Missions new stadium: Now or never?
Debate over new stadium could be accelerating as MLB eyes major changes
SAN ANTONIO – UPDATE (10:25 p.m.): Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who is the namesake of the San Antonio Missions' current stadium, told KSAT that San Antonio will need a new stadium if it wants to keep Triple-A baseball in town.
"Well, if we don't -- if we don't do anything, we'll end up with maybe back to Double-A ball, maybe Single-A ball. They're also going to have some kind of a dream league, which would be independent. We'd end up with something, but you would not end up with a good caliber team," Wolff said.
Wolff said a site for a new stadium, which he estimated would cost "in the neighborhood of $100 million," hasn't been selected yet.
The World Series between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals is already underway and that means the end of the 2019 Major League Baseball season will be here by next week at the latest. While winter usually means a break for most of those in the baseball world, there is a lot on the horizon as the 2020 season nears.
If you haven't heard already, next season could also mean the end of minor league baseball as we know it.
According to a report by Baseball America last week, Major League Baseball has a drastic proposal that will reshape the minor league baseball system.
The reason for all this: MLB's current Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) with Minor League Baseball ends after next season. Changes are needed no doubt but what is being proposed will have far-reaching affects. According to the report, MLB plans to restructure the minor league system and eliminate a quarter of the teams currently under operation. That would mean closing between 40 and 42 teams in MiLB and bringing the total number of teams in the minors to around 120.
Multiple factors will be considered on whether a team continues to exist or move up or down in classification. The Pacific Coast League, which the Missions just played their first season in, may go from 16 teams to 10 teams by 2021. Some teams may go from Triple-A classification to Class-A and vice versa.
Besides increasing the pay of baseball players in MiLB, which is sorely needed, some factors that will be taken into account on whether a team stays or goes, will be teams' geographical location in relation to the parent club, its affiliates and teams they play, travel expenses and stadium conditions.
According to MLB, a quarter of current stadiums in MiLB fall below what Major League Baseball considers acceptable for its players.
And that is how the Missions fall into all of this.
The Triple-A Missions are over 1,200 miles away from their MLB affiliate, the Milwaukee Brewers. Their Double-A affiliate is in Biloxi, Mississippi. From Biloxi, to the Alamo City, to right next to Lake Michigan, that is no quick trip.
It's definitely not as easy to be called up and quickly get to your new team, like with the Houston Astros. Their Double-A affiliate are the Corpus Christi Hooks; their Triple-A affiliate are the Round Rock Express.
Besides the distance, the stadium conditions are another factor. The Missions have been calling Nelson Wolff Stadium home since 1994 and despite the recent improvements at the stadium, most consider it not enough going forward if San Antonio is going to stay in Triple-A baseball.
When and where the Missions and the City of San Antonio decide to build a new stadium has been debated for years. But having a stadium more central in a city has a proven track record when it comes to attendance.
The Nashville Sounds, a Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League, moved to a new stadium, First Tennessee Park, in 2015. The stadium is located downtown, two blocks from the Cumberland River. They saw an attendance increase from almost 324,000 in 2014 to over 565,000 fans in their first season at their new ballpark.
The Columbus Clippers, the Triple-A affiliate to the Cleveland Indians, moved to a new stadium, Huntington Park, in 2009. That stadium is located in downtown, a couple of blocks from the Scioto River. They saw an attendance increase from almost 538,000 in 2008 to almost 667,000 fans in 2009.
The Charlotte Knights, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, moved to a new stadium, BB&T Stadium, in 2014. The Knights had an impressive increase in attendance, going from 254,000 fans in 2013 to almost 688,000 fans in 2014 and led MiLB in attendance that year.
Last season the Missions total attendance increased by just over 10,000 fans to 337,484, which was the third-lowest total in the Pacific Coast League.
The Missions told KSAT 12 Sports this week that they had no comment on the current negotiations for the PBA or the progress on plans for a ballpark. A representative with Minor League Baseball couldn't comment either but did say that every team in MiLB would be reviewed about its future moving forward and that they will do their best to save every team in the league.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg told KSAT 12 Thursday night: "My position has not changed. We are still waiting for a stadium proposal from the Missions, which we will examine on its merits."
But it does seem like time is running out. Would a new state-of-the-art baseball stadium keep the Missions in Triple-A or even in Minor League Baseball? Or is it too little too late? We could have an answer sooner rather than later about the future of baseball in the Alamo City.
Both MLB and MiLB are no-where near an agreement on any of this, but plans are to have all this sorted out by the end of 2020.
Daniel P. Villanueva has worked with KSAT 12 Sports for over 16 years and is an award-winning sports producer. To submit story ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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