Bernardino and Adelanto. Players are provided by the affiliated Major League Baseball clubs.

"Their obligation in the community is to find a stadium, lease a stadium, pay rent and operate the stadium on a year-round basis," Blaney said. "The Major League club pays the salaries for the players and coaches for that team."

Interestingly, the Cal League has a rule that a team cannot have more than two players with more than six years of pro baseball experience.

"The idea is that the players, like a Mike Trout, are coming up through the minor league system and the league isn't clogged with a bunch of journeyman minor league players," Blaney said.

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