Soon. This Time We Mean It! Maybe.

UPDATE: The report is scheduled for release next Friday, the 21st.

Dave Kaval provided an update on the Howard Terminal EIR to Steve Berman (@BASportsGuy) of The Athletic yesterday. It was unsurprising.

You may remember that Kaval previously said that the EIR was coming around Valentine’s Day and before that, the end of 2019. Or last fall or summer, er late summer. In any case, we’re getting close! Come sometime next week, I hope to spend a good amount of time reading the draft document while I watch some good Cactus League action.

The release of the document will be a momentous occasion, even if the project stalls as so many previous attempts by the A’s have. At this point, I think it’s important to point out what will and won’t be accomplished by the release.

First of all, whether it gets released Friday or next week is mostly a matter of bureaucratic paper shuffling as the report bounces among state and regional agencies. It’s extremely unlikely that there will be some major mitigation step identified, let alone approved, in a week. The important takeaway is that we the public will have better visibility of the issues. Compared to a decade ago when we first started talking about Howard Terminal in earnest, the City of Oakland’s website is better equipped to provide documents as they come out.

Second, while the report will go into great detail about those issues, it won’t describe how much it will cost Oakland or the A’s to deal with them. Outside consultants will provide estimates for some steps, which will be challenged by others who feel such steps don’t go far enough, which will beget other estimates. That’s part of the comment period, which starts once the draft EIR will be released. There’s always a danger of feature creep in the process, lamentably unavoidable in California.

If you’re a regular reader of this site or have been following the Howard Terminal situation for the past year or so, you’ll notice that there has been roughly one article or interview per week published somewhere in Bay Area media, positive or negative. The point of this is to keep HT in the news. When the EIR is released, there will be a avalanche of related news. I’ll do my best to cut the wheat from the chaff. Until then, I have some family in from out of town this weekend. Spring is here, everyone.

Barracuda to get their own Tank

Expanded training facility with planned garage (not depicted) across the street

When the Worcester Sharks moved to San Jose to share an arena and a practice facility with their parent club, I was curious to see how long that would last. The answer apparently is six years, as last week the rebranded San Jose Barracuda announced plans to construct a new, 4,200-seat arena adjacent to the Solar4America training facility they continue to share with the Sharks. From the press release:

The 4,200-seat spectator arena will include locker rooms, training facilities and executive office space for the Barracuda, an in-arena Jumbotron with a 360-degree LED display ring, 12 suites, eight loge boxes, one theatre suite, a 46-person party deck, three bar locations, seven food concession stations, a press room and press box and two team merchandise stores.

While I’m glad for the players and the Sharks farmhands that they’ll get better facilities, I feel an opportunity to grow the sport is being lost in the process. The Sharks are effectively doubling down on the South Bay, instead of using an opportunity to grow the sport. To the Sharks’ credit, they also operate ice rinks in Oakland and Fremont, so they are providing some exposure to the sport. When it comes to playing pro ice hockey, fans will still have to come down to San Jose or all the way out to Stockton for the privilege, which is disappointing. As longtime readers of this blog are well aware, I am more than anything else an advocate of spreading the “wealth” of pro sports all over the Bay Area and Northern California. It provides exposure to all communities instead of concentrating teams in San Francisco or San Jose, where ironically, the actual wealth is. This consolidation trend works against my desire and to me seems short-sighted.

Barracuda Tank looks pretty nice

I suspect that Oakland was out of the question, because the Oakland Ice Center can’t be easily expanded and the Sharks don’t operate the Oakland Arena, which is newly empty with a part-time tenant in the Panthers arena football team (who kick off in March). The ‘Cuda play a 68-game schedule, which means the arena would have to maintain an ice surface on-and-off for a full seven months annually. Hockey teams remain sensitive to ice surface quality, which is tough to maintain in balmy California. A leading argument for having both the Sharks and Barracuda play at SAP Center was to give a reason to maintain the ice at the big arena. Instead, the Sharks are pulling back at SAP, opening dates for concerts and other events while consolidating work at an expanded Solar4America Ice facility.

