For most of this century, the Nationals’ full-season Single-A teams have been seeking new stadiums. Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown was built in 1930 and has been hosting professional ball for 61 of its 87 years. G. Richard Pfitzner stadium in Woodbridge was built in 1984 and has been home to the current Potomac franchise since its inception.
There is an axiom in engineering: fast, cheap or good - pick two. Well, both stadiums were built quickly and economically.
However, at the time they were built, they were par for the course. Minor-league ball with a semblance of major-league amenities is relatively new.
It’s a product of the National Association of Professional Baseball League (a.k.a. Minor League Baseball) stadium standards that were enacted in 1990, and led to a boom minor league stadium building (and the rebirth of independent baseball).
Suffice it to say, neither The Muni nor The Pfitz meet these standards. Both have had multiple waivers to allow the Suns and the Yankees/Cannons/Nationals to continue playing. But how much longer will those be issued?
Last November, the Suns were put up for sale after three failed proposals since 2012 to move the team to Winchester, Fredericksburg, and Spotsylvania. The current ownership group, led by Bruce Quinn, bought the team in 2010 for a reported $6.7M and has seen attendance plummet ever since.
No doubt because of the for-sale sign on the Suns, there’s been little news or talk about the stadium (or future waivers), but conventional wisdom suggests the aging facility reduces the likelihood of the team staying.
However, the South Atlantic League, which plays an unbalanced schedule because of the far-flung nature of the league (New Jersey to north, Georgia to the south and Kentucky to the west), reportedly does not want the team to move much farther south than Virginia in order to keep the travel manageable, relatively speaking.
While it’s debatable how much that’s impeding either a sale or a move for the Suns, there does seem to be a bit of standoff here. The city isn’t willing to build a new stadium or improve the old one, and so far, there doesn’t seem to be a place for the team to go.
It’s a similar song and-dance for Potomac (disclosure: author has been a season ticket holder since 2006), where there have been multiple attempts (too many to list in this space) to build a new stadium with public financing and the results have been just as unfruitful, with the latest attempt reaching an impasse last month.
One key difference between the two cities has been fan support. Attendance for Potomac has been fairly stable, and has been more than 3,000 per game for most of this decade, with close 4,000 per game for 2017.
Allegedly, the NAPBL has drawn a line in the sand regarding future waivers for The Pfitz. However, current owner Art Silber said that if the latest stadium agreement had been reached, another waiver would have been granted to allow time for construction.
Another factor to consider: The addition of Kinston and Buies Creek (Fayetteville in 2019) to the Carolina League in 2017 means there are two less markets in North Carolina - a popular relocation destination - to which the P-Nats could be moved.
Thus, it’s hard not to infer that all this is just business as usual: posturing by owners and politicians with complicit silence from the leagues, with the fans stuck in between.
Luke Erickson blogs about the Nationals’ minor league affiliates for NationalsProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter: @nats_prospects. His thoughts on the Nationals’ farm system will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.