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Essay/Term paper: Minor league baseball: boom or bust to communities?

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Minor League Baseball: Boom or Bust to Communities?

Despite the occasional disappointment, minor league baseball provides
many communities with economic development and an improved quality of life.
Communities as small as Elizabethtown, Tennessee or as large as Phoenix, Arizona
have shared the common bond of being the homes of major league farm teams. This
is referred to as the National Association of Professional Baseball, or more
commonly known as the "minor leagues." As the popularity of major league
baseball seems to be decreasing due to the recent player strike, free agency,
and anti-trust labor laws, minor league baseball has generated excitement that
can only be associated with baseball in the good old days. This excitement is a
purity of spirit which the majors no longer possess. "It is baseball in its
simplest form-- just ball, bats, gloves, and lifelong dreams. The parks are
generally small, the players, hardworking young men whom local fans are likely
to run into the next day at the mall or maybe the corner bar. A family of four
can see a game, eat dinner--maybe even pick up a souvenir or two--without having
to consider a second mortgage. No lockouts, no holdouts, no five-dollar beers,
and the umpire is the only one who can call a strike. "Just the national
pastime, played the game it is," says one editor of The Minor League Baseball
There are currently 156 teams that are part of the National Association
of Professional Baseball. This number will grow in the next few years with the
addition of two expansion teams at the major league level. There have also been
a number of independent leagues formed which are said to be the "future of minor
league baseball." The success of these teams have shown how the value of these
franchises have grown over the past ten years. In the past, class AAA teams
would sell for three hundred thousand dollars while a smaller class A team went
for fifty thousand. Today the class AAA teams are being sold for as high as
five million dollars while class A teams are going for around one million. The
best example of the fact that franchises have grown in value over the years is
the Reading Phillies. Joe Buzas, a minor league baseball entrepreneur, has
owned and operated twelve minor league teams in seventeen cities since 1956. In
1976, Buzas bought the Reading Phillies franchise for $1. Ten years later in
1986 he sold it for $1,000,000.
The addition of minor league baseball to communities can provide many
benefits. The greatest benefit is the overall economic lift that minor league
baseball brings to a community. Minor league baseball provides additional jobs.
Initially, local individuals build the stadium. This project takes from six
months to a year. An average of 15 full-time and 125 part-time individuals
ranging in age from high school students to older, retirees are employed at the
The stadium will be beneficial if it's useful for the baseball fan as
well as any resident. For approximately seventy nights a year, a stadium will
provide an opportunity for the baseball fan to view professional baseball up
close, to identify future stars and to follow their careers, and to get a
glimpse of current major league players who occasionally are assigned to a minor
league team for rehabilitation purposes or who are in the last stages of their
career. The stadium, however, should be more than that. It should be a
community facility that provides many types of recreational resources. A new
stadium is capital improvement and should have a life of more than two decades.
If the stadium and team are to be evaluated as a true community resource, they
must serve the entire community. If a stadium is utilized during the winter
months, when baseball is not played, not only will a community's quality of life
be enhanced, but the economic development function of the stadium will be
maximized as well.
The addition of minor league baseball to an area can be an important
tool in revitalizing an area. The best example that comes to mind is the
Harrisburg Senators located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1980, after three
decades of decline, Harrisburg was one of the most distressed cities in the
nation. It had lost its credit rating and faced bankruptcy. By 1988, under
the leadership of Mayor Stephen Reed, Harrisburg had become the leading city in
economic growth among those with a population 50,000-75,000. The turn around
of the city gained recognition when Harrisburg was named the second best
investment city in eastern United States. Harrisburg officials have identified
several benefits that the city has derived from the presence of the Harrisburg
Senators. The most important benefit has been the redevelopment of City Island.
City Island was Reed's announced site for a future stadium. The mayor
anticipated using the stadium as the centerpiece for the redevelopment of City
Island. The mayor viewed the stadium as the anchor for an economic development
project that would be highly visible and would help attract large crowds of
people to the island. This would lead in making other events on the island more
feasible. Reeds dream became a reality in1986, when they began construction of
Riverside Stadium on City Island. In March 1987, the Pittsburgh Pirates class
AA team began play in Harrisburg. Harrisburg's inaugural season was nothing
short of spectacular as the Senators won the Eastern League championship and
attracted 223,000 fans their first year. Their success continued throughout the
80's and into the 90's with attendance of 216,940 in 1988; 200,196 in 1989;
223,533 in 1990; and 233,423 in 1991. Their attendance in 1988 and 1990 was the
highest in the Eastern League. The success of the Senator's made the
revitalization of City Island possible. The city has constructed another sports
field, where a minor league football team and community soccer team play.