I have a few friends who are season ticket holders to the Barracuda, so I’m interested to see how willing they’ll be to move southeast with the team. It’s only 3+ miles, but anyone who goes to SJ Giants or SJSU Spartans football games nearby know that public transit isn’t a great option to the South Campus area. Parking should be easier as a garage rises across the street from the facility to replace the spaces lost with the expansion. Another loss is a city-owned firing range at the edge of the property, though I don’t know enough about that to gauge its impact. SJSU’s hockey club is probably licking their chops, since they already play at Solar4America Ice and would enjoy the benefits a new arena provides to a college program. First, the Sharks might want to beef up their electrical capacity.

With the Sharks’ minor league affiliate getting its own arena and SJSU blowing out the east side of CEFCU/Spartan Stadium to expand it, it’s a boom period in what is historically a sleepy industrial part of town. Along with what the Giants are doing in Scottsdale and Phoenix, I guess people have money to burn.

Adapt or Die

My usual route to the gym takes me through Papago Park, the former spring training home of the A’s. Every time I drive down 64th Street/Galvin Parkway, I see this:

The old training fields are visible from the street, with Phoenix Municipal Stadium (now home to ASU) situated downhill at the south end of the park. The baseball sculpture is a friendly reminder of Papago’s sports history, and though the A’s are now in Mesa, it’s nice to know that Papago will get its own improvements before the Giants move there from their current facility on Camelback and Hayden Roads (Indian School Park). As much as I like the A’s situation at Hohokam, like the rest of Mesa it’s pretty sleepy.

Papago Park baseball fields under construction

Occasionally I would hear talk of the Giants building their own ballpark/training center complex near the Scottsdale/Tempe border, where there remains some undeveloped land. Instead the Giants struck a deal with Scottsdale to get some improvements at Scottsdale Stadium. The main thrust of the work is an expanded clubhouse that will also serve as an event center/club facility, the better to attract Giant fans with fat wallets and expense accounts. The event center is claimed to be the largest such space in the downtown area, which is somewhat surprising given the bevy of hospitality options in the city. While the stadium will remain in Scottsdale’s Old Town, the training facility at Papago Park will be just outside Scottsdale within Phoenix city limits. Moving to Papago required a separate negotiation. Indian School is 1.5 miles away from the stadium. Papago is a whopping 2.5 miles away. It’s not quite the convenience of having a single campus like the Cubs or Dbacks/Rockies at Salt River Fields, but it’s an easy drive or bike ride between the two and most Giants fans will prefer to be around the Old Town scene during and after the games.

Construction sign emphasizes the Event Center aspect

The East Valley (defined loosely as the communities within the Loop 202 freeway plus Scottsdale) is the economic engine of the area. Teams that call the East Valley home are in enviable positions relative to their Cactus and Grapefruit League counterparts. After the trend of huge campuses that helped save and expand the Cactus League a decade ago, it’s refreshing to see a return to renovated facilities, even if they’re split. The A’s and Giants are unlikely to go anywhere for years if not decades. The Brewers also renewed their deal in Maryvale. All teams are consolidating player development at their facilities, further establishing permanence while also endangering some minor league cities.

New clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium replaces an auxiliary field

There’s even more baseball this spring. A college tournament is set for Salt River Fields in two weeks, plus Olympic qualifiers are slated for late March. We’re eleven days from pitchers and catchers reporting. I might be able to take more advantage of the Spring Training Ballpark Pass this year. I’m already seeing a lot of people around here in shorts. Spring always comes early to the Valley of the Sun. ASU hosts numerous wintering teams this month, an early spring ritual. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

Gone Baby Gondola

2018 gondola route map (with older ballpark design)

Two related bits of ballpark-related news came out of FanFest over the weekend. First, the Chronicle’s Phil Matier picked up on the transportation study that shows that people will continue driving even if the A’s come to Howard Terminal, which belies the notion of an “urban” ballpark. On a related note, Oakland’s Department of Transportation is now downplaying the prospects of a gondola bridging the nearest BART station (12th Street/City Center) and the ballpark. After all the hubbub coming out of last year’s FanFest, this news is what I feared. Dave Kaval remains optimistic. I have my doubts.

