Minor league cities choking on stadium boondoggles

Photo: Hartford Yard Goats

Of the many fine baseball moves that Twins general manager Terry Ryan has made over the years, none may exceed washing the team’s hands of its affiliation with the New Britain Rock Cats minor league team in Connecticut at the end of the 2014 season.

David Ortiz, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau all passed through New Britain, but the baseball stadium shakedown isn’t just a major league phenomenon. All over America, owners of minor league teams are making deep dives into taxpayer pockets too, and when the owners of the New Britain team began the process moving their team to nearby Hartford, Ryan wanted out.

“That’s about the only reason we severed is there’s a lot of uncertainty with the affiliate right now,” Ryan told the Pioneer Press at the time.

That was putting it charitably. The move turned out to be a boondoggle, Reason Magazine’s TV operation reported this month. It’s over budget, private property owners had their land taken, and a new mayor is trying to erase a huge budget deficit in the city while “Dunkin’ Donuts Park” languishes unfinished at the start of the season in one of America’s poorest cities.

The mayor went after public employee unions, proposing layoffs and demanding givebacks. His budget, released yesterday, also reduces funding for libraries, the police, and parks. It drained a rainy day fund. Earlier, the city provided a bailout for the stadium developers, sharing in the cost overruns.

The team — now known as the Hartford Yard Goats — is playing its first 50 games on the road.

As for New Britain, they’ve got a new team too. The city lured a team from Camden, N.J., where politicians had earlier opened the city’s vault to build the franchise owners a new stadium on the promise it would spur economic development.

The glistening stadium spends its days unused. Camden doesn’t know what to do with a 15-year-old, $24 million stadium.

(h/t: Veronica Jacobsen)

[Update 5:28 p.m. 4/20] From Michael Pfaff, President/GM of the Long Island ducks

I’d like to bring to your attention facts reported in your April 19 story “Minor League Stadiums Choking on Stadium Boondoggles” that are incorrect. In the video, and in the article, it is incorrectly stated that the Camden Riversharks were “lured to New Britain” and “abandoned” their stadium. The fact is, the Camden Riversharks were unable to negotiate new lease terms with the ballpark owner, and ceased operations.

The New Britain Bees are a new Atlantic League team, not a re-located Riversharks team.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart was unhappy about the Rockcats moving to Hartford and wanted to save baseball for New Britain and her constituents. Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch put Stewart and owner Frank Boulton in contact to discuss bringing a new Atlantic League team to New Britain and the rest, as they say, is history. Stewart was interested, in part, due to the highly successful operations of many Atlantic League ballclubs and the public/private partnerships that helped spawn them (Long Island Ducks, Somerset Patriots, Sugar Land Skeeters, York Revolution, etc.).

Thank you for your attention to this.