AAA Affiliate shuffle: Love the one you’re (not) with

A flurry of PDC agreements came throughout the day. It seemed that the A’s kicked things off before 10 AM with their 4-year PDC with the Nashville Sounds. However, the Giants and Sacramento River Cats scheduled their own press conference, also at 10, to talk about their 2-year PDC. Then all the other affiliates and PDCs got in line, finishing with a hastily agreed upon agreement between the Brewers and Colorado Springs.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin even sounded like a spurned lover:

“Very disappointing. We gave them 10 years there. A number of times we had a chance to move and we were patient with (the Sounds). I’m just disappointed they wouldn’t have given us two [more] years for what we put up with there.”

There happens to be Greer Stadium, the aging, 36-year old ballpark south of downtown Nashville which is being replaced by shiny First Tennessee Park. The agreement’s only for 2 years, which may allow the Brewers to try another city, since Colorado Springs is only slightly above the seventh circle of hell when it comes to desirable affiliate cities because of park factors. That doesn’t explain why the Rockies were so eager to bolt for Albuquerque, a city that is more than a mile above sea level. The game of musical chairs, which was truly kicked off by the Dodgers when co-owner Peter Guber bought a 50% interest in the Oklahoma City Red Hawks last week. OKC will be the new AAA affiliate of the Dodgers, which left the Astros to hook up with the Fresno Grizzlies.

All of this was done in the last 24-48 hours

All of this was done in the last 24-48 hours

Sooooo…. Nashville? It’s nearly 2000 miles from Oakland with nary a direct flight link them together since neither city has a major hub airport. Nevertheless, the River Cats-turned-Sounds will be playing in a fabulous, Populous-architected ballpark next year. First Tennessee Park will be at Sulphur Dell, the site of an old ballpark (also named Sulphur Dell) that dates back to 1870. Like Sacramento pre-River Cats, Nashville had a lengthy gap in 60’s with no pro baseball in town after Sulphur Dell closed in the 60’s. Herschel Greer Stadium opened in 1978. The Brewers came calling in 2005 and have been there ever since. The Brewers, Sounds management, and civic leaders have been trying to get a new ballpark in Nashville since 2007 (sounds familiar), finally putting together a deal that raised $65 million in public bonds while tying Sounds ownership to some $37 million in private development surrounding the ballpark. It’s a deal similar in structure to Petco Park, though there is some fuzziness on whether that private investment truly has to come in and when. Construction only started in earnest in March, making the development time very short, much like El Paso, Reno, and Sacramento.

Certainly the A’s front office was attracted by a brand new ballpark, as it would make for an easy transition for players who don’t make the big club. Sounds owner Frank Ward was probably salivating at the prospect of a winning, contending team playing in his new digs, as the Brewers-affiliated Sounds haven’t gone to the postseason in eight years, a cumulative .504 winning percentage since becoming a AAA city in 1985. Coincidentally, the Sounds finished with a 77-67 record this season, good for second in the American Southern division, but the team has generally been inconsistent.

FTP is bounded by 5th Avenue N, 3rd Avenue N, Jackson and Harrison Streets. While a 1,000-space parking garage will be built next to the ballpark, the site is only three-quarters of a mile from Printer’s Alley, Nashville’s well known downtown nightlife area. Numerous hotels are located downtown, with several more located along Music Row to the southwest. Catch some live music, maybe a Predators game at Bridgestone Arena, or take a tour of legendary Ryman Auditorium, the former home of the Grand Ole Opry.

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After going over several different design options, it was decided that the ballpark would be oriented south-southeast. The northern edge would have an entry gate behind home plate, but otherwise there wouldn’t be the usual contour following the seating bowl that you usually see at most minor league parks. The idea is that ancillary development would occur to the east and south, between the park and downtown. If done correctly, a “ballpark village” of sorts may emerge, capturing visitors and locals who may park downtown and walk to the park. Again, there are shades of Petco Park in the site plan, although at a much smaller scale.

The full Sounds 2015 schedule is not yet available on the team’s website. When it is I’ll put together some sample ballpark trips you may consider. Next summer I’d like to do a AAA trip consisting of Nashville, Memphis, Indianapolis, Louisville, and perhaps Columbus again. The closest cities (within a 4 hour drive) are Atlanta, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, so putting together trips that involve MLB teams, especially the A’s, will be tough. If you’re planning a trip, you may find yourself flying through ATL, so that may work to your advantage.

As for the River Cats? I wish them luck. Their PDC with the Giants is only 2 years, a somewhat surprisingly short term considering the fan cultivation effort that is obviously the goal of the affiliation switch. They should do fine in 2015 thanks to a honeymoon period of sorts. The River Cats have a good promotional machine that should crank up into high gear with the Giants involved. If they can regain some of the attendance losses they’ve suffered the last few years, the change will have been worth it.

17 thoughts on “AAA Affiliate shuffle: Love the one you’re (not) with

  1. Seems like Atlanta, St. Louis & Cincinnati are all within the 4-5 hour range, no?

  2. Glad to see that they are keeping the guitar style scoreboard but updating it for the 21st century.

  3. Re: ‘nary a direct flight…’ Actually, Southwest has one direct flight (2164) OAK to BNA.

  4. Are you sure it’s only 2 years on the Giants/Cats PDC? I’d read at Baseball America and Ballpark Digest that it was through 2018.

  5. It’s no secret the Astros want to affiliate with the Round Rock Express, who have an agreement with the Rangers through 2018. http://blog.chron.com/ultimateastros/2014/09/18/astros-aaa-team-to-be-in-fresno/#22102101=0

    In 2-4 years, the teams could be playing musical chairs again. If Astros leave Fresno, would the A’s try to return to Central California, leaving a brand new state-of-the-art AAA stadium in Nashville?

    If the A’s do not get a new MLB ballpark in Oakland or San Jose in 2 years, could they turn to Sacramento and build on Raley Field site or the railyards, reclaiming the Sac territory?

    Look at what Sac is doing with the Republic FC and MLS courtship. The economy and political environment are looking up and up.

    • If the A’s had wanted Fresno they would have gone there this year. There was nothing stopping them. I doubt they’ll come back to a situation they purposely avoided this time around.

  6. Why would the Dodgers covet New Mexico?

  7. I went to the Salinas City Council last night to hear from the owner of the Bakersfield Blaze (who also owns the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, BTW) and the COO of the California League about moving the Bakersfield franchise to Salinas.

    The new Salinas ballpark would be located at Front Street and Summer Street, kitty corner from the proposed “Alisal Marketplace,” a new retail center located on the site of a (literal) dump.

    I came away from the meeting a little less optimistic about the proposal. It is nice that it is privately financed, but I’m not sure where 1000 cars are going to park for those Friday and Saturday night games. It would make more sense to place the thing closer to Old Town, where there is already structured parking in place.

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