I discussed the prospects of the gondola at length exactly one year ago. It saddens me that the discussion may end there, not so much because the gondola dream is dying, but because all parties seem to be satisfied with the current lack of solutions to deal with the last mile problem. The prevailing attitude seems to be that technology will solve the gridlock problem. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that.

Transportation Network Companies, from Uber and Lyft to bike and scooter share startups, are supposed to bridge that gap along with walking. Profitability remains off in the distance. Strategies are largely confined to waiting for a competitor to go under and become a default monopoly player due to attrition, then jack up fares to become profitable once the competition is gone. Another possible scenario is a merger to eliminate competition, which makes some sense given that many drivers work for both Uber and Lyft. When that consolidation occurs, and more realistic pricing emerges, we’ll start to see how many people choose ridesharing as an option instead of walking or taking a bus shuttle. The upshot is that it’s a very difficult game to make transportation that merely breaks even, whether you’re talking public or private. (Note: Not touching the impact of AB 5.)

This is the point where I have to point out (again) that the Giants’ ballpark deal in China Basin was made with SF agreeing to a light rail extension from Market Street to the ballpark along the Embarcadero. That won’t happen in Oakland. Perhaps a BART extension could happen once everyone figures out how and where a second Transbay Tube will be built (and funded). That probably can’t happen until 2050.

Take it or leave it for now

For the majority of fans who will be driving to Howard Terminal, they could reserve parking spots at participating area garages depending on how much they’re willing to pay and walk. There’s enough parking inventory in downtown Oakland to handle the demand. How fans react to longer walks to their parking spots or BART is the coming source of friction. If fans encounter a fairly tranquil day as has been experienced for the Jack London Square version of FanFest, they’ll be encouraged to keep going to games. If they see difficulty in game night traffic, the parking experience, the walk/shuttle, or a train incident blocks the way in/out, that could mean one or more fans or families that choose to go on a weekend instead of a weekday, or simply less frequently than they used to. However the A’s and the City/Port are pitching this, convenience is not the main selling point. It will be convenient for some who live in Oakland near the park or a short AC Transit bus ride away. The problem is that it isn’t an improvement for practically everyone else who lives in the East Bay. There could be improvements with the bus schedules, helpful for those who choose to take the bus. I could see more Amtrak trains and ferry service. None of those options help the rest of the East Bay, where most of the fanbase originates.

Baseball, especially in Oakland, is dependent on casual fans who choose to go on a whim instead of being season ticket holders. The A’s even modernized their season ticket plan to effectively encourage going on a whim. But it’s not a good trend if the end result is lower friction to buy tickets and higher friction to actually attend a game. Bottom line: the only infrastructure being planned so far is the transit hub, a single pedestrian/bike bridge, and the addition of bus lanes. To be honest, I’m confounded at how this passed as a first draft of the transportation plan. A’s fans, whether you live in Oakland or Concord, whether you’re young or old or need assistance, deserve better.

P.S. – I chose not to go to FanFest this year. The lack of news about the ballpark, combined with the minimal turnover in the roster, made it easy for me to look ahead towards Cactus League play. Speaking of which, the A’s brought back their Spring Training Pass for those fortunate enough to be in the Valley of the Sun for the entirety of the spring. Maybe this time I’ll be able to go to more than a few games.

 

BUILD IT NOW

During last night’s Oakland City Council meeting, Council President Rebecca Kaplan noticed a bunch of people carrying preprinted placards.

Who pray tell printed a cheer card like this?

At a previous meeting Kaplan similarly admonished the gallery for turning the City Council meeting into a planned cheering session. That warning got the A’s to lighten up on the propaganda so as to establish some decorum. Perhaps this is another warning from the dais. Regardless, the MOU passed 8-0.

I was hoping the draft EIR would be released around the time of FanFest this weekend. No such luck.