Concerts also are held on this second field. Riverside Village provides a
number of food stands that attract downtown workers and residents and city
visitors to the island. A marina and a riverboat, which presents an hour-long
cruise, have been established off the island. City officials estimate more than
600,000 people visit the island annually. The most activity, however, takes
place from April to December. The Harrisburg Senators remain the principal
attraction, but other features and activities on the island are becoming
established in their own right.
Minor league baseball also brings tourists and visitors to the
community. In addition to the game itself, many travelers will visit local
attractions as well as stay in nearby hotels. The visiting teams brings a
strong following with them to many road games. These are tourists that would
not be visiting the area if minor league baseball did not exist. These baseball
fans would not be supporting local restaurants, stores, gas stations, if minor
league baseball did not exist.
Although minor league baseball has been a dream come true for cities
like Harrisburg, it has been a nightmare for other communities. In Hudson
Valley, New York, the community found its case of baseball fever has turned into
a "financial jam and it may not find the way out for a long time." Hudson
Valley was a community that was still suffering from a 8,000 job losses from a
recent IBM downsizing effort. The prospect of luring a minor league baseball
team sounded like a good way to boost the local economy. A nonprofit
organization was formed, and a plan was immediately developed to build the
stadium. The cost for the stadium would be 3.75 million paid by the county, and
an additional 1.75 million would be financed by the private sector. "It was
supposed to be the world's greatest public-private partnership, now, everybody
wants the county to pull their chestnuts out of the fire," Dutchess County
legislator Woody Klose said. Although the team has been a rousing success and
routinely sells out the 4,000 seat stadium, the group constantly finds
themselves in financial debt. Many people in the area blame it on time. The
time factor was the biggest limitation. The big push to get the the stadium
built as quickly as possible forced an overrun of nearly two million dollars. "
In the time most people built a house, we built a stadium," said David Avenius,
an assistant to the Dutchess County Executive. Klose said that it is extremely
important to get the stadium financing up front. He still has a recommendation
for other communities that want to lure a minor league baseball team. "Go into
therapy," Klose said. "Deep, deep therapy"(Slavin B1).
Some communities that have had financial success, have suffered
the loss of their team because of franchises relocating. Corporations abandon
communities where they have been located for many years, leaving those
communities and their residents with a weakened economy and social structure and
without any compensation or resources to assist recovery. Unfortunately,
relocation has played a part in minor league communities leaving cities with an
abandoned stadium. Local officials often cannot respond positively to an team
owner's demands because of the limited resources available in smaller
communities. This demonstrates the importance of stadiums in city-team
negotiations, and they show how the business interests of team owners and local
officials often conflict.
Location decisions of owners tend to be business decisions that are
designed to maximize their financial interests. Joe Buzas, owner of the former
Fresno Suns, chose not to remain in Fresno because of competition from the
university for the fans and advertising dollars. The Fresno Suns had been
playing in a run down stadium that received minimum financial support form the
city. Fresno State University agreed to let the Fresno Suns play at their
modern facility. However, the university wanted half of the ticket revenue and
all of the concession revenue the Suns would receive. In 1988, after receiving
permission from the California League, Buzas moved the franchise to Salinas,
California. To this day there is no professional baseball being played in
Fresno, California(Johnson 133).
Franchises Relocating have also been based on a community not meeting
the needs or the demands of the owner. Charlotte Knights owner George Shinn
wanted to build a stadium that would be capable of hosting more than a minor
league baseball team. To make his stadium plans work, Shinn had to avoid use
restrictions of this stadium and consequently needed more land than he could
obtain in Charlotte. Shinn and Charlotte officials negotiations eventually
failed because both parties had conflicting side issues and agendas. City staff
members struggled to control the stadium issue. They were primarily concerned
about protecting the city's investment in the new coliseum. Shinn, looking
beyond Class AA baseball, dreamed of a stadium that could potentially
accommodate major league baseball, professional football, and other forms of
entertainment. Later, he viewed the project as a revenue-generating real estate
deal. He was not interested in a stripped-down stadium(Johnson 121).
An important benefit that has been seen first hand by individuals is the
quality of life minor league baseball adds for the community. It provides
affordable family entertainment by charging fans low ticket costs. In Ottawa,
Canada, the ticket prices range from just $4.20 to $8.40 -- the least expensive
seats cost less than one-fifth of the equivalent for Ottawa Senators hockey
games. "This is affordable family entertainment. You can't make the excuse you
can't afford to come and bring the kids too," says Ottawa Lynx owner Howard
Darwin(Allen 48). In Frederick, Maryland, and in Hagerstown, Maryland, any
child who comes to the ball game in any sports uniform gets in free(Morgenson
40). In Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, home of the Class AAA Red Barrons,
ticket costs are $3.50 for bleachers, $4.50 for upper grandstand and $6.50 for
lower box seats. While in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, home of the Major League
Phillies, tickets range from $5 for bleacher seats at to $16 for level seats
behind the box seats. The contrast in ticket prices between the minor leagues
and the major leagues have been seen all over the United States and Canada.