This also follows up last week’s Port Board meeting where the same MOU (memorandum of understanding) was discussed, approved, and sent to City Hall. That particular meeting had more port industry interests and fewer A’s fans in attendance. The purpose of the MOU is ostensibly to combine effort and remove duplicative effort, another way to streamline the process. The A’s spent a lot of lobbying time and energy to streamline part of the process, but we’re getting to the nitty gritty portion. The Port conveniently put together a flowchart, which covers only the areas related to Port development activities.

Compare that to the Ballpark Tracker page the A’s put together. Here’s one of the slides:

Now take that list of accomplishments above and try to overlay it on top of the required work the Port maps out in their flowchart. If it seems like not that much has actually been done yet, you’re not wrong. We’re essentially at the red star in the flowchart and the serious talks begin once the draft EIR is published. The complicated nature of building on the waterfront, in a city with unique development challenges and numerous stakeholders to mollify, makes getting a project like this going extremely difficult.

There’s a bit of a disconnect here. The A’s want to open the ballpark by 2023. The ENA term sheet also runs out in 2023, yet the ballpark project requires all of the dotted I’s and crossed T’s before the A’s can break ground. You’ve probably noticed that the tentacles towards the right side of the flowchart aren’t under the City’s control. Regional and State agencies will determine what mitigation measures need to be made and what’s actually feasible in what timeframe.

For example, let’s take the 45-day comment period. There will be plenty of comments from regular citizens and entrenched businesses. Staff will be required to respond. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s also the time for lawsuits from those with vested interests. Major lawsuits won’t be adjudicated in 45 days. It’s highly unlikely that the Port interests, who are ready to wage war, are going to roll over in 45 days. Thankfully for the A’s, AB 734 allows CEQA lawsuits to be limited to 270 days. However, legal maneuvers aren’t typically accounted for in project plans. Even with litigation limits baked in, that’s not going to stop the well-heeled from utilizing their retainers.

At some point later this year, we might yet again hear about how shocked or surprised someone from the A’s or the City is about recent news. No one should be surprised about any twists or turns this story takes.

District 3 Council Member Lynette Gibson McElhaney punctuated the proceedings by calling the MOU part of an “iterative, deliberative, intentional process to ensure that if a development goes forward that it is good for Oakland.” This time around, I don’t doubt that.

United(?) Stakeholders of Howard Terminal

Earlier this week, the City of Oakland presented some findings related to transportation at Howard Terminal. While some of the observations were quite sharp, many of the proposed solutions were fuzzy and ill-defined.

Take this zinger for starters:

For a year or more, I’ve heard a ridiculous mantra, No one lives at Howard Terminal, which should pave the way for all manner of changes with few complaints. Problem is that impacts are not confined to the project site alone. The surrounding area is much larger and can suffer from being in close proximity. That’s the flip side to the economic improvements often claimed in stadium projects. Sure, Howard Terminal will get a lot of jobs. Is it worth the gridlock? The CEQA process is designed to help the public make an informed decision.

Squeaky wheel gets the grease, so to speak

To that end OakDOT has apparently decided to attack the gridlock problem by prioritizing certain types of traffic on specific streets in the area. Embarcadero West/1st Street has train tracks right in the middle of it, forcing rail activity there to take priority. A block north, A four-block stretch of 2nd Street is the location of a transit hub. Which sounds pretty exciting, until you scratch the surface and realize that it’s mostly a staging area for BART shuttles. That’s not stopping Oakland from full-on selling the hub’s prospects:

It’s Oakland’s version of the Transbay Terminal, except, not

There is talk of a potential BART stop there, though BART nixed any near term prospects. You can hope for 2050, which at the current rate of stadium aging is around the time that a Howard Terminal ballpark becomes obsolete. Bottom line, what’s planned is the stop for the bus bridge between the ballpark and BART, whether you’re talking about 12th Street/City Center, West Oakland, or Lake Merritt. Buses would line up along that stretch before turning onto a bus-prioritized Castro Street, then heading to one of the BART stations or the other parts of Oakland.

Bike traffic currently has 2nd Street as a designated route, which got the attention of bike advocates:

Strangely, 2nd Street is a designated bike route

Every redevelopment vision is going to have winners and losers, which makes it incumbent upon local government to work to protect the interests of those who can’t afford to buy their way out of the gridlock (hello, ridesharing). Keep in mind one of the bullet points above:

While BART serves a critical transportation role for communities of color, riders are disproportionately whiter than the residents around the stations

BART functions as a set of contradictions. It uses the same technology that powers metro subways, yet has less frequent, more spread-out stops and runs longer distances like commuter rail. For a long time it had those comfortable, e. Coli-infused wool seats. BART’s operational and spiritual hub is in Oakland, which makes it strange that the A’s and the City/Port are working so hard to propose a project that actively sidesteps it. Yet those contradictions make it difficult to justify an infill station nearby, as any slowdown in speed or efficiency within downtown Oakland could negatively impact ridership from the admittedly whiter suburbs.

Absent a direct connection to BART, HT proponents are pumping up that transit hub, limited as it is, and other solutions. As part of designating certain streets for certain types of travel, ballpark vehicular traffic is mostly confined to Market Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

Rush hour gameday traffic map is a huge visual improvement from the old LOS (level of service) charts

You may remember that last year there was talk of a new ramp to the Adeline overpass to help route cars to the Nimitz. Evidently that idea encountered some resistance from Port interests, as there’s no mention of the ramp in the presentation. That’s probably just as well, since the ramp would mix ballpark traffic with Port traffic, which trucking companies have been fighting to keep separated for some time. It doesn’t help that the ramp runs through Schnitzer Steel, another opponent of the ballpark. Are those measures enough to satiate all concerned stakeholders? As usual, color me skeptical. Project mode splits show that with the move from the Coliseum to Howard Terminal comes a shift in cars to downtown Oakland, a duh moment but one with surprisingly minimal planning to deal with it.

10,000 vehicles is 10,000 vehicles, no matter how you slice it. Thankfully, fewer than half are expected around the ballpark on gamedays.

Some infrastructure is planned. Again, whether that’s enough is up for vigorous debate. Consider the following legend from the pedestrian map:

The terms Proposed and Potential are the keys here. The pedestrian/bike bridge at Jefferson is Proposed. The vehicle/pedestrian bridge at Market is listed as Potential, as are some underpass improvements. Can you discern the difference?

You’ll notice a passing mention of the gondola above. You haven’t heard much about it since its splashy introduction a year ago. That should tell you how much traction it has. Whether it gets traction or evaporates like most non-traditional transit proposals, there still remains a big last mile transit hole that is being addressed with little efficacy. Not much new infrastructure is planned, other than the stuff the Port interests are pushing for. The above map shows a bus rapid transit station at 12th Street, a separate project from Howard Terminal. Presumably BRT would be expanded to include HT, effectively making the hub a nice BRT stop. The disjointed nature of how all of the various transit options (three BART stations, Amtrak, ferry, AC Transit) come close but don’t actually converge is rather disturbing, more than a year after studies started. Obviously, you can’t move a ferry terminal or the train stations, but that last mile problem remains vexing. The way to resolve it, as proposed, is to throw a bunch of rules, operational costs (buses), and gridlock at it. That doesn’t sound much like progress to me. I eagerly await the end of the month, when the draft EIR is scheduled for release.

Giles out as A’s COO to start own business

Fairly big news out of Jack London Square today:

Giles had been largely responsible for the subscription-style “A’s Access” plans that supplanted traditional season tickets, as well as other OOTB marketing ideas.

Next time you see Chris Giles he might be slinging a guitar instead of a bat

My immediate thought is that Giles was getting good feedback around baseball (and perhaps other sports) about how well A’s Access was implemented. He then saw a nice consulting opportunity coming out of that. His work, in the COO role, is more-or-less done for now. If Howard Terminal gets approved, which likely won’t be this year, Giles would be waiting like the rest of us for the next big steps. Chief Operating Officer was, for the A’s, created for Giles, so if Giles is replaced, I could see the A’s filling from within the organization or choosing not to replace Giles at all. Ron Leuty’s SFBT summary suggests that the A’s have a deep bench if the need arises.