Minor league baseball has also done a tremendous job of providing good
quality baseball as well as providing entertainment at the game. This has been
done with a wide range of promotions. In some stadiums around the United States
and Canada, promotions have been the major reasons for fans attending the game.
In Prince William, Virginia, home of the Class A Cannons, general manager
Kenneth Shepard has come up with a valet car wash and a preferred parking pass
for season ticketholders. For $2, you can have your car washed while you're
watching the game; and for $75 a year, fans can have their own assigned parking
spot(Morgenson 9). Robert Rich, Jr., president of Rich Products Corp. in
Buffalo, the nation's largest family owned frozen food manufacturer, has owned
the Buffalo Bisons since 1983 and was among the first to make his games "events."
He puts on a weekly fireworks display, sponsors at least three major concerts a
season -- last year the Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin, and Huey Lewis and the News
came to town -- and dreams up contests where fans participate on the ball field.
Rich explains, "Thursdays are Pizza Hut Pop-up Night. Before the game,
contestants come out onto the field and try to catch three pop-up fly balls. If
someone catches all three, everybody in the stadium gets a free pizza from Pizza
Hut"(Morgenson 9). In Wilmington, Delaware, promotions include the Dizzy Bat
Race, Dirtiest Car of the Game, Frisbee Toss, and minor league baseball's
version of "Let's Make a Deal." There is no limit to the creativity that they
have come up for promotions at minor league baseball games
Another aspect that has played a part in adding to the quality of life
has been the attitude of the fans. Unlike the fans at the major league games
who seem to keep to themselves and have intolerable attitudes, fans are
unusually friendly at minor league games. Leanne Pagliai is Vice-president of
the High Desert Mavericks, a Class A San Diego Padres farm team in Adelanto,
California. Pagliai has a theory: "Our commuter society is so splintered today,
citizen's can't bond as much as a community anymore; minor league baseball is a
chance to get together with your neighbors." Darwin explains, "Away from the
world of world-class, people behave normally. They are decent and friendly.
They have time to chat. The fans are not impatient with the ball players. The
ball players, paid salaries that are smaller than those of many fans, are
approachable and nice. They give balls to kids." Darwin also credits his
success in Ottawa because he was able to spot a desire by the fans to be part of
something small(Gordon 9).
In Durham, North Carolina, minor league baseball has had an impact on
the community both positively and negatively. They were an established
franchise that began to head in the wrong way. Durham, like many communities
that have face "hard times," learned from their mistakes and bounced back to
become the most nationally known minor league team. Durham is located in North
Carolina and is part of the "research triangle" along with Raleigh and Chapel
Hill. In the 1980's, Durham's economic image began to struggle. In the mid
1980's, the North Carolina Symphony moved its home from Durham to Raleigh. This
was believed to be caused by Durham's lack of respect in the Carolina region and
harmful intercity competition. Another problem was the prohibition by the state
legislature against Durham annexing Research Triangle Park. This was also due
to the declining city image.
Durham in the 20th century had a rich tradition of minor league baseball.
Durham housed the headquarters of the National Association of Professional
Baseball Leagues from 1933 to 1947. The Bulls were one of the most successful
teams in the minor leagues in the 40's, 50's, and most of the 60's. However,
towards the end of the 60's, Durham began to experience some "hard times." This
was due to poor management and the decadence of Durham Athletic Park (DAP). In
1971, Durham began its final season as the home of the Durham Bulls.
In 1980, Miles Wolff brought minor league baseball back to Durham.
Wolff spent $2500 for the rights to the team and $25000 to restore Durham
Athletic Park. In 1988, the Durham Bulls and minor league baseball got national
attention with the success of the movie "Bull Durham." A year before "Bull
Durham", Raleigh officials tried to lure the Bulls from Durham in hopes that a
higher-level team would be brought to the Raleigh-Durham area. This attempt
failed and baseball in Durham remains to this day. The Bulls were one thing that
intercity rivals Raleigh and Chapel Hill did not have. This was recognized as
substantial to the city of Durham's image. Durham to this day is the most
recognized minor league baseball team. It has led the Carolina League
attendance for the past five years and has built a new stadium where the Bulls
began playing last year. Their old stadium remains a historical minor league
baseball landmark where high school and local college baseball games are played.
The Bulls are also the leading memorabilia seller in the entire minor leagues.
Not every community will achieve the success of Durham, North Carolina,
because there is no 100% guarantee in minor league baseball. However, the
majority of towns and cities throughout the United States and Canada hosting
minor league baseball teams have experienced many benefits. Economic growth
and development, community identity and pride , affordable family entertainment,
and an improved the quality of life indicate that minor league baseball is
here to stay.


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