Even if I were a huge Howard Terminal supporter, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the loss of Giles or some of the other organizational losses over the last few months. The A’s are, after a long period of running lean, growing a much larger sales and marketing side of the business. Some attrition is to be expected. As I’ve been saying throughout 2019, we haven’t hit the really difficult obstacles yet. Save your fretting for when those come up.

Next Stop: Sin City

Another East Bay legend once said it best:

So take the photographs and still-frames in your mind
Hang it on a shelf in good health and good time
Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial
For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while

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.

.

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Sooooooo…… when can the A’s claim the soon-to-be-vacated locker rooms?

Clock Is Ticking, Says Manfred

After he threatened to move the A’s from Oakland to Las Vegas in October, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred pumped the brakes during the Winter Meetings this week. Asked about the state of the A’s, Manfred reverted to good cop mode:

“I think one of the things baseball has done well over decades is maintain its commitment to its current cities and we’d desperately like to maintain our commitment to the city of Oakland. I think the wild-card game and the excitement surrounding it shows there is a fan base there, but the clock is ticking. It’s time to get to it in terms of that stadium.”

It’s important to look at the A’s through the lens of Manfred’s entire tenure, not just through individual moves.

Throughout these five years, Manfred exercised patience with Oakland the market and Oakland the political sphere. The Warriors and Raiders announced their moves, giving the A’s the East Bay to themselves. If that was the goal, Manfred’s patience was warranted. However, emptying out a market couldn’t be the ultimate goal. A new ballpark in that market is the ultimate goal. The resistance to the Peralta site didn’t raise Manfred’s ire. The friction at the Coliseum did. Additional obstacles at Howard Terminal could do the same. Manfred’s “clock is ticking” comment is a gentle reminder that he can break out the move card at any time.

The question I have for you readers is, How much of a threat does Manfred actually hold? Vegas is a sore spot because they’ll be the home for the Raiders starting in 2020 and into the foreseeable future. Yet Vegas isn’t exactly ready to build a ballpark for the A’s, or the Dbacks, or anyone else for that matter. Vegas plays the classic stalking horse role at the moment, same as they did when Oscar Goodman was parading showgirls in front of The Lodge 15 years ago. A ballpark in Vegas would be predicated on the same ancillary development scheme being considered in Portland and yes, Oakland. In addition to the 2-3 years needed to build a domed ballpark, Vegas or Clark County or the State of Nevada would have to fire up the political machine to put together a land deal and financing scheme for the ballpark-cum-village, an effort that will surely take at least two more years.

Last week St. Petersburg’s Mayor shut down the Montreal-shared-custody Rays plan. Manfred responded by continuing to push the plan with far less fervor. Instead, he said that for now, the lease at Tropicana Field would continue to be honored. Of course, another city like Nashville or Charlotte could act as a new stalking horse for the Rays.

Manfred supported Stu Sternberg in the latter’s cockamamie scheme. Kriseman said no. Back to the drawing board. While some Rays fans are left dreaming of a new home for their team, the team itself remains status quo, for better and worse. They’re not going anywhere until after the 2027 season, unless a successor ballpark is built in the area. The A’s are in the same scenario until 2024. Just as threats to move the Rays ring hollow, so do the threats to move the A’s. Honestly everyone, don’t fall for it.

Enjoy the walkoffs

As the media starts to write their farewells to the Raiders, it’s important to remember that one team remains and should be here for years, if not decades, to come. It’s not time to scramble to make any deal just because the A’s are the only team left in town. Everyone – the team, the fans, the citizens of Oakland and Alameda County – deserves a fair deal. That means questions need to be asked. Questions that you might not want to ask. Questions that some of us haven’t even considered to ask yet. Maybe some of those questions won’t be fully answered. It won’t be for lack of trying. For now, enjoy the team that calls Oakland home. As we’ve seen with the other teams, nothing is forever.

Offseason News: Sans-Oakland Edition

Next week the MLB’s annual GM meetings get underway in San Diego. Before that, the business sides of several franchises used this week to take care of, er, business.

The Angels struck a deal with the City of Anaheim to extend their stay in town until at least 2050, as reported by the LA Times’ Bill Shaikin. The team will also develop much of the Angels Stadium parking lot, which should help fund a new stadium on the 153-acre site. Much like what deal the Giants made with San Francisco to develop the parking lots near China Basin, and the more complex reimagining of the Coliseum by the A’s, ownership groups are using their teams to propel nearby real estate investment. In the Giants’ case, the process was delayed until the stadium was practically paid off. The A’s are trying to manage two sites several miles apart, while the Angels want to keep everything in one place. The one major complication for the Angels is the status of the The Grove, a city-owned 1,700-seat auditorium on the north side of the lot. The Grove’s location is right on Katella Avenue, the main arterial street in the area.

Locals will undoubtedly complain about the eventual loss of easy ingress/egress as the area is redeveloped. Some may also point to the notion that dev rights or entitlements are a form of indirect subsidy. Pro sports has its price, and if indirect subsidies are what keeps the team from moving to Long Beach or Las Vegas that’s the price. Anaheim’s City Council votes on the deal on December 20.

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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman laid the hammer down on the Rays, killing any idea of the team having a split home situation: spring/early regular season in Tampa Bay, summer/fall in Montreal. Or did he? As Noah Pransky opined:

Yikes. In any case, the Rays are stuck in St. Pete through 2027. Or until someone concocts the next scheme to get them out. Underneath all of this is the existential problem facing the Rays that no other market has to deal with. The Rays are a major league team in an area saturated with minor league teams. The area is also saturated with spring training teams on a seasonal basis, plus many east coast teams have year-round training facilities there. In the past few years, teams have left the Orlando area to concentrate on the Suncoast or Gold Coast, leaving Orlando as a possible MLB relocation candidate. Former Orlando Magic exec Pat Williams is leading the effort. Orlando may seem to be a sideways move at best for the Rays, but it’s important to point out that Arizona cleared the decks for the Dbacks by getting rid of minor league teams and consolidating spring training facilities. The playbook, however unlikely, has been used before.

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Speaking of Arizona, the Dbacks put together a 67-page wishlist for their new park. The list has all the current trending items:

  • Smaller – 36,000-42,000
  • Retractable roof
  • Integrated concert venue/auditorium seating up to 5,000
  • Lots of ancillary development

While Henderson, NV pitched a plan earlier this year, the team says it’s focused on Maricopa County (the Phoenix area). It’s worth asking if the point of all this development is to help pay for the ballpark, or to use the ballpark to fatten owners’ portfolios. Some might call that synergy. As I live in Scottsdale, I am following this one to some extent. The team continues to look at the Scottsdale-Tempe corridor for a solution.

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The Marlins are installing the new version of artificial turf similar to the kind installed last year at Chase Field and slated to go into Globe Life Field for its inaugural season. They’re also bringing in the fences.

I ventured out to Chase a couple times this year to check out the turf.

We’re getting to the point where the difference between natural grass and artificial turf matters less and less aesthetically. Turf technology continues to incrementally improve in terms of playability and player safety, making the choice between grass and turf mostly a value proposition. Teams in the Sun Belt face dying grass fields indoors, which leads to novel solutions like grass trays that roll outside. That’s harder to accomplish with an irregularly-shaped field used in baseball than with a smaller football gridiron or soccer field, so baseball is trending back towards the fake stuff in some cases. Sun Belt teams also face huge air conditioning bills, which teams can reduce those costs by not keeping a retractable roof with debatable effectiveness open. In California, where it rains infrequently during the baseball season, or the Midwest or Northeast, where there are no baseball domes, there is no debate.

As for bringing in the fences, Marlins Park was extremely triples-friendly and below average for home runs last year. This follows a similar effort in 2016. I suppose it’s better to build big and bring the fences in than to build a bandbox and have little space to expand out.

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Staying in the Sun Belt, the Rangers held batting practice in Globe Life Field. The dimensions were released as well.

Joey Gallo likes it. I’m sure Matt Olson will too. It isn’t as extreme as Minute Maid Park to left, but right field is pretty much the same. Unlike predecessor Globe Life Park, the crazy winds should be kept in check thanks to the dome even when open. Maybe the Rangers have finally built a place that Bill King would be happy to step foot in.